domingo, 6 de junio de 2010

"They treated me better than the Palestinian, but worse than the Jew". Interview with Huwaida Arraf


I have interviewed Huwaida Arraf, who was detained by the Israeli army at a demonstration in Bil´in on Friday. She was part of the Freedom Flotilla and is a co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement and the International Solidarity Movement. This is the English version of the interview published in Periodismo Humano (Spanish version here).

Question: You were in the Flotilla on Sunday night. A few days later we hear you are arrested in Bil´in and then released. First of all, how are you?

Huwaida Arraf:
I´m OK, thank you. I´ve been arrested many times and I´m used to it now (laughing)

Q: It´s all happened so quickly, so could you tell us what happened since the Flotilla was attacked?

H.A: I was on the Challenger boat, and after the Israeli army boarded they detained us and took us to Ashdod. They separated me from the rest of my colleagues and interrogated me. I was one of the first ones to be released. Because I have an Israeli citizenship I can´t be deported, so they would have to charge me, and I think they didn´t want to draw any more attention to this issue. I protested being separated from the others and refused to go without my bags. They took our phones, computers, watches, money.

P: Were they violent?

H.A: They used violent means, they pulled my hair, hit me on the head, threw me out somewhere, until I blacked out and next thing I remembered I was in the hospital.

Q: When were you released?

H.A: I was released on Tuesday morning. I tried to look for help, since they had taken all my stuff. The police wouldn´t help me so I managed to borrow some money to get back to Jerusalem. From there I went to Ramallah, and on Friday I attended the peaceful demonstration that takes place every week in Bil´in. The theme this Friday was in solidarity with the Freedom Flotilla, so protesters made a replica of the boat and people were on it. The soldiers watched us for a while and then decided to attack, launching tear gas and targeting demonstrators. I tend not to run in demonstrations so I was grabbed immediately and detained again.

Q: Were did they take you? How did they treat you?

H.A: The soldiers held me for a few hours and then transfered me to a police station, together with a young man from the village and a Jewish protester. This single incident shows how differently people are treated depending on their origin. I was given a hard time and they did not released me immediately, but they were easier on me than on the Palestinian man, who got handcuffed and blindfolded. The Jewish protester got released quite soon and without any conditions. This is the way this discriminatory system works.

Q: So what did they accuse you of?

H.A: It always strikes me how they believe their own lies. They charged me of attacking soldiers and being in a closed military zone, which they never announced it was.

Q: Do you think there´s something it personal against you?

H.A: Well, I haven´t really figured that out yet. I think the Free Gaza Movement is harmful to the Zionist project, because it exposes it. Non-violent resistance is dangerous for Zionism, since it´s harder to repress it without raising condemnation. But they have not moved to prosecuting me yet, and I´m not sure whether it´s because I´m American or because they don´t want to draw any more attention to the fact that they prosecute non-violent resistance.

Q: How are you viewed by Israeli media? Do they contact you or any of the other Free Gaza Movement activists, for information on what you do and why you do it?

H.A: We do get contacted but only for general info, on news stories they´re convering. We´re mainly viewed as anti-Israeli, that´s how mainstream media tends to portray what we do. It´s part of the “the world is against us” psychology that most Israeli media contribute to, and it´s destructive. We haven´t experienced much in-depth analysis or understanding of what we´re doing.

Q: What about Israeli society? How do they react to initiatives against the occupation? Do you see opposition to Israeli politics from within Israeli society?

H.A: We work with wonderful Israelis, who help us a lot and are extremely brave since it´s not easy to be active against the occupation within Israeli society, which is becoming more and more polarized and intolerant. Israel is taking this very destructive hard-line attitude where they view themselves as a State against the rest of the world. From this point of view, Israel can´t do no wrong and it just keeps defending itself. So society is becoming radicalized and supportive of what their governments do, no matter how far they take what they call self-defense.

Q: So how to tackle this? What approach to take for a fair solution?

H.A: There´s a global movement of citizens working against occupation and apartheid, which includes the Boicott, Disinvestment and Sanctions movement. This is a very effective tool, which helps make Israel feel accountable for what is happening. Governments are not doing it, so civil society must.

Q: How are you viewed by US media? Do they contact you often to hear you experiences in Palestine?

H.A: Not so much, my husband (Jewish American activist Adam Shapiro) is called upon more. And I don´t really see myself as a spokesperson anyway. I see myself more like an organizer, a facilitator for people to travel to Palestine, experience by themselves and then share what they have seen with others.

Q: Do you see any tendency towards a more balanced view on the conflict in American media, where Israeli views are so predominant?

H.A: The ISM wants to get people around the world involved, living first hand experience and sharing it with others. People reaching out to local communities, local media... That´s the way it can work and grow bigger and bigger. The BDS is also growing bigger as part of global citizenship pressure. We´re creating an alternative voice to contest Israeli narrative. There are many Israeli apologists among politicians, members of congress who defend Israel´s official point of view. But we´ve created a base that combined with different medium, Internet, blogs, social networks, can challenge those media. We have more means to spread information and global society is mobilizing.

Q: You seem optimistic.

H.A: I´m an optimist by nature. I think you have to be if you want to continue working for a solution among all the suffering you have to witness. Israel is becoming more and more obnoxious in their political stands, slapping the international community once and again and considering that they are above international order. The more obnoxious, the more they bring about the unsustainability of the system they are trying to mantain: racist, colonial apartheid. Israel will continue disregarding international order and the world will only take so much.

Q: So do you think we will see the end of the occupation soon?

H.A: Well, I can´t give you an exact date... (laughing) I do think things might continue to get critical in the coming years, until they get better. But I stay optimistic, always. I´ll tell you a little story so you can see how optimistic I am. During the fist Intifada, in 2000, I was there during Christmas. My mother insisted that I go home to the US to spend Christmas with them. And do you know what I said to her? That I didn´t want to leave, not only because there was nothing to celebrate at a time when people were being killed, but because I was afraid the end of the occupation would come and I would miss it!

Q: Your optimism is contagious... So where do you live now and what are your plans, Huwaida?

H.A: You know, that´s the most difficult question to answer... I´m in Ramallah now, me and my colleagues are trying to figure out what is the next step we should take. But I´m always moving around, and that´s how it´s been for a very long time now. I don´t get to see my husband as much as I would want to, since he can´t come here.

Q: Why not?

H.A: He was arrested during a demonstration in Nablus in 2002 and deported. This was three months after we got married, so we have lived apart from the beginning.

Q: It must be hard...

H.A: It is. It´s unstable but we continue to try to make it work. It´s all worth it.