2004 August 14
“Mohammed” is not his real name. But I know a Palestinian who was deported for doing what this Mohammed has begun doing. And Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence service, has already begun a campaign against Mohammed.
Mohammed is a university student in Hebron. Somehow he has become interested in nonviolence. Perhaps he has reasoned out, watching the cycle of suicide bombings create more hatred create more assassinations create more “collateral” deaths, that violence can not bring peace or security or freedom from occupation. Perhaps he has read Gandhi, or Abdul Ghaffar Khan.
A year ago there was a suicide bombing in Hebron. The military closed all the Hebron universities. A full semester passed. Several thousand lives were on hold. A new semester was approaching. Mohammed and several friends began to organize. But the administration was afraid – if they defied the Israelis, their labs and computers, and perhaps even buildings, might be destroyed. It’s called “collective punishment”.
Somehow, the students obtained a key to the campus. They chose a day to begin. On that first day, a group of them entered the campus surreptitiously, with brooms and trash bags, cleaned the whole campus thoroughly, then locked it up again. Nothing happened. On the next day, they began holding classes, without any professors. They worked together, teaching each other. The military did nothing. They continued, day by day. Professors began showing up. Nothing happened. Eventually even the administrators showed up. The universities were open.
This Spring Mohammed and three friends were invited to speak at a conference in Canada. They received Canadian visas, and air tickets to fly from Amman, Jordan, to Canada.
Israelis interrogate all Palestinians when they exit Palestine to Jordan, even though it is not an Israeli border. When Mohammed’s turn came, Shin Bet took him aside. “The only way you can exit is if you agree to give us information. Give us names. Collaborate. Otherwise, you will never leave the country.” Mohammed missed the conference. Shin Bet apparently fears the power of nonviolence, or perhaps the leadership qualities in Mohammed.
This July ISM, the International Solidarity Movement, organized a March for Access to the Holy Sites. West Bank Palestinians are not allowed to enter Jerusalem (except by special, hard-to-come-by, passes, with very strict time limits. So the two million Muslims in the West Bank are never allowed to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque, their most sacred site in Palestine.
ISM and local Muslim groups organized 14 bus-loads of Muslims, mostly from Jenin, to ride to Qalandia, then march to the A-Ram checkpoint, north of Jerusalem, where they would nonviolently assert their right to freedom of worship. Two bus-loads of women arrived in A-Ram. Mohammed, along with three of us from CPT, met them. About 100 internationals and Palestinians arrived in a different part of A-Ram.
But the other 12 buses were turned back at Qalandia. The ISM apparently had not anticipated this dilemma - they seemed to have no contingency plans. The women in A-Ram started for the checkpoint without any leaders. When they reached it, they did not know what to do. The ISM leaders were disorganized. They finally led the 100 internationals and Palestinians backwards, to the wrong side of the Qalandia checkpoint.
On our way home to Hebron, Mohammed commented, “All we did today was give some speeches no one could hear, in the wrong checkpoint, facing the wrong direction. We missed an opportunity for a truly effective action. We should have gone with the women, and knelt in the street for midday prayers when denied access at the checkpoint. The image of women kneeling in the street would have made our message crystal clear.”
Gandhi would be delighted with Mohammed’s analysis. He taught that nonviolent actions, to be effective, must be real and concrete, not merely symbolic or rhetorical. Mohammed apparently has a discerning natural instinct, an intuitive feel, for nonviolence.