One of the most disturbing aspects about the reality in Palestine is its normalcy.
It has become normal to see Palestinians shot and killed, even children. The faces of young Palestinians showing up daily on social media, boys and girls shot by soldiers, accused falsely of attempting to stab a soldier.
It has become normal to see Israeli soldiers shooting skunk water and tear gas, and snipers using live ammunition at unarmed protesters who want the land that was once theirs and the freedom they never had.
And it has become normal for us to engage in the endless, fruitless debate on whether Palestinians throwing stones at armed Israeli soldiers who invade their homes constitutes violence, or whether or not Zionism – which produced this violence – is a racist ideology. And all the while the suffering and the oppression of millions of Palestinians go on almost uninterrupted.
It is no secret that Israelis and Palestinians live two separate realities.
Even when we privileged Israelis go to the village of Nabi Saleh on a Friday to participate in the weekly protest, at the end of the day we are free to leave the village, leave the occupation and return to our safe, clean, well-paved spheres. Unlike the Palestinians we leave behind, our homes will not be raided, our roads will not be blocked and our children will not have to hide for days or weeks from the threat of being shot, arrested and tortured.
We return home sweaty and tired, covered in tear gas and skunk water and we feel we did our bit. But what bit did we do? What is the role of the privileged Israeli activists within the resistance and why are we accomplishing so little?
To begin with we need to admit that this is resistance and ask whether we are willing to take part.
On any given Friday there may be about 10 Israeli activists, be it in Nabi Saleh or Bilin, currently the two main locations for Friday protests in the occupied West Bank. Some Israelis walk in the back, some in the front.
Some like to say they are merely documenting. Most, like shadows, don’t seem like they know their place and don’t want to interfere. Few confront the Israeli forces. So the question that begs to be asked is, what are we accomplishing?
If we don’t use our privilege to push the envelope and to confront the Israeli authorities, then we are indeed mere shadows.
My latest visit to Nabi Saleh was on 26 May, exactly two weeks after Saba Abu Ubaid, 23, was shot and killed by Israeli forces during a protest there.
The march began, as always, with people walking down the hill from the mosque after noon prayer, carrying flags and chanting. There were about 30 or 40 people (though in the charges that would be brought against me, the Israeli police claimed there were 200 protesters), mostly Palestinians with a few regular Israelis and other foreigners.
After a few minutes we were confronted by the Israeli forces who informed us we were to disperse.
How does one begin to describe the outrage? Fully armed soldiers on occupied land telling the people whose village they invaded that they must disperse. But in Palestine, this is normal so there is little outrage.
“Shoot them in the legs”
The usual pushing and shoving began and was then followed by the firing of tear gas, skunk water and, before too long, live ammunition. Considering what had taken place there just two weeks earlier, seeing snipers take their positions and take aim at the kids on the hills was cause for serious concern. I heard someone whose name badge identified him as Raja Keyes order the snipers to “shoot them in the legs.”
Nabi Saleh residents began sitting in front of the snipers to block their sights. More tear gas, more skunk water and more snipers followed.
Keyes was right next to me when he walked to a group of women and children watching the events from the side of the road and, with a smile on his face, threw a tear gas grenade at them. One of the mothers ran up a terrace to interfere with the snipers and was pushed around by soldiers. I ran up towards her, went around a young officer who tried to stop me and by the time I reached her they came for me.
Four or five officers, including Keyes had me in a tight grip. The officers were from Magav – although often described as “border police,” Magav is a unit within the Israeli military.
By that time, the officers had good reason to resent me and want me out of the way.
The photos and videos of my arrest made their way to social media, so suffice it to say they were not gentle and I was not compliant. (My arrest is at about 12:10 in the video below of the day’s events, made by Palestinian activist Bilal Tamimi.)
At one point after I was arrested, Keyes introduced himself formally to me as “force commander” and asked for my ID, which I did not have.
Later on, when I was taken away in the armored vehicle, he was seated in the front and I proceeded to tell him that he was no “commander” and he was not heading any “force” but rather they were all a gang of armed bullies.
But this is not about me or any other single activist. It is about the role that we Israelis can play which is unique because Israeli law provides us with a shield that Palestinians and international activists do not have.
It is not our role to play unbiased spectators or to document, nor is it our role to just follow along. We can get in the faces of the commanders and the soldiers and disrupt their work. In fact, one of the comments made constantly by the commanders is that we are “disrupting their work, and will be arrested for that.”
My response is that this is precisely the point! Why show up if we let them go about their business? When we are arrested we are always charged with disrupting officers on duty, even when we don’t, but that is exactly what we must do.
Along Highway 443 – sometimes known as the “apartheid highway” – there is a sign in Hebrew that says: “By order of the commanding general, Israelis are prohibited from entering the villages along this road.” When activists do go to the villages to protest, they challenge this command. But still, the shield that our Israeli ID provides us can be used to disrupt the normalcy of the occupation everywhere.
Israelis, even dedicated, well-meaning ones, do far too little and we use far too little of our privilege to challenge and combat the injustice meted out against Palestinians. Most Israeli activists won’t even call for refusal to serve in the Israeli army because they consider that too radical.
No one likes to be arrested, particularly when it involves a night or two in jail, sharing a smoke-filled room with no ventilation and no company save cockroaches and two-bit criminals who hate activists even more than they hate Arabs.
If we are to play a role in the overthrow of injustice, and if we are to one day see an end to the oppression of more than half of the people with whom we live, then we must use our privilege and act to end the normalcy and the oppression.
Miko Peled is the author of The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine.