On February 13 at 5 pm Hebron time, Issa Amro, a Palestinian human rights activist, was attacked by an Israeli soldier while giving a tour of his home city to The New Yorker magazine journalist Lawrence Wright.
On February 7, I published an article about the play Amro and Einat Weizman had written — and performed in New York in late January. At that time, I had the opportunity to meet and speak with Amro personally.
I was on the street when I saw the first tweets about the incident. Since it occurred, Amro has put out a timeline of events on @IssaAmro. Unfortunately, I don’t think legacy Jewish organizations and the American State Department are following his handle.
Another episode to be buried?
I reached out to Amro to get details on the violent assault. The abuse was shocking. In one of the posted videos, it appears that Amro’s hands were behind his back. The soldier who instigated the confrontation kicked Amro while he was face down on the ground. A woman’s voice screams in English, “Hey! Leave him.”
As Amro’s feed stated:
“The army spokesman lied about what happened. I didn’t go to the soldier military post, the soldier left the post to harass and annoy us, when we filmed him, he wanted us not to leave before we delete the videos. He refused to call or to tell his commander.
I didn’t refuse the treatment from the Israeli army, I called the Israeli police 100, who didn’t come to help me, I asked them for an ambulance, they said to me ARE you Arab or Jew. I told them I am an Arab, they said we can’t reach you. They refused to give me medical aid.”
In one of the videos, Amro can be heard saying, “You are touching my body with your gun. I asked you to bring your commander. You refused…I want to call my lawyer.”
I was able to connect with Amro even though it was in the early morning hours. His voice was hoarse. In response to my questions, he told me:
“I will file a complaint against the soldier for sure. But I am sure that he will not be accountable. I was telling him to stop harassing me or I will file a complaint to the Israeli Court Metsa…but the soldier didn’t care…Soldiers are usually not accountable. According to many Israeli human rights organizations, they don’t open the investigation and they close it.
He told me how he was physically impacted:
“I fall down. I called the Israeli police. I called the Israeli ambulance.Both didn’t come. Palestinian ambulance is not allowed to be there, so I stayed there around forty minutes waiting for an ambulance because I got [in] shock and was really dizzy, and I was in pain and they didn’t care about that at all.At the end I decided to leave because the situation was very dangerous. Settlers started gathering around me and other soldiers were threatening me, so I left.”
One of the videos he shared shows the Israeli soldier on the phone. Amro narrates, “This soldier in Hebron is trying to prevent us from filming the truth, the reality.” As the soldier speaks to someone on a military phone, Amro says, “No. This is not true… Don’t lie. Don’t lie. Say the truth.”
Amro related that his face was smashed into the cement, and his arm was hit badly. When I asked him if he thought anything was broken, he said he would see a specialist the next day.
Wright and a friend of Amro’s helped him to get home.
On a wet, snowy evening in Brooklyn, over one hundred people turned out for a reading of “How To Make A Revolution” at the Invisible Dog Art Center. The documentary play is co-authored by Israeli Jewish activist Einat Weizman and Palestinian human rights advocate Issa Amro, who lives in the West Bank.
I first heard Amro discussing living conditions under Israeli rule in the film “Tinderbox.” I wondered if he would make it to the United States for the event due to his November 22, 2022, arrest. He was there and spoke with audience members before and after the performance.
The text is based on transcripts from Amro’s trial at the Ofer military court and drills down on the reality of the proceedings, where no audio or visual recordings are allowed. There are no juries; the Palestinian conviction rate is 99.7 percent. Although deemed legal and official, they present as kangaroo courts, where outcomes are pre-determined. The use of official testimony, where absurdity meets Kafka, reveals sequestered realities to the outside world.
Empty chairs set the stage while images were projected on a white brick wall. One photograph showed a street demarcated by barbed wire. The James Brown song “I Feel Good” was in the background.
Intertwined with the re-enactment of the trial is a recreation of how the relationship between Weizman and Amro evolved, and the pressures they each faced in their respective spheres. The viewers comprehend that they, too, are part of the unfolding story—as they bear witness to the human rights injustices and impunity of ongoing Israeli structural oppression.
Weizman met Amro at his home in Hebron, entering through the settlement of Kiryat Arba. Derisive calls from its residents greeted her presence. “Are you leftist? Are you going to Issa?” They conclude their condemnations with a singular word: “Traitor.”
When Weizman told friends she was going to Hebron, they thought she was “nuts.” Other activists informed her that Amro was a “normalizer.” When performing this sequence, Weizman looks directly at the audience and asks if it’s her place “to tell a Palestinian how to resist.”
In Hebron, the marketplace is closed. Palestinians are not visible on the street. It wasn’t always like that. Now, if local community members want to pass, they need identification. Checkpoints separate Jews from Muslims. Detention at these stations can stretch to up to six hours.
One can only think of segregated America when Weizman delves into how different her relationship with Amro felt when they were in London for the Finborough Theatre’s digital presentation of the piece. Reflecting on the reality in Israel/Palestine, Weizman calls it the “hall of injustice” where Palestinians use one door and Jewish Israelis use another…a condensed scene of occupied and occupier.”
Amro’s personal history reveals how his consciousness emerged and developed. He had been at college to become an engineer when the IDF closed down the university he was attending. Angry and frustrated, he googled “How to make a revolution.” He learned about the strategies of Martin Luther King and Gandhi. The authorities reopened the school because of his specific efforts. Amro explains, “I got my degree, but I graduated as an activist.” He realized that he was able to effect change.
Ironically, Amro’s life is not only shaped by Israeli dictates (“I live under military law.”). The Palestinian Authority has arrested him at the directives of Israel. One minute they want Amro to join them; then they throw him in jail. His response was to go on a hunger strike. For twenty hours a day for six weeks, the PA questioned Amro. One of their top interests was, “How come you have so many supporters…including Bernie Sanders?”
At the conclusion of the reading, Tamer Nafar, as Amro declares, “I refuse to disappear.”
The actors then sat in total silence. You could hear a pin drop.
When Amro stepped forward to engage the crowd, he took questions and expanded upon the underpinnings of the narrative. After thanking people for coming, he clarified, “This play tells my story, but it is everyone’s story. I’m not special.”
Amro conveyed there were different methods for building awareness about the dire situation impacting daily life for Palestinians, from non-violent actions to using the arts to reach people on a visceral level. Amro reiterated his belief that the Israeli government wants to “kill the spirit of the Palestinians.”
“There is no Israeli democracy without an end to apartheid and occupation,” Amro said. While underscoring the muted response of Israelis to what is happening to Palestinians, he did see a shift, particularly among young Jewish activists. “More people are opening their eyes.”
Perhaps the top takeaway was Amro’s statement, “American Jews can make a difference.” He added, “I depend on your support. We all have a dream.”
Photos: Courtesy of Vlad Grinberg
How To Make a Revolution Cast: Einat Weizman, Tamer Nafar, Fleece, Abraham Makany, Michael Elian
“My Tree,” a documentary directed by Canadian playwright and filmmaker Jason Sherman, follows his quest to learn the backstory of a tree planted in Israel on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah in the 1970s. The Jewish National Fund (JNF) connected with Toronto shuls, thus allowing 13-year-old boys to have a tree dedicated in their names.
Sherman relates a version of greening Israel that impacted the Canadian diaspora, the fourth-largest Jewish community in the world. He delivers his opening comments with sarcasm and self-mockery while he schleps around Israel looking for his almost fifty-year-old tree. It was supposed to be his “stand-in” and connection to Eretz Yisroel.
Mordant humor informs the history of the JNF and its marketing strategies. A cartoon of collection boxes dancing the hora while holding bags of money. The poster with a strong, tanned Sabra and his shovel. Video clips reveal celebrities from Kirk Douglas to Albert Einstein as they dig into the earth.
The Holocaust gave an “urgency” to the situation. Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael. A perpetual fund for Israel. The goal was to make the desert bloom. Instituting a personal attachment was the impetus. The tagline was, “This is your forest.” And it worked, resulting in 240 million trees.
The JNF chose pine trees, possibly because they reflected the abandoned landscapes of European countries. More probably, it was that they grew rapidly. Yet, with small roots and high flammability, they were problematic. A major fire on Mt. Carmel in 2010 exemplified these problems. Only the indigenous oak trees survived.
Sherman hires a “tree searcher” to begin the quest. She digs into the copious records of the JNF, housed in the Jerusalem Central Zionist Archives. Canadian tree donations are primarily grouped in “Canada Park.” The problem is presented. Jews didn’t own land in that area.
A visit to the Eshtaol Nursery sets the scene for a meet-up between Sherman and a JNF representative who tells him he needs advance permission to shoot any footage. Sherman notes, “The JNF didn’t want to talk to me. Not about my tree; not about any tree.”
Undaunted, Sherman connects with Alon Rothschild, the Biodiversity Policy Manager at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. Pointing to a tract of land, Rothschild asks, “Should we have trees here? Why? These are the last grassland hills in the area. Why do you need another pine forest?”
Things get heated when a JNF employee comes along and enters the conversation. Sherman laments, “Maybe this could be my tree.” The representative plays straight man to Sherman stating flatly, “I would not like to comment on it right now.” (Another scheduled conversation was halted on the spot when the JNF spokesperson determined that Sherman was there to “politicize trees.”) It feels like dialogue from the theatre of the absurd.
By the time Sherman visits his cousin, who has made Aliyah to Israel, the tenuousness of the situation rises to the surface. She talks about how the country has gone downhill, using the word apartheid.
This is a foreshadowing of Sherman’s conversation with Eitan Bronstein Aparicio, founder of Zochrot and co-founder of the De-Colonizer. Aparicio wants to deconstruct Israeli mythology and bring attention to the Nakba, the Palestinian word for their “catastrophe” of 1948.
Aparicio tells Sherman about three decimated Arab villages: Beit Nuba, Yalu, and Imwas. “These villages were totally destroyed. People were expelled. It was bulldozed and dynamited.” He adds, “An occupying army is not allowed to expel a population, destroy homes, or prevent people from return. All this are war crimes. Definitely, yes.”
At one site, the signs in Hebrew label the area as Roman ruins. Aparicio shakes his head. “That’s not a Roman bathhouse,” he says, pointing to the structure. “It has a dome. That’s not Roman. It’s a Muslim style of architecture.” He explains that an Israeli archeologist had excavated the Roman remains underneath the edifice they are seeing.
The archeologist bypassed the Palestinian narrative by focusing on the subterranean Roman artifacts. To document his point, Aparicio shows Sherman a 1958 photograph of the dwelling with the main road leading to Ramallah. Aparicio underscores, “This is the way to deny Palestinian history here.”
Sherman is at a turning point. He questions, “What if my tree is sitting on the remains of a Palestinian village?” If it is, does the next step entail a question about the “morality” of the Jewish state’s establishment?
The film’s second half moves into a distinctly uncomfortable zone as Sherman conducts a series of interviews, filling in the gaps that the JNF had ignored.
Dr. Uri Davis, co-author of “The Jewish National Fund,” is first on the list. Davis is critical of the organization, qualifying it as Israel’s largest real-estate developer. Registered as a charity in the 1960s and 1970s, JNF enjoys tax-exempt status. Davis doesn’t mince words. “It’s a charity complicit with ethnic cleansing. The JNF is trying to pass themselves off as, ‘We are greening the country.'”
Most of the JNF website outlines “environmental concerns” and beautifying the land. Davis notes, [The JNF] “omits that it hides 1948 to 1949. [Palestinians] were ethnically cleansed from the land and made refugees. The estimated villages destroyed from 1948 are 600. There are 90 villages buried under JNF parks.” He pauses, “KKL-JNF. That’s Zionism.”
Sherman travels to the Negev because he has heard that the “JNF was doing wonderful things.” He meets Haia Noach, the Negev Co-Existence Forum for Civil Equality Executive Director. “Most of Israel doesn’t want to know what happened here before 1948,” she says. Underscoring how the country’s “educational system adds to the lie,” Noah relates wearily, “It’s difficult to challenge it.”
Sherman visits Al-Araqib, originally a village of seventy-five families. The Israeli government has destroyed the community repeatedly, using bulldozers and ruining water wells. Sherman sees ownership papers dating back to 1905, which remain unrecognized by the Israeli government. The only positive note is the Jewish activists who try to remediate circumstances by helping to rebuild.
Sherman was unsuccessful with JNF-Canada, but he got an earful from the fundraiser and former board member of JNF-DC, Seth Morrison, who resigned from his position in 2011. The eviction of Palestinian families in Silwan, East Jerusalem was Morrison’s last straw.
Sherman is left to reflect upon the import of what he has learned. He asks rhetorically, “Now that I knew the truth, what was I going to do about it?”
His subsequent action is to seek Rabbinical input. He reaches out to Miriam Margles of the Danforth Jewish Circle, a congregation that describes itself as “part of a larger progressive Jewish movement.” (Margles is also a co-founder of the organization Encounter.) His top question addresses collective responsibility and what role individual Jews should play in creating repair, or Teshuvah.
Margles supports advocating for justice while recognizing the deep connection to the territory for Palestinians and Jews. She expresses concerns about those who would deny Israel the right to exist, suggesting that it “slides into antisemitism.”
The symbolism of trees in the history of Israel/Palestine reveals much. Facts on the ground show that one set of people was “uprooted” to make way for another. The forests symbolize rebirth and regrowth for Jews while representing destruction for Palestinians. The razing of olive trees is an ongoing strategy of right-wing settlers to terminate Palestinian livelihoods and property ownership.
Sherman’s way into the conundrum was a tree. The documentary’s final scenes show him creating a full circle for himself as a Jew and a filmmaker.
I interviewed Sherman about how Israel factored in his upbringing, delivering a story that innumerable North American Jews have unreservedly accepted.
Regarding his goals for “My Tree,” his answer was simple. “To make Israel accountable for its treatment of the Palestinians and the ongoing occupation. We’ve got to really grapple with it.”
It’s September and schoolchildren in the United States are back to school. What will be on the learning agenda for those in pre-K through 12th grade that will prepare them to be thoughtful, engaged adults? Will they be ready to deal with the changes and upheavals facing our planet? How will they be educated to play their part as a civic-minded generation? What role can parents take to ensure their children’s curriculum, school buildings, and transportation are part of the solution, and not the problem?
In May 2021, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) held a world conference attended by international prime ministers, environmental activists, and educators (plus 10,000 online viewers). There, the Berlin Declaration on Education was introduced. One of the core commitments was to “ensure that Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a foundational element of our education systems at all levels, with environmental and climate action as a core curriculum component.”
The statement underscored that transformations would require “promoting the required political action to bring about these changes.” Featured was the need for “prioritizing marginalized populations,” gender equity, and “non-discrimination in access to knowledge and skills.” The declaration specifically called on countries to:
“Empower young people as change agents for sustainable development, by creating opportunities for learning and civic engagement, and providing them with the competencies and tools to participate in ESD as co-creators of individual and societal transformation.”
Here in America, where there are arguments over how to teach our country’s history and what books should be allowed in libraries, that can present as a tall order.
Local politics is frequently a key factor. Some states have already led the way. In 2020, New Jersey called for a climate change curriculum to be mandatory in their primary schools. Now, it has been implemented.
In Connecticut, almost 90% of schools have embraced the topic of climate change as part of the science syllabus. It will be state law for those who are lagging by July 2023. State Representative Bobby Sanchez, co-chair of the Connecticut House Education Committee, and several members of his Democratic caucus have been pushing for this legislation since 2019.
Unfortunately, on-the-ground situations have demonstrated how environmental factors affect students and teachers.
This summer, in Columbus, Ohio, the teachers’ union called for a strike to bring attention to classrooms without air conditioning (among other issues). Guidelines put forth by ASHRAE, which focuses on risk management for public health in buildings (check their page for schoolchildren), agree with the Association for Learning Environments. The latter studied how classroom temperatures impacted test scores. They found:
At 61 degrees Fahrenheit, students averaged a score of 76%
At 72 degrees Fahrenheit, students averaged a score of 90%
At 81 degrees Fahrenheit, students averaged a score of 72%.
Learning Suffers.” It was the first research of its kind. It showed that scores dipped in a year when the temperatures were higher and that “low-income and minority students were impacted by heat more than others.” When school facilities installed air conditioning, it virtually eliminated the effects on learning that had been heat-induced.
Extreme weather occurrences were also a feature of the school season in Kentucky. Floodwaters impacted 25 school districts, leaving teachers and students returning from COVID lockdown scrambling.
So how can parents potentially ensure that their schools are energy efficient, that buses that run on diesel fuel get replaced by electric models, and that science courses reflect reality? Here are some tips:
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