Speaking Out, Risking A Lot

“Why did you go to the Miami Herald? What could you possibly gain unless you were seeking publicity?” asked a former colleague. Indeed, why would a Jewish day school teacher go public with pro-Palestinian comments in the first place? After all, I risked termination and the alienation of the school’s parents, my colleagues, and possibly even students. Although I attacked Israel’s ongoing brutal occupation policies in a subscriber-only e-mail forum, my commentaries, intended for a partisan readership, ultimately were made known to the school courtesy of Orwellian-like anonymous monitors on the same web site (www.pmwatch.org). The monitors’ decision to publicize my extemporaneous and admittedly inflammatory remarks, and their threat to picket and disrupt the school, led to a mutually agreed upon decision to part ways.

So why did I take this course of action, and why go public? I spoke out from the privacy of my home because it was and remains the right course of action. People always say “stand up what for what you believe.” It is not enough to stand up for what you believe, but rather to stand for what is right and just. For example, Buford O. Furrow, Timothy McVeigh, Slobodan Milosevic, and Leah Tsemel have all stood for what they believe, but only Tsemel’s stance is right and just. Leah Tsemel is an Israeli civil rights attorney and a tireless defender of Palestinian rights.

Though I taught at a religious school, I criticized a foreign secular state whose thirty-four year occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem violates U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, and several other international conventions. However, the complexity of international law aside, the real concern is the ongoing human tragedy of occupation. Occupation is never a pleasant phenomenon; the soul of both the occupied and occupier are damaged. In his classic essay, “Shooting An Elephant,” George Orwell wrote about the role of the British imperial police in India: “I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys … [h]e becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy … so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.” Israel is now wearing this mask, but behind the tyrant’s mask is a tormented nation whose anger and confusion threatens a catastrophe for both Israelis and Palestinians.

I cannot remain silent while Israel’s ruthless occupation policies crush any hopes of a Palestinian state or thwart a move towards democratic pluralism and the creation of a future nation-state called Israel-Palestine. Israel’s insistence on being the State of the Jewish people but not the state of all its citizens, Arab as well as Jew, is a recipe for disaster. Despite all the historical injustices of the Gentile world, and the many outrages committed against them by Palestinian terrorism, Israeli Jews are not entitled to act with impunity as they attempt to subdue a people. For an evil committed against one group is an evil against all of us. Israel’s wholesale policy of state terrorism far exceeds the deadly but retail terrorism of desperate Palestinians who have lost all hope. Amnesty International (10/19/00), Human Rights Watch (10/17/00), the U.N. Human Rights Commission (11/27/00), Physicians for Human Rights (11/3/00), B’Tselem (12/6/00), the U.N. Security Council (10/7/00), and the US State Department’s Annual Human Rights Survey have all condemned Israel for excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force.

Consider the enormous price paid by Israel and the pain inflicted on Palestinians:

I could go on about faceless victims, but instead, let us consider two Palestinians: Amira Abu Seif and Na’eem Bani Jame. Both lost their lives at IDF checkpoints on March 13 and 14, respectively. Amira, 48, was a diabetic in need of emergency hospitalization and Na’eem, 39, a father of five, suffered a heart attack that required emergency treatment. Neither was permitted immediate passage to area hospitals. Such brutality by a nation made up of people who know the depths of human evil is unforgivable. For this and many other cruelties, I spoke out. And because of these cruelties, I make no apologies for supporting Palestinians’ right to resist occupation with violence, a right enshrined in international law.

I may have lost a teaching job, most certainly many friends among my former colleagues, but it is nothing compared to the suffering and losses experienced daily by millions of Palestinians. Because of this, I was willing to risk a lot.

Mr. Michael Lopez-Calderon taught High School Social Studies in Miami, Florida for seven years until March 2, 2001, when he was asked to leave the Jewish Day school where he had taught for the past five years. Michael was asked to leave for having posted pro-Palestinian comments on Palestine Media Watch’s subscriber-only e-mail. He remains an activist in the Miami area.