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A painful experience
Going to Palestine

Taking off from Europe or Australia to land here, in this part of the world we think that we know all about, but in reality we know nothing of; is not an easy task. This is certainly the starting point of thinking that does not leave you unchanged.

15 August 2003 | - : Israel Palestine

The Palestinians and their endless struggle for freedom

The pain of the Palestinians, locked up in this rough jail that is Palestine, is inconceivable. They suffer atrociously. They imperatively need us by their side.
Left off by the international community to the slaughters of the army and the settlers’ violence who are widely influenced by the fanatic Israeli government, the Likoud, the Palestinians have turned since 2001 to the international civilian community with the hope that a wide mobilisation could help them come out of their isolation.

Let’s not leave them out to the barbarity of the Israelis. Our moral duty is to protect them.

The Palestinians are afraid, terrified to be left out to the mercy of this racist state that is Israel. A state leaded by criminals of war, like Sharon, Mofaz, Yaalon . The Palestinians are all the more anxious that the United States have refused the UN to send an interposition force. In other words, it means that the Israeli can go on killing Palestinians with total impunity. Their fear has steadily increased as the Anglo-American war against Iraq - a war greatly desired by Israel - has materialised.

Time is running. We can not wait any longer for Israel or the United States to bring justice to the victims of their devastating imperial policy. Each passing day, the Palestinians are losing more lives and lands. During decades of support, the solidarity movement never succeeded in preventing Israel to expand or build its apartheid policy.

A terrifying daily life intimately shared

Going to Palestine - two or three weeks or even three months – to testify and to try, with the Palestinian NGOs, to prevent the Israeli army from murdering innocents, destroying dwellings, deporting countrymen , ruining cultivated lands, is the most needed solidarity.
We must go there without hesitation. The reward we get is not only the generous hospitality of the Palestinians or another approach of a new world; but it is far more the chance of a deep reflection on ourselves.

Going massively to Palestine is a task that cannot be taken lightly: the country is under the rule of the world most dreadful army. The best way is to go within the framework of the INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT (ISM) [1], a Palestinian non Governmental Organisation that works with other NGOs.

The ISM guides and trains the newly arrived for two days to the application of the non violent resistance, etc. The ISM needs all the men and women with a sense of justice, ready to get involved on the ground, in order to ensure a massive and constant presence wherever the Israeli army threatens civilians. In two years time, thousands of volunteers went to Palestine; but many more were needed. Nevertheless, for the victims of the Israeli heinous crushing machine, it was much better than nothing. The inhabitants of Jenin, Naplus, cried in gratitude when, in April 2002, men and women finally came to them after the dreadful massacres that had taken place.

Described by the BBC as human rights activists, the members of the ISM want to fill the void left by the international community, to take on humanitarian actions and assist the Palestinians in their civilian disobedience against the abuses of the occupying force. Very quickly, these activists who filmed, recorded all that they witnessed, gained the sympathy of the people. Chased, injured, arrested, expelled by the Israeli army that does not want any witness, they never gave up their duty to testify in defence of the Palestinian civil population.

Israel tried to silence them but, in doing that, it has only strengthened their resolve. After the murder of Rachel Corrie - who was crushed down in March 2003 by a military Israeli bulldozer [2] - the movement did not stop growing. The families of the three ISM members that Israel badly injured and killed, immediately joined in to continue the fight lead by their children, convinced that the cause they were fighting for was a just one.

A moving human experience

Going to Palestine is a direct way of saying no to the illegal occupation, of refusing the apartheid, of rejecting children’s murders, of resisting the Israeli State’s terror… One does need to be escorted by professional politicians or by an association. One does need to have diplomas or wealth. One does need to be young or adventurer. Anyone of us, whatever his skills and qualifications, is able to help: wanting justice and being able to open up to others in the respect of their traditions is far enough.

Whatever our nationality and religion, we can and must unite to express, any way we can, to the most dreadful army, that nothing can prevent justice and freedom from winning over.

The Hamas, the Fatah or the Jihad’s resistance are not the genuine threat for Israel, nor are these children killing themselves in Tel Aviv. But it is Israel itself with its war arsenal that is the real threat.

The collective punishments that Israel continuously inflicts on the Palestinian people, aim at generating a violence-repression process. Tamar’ sister - a 19 years old Jewish girl killed in an attack in Jerusalem - was not mistaking on who the real enemy was, when she yelled her rage to General Mofaz, coming to present his condolences: " You only have violence and slaughters to offer us. What else did you do in all these years apart from killing civilians? You were the Chief-of-Staff, and now our defence minister, what else did you bring us? You killed my sister and you are an accomplice…"

And therein lays the problem: the Israeli settlers do not want peace. They play for time, they want to expand their settlements and destroy all kind of life among the Palestinians. Those barrack like settlements which lay enthroned in the middle of Palestinian lands and which, since 1967, have swallowed up bit by bits the human history’s most beautiful sites, have fanned the hatred and put Palestinian lives at risk.

How to actually help the Palestinians in their desperate search for justice

They are different ways of helping the Palestinians. But, as we said before, the first one is to encourage people to get to Palestine to fill the void left by the inaction of the international community [3] - except for the UNWRA.

The second way to help the Palestinian people is to do them justice in recognizing the injustice they suffer; to focus on bringing fair and impartial testimony to the world and to denounce, as effectively as possible the gap between the reality on the ground and how it is treated in our media. How? In sending tirelessly protests to the media who are giving biased information, and boycotting them as long as they do not respect the minimum requirements of impartiality.

As long as the Palestinians do not win this crucial information battle, as long as the public opinion continues to be deceived by the Israeli propaganda disseminated around the world, Israel will be free to go on with its never ending and growing violence.

The third way of helping - but not the last - is to send protest e-mails to our government’s main leaders, each time Israel violates the human rights, and go on putting pressure on them until they force Israel to respect the international law.

Many of you, in the Arab Muslim side are expressing your love for Palestine and the pain you endure of being unable to help your Palestinian brothers because Israel forbids you to get in the country. We can easily understand your frustration. Nevertheless you can be of great help outside Palestine: by going to the refugee camps in Lebanon for example. Those are places where anguish is the daily bread of the inhabitants. Palestinians in great numbers have been waiting for justice for over a quarter of a century. Going there is not only important for us to get a clearer understanding of the situation, but it allows us to get to a more human vision of this tragedy: a vision based on a true understanding of the "other" and its complexity, and not – like in our media - on caricatures and cold simplifications.

The situation is serious. Those who genuinely want to help the Palestinians to get as soon as possible the withdrawal of the military, the end of the apartheid, their return home in a pacified Palestine where they can live in dignity, must be twice as inventive as we are now. They should open up, - across divisions - to all political, religious and civil forces, to new forms of solidarity. And say things as they are: say that Israel is a hideous racist colonial State based on ethnic cleansing and falsehood, a State outside the law that must be shunned by the nations, as long as it maintains this policy.

Every citizen, aware of the dangers, must put pressure on all political forces in his country and express outrage whenever they remain silent or inert against the cruelty of Israel.

During all these years, we did not hear anyone - from the left as well as from the right political parties -, rising publicly against Israel’s many "targeted killings" against the political or military leaders of the Palestinian resistance. Strangely enough, political parties and associations did not react to Israel’s extra judiciary executions.

This silence is shameful. The Palestinians have as much right as any other people to resist the occupation of their land. The recognition of what distinguishes the occupier from the occupied should be at the heart of the claim of justice for Palestinians.

The Nazis also were accusing of terrorism and executing all Resistance fighters. These " terrorists" that Israel assassinates are human beings, decent human beings. They are resistance fighters who have the confidence and love of their people. They deserve our respect and our support.

The Palestinian fighters are fighting legitimately. We must clearly identify the real culprits for not creating a new injustice or obscure the suffering of a people which is itself in a situation of inequality. We must recognize the right of the Palestinians to defend themselves militarily against the occupation. And never forget that the violence committed by a State is far more serious than that committed by non-state groups.

Associations, political parties, supporters of Human Rights should systematically denounce these murders; they should explain to the public who really are those fathers, those heroics sons, who have been giving their lives for over half a century to get their rights re-established. They should honour and give justice to these patriots victims of Israel’s barbarism.

We, journalists and witnesses, who came here in Palestine, are seen as associated with "terrorists" in the eyes of Israeli soldiers, when we urge them to treat the Palestinians with more humanity. When Israel claims that it is "eradicating" (sic) terrorists; it is in fact, murdering civilians. In November 2002, in Jenin, they killed a man as gentle as Ian Hook, because he was imploring the soldiers to not shoot at children .They assassinated or savagely injured thousands of children: this must never be forgotten.

One should go to Palestine with humility. One should go to Palestine, full of generosity and tolerance. One should really be prepared and this should be done carefully with real Palestinians.

The managers of the ISM are trustworthy. They have the enthusiasm and the honesty of truthful activists and clearly understand the needs of the people who we, internationals, come to help and support.

To organise, from outside, so called missions or projects with representatives of the Palestinian authority - with whom the majority of its people has been disagreeing for over 10 years - or with other associations based in Israel or Jerusalem and therefore are not under occupation and are less endangered (as it has been done so far), is to disregard the aspirations and wishes of a suffering community that intends to take control of its own destiny.

There should be a critical assessment within the solidarity movement. The money has not often been given where it should have been given in priority. This has helped create new injustices.

Discovering, witnessing, going through this land that the brutality of the Israeli soldiers completely harried: you will quickly understand that Palestine bears on its own, the injustice and cowardice of the rest of the world. Everything is upsetting. Starting with biblical landscapes that you cannot gaze at serenely, thinking of those thousands of Palestinians and olive trees crushed out by Israel to build up settlements, ethnic separation walls, jails or military camps.

When rage takes hold of you, keep in mind that you did not come to Palestine to take the side of one part or the other, but because, for you, the respect of international law is the only way.

Silvia Cattori

Translation from French by V.Itani (revised by JPH)



[1Quick historical recall:

The ISM - a NGO founded by Ghassan ANDONI, a teacher of physics at the university of Beit Zeit, was set up in response to the Israeli army’s growing exaction in Palestine. The idea of Ghassan ANDONI was that the Palestinians must not be left without witnesses. In early 200, a terrible year had ended and Palestine was in agony. People remember the numerous episodes when Israeli soldiers pulled down hundreds of houses, crushed down hundreds of young Palestinians. The consequences on health, employment, education and people’s daily life were beyond calculation. The anguish was growing.
Seven long years after Oslo’s agreements, what did they receive in return? Israel gave them nothing and on the contrary, the Oslo treaty helped Israel sweep away the Palestinian authority and assassinate the leaders of the resistance. All the ingredients were there to help foresee the worst. The frustration of the Palestinians was at its peak as mush against the Israeli occupier who was reinforcing his repression process, tightening his apartheid regime and going on with the settlements, as against the Palestinian authority who, compromise after compromise with Israel, leaded the people to a dead-end.
_ The population’s spirits was at the lowest. People were disappointed with Arafat who, after he had disarmed his people, left them to the mercy of the Shabak. His mistakes and betrayals made the people distressed and agitated. Of course for the Israelis, they were getting what they were waiting for: the split among the Palestinians only to bestow their tyranny, smash everybody and everything in a bloody flood and take away any hope of peace . This strategy has always been of great profit for the Israelis.
Ghassan ANDONI by setting up the base of a non violent but active movement, wanted to square the conflict as well as give hope to growing despair. It is in this depressing context that hundreds of international volunteers, moved by the suffering of the Palestinians, arrived in Palestine to support the actions of the ISM. They expressed a new reality: men and women’s-of all ages, all political views, all nationalities - ability to assert their authority as witnesses, and whose quality of their testimony can not be denied. The activists of the ISM - mostly Americans, British, Danish, Swedish and Irish - proved that they were able to share their experience. Their originality is that they live among with the population, are exactly where the Israeli army is, immediately inform the media of the violation of the human rights they witness, remind the soldiers that one day they will have to justify the crimes they commit.
During the long months of the unilateral war started by the government Sharon-Peres, the Palestinians under siege saw in the arrival of these civilian volunteers, a real opportunity. For the internationals, meeting for the first time a population so welcoming, magnificent in despair, dignified in fear, was a very harsh but so moving human experience.This enriching experience that they shared, gave a new orientation, another meaning to their life and they were able, back home, to talk about the injustice they witnessed, thus add another link to the unbreakable chain of solidarity, thanks to all these human beings that never miss to take up the torch…

I am convinced today more than ever that this movement that does not take position in the internal conflict, but is actually involved for the needy, the most persecuted by Israel is essential.

[3These institutions did not fulfil their duty to assist a population in danger. They bent in cowardice to the interdiction of Israel to enter in their military controlled zones in Palestine and left many victims of the Israeli violence without help. Only CIA agents and US soldiers are allowed to get in the numerous towns and villages called military restricted areas. The Palestinian case was for them an urban guerrillas training to apply the methods in Iraq - a war that was planned a long ago. Palestine was the perfect training camp to train on the methods of man- hunt and the so called house to house raking.


All the versions of this article:
- Partir en Palestine