An Inside Look at the Occupation. Is it Murder? You Decide


Find the courage to watch the slow death of an unarmed demonstrator in Palestine. Shamai Leibowitz, veteran Israeli Jewish human rights activist in Pursuing Justice reflects on evidence of an Israel Defense Forces murder of an unarmed and un-threatening demonstrator in the Palestinian village of Bil’in. You be the judge.


Did you notice what a sunny, beautiful day it is in the film? Does it remind you of the day on the beach in Camus’ The Stranger?  The simplicity of killing, the natural beauty that can coexist with it and not be somehow implicated in a crime against humanity? Are you haunted by Biblical verses on oppressing strangers and God driving people out of  promised lands? Such warnings are a strange and timeless echo of history that screams back at the banality of murder that Camus depicts on the warm, sunny beach. Camus’ stranger, no love, no feeling at all, just the hot feel of the gun. The Bible’s stranger, hot with moral emotions, love, hate, oppression, consequences, outrage. Such wild exaggerations, both of them, Camus and the Bible, the Atheist and the God-intoxicated prophet. And then there is us.

As far as I can tell from years of interviews and studies, it would seem that the IDF considers nonviolent resistance to be an even greater threat to Israel than violent resistance. It is the only way to explain expulsions from Israel of leading nonviolent resistance activists, beginning decades ago with Mubarak Awad, at the same time that Sharon and others shut down the PLO and allowed Sheik Yassin to build Hamas over thirty years ago.

This is not surprising in the history of immoral occupations. Nonviolent, principled, moral resistance is far greater a threat to continued land annexation than is extremist rhetoric and violence. What is especially poignant in the Palestinian case is that between Israel’s tacit support for the extremists to the Arab world’s funding of extremist positions in Palestine it has left nonviolent democrats as orphans of history. But this is the responsibility of all of us, not the poor thirty year old man nonviolently protesting thirty meters away from heavily armed courageous soldiers separated from the protesters by barbed wire fences and trenches. At great risk to their personal safety they aimed at his chest and shot him with a high powered rifle in order to defend Israel’s right to exist. Watch him die, study the human exchange.

As I reflect on the rhetoric around Israel’s right to exist, I truly understand why it is such an emotional term for Jews. But I must say as an American that America has a right to exist–but not at the moment of Abu Ghraib. If I was a fly on the wall at Abu Ghraib and I could do anything to stop the massive torture of innocent young men randomly rounded up from around Iraq, if I could waive a magic wand at that moment and give back the thirteen colonies to England, I would. Anything to stop the degradation, the depths of human depravity and sin. I would gladly have British troops march into my home, charge me exorbitant fees for tea, and live with the fact that as an American I forfeited my freedom by failing to stand strongly for justice.

So I wonder about ‘rights’ of states to exist and the unconditionality of that. I am haunted by the conditionality of fateful deeds, the laws of cause and effect, and the odyssey of crime and its consequences. Crime has a life of its own, just as the events depicted in this video will have a life of their own. I certainly know that Palestinians are also paying a price for their actions in the past decades as they sought a way to regain their land, and fate has dealt them a heavy blow for both their tactical and their moral mistakes.

But the grand and seemingly invincible uniforms of the IDF soldiers in this film, their faceless superhuman image, it all seems weak to me in the face of the judgments of history. In the United States there are exceedingly powerful men who orchestrated the torture who are wondering what constellation of events in the United States may clear the docket enough for Congress and the American people to demand payment for what they did. The mighty who I feared just a few months ago have fallen.

A time is coming when there will be an answer to all of this, and it will be fateful. I do not relish the cycle of crime and its consequences. It leaves everyone as empty as Adam, Eve, and Cain, as they faced a world empty of Abel. There is no happiness in justice, only the tragic necessity of righting wrongs and evening out the sufferings of humanity.

There is a better way, however, and it is to be found at the side of those demonstrators in Bil’in. The greater their numbers and the more consistent their nonviolence and the more we join them the more absurd that violence will become. This is the way to create a new fate, a fate that is in our hands.

© Marc Gopin