Growing number of courageous Israelis taking to the streets
No 464 Posted by fw, April 25, 2012
This is Terry Benninga’s story, the story of one “ordinary” woman who stands up for that in which she believes, despite having been brought up to “respect and obey authority.” Her two young adult children, Sarah and Zvi, are activists who protest against Israeli laws that permit the occupation of Palestinian homes by Israeli settlers. Terry reluctantly joined them, at first to protect them, and then because she felt she must take a stand against what she feels are unfair policies and actions of the Israeli government.
Special thanks to Brazilian filmmaker Julia Bacha of JustVision who asks why we only pay attention to violence in the Israel-Palestine conflict — and not to the Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent leaders who may one day bring peace.
Here is Julia’s 8-minute clip of Terry Benninga telling her amazing story of how Israeli injustice drove her to risk her personal freedom in order to make a point. My transcript, with added subheadings and text highlighting, follow the video.
Portraits from Sheikh Jarrah – Terry Benninga, uploaded by JustVisionMedia, October 11, 2011
<On-screen text> — Since 2008, Israeli settlers have evicted dozens of Palestinians from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. With Israeli courts backing the settlers’ claims, hundreds of other residents now face the same threat. In response, Palestinians in East Jerusalem are on the front lines struggling to reclaim their homes and stop the settlers. They are joined by a growing number of Israelis who are taking to the streets.
“It was that sense of wanting to be where my kids were in danger”
Terry Benninga — I grew up in a middle class Jewish home in St Louis. When I met my husband he was just about to graduate university and come to Israel. And it was like, well, you know, I’ll go check it out. So that’s how I arrived here on the last day of 1969. And I immediately felt comfortable here. Zvi and Sarah are two of my three children. They have an older brother and then Sarah and then Zvi.
I heard about Sheikh Jarrah from Zvi and Sarah. And I myself, I didn’t go near there. It sounded dangerous. It sounded like, you know, I mean I just didn’t take that much of an interest in it. Zvi, in particular, encouraged me to get more informed and maybe to start coming. But it was also like the mother part of me that was concerned about her children. And I knew they were subject to some arrest and some police violence. So I went also partially to be watching… not that I could have done anything for them. But it was that sense of wanting to be where my kids were in danger.
“Once you know that you no longer have the luxury of ignorance then the feeling is you have to take a stand.”
I think in general people are intimidated or suspicious about going into East Jerusalem. I’m not a political person and I’m not an activist type. That’s not who I am. But once you know that you no longer have the luxury of ignorance then the feeling is you have to take a stand. Sheikh Jarrah for me is in a way a very simple issue because it’s so based on human rights.
Sarah Benninga speaking in Hebrew with on-screen subtitles – A few words of explanation for those who don’t know. Several Palestinian families lived here until they were evicted for the benefit of settlers.
<On-screen text> — November 3, 2009, Settlers take over a section of El-Kurd’s home in Sheikh Jarrah.
“Settlers come and say, this was Jewish land before 1948 and the law allows them to demand it back”
Sarah subtitles– Settlers rely on the fact that in Israel there are unfair laws that discriminate between Jews and Palestinians. So settlers come and say, this was Jewish land before 1948 and the law allows them to demand it back. But Palestinians have no law to turn to. They can’t even submit a request to claim this land.
“The Sheikh Jarrah situation reminds me… of those first people that sat in on the lunch counters in America”
Terry – It’s just like what are you trying to do here? What can you get? What are you going to maintain by force? A Jewish presence in predominantly Arab neighbourhoods. How can you live like that?
The Sheikh Jarrah situation reminds me of other situations over the years in different parts of world where it speaks so much to the heart of the society that you live in. Like those first people that sat in on the lunch counters in America because the laws in America were discriminatory. So there was no choice but to call attention to this out-and-out legal discrimination.
We’re talking about how are society is relating to other groups of people in the society based on law. You know, laws which themselves need to be rewritten or struck down. So it’s really like not a hard issue to decide where you stand – if you stop to think about it.
“This is a confrontational situation where you’re basically telling the authority that they’re not okay”
When I first started going to Sheikh Jarrah it was very hard for me because I think I’m a person who was raised to be obedient to authority. And so, again, this is a confrontational situation where you’re basically telling the authority that they’re not okay and you’re willing to risk your personal freedom in order to make your point. And I found this very upsetting. And I would go there and I would feel the tears welling up in my eyes.
The police were so bent on squashing this. I was there once when Sarah was with the megaphone –
<Sarah subtitles> – We’re demonstrating, asking to enter the neighbourhood.
<Police with megaphone subtitles> — You have 5 minutes to go back
“Suddenly it’s like I’m an enemy of the state and my kids, too”
Terry – And they went right for her. It was very frightening to see… here it is, this country where I’ve come to live and suddenly the police… like I’m an enemy of the state? How is that possible? I’m law-abiding. I pay my taxes. I live in Jerusalem. I put up with whatever I put up with. I contribute whatever I can. And suddenly it’s like I’m an enemy of the state and my kids, too.
Sarah subtitles – She’s hurting me. I didn’t do anything.
“In Israel, the right thing means going to Sheikh Jarrah”
Terry – I never thought my children would be arrested. Actually, where their activism comes from I don’t know. I think it just comes perhaps from a family that always has tried to do the right thing. And in Israel, the right thing means going to Sheikh Jarrah.
Zvi subtitles – Sheikh Jarrah. Don’t despair. We will end the occupation.
Terry – I keep going because it’s the very least I can do. I think it’s very, very little. But it is something.
A Just Vision Film www.justvision.org 2011
- Zvi Benninga, Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, uploaded by WeAreNIF, November 4, 2011, a 5:27-minute video of an interview with Terry’s son, Zvi Benninga, an activist member of the New Israel Fund (NIF). NIF engages progressive supporters of Israel in their 20s and 30s dedicated to strengthening Israel’s democracy and promote justice and equality for all.