Renen Raz, a prominent Israeli activist known as a defender and advocate for the rights of Palestinians and promoter of the BDS movement, died at the age of 28 over the weekend.
His friends say he suffered from brain cancer.
Within the close circle of Israeli and Palestinian activists who regularly protest the occupation together Raz was a beloved figure. Many knew him as a staple in the weekly demonstrations in the West Bank and a regular participant in the protests in the hamlet of Nabi Saleh.
“You will be truly missed, you dedicated yourself for Palestine and Palestinian cause and you went all the way to free Palestine,” said Manal Tamimi, one of the protest leaders in Nabi Saleh, “Sorry that you couldn’t stay longer to see your dream come true but for sure we will remember you while we are celebrating our freedom.”
In his last year, Raz underwent a series of neurological surgeries. He reflected on his life in a December 2015 letter to fellow Israeli activist, Ronnie Barkan. He clearly writes unsure if he will survive his operations.
With Barkan’s permission, below is Raz’s email, subjected “This one is tough,”
“I’m a little bit uncomfortable with the thought this is my last hours on this planet, that I be put to sleep, and some of you my friends will say a final goodbye, for the last time.
I know I didn’t do much in my 27 years of living, but it was the best I could do, and look back i an proud of myself, I hope that if it is really my Last Breath I wish it can do more, to people living under a constant fear, and fighting for a better life. For them and their community. For animals and human as one. I am fascinated by the thought of writing when I know I am taking a risk as big of small, that might be not the best one,but it something need to be done, abs I can not wait.
Sitting on a b bed which is not my own. And thinking of leaving this world beyond, is not a happy place to be in, I am still young, and can offer more to my few friends, and to all the activities I take part of. If it’s the struggle in Palestine, for equality, justice, bds. For my life as LGBT..
I never was in love, and maybe only in the very last period of time. I felt part of something, a community, a group of friends, that love care for me, and we respect each other. […] But I feel strong inside of me, just as many other time in my life so far, I am strong because I push myself to be a better man.”
Raz was born on the kibbutz of Dorot near the border to the Gaza Strip. Most of his adult life was spent organizing with other Israelis in groups backing Palestinians, the Boycott from Within and Anarchists Against the Wall.
Raz often gave interviews and talks regarding his activism. He toured Europe in 2015 to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, during which he argued, “It’s not a conflict, it’s occupation and apartheid,” as he said at a Berlin speaking engagement.
As much as Raz’s life was about to the politics, he was also alienated from his own society.
“The groups are very, very small. If it’s about BDS [organizations], all over Israel I would say maybe we are about 50 people in the group,” Raz said at the Berlin event, describing the limits of his social network in Israel, “Five-zero. So we are very small and people don’t really tend to join because they are afraid to be called a fifth-column, we are ‘traitors’, we are the ‘self-hating Jews’, the ‘anti-Semites’, and so on and so forth. So people don’t really tend to join us. So as we have professed, sometimes, like I am doing here, people might open their eyes and their mind just a bit.”
Raz’s hardships also included a temporary estrangement from his family. He once endured a month of daily police raids of his home which the police told him were drug-finding missions, but Raz felt that was just an excuse by authorities to punish an activist who was seen as anti-Israel.
“I know for my actions these are the consequences. Still, you have to sacrifice a bit to have a better future,” he said of the drug raids.
Adding, “My solution is just equality for all of the people. It doesn’t matter if it’s just one state solution or two state solution, binational, as long as all of the people who live there have their rights to live and have fully recognize the people and their history, and their human rights by the law. That’s what’s important. It’s not about who lives where.”
And, “I’m not doing anything wrong, I’m not breaking the law, it’s a pure call for justice”
Raz frequently mentioned his kibbutz upbringing as both a sheltering from the conflict with Palestinians and his personal turning point. One stone building in particular near his childhood home did not match the style of the modern houses of his communal town, he said often in interviews. The stone house was Palestinian and empty, the kibbutz was Israeli and full of life.
Raz said he was curious as to what happened to the people who once lived in the stone house and it started him on his path to activism:
“I was born and raised in a kibbutz. When I was young, I remember there was an old building in a style totally different than our houses. When I asked to whom it belonged, I was told that it belonged to people who used to live there but left a long time ago. ‘Don’t worry about it’. But that fed my curiosity and I kept on asking about those ‘other people’, until my teachers in school told me never to mention ‘them’ again.”
“That was the moment I realized something wasn’t right. I decided to become a conscientious objector: I refused to join the army, and instead, I started to help those who had to leave their houses because of us. It caused great antipathy within the community and my family, so I left.”
“It is painful not to have a family. I only have myself to rely on. And some friends, of course, although they can’t always be there for me. But well, I could not pick the place where I was born, but I can choose between walking the path of light or the path of darkness.”