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Friday, June 19, 2009

In Defense Of David...And Goliath

Live from Khan Younis, Na'alin and Bil'in:

[Goliath] the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. He looked David over and saw that he was only a boy, ruddy and handsome, and he despised him. He said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. "Come here," he said, "and I'll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!"

David said to the Philistine..."All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give all of you into our hands."

As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.

We had a debrief on the bus as we headed back to Tel Aviv after the Bil'in protest last Friday.  A few folks were not entirely happy with the fact that some of the Palestinian boys were throwing rocks: it was not nonviolent, it created negative visuals that could be use to justify IDF retaliation, etc.

I'd actually been chatting about this very thing with Maya of New Profile just after we'd gotten on board, and told her I didn't feel like I was in the position to judge the boys.  She got a little indignant, despite being a draft resister, and said that I couldn't judge the IDF either in that case.

Actually, I agreed, though I did clarify my position: I simply meant that I could understand a bit what might motivate children who lived under oppression, and yes, similarly I could put myself in the boots of young Israeli soldiers living on the front line.  Of course I don't condone violence, but how can I, living in safety thousands of miles away, judge what these kids on either side of the fence do in horrible circumstances?

So I listened to objections to the rock throwing with as open a mind and heart as I could, for as long as I could.  People who know me would be surprised that the entire trip I'd been rather reticent to speak up in front of our delegation for a variety of reasons (none of which matter here for the moment).  In the end, I had to ask for the bus microphone.

In the back of my mind I had the Iraqi shoe thrower--acknowledging he was "less violent", what with shoes not being so likely to cause brain or other injuries compared to rocks--because in many respects he lashed out in similar fashion.  I didn't explicitly mention him, but I paraphrased something I have often brought up when debating his action:

[N]on-violence has to be non-violence of the brave and the strong. It must come from inward conviction. I have, therefore, not hesitated to say that it is better to be violent if there is violence in our breasts than to put on the cloak of non-violence to cover impotence. Violence is any day preferable to impotence. There is hope for a violent man to become non-violent. There is no such hope for the impotent.

That would be Gandhi, whose tactics the people of Bil'in have been using to resist Apartheid for over 4 years.

While there are in fact some individuals who engage in minor acts of violence when confronting their oppressors, one might try to understand the frustration and desperation in such an asymmetrical conflict that leads them down that path.  And quite frankly, one might even try to understand what it's like to be 18 years old, indoctrinated by a society that simultaneously tells you that you are David (victim of the Shoah and Arab hatred) and Goliath (America's best friend, the military that's defeated the Arabs since '48), facing plenty of the weapons used to break skulls since the dawn of humanity.

I spent mere hours facing the latest (supposed) non-lethal weapons Israel and America have developed.  I was attacked without provocation, and felt pain, panic and anger.  I didn't throw rocks in response because I haven't been subjected to that brutality on a regular basis, and have had plenty of education, time and space to prepare myself to avoid a violent response (I do admit to swearing up a storm, and who knows how I would've reacted had there not been so much physical buffer between me and the soldiers).

The biggest thing missing in this conflict--all conflicts, really--is empathy, for oneself and the other.  As I see it, by marching and being gassed I was standing in solidarity with everybody touched by violence.  And refusing to be impotent.


PS--Activestills has a way better picture of rock slinging in Na'alin than I could muster in Bil'in.

June 19, 2009 in Pax Americana, Viva Palestina | Permalink


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