I have been sitting at my desk in our study for an hour now, an hour after I received Alex's message from Israel or better from Palestine because that is where she is now. On this same desk sits Jonathan's request that I write something about gay history for the CLAGS website, the folders filled with the papers Daniel and I are generating as we push ahead with our new book, all my printed messages from the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, from Sherry and Dorothy summoning my attention to new important words, and all I have been able to do is play game after game of solitaire. I am numb with the import of Alex's words, with my rage and sadness at our mass inaction--so different from when so many of us saw the brutal images of African-Americans in Georgia beaten down on a country road as they tried to cross a bridge on their way to vote, saw the image of a middle aged black woman held down on the ground with a police baton under her throat and a white man in his uniform of power straddling her. Then in the thousands we refused to accept that image and so many others like that as the face of our America--and we gathered in a huge community of civil disobedience to force change. I write now as a Jew about a country that stands on the international stage as representative of all Jews. Where are we?
E-mail, from Alex Nissen, Monday, July 14, 2008, 5:59
Well I guess it's time to write just a short note on my trip to Israel, mainly because I think it's important for people to know the truth. This trip has been full of meeting people who Israel would define as the enemy. Something I don't really care about. It has also had a profound effect
on the way I see things and as a result of my experience this time I have changed. I often hear many stories about how badly Israeli soldiers behave so this time like so many times before I went to a demonstration in a small Palestinian village called Nil and of course met many Palestinians who wanted to tell me their story.
The demonstration was against the confiscation of their land to build a wall right through the middle of the village. Before we started the demonstration, we all sat down and were warned about what would happen and what we should do in case of injury. Instructions were move in either groups or 2 or 3 people so if someone gets wounded they are not alone. Carry and onion or alcohol against the tear gas. Look up to see where they are shooting the sound grenades and tear gas so you don't get hit in the head. If tear gas explodes next to you, don't panic, look where the wind is blowing and move in the opposite direction. There were many more instructions that I won't go into now.
So with all this information, off I went with everyone else and a strong feeling that things had changed and that this was not going to be in any way a safe demonstration. I knew from the stories of other people what to expect but I had to witness was going on. There is power in witnessing what happens.
So as we reach the hill, we see the soldiers standing in small groups spread out on the hill top opposite us. And then without any warning, they started to shoot at us, first sound grenades, then tear gas. I watched in horror as they stated shooting and remembered to look up at where things were landing. Tear gas sends smoke clouds so you know to run in a different direction. 3 people were wounded, a Palestinian man got hit in the head by a tear gas.
I looked at the soldiers form a distance and watched them aim at us just standing there doing nothing, and I could not believe what was going on. People scattered in different directions. I tried to talk to the soldiers from a distance as I couldn't get close to them, but really it was a waste of time and energy.
As we began to leave, they fired 6 tear gas canisters in our direction. I looked up and saw that they landed a distance from where I was was and then did not see any smoke. As we were leaving a heavy cloud of gas came over us, there was no warning, there was no smoke, the Palestinian man told me to start running up the hill, but I could not run, I could not breath, my eyes, mouth and face were on fire. I was trying not to move fast because I did not want to breath in the poison gas...my mouth was full of gas and I kept trying to spit out the disgusting taste--it's hard to move when you are struggling to breath.
We eventually got out and I have to say that with great sadness I left behind Palestinian people who do not have the luxury of escaping this violence perpetrated by the Israeli army...every week it's the same story, innocent people abused by stupid politics.
I don't know how I got home, but I do know that what I witnessed and felt has changed me forever.
Alex Nissen, Women in Black"
Gas! in the nose, in the mouth. How powerless I feel here. Only these words for now. Let me tall you about Alex--shorter then me, about five feet tall, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, Hebrew speaker, who spent many years in Haifa and helped begin Women in Black there. Alex with her sometimes purple hair always believes she can charm hard men into reasonable human beings like the security man hired by the Jewish community here who took our names and address at one of the Women in Black vigils, she stands in front of huge burly men and gets them to smile, to see a human being instead of an enemy. Alex who always has hope that all people really want is to live in peace. Soon I will hold Alex in my arms and find out what has shifted in her heart--but this is what is happening behind every wall, behind every policed difference, bodies are broken and our own visions of human warmth are turned to stone. The anonymity of it all--that is what the police, the soldiers, the governments count on, tell me one name of one Iraqi citizen killed in the war in our name, tell me one name of one Palestinian in an Israeli prison for ten years, one Palestinian fallen in the dust of her own town, her own home. Americans hardly know the names of our own children lying in the dust--we are not even allowed to see their coffins. I ask anyone who reads this journal, please tell Alex's story, tell your friends, your organizations--at least let us bear witness and let us call for a movement where thousands of Jews and others take to the streets demanding the end to military brutality behind closed doors, behind stone walls, behind ignorance and fear, behind dictated hatreds. Feminists, queers, progressives, civil rights activists, my old lovers, new friends--please pay attention.