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May 25, 2011

June 5: The Palestinian struggle for freedom

The Canadian Charger

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On June 5th of this year the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian land of the West Bank including Arab East Jerusalem and Gaza is 44 long year old. There are many heroes in their struggle for freedom. Michael Riordon tells the stories of a number of these heroes, Palestinian and Jewish, in his recent book Our Way to Fight.

Dorothy Naor served as one of his guides.  She is part of a group called New Profile, which assists draft resisters and which promotes education about Palestinians and their history.  The 1948 war left Israel with “almost 80 per cent of the land that had constituted the British colony of Palestine,” Riordon relayed from Naor.  However, the 80 per cent was apparently not enough, and hence “Israel is the only country in the world that refuses to define its borders.”

She told him as well about the aftermath of Baruch Goldstein’s murderous rampage in a Hebron mosque.  “On orders from Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, the army imposed a two-week curfew, 24 hours a day, on the 120,000 Palestinian residents of Hebron.”

Then there is the infamous Wall.  Naor spoke of the construction of the Wall in the West Bank town of Mas’ha.  “In Mas’ha they’ve lost 92 per cent of their land, mostly olive groves, pretty much their only source of income.  The villagers were told they’d be given permits to go to their groves.  Bullshit.  It never happened anywhere else, and it never happened here.”

Even before the Wall, Mas’ha was hounded, both by settlers and by the Israeli government. On refusing to give up their home and land, Israeli soldiers destroyed property of the Hani Amer family—agricultural nursery, chicken coop, and goat shed.  Settlers did the same to solar panels and water tanks.  They also stoned the children of the family.  When Amer bought a poultry farm in a neighboring village, he was not permitted to go there.  This kind of treatment has been inflicted on many Palestinians.

When Hares resident Issa Souf heard from his brother that soldiers were entering the village and firing tear gas grenades, he went out to gather his children in.  He was shot with a dum-dum bullet, leaving him wheelchair bound.  He sued the army, but it settled out of court, probably fearing the publicity that could occur from using ammunition that is outlawed under international law.  The Israel Defence Force prides itself on its “purity of arms.” 

During his visits, Riordon travelled to Jerusalem, where he met Meir Margalit, one of the few left wing members of the city council and an activist with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).  According to Riordon, “ICAHD estimates that the number of demolition orders in the West Bank and East Jerusalem reaches into the tens of thousands.”  Yet, the Palestinian population is growing more rapidly than the Jewish population, and it is next to impossible for a Palestinian to get permission to build in Jerusalem and often difficult as well elsewhere in Israel and the West Bank.  At the same time as the demolition orders are issued for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, Jewish construction goes on apace, often on ethnically cleansed ground.  There are only occasional setbacks to this ethnic cleansing. 

Canada Park was another of Riordon’s destinations.  This West Bank park was constructed and is administered with funds from the Canadian branch of the Jewish National Fund.  It was developed on the remains of bulldozed Palestinian villages.  Eitan Bronstein, of the organization Zochrat, was his guide.

Zochrat strives to keep the memory of Palestinian history in Israel/Palestine alive.  It wants markers placed at the site of the Palestinian villages that have been obliterated.  While the organization was able to have two markers placed in the park, one was stolen and the other defaced.  Zochrat also developed a curriculum aid to teach about the nakba, which the Ministry of Education indicated was “against ministry procedure and policy.”  The Ministry also ordered the removal of the word nakba from a textbook for Israeli Palestinian students.  Palestinians commemorate Israeli independence day as the nakba, disaster.

The Bil’in resistance to the Wall has been described as non-violent.  However, non-violence does not include the stone-throwing which is common in the confrontation with Israeli troops and their tear gas and rubber-coated bullets.  Apparently, the Israeli authorities like the stone-throwing.  They have made the area off limits for international volunteers at the time of demonstrations.  International volunteers tried to persuade the Palestinians not to throw stones but to act with classical Gandhian non-violence.

Riordon relates a troubling story of the struggle for rights, peace, and understanding between peoples.  His book is also full of examples of insidious bureaucratic strategies and theft under the guise of legality to deprive a victimized minority of its property and its rights.

Michael  Riordon. Our Way to Fight.  Toronto: Between the Lines, 2011.

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