The attempt to cut off my voice

On 1 September London Freelance Branch member Ewa Jasiewicz was ejected from Israel. She had spent 17 days in detention at Ben Gurion Airport, shuttling to court appearances; when the Supreme Court decided that it would hear secret evidence from the security services without allowing either Ewa or her lawyers to know what it was, they decided to withdraw her appeal rather than set a precedent that would be extremely prejudicial to other journalists attempting to enter Israel. On Sunday 29 August she had been told that she was no longer allowed contact with the media, following publication of her piece A personal bias in the Guardian. Here is her response.

The Israeli Ministry of the Interior has decided that I may not speak to the media. This attempt to silence me is not new; deportation and imprisonment for political reasons are the highest form of censorship.

In this particular case the attempt to cut off my voice is part of a long-term Israeli state attack on three vital narratives.

The first narrative is composed of the international activists - the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and others who act against the Occupation. We come to use non-violent action and to increase the possibility for peace, justice and participatory democracy. The International activists have risked, suffered and sometimes died while taking this action for peace (the most famous being American Rachael Corrie and British Tom Hurndall who died in Gaza). When the Israeli government finds it hard to show such unarmed international activists as terrorists, it tries to show us as pawns in someone else's game of terror. This line does not stand up to scrutiny, and hence the story of the direct international solidarity is suppressed - but we refuse to be silenced.

The second is that of the Israeli peace movement and the refusniks - those who take the most direct action against the Occupation by refusing to serve in it. Israeli activists in groups like Tay'Ush dare to risk the aggression of the Israeli military state and strive to create real co-operation with Palestinians through joint Arab-Jewish actions against the Occupation, and several have been injured: beaten and shot undertaking this action. The drive for constant war against the Palestinians depends on the mirage of defending a "united Jewish state". This story of resistance inside Israel demonstrates that war to be fought in the interests of a small ruling class, not the entire Jewish people, and so the Israeli peace movements are demonised as traitors to their race - but they refuse to be silenced.

The third is that of the Palestinian people, and the daily terror that they face. The two other stories are based on this fact. Thousands of Palestinians are in prison, many arrested under the same "secret evidence" that is being used against me; evidence that the accused can never see, and thus can never challenge.

This "evidence" is shorthand for politically directed aggression aimed at suppressing social movements. The Palestinians have known this for generations; some of us in Europe are now waking up to this fact. The Palestinian refugees live daily with the threat of overwhelming Israeli force being directed against them; their crops are destroyed, their roads blocked, and their houses and businesses demolished. Every day they suffer this and try to rebuild their lives.

The international community only seems to wake up to the fact of the occupation when the latest Palestinian suicide attack destroys the lives of Israeli civilians - but does not locate it in the context of the systematic destruction of Palestinian life.

Effectively the Palestinian story is censored, smeared and distorted - but they still refuse to be silenced.

The project of silencing equals the Israeli state's denial of these strident realties. Recognition of these three stories is not a threat to peace, but it is dangerous to the "peace" that the dominant Israeli right wing desires; the peace to dominate, to rule and to make others die for that rule. Participation in the perpetuation of Occupation is now a rite of passage for much of Israel's population; the experience of conscription folds youths into a deep pattern of armed vulnerability that many hold onto for the rest of their lives. It makes the military a part of the community - many people will be part of the army because they want to support their friends and family, and to follow in their brothers' and sisters' footsteps.

History has taught us that the greatest acts of inhumanity can be committed against a people when that people has become sufficiently criminalized and dehumanized. The violence and repression that is generated though such a process of alienation and brutalization traumatizes both victim and oppressor.

There are generations of Israelis that know this only too painfully well and bear the scars of this type of belief on their bodies. Our struggle, that of ordinary people, human rights activists, lawyers and journalists working for peace at a grassroots level is to reclaim that humanity and to grow it, nurture it and develop it as a fundamental bedrock force for social change. We are creating new "facts on the ground": positive grassroots structures of solidarity, the conditions for coexistence and reconciliation, which break down barriers to peace and justice in this region, both ideological and physical. Governments do not and will not make peace for us. We will.

This is my own evidence, the secret of our grassroots power, and the evidence that the rulers' paths lead us nowhere. As international activists we have documented masses of human rights abuses by the Israeli state; we all have our stories of its attacks on human dignity. Through photos, witnessing and reporting this evidence is reaching a worldwide audience. We make links with peace groups and popular movements through our media, but many governments and elite organisations still find it hard to listen. This is not surprising, since the power we aim to build is that of the grassroots, the power of the ordinary people, the ones who are always the first to suffer from war and arbitrary authority.

Right now thousands of Palestinians prisoners are taking part in hunger strikes in jail, because they refuse to be silenced. Most of these are political prisoners, and most of them are young men. If participation in the army is a rite of Israeli passage, then internment in an Israeli jail is one for young Palestinians. I have been in refugee camps where all the men aged between fifteen and thirty were rounded up; many others arrests occur because a boy is related to or friends with the "wrong" people. The people suffering this mass punishment share their experiences of imprisonment with the rest of Palestinian society; the feelings of imprisonment and powerlessness are common to Palestinians inside and outside jail. So the hunger strikes are not just a fight for better conditions, they are also a fight to be recognized as participants in a liberation struggle - and a struggle of an occupied people that is thus justified under international law. Through striking the Palestinian prisoners link up with their friends and family outside the jail, who are demonstrating, acting and shouting; together they have a voice and cannot be silenced. Imprisonment, after murder, is the highest form of censorship, silencing and alienation. I know what it is to be imprisoned, when your life's routine depends on the guards who have the keys. I can feel how it numbs the brain, how lack of contact with loved ones and lack of active choice begins to take away your life; without a voice you begin to forget how to speak - and this detention centre is a five star hotel compared to the Israeli jails where the Palestinians are suffering.

The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is not simply a story about Jews fighting Arabs; it is an example of the dynamics of despair and hate, fostered in this tiny scrap of East Mediterranean land by governments the world over. Because of this, the solution can only be found in the context of the full participation of internationals - as observers, as commentators and as movements putting pressure on their own government and corporations.

Last modified: 5 October 2004 - © 2004 contributors
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