West Bank Journal: The Day of the Assassination


| March 2004


WEST BANK, Monday, March 22 -- Just as I grab my computer in bed this morning to write some thoughts about nonviolence, I get a call from Neta. I am in Beit Sahour doing a training for a small group of internationals and some of the core of those who will be trainers. She is in Ramallah. This morning, in Gaza, the Israelis assassinated Sheikh Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas. He was an old man in his nineties, confined to a wheelchair, coming out of the Mosque after morning prayers. A perfect martyr.

'Everything's going to go crazy,' Neta says. 'If Sharon wanted to set off a bloodbath, he couldn't have done anything better. People will be lining up to die.' She's deeply upset, walking the streets of Ramallah with Nizar, her husband, still trying to encourage that late baby to get on with the process of being born into this rough world.

I've been lying here thinking about violence and nonviolence and struggle. I'm in a small hotel in Beit Sahour where we do trainings. It's been being renovated, since last year, in some spirit of undying optimism that someday normality, and tourists, will return to this region. Bethlehem is a closed up city, dying from economic starvation now that the thousands of Christian tourists can no longer come. Last year, right before Easter, another ISM volunteer and I got a tour of the Church of the Nativity -- we were the only ones there, and it was eerie and quiet in the stone halls and the deep chamber where Jesus was presumably born. Only a few monks walked the halls, and up on the roof, we could still see the bullet holes of the assaults from the year before.

Yesterday, as we began the training, our friends in the village of Kharbata were sitting in front of the bulldozers again. I felt terribly torn -- wanting to be there with them and yet having a commitment to be here. My focus for this trip is training -- that seems to be the way I can make my best contribution. But my heart is always with the action. And it's anguish to be getting reports -- twelve injured, twenty-five injured, one village woman shot in the eye with a rubber bullet, one ISM volunteer detained, possibly arrested, others shot in the leg, hurt -- without being able to be there and do something. There's the stress, and the quite irrational but real guilt, and the less admirable but also real sense of somehow missing out on the excitement.



Which of those women I marched with lost an eye? Was it the old woman with the toothless grin who limped up to us over the rocks, raised a stick above her head and cried out 'Allah Akhbar!' Was it the mother, grandmother of the sweet young girl who tried to teach me how to say 'swimming' and 'oasis' in Arabic? One young Israeli was shot between the eyes with a rubber bullet: I think that I met him last year at Mas'Ha peace camp. It amused me so much to hear the Palestinians hailing him, 'Levinsky! Yala!! Let's go!'

These trainings are in the same place we were working last year. Tom Hurndall sat in these chairs, did the role plays, the active listening exercises, and then went down to Rafah. Just a few days later, he was shot. We were clear in the training then, and we are even more clear now -- you can die doing this work. 'It's hard for any of us to imagine our own death,' I tell the group as we are role playing out how to respond to tear gas, rubber bullets, sound bombs, and live ammunition. 'But do think about it. Tell yourself that it really can be you, and ask yourself if you are still willing to do this.'












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