Israel/Palestine: Tear Gas Brings Memories: Jewish Home, Fascist State?

Don't You Ever Stop Talking
As an Ashkenazi (a Jew from European descent) Israeli who was born in Australia to refugee parents, I have the luxury of living in Israel whenever I choose to, with full rights. Like other Jewish citizens, I have the freedom to move, access to hospitals, universities and water. What a luxury. So how can I call this place home and fascist at the same time, asks Alex Nissem.
Last Friday I went to a Palestinian village called Bil'in which is near Ramallah and about a two hour drive south of Haifa, my town, along Road Six, a highway built alongside the Apartheid Wall that surrounds the Palestinian towns of Qalqilya and Tul Karm, two towns that are completely surrounded and isolated by the Wall. of course, there are no acknowledging their existence; after all they are not in Israel, they are Palestinian towns, a way of thinking that is difficult to comprehend when you first arrive in this place.

Last Friday was a special day because it marked five years of struggle against the Apartheid Wall that is being built on Palestinian lands near the village of Bil'in. It has also been five years of popular demonstrations, suppressed by force. And nearly two and a half years since the Israeli High Court ordered a change to the route of the Apartheid Wall. Demonstrators came from all over Israel and Palestine to show support for the village's struggles for freedom of movement, of provisions for the basic needs of daily life, things that I, as an Israeli and Australian, have always taken for granted.

The last time I went to Bil'in was many years ago. I have been going to the Palestinian Occupied Territories to document and bear witness to human rights abuses. I was raised to respect human rights and freedom especially since my own Jewish culture suffered as a result of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. I went to this demonstration because of those values of respect for human rights. What I witnessed was an assault on freedom and humanity by the Israeli army.

There were over a thousand people of all ages, mothers, fathers, children, grandparents marching to express, not only their solidarity with the desire for freedom, but also in solidarity for the right to live in dignity, to farm one's own land and to live one's own life without oppression.

Some of the Palestinian men managed to move the temporary wire fence and put Palestinian flags on the other side. At this stage, I did not see the Israeli army and thought it was strange. But then the Israeli army came. The sprayed stink liquid that made people sick, used sound grenades, and shot dozens of tear gas canisters; there was nowhere to hide. As we, the elderly and the young, ran to escape the tear gas behind and beside us, I stopped and looked up to see it raining tear gas ahead of us. The soldiers shot numerous tear gas rounds at the front of the demonstration, at the side and then ahead of us so that we would be trapped by the thick white smoke. There was no point in running. No space was safe from the possibility of being hit by tear gas. The air was thick with gas, people couldn't breathe. An elderly woman collapsed, people helped carry her out. Many people fell, they couldn't breathe and they couldn't move. I felt that there was nothing I could do to escape, I couldn't breathe, my skin was on fire and my lungs were struggling for air like every one else. I had no forgotten my history or why I was here. How sad it is and ironic, I thought, that the Israeli Army threw so many gas canisters at civilians demonstrating for human rights, and here I am, a Jew, I am gassed by a Jewish army.

I managed to get some distance away to turn around, only to see the Israeli Army continuing to shoot dozens of tear gas canisters everywhere, and in disbelief, I witnesses the Israeli Army shooting at the ambulance which was soon surrounded by thick gas. I have only these words to describe the injustice I witnessed. I can escape. I can go home, where I have running water to take a shower and wash off the day's poison and trauma. But what of the others, how long would the gas cling to their clothes, their skin?

How many Palestinians need to suffer before we all take a stand to stop the violence? Israeli human rights' organizations along with the Israeli peace movement and Palestinians are calling for you to help by supporting peace and democracy in a country that's spiralling out of control.
In this country, democracy only belongs to the privileged like me, and not to my Palestinian sisters and brothers.

Alex Nissem
Women in Black

Coalition of Women for Peace

Film of demonstration and march, Friday the 19th, February 2010: