10 Questions from Open Shuhada Street
1. Why did I go to the Open Shuhada Street demonstration this morning?
The closure of Shuhada street is one of the most clear illustrations of what is wrong with the occupation. 20 years ago this week, Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinians in Hebron, and injured more than 100 more. For the past 20 years since the massacre, the Israeli government has pursued a policy of collective punishment– of the Palestinian residents of Hebron, including the closure of Shuhada street, once a main thoroughfare in Hebron and now forbidden for Palestinians to even walk on (since 2000).
So: Why did I go to the demonstration in this morning?
Because I believe in the power of nonviolent and/or unarmed demonstrations, and found this cause important enough to push through all sorts of hesitations, fears and discomforts.
Ok, and also because I have been spending my Friday mornings lately going on long trail runs, because I can’t remember the last time I’ve been to a demonstration, because I still believe, in some part of me, as overstated and potentially problematic as it sounds and feels, that going to demonstrations and putting my body in line with my mind gives me legitimacy as an activist.
Mmm. Maybe. Maybe not. What it does do, though, is re-spark the fire that allows me to write. And I do think that this is something worth writing about. So that’s some of Why.
2. A question in Arabic: “Why are you all running away?”
“Because we are scared.”
“Don’t be scared. Look at us, we’re not running away. It’s like this here every day for us.”
“You’re stronger than us.”
“No, no. We’re all brothers.”
“Right, but some brothers are stronger than other brothers.”
“I wish we had more than rocks.”
3. A question in English: “Where are you from?”
“I’m from Tel Aviv.”
“Tel Aviv!? Are you Jewish?”
“Wow. Jews against Jews” [Gestures in the direction of the exploding stun grenades]
“Well… Jews against the injustice.”
“Wow. Jews against Jews.”
4. Is the stinging in my throat because of the tear gas?
Or is it because of the onion I have been nervously munching?
I think it is because of the onion.
5. Is it better to demonstrate with a serious face or with a smile?
I try to take my cue from the people who actually live here. My effort is futile. Some people look grim, others are laughing. I shift my face into what I hope is an ambiguously appropriate middle ground between a smile and a grimace. A grinmace.
6. How heavy should history weigh on a day like this?
Which is to say: how far back in history do we go? Do we stop at 1994? At 1967? At 1948? At 1927? At 1799? Is there a way to do this without taking historical sides? Is there a way to mourn the victims of 1994 along with the victims of 1929? Is there a separate time to do each? Must an action -violent or nonviolent or somewhere in between- have human targets? Are these questions the kind of questions that threaten to seep so heavy into one’s legs that one will never step anywhere? How does one escape theory, though, when it is theory that brings one to act? Privilege as one of the soils in which activism can grow. Another being desperation.
7. And what about the vigil last night?
Last night, we held a vigil in Jerusalem. It was simple and dignified. No less a an act of protest and activism than today, just different. I think both are needed. I think I have more to contribute and give during the vigil than the demonstration. But I don’t disregard the power of bearing witness. Nor the power of ego. Nor the power of solidarity. Nor the power of comfort. Nor the power of throwing many seeds in rocky soil to see what grows.
8. Does going to buy cheap falafels right after the demonstration make others feel like colonialists, also?
Well, the shopkeepers are probably happy for the business.
We’ll, just wait until afterwards, and buy a falafel for triple the price in Tel Aviv.
Symbolism symbolism symbolism.
9. “Is he OK?”
“Oh, yes, his face was just grazed by a metal bullet coated in rubber.”
10. What about the dissonance?
When I first moved here, the shift from Friday morning demonstrations to Friday evening Shabbat services or meals or feelings peacefulness would often make me nauseous. Am I allowed to be doing this? The first times I went into the West Bank, nothing looked beautiful because it all looked stolen. The bus ride home today was so pretty. It’s all still stolen.
“What about the dissonance?” I asked a new friend as we got off the bus and returned to our respective Friday evenings of relaxation and ease. “I used to get so angry and so confused. And feel guilty. Maybe I’m just jaded now, but I’m happy for the dissonance tonight. Both are real. I think both are needed.”
“They are,” my friend said. “Isn’t that part of what we are struggling for?”
“What do you mean?”
“Isn’t part of all this so that more people can have peaceful Friday nights?”
Yeah. I think it is.
So: a bit late (but still holy): Shabbat Shalom.