By Eyad Kishawi
“Gilad Shalit” is a recognizable name that rolls easily off the tongues of many Americans. This is a testament to the power of the media, consolidated over the years, and spoon-fed from embedded journalists in Iraq and Afghanistan about what the power structures agree to be in the best interest of the US government. Shalit is a 24 year-old Israeli soldier, a prisoner of war, captured during an Israeli attack on Gaza and his name has become the rallying cry of Zionist institutions throughout the US.
How about “Zeinab Shalhoub”? Her 6 year-old body was found alive and twisted under the rubble after a US-made bomb flattened her three-storey building, with a fragment proudly proclaiming: “MK84 guided bomb BSU 37B” found next to her. Her relatives tried to pull her out, but to no avail. Zeinab Shalhoub was among 56, men, women and children killed in the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006. Zeinab”s village, Qana, was commemorating the 10th anniversary of the UN compound massacre when an Israeli battery shelled a UN compound full of refugees, killing 106 of them. Instead of learning the lessons from this blood bath, and the ensuing military defeat in Lebanon, Israel takes out its revenge on another civilian population in Gaza.
Gaza, a small area containing 1.5 million people, has been under siege for 7 years, and occupied for decades. Beginning with a series of air strikes on the morning of December 27th, 2008, Israel killed 1,434 people and injured 5,303 in a systematic manner over the course of 3 weeks. 199 children and 121 women were among the dead. Like the preceding invasion of Lebanon, many victims reported that they were asked to evacuate and then picked off one by one on the streets in a target practice. Ambulances were stopped by Israeli soldiers only a few yards from an injured person, and paramedics watched victims bleed to death as they pleaded to the humanity of the soldiers. In Lebanon, Israeli aircrafts used the Red Cross symbol on the roof of the ambulance to guide their missiles into the vehicles.
Unlike Shalit, the 1,434 of Gaza, and 1,100 in Lebanon, and the thousands killed in Sabra and Shatilla, and hundreds of thousands who were murdered on the hands of the Israeli army and air force over the years are not supposed to have names. Unlike Shalit, the 700,000 Palestinians who have been through the Israeli concentration camps (in European discourse, we are instructed to call them detention camps, to avoid invocation of images from the Holocaust), who were beaten with a bag of feces placed on their heads, sleep deprived, made to squat in the sun and beaten as they collapse, or placed in cages for days out in the sun to dehydrate, sprayed in hot and cold water, or even outright murdered and have their organs stolen and traded in the underground organ market in New Jersey and elsewhere; they are not supposed to have names either.
Many of us, within the Palestinian community, breathed a small sigh of relief when the student senate at the University of California Berkeley decided to overwhelmingly vote to divest from US companies complicit in Israeli war crimes, only to be overturned by student president Smelko. The veto pretext was a regurgitation of AIPAC”s talking points: 1) It is too complicated to discuss the Middle East; 2) It marginalizes the Jewish students who identify with Israel; and 3) Israel is working hard for peace with its neighbors. I am reminded here by a quote from the Central American liberation theologian, Archbishop Oscar Romero who was killed by CIA-run death squads: “Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.” The peace that Israel is seeking while “defending itself” against the “demographic threat,” imposed on it by the indigenous population of Palestine is the peace of cemeteries.
The irony does not stop here. After meetings (Jewish Daily Forward 4/21/2010) in DC and the San Francisco Bay Area between AIPAC, J Street, and many other apologist for apartheid, the Israeli consul general to the Pacific Northwest stepped up to the podium at the UC Berkeley student senate, also regurgitated the three talking points and asked the students to stand strong and not overturn the veto. He was surrounded by an entourage whose intimidation machine had threatened the future of the student senators and activists, alerting them that they would never get a job or into graduate school should they side with divestment. Hedy Epstein, a holocaust survivor reminded the students of the price of silence, yet, to no avail, the cries of her generation, like the cries of Zeinab Shalhoub fell on deaf ears.
As a Palestinian, I watched in awe the power of fear triumph over the power of humanity and justice. I had witnessed a similar triumph of brutality growing up under the cluster bombs hurled at us from thousands of feet above our heads. This time it was different. UC Berkeley has voted to uphold segregation and apartheid over divestment and people”s actions, ignorant of its history in fighting for civil rights, free speech and equality among human beings. It was a shameful moment where identity politics trumped the universal sense of justice the proponents of the resolution exhibited, as they paraded letters of support from Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, Richard Falk, Noam Chomsky, Judith Butler and many others. The students who decided to abstain and vote against the resolution may have thought that those who stood with Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, or Cesar Chavez, did so without consequence. To them, I would like to quote Nelson Mandela who said: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
When the tally is made on Wednesday April 28, as the student senate concludes the debate over the veto, we in the Arab community and other dispossessed communities will remember the names of heroic people who took the right decision at the right time, names like Lean Deleon, Viola Tang, Emily Carlton, Ariel Boone, and Huda Adam. We will remember the one senator who stood by his initial vote for the bill against concerted pressure from his party members, J.P. Shami. We will also remember the people who precipitated the shameful departure from UC Berkeley”s legacy, names like Will Smelko, Parth Bhatt and Anish Gala. For those who succumbed to fear, abstention and indecision, we ask them to pick in whose shadow they choose to walk; to pick between the side of Nelson Mandela, Oscar Romero, Rosa Parks, Simon Bolivar, Ghassan Kanafani, and the side of Dick Cheney, George Wallace, and Benjamin Netanyahu. Remember this, while the Zionists can offer you jobs today, those who upheld a veto in support of segregation and the policies of George Wallace, found themselves in a country who managed to elect an African-American for president. While history moves, your position will be memorialized for eternity.
Eyad Kishawi is a member of the San Francisco Palestinian American Community