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“I have one child – the one you shot today.”

On 10 March 2014, Raed Zuayter, a distinguished judge and PhD holder, was killed by Israeli soldiers while crossing the border between Jordan and the West Bank of Palestine. Raed was a Jordanian citizen of Palestinian origin. His family is part of the Palestinian diaspora—refugees who had fled ethnic cleansing in 1948, war in 1967, and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

  Mondoweiss

A friend of mine, Carrie Schwartz, stays in Jordan and the Zuayter family asked her to record their story, “to express the truth in English”:

Entering the living room of Raed Zuayter, I meet his widow, child, father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, aunts, and uncles. Raed’s two-year-old daughter playfully skips between relatives. “She is too young to understand what happened,” her grandfather explains. As we drink Arabic coffee together, I feel a deep sadness and responsibility to tell their story accurately. I start the interview by asking Raed’s father about his son’s life:

“He was born in 1976. He went to the best schools in Amman. After finishing high school, he went to the University of Jordan to study a bachelor’s in law. Then he asked me, ‘What do you think, Dad? Should we go for a master’s?’ I said, ‘We don’t mind.’ He finished his master’s and asked me, ‘What do you think, shall we go for PhD?’ And I answered him, ‘Yes, go for a PhD.’ When he finished his PhD, he went to the judicial institute to become a judge. In the judiciary, he was appointed as a judge for reconciliation. He got a raise on the first of March. He was promoted. And then he passed away.”

The story of Raed’s death began with another tragedy: Raed’s four-year-old son was hospitalized. A lack of oxygen caused him to go into a coma. Raed decided to travel to the town of Nablus in Palestine, to collect rent from tenants to cover the cost of his son’s treatment.

Raed traveled across the Jordan-Palestine border controlled by Israel. The process begins with security checks and immigration control on the Jordanian side. Then travelers are bused into a deserted “no man’s land” for additional security checks, before proceeding to the Israeli terminal.

At this point, an Israeli soldier pushed Raed toward the bus. A verbal argument ensued. Raed’s father recounted the story told to him by eyewitnesses: “Raed told the soldier, ‘Why are you pushing me, because I’m going up in the bus? Why did you push me?’ and he was waving his hands.” Two additional soldiers approached and pushed Raed toward the street until he fell to his knees. The soldiers then aimed their weapons and fired five shots into his body, from a distance of three to four meters, killing him.

Raed’s father recounted his interaction with the Israeli intelligence during the preliminary investigation:

“They asked me, ‘How many kids do you have?’ I said, ‘I have one child—the one you shot today. Why did you kill him? Did you see any weapons with him?’ They said no. ‘So you did not see any weapons with him—why did you kill him? … you knew that he was unarmed, and you wanted to take him in, then just take him, hold his hands, put him on the ground, but shoot him, five times? Why?”

Raed was an innocent person, killed when his family needed him the most. On the day this piece was written, his son who had been in a coma passed away. Raed’s family is asking for justice: “The soldiers who shot him should be put on trial, and we need a just compensation for everything that happened to the family.”

judge

Carrie Schwartz is an editor currently based in Amman, Jordan. She holds an MPhil in Justice and Transformation from the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Sources/further information:

Interview with the family of Raed Zuayter, 21 March 2014, Amman, Jordan
Al-Haq Announces Investigation Results in Martyrdom of Judge Zuaiter (Arabic)
http://www.maannews.net/arb/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=682613
Palestinian advocacy group says Israeli soldiers ‘intended’ to kill Jordanian judge http://jordantimes.com/palestinian-advocacy-group-says-israeli-soldiers-intended-to-kill-jordanian-judge

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New Film Peels Layers of Truth: Invitation, Cape Town

You are invited to a screening of and conversation on The Village Under the Forest at 6.30pm on Tuesday, 8 April at Hiddingh Campus, UCT. It is part of St Georges Cathedral, District Six Museum and Michaelis School of Fine Arts series of conversations “Victim: No Resurrection?”

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I used to be convinced that I cannot direct reality and I was very sure that I was right.  Life happens…people fall ill and die, nature creates havoc and nations are at war. 

 

But how do we remember things? This is one of the questions a new documentary asks. What if we (as individuals and as humanity) are accountable for how we shape the past, the present and the future….and how we define “truth”? 

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A brilliant new film on Israel/Palestine offers so much more than excellent information from an intimate perspective. Besides winning the Audience Award for Best South African film in 2013 at Encounters South African International Documentary Festival, the film leads perceptions on Israel-Palestine away from division and towards hope. 

It is the story of a South African Jewish woman told bravely and without trampling on the humanity of anyone.   I have seen many great films on Israel-Palestine, but this one offers a perspective we urgently need.  It is a film that should be seen by all South Africans, by all Jewish people, and by the international community.

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The Village Under the Forest is about making sense, and about finding meaning and a way forward.  It reflects inner strength and compels the viewer to ask his or her own questions.

On a symbolic level, we all walk through our own “forests” in life.  In this film, there is a real forest of trees – but not a natural one.  It is one that was deliberately planted to hide the remains of the Palestinian village of Lubya.  Lubya was one of the more than 500 Palestinian villages destroyed by Israel in 1948.

refugees near tulkarem, summer 1948

The purposefully cultivated plantation called South Africa Forest attempts to hide the past in the name of green ecology.  But now it is revealed for all to see.

The intimately personal perspective combined with scholarly input from Israelis raise questions on how we (as individuals and as members of a global society) deal with our own “forests” – and this one.

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In the words of Director and Emmy-winner Mark J Kaplan and the writer and narrator Heidi Grunebaum:

By using the forest and the village ruins as metaphors, the film explores themes related to the erasure and persistence of memory. Moreover, the film imagines a future in which dignity, acknowledgement and co-habitation become shared possibilities in Israel/Palestine.

View the trailer here.

According to BDS South Africa,

(t)he film also explores the role of the controversial Israeli-parastatal, the Jewish National Fund (JNF), in building a forest (the “South Africa Forest“) over the Israeli-destroyed Palestinian village of Lubya. Israel and its supporters celebrates the JNF for its forest building work, however, human rights activists critisize the JNF for its involvement in the Israeli oppression and “ethnic-cleansing” against the indigenous Palestinian people, and specifically the construction of forests above Israeli-destroyed Palestinian villages in an attempt to erase all traces of Palestinian life. (See also the Mail&Guardian newspaper review).

After watching The Village Under The Forest, Ismail Coovadia, South Africa’s former ambassador to Israel, announced he will be returning the Jewish National Fund certificate he received and requesting that the trees the JNF planted in his name be removed. The story’s been covered all over the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Electronic Intifada.

 

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Al-Nakba: Three Times Over

What struck me most that morning in Jerusalem was her serenity. Listening to the 77 year old Christian woman somehow felt like spring water in a desert – this despite her traumatic experience of three interwoven Nakbas.

She talked about the human catastrophe of being displaced by Israel, the identity catastrophe of no longer knowing where you fit in or may live; and a theological catastrophe since your own religion (Christianity) is used to justify your oppression.

Al-Nakba is Arabic for “The Catastrophe” referring to the widespread death, destruction, dispossession and displacement of Palestinians during the creation of the State of Israel. Today Nakba day is annually commemorated on 15 May.

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I was listening to her at Sabeel, an Ecumenical Centre for Liberation Theology in Occupied Palestine.

The woman was only eleven years old on Sunday 30 November 1947 when the Irgun, a clandestine Zionist armed group, first shelled the Arab sections of Haifa, her city.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaifa today – an Israeli city.

  1. A human Nakba

Haifa was not the only place under attack. In March 1948 David Ben Gurion announced a program for destroying and depopulating Arab areas and eliminating any resistance. By then already 30 Arab villages had been depopulated.

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By April 1948 Haifa’s indigenous Arab residents fled to the harbour with what little they could carry. Many drowned as their overloaded boats capsized.  Since the woman’s family are Christians they fled to Nazareth.

refugees near tulkarem, summer 1948

Clandestine Zionist forces dispossessed 531 Arab towns or villages and 11 Arab urban areas with almost complete looting of Palestinian property and wealth, including the banks, property, businesses, fields and orchards. 

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A comment by the then head of the International Red Cross delegation in Palestine on the massacre of Deir Yassin is particularly chilling.  On 10 April 1948 he drove into the village outside Jerusalem and came across a detachment of Zionist Irgun members.  They came from Deir Yassin which was wiped out the previous night:

All of them were young, some even adolescents, men and women armed to the teeth: revolvers, machine-guns, hand-grenades, and also cutlasses in their hands, most of them still blood-stained.  A beautiful girl with criminal eyes showed me hers still dripping with blood; she displayed it like a trophy.  (Dimbleby1979:79).

Israel’s Irgun museum refers to the Deir Yassin massacre as an “operation” that was “a key point in the War of Independence”.

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The display in the entrance proudly displays the following words in its entrance:

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Other Zionist troops – Haganah and Palmach – carried out dozens of operations. They blew up as many houses and killed old people, women and children where there was resistance.

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As the Arabs moved out, the Zionists moved in…several hundred thousand Palestinians were on the move, criss-crossing Palestine or fleeing towards neighbouring countries, dodging the Zionist army, sleeping in olive groves and in mountain huts, or swamping villages not yet under attack.  (Dimbleby:89).

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Israel declared itself a state on 14 May 1948. Nazareth and many other places was under military control. The world stood by. No-one came to their rescue:

 We are a burden on Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, we are a burden…

She repeated her words, and briefly turned her head away. I cringed.

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2.     An identity Nakba

Israel became a state, but Palestinians were not welcome there:

We woke up in Israel.  Who are we? We were not allowed to say that we are Palestinian.

Suddenly 750 000 Palestinians were refugees. Many of them still have the keys to their houses, but Israel does not allow them to return to their properties (homes, agricultural land, etc.) as allowed for in Resolutions 194 (1948) and 237 (1967) of the United Nations. Displaced Palestinians do not have access to civilian courts that could provide effective remedies and reparations.

Today more than 50 laws enshrine the status of Palestinians in Israel as second-class citizens based on their ethnic and religious identity. Palestinians within occupied Palestine face daily violations of human rights, economic rights and political rights.

post-traumatic stress in gaza

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We recognise Israel as an Israeli state, but it is a state only for its Jewish citizens.

3. A theological Nakba

She grew up as a Christian and attended missionary schools.

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After they fled they realised that in the land of the Bible and just as in the days of Joshua, they experienced ethnic cleansing:

We couldn’t pray anymore.  When we most needed hope, to pray and to read our scriptures, we could not.  People stopped going to church.

The Biblical Israel used to be our spiritual ancestor, now it was our oppressor. We did not know what to think.  The churches gave us a lot to address our physical needs.  To them we were a bunch of refugees who needed aid, wherease we were actually a people with spiritual needs and an identity crisis.

She concluded on an inspirational note:

But the Bible has good news and we as Palestinians are trying to find it. This is why we started with a liberation theology. Jesus lived as a Palestinian under the Roman oppression. As Palestinian Christians we believe in standing up for our rights – but non-violently. We want to rise up over the ways of the world without abandoning the poor and the oppressed or losing sight of the humanity of the oppressor.

It is this compassion with Israel as the oppressor that inspires me so much. For despite everything they go through in an ongoing Nakba of occupation, destruction and dehumanisation as, for example, Gaza in 2014 and in ongoing, daily human rights violations in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, the majority of Muslim and Christian Palestinians still acknowledge the humanity of  Jewish Israelis.

Our task is to take the lead from these Palestinians in a mutual quest to overcome hatred and division between people. It is as applicable to other contexts as it is to the Palestinians and Israel.

Earlier in May 2015 a group of mainly South African Jews publicly acknowledged how Palestinians have been displaced and dispossessed. Their message was that there are Jewish people who support their struggle. Heidi Grunebaum, one of the organizers of the ceremony in Lubya told The Electronic Intifada:

Given what South Africa’s history has been, there’s something abominable and unthinkable in Israel proclaiming a South Africa Forest not only on stolen land, but on land where there used to be a village. It’s almost another level of erasure.

Lubya used is one of the 530 Arab Palestinian villages that Israel destroyed during the Nakba. Today it is planted over with a forest with money South African Jews donated.  Many donors to the South Africa Forest in present-day Israel probably do not realize that they are helping to cover up the results of ethnic cleansing. The Jewish National Fund website promoting the Lower Galilee project as environmentally sound and offering a certificate to anyone who finances the plantation of at least two trees does not mention these critical details.

 

For more on the Nakba, see http://www.palestineremembered.com/

For more on Lubya, including a film on it, see https://marthiemombergblog.com/2013/06/07/new-film-peels-layers-of-truth/

Reference: Dimbleby. 1979. The Palestinians. London: Quartet Books.

Photos on Nakba from ICRC and UNRWA archive.