Karen Isaac’s Post on Cinema Hebron

[Guest author: Karen Isaacs. Photo by A. Daniel Roth].

This post was originally published on Karen’s facebook, here.


Yesterday I was detained for seven hours for refusing to comply with an order to disperse from a Palestinian-owned old factory in the Tel Romeida neighborhood of occupied Hebron where I was working with around 100 people to renovate the space which will, in the future, become Cinema Hebron – the first cinema in Hebron since the 1930s. More about the action is here, but I am writing this because I want to share some reflections that are a bit more personal and connected to other things I’ve been thinking about.

What is strategic action and what are the right things to put energy towards.

This was a direct action, meaning that it was a group of people taking action to fulfill a need, create something new, to do directly the thing they wanted to do, not asking the powers that be to do it for them. In one of the articles written about the action it was mentioned that most of the activists did not believe that a cinema would actually be built. I don’t think that is true. In fact, the strength of this action was that we know that a cinema will be built, even if we don’t finish it today. That is what is compelling about it, that is why people are willing to put themselves at risk for it. The local activists whose idea this was, for whom it is both a way to fulfill a need (a cultural institution and a much needed public space in the neighbourhood) and an act of resistance (reclaiming a space – a family’s privately owned land –  that has been forcibly shut down and which settlers are attempting to take over) believe that it can happen, and the Jewish activists coming from outside and abroad to support them were coming based on respect for their strategy and way of working, trust that we could work together in a way that was meaningful, and knowledge that using our privilege as Jews in the fucked up reality would enable us to get this project started in a way that the Palestinian activists alone wouldn’t have been able to do. We were able to work for over two hours before the military eventually declared the whole area a closed military zone, only in order to remove us from it. While we expected this to happen, I did optimistically think that it might be possible that because we were so many people (and so many Jewish people) they would just let us keep working to save themselves the trouble. After all, everything about the action was totally legal. Indeed when they eventually found a way to force us to leave, among the 30 or so who refused to respect the order they only detained those of us with Israeli citizenship and decidedly did not want to detain or arrest diaspora Jews. So much so that the group was able to walk (singing and wearing shirts saying “Occupation is Not Our Judaism”) all the way from Tel Romeida to the police station in Kiryat Arba where we had been taken, all the way through the settler occupied part of downtown Hebron, through a large settlement, to a police station – a long walk – and while they were stopped by soldiers many times along the way, eventually made it there and sat and sang outside the police station with amazing energy, totally confusing the settlers, soldiers, and police with traditional Jewish songs about rebuilding the world in kindess and justice, and nation not lifting up sword against nation and refusing to learn war any more. There is an incredible amount of power (based on totally unjust privilege) in that, and it is important to know that we can (and will continue to) use it to stand with people pushing forward non-violently to create a different reality.

The bizarre world of the Kiryat Arba police station.

In the Kiryat Arba police station the 6 of us sat around a table in an air conditioned room. At first it was just us and a couple of the police officers. Just as we started to get a bit more comfortable (the first one of us had finally come back from interrogation and they had brought us food) three young soldiers came in with a Palestinian man blindfolded and with his hands tied together with a zip tie. The difference between how we had arrived and how he had arrived was striking (though not surprising – like everything here, it is different to know something and to witness it directly) and later we found out that he had actually been arrested by the soldier yesterday and been awake or semi awake all night blindfolded and hands tied. We found that out only later, when the police asked the soldiers how long he had been with them (thinking, wrongly mixing up civilian and military law, that if it had been too much time they would have to just let him go) and he answered directly in Arabic to the police (who were also native Arabic speakers) that he had been with them since yesterday. The police remarked that it was two totally different countries here (meaning, the military law that Palestinians are under, created, enforced and judged by the army, and the civil law that the police uphold with Israeli citizens). The soldiers were totally desensitized to the situation – they basically left him to the side, untied his blindfold, the police eventually took off the zip tie holding his hands together, and they sat on the couch eating snacks and playing with a rubix cube (and this is someone who had been in their “custody” for almost 24 hours). They only seemed to wake up for a moment to the reality of where they were when another Palestinian man who had come in to give a report a couple hours later, started to pray (after having to ask permission and then appreciatively taking a scarf we offered him so that he could put something down on the ground), and then they all three looked over suddenly as if they remembered for a moment that the Palestinian men existed and were people.

We had lawyers, phones, food, water, and the knowledge that we would almost certainly get out that same day. The man who arrived tied up and blindfolded had none of those things, and we found out later that he had been stopped and had fireworks in his car and on that basis was arrested (despite the fact that these are days of celebration for the end of high school exams and lighting fireworks is the most normal thing happening here this week). One of us explained a bit why we were there and he was surprised to find out we were all Jews. Lots to say about identity in all of this, but for now I’ll leave it at the fact that I feel proud to be able to work with an amazing community of Jewish people who are at once deeply connected to their traditions and identity and at the same time are able to move beyond the image of ourselves as victims, acknowledge the power and privilege we do have in the unjust reality here, and use it to support Palestinian communities who are also able to move beyond seeing themselves as victims and are engaged in creative building of things that are meeting their communities’ needs and what will become, eventually, an alternative to the current oppressive and unequal reality.

In days where there has been so much sadness here, and around the world, I wanted to stop for a moment and share this with friends near and far. Because for me it is incredibly important to remember why we do what we do, that we have to respond, that the world and the way people treat each other is so fucked up and the systems we live in are so unjust, that we can’t not respond. Especially if we have the choice.

There are many amazing people here building beautiful relationships and movements. In the same day that Combatants for Peace brought close to 600 Israelis and Palestinians to a Freedom March that sends a message of justice and equality to both societies and through their relationships shows that another way is possible, Youth Against Settlements, All That’s Left, and Center for Jewish Non Violence were focused on changing the local reality in Hebron and showing how non-violent direct action can achieve concrete wins. Next year there will be thousands of Israelis and Palestinians marching together, and there will be a cinema in Tel Romeida. And while the world can seem like it is falling apart, I can see that there are strong movements of creative and resilient people standing in solidarity with one another around the world, and underneath the big public actions having real and deep conversations and transformations about who we are, and what we are doing here in this time we have on earth.