Four Years Ago--and Today!
- As many of you know, my family and I are pretty active in the peace movement.
Here's something that helps explain why.
from the dark,
Four Years Ago Today
March 16, 2007
Four years ago today, I was in Nablus in the Occupied Territories of Palestine,
volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement that supports the nonviolent
movement among the Palestinians. I was also supporting my friend Neta Golan, an
Israeli woman and one of the founders of ISM, now married to a Palestinian, who was
about to give birth. I had spent a strangely idyllic day in a small village outside
Nablus, where a group of ISM volunteers had gone because we'd received a report that
the Israeli army was harassing villagers. When we got there, the army had left, the
cyclamen and blood-red anemones were in bloom underneath ancient olive trees, and
the villagers insisted we stay for a barbecue.
We were just passing through the checkpoint on our way back to Nablus when we got a
call from Rafah, in the Gaza strip. Rachel Corrie, a young ISM volunteer, had
trying to prevent an Israeli bulldozer from demolishing a home near the border. The
bulldozer operator saw her, and went forward anyway, crushing her to death.
Rachel's death was a small preview of the horrific violence that the U.S. unleashed,
three days later, with the invasion of Iraq. In Nablus, we were gearing up for a
possible Israeli invasion when the war began. I was working with another volunteer,
Brian Avery, to coordinate the team that would maintain a human rights witness in
the Balata refugee camp on the outskirts of Nablus. I was also praying that Neta
would not go into labor at some moment when the whole town would be under siege and
we could not get to a hospital, and boning up on such midwifery knowledge as I
possess. Perhaps I prayed too hard - she showed no signs of going into labor at
all, and finally, in an act of great unselfishness, sent me down to Rafah to support
the team there that had been with Rachel. I offered such comfort as I could to
volunteers who were young enough that most had never before experienced the death of
someone close to them.
It was a strange spring. I made it back to Nablus to support Neta's birth - but the
joy of that event was tinged with horror, for the night before, Brian was shot in
the face in Jenin by the Israeli military in an unprovoked attack on a group of
international volunteers. All during Neta's labor, the nurses (yes, thank Goddess,
we made it to the hospital!) kept turning on Al Jazeerah which was showing scenes of
the U.S. bombardment of Iraq. I kept turning it off. Even in a world full of war,
I wanted her child to be born in a small island of peace.
I went to Jenin to support the team that had been with Brian, and then to Haifa to
visit him where he was awaiting surgery. I spent much of the next weeks traveling
frenetically, often alone, through the one piece of ground on earth most difficult
to travel in, where checkpoints truncate every route. The olive trees broke into
leaf, and the almonds swelled into fuzzy green pods which the Palestinians eat
young. They taste lemony, sharp and poignant, like the moment itself.
I visited with the Israeli Women in Black in Jerusalem, and trained ISM volunteers
in Beit Sahour. A young British volunteer, Tom Hurndall, went down to Rafah straight
from the training. Walking on the border, near where Rachel was killed, he saw a
group of children under fire from an Israeli sniper tower. He ran beneath the rain
of bullets, pulled a young boy to safety, went back again for another child. The
sniper targeted him, shooting him in the head. So I went back to Rafah, that surreal
town of rubble and barbed wire, ripe oranges and bullet holes, to support the team
that had been with Tom
Everywhere I went, the sun shone, the flowers bloomed, and the army seemed to melt
away, as if I carried some magic circle of protection. I was a long distance
witness to death, a support for grief without suffering the searing personal pain
that comes with the loss of a child, a parent, a lover. My own grief hit later,
when I was home, and safe, and cried for weeks.
I cry now, every spring, here in California as the daffodils bloom and the plum
trees flower. The beauty of spring is forever tinged, for me, with the grief and
wonder and horror of that time: Neta sweating in labor while the TV news shows
images of war, blood staining the wildflowers a deeper red.
I cry, and then I get I mad. Four years have gone by, and the killing still goes on
- in Palestine, in Iraq, and if Bush has his way, in Iran. Ghosts haunt the green
hills, shimmering like heat waves under an unnaturally hot sun: all the uncounted
dead of this uncalled-for war, all those yet to die.
I've got a garden to plant, and a thousand things I'd rather do, but once again this
spring, I'm gearing up for action. The peace marches have become boring, strident
and predictable. To be absolutely honest, I hate marching around in the street
chanting the same slogans I've been chanting for forty years. I'm going, anyway.
I'm so tired of die-ins and sit-ins and predictable speeches shouted over bullhorns
that I could scream if I weren't hearing in my ears the far more bitter screams of
the dying. I'm even tired of trying to drum and sing and make the protest into a
creative act of magic. It's not creative - it's a damn protest, and I have real
creative work to do: books to write, courses to teach, and rituals to plan.
Nonetheless, Sunday will find me trudging along on the peace march and Monday will
find me lying down on Market Street in some picturesque fashion with a group of
friends and our requisite banners.
Why? So I can look myself in the mirror without flinching, and answer to those
hundred thousand ghosts. But more than that, because it's time, friends. Public
opinion has turned - now we must make it mean something real. It's time to send the
Democrats back to their committee meetings saying, "Hell, I can't even get into my
office - the halls are blocked and the streets are choked with people angry about
this war." Time to send the Republicans off to their caucuses murmuring quietly "If
we continue to support this disaster we're going to lose every semblance of power or
popular support we once possessed." Time to let the rest of the world know that
dissent is alive and well here in the U.S.A. Time to regenerate a movement as
nature regenerates life in the spring, with the rising energy that alone can turn
our interminable trudging into a dance of defiance.
You come, too. You can skip out on the boring speeches and make cynical remarks -
but get your feet out on the street this weekend, somewhere. There's a thousand
different actions planned around the country - and if you don't know where to go or
what to do, check the websites below.
Act because hundreds of thousands who are now alive are marked for death if this war
goes on or expands into Iran. Act because every perfumed flower and every bud that
breaks into leaf this calls to us to cherish and safeguard life.
For a listing of actions, check:
www.unitedforpeace.org <http://www.unitedforpeace.org/> .
Starhawks many writings on her time in Palestine and other issues can be found on
her website at:
"Life's short and we never have enough time for the hearts of those who travel the way with us. O, be swift to love! Make haste to be kind." --Henri-Frederic Amiel