To walk in Palestinian shoes is to experience actual persecution

The Palestinian experience is not the experience of animals or terrorists. It is a human experience

Published June 3, 2010 3:04PM (EDT)

This piece originally appeared at Mondoweiss:

Two thoughts on the meaning of the Israeli violence.

There is, of course, a big effort in the Western press now to make the flotilla members into violent people, provocateurs, engaged by cool Israeli commandos. I must tell you my one actual experience of this dynamic.

In January, I attended a demonstration against the occupation in the West Bank village of al-Masara. I wrote about it here: "An English politician watches Israeli soldiers lose control at a peaceful demonstration and vows to bear witness."

The headline sums it up. About 100 demonstrators, Israelis and Palestinians and internationals, marched toward an illegal settlement (Efrat) and the confiscatory wall. They were stopped by a line of Israeli soldiers, some of whom were young and obviously nervous, standing at a line of concertina wire. The demonstrators shouted at the Israeli soldiers. I saw fear on a couple of the young men's faces. And before you knew it the Israeli soldiers were pushing people back forcefully, even dragging them, and then firing stun grenades at us.

I don't know if you've ever seen a stun grenade go off, but it's pretty terrifying, the first time, when a soldier hurls a black cylinder and it explodes; you think it's live. And I have seen reports that these grenades were used on board the boat.

The soldiers ran the demonstrators a half mile back into the village amid mayhem. The lesson of the experience was the one that English politician took away -- Catharine Arakelian, a candidate for Parliament, whom I met -- that the Israelis had turned a nonviolent demonstration into an out-of-control situation.

So when people say that flotilla passengers tried to lynch the Israeli soldiers, or started the violence, I find that extremely doubtful.

I saw the way that Israel turns to violence as a tool, outside its own borders.

The second thought I have is also from that trip to the Middle East.

When I was in Egypt with the Gaza Freedom March last December, blocked by the Egyptians from entering Gaza, an older member of the group said to me, "When you express solidarity with Palestinians, you will find that you have Palestinian experiences, and you will experience their bitterness."

He meant that if you walked a ways in the Palestinians' shoes, you'd experience actual persecution. You'd find that governments and authorities dole out to you some of what the Palestinians experience -- from actual violence to being silenced. And so you'd understand the Palestinian experience -- and try to hurry back into your privileged life.

This seems to me the lesson of the Turkish boat, and also of Emily Henochowicz, the 21-year-old Cooper Union student who was blinded by Israeli soldiers in a protest of the flotilla raid, whose face is now having to be reconstructed. All these people have now had doled out to them some of the violence and abuse -- and lies -- that has been the Palestinian experience since 1948.

Of course it makes their courage all the more impressive.

But more important, it shows that the Palestinian experience under fearful Israeli rule is not the experience of animals or terrorists. It is a human experience. It could be you.

By Philip Weiss

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