It’s been a long weekend in the U.S. so here’s a little inspiration: Rob Martin’s weekend in Palestine.
Martin is an Australian activist and a model for engagement on the issue. He’d never been to Palestine before late 2014, but during the Gaza onslaught that summer, he began reading about the conflict in a serious way.
“What I heard and read in the mainstream seemed to contradict what I was reading elsewhere,” he told me. “I had made a few friends in Gaza through social media and talked to them as bombs were being dropped. I was surprised that every time a Palestinian was mentioned they were always referred to as a ‘terrorist,’ including the children.
“The fact a country can kill so many civilian including children truly shocked me. I felt I needed to see for myself as relying on media and opinions didn’t sit right with me.”
Martin went out to Palestine in December 2014, and was promptly embroiled, during a visit to the West Bank. “It was my first time in Palestine and I had no intentions to be in the middle of it all. I didn’t go looking for trouble, it just seemed to follow me,” he said.
The occupation was far worse than he imagined, and he rose to the occasion. Here is Rob Martin’s distressing report My Weekend in Palestine, shot by the great photographer Hamde Abu Rahme. Many of us have observed conditions like these. The thing that’s particularly moving about the video is Martin’s ready insertion into the conflict, and bold, fresh bearing of witness.
Here are some of Martin’s comments on the video during his confrontation with Israeli soldiers just minutes after he arrives in Bil’in in the occupied West Bank:
I’ve never had an M16 pointed at me before. After just one hour in Bil’in! Welcome to Palestine. The most beautiful place on earth, but the most hideous.
[Calling out to soldiers] “I’m Australian, why did you point the gun at me. We haven’t done anything!”
This is how they treat people. All the time. To intimidate you.
Everything you read, all the negative stuff, it’s obviously true. I’ve never experienced that in my life!
Some people just want to be free and this is what happens.
“This doesn’t happen in Australia! Take my picture, I don’t care.”
His [the soldier’s] words to me were they are protecting the Israeli army. How were they protecting the Israeli people when they were just taking things from the children’s playground? ….They are just asking people to fight back.
Here’s some of his comments to Israeli soldiers after they confront him outside a Palestinian home:
“I am over here for respecting this family because they had someone die. You know this? Then why the hell are you standing in front of me armed like this insulting their family just after they’ve lost somebody?… I call it harassment. Any other country in the world, you couldn’t do this. Don’t push me.
“This is harassment again. I’m going to ask you one more time. Leave me alone. Leave them alone.
“Do these people carry guns? Have you ever seen one? Let’s go back to a really simple question. You have guns. They don’t have guns. You can kill someone from how far? Leave them alone.”
[To the camera] I cant believe this, this is my first time here. I’ve read so much about it, but I cannot understand how they can justify what they’re doing. This is total brutality.
And this is Martin’s direct message on Palestine after he returned to Australia.
The Palestinians are simply people trying to live and have a safe and secure life and have freedom like you and I. I couldn’t believe it would be as bad as what I had read. I was absolutely flabbergasted… [by the] inhumane treatment of people in the name of self-defense.
Martin shows viewers a picture of his own family as a way of explaining his identification with Palestinian families who have been attacked by settlers. I asked him about this, and he said:
I simply put myself in their shoes, I put my family in their shoes. Then I ask everyone to think about your worst experience ever, from losing family to losing mobility. Welcome to the Palestinian world. Day by day they live this. The worst part about it is that they are blamed for what’s going on.
Martin has had enormous frustration with the mainstream media. “The MSM should be ashamed of themselves. I feel sick when I get up and read the news about what’s happening, because I’ve experienced it first hand.”
Being a white non-Muslim, Martin knew that he would have greater credibility than Muslim voices for the mainstream media, but that double standard didn’t help him get his message out:
I tried to have the local TV news and current affair programmes look at [my videos] but to no avail. I sent the videos to our politicians asking if I could discuss my experience as I deemed it very important they hear the truth as they are so pro Israel. I’ve offered to pay for our politicians to travel to Palestine and see the truth but they have all ignored and some have blocked me.
Finally, I asked Martin how he could be so righteous about Palestine when Australia ethnically cleansed indigenous people to make way for his ancestors.
I tell those who say I should clean up my own back yard first that, yes Australia is guilty and I’ve seen the end result in our indigenous people and it makes me sad and angry that we human being can do this to our fellow man. Australia has recognised it’s wrong and is doing things to try and make good: I’ve seen what Israel is trying to do to the Palestinians and it’s the same as Australia and America did to its indigenous people.
And Rob Martin won’t give up. “I will NEVER stop until Israel is held accountable and Palestine is free,” he says.
P.S. I met Martin at a fundraiser we held in Washington; he’s helped us out financially. I’d write about his videos regardless of his support, but it is also the case that we depend on generous readers, as do so many independent outlets in the internet age. We’re about to kick off our June fundraiser. Just saying.