Saturday, 31 December 2011

Manifest Signs: The Birth of Resistance Everywhere

Terence Stone

There is a wonderful statue at Canada Olympic Square in Calgary of “The Valiant Five”, Canadian women who challenged the Supreme Court of Canada in 1927 to include women in the definition of “personhood”. After long deliberation, in 1928 the Court declined to recognize that personhood. In what I can only conceive as a bizarre temporal juxtaposition, within the same century corporations were anthropomorphized or granted “personhood”. If this doesn’t underscore the fact of corporate hegemonic power—masculinst power at that—I don’t know what does.

Iconic as it is, the statue of “The Valiant Five” became the monthly rallying place for Women in Black, a pro-justice, anti-war organization that was started collaboratively by Jewish women in Jerusalem and Palestinian women in the occupied territories following the first Intifada in 1988. Each gathering is a performative silent vigil, an act of universal mourning for all those killed in war, but particularly those rendered voiceless in their living and dying in these events--pointless state atrocities--women and children.

Women in Black, continues as a loosely affiliated, worldwide organization that still honours its roots in the heavily propagandized landscape of difference of the Israeli State. Yes. Israel has exported a peace movement. This is deeply inspirational: If women can unite across that seemingly impenetrable boundary of radical Zionism, there is no reason why any obstacle should endure against any movements for justice and peace.

About eight years ago I was invited to join Women in Black, in Calgary. My wife, Nancy, and I attended with a group of women once a month, all of us dressed in black. The experience of silence and solidarity had a profound effect of holding us all in a cradle of mourning that was very moving. It had the visceral power to draw people to us to make active enquiries about who we were and what we stood for. Enquirers typically departed with new information and comments of approbation and support. Yes, even silence can be powerful.

The only attack I recall was from the Royal Canadian Legion before Remembrance Day when it became aware that we were wearing white poppies in memory of civilians killed in war alongside red poppies in memory of mostly young men who are traditionally sent to be slaughtered. Apparently, the Canadian Legion, like the US Government would rather us all overlook the insignificant detail of infinitely more civilians being killed in war--reduced to the term collateral damage--than military personnel; besides which it quite dulls the golden aura of glorious personal sacrifice that the idea of “just war” depends on.

On November 15, 2011, five courageous Palestinians imported the spirit of the US Civil Rights Movement to challenge the segregation of public transport in the West Bank. They decided to board a bus and become the Freedom Riders of the Israeli occupied territories. Several busses refused to stop until one unwitting driver pulled up and the Palestinians climbed aboard. Deep consternation ensued as the bus pulled away under the scrutiny of the press and activists. The driver made a phone call that required him to halt at the Hizma checkpoint, outside of Jerusalem. Refusals by the Palestinians to disembark resulted in a delay of the bus as the military came aboard to physically remove them with the usual roughing up: “Huwaida Arraf, 35, challenged one young Israeli passenger who complained about the delay the protest had caused to her journey: 'Your soldiers hold us up 10 times longer than this every day at checkpoints across the West Bank.' (Guardian, November 15, 2011)”. This is a reality of Palestinian mobility that most Israeli’s have been trained to be blissfully oblivious of. Movement for Palestinians in their own tenuous territory is excruciating, if not perpetually dangerous.

I’d like to bring two threads of this article together here.

Firstly, this act of courageous Palestinian resistance was actively supported by Jewish human rights organizations with significant support from within Israel itself. Most notable, but not exhaustive of these were: Democratic Women’s Movement in Israel (TANDI—an Arab-Jewish Movement); The Alternative Information Center; and Tarabut-Hithabrut – Arab-Jewish Movement for Social and Political Change. My point is that the Jewish members of these organizations, while living on the privileged side of the wall, are every bit as courageous and principled as the five Palestinian Freedom Riders.

Now we don’t know what happened to those five Freedom Riders once they were in custody or in the days that followed; but I have a story about these terribly misnamed “checkpoints”.

On a recent trip to India, I met twenty-two year old Maor in the Tibetan Peace Café in Dharamsala. He’d just completed his required service in the IDF. Half way through breakfast he’d abandoned his Jewish companions and joined me at a nearby table. He was bright, interesting, articulate and deeply troubled. After testing me as a listener, he confided his nightmares.

He told me how difficult sleep had become and how a particular image now haunted him every day. It was at one of these insidious Israeli checkpoints that his patrol stopped three men and asked for identification. One of the men had an attitude of dignity—he didn’t wither or comply obsequiously enough. Maor began beating him with the butt of his rifle until he fell to the ground; and then he beat him more. He described being in a rage that seemed to have a life of its own. Eventually he stopped the beating. The Palestinian man lay face-down and still. Maor looked at him, thinking he might have killed him; but slowly the man turned his face, badly battered and bloody, to look at Maor standing over him. Maor said there was gentleness in the Palestinian’s voice as he looked into Maor’s eyes and said, “I could be your father”. Maor choked at this part of the story and told me that the man was just about his father’s age. He said that his father had always been gentle and principled. Maor did indeed see in the eyes of his victim a reflection of his father.

Following that cruel beating, Maor said he keeps seeing the bloodied face and hearing the voice, “I could be your father”, over and over. The image intrudes into his nightly dreams and daily thoughts, persistently denying him peace.

To emphasise the arbitrary and cruel practices of the IDF, Maor also told a story of being at checkpoint duty on an occasion of stopping a Palestinian man and his family taking an open truckload of pumpkins to market. Laughingly, they forced the man to unload all his pumpkins to look for weapons. After the truck was completely empty, the patrol systematically smashed every pumpkin with the butts of their rifles to check inside each of them for “weapons”. The man, his wife and children stood by in impotent terror. The patrol never stopped laughing as they went about their business.

Maor had already reflected on reasons why he would have been an active or complicit participant in these and other cruel abuses. He said that beginning in school he was taught to hate Arabs; but he added that it is the entire Israeli State that systematically and pervasively supports hatred of Arabs: “I understand that now”, he said. I asked him how he intended to deal with all this on his return to Israel. He was clear in saying that he will never trust his own government again and will speak about the abuse of Palestinians. I believe him. Maor will now join the many Jews from inside and outside of Israel who have the courage to speak and themselves be labelled Jew-haters by their own people who cannot yet see the propaganda.

Let’s remember the Palestinian Freedom Riders, the Jewish organizations that supported them, and conscientious Maor, a young Jewish man brutalized by Israeli State indoctrination. Let us not forget Women in Black as a worldwide movement that was painfully birthed in Israel from Jewish and Palestinian women, coming together to protest violence and injustice. Let’s remember The Valiant Five, whose stand for justice in their rejected claim to personhood acts as a stark foil against which the personhood of corporations can only make sense in the context of Imperialist hegemony that fronts it in the West’s material gluttony, the covetousness of Middle-Eastern oil, and the ongoing rape of the planet. All is interconnected.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Terrence
    Saw your comment on the Occupy Victoria website about wanting to get involved with the university month outreach. If you'd like to get on the e-mail list for this, contact me at We're getting started Monday January 9 at both UVic and Camosun.