A Killing, Prawer Pushback, Druze Refusal & Open[ed] Hillel: Four Stories from This Week

A Killing (An Awful Story)

This past weekend, a small kid was nationalistically murdered.

Which is to say: This past weekend, Wajih Wajdi al-Ramahi, a 14-year old Palestinian boy from the Jalazun refugee camp near Ramallah was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers. The versions differ, as Amira Hass summarizes in her Haaretz article about Wajih’s death, between the Israeli army which is “investigating whether he was killed by gunfire” and Palestinian eyewitnesses who say that he was shot in the back. Accounts also diverge on the questions of stones or no stones, positioning, circumstances, et cetera. But the essence here is that a kid was killed and that is horrific. There is more that is similar than different between this story and last month’s incident in which a sleeping Jewish Israeli kid was stabbed and killed by a Palestinian youth. The media, community leaders, bloggers, citizens should thus be similarly outraged by and focused on the event. They aren’t, because that is the major difference: Palestinian life is cheaper than Jewish life in this context.

Wajih Wajdi al-Ramahi (Photo: Ma'an)
Wajih Wajdi al-Ramahi (Photo: Ma’an)

The Prawer Plan and Pushback (A Mixed Story)

The Prawer Plan, an Israeli governmental initiative to forcibly transfer 40,000 Bedouin Arab citizens of Israel from their homes, is moving forward. At demonstrations against the plan last weekend, almost 50 people were arrested and many others attacked and hurt by an especially aggressive display of force and violence by the Israeli police. In a manner both extreme and unusual (for Israeli citizens– extreme but usual for non-citizen Palestinian protestors), 12 of the arrested protestors (five of them minors) are still being held in jail more than a week after the demonstrations. This may be a tactic to deter future demonstrators, but I believe it will backfire, as medium-severity oppressive tactics often do: I did not attend the last demonstration. I will attend the next one.

And this is why I see this story as mixed: The political trends vis-a-vis the Negev Bedouins are horrid and oppressive and the chances of stopping seem slim, but that’s been the case for years now. What’s changed is the pushback. The demonstrations last weekend were attended by thousands of people, took places in cities throughout Israel proper, the Occupied Territories and around the world, and the media are beginning to open their sleepy, dulled and narrow eyes to this injustice (not least because the connection between the Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian Territories and Israel’s plan to forcibly displace tens of thousands of Arab citizens of Israel from their homes is being made more explicit). NYT, Tablet, Washington Post, Momentum, More to Come.

Bedouin residents of the “unrecognized” village of Al Arakib protest the demolition of their village and demand the release of the activists arrested during an anti-Prawer demonstration the day before, in Lehavim Junction, December 1, 2013. The village of Al Arakib was demolished by the Israeli authorities over 60 times, as the Jewish National Fund is planting a forest on the village’s lands (Photo: ActiveStills)
Bedouin residents of the “unrecognized” village of Al Arakib protest the demolition of their village & demand the release of the activists arrested during an anti-Prawer demonstration the day before, in Lehavim Junction, Dec 1. Al Arakib was demolished by the Israeli authorities over 60 times, as the Jewish National Fund is planting a forest on the village’s lands (Photo: ActiveStills)

Druze Conscientious Objector Omar Saad Sentenced to 20 Days in Jail (A Mixed Story)

Last Wednesday, Omar Saad, an 18-year old Druze youth from the village of Mhgar, was sentenced to 20 days in Military Jail #6 for refusing to enlist in the army (army service is mandatory for Druze, unlike for the rest of Israel’s Arabic-speaking minorities). I first heard of Omar when Rawan, a lawyer for New Profile, came to visit me, in Jail #6, and told me that a young Druze man from the North had declared his intention to refuse. We had been in sporadic contact since, and including a few mutual declarations of solidarity and respect by phone and by email, and now, more than a year later, Omar has himself refused to serve, and was sentenced to his first term in jail. His letter of refusal, which should be read in full, includes the following paragraph:

I refuse that because I am pacifist, and I hate any kind of violence, and I believe that the army institute is the top of physical and psychological violence, and since I received your order for making the checking procedures my life changed completely. I became very nervous and my thoughts were dispersed. I remembered thousands of hard images, and I could not imagine myself wearing the military uniform and participating in suppressing my Palestinian people, and fighting my Arab brothers. I reject enlisting to the Israeli army or to any other army, because of national and moral reasons. I hate oppression, and I reject occupation.

The full declaration can (and should) be read here. Below is a short video of Omar, a viola-player, giving a concert to supporters, family and friends in Tiberias last week, before reporting and refusing:

When I was in jail, last year, the emails sent to New Profile and printed out for me were one of the highlights of the entire experience, little paper orbs of sun in the dull prison compounds. Take two minutes, write to Omar (via New Profile):

New Profile: ”Since the prison authorities often block mail from reaching imprisoned objectors, we also recommend you to send them your letters of support and encouragement via e-mail to: messages2prison@newprofile.org and they will be printed out and delivered during visits.”

Open Hillel Swarthmore (A Good Story)

In mid-November, the CEOs of Hillel and AIPAC penned a smug and unsavory declaration of on-campus unity. OK, nu, you want that we should be surprised that American Jewish organizations are comfortable silencing dissent on campus and calling it “apolitical?” Vas ist new, yid? And vas ist gut about der story?

Here’s what’s good: The response by Open Hillel, an initiative of young, actually progressive Jewish students on campuses around the US that seeks to change ”the “standards for partnership” in Hillel International’s guidelines, which exclude certain groups from Hillel based on their political views on Israel.” The guidelines are specifically geared towards excluding JVP, SJP, or any other group supportive of agnostic about BDS. (Ack. To Many Acronyms. HLP). So, Open Hillel penned a response to the AIPAC Pact saying:

…we are deeply troubled by Hillel President and CEO Eric Fingerhut and AIPAC Leadership Development Director Jonathan Kessler’s recent declaration that Hillel and AIPAC “are working together to strategically and proactively empower, train and prepare American Jewish students to be effective pro-Israel activists on and beyond the campus.” We fear that this new partnership will alienate Jewish students whose views do not align with those of AIPAC, stifle discussion and debate on issues concerning Israel-Palestine, and undermine Hillel’s commitment to creating an inclusive community (Read More).

Nice response. Good work. But it gets better. On December 8th, the Hillel Student Board at Swarthmore College unanimously adopted the following declaration, and positioned themselves as the “first Open Hillel” in the US:

”…Swarthmore Hillel declares itself to be an Open Hillel; an organization that supports Jewish life in all its forms; an organization that is a religious and cultural group whose purpose is not to advocate for one single political view, but rather to open up space that encourages dialogue within the diverse and pluralistic Jewish student body and the larger community at Swarthmore; an organization that will host and partner with any speaker at the discretion of the board, regardless of Hillel International’s Israel guidelines [emphasis mine]; and an organization that will always strive to be in keeping with the values of open debate and discourse espoused by Rabbi Hillel.”

Here is: A well-organized campaign, reclaiming Jewish symbols and religious history and protesting political and communal censorship all in one fell swoop. And with results.

Sign their petition. Rock on, team.

Open Hillel
Open Hillel

With mourning for Wajih and his family, solidarity with the protestors in the Negev, strength to Omar and mazal tovs to Open Hillel,