Karen was one of the activists who participated in the latest attempt to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. She was subsequently arrested and incarcerated by the Israelis and spent three days in detention in Israeli jail. I’m sitting with her in a coffee shop in Vancouver. She seems incapable of jaywalking let alone participating in such a daring event. She is soft spoken, gentle-natured, and composed. I wonder what would possibly compel someone like Karen to travel such a long distance to deliver medicine and good-wish letters from Canada to the population of Gaza of whom she has never met. She has an answer for this. Conscience. Her response to the Canadian government’s statement calling their action provocative. Is bold: “yes, it’s true, it’s meant to be provocative. It’s meant to provoke thought and awareness.” I start by asking her about her experience in Israeli jail.
The following is my conversation with Karen Devito, part of the Canadian delegate on the boat Tahrir on the Freedom Wave mission to Gaza.
Karen Devito: So, you ask me about being in jail.
Shahram Vahdany: yeah.
KD: Three days. The way I see it is that I got a tiny little peek into what it is like to be a political prisoner in Israel but I did not have the full view that a Palestinian person would have because I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m a foreign national, I was captured in a very visible way, with the rest of the world seeing it happen, I had ambassadorial support (despite the fact that our government agrees with everything Israel does right or wrong), and the staff at the embassy did their job, which is to help Canadian citizens in foreign countries.
SV: Did they visit you there?
KD: They visited us, after a day, they were able to come and see us. They came twice and the fellow, Brian Schwark, who really took his job seriously, met me at the airport when I was being deported to make sure I got on the plane, waiting to see that I got on the plane, offer me some money in case I had to pay another visa fee to the Turkish government (because I was being deported at Turkey). He helped arrange that for me. My husband was waiting in Turkey. As it turned out I didn’t need the money. You do have to pay that money back of course but still, it was there for me. The Turkish government said “welcome back”. The officials who were there at the airport said welcome back, don’t worry about the visa, come right in, here, and go to the VIP line. So that’s how my return was. I heard things in prison and saw things at night, this was a deportation centre so these were not >>, we were the political prisoners. Other people were mostly Asian and African being deported for one reason or another, overstaying a work visa--they are called “work infiltrators” by Israelis. We thought we were staying next to a school but those voices we heard, the children’s voices, were inside the prison because they were in prison with their mothers.
SV: So was it an immigration detention?
KD: A detention centre, yes. But still, the psychological brutality of it was interesting to observe. It was interesting to me how quickly a person doesn’t trust anyone. After one day, we didn’t trust anyone: not the human rights lawyer who came to visit, not the man from the consulate, who had to show us credentials before we would speak with him. We didn’t believe anything we were told because from the moment of initial contact on the boat, from the Israeli Navy, until the moment I leapt through the door of the Turkish Airlines plane, not one person told me anything that was remotely related to the truth. Except for, of course, the Canadian Ambassador’s representative, [the human rights lawyers] and people in our own group. But everybody that had to do with the Israeli bureaucracy, the military or prison system told us contradictory statements, lies, just one after the other. So now we understand a little bit about why refugees are suspicious.
SV: Were you arrested near the border of Gaza?
KD: Apparently 45 miles off shore.
SV: Still it’s in international waters.
KD: Yes, that’s right. You know, really, where we were, it was a very convenient place for them to apprehend us and take us back to Ashdod. It’s almost as straight a line to Ashdod as it would’ve been to Gaza. So it was a convenient place. The night before, we slowed our speed, because we did not want to be taken at night, water cannons, weapons, slippery decks, very unpleasant to contemplate.
SV: Tell me about it; tell me how they boarded the boat.
KD: There was an initial contact that asked our destination, and the captain said Gaza. The navy said they would like to come and search for weapons and then we could go on our way.
SV: Israeli Navy?
KD: Yes. However, that offer seems to be valid for only about 2 minutes because as we started to talk about it and try to contact them about this, they didn’t communicate with us anymore. And the boats started circling, circling, closer and closer, and then, then it became clear that they were going to board the boat no matter what. Two ships, the Saiorse and the Tahrir, were corralled by these fifteen or so open boats full of troops that were circling, plus one large warship, two smaller warships, two fighter planes, maybe three, flying overhead, so they sent out the whole...
SV: No helicopters, were there any?
KD: I did not see helicopters but you know, when it’s all happening at once, it’s really hard to observe all the details, and you really must keep an eye on where the weapons are. You don’t want to stand up in front of a weapon. There’s no way that we wanted to appear hostile in any way.
SV: Did they ask to come on board first?
KD: In the initial moment, there was a request to come on board but then it was no longer a request, quite quickly it was: look, this is not about a negotiation, then they ordered us to move to the front of the boat where they could see us all, and the water cannon was turned on, so we hid behind the wheelhouse because we were getting wet, then we were ordered to go to the back of the boat where they could see us, we were all back there with our hands up, then there was more ordering to go the front of the boat, with a loudhailer. By this time there were two boats on the portside very close to us. The details and the sequence of how it all happens is hard to remember except for the fact that we were sprayed with the water again and then at one point a scissor-lift lifted a deck of commandos up to our deck and they leapt over onto the bow and came and put weapons in our faces and shouted at us first to sit down, then to stand up, then to lie face down on the deck, then to stand up. It was really chaotic, really disorganized, lots of shouting, lots of telling us to shut up when no one had said a word. As I recall we were all trying to follow the orders as best we could with our hands in the air and keeping our hands visible. So I don’t recall any talking going on from our point. They water-cannoned the people who were in the wheelhouse. They tasered a fellow who didn’t move fast enough, he said although it hurt--it caused him to fall down and cut his head--it wasn’t all that effective a tasering because a soldier slipped and fell down too. They had sprayed the deck with water so the deck got slippery. This also made us understand that the possibility of an accidental shooting was always there because these were kids they sent. They were very young people, 19, 20 years old. You could tell their age even with their masks. When we saw them with their masks off, they were just kids. There were many of them. There were a dozen in each boat, ten or twelve landing crafts, plus the warships plus the three boats with water cannons. It was a lot of manpower to go after 11 peaceniks and a captain on our boat, 14 and a captain on the other boat. Including journalists of course. We were 6 delegates, 3 Canadians, an Australian, a Palestinian Israeli citizen and an American, five journalists and a captain. All that manpower, it was quite amazing.
SV: Was there any resistance from your group?
KD: We said we will not prevent you from boarding, but we will not cooperate with you if you are going to board. In other words if they were going to board, they were going to board. But we were not going to cooperate with the act of piracy but we will not put up any resistance whatsoever.
SV: So they didn’t have much reason to open water cannon on you.
KD: I really don’t know what was in their minds. I have no idea why they opened the water cannon. They told us to congregate in front of the boat.
SV: And you complied.
KD: We complied, with our hands showing. And they even said they knew we had no weapons. Still they said they were going to do a thorough search of the boat, which consisted of wildly flinging all of our belongings all over the boat, throwing computers and cameras on the floor. We didn’t see this being done but when we were taken below later, we saw the result of it. They had trashed the place, and I saw several of the commandos, let’s see, 12 plus a few more lying on the floor, there were 12 benches, all had commandos sprawled on them, sleeping. They looked like they were passed out. As we walked through they didn’t even move. Sort of a like they had run riot and then everyone passed out. It was the strangest thing.
SV: Had you been charged then?
KD: No, not charged. By the way, just one more note about the commandos, the ones who were guarding us, when we finally got a close look at them, their eyes looked all wrong. They looked drugged; they’d probably been up for several nights. Some of them had a hard time keeping their eyes open. And they were sort of leaning against the wall, falling asleep. Some of them were playing with their guns as if they’d never seen a gun before and turning on the laser sight and putting the red dot on our heads and on our bodies for fun when we were sitting there. It was very strange.
SV: Were you afraid?
KD: At one point, you don’t even think about fear. What good is it going to do you? A little healthy fear, yes; don’t move quickly, don’t move at all, keep your hands visible, and be very quiet. Gesture to them why are you pointing the gun at me? But beyond that there’s not much you can do until the captain comes down to interrogate you and you ask him a question and that is, “Do you teach your young soldiers to put their laser sights on people’s heads and bodies after they have subdued them? I have a question for you, do you do this?” He said “Is that happening?” I said, “Yes it is”. He took care of it. He replaced the guard with someone else who did not have a weapon out, who just watched us.
SV: Were they speaking English?
KD: Many did not speak English. The captain did.
SV: Was he young too?
KD: He was probably; I’d have to guess, 40. A little gray hair. He was grown up. And when they took us from the boat they told us we could go the nice way or the not nice way. So they took the journalists off first and Kit Kittredge, the American woman and I, decided we wanted to be the last to be taken off the boat. We did not want any of our colleagues to be alone with the soldiers on the boat. We were pretty sure they wouldn’t hurt women but we did have a young Israeli Palestinian man as one of the delegates and …
SV: Canadian delegate?
KD: Palestinian Israeli citizen.
SV: From Canada.
KD: No. From Israel.
KD: And so we thought it would be best if he was the last one taken off the boat before us. We waited until he was taken off, and then we said yes, we will choose the nice way and we will walk off of our own accord, because everyone else chose to sit and be dragged off. It was a steel boat. Between where we were sitting and either of the companionways to the deck there were a lot of things to bump into if you’re being dragged and we could hear this happening. We couldn’t see what was happening but we could hear it. We could hear people crying out in pain. But I didn’t see it. We wanted to make sure that no one was left alone there with the soldiers. So in the end we said we would walk but we would walk together. They took people one by one. They insisted it had to be one by one, and we just linked arms and said no, we are going together. And we got to do that. There were cameras. There were soldiers photographing people as they came off the boat, lots of videos. We were told later it was to show that we weren’t being maltreated. By the time we were taken off, some time had passed so the cameras had diminished, there weren’t quite so many photographing us. We got to give them a statement. We told them, well, you have the weapons but we have the dignity and we’re answering the call of conscience. And more boats are coming, there will be more buses coming, more people coming, until Gaza is free.
SV: So they take you from the boat to...
KD: To essentially a truck warehouse that had tents in it, set up for search. They had a portable x-ray machine for the luggage, they had big metal detectors we were put through, some of the women were strip searched, I was not, it was clear that I didn’t have any camera or video equipment.
SV: Did they confiscate anything?
KD: They confiscated some things, they confiscated any recording device, all cameras, all computers, and, for me, they started taking things out of my luggage. Many hands go over your luggage many times, and I chose not to look, I decided not to be interested because I don’t see the point in being upset with something I expected. So some things were taken out of my luggage and put in an envelope. I think a headlamp I used for dark nights on the boat on the deck, things like that, and then a package of letters and children’s art for the people of Palestine that I had in my suitcase was confiscated.
SV: Did you get those letters and your personal items back?
KD: It was put in a brown envelope. They said I could request it back. I’ve done that through the Canadian embassy. At the prison they said you will get all your belongings back, don’t worry. They took everything else away from us there, they gave us a garbage bag with a few items of our own clothing in it after it was searched a few more times and they said you will get it back and I asked about the envelope they had at port with the letters and children’s art and they said it had nothing to do with them, that was the port police. So I’ve requested that through the embassy. No response yet but they are working on it apparently.
SV: So you had supplies for Palestinians also or were it just the letters. Like medical supplies …
KD: Well, because we’re answering a call from civil society and because we were fulfilling a commitment we made earlier to sail to Gaza, we had asked civil society organizations what, since it was a small space we could take some small amount of aid, symbolic, and they said that medicine would be the best thing to bring. So our committee carefully shopped, before our last attempt in July in Greece, for medicine that they requested, and they shopped for medicine that had a long expiry date, at least 3 years. So as far as I know it is still sitting in our ship in Ashdod.
SV: So the Israelis have that …
KD: Yes, although for the first few days, the IDF spokesperson claimed that there was no medical aid on the ship. I think when they did their thorough search they forgot to look in the cartons marked tuna, beans, and coffee because that’s where it was. I saw it loaded. I cooked every night in that galley right next to the medical aid, so I knew it was there.
SV: How did they treat you in jail other than waking you up and that? Did they question you at all?
KD: We were foreign nationals so after we were at the port we were taken to an office, an immigration centre. One of the people who interviewed us and asked us to sign statements in Hebrew that we couldn’t read, apparently he had some judicial authority, but we refused to sign statements we couldn’t read. We were shown one English document that they said corresponded to those documents, but it didn’t have our names on it, we weren’t to sign that, that’s not the document we were signing. So we didn’t sign. Although Ehab Lotayef did sign that document the very first night we were taken. We were told that if we signed that document we would be deported within 24 hours [which was not the case], but he was kept for six days. If you sign the document you are deported within 24 hours. If you don’t sign the document and don’t waive your rights to an appeal for your deportation, then you wait until the 72 hour limit for appeal is up and then you will be deported. But at one point Ehab Lotayef and David Heap were told they would be kept for as long as two months. Even though Ehab had signed that document the first night. Well, I couldn’t read but that is what it supposedly said. It told me that I had entered Israel illegally even though my ship was hijacked and we were brought there. Of course the argument is that it doesn’t matter how you got here, you’re here now and you’re here illegally. And when I finally did sign the document on my last day it said you have been charged with entering Israel illegally. The period for appealing this deportation is expired and you agree to be voluntarily deported. And I added, having been hijacked and kidnapped from this ship and brought to Israel I signed something with some signature, it doesn’t matter, because we were told even when we pointed out the rules that were posted on the wall in the corridor, you are not Israeli, you’re in Israel, we make the rules. So the phone call, the contacting the relatives, the being deported with 24 hours, the being deported within 72 hours, if you don’t waive your right to appeal, none of that was going to happen unless the powers that be saw fit to do so. Regardless of what rules were posted on the wall.
SV: Tell me about the journalists.
KD: The journalists were taken off the ship first. But some of the journalists were released ahead of the activists, but certainly, Hassan Ghani was separate from the other men. We found this out after two days. The women and the men were separated. When we finally saw each other while meeting the ambassador’s representative, David Heap asked has anyone seen Hassan. And none of us had seen him. So he was taken away separately. There was some threat of trying to deport him--a British born British citizen--to Iran where he has no connection whatsoever. He worked for Press TV. There is some Iranian ownership. A journalist who is deported from Israel to Iran has a harsh future. So we worried about that. And finally, on the Sunday (we were taken on a Friday) I was being taken from one place to another, perhaps to see the doctor, and I heard a voice calling my name, and I looked up and there was Hassan looking perfectly well, walking with his usual jaunty walk. I asked him if he was alright, he said yes I am, are you alright? So I could report that I’d seen him. But it took them a while to release him. He was released after I was. He was deported to Istanbul some days after I arrived there.
SV: And Democracy Now’s reporter Jihan Hafiz?
KD: Her credentials were not recognized as journalist’s credentials. They claimed that Democracy Now is not a real news channel. Now, Jihan Hafiz, as an American, has congressional press credentials, in other words she can walk into the US Congress, whereas other American-born people like me can’t go. But they would not recognize those credentials. And Jihan was in the cell with me and Kit Kittredge, the other American woman. She became a target for the prison guards because of her looks; she’s American but half Egyptian and half American Samoan, so it was pretty clear that there were some guards who hated her on sight. There was one guard who got so angry and really really wanted to hit her, had a bunch of keys right in her face and was screaming in a rage, beside herself, however she knew she couldn’t do it, Jihan’s an American citizen, and not only that but, the moment this started, this temper, this rage, began, Kit Kittredge and I were standing just as close and telling her not to do that, telling her not to hurt Jihan, to take a breath and take a step back. She gesticulated with the keys in our faces and threatened us too and she said you don’t wanna mess with me and we said yeah, well, you know, here we are, we’re not moving one inch, and we’re not going to let you threaten our colleague like that. It was in our cell at night after our request to turn out the lights. We requested the lights be turned out.
That was another method to punish, leaving the lights on, playing games with food, telling us give your plate to one person then they get the food for you, taking a can of tuna and dumping it into a used bent dirty looking TV dinner tray, like maybe something you feed the cat with. Just those kinds of things. Sure there was food, and no, nobody touched us, nobody hurt us, but the psychological cruelty went on all day long and all night long. But it was no different than what we expected. And there were times when we heard screams from other parts of the prison and guards shouting, doors slamming, heard a child screaming, its mother screaming, guards shouting, doors slamming. Once you hear these things, you can’t un-hear them.
We could only imagine, we did imagine what would it be like if we were Palestinians, what would it be like if we were under detention. It’s a military court that detains Palestinians. Forty percent of Palestinians (by the way a man is a man at the age of 16 under Israeli law if you’re Palestinian) have experienced detention, and it’s not detention in the way we experienced it, it is a military detention. The court they attend is a military court and the conviction rate is 99.74%. We remembered that. So we only saw a little corner of what Palestinians experience. So living somewhat like a Palestinian person for 3 days was interesting. But you know, I don’t want to put it too strongly, but what we experienced compared to what the Palestinian people experience is like temporary exile from the bubble bath that is life in Canada.
And people have made fun of our effort. They say well you didn’t get there did you, you didn’t get to Gaza did you, or you really took only a tiny bit of aid. There’ve been a lot of criticisms, but the fact is that we fulfilled a promise, and we’ll keep doing it until we’re successful. Success doesn’t necessarily mean getting to Gaza. Success means bringing the world’s attention back to this tragic predicament of the Palestinian people that began on the dawn of Nov 30, 1947-- the day after Partition was declared and the Irgun and the Hagganah began machine-gunning Palestinians, and blowing up a few of their houses to convince them to move out.. The world has a history of forgetting when it comes to this issue. It’s been going on for too long.
SV: One of the questions that our readers often ask is about this kind of activism. They say why not to go through the Rafah border crossing from Egypt into Gaza, which the Egyptians announced would be open after the fall of the Mubarak regime.
KD: Because that crossing is not really open because there still is some adherence to the will of Israel. A crossing like that is not enough to supply a population of 1.6 million people. The seacoast is still closed, even to fishermen. Three kilometers offshore, they’re shot at, the boats are confiscated. It’s dangerous. The border with Israel has a no-go zone of 300 meters, but within a kilometer of the border, kids can get shot by remote-controlled weapons for collecting rubble. Imagine that as a career, rubble-collector, taking up a few bricks, knocking off the mortar and trying to build something out of it. The air is controlled. Drones fly over, it’s said that they are very precise and they can target terrorists. How is a 3 year old a terrorist? How does a 3 year old deserve to die from a drone? How does a 14 year old deserve to be so horribly injured that his heart is the only organ that works and he dies an excruciating death after being hit by a drone. And why is it alright for Israeli fighter jets to do supersonic flights over the residential neighborhoods in Gaza and deafen infants and children. And the seacoast is the only port in the world that can’t be used by its people. To take a few truckloads of things in through Rafah is not the point at all and by the way not much can get out either. So it’s not about just getting a few things in, it’s about trade; it’s about getting things out. Maybe fifty people can cross that border a day. A hundred can apply, they have to apply three months in advance, they have to wait in a no-man’s zone, how can they get medical treatment? How can sick people go to Egypt for medical treatment? They have to walk, or be carried; sometimes their relatives can’t go with them. There is just no way for a population of 1.6 million people to be imprisoned so for people to say, go to Rafah, well, that’s a suggestion, but why don’t we deliver everything for Vancouver through the Deas Island Tunnel and allow one or two trucks every week. Because it won’t work.
SV: What about that the Israelis say that there are daily trucks to Gaza that even exceed the needs of their people.
KD: The trucks that are coming in now are a fraction of what it exported before all of this. It’s a fraction of the real needs, and it’s not necessarily what people actually need. I just read about used clothing being sent there for people to buy. How can you supply a population like that with a few truckloads coming in? And by the way it isn’t Israel that’s supplying the food, it’s more the UN and the Red Cross and other agencies. Perhaps Israel will allow a certain number of trucks, and the argument that there are some chubby kids in Gaza is no reason for the seacoast, the air, and the land crossings all to be closed. After all, look at some of our reserves, and what happens to kids when all they get to eat is cheap calories, and even their parents will feed their kids before they get anything to eat, so this is not a valid argument as far as I am concerned.
But I want to get around to the other criticism of our effort. You know, it’s not about the boat, it’s not about the aid, it’s about the whole situation and it’s about Palestine, and, in order to do an action like this, in order to sail a ship, it took thousands and thousands of Canadians contributing, it took a lot of organization, and, the first time, we didn’t get there, no. It takes practice to do this kind of thing. This time, we got closer. We got closer, we sailed quietly, without fanfare and we had an embargo on all media until we crossed into international waters. Because of the Greek experience—when the blockade was out-sourced to Greece---Israel did say, we will stop them without laying a hand on them and they did. This time, we wanted to get to international waters before that happened. Each time you learn a little bit more. But there are a whole lot of other ways to be engaged. Not everyone can get on a boat and sail on the Mediterranean and get thrown in jail, not everyone is willing to do that. But there are other ways to be engaged. Speaking for myself, one quiet well behaved Canadian who’s not a professional activist, at all, very unlikely activist, I don’t like being in the public eye, it’s really not what I do, but this issue is important enough that I decided I would be more active. Now, I do get a little bit of fan mail here and there, in other words, a few people tell me that I must be ignorant or an anti-Semite, One letter said don’t listen to the Jewish people in North America because they are sellouts essentially. So this kind of sentiment gets expressed. But, it’s a sign of desperation that some people have to stoop to these kinds of accusations.
SV: Okay, let me ask you this. How did you get involved in this?
KD: Well, I’ve quietly in the background worked on other projects, as a child I grew up during the civil rights struggle in the United States, when I was a student in university, we stood by our fellow African American students as best we could, we took young African American kids into libraries when librarians wouldn’t let them in, we helped our friends cash cheques at banks, we did all these things quietly as individuals. Quietly wrote letters protesting war, all of this. It’s been in the background. Quiet, well behaved kind of protest.
I took a master’s degree and during that time I took a course on peacemaking in divided societies. Out of that came a writing project, with fifteen of us each writing a case study about an unacknowledged atrocity in the 20th century. Title: Hushed Voices: Unacknowledged Atrocities in the 20th Century, ed. Heribert Adam. I helped work with the writers and edited the project with our professor Heribert Adam. Trying to get that book published was an education too. The chapter on the Nakba, the expulsion of the Palestinians after 1947 from their traditional lands, came under fire constantly in Canada and the United States. We could not get a publisher. And there was no way we were going to abandon that chapter. The writer wrote it very carefully, it was very heartfelt, and it expressed that Israel is a stillborn state because of its history with the Palestinians. We found a publisher in England. The book was finally published. So because of that, I kept reading more about the Nakba, because of our experience trying to get this book published. All the case studies were really important. We could have written a hundred of them in the 20th century. This particular one is still ongoing, and it is one of the most dangerous ones, for the region and for the world, and that’s why I kept my interest in it and continued with reading. So essentially, I read a stack of books on the topic, and about other topics, about war, about atrocity and about genocide; what’s a nice lady like me reading about that for? I climbed on top of that stack of books and I jumped onto the deck of the Tahrir, and that’s what happened.
SV: I understand that your group managed to smuggle out a video recording the Israeli commandos boarding your ship. Is that right?
KD: That would be Casey Kaufmann with Al Jazeera English. He was filming. His strategy was to run down below into the galley, take the chip out of his camera, hide it, put a new chip in, run back up, and keep filming as we were being boarded, so that when they confiscated his camera, apparently, they thought they had confiscated everything when they grabbed all the recording devices. Yet somehow he did get this out. The last shot that he took was from below in the galley out the window. The windows were taped so they wouldn’t shatter and be dangerous, and it’s a very claustrophobic shot, and it really conveys the feeling of how it was in that last moment before boarding. Several of the women on our ship tried to smuggle chips from video cameras in their underwear but the metal detector picked it up. They got strip searched. So, this one video did get out. Miraculously.
KD: I have no idea how it happened. Except that Casey’s a very charming, seemingly innocuous guy. But a very seasoned journalist.
SV: Since you came back to Canada, and except for those emails, which is completely normal, that’s a testament to what you have done, because even the opponent cannot be indifferent, so it’s always good to be even chastised.
KD: Yes, well, it gives me a little window into how some people are thinking. I might think it’s unhealthy, I might think its paranoid; I might think it’s fearful. I certainly got that impression from the very militaristic way we were taken over and the way we were treated for the entire time, and the way people who overstay their visas seem to be treated, the same very militaristic harsh paranoid way.
SV: Was that your first experience with any arrest?
KD: Yes! I’m a quiet, well behaved Canadian. I was very surprised. But you know, bringing it around to the way people might think, I would say in general the more militaristic and paranoid a government or administration is, the more it sells fear to people. I attended a protest in front of the Lavan store on Granville Street; they sell soap from the Dead Sea which no Palestinian can get near. So I was just the quiet nice lady who handed you your brochure. And I stood far away from the protestors. So the people would get the brochures and read them. And I had some interesting discussions with people. There were 3 people who were shouting, well I guess you would say Zionist slogans, they were very distressed, waving an Israeli flag, one young man came out in his Israeli uniform, and in the middle of their shouting I just walked up to them and I said, well, now we’re getting somewhere, I’m really glad you’re here. I’d love to talk to you. And we had a conversation, we talked back and forth. At the end of it, the woman shook my hand, and she admitted that there are Israelis who think the way I do-- but they’re wrong. Of course she thinks they’re wrong. But I said, well, that’s good, we’re getting somewhere. I appreciate that you talked to me, thanks for taking the time. I call that ‘one Zionist at a time’. But I’m not going to change people’s minds who are so convinced. But people who haven’t thought about it, people who have just accepted that Israel is a brave little country under threat, I think they need to read Haaretz , and hear some of the other voices.
SV: Inside the...
KD: Because not only Palestinian voices have been hushed down about this, it’s not pleasant for example to be Gideon Levy and walk down the street in Tel Aviv. He would tell you that. For example, there’s ICAHD, the organization against house demolitions. How do they get up in the morning? Every house they save just means it’s moved onto the next one. It’s really hard. There are people working with young people in theatre, there are all kinds of projects, it’s really interesting to hear these voices, it’s just that, you know one of my friends said the left in Israel is heartbroken by this government. Amira Hass the well-known journalist with Haaretz was with us on the other attempt in Greece; she spent almost a month with us. So I asked her, I said yeah my friend said people on the left in Israel are heartbroken by Netanyahu and his policies, and she looked at me and said hah! heartbroken, this is the way they are, this is what they do. Why would we expect otherwise from them. The left is so small, and more people still vote for this paranoid, militaristic, fearful administration.
SV: It’s not only this administration. Israel never had any administration that didn’t follow this policy.
KD: From Ben Gurion on.
Afterthought: “Let me ask you this: Where is the Israeli Gandhi?” Karen asked me before we departed. I replied “perhaps in jail”. As we departed, I reflected on my own assumptions about what an ‘activist’ should look like. I imagine that most of us think that activism is something that should be done by someone else, someone qualified, trained. But history has shown that often the most heroic acts are done by ordinary people, people who reach a point where they can no longer ignore their conscience.
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|William John Cox|