Weaponless Warrior

Newport Beachs Radhika Sainaths War on Terrorism

To judge all Palestinians by the actions of the suicide bombers makes as much sense as saying all Americans are like Tim McVeigh. Along with the killings her Palestinian neighbors have endured, Sainath has seen them subjected to innumerable indignities, from beatings to having their dishes urinated on by troops during house searches to old men being forced to dance for the amusement of young soldiers at checkpoints. Even so, she says, most of the Palestinians she has met denounce the bombings and want only a just peace with their neighbors.

She is friends with and works with many Israelis who want the same. Among the troops she confronts, she says, there are bullies and racists, but there are also many people who question Israel's policies in Palestine.

"I go to Israel quite a bit, and there is far more concern and argument over the occupation, the illegal settlements and the brutality of the Israeli army there than there is in the United States," she said. "I think it's time Americans start reading more and informing themselves on the issues and about what's happening. Israel is violating the Geneva conventions. It is violating UN resolutions. We need to stop giving $2 billion per year to a country that practices state terrorism.

"Without justice, there can be no peace. [Ariel] Sharon is always demanding that Palestinians stop all terrorism before peace can be discussed. Of course, there is no justification for the attacks on Israeli civilians, but he won't recognize that there is Israeli state terror happening every day. How do you arrive at peace when, every day, the Israeli army is invading cities, tear-gassing children, posting roadblocks and killing Palestinians?"

Sainath says her parents back home, both doctors, have been supportive of her efforts. "But as time passed, they have started saying, 'Okay, you've been there for months. Come home now.' They especially did not want me here during the war with Iraq, when they worried about the stability of the region. They know it's important work, and they can legitimize it on an intellectual level, but sometimes they're worried about their daughter being in a dangerous situation."

She misses some amenities, such as indoor heating and not having to sleep five to a room. She's concerned that ISM members might be more of a target now that their losses have provoked so little outcry in the States. But she's staying put for the time being.

"I can see tangible results from my being here: ambulances that make it through checkpoints that might not otherwise, soldiers who behave more civilly. Individual soldiers don't want to look bad to Americans and Europeans. They believe they are the most humanitarian army in the world. Many of them have told me, 'Look what you Americans are doing in Iraq! When we were in Jenin, we only bulldozed 92 houses. We didn't bomb the whole city from the air.' They're proud of how good they are, and they're more inclined to be good when someone's watching. Being here, I think, helps to support the people who are looking for nonviolent ways of ending this occupation and finding peace."

You can check out ISM's website at www.palsolidarity.org.
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