Originally published in the San Antonio Express-News, August 29, 2004
by Susan Ives
JERUSALEM — The dateline may say Jerusalem, but already I’ve been to Abu Dis, Jericho, Ramallah, Qaquilya, Tulkarem and Jayyous. Today I am in Tel Aviv.
I’m traveling this week with Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, on a tour of Israel and Palestine organized in the United States by San Antonio-based Palestinians for Peace and Democracy and here in the Middle East by a new coalition, the Palestinian Campaign for Freedom and Peace.
Gandhi crossed the Allenby Bridge from Jordan and was greeted outside Jericho at the Monastery of St. Erasmus by about 150 people, mostly farmers from the Jordan Valley on the shores of the Dead Sea.
It couldn’t have been a more appropriate place: the grandson of the man who started the salt march that led to India’s independence being welcomed to occupied Palestine at the saltiest place on the planet.
The point wasn’t missed by the farmers. A young man told me that Palestinian TV has been showing the movie “Gandhi” almost nonstop for the past few weeks in preparation for this historic visit.
The Palestinians understand nonviolent resistance — the two words are always used in tandem here — and have long been practicing it alongside the violent resistance that dominates the front pages of the newspaper.
Nine days before Gandhi’s arrival political prisoners held in Israeli jails went on a hunger strike. The entire West Bank joined in. People walk in procession to solidarity tents erected in the center of every Palestinian city after Jum’a prayer on Fridays and after church services on Sunday. On Monday, the children of the 7,500 fasting prisoners walked in procession; the next day Palestinians involved with the legal system donned their robes, marched and fasted. Our group fasted on Friday.
There are nonviolent drives here to boycott goods made in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. There are campaigns encouraging workers to refuse to work on construction of the wall that is snaking its way through the West Bank.
In the 1980s Palestinian activist Mubarak Awad developed a list of 160 creative ways that his countrymen and -women could resist the occupation. Refuse to open official letters written in Hebrew. Show up for work on Israeli holidays. Refuse to pay taxes for services you are not receiving.
For the first few days of my visit I stayed with Terry Boullata in Abu Dis. “Where do you take your trash?” I asked, a curious housewife wondering about the mechanics of daily life.
The next morning, a municipal trash truck stopped by the army outpost that looms outside her kitchen window to collect their garbage. The truck stopped by the homes of the three Israeli settler families that had moved into the neighborhood a few months ago. They didn’t pick up any trash from the 13 Palestinian families living in the area, not one pita crust or mango peel.
Some days she feels bold and slips her small bag of trash into the army’s dumpster. Most days it goes into the trunk of her car, and she looks for a safe and legal place to drop it.
She pays the highest property tax rate in Israel, she says, and drives around with her trunk full of garbage because the city will not pick up a Palestinian taxpayer’s trash. That stinks.
In Jericho, Gandhi recalled that as an Indian boy growing up in South Africa, he was beat up by both whites and blacks. He was consumed with rage, and at 12 was sent to India to learn how to control his anger from the expert, his grandfather.
Anger is like electricity, his grandfather said. Uncontrolled it can burn down a house. When properly harnessed, it can light a city. Learn to control your anger and you can be a light to the world.
César Chávez said that the first principle of nonviolence is to say no to everything that is humiliating. Carrying garbage in the trunk of your car is perhaps a small humiliation, but the daily stripping away of your dignity fosters a deep anger.
The Palestinians will continue to be angry; it would be inhuman not to be so. We can but hope that Gandhi’s visit will electrify this anger with a current of nonviolence. It could power a revolution.