In memoriam: Hashem Al-‘Azza October 29, 2015

On October 29, 2015 The Boston Globe reports 11 Israelis killed, 127 injured, 58 Palestinians killed, 2100 injured in what is usually referred to as the current “uptick in violence” or as an NPR commentator reported last week, something to the effect, Palestinians attack a Jewish man/woman/child and Israel continues to “defend itself against terror. For me, this kind of purposeful omission of the decades of individual, organized, state sponsored, settler, proxie, social, legal, economic, bureaucratic and whatever other kinds of violence that form the cauldron in which these current moments are flaring is as painful as the actual loss of lives. At the same time I struggle to keep my humanity, to feel the gut punching horror, the pressure in the throat for every child, woman and man on that deadly roster.

Reality helps. Today I receive the following email from a young doctor friend working in East Jerusalem:

“For the third consecutive time, the Israeli special forces attacked Al-Makassed hospital, throwing tear gas all over the place, without caring about the patients inside the hospital. Yesterday, they attacked the neonatal ICU, obligating all the nurses and doctors working there to leave the place.
Today, Al Quds University was attacked again, leaving nothing smooth in our life.”

“Since yesterday, 4 Palestinians were killed in Hebron, the last one was killed 3 hours ago while he was walking in the street, after they killed him, they put a knife next to him and said that he was going to stab a soldier. Settlers are happy in that area, dancing and giving chocolates for others because of the murdered guy.”

“Things are going crazy all over, it is unbearable.”

The largely invisible “facts on the ground.” Last I checked, attacking a hospital, (let alone a neonatal intensive care unit) was a war crime. On the other hand we seem to be doing that kind of thing lately, so why not Israel?

In the floods of email that drown my mornings, two days ago a particular name caught my eye: Hashem Al-‘Azza, killed by tear gas inhalation. He was standing in front of one of the green metal doors sealed shut by the IDF on Shuhadeh Street in Hebron, his face peering at me with a pained, determined expression. He looked familiar. Could he be the same man that I had met while visiting the West Bank city of Hebron with a group of health and human rights activists in 2010?

A quick email to a friend from Hebron doing a Fulbright in the US confirmed my worst anxieties.

Google yielded three reliable articles.

The International Mideast Media Center reported:

“Palestinian Man Dies Of Tear Gas Inhalation In Hebron”

“Medical sources at the Hebron Governmental Hospital, in the southern West bank city of Hebron, have reported on Wednesday evening that an elderly man died of severe effects of tear gas inhalation, after dozens of soldiers invaded the Zawiya area in the city.”

“The sources said the Palestinian has been identified as Hashem al-‘Azza, 54 years of age, from Tel Romeida neighborhood.”

“Medics rushed to the scene, and tried to stabilize his condition, before moving him to the hospital, where he died of the severe effects of tear gas inhalation.”
Hasem Al Azza IMEMC

Alternative News noted:

“The 54-year-old father of four was near his home, situated close to the entrance of the infamous Shuhada Street which is closed to Palestinians. Israeli forces shot tear gas and al Azza, who had heart problems, was overcome and collapsed.”

“Al Azza’s family attempted to take him to the hospital through the checkpoint on Shuhada Street, which is the fastest route. Israeli soldiers delayed the ambulance, during which time al Azza’s situation deteriorated. He eventually reached the hospital in critical condition, and soon afterwards doctors pronounced him dead.”

“Hundreds of Palestinians and internationals attended al Azza’s funeral Thursday afternoon, and a mourners’ tent has been set up for the next three days in Hebron’s University Graduates Hall. Al Azza was a well-known political militant, active in the local Hebron Defense Committee and in popular resistance against Israeli military and settler attacks. Al Azza and his family faced innumerable attacks by soldiers and settlers over the years as his family home is situated close to the Ramat Yishai settlement in downtown Hebron.”

“Al Azza worked closely with the Alternative Information Center (AIC), as he did with numerous Palestinian, Israeli and international associations promoting justice and human rights for the Palestinian people. He was a singular source of information about the explosive situation in downtown Hebron and was an essential stop during the solidarity visits of internationals to Hebron.
Despite the innumerable attacks by Israeli soldiers and settlers against him and his family, Hashem al Azza retained the spirit of resistance throughout his life. He was further a strong proponent of a life of equality and justice for Palestinians and Israelis. “I was born here, live here and will not leave here,” he used to say.”
Alternative News Al Azza

From Al Jazeera:

“Palestinian old man killed during al-Khalil clashes”

“A Palestinian old man died on Wednesday from excessive tear gas inhalation fired by Israeli occupation forces during clashes that erupted in al-Khalil.”

“The clashes erupted at Container checkpoint following the funeral of a Palestinian teen who was earlier shot and killed by Israeli gunfire.”

“The old man was identified as Hashem al-Azzeh. He was rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead after suffering from excessive tear gas inhalation.”
Al Jazeera Al Azza

Apparently 54 years of age is now old in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Living under occupation is a deadly (though preventable) chronic disease. Keeping it real, paying attention to the “facts on the ground,” stating the context. Keeping our humanity despite the very human tendency to blur death and catastrophe, I offer the following:

I would like to honor the memory of Hashem al-Azzeh by reprinting the blog essay I wrote reflecting on a tour of Hebron in January 2010.

The most painful part of this tour is the visit to Hisham’s friend, Hashem Azza, who not only cannot access his house from the main street, but also lives next to one of the most rabid anti-Palestinian settlers. He has been told, “If you want peace, go to Gaza, Egypt, Saudi Arabia,” has been cursed viciously, and particularly after the severe curfews from 2000-2003, many of his neighbors gave up and left. He states that there is a 90% poverty rate and minimal available employment. We clamber up a rocky hill, through several back yards and back stairs until we reach his home. He points to the stone stairs and garden that once were his backyard, but this has been repeatedly destroyed by his Jewish neighbors who not only have attacked his home and his family, but have also cut his fruit trees, water and electricity lines. They too throw garbage and once hurled a washing machine that we see rusting amongst the trees. Only recently has he acquired water again and we see a new bright blue pipe snaking through the various backyards. His little boy comes scampering outside chasing a pink ball, watched carefully by his wife. In his home he shares more horrifying personal stories, shows us a series of videos documenting racist, violent attacks against Palestinians, primarily women and children, often by settler women and children, with no response from the Israeli security nearby. A committed nonviolent activist, he and his wife and nephew have been personally attacked, their home repeatedly trashed, his children suffer from bedwetting and other signs of post traumatic stress disorder, and he has unsuccessfully pursued his case in Israeli courts. He is determined to persevere, to document the realities in his beloved city, and bring this to the attention of the international community. We listen stunned and drowning in shame, outrage, and heartbreak.

Our sobering taste of life in Hebron includes other devastating stories and the presence of Israeli guard towers, camouflage netting, checkpoints, a wall spray painted with graffiti that includes a tribute to the Golani brigade, one of the IDF’s most aggressively violent units, and to Betar, a rightwing youth organization. I pass a concrete block obstructing the road, spray painted with an arrow and the words: “This is apartheid.” There are occasional PA police, but the consensus is that they are mostly useless.

So what do we do with this shameful reality? While most Israelis do not support these settlers, they receive full support, protection and encouragement from the Israeli government and military, and this has not changed in the past 42 years, no matter who is in power. They have made the lives of the Palestinians in Hebron a living hell, and they have never been held accountable. This does not happen by accident. From the moment Goldstein massacred the Palestinians in the mosque, it was a political decision by the Israeli government to put the Palestinians under curfew and protect the Jewish settlers who now celebrate his murderous actions. While these settlers are clearly the most racist, religiously fanatic, possibly deranged, and fascistic element in Israeli society, they both use and are used by the government as a wedge in the never ending land grab and Judaization of the West Bank.
Alice Rothchild Al Azza

May you rest in peace, Hashem. It is now the task of the survivors, the truth tellers, the people who refuse to be silent or intimidated to continue the work that you inspired, the efforts that nourished and ultimately killed you.