Imagine if you can a period in colonial America where millions of indigenous “savages” populated the land and threatened the lives and freedoms of Europeans fleeing from oppression in their home lands.
Many arriving at the doorstep to where today stands the “Mother of Exiles” beckoning “the tired, the poor, the wretched refuse yearning to breathe free...” Or so the story of victims-turned-oppressors goes … still taught to our young.
Israel today is living that history. This is part of what I learned as a journalist-guest of that state when it was a mere 21-yrs-old, 1969. It was one of their first “lectures” to me; “Why do you blame us for only doing what you already succeeded yourselves at?”
A history they largely create to grease the skids of colonial-settlerism and salve the conscience of those who choose to become active in its oppression of the native populations.
Then, of course, there are those who resist, often at great personal sacrifice…
I am encouraged when I witness Jewish-Americans struggling for peace and justice in the Levant. They’re fighting for a progressive cause on two major fronts: Here, of course, in the American homeland and in Israel/Palestine, which includes the no-small-matter of peace as well.
In one of my own experiences: As I crossed over the bridge on the Jordan River into Occupied Palestine, I was bracketed by Israeli IDF soldiers in front, manning a machine-gun behind a sandbagged emplacement and Jordanian soldiers behind ratcheting their weapons—all barking orders for me to stop.
I held my hands high with cameras dangling around my neck along with my gear bag (today, given suicide bombers, they’d simply shoot me). It was 1969, two yrs after the Six-Day War. I was 27. The border was closed for the previous 2-yrs to all foreigners, especially journalists.
I worked as a photog-journalist to a number of different publications, including the Detroit and London (Ontario) Free Press, the Fifth Estate, the Militant, and other newspapers. Later (1970-71), I was also an occasional combat-stringer for NBC News, Beirut, Lebanon.
Leading up to the bridge incident, I was a guest and interviewer of the Palestinian guerilla chieftain, Yassir Arafat and his Al Fatah organization in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. In Israel, I was a guest of the Jewish Agency.
No one expected me to walk across the border unannounced (one usually flies to Cyprus first). Being young and immortal (that is, painfully ignorant), I tended to just do things (like in ’74 flying into Entebbe, Uganda, at the height of Idi Amin’s power; but that’s another story).
The Israelis were not amused. I was roughed up a bit at first, but once they got it in their heads that I was, in fact, a crazy American (as were a number of them) and a guest of the Jewish Agency, they contacted the number I gave them in Jerusalem. For a hot minute I was a bit of a celebrity … being informed that I was the first journalist/whatever to cross over like that.
While I awaited the arrival of my hosts, I was treated to a cold Coke in the shade and a front row seat to their “customs” practices. Given that about 60% of the Jordanian population were Palestinians, mostly from the West Bank, women, children and old men were occasionally allowed to visit family and shop on the Jordanian side.
However, it was deliberately a humiliating process. As I watched a long line of these people, having to drag all their possessions with them, young Israeli soldiers walked up and down the line with tree switches, painfully swatting them on their legs while shouting orders point-blank in their faces.
Several soldiers came over to me (assuming that I too was Jewish-American and therefore amused by their behavior), and try to engage me in conversation. When I asked them why they were behaving like that, they openly replied, “They’re filthy Arabs–‘sand-niggers’–they don’t belong here. They should learn their place.”
I don’t know exactly what I expected, but it sure wasn’t that. I was astonished. I come from the South Bronx, NYC, and worked in Civil Rights in the South and the antiwar movements for a number of years.
A significant number of my comrades in the movement were Jewish. I had never experienced racist-nationalist (Zionist) Jews. To me, it was a totally alien concept, especially given their own history of victimhood.
At one point I witnessed two old women being dragged, screaming all the way, to the bridge and forced back over. The officer, American, explained to me proudly the reason, that they were insolent and had questioned procedures. The “open border,” I learned, was in fact a sort of valve to evict as much of the population as they could get away with.
These procedures were simply arbitrary confiscation and destruction of property. Unlike on the Arab side, I noticed that all of the people kept their eyes lowered … totally unlike their normal behavior of open curiosity.
Looking directly at a soldier—much like my experiences with Blacks in the South and in prison—was taken as insolence and defiance.
No matter what Palestinians do, fight, sacrifice, comply or die, it’s never enough. There remains only one consistent Israeli policy: Occupation and annexation; Eretz Yisrael.
That was my first hour in Israel. It got worse…far worse. And continues so…
Dr. Publico (Nick Medvecky, PsyD), February 2011…