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Tristan Anderson: A voice for justice in Palestine

Starhawk | Al Arabiya

22 March 2009

As I write, my friend Tristan lies in intensive care in an Israeli hospital, shot in the head with a tear gas canister at a nonviolent demonstration in the West Bank town of Ni’lin.

Tristan was working with the International Solidarity Movement, a group that brings internationals to the Palestine to support nonviolent resistance against the Occupation. When internationals are present, the Israeli military is somewhat less likely to use lethal force against unarmed demonstrators. For Palestinians wishing to exercise their human rights that slim margin can be a matter of life or death.

For the last six years, Palestinians have mounted a campaign of civil resistance against Israel’s apartheid wall, which snakes through the West Bank, confiscating Palestinian farmland without compensation, destroying the livelihoods of whole villages, literally setting in concrete the fractured geometry of Israel’s incursions, her illegal settlements that eat away the integrity of any potential Palestinian state. In the spring of 2004, when the army was just beginning to bulldoze olive orchards along the wall’s route and scrape land bare, the villagers of Mas’Ha set up a peace encampment, inviting support from internationals and Israelis of good will.

Since then, the movement has followed the path of the wall. Six years of sparse and tiny victories–here and there, the route of the wall pushed back a few meters–but in Palestine, even the smallest victory stands out because it is so unusual, so different from the expected course of events. Palestinians nourish their determination to survive on even the smallest crumbs of success.

Mostly ignored by the world’s media, Palestinian demonstrators face tear gas, rubber bullets, real bullets, arrests, beatings, rising injury, imprisonment and death. And if nonviolent demonstrations have not yet stopped the wall nor won over the hearts of Israelis, they have at least given strength to the hearts of Palestinians and those who continue to hope for some ultimate justice.

For that, many have died. March 16 marks the sixth anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie, crushed by a bulldozer as she resisted a home demolition in Rafah. Within a few weeks, Brian Avery, another ISM volunteer, was shot in the face in Jenin, and Tom Hurndall was hit by a sniper in Rafah.

But those tragedies pale beside the ever-mounting death count among Palestinians. In Ni’lin alone, four Palestinians have been killed in the last year.

Arafat Rateb Khawaje, 22, was shot in the back by Israeli forces on December 28, 2008. On the same day, Mohammed Khawaje, twenty, was shot in the head with live ammunition. Yousef Amira, only 17, was killed with rubber-coated still bullets on July 29, 2008. Ahmed Moussa, only ten, was shot in the forehead with live ammunition on July 29, 2008.

And that is just the body count of one village, one year. It doesn’t begin to recount the toll in the rest of the West Bank, or Gaza. I grieve for Tristan because he’s a friend. I know him, I have marched with him shoulder to shoulder, shared laughter and gossip. I feel for him in a way I should feel, but can’t, for those who are just names on a list to me.

But I know that others do. Some mother grieves for Ahmed Moussa and will never fully recover from his loss. Some brother mourns for Khawaje, some father cries and rages over Yousef Amira’s grave. Multiply that grief a thousand, thousand times and it explodes in rockets and suicide bombs. Yes, I also grieve for the Israeli victims of those bombs and rockets. But they cannot be stopped by walls, by land grabs and humiliations and injustice piled upon injustice, nor can they be silenced by the shrill voices who brand every critic of Israel a terrorist sympathizer.

Tristan put justice above his personal comfort or safety. One friend describes him as “the guy who is always there”: at every demonstration, every mobilization, every fight to save an old growth forest or to shut down a war profiteer. He has always seemed fearless to me, strong and hardy, willing to sit in a tree for months to protect a grove of oaks or to show up early to clean out the convergence space, eating bad pasta and dumpster-dived vegetables for weeks on end. But I know that he feels fear. I’ve heard his stories, read passages from his diaries. He simply does not let fear stop him from doing what he believes is right.

Most of us will not face the dangers Tristan has chosen to face. But even small deeds, like grains of sand, mount up to tip the scales. We need many more courageous voices to raise a clamor for justice, for that is the only foundation upon which peace can be built.

Written for AlArabiya.net. Starhawk is an author of ten books, including her novel of nonviolence, The Fifth Sacred Thing, and her latest work, The Earth Path. She volunteered with the International Solidarity Movement between 2002 and 2004, and her accounts can be found archived on her website, www.starhawk.org.