Av Yonatan Shapira, Israelsk fredsaktivist
It's 11 PM here in Oslo and I’m trying to write a few words about my support for the BDS movement. I’m looking for an interesting angle so that I don’t repeat what many other, better writers have already written. And then I recall that today is actually the Jewish New Year. I miss my family and friends in Israel, and I am so far from them in chilly Norway. It was exactly 16 years ago, on the eve of the Jewish New Year, September 2003, that I became a conscientious objector. We put our letter and declaration of refusal, with the signatures of 27 Israeli air force pilots, on the desk of the Air Force commander - a General and a mass murderer. These ranged from a Lt. General who almost became the air force commander to lower ranking pilots like me with the rank of captain. We felt brave and important and a bit scared. It's not every day you find yourself accusing your commanders and leaders of sending you to commit war crimes. On the following day, the headlines in the Zionist media were “The Mutiny of the Pilots”.
Plenty of water has flowed in the Jordan River and Akerselva since then. A lot has changed, and not for the better. We thought we could shake up the system and fix it, but the massacres in Gaza have only intensified. One of the changes is that more and more bombings of the population of Gaza are carried out by drones. Why work hard to convince Israeli pilots to bomb an overcrowded ghetto of two million people, if the commander can just sit in the control room and push the button almost all by himself?
It’s midnight soon. I just received a Whatsapp message from 23 year-old Muhammad. He suffers from pain all over his body, and he’s trying to find a way to receive critical medical treatment to heal his wounds. He writes to me to ask if I have any ideas. I met Muhammad in 2011, eight years ago. He was 14 then, and was lying in a hospital bed, in critical condition after he and his 12 year-old cousin Ibrahim were hit by a missile fired from an Israeli drone. They were playing in the street next to their home in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza, Ibrahim lost both arms and incurred a gaping hole in his belly and lung. With the help of an Italian NGO, the two were transferred to an Israeli hospital. Ibrahim succumbed to his wounds a few days later. Ronnie and Renen, two Israeli activists came to visit Muhammad. His whole body was wrapped in bandages, and numerous skin grafts were required to fill the holes in his body. Muhammad asked the visitors why the Israeli army was firing at children playing in the street - why did they shoot Ibrahim and him - and he said he wanted to speak to an Israeli pilot and receive an answer. He wanted an Israeli pilot to come and see his wounds.
That's when I got a phone call. I was told there was a severely wounded boy from Gaza who wanted to see me and speak to me. I was on my way to visit my cousins, but then I was told that because I had just taken part in the Gaza freedom flotilla, I'm not welcome. My cousin’s husband did not want me near his children. For people in such a brainwashed society the struggle for peace and justice could be like a Contagious disease and he didn't want me to infect his kids. So when I got this call, I turned straight to the hospital to meet the wounded Palestinian boy, who did want to see me. Since that visit, the life of my family has been connected to Muhammad’s life. My mom took it upon herself to solicit support from anyone who can help and has fought tooth and nail so that Muhammad can undergo more and more of the surgeries required to save his life. In the 2014 Gaza massacre, commanded by General Benny Gantz, the Israeli military bombed Muhammad’s family home, and since he turned 18, he no longer receives the Israeli military permits to come from Gaza to treatment in Israeli hospitals.
A year ago, in some tortuous way, Muhammad managed to leave Gaza and receive a temporary visa to stay in Istanbul. The visa expires in two months, and he now faces the threat of detention or forcible return to Gaza. Muhammad is anxious to complete the required surgeries, so that he can return to a normal life, study and begin his adult life. And now, at midnight, I’m getting messages from him. He’s asking me if I have any ideas as to what can be done, how he can receive medical treatment, rather than go to prison. I’m reading his messages and my heart is broken. I wish all those obedient pilots and drone operators, and other indifferent people, would receive these messages every day from a wounded Palestinian boy, who is eager to have a normal life. I stay up all night, trying to come up with ideas how to help this young man. If only we could get him a permit to fly to anywhere in Europe and receive proper medical care. And Muhammad is just one in thousands upon thousands.
And how, how can this madness be stopped? What other choice do we have? What other way is there to fight? What else does the oppressed, weak, occupied, bombarded, shredded side have at its disposal? And we, whose eyes and ears are already open, we who long to help and long not to remain silent - what other choice do we have?
So who among you still has doubts as to the necessity of the boycott movement? The non-violent BDS movement allows every person in the world to take part in a just struggle for freedom and equality. It’s time for you to join too. Among the supporters, you will find hundreds of thousands of Jews all across the world, among them more than 1,000 Israelis. I am just one of them.
And one small detail to cap this off: Some of the navigation and stabilization systems for these monstrous drones are being produced here in picturesque and peaceful Norway, at the Kongsberg plants. Polite Norwegian workers, who eat tacos on Fridays and wish for world peace, assemble them gently and skilfully. And this whole supply chain ends up in the hands of the Israeli military, or, to be precise, in the bodies of Muhammad and Ibrahim.
It doesn’t have to go on like this. It can be stopped. Are you going to join us or are you one of those who will keep silent?
As I almost finish writing these words, I read about a famous young Norwegian singer who wants to heal the world, but is planning to sing to the prison guards of the Gaza Ghetto, when they come home for the weekend.
Dear Aurora, what should I say in order to help you open your heart and your eyes?
I just watched a short recent interview with you. You seem to be a human being with a beautiful soul. They showed you recording different sounds and listening to the tiny little things we usually tend to miss. Here is a sound you're missing and what children in Gaza hear 24/7 - the constant buzz of Israeli/Norwegian predator drones.
Can you hear this buzzing? Can you hear the bombs? Can you hear their cries?
Please cancel your concert in Tel Aviv.
Let your music inspire love and hope in the hearts of those who struggle for freedom and equality. Singing to the ghetto prison guards will be something you will always regret.