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In memoriam of Hashem al-‘Azza

Israel/Palestine
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Yesterday The Boston Globe reports 11 Israelis killed, 127 injured, 58 Palestinians killed, 2100 injured in what is usually referred to as the current “uptick in violence,” or as an NPR commentator said last week, Palestinians attack a Jewish man/woman/child, and Israel continues to “defend itself against terror.” For me, this kind of purposeful omission of the decades of individual, organized, state sponsored, settler, proxy, social, legal, economic, bureaucratic and whatever other kinds of violence that form the cauldron in which these current moments are flaring is as painful as the actual loss of lives. At the same time I struggle to keep my humanity, to feel the gut punching horror, the pressure in the throat for every child, woman and man on that deadly roster.

Reality helps. Today I receive the following email from a young doctor friend working in East Jerusalem:

For the third consecutive time, the Israeli special forces attacked Al-Makassed hospital, throwing tear gas all over the place, without caring about the patients inside the hospital.  Yesterday, they attacked the neonatal ICU, obligating all the nurses and doctors working there to leave the place.

Today, Al Quds University was attacked again, leaving nothing smooth in our life.

Since yesterday, 4 Palestinians were killed in Hebron, the last one was killed 3 hours ago while he was walking in the street, after they killed him, they put a knife next to him and said that he was going to stab a soldier.  Settlers are happy in that area, dancing and giving chocolates for others because of the murdered guy.

Things are going crazy all over, it is unbearable.

The largely invisible “facts on the ground.” Last I checked, attacking a hospital (let alone a neonatal intensive care unit) was a war crime. On the other hand we seem to be doing that kind of thing lately, so why not Israel?

In the floods of email that drown my morning vision, two days ago a particular name caught my eye: Hashem Al-‘Azza, killed by tear gas inhalation. He was standing in front of one of the green metal doors sealed shut by the IDF on Shuhadeh Street in Hebron, his face peering at me with a pained, determined expression. He looked familiar. Could he be the same man that I had met while visiting the West Bank city of Hebron with a group of health and human rights activists in 2010?

A quick email to a friend from Hebron doing a Fulbright in the US confirmed my worst anxieties.

Then Google yielded three reliable articles.

The International Mideast Media Center reported:

Palestinian Man Dies Of Tear Gas Inhalation In Hebron

Medical sources at the Hebron Governmental Hospital, in the southern West bank city of Hebron, have reported on Wednesday evening that an elderly man died of severe effects of tear gas inhalation, after dozens of soldiers invaded the Zawiya area in the city.

The sources said the Palestinian has been identified as Hashem al-‘Azza, 54 years of age, from Tel Romeida neighborhood.

Medics rushed to the scene, and tried to stabilize his condition, before moving him to the hospital, where he died of the severe effects of tear gas inhalation.

Alternative News noted:

The 54-year-old father of four was near his home, situated close to the entrance of the infamous Shuhada Street which is closed to Palestinians. Israeli forces shot tear gas and al Azza, who had heart problems, was overcome and collapsed.

Al Azza’s family attempted to take him to the hospital through the checkpoint on Shuhada Street, which is the fastest route. Israeli soldiers delayed the ambulance, during which time al Azza’s situation deteriorated. He eventually reached the hospital in critical condition, and soon afterwards doctors pronounced him dead.

Hundreds of Palestinians and internationals attended al Azza’s funeral Thursday afternoon, and a mourners’ tent has been set up for the next three days in Hebron’s University Graduates Hall. Al Azza was a well-known political militant, active in the local Hebron Defense Committee and in popular resistance against Israeli military and settler attacks. Al Azza and his family faced innumerable attacks by soldiers and settlers over the years as his family home is situated close to the Ramat Yishai settlement in downtown Hebron.

Al Azza worked closely with the Alternative Information Center (AIC), as he did with numerous Palestinian, Israeli and international associations promoting justice and human rights for the Palestinian people. He was a singular source of information about the explosive situation in downtown Hebron and was an essential stop during the solidarity visits of internationals to Hebron.

Despite the innumerable attacks by Israeli soldiers and settlers against him and his family, Hashem al Azza retained the spirit of resistance throughout his life. He was further a strong proponent of a life of equality and justice for Palestinians and Israelis. “I was born here, live here and will not leave here,” he used to say.

From Al Jazeera:

Palestinian old man killed during al-Khalil clashes

A Palestinian old man died on Wednesday from excessive tear gas inhalation fired by Israeli occupation forces during clashes that erupted in al-Khalil.

The clashes erupted at Container checkpoint following the funeral of a Palestinian teen who was earlier shot and killed by Israeli gunfire.

The old man was identified as Hashem al-Azzeh. He was rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead after suffering from excessive tear gas inhalation.

Apparently 54 years of age is now old in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Living under occupation is a deadly (though preventable) chronic disease. Keeping it real, paying attention to the “facts on the ground,” stating the context.  Keeping our humanity despite the very human tendency to blur death and catastrophe, I offer the following:

I would like to honor the memory of Hashem al-Azzeh by reprinting the blog essay I wrote reflecting on a tour of Hebron in January 2010, titled “Living in Hell.”

The most painful part of this tour is the visit to Hisham’s friend, Hashem Azza, who not only cannot access his house from the main street, but also lives next to one of the most rabid anti-Palestinian settlers. He has been told, “If you want peace, go to Gaza, Egypt, Saudi Arabia,” has been cursed viciously, and particularly after the severe curfews from 2000-2003, many of his neighbors gave up and left.  He states that there is a 90% poverty rate and minimal available employment. We clamber up a rocky hill, through several back yards and back stairs until we reach his home.  He points to the stone stairs and garden that once were his backyard, but this has been repeatedly destroyed by his Jewish neighbors who not only have attacked his home and his family, but have also cut his fruit trees, water and electricity lines. They too throw garbage and once hurled a washing machine that we see rusting amongst the trees.  Only recently has he acquired water again and we see a new bright blue pipe snaking through the various backyards. His little boy comes scampering outside chasing a pink ball, watched carefully by his wife. In his home he shares more horrifying personal stories, shows us a series of videos documenting racist, violent attacks against Palestinians, primarily women and children, often by settler women and children, with no response from the Israeli security nearby.  A committed nonviolent activist, he and his wife and nephew have been personally attacked, their home repeatedly trashed, his children suffer from bedwetting and other signs of post traumatic stress disorder, and he has unsuccessfully pursued his case in Israeli courts.  He is determined to persevere, to document the realities in his beloved city, and bring this to the attention of the international community. We listen stunned and drowning in shame, outrage, and heartbreak.

Our sobering taste of life in Hebron includes other devastating stories and the presence of Israeli guard towers, camouflage netting, checkpoints, a wall spray painted with graffiti that includes a tribute to the Golani brigade, one of the IDF’s most aggressively violent units, and to Betar, a rightwing youth organization.  I pass a concrete block obstructing the road, spray painted with an arrow and the words: “This is apartheid.” There are occasional PA police, but the consensus is that they are mostly useless.

So what do we do with this shameful reality?  While most Israelis do not support these settlers, they receive full support, protection and encouragement from the Israeli government and military, and this has not changed in the past 42 years, no matter who is in power. They have made the lives of the Palestinians in Hebron a living hell, and they have never been held accountable.  This does not happen by accident. From the moment Baruch Goldstein massacred the Palestinians in the mosque in 1994, it was a political decision by the Israeli government to put the Palestinians under curfew and protect the Jewish settlers who now celebrate his murderous actions.  While these settlers are clearly the most racist, religiously fanatic, possibly deranged, and fascistic element in Israeli society, they both use and are used by the government as a wedge in the never ending land grab and Judaization of the West Bank.

May you rest in peace, Hashem. It is now the task of the survivors, the truth tellers, the people who refuse to be silent or intimidated to continue the work that you inspired, the efforts that nourished and ultimately killed you.

This post first appeared on Alice Rothchild’s site.

Alice Rothchild
About Alice Rothchild

Alice Rothchild is a physician, author, and filmmaker who has focused her interest in human rights and social justice on the Israel/Palestine conflict since 1997. She practiced ob-gyn for almost 40 years. Until her retirement she served as Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Harvard Medical School. She writes and lectures widely, is the author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience, On the Brink: Israel and Palestine on the Eve of the 2014 Gaza Invasion, and Condition Critical: Life and Death in Israel/Palestine. She directed a documentary film, Voices Across the Divide and is active in Jewish Voice for Peace. Follow her at @alicerothchild

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5 Responses

  1. bryan
    bryan
    October 30, 2015, 12:52 pm

    They may as you claim be “three reliable articles” but can I wait until this is authenticated by the New York Times or the BBC, please?!

  2. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson
    October 30, 2015, 1:37 pm

    RE: “In the floods of email that drown my morning vision, two days ago a particular name caught my eye: Hashem Al-‘Azza, killed by tear gas inhalation. He was standing in front of one of the green metal doors sealed shut by the IDF on Shuhadeh Street in Hebron . . .” – Alice Rothchild

    COINCIDENTALLY OR NOT: This photo was taken in Hebron (probably on or near Shuhadeh Street)! ! ! *

    * File: Gas the Arabs painted in Hebron.jpg – https://goo.gl/ApD9vT

    P.S. ALSO SEE – https://goo.gl/nXPGRJ

  3. Marnie
    Marnie
    October 31, 2015, 2:06 am

    In a story full of sad details, the coldness of Al-Jazeera’s reporting really jumped out at me.

    “The old man was identified as Hashem al-Azzeh. He was rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead after suffering from excessive tear gas inhalation.”

    “Apparently 54 years of age is now old in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Living under occupation is a deadly (though preventable) chronic disease.”

    The story is so sad. Thank God for Alice Rothchild’s words to put back the humanity into Hashem al-Azzeh’s life and murder that Al-Jazeera so craftfully dissected. In their 4 short paragraphs, they used the phrase “old man” 3 times. I guess the only places in the world where 54 is considered old are places like this, ravaged by disease and poverty that only a UN/US-sponsored occupation can provide.

  4. just
    just
    October 31, 2015, 8:14 am

    “Last I checked, attacking a hospital (let alone a neonatal intensive care unit) was a war crime. On the other hand we seem to be doing that kind of thing lately, so why not Israel?”

    Yes, the US and now KSA have done it recently. I think they are only following Israel’s lead and penchant for doing the most horrific things and getting away with bloody murder over and over and over again…

    “The most painful part of this tour is the visit to Hisham’s friend, Hashem Azza, who not only cannot access his house from the main street, but also lives next to one of the most rabid anti-Palestinian settlers.”

    Would that be the rabidly vicious Anat Cohen?

    RIP to this great man. Thanks for continuing to be a “truth teller”, Dr. Rothchild.

  5. DrBrianRobinson
    DrBrianRobinson
    October 31, 2015, 9:00 am

    We met him too on a similar clinicians’ study tour (in 2008) Dr Rothchild and I share and echo your feelings. I’ve thought about that beautiful family many times and often look at the photos that we took in their home. I was shocked and very saddened to hear of Hashem’s death, which I suppose I should call a manslaughter if not murder.

    What none of us knew when we met him was that Hashem had trained as a doctor, but I was told later that he never discussed his medical background and would focus on his work with the UN. He wasn’t able to continue that work when under house arrest.

    People can donate in support of Hashem’s widow, Nisreen, and the family here https://www.gofundme.com/8c6vj6s4

    — Dr Brian Robinson
    Milton Keynes, UK

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