President’s Column: NLG Fact-Finding Delegation to Palestine Invigorates Human Rights Efforts

By Azadeh Shahshahani

June 2014 – The Israeli security agent who called me into the room at the border crossing had pulled up on her computer screen an NLG statement on the launch of Palestine Solidarity Legal Support. She had also learned that the NLG has a Palestine Subcommittee with a clear stance in support of adherence to international human rights norms in Palestine and Israel. She further discovered that I had attended the World Social Forum, Free Palestine in Brazil on behalf of the NLG.

She was concerned about any “political” work that I was going to do in Palestine and Israel on this trip. Of course, she had reason to be concerned. Our delegation of five NLG members was there from May 18-24 to investigate the situation of Palestinian political prisoners. For some of us, this was our first trip and we wanted to learn more about the occupation and Palestinians’ resistance. Our trip also coincided with the hearing in the case brought by the Rachel Corrie family against the Israeli military for crushing her with a bulldozer as she was trying to protect the home of a Palestinian family from destruction.
They did all they could to keep us out. But after 12 hours and five separate rounds of questioning, I was finally able to secure a visa and soon joined the other delegation members in what was to be a powerful, intense, inspiring week for all of us. We found that the Israeli government uses various tools such as mass incarceration, land grabs, the Apartheid wall, significant monetary and military support for settlements, and check points to tightly control and oppress Palestinians. We saw institutionalized racism play out before our eyes.

But we were also deeply inspired by the everyday resistance of Palestinians through weekly protests, engaging in artwork, and simply staying put. As a picture at the offices of Stop the Wall Campaign proclaims: “To Exist is to Resist.”

As I write this column, between 125 and 250 Palestinian prisoners have been on hunger strike for more than 55 days. They started the strike to protest their indefinite detention without charge or trial. The Israeli government has not only failed to negotiate with the imprisoned Palestinians on their basic demands for human dignity, but has also put forward a measure to allow the force-feeding of prisoners.

In doing so, they have repeatedly cited Guantanamo as an example of a facility where force-feeding takes place on a daily basis. Of course, this is not the only perverse US influence, since the US government is also supporting the occupation to the tune of $3 billion dollars a year.

Everywhere we went in Palestine, people graciously shared their stories with us (deeply painful accounts like that of a young man who was shut by the Israeli military 65 times, a home destroyed, a family torn apart by repeated imprisonment for indefinite terms) and had just one request: “Please don’t stay silent about our treatment when you go back. Please tell Americans what is happening here.” Staying silent we shall not do.

I am deeply grateful for this experience. And I appreciate being involved with an organization that strikes fear in the hearts of Israeli government officials and other representatives of oppressive institutions. I look forward to seeing you at the Convention and sharing more about what we witnessed. And learning more about what groundbreaking work you and other fellow NLG members have been doing in the past year around the globe. This includes NLG members’ representation and advocacy on behalf of Chicago-based Rasmea Odeh.  This Palestinian community leader has been targeted by the US government for allegedly not reporting on her naturalization application that she was tortured and imprisoned by the Israeli government as a political prisoner in the 1970s.