Why I Was Detained in Hebron Last Summer and Why You Should Join Me This May

Center for Jewish Nonviolence activists disobey a military order to disperse from private Palestinian land on July 15, 2016. (Photo: A. Daniel Roth)Center for Jewish Nonviolence activists disobey a military order to disperse from private Palestinian land on July 15, 2016. (Photo: A. Daniel Roth)

On July 15, 2016, I was detained by Israeli forces for seven hours in the Hill of the Patriarchs (Givat Ha’Avot) police station in occupied Hebron. I was escorted with five other dual citizens to the station after we refused to obey a military order to disperse from the private land of Jawad Abu Aisha, where more than 100 activists gathered to build the first cinema in the city since the 1930s. As we locked arms in defiance of the order, Jewish activists from Ta’ayush, All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective and the Center for Jewish Nonviolence (CJNV) joined boldly together in the old refrain, “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor study war anymore (Lo yisegoy el goy cherev, lo yilmedu od milchama).”

I felt deep conviction in my body and looked intently at the faces of the soldiers who would soon drag me away. I thought of the immutable power these soldiers exercise daily over roughly 215,000 Palestinian residents of Hebron. I thought of the network of checkpoints that restricts their movement and segregates the city. I thought of the brutality they experience from settlers who wish to drive them from their homes. I thought of Issa Amro, the charismatic leader of Youth Against Settlements (YAS), who was arrested more than 20 times this past year alone while defending Palestinian land rights in Tel Rumeida. And I thought about my father, and my fervent wish that the families of the soldiers who stood across from me never suffer the kinds of traumas mine did as a result of his time in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

In 2010, my family struggled as my father grappled with memories of riots, violence and military maneuvers in Ramallah. In deference to his privacy, and the privacy of my family, I will not describe the difficult time we experienced that year. Suffice to say that as a child of an IDF soldier, I know intimately the kind of pain the young soldiers who detained me may one day experience. Suffice to say that as I was being detained I was thinking of the future partners, loved ones and children of the soldiers who escorted me into an armored military jeep. I knew then, as I know now, that ending the violence of occupation is the precondition for the wellness of all Jewish and Palestinian families affected by the horror of the current political reality.

After my detention, I sat in the police station for hours waiting to be interrogated. I watched as soldiers escorted other detainees into the holding room. At one point, three young soldiers escorted a blindfolded Palestinian man and sat him down in the corner with a zip tie tightly fastened around his wrists. The stark difference between his treatment and ours was sobering, and as I write, the image of his bound hands reaching up to brush a tear from his eyes haunts me. We learned later he was kept captive and bound for over 24 hours before being escorted by the soldiers to the station.

Later, as I was called for questioning, I saw the inky shadows of fingerprints where other detainees had steadied themselves against a stucco wall as they posed for a mugshot. I wondered who they were and what acts of needless cruelty they had endured. Were they arrested for walking on Shuhada Street, which has been closed to Palestinians residents of Hebron since 1994? Were they held captive for days after defending their families from one of the 850 settlers currently living in the city? Were they tormented by bored teenage soldiers charged with the impossible task of suppressing an occupied people?

If there is one thing I want the Jewish community to know, it is that my actions in Hebron were motivated by profound love for my Jewish communities and deep conviction in the common future we at the CJNV are working to build with Palestinians. We want to create a future in which our children no longer serve as soldiers in an occupying army. We want to create a future in which Palestinians are no longer tormented under military rule. We want to create a future in which both of our peoples can thrive in a vibrant society that recognizes our shared humanity.

I know from experience that years from now, some of the soldiers who detained me will struggle with the memories of their time in the IDF. I know that some of them will wake with memories repressed for many years and this trauma will challenge their relationships with their children, families and loved ones. I know that Cinema Hebron will be built in Tel Rumeida as a cultural center where Palestinian residents can freely express themselves. I know that a common future with Palestinians is possible only through joint struggle against the occupation. And I know that the CJNV represents an unprecedented opportunity for Jewish communities to build this future on the ground in meaningful, accountable and creative partnership with Palestinians.

Our Palestinian partners have called for us to join them again this May on the 50th anniversary of Israeli military rule in the West Bank. It is time we show them that a Jewish movement against the occupation will stand with them in the ways they ask until a more just future is secured. It is time for Jewish people of conscience to mobilize our overwhelming privilege in the struggle for Palestinian civil rights. It is time we realize that our protected status in Israel can be leveraged powerfully on behalf of justice.

The Center for Jewish Nonviolence is now accepting applications for our upcoming campaign, “End 50 Years of Occupation: Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue.” Please apply and join us as we fight for a common future that respects the dignity, freedom and equality of all.