[What follows is the transcript of a speech by Nurit Peled-Elhanan of the Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum, and Laureate of the 2001 EU Parliament Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and Human Rights. This speech was given at Arab Media Watch's conference on June 6 entitled "opposing, challenging and resisting 37 years of occupation".]
I would like to dedicate my words in this part of the day called "giving voice to the voiceless" to a man whose voice was silenced brutally. Prof. Izzat Ghazzawi, my co-laureate of the Sakharov award, a Palestinian writer and militant for peace and dialogue, was a man who spent three years in a solitary prison cell for nothing more than raising his voice in favour of dignified human existence, and who sent word from this cell to Israeli writers and poets to join him in his refusal to lose faith in man. A man who watched his 15-year-old son being shot by Israeli soldiers at the courtyard of his school while rushing to help a wounded friend, a man who has never spoken a harsh word, and who commented on the continuous humiliation and torture he and his family have been enduring for years, with a short email message, saying: "I think they are trying to intimidate my voice." Prof. Gazawi's heart gave in to humiliation and harassment a year ago, and I have promised him upon his dea th that his voice would never be intimidated.
Those of you who watched photographs or reports from the last massacre committed by the Israeli army in Rafah, and those who watched the
demonstrations all over the world, following this act of cruelty, must have noticed a new sign drawn upon walls, cars and banners. The Star of David equals the swastika. Most people who draw this new sign or use it know very little about either of the symbols except that both were drawn on tanks and helicopters which were used to destroy cities and to commit massacres for reasons of racism. Trying to reason with these people by showing them documents that differentiate between the two symbols would be inefficient and useless, to say the least. Breaking this new equation demands sacrifice.
And indeed there are people who are willing to make this sacrifice in order to prove to the world that this new sign is untrue. They aren't many. Only six young Israeli boys, who have already spent more than a year and a half in jail. Young, gifted, idealistic boys who are called
"refuseniks" by their supporters after the brave dissidents in the former Soviet Union, and who were termed by the court of justice in Israel: "Ideological criminals worse than rapists and murderers, whose positive character should be counted against them, since it helps them find followers and spread their law-breaking further into the society."
These are the true heroes of our times, and they do it as they say: out of their deep love and devotion to their people and to the values they have been raised upon.
And yet, the unscrupulous and invincible government of the state where they were raised, headed by a man who is personally responsible for every unnecessary death in every battle, massacre and slaughter for the last 50 years, a man whose corruption and disregard for any human right of value is well known around the world, who scorns the UN, and the European Parliament, who defies the courts of justice and all biblical
commandments, who steals and cheats and kills to his heart's content, is shuddering with fear of six young boys who have never held a weapon, who have never earned a penny, who will have a very hard time finding a job or securing a social status for themselves in this state where people are judged by their military service. This almighty government, which makes the whole enlightened world and its democratic institutions look
incompetent and impotent, is scared of 6 boys who dare to repeat
insistently, calmly and bravely one small word: NO.
These boys are Israeli boys. But this is not an Israeli affair because, as you know, the epidemic is worldwide. My nephew, Doroni, 7 years old, who lives in the US, came home on Halloween day and said he wanted to be a soldier, and then to go to Iraq and save America. How many American young men, ignorant as he is of the absurdity of this statement, actually went to Iraq and died there without knowing why, but with the words "save America" on their lips? The question is, how were these nonsensical ideas imprinted on their minds and how can they be erased?
The scientist Richard Dawkins was the first to speak about intellectual and cultural genes, which he called "memes," that are transferred from adult brains to children's brains through language and which act as viruses of the mind. Children, because their minds are gullible and open to almost any suggestion, are not immune to mental infections of all sorts of propaganda and fashion. They are easily persuaded to pierce their faces and tattoo their bottoms, to turn their hats around and bare their bellies, to believe in angels and fairies, but also to believe that God or the good of the nation or democracy requires of them to die and kill other children.
We educate our children to do as they are told, to respect authority and their elders; we tell them they will understand better when they grow up, when they have learned more about the system, when they have a degree or two or three. "Don't think you can be a Ghandi at the age of 18?!" said the judge to an Israeli pacifist, Yoni Ben Artzi, who managed to have a degree in mathematics at the age of 16 but had no right to tell right from wrong.
The tragedy is that by the time they are old enough to become real soldiers, they have already learned to be good soldiers, which means their minds are totally infected and they are incapable of questioning authority or saying no. This is the only explanation one can give to the terrible deeds that are committed today by good Israeli, American, and British soldiers. This is the only explanation one can give to the aberration of Jewish motherhood in Israel where Israeli mothers raise their children with all the love and care in order to sacrifice them to the god of death, the only god who is worshipped in this blood-flooded country and where fathers urge their children to commit themselves to an army whose orders include words and actions such as "selection", "forced expulsion" and "cleansing" or "purifying" regarding human beings.
How else can you explain young people who were educated to love their neighbour as they love themselves killing their neighbours, uprooting their olive trees and their vines, demolishing their houses, poisoning their wells, ruining their educational institutions, for no apparent reason other than their being neighbours? The only explanation is that their minds are infected by parents, teachers and leaders, who convince them that the Palestinians are not as human as we are, and therefore killing them is not real killing; it has other legitimating names such as "operation", "mission", "campaign" and "war".
In Israel, there is a poster hung in all high schools: The Best for the Airforce. But when Israeli pilots started to bomb houses full of women and children, I asked myself, best in what?
Fortunately, after years of killing thousands of people, some Israeli pilots asked themselves the same question, having felt they were infected by a terrible virus and wanting to be cured. Jonathan Shapira, a rescue pilot, said, as he was lighting a torch on the alternative Israeli Independence and Palestinian Nakba day, "If once they told us that the best go to the Airforce, I know now that the best are the ones sentenced in court for refusing to be inducted into the services of the Occupation". And to his friends who are still engaged in bombing civilian populations, he called: "Think of your children...use the huge power of a single small word: No."
Yonatan Shapira admits how hard it was for him to use this word, how seriously his mind was infected by the viruses disguised as patriotism and esprit de corps he knew in the airforce. How warm and superior he felt there, until, after watching hundreds of corpses of innocent people and listening to his chief commander General Dan Halutz speaking of superior Jewish blood and inferior Arab blood, he managed to be cured. Yonatan and 1600 others like him, who belong to the growing movement of ex-soldiers, Courage to Refuse, are cured. But the viruses are only partially weakened and the evergrowing, underground kingdom of dead children tells us that only death can free most of the children from the grip of those viruses. For it is only in the evergrowing, underground kingdom of dead children that nobody asks them whether their head was bare or not in a synagogue or a church or a mosque, if they were circumcised or not, if they pronounced forbidden words, if they ate pig or cow or if they had a hot chocolate after their salami pizza just before they were blown up by someone who didn't.
The human psyche, says Dawkins, has two great sicknesses: the urge to carry vendetta across generations and the tendency to fasten group labels on people rather than see them as individuals.
We, the Israeli and Palestinian victims of labels, the ones who belong to the Bereaved Parents for Peace, know that the only way to fight labels is to refuse labels. The only way to defeat corrupt systems is to expose them. It is time, therefore, to teach children all over the world to refuse their governments and their glorious armies who use words such as liberation for expulsion and extermination, words such as loyalty and patriotism for collaboration in crimes against humanity and words such as security for the construction of ghettos. It is time to tell Jewish children that the only way to discourage anti-Semitism is by condemning the only government in the world who deliberately sends young Jewish boys and girls to their certain death and who persecutes to the point of genocide a whole Semitic nation, explain to them that this government and the actions of its army, not some primordial hatred for the Jewish race, are the reasons for the invention of the new sign where t he Star of David is equated with the swastika.
It is time, ladies and gentlemen, to say "no more", to keep our children from obeying unlawful orders and pursuing racist ideologies. And it is time to look at the mutilated bodies of our dead children and ask their forgiveness for not refusing the evil forces before and for letting them be the victims of the horrible, mental infection we are all suffering from, to look at their innocent, astonished, disillusioned small faces and ask ourselves: why???
[This article was originally published in Arab Media Watch.]
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