Not every day you'll catch me declaring my profound agreement with the interloper in the White House. So take note. In his State of the Union, George Bush urged Americans to volunteer, to help build an America that "serves goals greater than the self." He said, "America needs citizens to extend the compassion of our country to every part of the world."
I couldn't agree more.
It is therefore absolutely essential to publicize the work of American men and women who are doing just that.
This is the third day of Sharon's new military campaign against Palestinian civilians. With 20,000 reservists called, it promises to be a long and bloody one.
Tanks wreak destruction in Ramallah, Hebron, and other Palestinian towns. Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers vandalize homes, wantonly destroying furniture and precious food.
Journalists and TV offices are top targets. The IDF shoots at ambulances, arrests medical personnel, and storm hospitals. Yesterday they destroyed offices and equipment belonging to two human rights organizations, LAW and Al-Haq.
Five Palestinian policemen in IDF custody were apparently executed in cold blood.
There are reports of more mass executions in Ramallah today. Sharon calls it a war against "the infrastructure of terror." But the only infrastructure that matters is the determination of Palestinians to shake off the occupation or take Israel to Hell with them. Sharon's war is a war against the Palestinian population, and against humanity.
Amidst this ugly orgy, dozens of Americans join hundreds of Europeans in an international effort to protect the life of Palestinians and bear witness to what the American media doesn't ask and doesn't tell.
The internationals, as they call themselves, have been coming to Palestine for some time now, for periods between a few days to a few months. They do not have any official status, but are self-organized in a number of groups, such as the "Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace," "Direct Action for Free Palestine," "International Solidarity Movement," and others.
Most of the time, the internationals help Palestinians mount peaceful, non-violent resistance. The foreigners' presence enables Palestinians to demonstrate against the occupation without being shot at with live bullets.
Other protest actions include the dismantling of roadblocks, which allow families short breathers to drive in and out of their villages for essential restocking or to sell produce. Palestinians cannot do such things on their own without risking their life. Returning activists describe these actions as very effective.
Beyond the immediate relief, international presence brings a message of solidarity and humanity to a population that is rapidly losing faith in the world.
Since yesterday, the role of international presence changed dramatically. Caught together with the Palestinians in the military assault, American and European activists find themselves at the forefront of the war. They accompany medical personnel, serving as "human shields" in the hope of deterring the IDF from the usual lax shooting policy. And they use their cell phones to broadcast direct evidence of what the IDF would rather you did not know.
Nancy Stohlman is in refugee camp Aida, which, she reports, is shelled by tanks. How shelling a densely populated urban environment helps the IDF preventing suicide bombs is beyond my reasoning powers. Together with her hosts, she is waiting for the tanks and the soldiers to move in.
In the camp, almost everything adds to the tension of waiting. Nancy describes how "a deaf boy found her staring at a wall of martyr posters, and for 25 minutes, using gestures, described the manner of each of their deaths."
Her journals can be read at www.ccmep.org.
Jordan Flaherty is in the refugee camp Al-Azzeh, in Bethlehem, together with twenty-three other internationals. They have spread out in the camp, accommodated by local families, in an attempt to provide residents with some protection. Some have also been riding with ambulances.
Jordan reported that, in order to get to his present location, he had to cross a street running under fire from an IDF sniper ensconced in the overlooking settlement. Needless to say, Jordan in completely unarmed. The camp is shelled occasionally by the tanks, and an incursion is expected within a day. Those who needed to escape escaped; the rest are waiting.
This is Jordan's second time in Palestine. Although the tension is higher, he stresses that the international presence in Palestine is not going to shrink. A big recruitment, planned for later this year under the name "freedom summer," will hopefully bring thousands of internationals to Palestine. He urges more people to join because "this is really making a difference." For information, visit: www.palsolidarity.org
Brooklynite Adam Shapiro negotiated with the IDF for three long hours the passage of ambulances to Arafat's compound, and ended up trapped inside. The first ambulance was stopped on the way out and both the doctors and wounded were arrested.
Seeing that, Adam remained inside, tending to wounds with inadequate medical supplies, and keeping in touch with the outside world with a dying cell phone. In the morning he was invited to share breakfast with the blockaded Arafat. Adam left the compound today, but other internationals came in, braving the IDF, and intend to stay.
The internationals shatter the lie of the manufactured consensus that the war in the Middle East is between Jews and Arabs. It isn't. It is a war between racism and justice. That is why the American media routinely ignores their efforts. Only the photo-op with Arafat forced the news editors to break their gag rule.
The IDF is alarmed by the presence of internationals. Frenchmen Jose Bove, McDonald's eminence grise, is also in Palestine.
He was arrested two days ago together with nine other internationals and three Palestinians and taken to the settlement of Bet-El. The IDF declared martial law in Ramallah and is trying to evacuate the internationals and the media. Nobody knows what the IDF is capable of doing once the eyes of the world are covered.
Shapiro, Stohlman, Flaherty, and the hundreds of peace activists currently staying in Palestine cannot stop Sharon. They can only slow him down in the hope that the world, that means us, stops him in time. Will we?
Says Irish Caoimhe Butterly, who is also in Arafat's compound: "I urge all Irish citizens, government officials and diplomats to show courage in standing up against the brutal aggression used by the Israeli military against the Palestinian people and the war policies of the Israeli government.
"The Palestinian people desperately need our help and protection - I have witnessed the execution-style killings and the house to house searches and destruction the military has carried out in refugee camps and in cities.
"Only international action and the voices of people working for peace and justice can overcome these criminal Israeli actions." Count the U.S. president out. George Bush used his rambling press announcement to express cautious endorsement of the Butcher of Beirut. Bush barely managed to mention the Palestinians.
Thanks to the good services of Cheney and Rumsfeld, he had earlier this year swallowed the bait of Sharon's contrived equation between fundamentalist terrorism and the Palestinian struggle against the long Israeli occupation. Sharon's hook is now stuck deep in the throat of American foreign policy.
But other Americans do listen to their inner call of duty. They are participating in a true international "army of compassion," enduring the occupation together with Palestinians. They m,ay not enjoy the cachet of sophisticated war toys, fawning media accolades, and "black hawk down" style adulation, but they are the real elite troops.
With their ordinary heroism, they are America's finest and bravest.
Gabriel Ash encourages your comments: [email protected]
Topics: Occupation, Palestine