Israel/Palestine: The Old Man & The Blood
mashriq / arabia / iraq |
community struggles |
Friday June 16, 2006 20:23 by Liat Shlezinger
Ilan Shalif and the joint Israeli-Palestinian struggle against the separation wall
Ilan Shalif is already 70 but it does not prevent him arriving every Friday at the demonstration against the separation fence in Bil'in and confronting the soldiers of the Israeli IDF. Every Friday for the last year and a half, like a watch whose battery never runs out, he travels the road from Tel-Aviv to the Palestinian village of Bil'in.
The demonstrations at Bil'in also see the participation of left-wing Israeli activists, many from the extreme left like the Anarchists Against The Wall, who arrive from the centre of Israel and demonstrate side by side with the Palestinians. There are also international activists from organisations like the ISM and the foreign media, whose photos from the place are often published all over the world.
This is in the context of a Friday Bil'in demonstration - one of around 60 we have had over the past 16 months. One of the many Israeli media reporters drawn to the Bil'in demos approached me about a month ago and, after sensing "good" material, asked for an intensive "interview" the following Friday during the demo if her editor accepted her proposal for an extended report. He did, and a week later we had a few hours together both before the demonstration itself and during the demonstration. One of the photographers from the daily joined us too and the resulting report was published in Israel's second-biggest daily two weeks later: a large photo from the demonstration on the front page of the magazine, followed by two pages of text and pictures from the demo. What follows is an English translation of the text of the front page and the article itself.
What causes Ilan Shalif, Doctor of Psychology, to leave his grandchildren, climb the hills and spend his Fridays in the endless fight of the anarchists in Bil'in?
THE OLD MAN AND THE BLOOD
by Liat Shlezinger
Ilan Shalif is already 70 [really only 69 - I.S.] but it does not prevent him arriving every Friday at the demonstration against the separation fence in Bil'in and confronting the soldiers of the Israeli IDF.
"Armed" with only a yellow water bottle and matching yellow pouch, Ilan Shalif is on his way to another battle against the separation fence. Every Friday for the last year and a half, like a watch whose battery never runs out, he travels the road from Tel-Aviv to the Palestinian village of Bil'in. He has not missed even one demonstration... Well, he did miss one when he had an open-heart bypass operation [it was really two demos I missed then, and two more when I was banned from travelling to Bil'in after being released from police custody - I.S.]. But, he stresses that a week later he was back running with the kids [the Israeli Anarchists Against The Wall - I.S.] and dodging the rubber-coated bullets as they whistled by.
In the village of Bil'in, where the most violent demonstrations of the left have been taking place recently, people are "crazy" about him. They call him "grandpa". While others of his age prefer to spend time with their grandchildren, Shalif at 70 prefers to spend his Fridays in the company of shock and teargas grenades.
My idea to join him in the demo was regarded at first as an intriguing experience, but surely not as massive physical effort. However, after a short march with the demonstrators, at quite a fast tempo, I looked around me and saw that Shalif was nowhere to be seen. Actually, he had long ago overtaken me and I just could not match his speed!
Each demonstration in Bil'in begins with a long march accompanied by the singing of the villagers and the demonstrators, who wave flags all the way up to the point of confrontation with the soldiers at the fence separating the village lands and the areas of Modi'in Illit [the settler town built on the lands of Bil'in and other neighbouring Palestinian villages - I.S.]. Shalif is marching fast under the hot sun and his position is at the head of the demonstration. When the confrontation between the demonstrators and the soldiers starts, he sits down on one of the big stones and looks around. From time to time he wipes the drops of sweat from his forehead and cleans his round glasses.
Right behind Ilan sits his son Gal, 42, guarding his father. He puts a firm hand on his shouder every time he wants to go nearer and join the demonstrators [in confronting the soldiers - I.S.]. "Father, sit down", he says in an authoritative voice. "Father, enough. Not this time. It's not for you any more. Father, it's not possible this way." He worries about his father. Every Friday, Gal serves as Ilan's chauffeur to Bil'in and back to Tel-Aviv. But more importantly, Gal defines himself as "his personal guard".
"I know my father... If I don't go with him, he will do something stupid and get injured. He is a person who is getting on in years, but often he behave like a child," he says, smiling. [The reporter does not know the details of my medical vulnerability after the heart bypass operation a few weeks before, as a result of which Gal agreed to accompany me to the demonstration in return for a say on cautious behaviour for both of us - I.S.] It is now the end of the second week of May, and in a few days' time Shalif, a father of two and Doctor of Psychology (Ph.D.) is due to undergo a complicated and quite dangerous operation on his abdomen in Germany. [From which I returned after three weeks and am still recuperating - I.S.] "Sure he is supposed to be resting now", says Gal in reply to my amazement, "but he is actually much more relaxed here! If he were at home, he would be so much more stressed, and anyway, no-one can tell him what to do".
"I think the soldiers treat me more gently because of my age, maybe they even pity me. Once, a few months ago, we were sitting on the road in protest. The soldiers came and carried all of us away, one by one, except for me. At one point I looked around and saw I was left alone on the road". [She fails to mention that at first a soldier had tried to grab me, but a Palestinian comrade held my hand to prevent my arrest and asked the soldier if he was not ashamed to grab an old man... Only then they left me alone there - I.S.
The demonstration is getting more violent, even in comparision to those of the past few weeks. Three demonstrators are taken to hospital. Gal seems worried. "Soon they are going to open my father up for an operation", he says. "I don't intend to let someone open him up here, with batons".
Despite the difficulty of being a bodyguard to a rebellious 70-year-old, he looks at him with great pride. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't have to guard him. I don't have the courage to get hit for things I believe in, but he has. That's why I admire him".
The village of Bil'in is located east of the settlement of Modi'in Illit. The demonstrations that have been taking place there every Friday for the last year and a half are part of the struggle of the village's Palestinian population against the separation fence which threatens to take about 60% of their agricultural lands. On these lands the villagers grow olive trees for their livelihood, and theres are exactly the lands where new residential neighbourhoods of the the settler town Modi'in Illit are due to be built. Ten days earlier, the citizens of Bil'in even petitioned the (Israeli) supreme court of justice in a bid to prevent the confiscation of the lands. The demonstrations at Bil'in also see the participation of left-wing Israeli activists, many from the extreme left like the "Anarchists Against The Wall", who arrive with organized transportation from the centre of Israel and demonstrate side by side with the Palestinians. In addition, there are also international activists from organisations like the ISM (International Solidarity Movement) and representatives of the foreign media, whose photos from the place are often published all over the world.
The demonstration advances along its route according to a ritual known in advance to both the demonstrators and the soldiers. First, the village people march up to the route of the separation fence where the soldiers and border police are waiting for them, equipped with the means to disperse demonstrations, such as tear gas, shock grenades, and live ammunition. On the Palestinian side, several of the youngsters are arming themselves with stones. More than a few Israeli demonstrators have been injured here.
"If the left-wing demonstrators were not here, the struggle would be seen in an entirely different light", say representatives of the village's popular committee. "Their presence, and that of the press, protect us from the violence of the soldiers who know that they are being monitored and therefore cannot do what they want. We will succeed in the end as we are stubborn, and every Friday, without exception, we will continue to come here with the Israelis and the international activists and demonstrate till our lands are returned".
Acram Hatib, a Palestinian activist and member of the village's popular committee, says that one of the most encouraging things in his eyes is to see Shalif every Friday. "Closure, curfew or shooting, I will always see Ilan and his gray hair here", he says while trying to restrain the stone-throwing kids.
"Wow, respect!", a young woman with short black and red hair exclaims loudly when she observes the presence of Ilan there. "This is a very dangerous place, and I hesitate every time I have to come. And to see him, in spite of his age and everything, I really have great respect".
Roni Barkan from the "Anarchists Against The Wall" movement sees in Shalif a personal role model. "I nearly never express myself in similar words, but in my eyes he really deserves admiration. What is so beautiful about Ilan is that he may be 70, but he has the soul of a child. He does what he feels is right and lives his life this way, despite the price he has to pay for it". [He still does not recognize that others too are motivated like him by the joy of rebelliousness... - I.S.]
Shalif himself, on the other hand, does not feel any different when he looks at the young crowd participating in these demonstrations.
L. S.: "You know that there are not many people at your age that bother to come to Bil'in in order to demonstrate?"
I. S: "Right, there are not many people of 70, but this is what I love doing and this is what I believe in. I cannot see myself doing anything else. When I was a child I was very hyperactive and I think that a little of that remained. I don't feel the need to sit around at home and rest. I may be a bit older, but inside I know I am still young. There are people my age who relax from other things and who busy themselves looking for something different or strange. I don't think I'm strange or exeptional. In addition, I think that because of my age the soldiers treat me relatively leniently. Maybe even pity me. They always hit the youngsters, and time after time I remain unharmed. [Not really perfect immunity, as the soldiers often indiscriminantly attack both old and young, Palestinians, Israelis or foreigners, demonstrators or press workers, males or females... I. S.] Once, a few months ago, we were sitting on the road in protest. The soldiers came and carried all of us away, one by one, except for me. At one point I looked around and saw I was left alone on the road. I think that my age is thertaily gives me a kind of immunity."
L. S.: "And what does your wife have to say about this?"
I. S: "We do not argue any more about it. She worries about me, but she knows that in the end I will do what I want. I simply do not believe that I can just sit at home, having spent my whole life as an activist. I don't really know what could change to make me want to stop".
ANARCHIST SINCE HE WAS 9
As for the identity crises that most of us go through every few months on average, Shalif's identity was already firmly established in his childhood. At the age of 9, he already knew he was an anarchist.
"We were in the classroom and all the boys decided to boycott the girls", he recounts the moment of truth. "I refused. I just did not agree at all as I was friends with the girls [I used to play with some in the small neighborhood I grew up in - I.S.] and did not believe in that stupid boycott. Later, [and more so after the boycott was over - I. S.] no-one befriended me for a while or invited me to parties. That was when it started, when I knew that I would always be different".
[Well, it was not my first act of social rebellion. When I was still at kindergarten, every Friday they used to collect small sums of money as a contribution to the Jewish Zionist fund for buying land. I still remember refusing to ask my parents for "pocket money" for that contribution. I also recollect some bits of memories from an earlier age, when I was about 2, in which I doubted the wisdom of my mother when she did or said things I did not regard as correct - I. S.]
Indeed, he was different. While the rest of his friends in Jerusalem looked forward to their period of military service, he evaded it, thanks to a broken bone in his hand, something he is proud of to this day. "I became disillusioned with the Zionism of Ben Gurion [Israel's first Prime Minister in 1948 - I. S.] faster than expected. It just wasn't for me", he says. In 1967 [the 6th June war of occupation - I. S.] he found himself in the extreme left-wing movement "Matspen", who among other things supported politically-motivated total conscientious objection. "I moved from place to place [living on kibbutzim - I.S.], and was even expelled with my wife Aliza from "Negba" kibbutz where we lived, because of my radical opinions. [Mostly because of the anti-Zionist political activities I refused to stop doing. They agreed to let my wife stay on as member with our two kids only if she divorced me... which she refused to do - I.S.] I always knew I was extremely radical and at long last I have found people that I can associate with, as for me anarchism was not associated with punk culture or metal music."
Later he moved to Tel-Aviv and completed a Ph.D. in psychology. During his work he even developed the technique of "sensate focusing", that promotes the solving of problems using subconscious processes, mainly and not solely using verbal techniques.
Throughout the years his left-iwing activism has been well known both by people of other organizations and by the police, who detained him for interrogation a few times after violent demonstrations he took part in. He spends his time these days surfing the internet and translating for an international anarchist website he jointly manages. [I've been a member of the ainfos.ca collective and project since 1996 - I.S.] When Shalif speaks, he uses "you". He does not feel part of us, the Israelis, and he does not even want to feel as one, "thank you very much". He can't remember when he last voted in an election [to parliament - I.S.]. "I don't feel like just another street crazy who shouts about nothing", he says. "My feelings on Israel are like a time traveller who is stuck here without being able to carry on with his journey. I believe in a world that is non-hierarchical, in which there is freedom, equality and fraternity. A world without exploiters and exploited, where people make their own decisions. I do not feel part of what goes on in this country, I am not part of you. Israel is, in my opinion, one of the most reactionary places in the world, and I go around with this distress every day. The only reason I pay taxes is that I do not have enough energy for stirring up trouble".
L. S.: Don't you feel a bit lonely sometimes? All of us search for a kind of belonging from time to time.
I. S: Certainly not. I do not need the false feeling of intimacy of a nation. It is all about fictional substitutes that are intended to give us a good feeling. I have my friends here in Bil'in, I have real friends, from "Matspen", with whom I meet twice a month. I do not need the State". In spite of the fact that most young Israelis have a better idea where Maya Buskila [an Israeli pop star - I.S.] lives than where the village of Bil'in is, Shalif feels that his struggle over the past decades has not been in vain. "In 1968 we were 18 lunatics who cried and cursed [the occupation - I.S.] but now the majority believes that there is a need to retreat from the occupied territories. Once I wrote a poem on how each shoulder helps to turn the wheels of history, and that it will take a very long time to make them turn. It may happen after many, many years, but at the end the revolution will come, I am sure of it".