Guest Post: Between Gaza, Nigeria, and Middlebury

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The following is a post from guest blogger, Amitai Ben-Abba ‘15.5.

Photos from the motherland take over my mind my heart is pounding. A man called to serve in reserves talking on his phone. A car with broken window shields in Be’er Sheva. A destroyed apartment in Ashdod. Siren goes off in Jerusalem for the first time in 30 years. Three dead, a dozen injured. Jenny called from New Orleans and told me that rockets were shot at Jerusalem, my hometown. Impossible, I say, no one would bomb Jerusalem with all of the holy places and all. I call my friends Mori and Ruth. Mori, a Midd alum, just got out of prison for refusing to serve in the military. The rocket was aimed at the Israeli parliament, close to where my friends live. It fell somewhere in the open, nothing happened. Except panic. And I can feel this panic like I felt it during the second intifada when I couldn’t take buses to school out of fear of suicide bombers.

And then I look at Gaza. I stare right into the screen and can’t take my eyes off it. A huge explosion of fire behind a mosque. Women in hijabs screaming in front of flattened buildings. A girl crying, her head covered with blood, carried out of a burning building by a paramedic. 72 people dead since Wednesday (and counting). Hundreds injured. Many children too. And I imagine standing on a hill near Sderot, where my sister and my nephew lived not so long ago, and looking at Gaza and seeing the smoke and the airplanes above the city, and I feel the pain and I hear the screams of terror and I start to cry my tears drop heavily on my laptop and I try to brush them off with shaky fingers but they trickle into the keyboard. And in their shielded headquarters and huge villas the generals and politicians responsible for this dread stay protected. Like kleptomaniacs, their thirst for power knows no end. They are willing to drop cluster bombs on neighborhoods and risk their own constituencies to win the next election. Responsibility, but only for profit. Respect, but only for the Dollar. Like corporate kleptomaniacs, turning a blind eye to displaced communities and executed activists, it happens all over the world, like in Nigeria, like Royal Dutch Shell, the largest multinational corporation in the world, which got a stage and student support and applause here in Middlebury.

And I call Olivia, another amazing Midd alum, who’s in Ramallah, and she’s going to daily protests with Palestinians in solidarity with Gaza but there are so few people, she says, and it’s a routine and nothing happens. And I feel the frustration as I felt it every week in Sheikh Jarrah, Bil’in, Nabi Saleh, South Hebron. As I feel it when trying to mobilize the student body here in Middlebury. As I feel it trying to get people to attend the open Friday Assmebly to talk about how they feel it. But feelings are normally irrelevant. We’re emotionally illiterate. Feelings are not taught in our classrooms. Maybe that’s why we’re able to publicly denounce our friends without giving them constructive criticism in person.

And protesters that are not under occupation, my friends from Yasamba band, they feel it too, because there are so few of them every day in Jerusalem’s Paris Square protesting against the war. And the authorities don’t have to do much about the dissidents because the Israeli public is doing it all for them and beats my friends up as they go out to protest. And I feel their pain the way I felt it on my own skin numerous times the way I felt when I went with Yaniv, another ex-prisoner of the military, to film illegal construction of an outpost built to oppress the Palestinians of South Hebron Hills and Israeli settlers came out and beat us up and broke our cameras and the soldiers just stood there and watched it. And Middlebury authorities don’t need to do much either about dissent. Students do a fine job holding their peers accountable, accusing them publicly, shutting them up, stepping on them as they lay on the floor in a hopeless representation of the voices that are silenced by our endowment and our unquestioning corporate tendencies.

And I feel the frustration in the way that my Israeli middle school friends gang up on me on Facebook and say that I don’t understand the wider picture because I refused to serve in the army and I only see one side of things and I twist reality and how dare I say the names of the murdered Palestinian kids – Ranan Yousef Arafat, 3 years old, Omar Jihad al-Mashrawi, 11 months old, and more and more –  and what about my own people and my own privilege and my own home in Jerusalem. And of course they want peace too, and they think I’m a smart guy but my means are disrespectful and I’m in the wrong direction. And I received murder threats by anonymous responders on my blog, and passers-by on demonstrations call me a fifth column and I am a traitor. I make people uncomfortable sometimes, but I feel constantly uncomfortable in Israeli society. And here I’m accused of not attempting to grow with the community, of not working with love, of demanding attention and waking up every morning to villainize whoever stands in my way. And we are “entitled children” or “children of anarchy looking to stir up chaos.” Anonymous responders on Middblog call me and the friends I love and admire “a bunch of losers” and “an embarrassment to the college.” I make people uncomfortable sometimes, but I feel constantly uncomfortable in this college.

Students and administrators have said repeatedly that they agree with the message but disagree with the means. To me this is a commitment to keep things as they are, in status quo, in “peace,” meaning that there is no disorder, disruption, doubt, discomfort, no justice. “War is peace,” as Orwell said, right? So let’s break the ends and the means and see what’s going on here. With our means we disrespected the $458 billion corporation’s right to express its opinion (of course, here Shell had more than enough time and space to express their stance, unlike at the University of Vermont, where the whole talk was disrupted). Our message is for divestment from unjust corporations and apartheid regimes in order to contribute to a world in which Arabs and Jews live in peace and equality and multinational giants like Shell Oil and Exxon Mobil don’t exist and resources are shared equally by all people regardless of their color and gun power. Divesting from Shell is disrespectful to Shell which in itself is disrespectful to humankind and the planet. The ends are as disrespectful as the means. Both means and message are about respect for basic human dignity and the environment and all living things. Therefore, if you don’t believe in our means, you don’t believe in our message. Separating the means from the message is intentionally misleading and disrespectful to victims of corporate crimes.

Maybe we are losers. We have been losing for 500 years since the beginning of colonialism since the beginning of capitalism we have been losing for 45 years since the beginning of the occupation and more. But we have some hope in humanity and that keeps us going. Some hope in people’s ability to work with each other for more than themselves with mutual aid and compassion and solidarity. That war is not part of human nature, that we can embody the change we want to see in the world as we go, that we can question what we’re told to do even if white men in suits tell us not to. We believe we can live that in our everyday struggle and that carries us on. And that is very anarchist to me. And I don’t mean anarchy as synonymous to chaos, but rather as the struggle for the lack of oppression in all aspects of life. I mean anarchy not as the lack of order, but as the presence of justice. I believe in getting educated without displacing Nigerian people and destroying the planet. I believe in eating without exploiting animals. I believe I can live in the Middle East in coexistence with my Palestinian comrades. And I seek to embody this in my actions. And I am a hypocrite, hell, I ate an omelet just yesterday, but I recognize it and I want to do something about it and figure out how to do things right as I go and that is very anarchist to me. But some people have no privilege to say this and recognizing that is also very anarchist to me. My mom just said she saw a convoy of tanks going south.

Amitai Ben-Abba ’15.5 is from Jerusalem (just Jerusalem).

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7 thoughts on “Guest Post: Between Gaza, Nigeria, and Middlebury

  1. Amitai,

    I agree and identify a lot with what you are saying. I lived in Israel for one year before Middlebury, and have many close friends in Israel, as well as Palestinian friends in the West Bank.

    From my perspective, you are playing up terrorism from the IDF much more than terrorism from Hamas. It is true that terrorism comes from both ends, and the line between “defense force” and terrorism is very blurry. I know a couple in Tsderot who have lost children to rockets from Hamas; people bloodied and running out of flattened ganim (kindergartens), spurring hundreds of millions of dollars for bomb shelter construction. I feel you are showing Israeli violence as worse than Hamas terrorism, and that is where our perspective differs. There are many Israelis you do not mention, like yourself, who are against this violence, but may not protest because their loved ones are being called back to reserves.

    The atrocities and human rights violations by the IDF are sad, terrible, and real. It is important that they are discussed, but I think it is inappropriate to focus so much on IDF action that it somehow legitimizes Hamas terrorism or frames it as defensive.

    You are right; our actions should serve to foster peace. I have spoken to both friends in Israel and Palestinians in America to see how their families and friends are doing. We are all scared, all have a sense of panic, and no one who I have spoken to–including some right of center Israelis–wants this violence to continue. I hope we, especially those who are not physically there, can support one another and work together to pressure the government in our interest to find attachment to shared humanity.

    -Dave Yedid

    *There is a conversation at 4:30 tomorrow in Axinn 229, sponsored by J-Street, to learn and engage about the violence that is occurring in Gaza and Israel.*

    • thanks for you thoughtful response, Dave. i think i understand your opinion and i probably shared it myself to a certain extent before cast lead.

      I don’t see a symmetry between Hamas and IDF terrorism. Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world, under siege for years, and it’s entirely at the mercy of Israel with respect to access to resources. in fact, despite of the disengagement, the occupation of Gaza has just gone worse in terms of military operations against civilians on sea and in the air. so often, fishermen are murdered because they went slightly too far into the sea and the israeli navy doesn’t think twice before shooting, but these things don’t hit the news unless someone on a flotilla says them to an alternative journalist. of course i don’t endorse shooting with the intent of hurting other human beings, but either than firing a qasam, there is no avenue to protest. i don’t think we can apply the logic of our privileged positions to the people in Gaza. first we must recognize that they deserve freedom of movement and equal access to resources and self-determination and complete self-sufficiency about their exports of strawberries and cumin and so on. the power dynamic is too huge to look at it as a symmetric conflict. and the number of deaths speaks for itself.

      we’ll probably speak more in person. i’ll see you at 4:30.

  2. Here, here. Interesting how one who screams for divestment on the grounds of advancing human rights, paints the picture he does of a conflict that has underlying it one people’s insistence that another gets wiped out, and then offers such a one-sided view of things. Has anyone seen on these pages calls to stop the Syrian government from killing its own (more then 35,000 so far)? Or the Saudi government from oppressing women, who are not even allowed to drive in their country? Or…you name it. Once again, jump on the bandwagon of popular protests and ignore so many others that have been raging with far greater anti-democratic roots. All of these conflicts are abysmal. All need attention, yet look how this one is portrayed.

    • Naturally, i talk about the issue that’s closest to my heart, which, especially now, is the Palestinian struggle. as i said explicitly, i believe in the struggle against all forms of oppression, and so I agree that the Syrian government is atrocious and that Saudi women deserve their right to self-determination. this is under the idea of divestment from the destruction of human beings and earth. including a call to divest from military contractors that arm genocide in Syria and Saudi oil that oppresses women and wrecks the earth.

      i understand you don’t like my tone, or something, but it seems like you care about stuff. sounds like your interested in connecting struggles to end abysmal conflicts, i am too. as a midd alum, you should definitely join the campaign at notadollarmore.org

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