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Red Rag column: Reflections on the 1980s
Coverage of volunteer work at Dheisheh in Al-Fajr, December 1983
By: Gideon Spiro
14 July 2015 (English translation 19 July 2015)

What is different? (Memories, and one lesson)

In the ninth decade of the last century, when I was still a Jerusalemite, I
was an activist in the Israeli Committee of Solidarity with Bir Zeit
University. The Committee came to being in response to the closing of the
university by the military government. An unacceptable attack on academic
freedom. When the closure order was lifted we kept the name because it had
become a kind of trademark.

The Cremisan monastery is not far from Jerusalem, between Bethlehem and the
Dheisheh refugee camp. The monastery is well known to many Israelis, and
especially to Jerusalemites who love wine. How things are today I do not know,
but I remember in the 1980s there was tumultuous traffic every Friday as
Jerusalemites drove to the monastery to buy the product of the monastery’s
winery. The quality was good and the price was quite a bit lower than the wine
sold in Jerusalem shops.

The Cremisan monastery and the Dheisheh refugee camp are both subject to the
Israeli Occupation, but what a difference! The residents of the camp are
refugees from 1948, the Nakba. The camp projects poverty and want, sewage
flows through the narrow streets, and most of its entrances have been sealed
by the Occupation army. They thought they could prevent stone-throwing by the
Palestinian Gadna, [1] but the Children of the Stones will always find ways
around. The camp is harassed every day by army patrols, curfews and arrests.
Compared to Dheisheh, Cremisan is an oasis in the desert, an island of calm in
a stormy sea.

In its heyday the Bir Zeit Committee was a leader in the campaign against the
Occupation, and comprised dozens of activists from all strands of the Left –
Zionists, non-Zionists and anti-Zionists, most of them Jerusalemites, all
united by opposition to the Occupation and its crimes. The committee was
active on a broad front. Demonstrations on both sides of the Green Line,
sometimes in partnership with Palestinians. Each one of us carries traces of
tear-gas in our bodies; we worked to create a dialogue with Palestinian
leadership from various organizations, as well as with those who had no
organizational affiliation. That is how I got to know Faisal Husseini (a noble
and affable man with whom, among others, I had the honour of founding the
committee against the “Iron Fist” proclaimed by the Defence Minister at the
time, Yitzhak Rabin. As far as I know it was the first Israeli-Palestinian
committee. Faisal and I were the committee’s spokesmen), Attorney Ziad Abu-
Ziad from Jerusalem (who founded the Palestinian Hebrew-language newspaper
Gesher), the journalist Hamdi Farraj from Dheisheh, Dr. Sari Nusseibeh
(today the president of al-Quds University), Dr. Mubarak Awad (who founded the
Palestinian Centre for the Study of Non-Violence in Jerusalem) and many
others.

Those who know the modus operandi and mindset of the leaders of the
Occupation will have no trouble figuring out which one was the “dangerous” one
in their eyes – who could it have been other than Mubarak Awad? Awad, a native
of Jerusalem, traveled to the USA to study psychology and was won over by the
ideologies of those who espoused non-violence, foremost among them Mahatma
Gandhi. He came not to kill but to save life. He wanted to instil in his
people the idea that when they come to uproot one of your trees, you plant
another one. And also that you buy nothing from the Occupation.

Israel immediately responded with the methods of violence in which it is
expert: his Jerusalem residency status was withdrawn and he was given an
expulsion order. And who ratified the expulsion order when he appealed to the
Supreme Court? None other than Aharon Barak, who was always accused by the
Right of being a leftist (a false accusation), which goes to show that there
are no right-wing judges or left-wing judges; just judges who are subservient
to the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet).

At a meeting in Dheisheh we told our Palestinian hosts that we would be happy
to help make their lives easier if we could. They did not conceal their
satisfaction at the offer and told us about a muddy and puddle-filled path
that caused great suffering to those coming to the camp, which they wanted to
pave, but they did not want to ask for permission from military government. If
we really applied ourselves the work could be completed in one day. We knew
nothing about paving but we were willing to work under their direction to
prepare the path for paving. It was in the dead of winter, hence the urgency.
We decided that we would go on the first sunny Saturday, and we did. On
Saturday 17 December 1983, 40 members of the committee reported in work-
clothes, ready to start. Many of us had forgotten the last time we had held
work tools such as shovels, picks, hoes etc., but everyone did their best.
Somebody forgot where he was and began to hum the song “We came to this
country”, and we had to shush him and remind him that he was in the Dheisheh
refugee camp and not a gathering of the Labour Battalion. The children of the
camp laughed and enjoyed the scene. They had never seen such a thing before.

After three and a half hours an Occupation officer showed up, accompanied by
soldiers and several jeeps, and told us that the area had been declared a
Closed Military Zone and we had to leave. A debate began. Why? There’s no
demonstration, no stone-throwing, just a friendly visit by a group of Israelis
to the camp, there’s no reason to declare a Closed Military Zone. The officer
replied that he did not know the reason, but the law is the law and it must be
respected. We replied that Occupation laws do not deserve respect, and someone
added that there were laws in Germany too. It did not end very well. The
outcome: two arrests including a television crew that had been dispatched to
cover the event. So we had to apologize to our hosts that we could not
complete the work, and everybody went home. Another reminder that what scares
the Occupation authorities is Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. The event was
extensively covered by the English-language Palestinian weekly Al Fajr
in its issue of 23 December 1983.

On 7 February 1985, the day after the administrative detention of the
Palestinian journalist from Dheisheh, Hamdi Farraj, I sent a letter in the
name of the Committee to the Israeli Journalists’ Association requesting that
they raise their voices in protest against this attack on freedom of the
press. I concluded the letter with the following words: “Freedom of the press
and human freedom know no borders, and those who do not raise their voices
when they are trampled underfoot next door should not be surprised when the
abusers knock at their own gate.”

The Journalists’ Association did not reply. And now they’re knocking at our
gate.

On 22 May 1984 I sent a letter to the Artists’ Association:
“The Israeli Committee for Solidarity with Bir Zeit University requested of me
at our last meeting (20 May 1984) to address the Artists’ Association on the
matter of Fathi Dajan. This Palestinian artist, one of the best-known in the
Occupied Territories, was taken to the military court in Gaza on 10 May 1984
and accused of “inciting against Israel” with his work. As “evidence” the
military prosecutor presented his painting “al-Amal” (the Hope), and claimed
that in its upper part appear the four colours of the Palestinian flag, which
constitutes “incitement against Israel”. The military judge sentenced the
artist, the father of seven children, to half a year in prison, half a year
suspended and a fine of 30 thousand shekels.”

Can you believe that such a trial took place in Israel after the Holocaust in
the second half of the 20th century? Fathi’s conviction and our appeal to the
Artists’ and Sculptors’ Association was the beginning of one of the most
beautiful and inspiring projects of the Committee, in cooperation with the
Palestinian Artists’ Association in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Israeli
artists against the Occupation. After intensive preparation work the
organizers produced an impressive exhibition of paintings that bore the title:
“Palestinian and Israeli artists against the Occupation and for freedom of
expression”. How topical. The exhibition elicited a great deal of interest, it
was shown in several galleries in Israel and the Occupied Territories and it
can be said without exaggeration that it was successful above and beyond all
expectations.

And now for the episode that is the reason why I wrote this column: the murder
at Cremisan. On 22 October 1984 two Israeli youths, Ron Levy and Ravital Seri,
students at the Hebrew University, were murdered near the monastery.
Undoubtedly the couple saw the monastery as a quiet, pastoral and romantic
place, far from the hustle and bustle of the city. No one knew who the
murderer was, but the assumption was that it was a Palestinian from Dheisheh
in whom the fire of hatred and revenge annihilated the storm of love. Later it
turned out that the murderer, Issa Abed-Rabbo, killed the two in revenge for
the death of his cousin in an Israeli prison. Now it is clear that they belong
on the lengthening list of victims of revenge in the bloody conflict between
the occupier and the occupied.

Back to the day the murder was reported. As a spokesman of the Committee I had
to issue an announcement to the press. Every one of us knew that incidents
like those release all the sewage accumulated inside the Right and they have
an orgy of abuse and invective against the Left. I wavered whether to lower
the flag a little and issue a watered-down statement that would not anger
anyone or to choose that very moment to take a firm left-wing stand and tell
the truth as we see it. I chose the second path. The announcement included a
call to the government and its agencies to do some soul-searching to see if
they could have prevented the murder. The political establishment in all its
branches – the government, the settlers, the Zionist Organization, the
Knesset, the Jewish Agency, the Jewish National Fund, the Rabbinate and a
large part of the media had brainwashed the citizenry with powerful megaphones
that the Left could not match. They had created the feeling that the West Bank
was part of Israel, the cradle of the Nation, that the term “Occupied
Territories” was a treasonous invention of the Left to apply to Biblical lands
called “Judea and Samaria”, and all that right-wing hoo-ha amounted to a clear
message to young people: go hiking in the Land of the Bible, for it is ours,
as in the song “Go walk the Land”. Could it be that that message filtered
through to the victims and they thought that Crimesan, so near Jerusalem, was
already a part of the State of Israel? We will never know.

It was not only people of the Right who were affected by my words; confirmed
leftists too approached me and thanked me for raising a subject that they had
not been aware of. In the announcement I emphasized that these are called in
all the languages of the world “occupied territories”, a term that correctly
reflects the factual situation and their legal status: territories in which a
war is taking place between the occupier and the occupied, and we call on
every man and woman, young and old, not to go driving or hiking there. In
addition to the danger to life, such expeditions are also disrespectful of the
residents of the territories, who have been deprived of basic rights by the
Israeli occupiers. The newspaper Haaretz published the announcement
nearly in full. And apparently I touched a nerve. The ricochets flew fast and
furiously, from Right and Left. The television critic for Haaretz,
Hedda Boshes, attacked the Committee with fury and venom, as did the right-
wing columnist for Yedioth Ahronoth Amos Carmel. They both made a
similar claim: so we can visit the islands of Greece but the Territories are
forbidden to us? I was forced to explain to them the difference between
entering a country with the permission of its elected government and entering
an occupied territory under the protection of the occupying army without the
agreement of the local people. Even within the Committee there was
disagreement between those who supported the announcement and those who
thought that it was not the right time to say such things. Since Crimesan
there have been multiple incidents in which young Israelis were killed while
hiking by Palestinian guerrilla cells. Over 30 years have passed, and looking
back I think I was right, and today I repeat my position: do not go to the
Occupied Territories. The Palestinian resistance movement has not ceased to
exist; it takes on different forms with varying intensity. Those who desire
life will not travel to the Occupied Territories until an agreement has been
concluded.


Solid Cliff: one year since the crime

The mainstream media have dedicated many hours of broadcast time to the
anniversary of the war code-named “Solid Cliff” (“Defensive Edge” in English).
They all offer an identical or similar menu: an interview with a widow or an
orphan, then for dessert an interview with a high-ranking officer who usually
praises the high quality of the fighting done by the miserable police army.

They omit one thing: the failure of the army equipped from head to toe with
airplanes, tanks, ships, missiles, cannons and sophisticated electronic
equipment that sprayed a densely-populated urban area with five thousand tons
of bombs to defeat a few hundred Hamas fighters whose equipment amounted to
sling-shots in comparison to Israel’s arsenal. Another fact: the four thousand
rockets that were fired at Israel contained less than a ton of explosives. But
still, there were some achievements: 500 children were killed and 25 thousand
Gazans were left homeless. Kudos to the IDF.


Thank you

Thanks go to President Obama and all others had a part in the agreement with
Iran. Now has come the time to dismantle the nuclear arsenal of Israel, a
dangerous state, before Netanyahu, Yaalon or one of their friends goes insane.


Letter to the editor of Yedioth Ahronoth

I found in my archive a reply that I sent to Yedioth Ahronoth which was
not published. Now, on the occasion of the first anniversary of the war, I
publish it as a “rejection letter” from one of the heroes of the “Cliff”, the
dictator Lapid.


To the Seven Days supplement

31 October 2005
Fax: 6082234
Greetings,
I authorize the publication of the following comments.


Yair Lapid dedicated his column of 28 October 2005 to his son who has enlisted
in the army. Among other things, he entreated his son to be proud to join the
army.

I find it difficult to understand a father who sees his son’s joining any
army, the main function of which is to kill people, and the Israeli Occupation
army in particular, the main function of which is to violate human rights, as
something to be proud of.

It would seem that behind Lapid’s Central European moderation is concealed a
Middle Eastern cult of martyrdom.

At this juncture I propose to rescue the honour of parenthood and publish what
I wrote in anticipation of my own son’s induction into the army, under the
heading “abduction”, which was published in Yedioth Ahronoth on 31
January 1997:

“In February my son will turn 18. My partner and I raised him to value peace
and love of humanity, and our efforts were rewarded. Now along comes the State
which wants to induct him into the army and endanger his life for objectives
that have nothing to do with the security of the State. I see this as
abduction under the colour of law. Israel today is not fighting for its life
or its security. Those have been safe for a long time now. Israel today is
fighting for the settlements and its conquests in the West Bank, Gaza,
southern Lebanon and the Golan Heights. How can we prevent this abduction?
Does anyone have any advice?”

That is how a father who truly fears for his child’s safety writes.
Gideon Spiro.


Translator’s note

1. Used here ironically, Gadna literally means “youth battalions”. It is a
quasi-military training programme designed to prepare school-aged Israeli
youth for their eventual enlistment in the Israeli army at age 18.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gadna_(Israel)

Translated for Occupation Magazine by George Malent

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