It was late in the evening on Yom Kippur, October 11th last year, and I was on my way to meet with human rights defender, Issa Amro. I began my way through H1 (the “new” city of Hebron under the control of the Palestinian Authority) to get into H2 (the old city, under Israeli military control, a.k.a Ghost Town). I was headed to the new headquarters for Youth Against Settlements (YAS), Issa’s nonviolent resistance organization. Fall had certainly arrived, the air was chilly and the wind had a slight bite to it, I would have welcomed the conditions, finding them refreshing if I had not had to wait in them—which I did once I arrived at checkpoint 56. Checkpoint 56 is at Shuhada Street, once the bustling thoroughfare of Hebron which used to be jammed with produce stands and packed with people. Since an attack in 1994 by a Jewish settler on the Ibrahimi mosque which killed 29 Palestinians, the street has been closed off to Palestinians due to riots that followed. First, Palestinian vehicles were prohibited from using Shuhada Street, then when violence escalated once more during the Second Intifada in the early 2000s, the street became closed to pedestrians, as well. For a more in depth history, I point you to my post, “Wake”.
This night, checkpoint 56 was backed up. For some reason the soldiers had decided they were only going to let one person in at a time, two to three minutes at a time. After 10 minutes of waiting I still had multiple men in front of me. Then, one turned to me and ushered me to go ahead of them all! I was shocked and SO grateful! I received their kind hospitality and moved forward.
Once I made it through the turnstiles - not getting checked or stopped, thankfully - I found my way to the steep street I had previously been directed would be my landmark. A boy from YAS met me there and we manouvered up another incline, this one unlit and unpaved. I carefully navigated the dirt and medium-rocked path beneath what I think were olive and oak trees until we hit cement footing. I could hear the pings of sledge hammers on stone and the murmur of voices. Not too far in the distance upon a plateau in the hillside was a blaring florescent outdoor light flooding the porch of the YAS house. It was late, sometime after 8 pm, and I had finally arrived.
For a few minutes I sat in a plastic chair chatting with a volunteer and observing the scene. Young men were working away at stones, making cement, and others were simply hanging out. I found a few girls inside when I went poking around looking for Issa. He emerged looking a bit tired, who could be surprised—the end of the day, putting the finishing touches on a new center, and the sheer nature of his work. Grateful he was still up for the interview, we began.
Issa Amro is Palestinian from Hebron, one of the most sacred, contentious areas of the West Bank. He has committed his life to the work of nonviolent resistance, calling out the inequities in his community and working for the human rights and dignity of all people in his region.
Issa's commitment to nonviolent resistance and ability to compel others to join and remain in this commitment are remarkable and admirable. When he was on the verge of completing five years of studies for his engineering degree the second intifada erupted. The Israeli army declared his university a closed military zone and his studies were halted. Determined the dream he had held since youth would not be thwarted by this shocking new reality, he organized acts of civil disobedience: sit-ins, demonstrations and protests. He steeped himself in the teachings of Gandhi, King, and Mandela and found by living out their values success could be won. His university was reopened. His life and work now focus entirely on nonviolent resistance to the occupation and galvanizing others to join this movement than the alternative one of violence.
For Palestinians, "to exist is to resist", as you will hear many say. Nevertheless, all forms of resistance to the occupation come at a cost. As for Issa, here are a few examples:
The following is a story from a tour I made with him prior to our interview.
Issa now faces one of his greatest giants yet.
You can read more about Issa's trial in a poignant article called "Who's Afraid of Nonviolence?" published in the New York Times January 27th composed by Jewish American novelist Michael Chabon and Israeli-American author Ayelet Waldman.
Issa's trial was first scheduled last fall and has been pushed back multiple times due to the intensity of international support. I encourage you to join this support by signing the petition to urge United Nations Secretary General António Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein to call on the Israeli government to drop the charges against Issa.
He is the kind of person needed on the streets modeling nonviolent resistance for youth and traveling across the globe witnessing to perseverance in truth, justice and equity for us all, last of all should be be shut up in a cell.
What keeps him hopeful:
Sign the petition to urge United Nations Secretary General António Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein to call on the Israeli government to drop the charges against Issa: https://freeissa.org
Beloved One of all the peoples of the earth, we who are your children ask you to help us all to live as brothers and sisters rather than as enemies.
We ask we be led from “the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest.”
We ask to be lifted from “the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.”
We ask you to be freed from “the paralyzing chains of conformity” and make us “active partners in the struggle for freedom.”
We ask to be directed from “the dark mountain of disappointment” into “the tunnel of hope.”
We ask to have removed “the dark clouds of racial prejudice” and “the deep fog of misunderstanding” so that we all may view “the radiant stars of love and unity shining in all their scintillating beauty.”
We ask to be led to a “substantive and positive peace” in which we all respect the dignity and worth of all people.
We ask to be shown how to become “creative extremists” for love, for justice, and for freedom. Amen.
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