Speech Given At Gazeebo Park on April 6th:
This is an eye-witness account by a Palestinian civilian under siege in Ramallah.
A long time ago, a man by the name of Muhammad is reported to have said that: there will come a time when the taking of life will become a light matter.
I think that time has come, as we daily hear of many killings, and yet it seems we have become numb to it.
As an attempt to remember that we are talking about human beings, I want to recount the story from a family under siege in Ramallah – so that we remember those we see on TV a people like you and I:
“For the past 12 days Israeli soldiers have completely taken over the building my family lives in. Upon first arriving (at 4 am in the morning) they gathered everyone in the building (a total of 10 people) in a small room with no electricity, water or furnishings but a couch that seats 4 people. No one was allowed to move, the men had to place their hands behind their heads, no one was allowed to sleep.
When one of the captives, an old French woman who was visiting at the time, tried to explain that she was a carrier of the French passport and that she would not tolerate such treatment, she was slapped and told to shut up. The soldier informed her that it was that her French passport was that that was saving her life.
Everyone was left in that position as the soldiers quickly began to clear the apartments of their belongings: two refrigerators, a television set, three phones, a computer laptop, a rug, and a microwave are just some of the things the soldiers confiscated or destroyed. During this, tanks destroyed hundreds of cars in the area. All the cars under the building (and in the designated parking lots around the neighbourhood) were completely crushed by Israeli tanks.
The first army unit remained in the building for 20 hours after which they left everyone to move about freely in the building although there were three tanks patrolling outside to make sure the curfew was implemented. Four hours later a second unit arrived, who forcefully re-entered each of the apartment buildings, and again, gathered everyone in the same small room. They beat the my uncle because he was involved with Palestinian politics. As they dragged him out, blindfolded, and with his hands tied to his back, one of the soldiers whipped him across the head with his rifle and my uncle fell completely unconscious. No one has heard of him since.
Meanwhile, heavy fighting continued outside between the invading army soldiers and the Palestinian resistance fighters.
Things remained the same for the next few days – although food & water ran low and there was no electricity - until another unit arrived. They were casually dressed and had about four jeeps. They woke everyone up at about 7 am and took my young brother by force. My mother, crying and shouting that he was only 15 and therefore not "dangerous" was pushed away.
My brother was blindfolded and driven for about 30 minutes. When the blindfold was taken off, he could see hundreds of young men and women sitting on the floor in the hallway of what seemed to be a recreation centre. He was interrogated (during the interrogation a soldier threw a stapler and a hole puncher at him, once hitting him in the chest), and thrown in the hallway for about two hours.
Before begin returned home, my brother was taken to several homes in the neighbourhood and forced to shout in Arabic for the inhabitants to surrender. At one of the homes my brother knew that the inhabitants had fled to America months ago. When he tried to explain this to the soldiers, one of them hit him in the chest with his rifle. My brother was then returned.
My cousin told me of an interesting conversation he had with one of the soldiers who was new to the unit who was about 21 years old. He was gentler than everyone else and more polite with his captives. On several occasions he tried to remind the family that they themselves were not the target, and that he believed that we would be safer under "Israel's" protection. Although it was a good attempt at easing the tension it was hard to believe.
At one point he even apologized if some of the other soldiers had been a "little too extreme". He left two days later, but during his stay he had an interesting conversation with one of my cousins who is roughly the same age, and like the young soldier was a Computer major. Having found a topic of common interest they began to speak and eventually things led to just open discussions about different things.
My cousin asked him why the Israelis had been so rough and why they were having no mercy on anyone. The soldier replied that he disagreed with the measures taken and that he was called to serve in Palestine as part of the reserves. If he hadn't followed the order he would've lost his military scholarship to study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
He was sorry again for any harm and truly hoped that Palestinians and Israelis could live in peace together. He didn't have any views as to the Zionist theory and said that he had never been much of a politician. He just wanted to live in peace and hoped the same for Palestinians.
Before he left my cousin gave the soldier his watch. The soldier put it in his pocket, and before he left he thanked my cousin and gave him a letter in Hebrew with his name and address included in Jerusalem included in it. He made my cousin promise that he would visit him and that they would work together on a computer project someday. His name was David.
When I asked my brother how he was feeling after being interrogated and whether he was still in pain or not he responded with: "Brother, I didn't cry the whole time; no matter what they did to me, I didn't cry".
IN THIS STORY THERE ARE SIGNS OF HOPE, AND SIGNS OF RECILIANCE.
The Palestinian people cannot be broken with violence, 54 years of violence has taught us that. And now, it is time to move forward.
Malcolm X once said:
You can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.
Therefore, the first step in moving forward is that the occupation must immediately end, and the refugees 54 YEARS IN EXILE must be given the FREEDOM to choose their destiny before peace can take hold.
UNTIL THEN WE HAVE WORK TO DO. YOU AND I AND THE REST OF THE WORLD, AS THE SITUATION TODAY IS DEPARATE.
DO NOT THINK THAT BY COMING OUT HERE TODAY YOU HAVE DONE YOUR PART, RATHER, THIS MUST BE THE BEGINNING OF YOUR WORK TOWARDS PEACE AND JUSTICE, AND IT MAY BE A LONG ROAD, BUT OURS MUST BE THE VOICES OF COURAGE AND HONESTY. OURS MUST BE THE VOICES THAT DEMAND EQUALITY AND PEACE.