From Inside Bay Area
FOR MORE than 40 years I have visited the region of the Middle East known as Palestine, part of which became Israel in 1948, with the remainder under Israeli military occupation since 1967. I confess I am in love with the place and have dear friends, both Israeli and Palestinian, numbering possibly in the hundreds.
During my last visit, in 2004, I stayed with a friend who worked at the Ramallah Cultural Palace, an events center built with Japanese funding. Being a piano technician by trade, I was asked to help find a concert instrument for the center, an assignment that revealed the lack of a single piano technician in the entire West Bank.
My visit, however, was not about pianos. I am an active volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement (www.palsolidarity.org), a Palestinian-led group dedicated to nonviolent resistance against the Israeli occupation, the confiscation of Palestinian land, the replacement of indigenous Palestinian populations with Jewish immigrants, and other violations of Palestinian rights.
For its efforts the ISM has been vilified as a protector and supporter of terrorism, and ISM volunteers have been denied entry, arrested, expelled, beaten, shot, and (in the cases of American Rachel Corrie and Briton Tom Hurndell), even killed. What happens to us, however, pales by comparison with what happens to the thousands of mostly unarmed Palestinians who have been killed and with the tens of thousands who have been disabled or imprisoned.
Despite the accusations, no charge has ever been brought against the ISM, nor are we an outlawed group under Israeli law. Although we engage in civil disobedience, our violations of Israeli law do not go beyond that, and we consider ourselves proud successors to Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, and other human rights champions vilified in their own time. In our short existence, we have been repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Several months ago I decided that my next visit should combine participation in the ISM with my love of pianos. This meant establishing a branch of my business in the West Bank and spending up to three months there each year. After months of planning and long days of sorting
tools and supplies, I prepared to make this dream come true.
Sadly, Israeli immigration authorities have chosen to turn me away for reasons that have not yet been revealed to me. As I write from a detention facility near the airport, my lawyer is appealing the decision in Israeli court. At best, I can hope for a resolution that restricts my activities to piano work. At worst, I may join the millions of Palestinians living in exile who may never again see the land they love. This would be a missed minor opportunity among many major ones for Israel to show compassion and promote constructive solutions.
Israel needs to be generous and take risks if it ever hopes to achieve peace and reconciliation. In this small instance, at least some Palestinian pianos would find harmony after a long period of discord. Israel should also welcome nonviolent resistance groups even if it disagrees with them and suffers inconvenience as a result of their efforts. Such an attitude is part of being a free and tolerant society, and it promotes alternatives to armed conflict.
More important, Israel should try releasing Palestinian funds, restoring Palestinian land and property rights, welcoming Palestinian exiles to return, releasing Palestinian political prisoners, and correcting a host of other violations of Palestinian human rights. Palestinians will view any of these acts as a sign of good will to hasten the day when all Palestinian and Israeli people, and not merely their pianos, experience true harmony after a long history of painful discord.
Dr. Paul Larudee is a former Fulbright-Hayes lecturer in Lebanon and contracted U.S. adviser to Saudi Arabia. He was among seven unarmed ISM volunteers wounded by Israeli military gunfire during a nonviolent protest in the West Bank on April 1, 2002. He lives in El Cerrito.