Alice Walker and Jane Hirschmann – 2011-06-27 02:34:56
Alice Walker on Gaza
New video statement from US Boat to Gaza passenger Alice Walker
(June 22, 2011) Passenger Alice Walker talks about why she is going aboard the US Boat to Gaza with the Stay Human Flotilla at the end of the month.
Why I’m Joining the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza
Alice Walker, Guardian
Pulitzer prize-winning American writer Alice Walker is on board an international flotilla of boats sailing to Gaza to challenge the Israeli blockade. Here she tells why.
ATHENS (June 25, 2011) — Why am I going on the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza? I ask myself this, even though the answer is: what else would I do? I am in my 67th year, having lived already a long and fruitful life, one with which I am content. It seems to me that during this period of eldering it is good to reap the harvest of one’s understanding of what is important, and to share this, especially with the young. How are they to learn, otherwise?
Our boat, The Audacity of Hope, will be carrying letters to the people of Gaza. Letters expressing solidarity and love. That is all its cargo will consist of. If the Israeli military attacks us, it will be as if they attacked the mailman. This should go down hilariously in the annals of history. But if they insist on attacking us, wounding us, even murdering us, as they did some of the activists in the last flotilla, Freedom Flotilla I, what is to be done?
There is a scene in the movie Gandhi that is very moving to me: it is when the unarmed Indian protesters line up to confront the armed forces of the British Empire. The soldiers beat them unmercifully, but the Indians, their broken and dead lifted tenderly out of the fray, keep coming.
Alongside this image of brave followers of Gandhi there is, for me, an awareness of paying off a debt to the Jewish civil rights activists who faced death to come to the side of black people in the American south in our time of need. I am especially indebted to Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman who heard our calls for help — our government then as now glacially slow in providing protection to non-violent protesters — and came to stand with us.
They got as far as the truncheons and bullets of a few “good ol’ boys'” of Neshoba County, Mississippi and were beaten and shot to death along with James Chaney, a young black man of formidable courage who died with them. So, even though our boat will be called The Audacity of Hope, it will fly the Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner flag in my own heart.
And what of the children of Palestine, who were ignored in our president’s latest speech on Israel and Palestine, and whose impoverished, terrorised, segregated existence was mocked by the standing ovations recently given in the US Congress to the prime minister of Israel?
I see children, all children, as humanity’s most precious resource, because it will be to them that the care of the planet will always be left. One child must never be set above another, even in casual conversation, not to mention in speeches that circle the globe.
As adults, we must affirm, constantly, that the Arab child, the Muslim child, the Palestinian child, the African child, the Jewish child, the Christian child, the American child, the Chinese child, the Israeli child, the Native American child, etc, is equal to all others on the planet. We must do everything in our power to cease the behaviour that makes children everywhere feel afraid.
I once asked my best friend and husband during the era of segregation, who was as staunch a defender of black people’s human rights as anyone I’d ever met: how did you find your way to us, to black people, who so needed you? What force shaped your response to the great injustice facing people of colour of that time?
I thought he might say it was the speeches, the marches, the example of Martin Luther King Jr, or of others in the movement who exhibited impactful courage and grace. But no. Thinking back, he recounted an episode from his childhood that had led him, inevitably, to our struggle.
He was a little boy on his way home from yeshiva, the Jewish school he attended after regular school let out. His mother, a bookkeeper, was still at work; he was alone. He was frequently harassed by older boys from regular school, and one day two of these boys snatched his yarmulke (skull cap), and, taunting him, ran off with it, eventually throwing it over a fence.
Two black boys appeared, saw his tears, assessed the situation, and took off after the boys who had taken his yarmulke. Chasing the boys down and catching them, they made them climb the fence, retrieve and dust off the yarmulke, and place it respectfully back on his head.
It is justice and respect that I want the world to dust off and put — without delay, and with tenderness — back on the head of the Palestinian child. It will be imperfect justice and respect because the injustice and disrespect have been so severe. But I believe we are right to try.
That is why I sail.
“The Chicken Chronicles: A Memoir” by Alice Walker is published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson. A longer version of this article appears on Alice Walker’s blog: alicewalkersgarden.com/blog.
Biography: Alice Walker is an internationally celebrated author, poet and activist whose books include seven novels, four collections of short stories, four children’s books, and volumes of essays and poetry. She’s best known for The Color Purple, the 1983 novel for which she won the Pulitzer Prize-the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction-and the National Book Award.
The award- winning novel served as the inspiration for Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film and was adapted for the stage, opening at New York City’s Broadway Theatre in 2005, and capturing a Tony Award for best leading actress in a musical in 2006.
Walker has written many additional best sellers; among them, Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992), which detailed the devastating effects of female genital mutilation and led to the 1993 documentary “Warrior Marks,” a collaboration with the British-Indian filmmaker Pratibha Parmar, and We are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness. (2009).
Her work has been translated into more than two dozen languages, and her books have sold more than fifteen million copies. Along with the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, Walker’s awards and fellowships include a Guggenheim Fellowship and a residency at Yaddo.
In 2006, she was honored as one of the inaugural inductees into the California Hall of Fame. In 2007, her archives were opened to the public at Emory University. In 2010 she presented the key note address at The 11th Annual Steve Biko Lecture at the University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa, and was awarded the Lennon/Ono Peace Grant in Reykjavik, Iceland. (Walker donated this latter award to an orphanage for the children of AIDS victims in East Africa.)
Walker’s most recent works are: Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Palestine/Israel; Hard Times Require Furious Dancing; The World Has Changed: Conversations with Alice Walker; and The Chicken Chronicles: Sitting With the Angels Who Have Returned With My Memories, a Memoir. She also writes regularly on her blog site at www.alicewalkersgarden.com
Walker has been an activist all of her adult life, and believes that learning to extend the range of our compassion is activity and work available to all. She is a staunch defender not only of human rights, but of the rights of all living beings. She is one of the world’s most prolific writers, yet tirelessly continues to travel the world to literally stand on the side of the poor, and the economically, spiritually and politically oppressed.
She also stands, however, on the side of the revolutionaries, teachers and leaders who seek change and transformation of the world.
Upon returning from Gaza in 2008, Walker said, “Going to Gaza was our opportunity to remind the people of Gaza and ourselves that we belong to the same world: the world where grief is not only acknowledged, but shared; where we see injustice and call it by its name; where we see suffering and know the one who stands and sees is also harmed, but not nearly so much as the one who stands and sees and says and does nothing.”
How Could I Not Go?
An American Jew Sails to Gaza
Jane Hirschmann / CounterPunch
(June 20, 2011) — People often ask me why I am part of a team to organize a US Boat to Gaza that will be sailing this month with the next International Flotilla to break the siege of Gaza. They often make clear they are asking because I am an American Jew, whose family survived the Holocaust with some surviving family members ending up in Israel. And my only answer is: How could I not?
My parents raised me with stories about what happened in Germany and their family’s escape. I came to see that Israel represented for them a safe haven should there be another attempt at annihilating Jews. And yet, at the same time, they worried it was not so safe a haven given the animosity and physical threats and violence in the area.
But no one ever mentioned the displacement of 750,000 Arabs that was the result of the creation of Israel. I vaguely knew there were people living there, but I was never curious about who these “others” were. All I took away from my family’s history and the atrocities endured was that this should never happen again to anyone, anywhere.
Growing up in the ’60s, I became active in opposition to the war in Vietnam, the anti-apartheid struggle and the women’s rights movement and later became involved in opposing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As a social worker, I was focused on social justice issues but never questioned the relationship between the US and Israel and their policies regarding Palestinians.
Then came the war on Gaza and a real political awakening for me. Operation Cast Lead and the Goldstone Report were the catalysts. In November 2008, the ceasefire ended: Israeli soldiers broke it in a cross-border raid killing six members of Hamas and, in response, rockets were launched into Israel.
Israel, fortified with American weaponry, attacked the people of Gaza. Approximately 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed compared to 13 Israelis. Gaza was pulverized. Judge Richard Goldstone and his team did a thorough report of the causalities on both sides. There was no doubt that the people of Gaza were disproportionally affected.
Right after the invasion in Gaza I realized I could no longer remain silent. I became one of the organizers of a group called Jews Say No! in New York City. We wanted to speak out and to make clear that the Israeli government did not speak in our name as they claimed.
I began reading about the occupation, settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the building of the separation wall, Jewish-only streets for Israeli settlers, special identity papers for Palestinian citizens of Israel (one step away from wearing a yellow star) and the other indignities endured by the people of Palestine on a daily basis.
And I saw the total collusion by the US government — its unconditional support no matter what the Israeli government did, including giving them 30 billion dollars over a 10-year period for weaponry (F16s, Apache helicopters, white phosphorous, Caterpillar bulldozers used to destroy homes in Bedouin encampments) used ruthlessly against the Palestinians. This was intolerable for me.
I understand the fears and frustrations of Israelis being fired upon by rockets and the resultant deaths and injuries. But what about the thousands of Palestinians being killed and whose homes, schools, hospitals, farms, mills, factories and infrastructure are being destroyed? What about a people living under a brutal occupation who are being denied the right to live with dignity in their own homeland?
The siege and blockade of Gaza continue. The Israeli government controls the land, sea and air of this small area (25 miles long and roughly six miles wide) where 1.6 million people live. There has been no movement in recent years unless Israel allowed it. (Egypt’s partial opening of the Rafah gate to human traffic, though not to commerce, is a positive sign if it is allowed to grow).
Most people cannot travel in or out of Gaza because of continuing restrictions, 61 percent of the population is food insecure, the unemployment rate is around 45 percent, one of the highest in the world, and exports remain banned with the exception of limited items like strawberries and carnations for European markets. Gaza is called an open-air prison even by England’s Prime Minister, David Cameron.
Given all this, I can remain silent no longer. Every day Palestinians are confronting the Israeli government at the wall, at check points, at demolition sites. They risk their lives. Like the Freedom Rides our boat is sailing to call attention to the illegal occupation and siege of Gaza.
My humanity and my Jewishness — Jewish history — demand my being part of an organizing effort to end the inhumane treatment of the Palestinians. The US Boat, called The Audacity of Hope, will sail in late June to Gaza as part of the Freedom Flotilla 2-Stay Human. We will be approximately 50 individuals from across the US committed to non-violence, human rights and freedom and justice for the Palestinian people.
To date, tens of thousands of individuals and over 80 organizations have endorsed this US campaign and each day more sign on to travel with us in name. We travel in peace for justice, and I am proud to be part of this international effort.â€¨â€¨
Jane Hirschmann is a member of Jews Say No! in New York City and one of the national organizers of the US Boat to Gaza. Hirschmann has been active in anti-war efforts for the past four decades. She is a psychotherapist and the co-author of three books. More information about the The Audacity of Hope is available at www.ustogaza.org.
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