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When I feel you have my back. From an antizionist Jew to the left on challenging antisemitism

March 30, 2017 2 comments

17436035_1218953451550743_7199866630498237987_oOn challenging antisemitism by the left. What it means to me as a Jew with progressive values when Jackie Walker and Gilad Atzmon are being hosted in Glasgow this week.

Couple of things have happened in past few days in Glasgow to prompt this post. I actually found out about these in reverse order, but I’m starting with the easiest one to write about, Gilad Atzmon. My discussion and feelings about Jackie Walker being hosted by SPSC are down below.

Last night Gilad Atzmon played a gig at Tchai Ovna : a hippy/lefty tea shop in Glasgow. A friend casually mentioned it, after the gig had started. I was pretty wtf?! But by this time there was nothing to be done. So I’ve informed the venue of Gilad’s antisemitism and am, until told otherwise, assuming that they didn’t know of this beforehand. However they know now and if they book him again I will be more active against it.

I have only met Atzmon once – I went with a friend to a gig as he’s a really good saxophonist. My friend introduced me to him afterwards, and I was initially very happy about this, not just because the gig had been great. I like to meet other antizionist Jews as it can be a lonely path. At most Jewish cultural/religious events I avoid talk of Israel as I won’t lie, but also I hate confrontation and turning a spiritual occasion into a heated political argument. Jewish practise nurtures and calms me. Like doing yoga or whatever works for you. I feel at peace and nourished at this deep down level. I don’t know why it has this effect, but I don’t need to understand it to value it in my life, as it harms no-one else. I tend to have a separation between my different hobbies, interests, and choices. Those who also straddle intersections I often feel a connection and bond with as its exciting and useful for me to be able to discuss issues that relate to our shared intersections and I find helps me understand whats going on for me.

However the initial joy at being invited by Atzmon to sit and chat with him turned to confusion and then revulsion as he began denouncing what he sees as typical Jewish tribalism, as a superiority complex of being Jewish, and how Jews have brought centuries of persecution onto ourselves. After arguing for a short while (I have confrontation and find heated/aggressive verbal dialogue deeply unpleasant) I left. Subsequently I’ve discovered how antisemitic he is. To find examples I had a quick look at his blog and here are some recent examples:

an  arrogant yeshiva boy is subject to a historical continuum of harassment. Seemingly, Alliel didn’t bother to ask himself why is he chased and abused time after time by so many people in so many places.

Source: http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/2017/3/16/alliel-a-window-into-tribal-arrogance

“If I were a Jew,” [David Irving] said, “I would ask myself why it always happens to us?” At the time, I was a still Jew but I took up Irving’s challenge. I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw so I decided to leave the tribe and I stopped being a Jew.

Source : http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/2017/2/16/exactly-who-is-it-that-is-in-denial

Although discovering that this alternative/lefty venue is hosting him shocked me, I don’t feel utterly powerless to challenge it. And that’s because over the years I have felt that many within the left will have my back when it comes to challenging antisemitism. It’s really moving to me to feel this. That especially within the Palestine solidarity movement but in the wider left I am not alone facing those prejudiced against me. It gives me a safety, and a courage. It gives me strength to fight alongside others against their oppressions knowing that they also have my back when it comes to antisemitism. It feels like we really can stand all together and be strong and united and beautiful and really bring about meaningful change to a world where all are liberated and free and safe.

So I feel deeply inside that if Atzmon again is booked to play this venue, that if I ask of it, others, not just Jews, will join me in publicly condemning them for giving this racist a stage. I feel secure in that and its incredibly moving to have that surety. Its just so beautiful and affirming and powerful and empowering.

Jackie Walker

[EDITED TO ADD : I have been told that she actually said she hadn’t heard a definition of anti-semitism she agreed with in the context of a particular workshop which was stating that criticism of israel was anti-semitic. Will update the text within this post when I know more but wanted to clarify that this is in contention as early as possible]

Sometimes antizionism is labelled antisemitism. Jewdas have a really cool primer on how to criticise Israel without being antisemitic and a longer piece discussing what antisemitism is and isn’t.

Last year Jackie Walker was in the media for being expelled and then reaccepted into the Labour Party on the basis of several comments she has made, in different formats, that many (including me) find problematic about Jewish people (which she identifies as also)

I consider “no platforming” an extreme tactic that should be kept for extreme cases where it is likely that a speech by someone will cause harm to another. In the case of Jackie Walker I disagree with her on very many things, and I do feel a bit threatened by her assertion (originally from known antisemites Louis Farrakan’s Nation of Islam) that “many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade” (source: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/anti-semitism-row-momentum-organiser-jackie-walker-readmitted-to-labour-party-following-racism-a7053966.html ) as this is the kind of language that supports and promotes anti-semitism. However I am not calling for her to be no platformed.

For a wider discussion of things she’s said try hope not hate. In brief she has joined predominantly antisemitic calls for Holocaust memorial day to focus on other genocides, however it already does. Antisemites seek to minimise the Nazi holocaust and so she stands in particularly bad company, as well as being ill-informed in making this call. She has also said she can’t find a definition of antisemitism she can work with, which again is kinda weird – jewdas have a couple of good ones (linked above) and its really just a basic antiracist stance with basic knowledge of the historical and current slurs, smears and falsehoods used against Jews.

Again, to be super clear, despite this I am not calling for her to be no platformed.

I do find it hard to swallow though that the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) are hosting her in Glasgow tonight. They claim she is “Accused of anti-Semitism for her anti-Zionist position” (source : https://www.facebook.com/events/376828286014487/ ) Which is just the inverse of zionist claims that all criticisms of israel are antisemitic. I am not in any way against her anti-zionism. Dismissing objections to her as coming purely from a Zionist standpoint is ridiculous and hurtful.

There are hundreds of excellent speakers about Palestine in the UK who are not tarred with her associations with antisemitism. It was not necessary of the SPSC to host her. It is provocative and divisive.

I have had over a decade within the anti-occupation, Palestine solidarity movement and I know that antisemitism and dismissal of such is a minority view. As I stated above I have felt that people have had my back. But what about someone new to challenging the Israeli occupation of Palestine? What if this is what they see – that being anti-occupation means supporting someone who has said what Jackie Walker has said only last year? She has not meaningfully retracted any of it, as far as I can tell, and I did go to look.

If this was more than an occasional one-off event I don’t know how welcome or comfortable I would feel within progressive movements. This kind of behaviour reinforces zionists’ narrative that we need a strong nation state because nobody else will be there for us. It chases Jews back into the hands of Jewish nationalism. Plenty of Palestinians are ready to condemn antisemitism and the movement purporting to support them should do the same.

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Fight War Not Wars. Rachel Corrie – the American girl killed defending a Palestinian home.

March 16, 2014 12 comments

The world, my world, narrowed to a single point. The war, the wars, that had filled my thoughts raged on around. The Iraq war buildup, occupation of Palestine, the assaults on Gaza, the poverty and inequality and sexism that for most exacerbated their desperate situation evaporated from my consciousness. The brutality of the occupation that for the past two months had crowded all else from my head, with its desperate importance – all that blurred to non existence.

“My back is broken.” The last words Rachel Corrie ever said. I dropped my mobile phone in the middle of dialling for an ambulance and took her head in my hands to stabilise her spine. Nearby the bulldozers and tanks were driving – normally impossible to ignore massive, armoured, roaring, military machines. Another international with incredible foresight took photo after photo.

We were in the Philadelphia Corridor. Land scraped clean of Palestinian homes over the past few years and made into a militarised buffer zone between the Israeli army’s newly erected steel wall and the half of Rafah that fell on the Gaza side of the border with Egypt. Even in overcrowded, desperate for space Gaza, this area was to be avoided. The only movement would be the frequent passage of tanks and APCs and armoured bulldozers and even then, even the Israelis wouldn’t tarry.

The world comprised of 4 people. I held Rachel’s head. On her right and left Greg and Will knelt beside her, focusing all they could to will her to survive. Four friends, one of whom’s life force was leaking out as we held her, told her we loved her and how awesome she was and how she was going to be ok. How she was going to do these awesome talks back in the states about how she’d survived being run over by an IDF bulldozer. As we desperately tried to keep our dying friend with us, while her body was breaking apart and there was nothing we could do. Helplessly I observed the thin skin around her eyes and ears blackened with blood from the bleeding in her brain. The depth and regularity fading from her breathing.

In less than an hour she would be declared dead and this tiny world would be the centre of global attention, as multinational media filled with news of an American girl killed defending a Palestinian home. Suddenly my world would be talking live on TV channels from every continent, confronting head on the USA and Israeli states when they tried to force us to hand over Rachel’s body to the IDF, the institution that had killed her. I would be on a call with a USA congressman. Emails and phone calls would flood in from around the world. We would give a packed out press conference to local and global media.

But at that moment there were just four of us in the world, and one was dying as we held her. Four kids from USA and UK whose life paths had happened to intersect in Palestine. Four kids in the most dangerous place in the Gaza Strip, and one of us was fading fast and there was nothing the rest of us could do about it.

This is what War means. This is the detail in every casualty statistic. People holding their loved ones as their soft flesh disintegrates from the sudden penetration of the hard metals of war; tanks, guns, bombs, shrapnel. Bodies and lives broken. For what?

Each war death is a unique human being, just like your mother, father, sister, brother and child. Communities deemed “war zones” by too powerful others living remote lives moving infantry pieces over plans of “strategic areas”. A little to the left and suddenly that village is ground underneath the caterpillar tracks of War. The tanks roll through. The fighter jets race overhead. Communities and lives are wrecked.

What possible question can this be the right answer to? How can destruction this brutal birth anything worthwhile? What dehumanising of other human beings, what racism must we hold to ever justify such slaughter?

Rachel was an incredible person. Please read from her own words. And know that the millions of others murdered for War are as unique and precious and their deaths as tragic and wrong.

Fight War Not Wars.

Bhopal: celebrate Rachel Corrie’s life

March 15, 2014 2 comments

Imageहिंदी के नीचे

American peace activist Rachel Corrie gave her life defending Palestinian homes from the Israeli army in Gaza in 2003. This Sunday, 16th March 2014, will be the 11th anniversary of her killing.

Here in Bhopal, next to the Union Carbide / Dow Chemicals factory responsible for the destruction of thousands of lives, we will be
celebrating Rachel’s life by reading aloud from her writings. In these she eloquently, compassionately and inspiringly describes injustice, oppression and inequality as well as hope and inspiration; as relevant in Bhopal as they were in Gaza. You are invited to join us in celebrating life, courage, compassion and a spirit of resistance.

Statue of the Bhopal Mother. Opposite Union Carbide factory.
4pm
Sunday 16th March 2014

*****

 

Israel was formed in Palestine by UN in 1948 so that Jews could have a safe country of their own. This was because 6 million Jews were killed during World War 2 in the Nazi Holocaust.

 

Most of the people already living in Palestine were not Jewish and they were forced from their homes or killed in order to make Israel. Since the beginning Israel has continued to expand its borders by fighting and displacing even more people.

 

Today there are 6 million Palestinian refugees. The West Bank and Gaza are Palestinian areas but they are under Israeli military control. Palestinians have to pass through Israeli checkpoints to travel between towns and villages. They are harassed, arrested and killed. Palestinian homes are still being destroyed. When they have demonstrations they are attacked with tear gas and guns.

 

Some Palestinians also fight and kill Israelis in retaliation. All killing of civilians is wrong. The vast majority of people killed are Palestinians, including many children. However the world governments and media do not report the truth so Israel is free to do as it likes without international sanctions.

 

Because of this violence and injustice international peace activists go to Palestine to take action to protect Palestinians and to report on what is happening.

 

In 2003 there were 8 of us from UK and USA in Gaza. On March 16th Israeli soldiers in tanks and bulldozers began clearing land near the houses of some friends of ours. We stood in the way of the bulldozers to protect their homes. For 3 hours the bulldozers and tanks tried to force us to leave by driving up and around us to scare us. Finally one bulldozer kept driving and ran over my friend Rachel Corrie from USA. She was crushed by the bulldozer while protecting the home of Dr Samir, a pharmacist. She died in my arms within an hour.

 

Rachel was 23 when she was killed but already had a profound understanding of the complex situation she was in as a white American in Gaza. Through the articulate emails that she wrote to her parents we can see both her deep sense of justice and her compassion, even for those soldiers who would eventually kill her.

 

This Sunday, 16th March 2014, the 11th anniversary of her death, here in Bhopal we will read aloud from her writings, because she no longer can. We will celebrate her life, her humour, her empathy, her courage and her vision, next to the Union Carbide / Dow Chemicals factory responsible for the death and destruction of thousands of lives here.

 

In both Gaza and Bhopal poor, apparently helpless communities are surviving despite the injustice and assaults on them from distant, unaccountable, powerful people who treat human lives as mere statistics. In both Gaza and Bhopal creativity, determination, strength and solidarity have grown hope and beauty from destruction and despair.

 

In celebrating Rachel’s life and words you are invited to also celebrate the human compassion, ingenuity and resilience that gives light in darkness and provides hope for the future worldwide.

 

 

जर्मनी, इटली और यूरोप के अन्य देशों में नाज़ी हुक्मरानों द्वारा दूसरे विश्वयुद्ध के दौरान 60 लाख़ यहूदियों की ह्त्या की गई | इसी वजह से 1948 में संयुक्त राष्ट्रसंघ ने फिलिस्तीन में इस्राइल राज्य  की स्थापना की ताकि यहूदियों को रहने के लिए सुरक्षित जगह मिले |  

 

फिलिस्तीन में पहले से रहनेवाले अधिकतर लोग यहूदी नहीं थे और इस्रायल राज्य की स्थापना के लिए उन्हें या तो ज़बरदस्ती हटाया गया या मार डाला गया |  इस्रायल राज्य की स्थापना के समय से ही यह लड़ाई के बल पर अपनी सीमा लगातार बढ़ा रहा है और लगातार लोगो को अपने घरों से विस्थापित कर रहा है | 

 

आज फिलिस्तीन में 60 लाख लोग बेघर हैं |  फिलिस्तीन के एक बड़े हिस्से वेस्ट बैंक और गाज़ा पर इस्रायल की सेना काबिज़ है | फिलिस्तीनियों को एक गाँव या शहर से दूसरे गाँव या शहर जाने के लिए इस्रायली सेना की निगरानी में अलग-अलग गेट से गुज़रना पड़ता है | ख़ासकर इन गेटों पर फिलिस्तीनियों को परेशान किया जाता है, गिरफ्तार किया जाता है या कभी-कभी मार डाला जाता है | आज भी फिलिस्तीनी लोगों के घर इस्रायल द्वारा तोड़े जा रहे हैं | जब फिलस्तीनी लोग इस अत्याचार का विरोध करते हैं तो उंन पर आँसू गैस के गोले छोड़े जाते हैं, गोलियां चलाई जाती हैं | 

 

कुछ फिलिस्तीनी बदले की भावना से इस्रायली जानें लेते हैं | आम इंसानों को मारना ग़लत है चाहे वह कहीं भी हो | कुल मिलाकर सबसे ज़्यादा फिलिस्तीनी ही मारे जाते हैं और मरनेवालों में बड़ी संख्या में बच्चे शामिल रहते हैं | लेकिन अलग अलग मुल्क़ों की सरकारों द्वारा और अख़बार या टेलीवीज़न में फिलिस्तीनियों पर जारी हिंसा की बात नहीं की जाती और इस्रायल बेक़सूर इंसानों के ख़िलाफ़ अत्याचार जारी रखने के लिए आज़ाद हो गया है |   

 

फिलिस्तीन में जारी इस अत्याचार से आम फिलिस्तीनियों की रक्षा करने के लिए दुनिया भर के शान्ति के लिए काम करने वाले कार्यकर्ता वहाँ जाते हैं और बाकी दुनिया को फिलिस्तीन के लोगों की  हालत के बारे में बताते हैं | 

 

सन्-2003 में अमरीका और ब्रिटेन से हम 8 शान्ति कार्यकर्ता गाज़ा में थे | 16 मार्च के दिन इस्रायली सिपाहियों ने टैंकों और बुलडोज़रों से हमारे कुछ दोस्तों के घरों के आसपास ज़मीन साफ़ करना शुरू किया | बुलडोज़रों से अपने दोस्तों के घरों को बचाने के लिए हम उनके सामने खड़े हो गए | 3 घंटे तक कई टैंक और बुलडोज़र हमारे पास तक आके और हमारे आस-पास चलते हुए इस कोशिश में लगे रहे कि हम डर कर हट जाएँ | फिर इनमें से एक बुलडोज़र ने अमरीका से आई हुई मेरी दोस्त रैचेल कोरी को रौंद दिया | अपने दोस्त डाक्टर समीर के घर को बचाते हुए रैचेल बुलडोज़र के नीचे पिस गयी | घंटे भर के अंदर उसने मेरी बाँहों में दम तोड़ दिया | 

 

रैचेल जब मारी गयी तब वह सिर्फ 23 साल की थी पर उसे मालूम था कि एक गोरी महिला को उस जटिल परिस्थिति का मुक़ाबला कैसे करना चाहिए | उसने अपने माता-पिता को जो ईमेल भेजे थे उनसे पता चलता है कि वह इंसाफ़ के लिए कितनी बेचैन थी और उसे आम लोगों से कितनी हमदर्दी थी यहाँ तक कि उन सिपाहियों  से जिन्होंने आगे चलकर उसकी जान ले ली | 

 

कल, रविवार 16 मार्च को रैचेल के मौत की 11 वीं बरसी है |  कल, चूँकि रैचेल खुद हमें सुना नहीं सकती हम रैचेल की लिखी कविताएँ और चिट्ठियाँ पढ़ कर सुनाएँगे | कल यूनियन कार्बाइड के जिस कारख़ाने की वजह से हज़ारों लोग मारे और लाखों बीमार हुए उस कारख़ाने के सामने हम मिलकर रैचेल को  याद करेंगे, उसके चुटकुले, उसकी हमदर्दी, उसकी हिम्मत उसकी सोच आपस में बाँटेंगे | 

 

गाज़ा और भोपाल दोनों जगह ग़रीब और कमज़ोर वर्ग के लोग हैवानी ताकतों की नाइंसाफ़ी और अत्याचार के बावज़ूद ज़िंदा और ज़िंदादिल हैं | दोनों जगह रचनात्मकता, पक्की नीयत, हिम्मत और एकता से मायूसी और बर्बादी के माहौल में सम्भावना और सौंदर्य का सृजन हो रहा है जो पूरी दुनिया के भविष्य को रोशन करता है | 

 

 

 

दिन : रविवार 16  मार्च 2014 

समय : शाम 4 बजे   

जगह : युनियन कार्बाइड कारखाने के सामने मूर्ति के पास 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Israel was formed in Palestine by UN in 1948 so that Jews could have a safe country of their own. This was because 6 million Jews were killed during World War 2 in the Nazi Holocaust.

 

जर्मनी, इटली और योरोप के अन्य देशों में नाज़ी हुक्मरानों द्वारा दुसरे विश्वयुद्ध के दौरान 60 लाख यहूदियों की ह्त्या की गई | इसी वजह से 1948 में संयुक्त राष्ट्रसंघ ने फिलस्तीन में इस्रायल राज्य कि स्थापना की ताकि यहूदियों को रहने के लिए सुरक्षित जगह मिले |

 

Most of the people already living in Palestine were not Jewish and they were forced from their homes or killed in order to make Israel. Since the beginning Israel has continued to expand its borders by fighting and displacing even more people. 

 

फिलस्तीन में पहले से रहनेवाले अधिकतर लोग यहूदी नहीं थे और इस्रायल राज्य की स्थापना के लिए उन्हें या तो ज़बरदस्ती हटाया गया या मार डाला गया |  इस्रायल राज्य की स्थापना के समय से ही यह लड़ाई के बल पर अपनी सीमा लगातार बढ़ा रहा है और लगातार लोगो को अपने घरों से विस्थापित कर रहा है | 

 

Today there are 6 million Palestinian refugees. The West Bank and Gaza are Palestinian areas but they are under Israeli military control. Palestinians have to pass through Israeli checkpoints to travel between towns and villages. They are harassed, arrested and killed. Palestinian homes are still being destroyed. When they have demonstrations they are attacked with tear gas and guns.

 

आज फिलस्तीन में 60 लाख लोग बेघर हैं |  फिलस्तीन के एक बड़े हिस्से वेस्ट बैंक और गाज़ा पर इस्रायल की सेना काबिज है | फिलस्तीनियों को एक गाँव या शर से दुसरे गांव या शहर जाने के लिए इस्रायली सेना की निगरानी में अलग अलग गेट से गुज़रना पड़ता है | खासकर इन गेटों पर फिलस्तीनियों को परेशान किया जाता है, गिरफ्तार किया जाता है या कभी कभी मार डाला जाता है | आज भी फिलस्तीनी लोगों के घर इस्रायल द्वारा तोड़े जा रहे हैं | जब फिलस्तीनी लोग इस अत्याचार का विरोध करते हैं तो उंन पर आंसू गैस के गोले छोड़े जाते हैं, गोलियां चलाई जाती हैं | 

 

Some Palestinians also fight and kill Israelis in retaliation. All killing of civilians is wrong. The vast majority of people killed are Palestinians, including many children. However the world governments and media do not report the truth so Israel is free to do as it likes without international sanctions.

 

कुछ फिलस्तीनी बदले की भावना से इस्रायली जाने लेते हैं | आम इंसानों को मारना गलत है चाहे वह कहीं भी हो | कुल मिलाकर सबसे ज़्यादा फिलस्तीनी ही मारे जाते हैं और मरनेवालों में बड़ी संख्या में बच्चे शामिल रहते हैं | लेकिन अलग अलग मुल्कों की सरकारों द्वारा और अखबार या टेलीवीज़न में फिलस्तीनियों पर जारी हिंसा की बात नहीं की जाती और इस्रायल बेक़सूर इंसानों के खिलाफ अत्याचार जारी रखने के लिए आज़ाद हो गया है | 

 

Because of this violence and injustice international peace activists go to Palestine to take action to protect Palestinians and to report on what is happening.

 

फिलस्तीन में जारी इस अत्याचार से आम फिलस्तीनियों की रक्षा करने के लिए दुनिया भर के शान्ति के लिए काम करने वाले कार्यकर्ता वहाँ जाते हैं और बाकी दुनिया को फिलस्तीन के लोगों की  हालत के बारे में बताते है | 

 

In 2003 there were 8 of us from UK and USA in Gaza. On March 16th Israeli soldiers in tanks and bulldozers began clearing land near the houses of some friends of ours. We stood in the way of the bulldozers to protect their homes. For 3 hours the bulldozers and tanks tried to force us to leave by driving up and around us to scare us. Finally one bulldozer kept driving and ran over my friend Rachel Corrie from USA. She was crushed by the bulldozer while protecting the home of Dr Samir, a pharmacist. She died in my arms within an hour.

 

सन 2003 में अमरीका और ब्रिटेन से हम 8 शान्ति कार्यकर्ता गाज़ा में थे | 16 मार्च के दिन इस्रायली सिपाहियों ने टैंकों और बुलडोज़रों से हमारे कुछ दोस्तों के घरों के आसपास ज़मीन साफ़ करना शुरू किया | बुलडोज़रों से अपने दोस्तों के घरों को बचाने के लिए हम उनके सामने खड़े हो गए | 3 घंटे तक कई टैंक और बुलडोज़र हमारे पास तक आके और हमारे आस पास चलते हुए इस कोशिश में लगे रहे कि हम डर कर हट जाँय | फिर इनमे से एक बुलडोज़र ने अमरीका से आई हुई मेरी दोस्त रैचेल कोरी को रौंद दिया | अपने दोस्त डाक्टर समीर के घर को बचाते हुए रैचेल बुलडोज़र के नीचे पिस गयी | घंटे भर के अंदर उसने मेरे बाँहों में दम तोड़ दिया | 

 

Rachel was 23 when she was killed but already had a profound understanding of the complex situation she was in as a white American in Gaza. Through the articulate emails that she wrote to her parents we can see both her deep sense of justice and her compassion, even for those soldiers who would eventually kill her.

 

रैचेल जब मारी गयी तब वह सिर्फ 23 साल की थी पर उसे मालूम था कि एक गोरी महिला को उस जटिल परिस्थिति का मुकाबला कैसे करनी चाहिए | उसने अपने माता पिता को जो ईमेल भेजे थे उनसे पता चलता है कि वह इन्साफ के लिए कितनी बेचैन थी और उसे आम लोगों से कितनी हमदर्दी थी यहाँ तक कि उन सिपाहियों  से जिन्होंने आगे चलकर उसकी जान ले ली | 

 

This Sunday, 16th March 2014,the 11th anniversary of her death, here in Bhopal we will read aloud from her writings, because she no longer can. We will celebrate her life, her humour, her empathy, her courage and her vision, next to the Union Carbide / Dow Chemicals factory responsible for the death and destruction of thousands of lives here.

 

कल, रविवार 16 मार्च को रैचेल के मौत की 11 वीं बरसी है |  कल, चूंकी रैचेल खुद हमें सूना नहीं सकती हम रैचेल की लिखी कवितायेँ और चिट्ठियाँ पढ़ कर सुनाएंगे | कल युनियन कार्बाइड के जिस कारखाने की वजह से हज़ारों लोग मारे और लाखों बीमार हुए उस कारखाने के सामने हम मिलकर रैचेल को  याद करेंगे, उसके चुटकुले, उसकी हमदर्दी, उसकी हिम्मत उसकी सोच आपस में बाँटेंगे | 

 

In both Gaza and Bhopal poor, apparently helpless communities are surviving despite the injustice and assaults on them from distant, unaccountable, powerful people who treat human lives as mere statistics. In both Gaza and Bhopal creativity, determination, strength and solidarity have grown hope and beauty from destruction and despair.

 

In celebrating Rachel’s life and words you are invited to also celebrate the human compassion, ingenuity and resilience that gives light in darkness and provides hope for the future worldwide.

 

गाज़ा और भोपाल दोनो जगह गरीब और कमज़ोर वर्ग के लोग हैवानी ताकतों के नाइंसाफी और अत्याचार के बावज़ूद ज़िंदा और ज़िंदादिल हैं | दोनों जगह रचनात्मकता, पक्की नीयत, हिम्मत और एकता से मायूसी और बर्बादी के माहौल में सम्भावना और सौंदर्य का सृजन हो रहा है जो पूरे दुनिया के भविष्य को रौशन करता है | 

What Rachel Corrie gave me

August 28, 2013 Leave a comment

I was with Rachel Corrie on 16th March 2003 when she was killed by the military industrial complex, or more proximally by the Israeli army via a soldier driving a bulldozer who was just one cog of that particular machine.

This is something I only bring up with close friends before, because it is ridiculously narcissistic to be talking about what the ending of such an incredible life as Rachel’s meant for me, still able to walk and talk and love and laugh and fight for a better world.

But now more than ten years on, I’m going to write this on my personal blog.

That day was like a pivot that I swung around and everything changed. I remember even just a couple of days afterwards looking with this fresh new clarity and certainty at what I’d thought before and feeling astonished. It wasn’t that I was naive about what occupation, war and capitalism could do, but that before my role in changing this was more like somebody playing an engrossing game – after Rachel was killed it became my life’s purpose. Afterwards this is what I can and do give my life for, whether that means because I die directly fighting for what I believe in, or because its what I dedicate the hours and days and years I have alive for.

Here’s a not too gruesome picture of just after she was run-over by the bulldozer.  I’m on the left with bleached hair. About now she says her final words “my back is broken” and all pictures from this scene show me holding her head, stabilising her spine as I was trained to by uncle Doc Rosen.

Who was Rachel to me that her killing was so pivotal? A friend, but not a close one. I attach to folks slowly and we’d only known each other about 7 weeks. I liked her well enough, but she was not someone who’s personality I instantly felt an affinity and close bond with. I imagine that that would have changed as time does to relationships especially in such intense surroundings. As I said, I did like her but she was not so close that her death would have changed things as much as they did.

A patient? Well yes, she was one of my first patients. And now, with ten years of caring for people as first aider and nurse, there is a particular hard to describe feeling, like a mixture of responsibility and mission and protection and advocacy, towards my patients, but I had yet to develop that back then.

No, it was because she was trying to make the world a better place. She had taken herself to Gaza, knowing it was dangerous and uncomfortable and scary, in order to try and change things.

My original motives were less clear and altruistic to be perfectly honest. Yes I wanted to make a difference, but I also wanted to experience a different culture and travel some more. I was curious and interested. And I hoped to also help some people. But it was a bit of an adventure as well.

And then the Israeli state apparatus killed Rachel in front of me. And the next day, in partnership with the USA government, tried to physically claim to her body whilst she was in the Rafah morgue.

I was with some other internationals in an internet cafe desperately emailing and reporting on what had happened. The media storm was in full swing. And I was informed that the Israeli army had given an ultimatum that either Rachel’s body was handed over to them, or that there would be a military operation (with scores of Palestinians inevitably killed in the process) in order to recover it.

And that’s when I felt it. No, no the people who’d killed her were not going to take her body. Not without getting through me first. And that was not going to be an easy thing for them to do.

I found this strength solidifying in me. Something I had felt before on occasion but never to this extent. Resolve. Like an iron rod running from the crown of my head, down through my spine and grounding me. I had power. Power to say No and for that to mean something. For me to be able to prevent something happening. That I was strong and capable enough to stand up to both the Israeli and USA states.

We all agreed it was wrong. A violation that the Israeli army should take the body of the person they had killed. I felt a surety that Rachel would not want this, and I knew I wouldn’t had it been the other way around. I also knew that we didn’t want anyone else to be killed, but I felt absurdly confident that it wouldn’t come to that, and I was right!

I don’t want to just now write again about the practical details of what happened, and the twists and turns, the wranglings, the intense cunning we needed, the taking chances and resourcefulness but Will, Greg and I somehow did it, and successfully arranged for Rachel’s body to not be taken by the Israeli soldiers, but to travel safely to Tel Aviv in a civil ambulance with one of us (Will) with her all the way. It was a few hours of focus and belief and determination and creativity that I just don’t think I would have been capable of before.

A crisis like that is a fire hotter than anything I would wish on anybody else, but within it swirling, confused, contradictory parts of me forged into purposeful solidity. Within it I changed at an essential level. The trauma of it all has taken years to get over, and like anything with a half-life, will never totally leave me. But that profound purpose and power and resolve will not only never leave me, but has only grown stronger over the years.

Those people and systems that poison and degrade precious life and beauty and environment? Each new wound that you inflict has an unpredictable, inverse effect that will lead to your deposition. Within each of us that witness and experience the depths that you will sink to, purpose and focus develops and resonates. And even still now, over a decade since she was killed, I will still meet new people who will find out that I was with Rachel Corrie and tell me how they were shocked and angered by her killing and took up or deepened their struggles for a better world because of it.

So, this then was the narcissistic version of Rachel’s death. And sheepish as I feel in posting it, this is my personal blog. And this was the effect that 16th March 2003 had on me. It was a fulcrum. You killed Rachel, and that created in me a strength and lifemeaning and clarity that is part of a growing global, timeless movement for a decent world.

On the 9th anniversary of Rachel Corrie’s death in Gaza

March 16, 2012 5 comments

Nine years ago today a small group of us spent several hours using our bodies to non violently defend family homes in Rafah, Gaza, from Israeli bulldozers. And then one of those bulldozers just kept on going, crushing Rachel Corrie, 23, beneath it; she died within an hour.

Rachel wasn’t fearless – I remember one day when we were standing as human shields as municipal construction workers were rebuilding a well that had been destroyed by the IDF (Israeli army) seriously compromising the Rafah water supply. We were there every day over several weeks as the work was carried out, and while mostly this was incredibly boring (ever hung out at a construction site?) at times it was terrifying as snipers would shoot towards us. Because we were clearly identified as internationals and were standing between an IDF watchtower and the workers, these were warning shots; on other occasions municipal workers had been killed by IDF snipers hence our presence. I imagine that the IDF soldiers are pretty bored too. They’ve been subjected to years of propaganda dehumanising Palestinians and this together with the sure knowledge that they can get away with it means that putting a rifle into the hands of an 18 year old kid is a recipe for such killings.

Well one day the watchtower snipers started up, but didn’t just shoot their normal couple of shots, but kept going. We had our banner declaring in English, Arabic and Hebrew something about us being internationals and Rachel used the megaphone to shout over and over again in the direction of the shooting that we were international human rights volunteers and to please stop shooting at us; we never knew if they could hear us or not. The shots were whistling past our ears. Sometimes they hit the ground just in front of our feet sending up bits of rock. Rachel’s voice was getting increasingly shakey. I was trying to work out how accurate a sniper could be at that distance – they were clearly trying to scare us as the shots got closer and closer and I know that they can shoot killshots at that range, but supposing the wind suddenly changed? The distinctive crack meant it was high velocity bullets whistling past so surely they wouldn’t be affected by wind? But supposing one of the soldiers did slip, or just thought “screw it” – our lives were in their hands. We were all terrified. Rachel would pause and we would talk about how we wished we had a cigarette and that we could leave and try and cheer each other up. Finally, approximately 40-60 minutes later, the shooting stopped and we went to a nearby friend’s flat for a very shakey cup of sweet tea with maramiya (sage).

The wells were rebuilt; infrastructure is repairable, unlike destroyed lives. And there have been so many lives destroyed by the occupation. Thousands and thousands of Palestinians killed. Millions of children growing up in traumatising environments in Gaza and the West Bank* A 27 year old friend in Rafah has lost dozens of friends over the years to IDF bullets. These are not necessarily fighters; they could have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Like the street cleaner who was shot from a watchtower while smoking outside his house about an hour after Rachel died. We visited his family; apparently he had learning difficulties and still lived with his parents, and had no relationship with politics. And like so many other Palestinian deaths there has been nothing about him in the news, no accountability from the IDF, just another senseless murder in Gaza.

This post is a bit rambly, and that would probably have been a good place to end it, but I want to talk a bit more about Rachel. I only met her 6 weeks before she was killed, and got to know her a lot better after she was killed through reading her emails and other writing, and spending time with her family. To be honest I don’t know if we’d have been close friends if we’d just met normally. She had a very quirky sense of humour that didn’t match mine. I doubt very much that given a choice, it would have been my arms that she would have died in. But I did have that role, I stroked her hair and told her that she was loved as her body shut down.

I wish I had been closer to her, because from her writing an intelligent, compassionate and complex figure emerges. Within a short time she was aware of the complexity, the nuance, the conflicts of the situation. I’m going to stop with some of Rachel’s words. Please do as she did, and put the humanity back into how you think about other people. We are all individuals, with families, hopes, dreams, loves, fears, background contexts that affect our trajectories, and the ability to do amazing things in the world.

“we are all kids curious about other kids. Egyptian kids shouting at strange women wandering into the path of tanks. Palestinian kids shot from the tanks when they peak out from behind walls to see what’s going on. International kids standing in front of tanks with banners. Israeli kids in the tanks anonymously – occasionally shouting and also occasionally waving – many forced to be here, many just agressive – shooting into the houses as we wander away.” (Rachel Corrie, February 7 2003, accessible at http://rachelcorriefoundation.org/rachel/emails)

 

EDITED TO ADD : We’re having an event in Glasgow tonight to celebrate Rachel’s life. Its at Glas Uni but you don’t have to be a student to come :
Boyd Orr. Lecture Theatre E.
University Avenue just up from Byres Rd.
http://www.facebook.com/events/314851021908411/

* I will write about the effect that the occupation is having on Israelis soon. I absolutely condemn all civilian killings.

Give me back my Star of David!

February 27, 2012 3 comments

On pages relating to justice for Palestine I see artwork using the star of david in creative ways to express how the state of Israel is oppressing Palestinians. And of course the Israeli state, with decades of unjust, murderous policies has the star of david as the main symbol on it’s flag.

Being Jewish is important to me spiritually. The star of david is one of our religious symbols, and though personally I prefer others, such as l’chaim (“life”) and the menorah, I still associate the star with my spiritual and ethnic practice.

But the state is Israel has inextricably bound that same symbol into political associations with Zionism. And so naturally the antizionist movement is cleverly and creatively subverting it.

I can’t speak for other Jews who reject Zionism as a part of their religious identity, but for me I find it horrible. I squarely lay the blame on the side of the aggressor – it is the Israeli state and its supporters who first shackled the star of david to the Israeli flag. It was and is they who are most vehement that to be Jewish one must also ascribe to the political ideology of zionism. The other side, who coopts the star in political artwork critiquing zionism is responding to the association laid down by the Israeli state.

But while all this is being played out, I just feel like screaming out (and hence this post!) “LEAVE MY RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS ALONE!” I am here, an antizionist Jew, and I am far from being an annomoly. That symbol is as much mine as every other Jew’s. It has spiritual meaning. My spirituality is not tied to a particular politics but is about my relationship with the All. The star of david is a symbol if that, and binding it to a man-made state, and to the political realm, is a theft and assault of my birthright as a Jew.

On being Jewish and antizionist

November 21, 2011 6 comments

This is just a few thoughts and no doubt I’ll write more on this.

That I’m Jewish is meaningful to me. My skeptical friends don’t understand it, and think it at odds with my other beliefs, and that I can’t explain it in words doesn’t really help much! All I can say is that I experience strong, unexpected feelings in connection with Judaica, such as rituals, places and language. For example I feel a strong sense of grounding, peace and energy each week when I light candles just before sunset on Friday evenings to bring in the sabbath. Twice in my life I have gone to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and both times was overpowered by emotion. Read more…