I was welcomed into the world of Bay Area Israel/Palestine activism with a taser gun and pepper spray. Two years ago, my friend Deppen, who I went on an Interfaith Peace-builders trip to Israel/Palestine, and I organized a flash mob in downtown Berkeley. It was organized as part of the global day of action in solidarity with the Palestinians of Hebron. Hebron is one of the largest cities in the south of the West Bank, an economic center and home to one of the most vibrant markets in the area, and oldest in history.
Hebron is unique to Palestinian cities because there are around 600 Jewish Israeli settlers located inside Hebron near the city center by the holy site known as the Caves of the Patriarchs, or the Ibrahimi Mosque among 250,000 Palestinians. There are also around 800 Israeli soldiers deployed in the area at any given time to “protect” these settlers, who are often violent towards Palestinian residents.
On February 25th 1994 a settler from New York named Baruch Goldstein opened fired in the mosque, killing 29 people. Since then, the military has enforced a policy of separation between Jews and Palestinians. This has meant the closure of over a thousand Palestinians homes and hundreds of shops, bringing to a standstill Shuhada street, the once thriving market.
Today marks the fifth year that Palestinians called for a global day of action to commemorate those lives lost in the massacre and to demand the reopening of Shuhada street, a market that was open to Muslims, Christians and Jews before its closure.
I have walked down the now ghostly Shuhada street. In 2010 I volunteered in Hebron, teaching women English and would often be confronted by two paradoxical worlds, the ideological settler world and the daily Palestinian life trying to retain normalcy amongst the soldiers and the barbed wire. The air is heavy in Hebron and if you walk around the old city, you will see Palestinian homes next to homes that have been taken over by settlers. Some Palestinians have to build fences and nets around their front doors to protect them from rocks and sewage settlers try to throw at them when they leave for work or school.
They approached us holding some things. Some guys in downtown Berkeley intercepted them. They were pepper-sprayed. I think one of them was holding a taser.
The song was only three minutes. There were 25-30 people.
When I moved to the Bay Area two years ago, my friend Deppen and I organized a flash mob in solidarity with the Palestinians of Hebron. We got 25-30 people together and blocked off part of a Berkeley street and sang about Shuhada to the tune of “Sesame Street.” There were two young men there trying to disrupt our action, holding up signs, one reading “Jewish Voice for Peace loves Bashar al-Assad.” As we were finishing our song, they approached us with pepper spray and something that looked like a taser. A few guys on the sidewalk intercepted them and tried to keep them away, and got pepper sprayed.
What saddened me most about this incident is that they were presumably fellow Jewish Americans. It was this incident that made me realize even on the other side of the world, in one of the most liberal areas in the country, I was faced with hostility from the Jewish community for showing my support for Palestinians living under occupation.
A few days later, members of StandWithUs walked into a Jewish Voice for Peace meeting and pepper sprayed two of our members.
Now, three years later, I feel a great sense of community with the Bay Area chapter of JVP and Bay Area Women in Black, and I have so much gratitude for those who turned out for our action, to do what we can and educate our community about what’s happening in Palestine and where our tax dollars are going. We were a group of about thirty, while our opposition across the way was just a few people holding American and Israeli flags. The widening gap between growing numbers of folks for peace and justice and the dwindling numbers of those who try to justify occupation and inequality is encouraging, and hopefully indicative of changing tides in our country.