One week ago a young American woman, Emily Henochowicz, lost an eye while bearing witness to a clash between Palestinian youth and Israeli soldiers at Qalandia checkpoint on the border of Jerusalem and Ramallah in the West Bank. She was attending a demonstration with the International Solidarity Movement in response to the murder of activists in international waters off the coast of Gaza by Israeli commandos.
The Israeli military did not comment on the incident. The United States government registered no formal protest. The major media outlets in the United States made no mention of the attack. Reporters walking the Gulf Coast beaches pointing out tar balls in the sand along with the IDF supplied video and talking points of their commando attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla dominated the 24-hour news cycle.
If the media thought the story was worth reporting, they undoubtedly would have talked about a tragic accident. But it wasn’t.
It was another deliberate attack on an unarmed peace activist by the Israeli military. In and of itself this incident, an American student maimed by our main Middle East ally seems newsworthy. (Imagine for a minute that Hamas, Hizbullah, or Iran had maimed an American- the threats and condemnations would have been fierce and immediate.) Coming within 24 hours of the Freedom Flotilla attack it certainly should have been considered newsworthy. But it wasn’t.
If the Israeli military commented, they most certainly would have expressed regret, but surely, soldiers are allowed to protect themselves from terrorists throwing stones. Put yourself in their place- a mob with weapons (certainly any sensible person would agree that a teenager with a stone is a deadly threat) descending upon the checkpoint need to be subdued. Unfortunately for Emily she found herself amidst the mob. But she wasn’t.
When it was revealed that Emily was standing on the opposite side of the street 20 meters or more away from the stone throwers, certainly the military would amend their statement. An un-named soldier would comment that Emily had stones in her hand or maybe it was a metal pole or maybe it was a knife. But she didn’t.
An IDF spokesperson would step forward and with innuendo and slander imply there were connections to Al-Qaeda or Hamas or maybe just some shadowy “terrorists”. But there isn’t.
ISM witnesses’ state about 100 Palestinian and International activists had gathered at the checkpoint to demonstrate when Palestinian youth clashed with the security forces. As the clash began, the international activists retreated and were on the opposite side of the road from the youth. Emily was hit in the face with a teargas canister fired directly at her by a soldier at the checkpoint. He was no further than 15 meters from Emily. A Swedish international standing alongside Emily claims the soldier fired 3 teargas canisters in rapid succession directly at them. The third one hit Emily in the face.
If the truth were revealed, the American media would certainly decry the unfortunate accident. Certainly a member of the Israeli security forces would never shoot an unarmed, non-violent demonstrator, apologizing for the soldier’s poor aim. After all, everyone knows the Israeli military is the most moral army in the world. But this is a lie.
This has always been a lie.
The Israeli military systematically targets non-violent, peaceful demonstrators in the West Bank with impunity. The army always investigates its self and never finds any wrongdoing. America, Israel’s main benefactor, arms supplier, and collaborator, turns a blind eye- even failing to protect it’s own citizens from deliberate, malicious harm.
Emily joins a long list of peace activists who confront the Israeli military and pay dearly for it. In May, Hasen Brejieyah from the West Bank village of Al Ma’asara suffered a serious head injury when he was shot with a teargas canister. In Bi’lin the month before, an Israeli protester, Emad Rezqa was hit in the forehead by an aluminum teargas canister shot directly at him by Israeli soldiers during the weekly anti-Wall demonstration in Bi’lin. He suffered a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage. One year earlier Basem Abu Rahma a Palestinian from Bi’lin was killed when he was targeted and hit in the chest with a teargas canister. Tristan Anderson, another American national, was critically injured in March 2009 when he was shot with a high velocity teargas projectile during a non-violent demonstration against the Wall in the West Bank village of Ni’lin. He is still hospitalized, recovering from a traumatic brain injury.
If the American media got wind of these facts they would certainly ask how so many peaceful demonstrators manage to jump in front of high velocity teargas canisters. They would go on to debate the morality of killing and maiming with teargas canisters as opposed to live bullets. There will be no mention of the indecency, the depravity, the cowardice of the soldiers who target non-violent demonstrators with lethal force.
Emily is a talented visual artist. Her last Facebook entry was dated May 31st and says, “Gaza on my mind”. You can access her blog and see her beautiful drawings. I scrolled through the comments- there was an outpouring of love and gratitude expressed by many who appreciated her work, not only on the page but also in the West Bank. In addition, I was not surprised to see the derisive comments spewed at her by the ignorant and the hateful. This is common ground for those who speak out against apartheid in Palestine.
Many people understand the concepts of the Israeli matrix of control and the establishment of facts on the ground that destroys any possibilities of a free Palestinian state. Emily, along with other dedicated, loving, and fearless activists, expresses a different kind of facts on the ground. These facts will be ignored, derided or denied by our media for as long as possible. Those who blindly support Israel will blather on about anti-Semitism and self-hating Jews, terrorists and existential threats. Our government, complicit in the crimes, will remain mute.
But these facts remain:
That loving people are willing to bear witness to injustice and will risk injury and death to right it.
That people realize that what happened to Emily is but a reflection of the collective punishment meted out to Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government and their US sponsors on a daily basis and are willing to take a non-violent stand to oppose it.
This act of resistance is both noble and beautiful. Though Emily would deny it, her act and the acts of innumerable Palestinians who non-violently confront the occupation each and every day give us a glimpse of the heroic. The artist lives her art, and in doing so opens our eyes and our hearts.
The fact of the matter is the only moral army in the world is the army of non-violent activists who give themselves for the freedom of others.
The fact of the matter is Emily lost an eye, but she has not lost sight of the truth.
JOHNNY BARBER has traveled to Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to bear witness and document the suffering of people who are affected by war and occupation. He can be contacted through his blog at www.oneBrightpearl-jb.blogspot.com