In hindsight everyone will be able to point at this moment or that event and say: “There, then, that is when it went off the tracks.” This will be debated by others who will counter: “No, by then it was too far gone.” Still others would say: “That was a minor bump, there was still a chance to right the cart, to get it back on the road, to resume the project.” The incident is not necessarily a large event, the place not always monumental or even memorable. It is only in hindsight when it comes time to mourn or to write history that it is clarified.
The Talmud claims that the incident that led to the destruction of the Temple occurred at a party of Rabbis in a private home. A minor slight that spun out of control, but was not at that moment seen to be important, led to the tragedy which two thousand years later we still mourn with fasting and wailing once a year on Tisha b’Av.
On January 1, 2011 thirty six year old kindergarten teacher Jawaher Abu Rahmah died in the Ramallah Hospital after choking on tear gas shot by IDF soldiers at the weekly nonviolent protest in Bil’in against the separation wall or fence or barrier constructed by Israel. At this point most American Jews breathe a sigh and turn the page. Where is Bil’in? I’m sure it is more complicated. Who am I to pass judgement?
Bil’in is a Palestinian village in the West Bank about ten miles northwest of Jerusalem as the crow flies. It borders on the bloc of Jewish settlements which were established around the area that the Maccabees lived. Their names evoke the Hanukkah palate: Modi’in, Hashmonaim, Maccabeem, Matityahu. This latter is actually a Haredi settlement, as is its neighbor Kiryat Sefer.
For the past six years residents in Bil’in have been staging non-violent protests against the separation wall or fence or barrier that passes through their village and separates the villagers from their lands. There is no dispute that the wall/fence/barrier separates the villagers from their land. The IDF claims that it is necessary for security reasons. The Palestinian residents of Bil’in claim that the path of the separation barrier impacts Bil’in only because it takes a wide turn around the Jewish settlement bloc and is actually a land grab. These contentions have been in the Israeli courts for years—and the courts have, on the whole, sided with the residents of Bil’in and the IDF has ignored those rulings. There has been a non-violent demonstration every Friday protesting the confiscation of lands.
This demonstration is especially troubling to the Israeli government and the IDF since many Israelis have started to join in support of the claims of the Bil’in residents. Jews and Palestinians refusing to be enemies, marching peacefully but resolutely against military confiscation of their land.
Two years ago Jawaher Abu Rahmah’s brother Bassem was killed by a tear gas rocket which was fired at him by an Israeli soldier at one of those Friday demonstrations. He was hit by the rocket. Another brother was caught on camera being shot by Israeli soldiers while he was handcuffed. Now this past Friday, Jawahr was killed. The Jewish establishment (both in this country and in Israel) has for years demanded that the Palestinians embrace non-violence. The Palestinian residents of Bil’in (and other villages along the barrier route) have done just that. The IDF has not abandoned its policy of violent response. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reports that there are less lethal versions of tear gas available, and yet the IDF continues to use the more virulent gas. Twenty one protestors have died in demonstrations against the separation barrier.
Is this the moment we will look back upon and say: “There, it was lost. We could have raised our voices in outrage and demanded that Israel stop violently suppressing nonviolent demonstration. We could have demanded that Israel respect the rulings of its own Supreme Court. We could have demanded that Israel respects the tenets of its own democrary and the human rights of the Palestinians. We could have screamed: ‘This is not working! The occupation is violating the humanity of the Palestinians, tearing up the Zionist dream and giving aid and comfort to the worst impulses in Israeli society.’” I hope, rather, that we start screaming now.