To Resist Has Become a Crime: My Friend, Hashem al-Azzeh

Olive farmer and medical doctor Hashem al-Azzeh died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers in Hebron.

By Mats Svensson

Hashem al-Azzeh gently took my hand. Almost caressed it, wishing to know how I felt. Both his handshake and his eyes were tender, tender but penetrating. I knew immediately that he had experienced something that had affected him deeply.

I had had to climb over the wall from his neighbor. It was partially dismantled. There was no longer a path to the house. Everything was blocked. Directly behind the house, on top of a small hill, was a long house. Israeli flags were draped over the windows. I saw a man sitting with an automatic weapon. We looked at each other. He did not seem to like my presence. He was an Israeli settler. He was my host’s neighbor.

Within a few meters: One who tries to steal the land and homes, another who just wants to remain, to stay in the house that had been his family home for so many years. The settler with the automatic weapon, on the other hand, had not lived there for very long. They came and went. Many did not stay long.

Hashem had no enemies. But Hashem was hated, hated by the settlers. Right here, they were planning to continue the expansion. They could wait, but they did not want to wait too long. It was as though different groups of criminal settlers were competing against each other: To win meant to be the one who expanded the fastest. But Hashem’s house was in the way.

Hashem’s wife Nisreen welcomes me. While she tells me how the settlers had broken the window last night, Hashem sets the table. Nisreen is carrying a little girl. The family is growing.

I see that she is not comfortable talking about last night’s events. It had been a large group. They had been loud. It was the neighbors, up on the hill, just behind the house. They had broken the window and woken up the whole family. She told me with a sad voice that there was no one to call: The Israeli soldiers would not come in the middle of the night to ward off the settlers. They would not come during the day, either. They never came.

Her neighbors had also been hit. They did not dare to go outside, either. They only had one another and the two families tried to support each other.

We sit at the table. Hashem begins to talk about the destroyed grapevines and olive trees. Nisreen sits beside him. Has her hand on his shoulder. Supporting him. Now the worry is gone. Sometimes she fills in. Adds where Hashem forgets or misses something important that needs to be said. About that time they had also come during the night. The family had a few grapevines and olive trees along the path between the house and the wall. One morning they were all cut off. The roots remained as well as the crowns but in between there was a gap. One can kill in many ways. The settlers use all the means at their disposal.

Some young settler girls came a few nights ago. They rushed toward the house. Shouted “whore” at Nisreen and “bastards’” at her children. They screamed like maniacs. For a while, they were on all sides. In the morning, Hashem started clearing up. Washed the walls clean of feces. They had painted Stars of David on the doors. As he cleaned the path leading to the door, with the sawed off olive trees and grapevines on one side, they continued to throw garbage and feces.

When we sit at the table, we see a wife and husband who are so fused together that nothing can come between them. They are committed to each other and for their right to live in their own house. They are alone where they are sitting. I can see dignity, I can feel dignity. For a moment, I am envious of their inner strength.

I listen, taking in every word, every movement. There is a calm in the room. We share the bread that Nisreen has just baked. It is warm. Warm like the warmth of being together. There is a constant stream of people to this table. We come from all over the world. It will be a meal that stays within all of us. That transforms.

I think about the crazy people who are allowed to continue doing what they are doing. That a few hundred individuals are protected by thousands of soldiers. It becomes so clear that they should not be here. Neither the settlers, nor the Israeli soldiers. Large parts of the Israeli project are illegal. They violate normal human relations. The trees should not be cut down or burned. We don’t like to see feces on doors.

I become deeply sad when I see a Star of David in the wrong place. I do not understand how someone can come up with the idea of painting this particular symbol on a Palestinian home.

For all of us who had the privilege of visiting Hashem and his family, what was going on there, and is allowed to continue, is incomprehensible. It still continues, while country after country intensifies their relations with the occupying power.

More than 20 years ago, apartheid ended in South Africa. We thought then that it would never return. We were wrong. In Palestine, apartheid deepens day by day, and virtually all western countries ignore it. On each bullet that is used to oppress and degrade Palestinians, there is an invisible dollar sign. Huge amounts of dollars are transferred to Israeli bank accounts so that the oppression in Hebron and other places can continue.


A few days ago, October 21 Hashem was killed by the soldiers after excessive tear gas inhalation. He was on his way to the hospital because he was feeling chest pains. He could not get any ambulances since the Israeli forces do not allow them into the closed off area.
He did not come home.

Now his wife mourns her beloved husband. His three children, the eldest of whom is just 13-years-old, do not understand why their father is never coming back.

In the house above theirs, they can hear celebration. Victory songs are being sung while other continue to shout “whore” and “bastards.” The soldiers look away. They allow the crazy people to continue to be crazy. The international community also lets the madmen continue. No obligations are placed on Netanyahu to end the occupation. The criminals are protected.

The other week, a 73-year-old woman was killed as she drove her car in Hebron, on her way to lunch. An 11-second movie was published on the web. An Israeli soldier seems to have had enough. Perhaps he has witnessed far too much of the madness.

I know that many murderers are on the loose in Hebron. Innocent people are being killed. Some people are killed while driving past Israeli soldiers, while opposing the illegal occupation and ongoing colonization of Palestine, or while questioning the Israeli oppression, an oppression that has led to apartheid.

Palestinians have been deprived of their human rights. To resist is a crime.

– Mats Svensson, a former Swedish diplomat working on the staff of SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, is presently following the ongoing occupation of Palestine. He contributed this article to Contact him at:

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