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An Eye for an Eye?: Israel’s Attack on Aid Flotilla and One Protester’s Loss

June 2, 2010

If your Memorial Day was anything like mine, it wasn’t exactly a vacation. Early in the morning, investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald and others informed readers of an Israeli army attack Sunday night on a flotilla of relief ships in international waters. The convoy was carrying food, medicine, water purifiers and other aid to Gaza. The nearly seven hundred civilians on board included a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, European legislators and members of international relief organizations. Rather than waiting for the ship to reach shore, Israeli Defense Forces boarded one of the boats while it was still in international waters, an attack which resulted in at least ten civilian deaths and thirty injuries, a stark contrast to the zero IDF deaths and two injuries (exact numbers have yet to be ascertained as Israel is holding the members of the convoy incommunicado and refusing journalists access). While we were busy reading about the tragedy, others around the world were protesting. At a demonstration at Qalandiya checkpoint, an Israeli soldier shot twenty-one year old American Emily Henochowicz in the face with a tear gas canister. Blood streaming down her face, she was immediately rushed to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and underwent surgery to remove her left eye.

The tragedy upon the tragedy upon the tragedy? She is an artist. A student at New York’s Cooper Union, Henochowicz works in many media, from painting to drawing to animation. Her blog Thirsty Pixels’ “About Me” section reads “A Visual Adventure!” Visuality, needless to say, is key for all visual artists and the loss of sight, even if just in one eye, is no small matter. Unlike most of us, who recognize that our sight is slowly weakening over time, this loss for Emily came unexpectedly and suddenly. It will undoubtedly have a profound effect on both her artwork and her general way of life. By the looks of her Facebook page, Henochowicz was in Israel in order to study at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. Viewing her blog makes clear how thoroughly art permeated her life. We come across her whiteboard converted into a busy black and white Kandinsky-esque canvas at the whim of her dry erase marker wielding hand, her apartment similarly transformed a live 3D mural. Much of her work borders on abstraction and uses contrasting hard and soft edges to evoke space and depth. In many, she draws cartoonish figures, some resembling people in every day life, others completely fictional as if from another world altogether. Her work is certainly playful but it’s also morose. Many of the recent works on her website appear to be responses to her experiences as a pro-Palestinian activist in Israel. The caption to her Swing Diptych reads:

As we leave a demonstration that would ultimately end in arrests and beatings, two men obliviously chit-chat on tire swings.

Sheikh Jarrah
Amongst the chaos of the military and settler’s attempts to squander our ability to paint a mural, a little girl sadly sits on the swing set.”

Perhaps the most evocative piece posted in the last month, Bulldoze recalls the forced evacuations and demolitions of West Bank homes, an imperialistic move and fear tactic frequently employed by Israel on defenseless Palestinian families. It is also reminiscent of the numerous protests organized to combat these efforts and the struggles of those such as twenty-three year old American Rachel Corrie, who in 2003 was crushed to death by a bulldozer in one such protest. Though it is impossible to evaluate the damage done at this point and one assumes her experience was not nearly as drastic, it is unfortunate that Henochowicz has suffered a comparable violent attack.

Furthermore, recent events such as these remind us that what is happening on the West Bank and now in the international waters of the Mediterranean is not an isolated conflict between two equitable entities. When unarmed civilians are arrested and killed for attempting to deliver aid to a starving, poverty-stricken and illness-ridden territory and a twenty-one year old woman looses an eye when invoking her right to speak out, everyone is implicated. Yesterday, every member of the UN Security Council other than the United States condemned Israel’s actions, demanding explanation for its illegal boarding of an aid convoy and disproportionate use of force. Israel has been accused of piracy, murder and state terrorism. And despite all evidence pointing to the opposite, Israel is claiming self-defense, determined to deny the illegality of their actions and to hide behind their ally, the United States. It has seemed as if the plight of those permanently living in the zone of conflict has yet to be enough to stir up appropriate international resolve, but perhaps these most recent deaths and injuries of civilians will be. When the Hebrew saying “an eye for an eye” no longer appears to be figurative, it certainly seems time to bring an end to the fight.

  1. Rida permalink
    June 3, 2010 5:39 pm

    Unjustified. Unfair and Sad.

  2. Amy Littlefield permalink*
    June 4, 2010 12:23 pm

    Great post, Roxanne. You found a creative and poetic take on an act of aggression that was neither creative nor, unfortunately, particularly new. What frustrates me about the news coverage of this event is that the people on board the flotilla have been grilled about whether or not they were using improvised weapons to defend themselves against the IDF commandos, who were armed with guns. I don’t see how that can be an appropriate question, when a military unit boards a civilian aid ship in international waters. As you say, it’s a far cry from being “an isolated conflict between two equitable entities.” Horrifying.


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