By Joharah Baker
The concept of offering one’s life for the sake of a cause has been revered throughout history by nations, religions and political systems. In Palestinian culture, it is the highest possible status, the ultimate sacrifice. Becoming a "shahid" (or martyr) is sometimes so desired, it has pushed young men and women into the ranks of military action far too early and far too unprepared. However, in our society, and throughout history, fighting for your country, your religion or for a just cause is the ultimate honor, the Purple Heart of nations. However, what continues to amaze is when someone offers their own life for someone else’s country, someone else’s cause, in the name of social, political and human justice throughout the world.
The Palestinians have a long history of sacrifice. Hundreds of thousands have died in the name of Palestine, even before Israel came into existence. In the Arab Revolt between 1936 and 1939 against the British Mandate and Jewish groups, at least 5,000 Palestinians were killed. In the 1948 and 1967, tens of thousands more perished in the wars that led to the establishment of Israel and later to its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights. Add to this the first and second Intifadas and all the other incidents of Palestinian deaths that fall in between, the number of casualties in comparison to the tiny Palestinian population is enormous.
Still, one could argue that those who fell did so in the name of their country, with the hope that their deaths would not be in vain and the dream of an independent state would one day materialize on the place of their ultimate sacrifice.
If this is noble – and it cannot be interpreted as anything but – what about those who come from other countries and speak other languages, to put their lives on the line for Palestine? On March 13, 38-year-old Tristan Anderson was shot in the head by a high-velocity, extended range tear gas projectile fired by Israeli occupation soldiers in Nilin. Apparently, this is a "new and improved" version of Israel’s old tear gas canisters because, according to eyewitnesses, Anderson was standing at a considerable distance from the soldiers along with a fellow protester when he was hit. The force of the impact caused extensive damage to Tristan’s head, eye and brain. He is now lying unconscious in a Tel Aviv hospital, his future unknown.
According to a statement by his parents on March 15, Tristan has championed social justices around the world, Palestine being his most recent and perhaps last, stop. On the ominous date of Friday, March 13, Tristan had gone to the West Bank town of Nilin to protest along with the villagers and other internationals, Israel’s separation wall there. The twin villages of Bilin and Nilin have been the scene of weekly nonviolent protests against the wall, which will take up approximately 40 percent of their land after its completion. In addition to the villagers and fellow Palestinians that come every week to join in the protests, internationals and some Israeli peace activists also participate, oftentimes putting themselves in harms way. Since the weekly protests began, four Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops including 10-year-old Ahmad Moussa in July of last year. Hundreds of other Palestinians and internationals have been wounded.
Unfortunately, Tristan Anderson is not the only international solidarity activist to feel the bite of Israel’s indiscriminate military oppression of the Palestinians and those who support them. March 16 was the sixth anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie, the young American activist who met a brutal death after being crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza. At the time, Corrie, along with other peace activists, was trying to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes in Rafah.
In April, 2003, 22-year old British national Tom Hurndall was also shot in the head by an Israeli sniper in Rafah, Gaza while he was trying to escort Palestinian children to safety in the often dangerous border zone between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. After spending nine months in a vegetative state, Hurndall passed away in a London hospital.
In that same year and that same month, American Brian Avery was shot and seriously wounded in the face by an Israeli tank in Jenin. He is permanently disfigured.
Every year, dozens of internationals bravely come to Palestine to defend Palestinian rights and stand with them in the face of Israel’s often ruthless military machine. It is always an act of courage to stand unarmed in front of a heavily equipped and often trigger-happy army. Palestinians living under occupation bravely confront Israeli soldiers and settlers on an almost daily basis and often pay the ultimate price in return.
It is only fair, in this context, to also pay tribute to those who take the Palestinian cause under their wing as well. These unique individuals consider the Palestinian cause to be interconnected with all other causes for justice throughout the world. Fighting for Palestine and social justice here is a fight for social justice everywhere. It is precisely for this reason that such brave souls should be honored, because their cause is not only to make Palestine a better place but also every other place in the world where injustices run rampant. Unfortunately, fighting for justice in Palestine often means risking one’s own life. People like Tristan, Rachel, Brian and Tom had to learn this the hard way.
– Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org)