Tuesday, January 15, 2013
In Awe of Nonviolence
An Israeli in awe of a Palestinian act of non-violence
January 15, 2013 - 12:00am
An act of non-violence is a fuse playing the role of a bomb. If the act of non-violence is creative enough, appropriate and resonant and shocking, and, therefore, dangerous enough, it will do what no bomb can: Change things for the better. Persuade. Put the lie to the liar. And cause a man like Benjamin Netanyahu to panic.
On Friday, nearly a hundred men women and children pitched tents on a Palestinian-owned plot of land in the patch of the West Bank called E1, a political and diplomatic minefield which Netanyahu has vowed to build on, and Washington has warned him not to. The place was given a new name - Bab al-Shams, the Gate of the Sun.
The Palestinians who staked down the tents were explicit in calling their rocky hilltop encampment a village. But the manner of its founding made it all too clear to Israelis what it was as well - a ma'ahaz, a settlement outpost, no less and no more illegal than the scores and scores of rogue farms, tent camps, rude shacks and proto-suburbs which Israeli settlers have staked across the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
We know it in our bones, Israelis and Palestinians as one. This is how the settlement movement began. This is how it grows. This is the very engine of occupation. This is the heart and the hand of the beast.
The founding of Bab al-Shams was genius. And no one knew that better than Benjamin Netanyahu. The encampment sent a message that was clear, piercing, and entirely non-violent. The proof: Netanyahu said it had to be destroyed at once.
It needed to be destroyed despite a High Court order that appeared to give the new villagers six days to remain on the site. But in a peculiarly contemporary reinterpretation of the Naqba, the police announced that the injunction only applied to the tents. The people could be taken out. In the dead of night.
So desperate was the need to destroy it quickly, that the head of the Justice Ministry's High Court division was pressed into service at midnight Saturday, to sign a statement to the court declaring "there is an urgent security need to evacuate the area of the people and tents."
The government also sent a sealed note to the court, containing further "security information" – classified Secret, as was the reason for its being kept from the public – as to why it was necessary to give the order immediately for 500 police to move in.
But everyone here already knew the secret.
Bab al-Shams needed to be destroyed because it was fighting facts on the ground with facts on the ground.
It needed to be destroyed for the same reason that a hundred similar, patently illegal Israeli West Bank outposts are coddled, honored by visits from cabinet ministers, and rendered permanent with state-supplied electricity, water, access roads, security protection, and retrofit permits.
Bab al-Shams did not simply touch a nerve. Bab al-Shams had to be destroyed because, where the occupation is concerned, it touched the central nervous system.
On Election Day next week, when I enter the voting booth, I will be taking a small piece of Bab al-Shams with me. My respect and admiration for people who cannot vote in this election, but who each cast an extraordinarily forceful absentee ballot in booths they set up themselves in E1.
They are fighting the Netanyahu government with the one weapon against which this government has no defense - hope. Hope is this government's worst enemy, more threatening by far than Iran.
For years and years we've been taught to believe that the occupation is irreversible, unassailable, so permanent that there is no occupation, there is just this Israel of ours – like its prime minister, sour, anxious, bloated, contradictory ... but Ours. We are told what to believe by settlers and their champions in places like Ra'anana. That there cannot be two states, one for Israelis and one for Palestinians. That we, the Jews, have been here forever and will stay in East Jerusalem in the West Bank forever and ever.
It turns out, though, that other people, on other hilltops, Palestinian people, have something else to teach us. May they succeed.
On Election Day next week, and into whatever future that day propels us, I will be taking a small piece of their hope with me. I will take strength in their words in founding a village, that - like its literary namesake, Elias Khouri's epic novel of Palestinian history - exists at once only in the imagination and also in a profound unassailable reality:
"We the people, without permission from the occupation, without permission from anyone, sit here today because this land is our land, and it is our right to inhabit it."
Let a hundred Bab al-Shams bloom. An outpost for an outpost. A blind eye for a blind eye. A flout for a flout. It's what our people on the hilltops call an appropriate Zionist response.