Free Radicals

It was on the second Saturday in September, 2007, while in Arlington, Virginia, at George Mason University attending the 6th annual US Campaign to end the Israeli Occupation of Palestine, that I first heard someone say when they were asked their organizational affiliations, reply, “I am here as a free radical.”

Free radical, Keren Batiyov, is also a poet, writer, a nonviolent activist with ISM (International Solidarity Movement), and a Russian history maven. Keren was born and bred in a fundamentalist Christian home, but at the age of 40 connected with her Jewish roots and converted Jesus from God back into his originally understood role of divine prophet; and a prophet can best be understood as one who points out impending doom and provokes people to remember God.

However, for many years the existence of free radicals was dismissed as non-existent or just a curiosity. This view has changed; and currently the role of free radicals in many unexplained disease phenomena such as rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s, hypertension, heart disease, liver cell injury and cancers, is being met with growing enthusiasm by scientists and physicians alike, who seek to not just treat symptoms, but heal. Free Radicals live short intense lives and are highly reactive with most molecules. That includes DNA. Thus, free radicals can potentially alter one’s very core. Free Radicals are all on a mission to enter into another molecule in order to complete themselves by uniting with another cell’s electron. This action sets up a chain reaction that once begun will cascade and result in changes to a living cell. I wondered if perhaps Jesus could be considered a free radical too.

Jesus was never a Christian; in fact that term was not even coined until the days of Paul. Although no Christian, Jesus was a social justice, radical revolutionary Palestinian devout Jewish Road Warrior who challenged the job security of the Temple Priests by teaching the people they did not need to pay the priests for ritual baths or sacrificing livestock to be OK with God — for God LOVED them just as they were; sinners, outcasts, diseased, cripples, poor, oppressed widows, orphans, refugees and prisoners all enduring under Roman Occupation.

What got Jesus crucified was disturbing the status quo of the ROF (Roman Occupying Forces) by teaching such subversive concepts as Caesar only having had power because God allowed it and that God was on the side of the sinners, outcasts, diseased, cripples, poor, oppressed widows, orphans, refugees and prisoners all enduring under Roman Occupation.

The early followers and lovers of Jesus were called members of THE WAY; being THE WAY he taught one must be to be his sister and brother; which is that one is to do the WILL of the Father. It was the Hebrew prophet Micah who reminded the people, “What does God require? He has told you o’man! Be just, be merciful, and walk humbly with your Lord.” — Micah 6:8

2,000 years ago the cross had NO symbolic religious meaning. When Jesus said: “Pick up your cross and follow me” he was issuing a political statement. 2,000 years ago the main road to Jerusalem was filled with crucified rebels, dissidents, outlaws, outcasts and any other sinner, outcast, diseased, cripple, poor, oppressed person who disturbed the status quo of the elite ROF.

Keren said, “I associate Free Radicals-in the political sense-with Anarchism and a rejection of hierarchy and establishment authority. As a free radical I choose to work with groups whose goals are justice and peace.

“My graduate work was in Russian History, I was focused on the abuse of human rights, primarily as it affected the Jewish communities under the Russian Czars and the Soviet Union. I had spent three summers in Israel on archaeological excavations and after I finished my MA the rabbi at the Hillel Foundation asked me to be his Administrative Assistant, a position I held for two years. About 12 years later, I intuited I wasn’t hearing the entire story about Israel and the Palestinians — neither from my Jewish community, nor from the US media. It was then that I set out on a journey to read as much as I could on the subject. The more I read the more horrified and angry I became, and the more I began to speak out. I was working for a Jewish organization at the time,… essentially, the Jewish lobbying agency for Pennsylvanians. I was told by my executive director, after a letter to the editor that was published in the local Jewish newspaper in which I called Israel to account for its human rights abuses that I could either shut up or lose my job.

“Because I had no other job to go to and no resources to fall back on I remained in that job another year. I was careful about what I said, and where I said it, if I thought there was a member of the establishment Jewish community present. I maintained my activism by writing letters to editors of papers out of town, giving money to justice organizations, and reading my poetry at poetry readings. It was during that time that I also encountered the writings of Jewish Liberation Theologian, Marc Ellis. I was so taken by his writing — he said everything that I was thinking only much more eloquently and his thoughts were much more developed.

“Marc Ellis coined the term ‘Constantinian Judaism’ and is a Jewish Liberation Theologian — what he thinks and writes is drawn from the prophets — in other words, the prophetic tradition of Judaism — the tradition that says that you stand for and with the oppressed, whoever and wherever they are. What Christian Liberation Theology says that Jesus taught — a preferential option for the poor and oppressed, Jewish Liberation Theology draw the same teaching from the prophets.

This year Keren has stood up with the women from Machsom Watch/Checkpoint Watch and with ISM; both nonviolent resistance groups against the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.

In January 2001, Machsom Watch was birthed in response to the Al Aqsa Intifada when repeated reports in the press were published regarding human rights abuses of Palestinians crossing at army and border police checkpoints. The excessive Israeli response to the Palestinians responding to Ariel Sharon’s provocative walk upon the Dome of The Rock, led to increasingly prolonged closures and sieges of villages and towns in the West Bank, which then provided the stimulus and the motivation for what at first seemed an impossible mission, but was accepted by three women — Ronnee Jaeger, a long time activist with experience of human rights work in Guatemala and Mexico, Adi Kuntsman a feminist scholar who emigrated from the former Soviet Union in 1990 and veteran activist Yehudit Keshet, an orthodox Jewess — the founders of Machsom Watch. Today over 400 radical sisters have united in solidarity to monitor the behavior of Israeli soldiers and police at the checkpoints and they interact and speak out when ever they see an infringement upon the human and civil rights of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Machsom Watch women are all Israeli and most are mature, professional women whose persistent nonviolent presence at the checkpoints are a form of direct challenge and civil disobedience against the injustices of the Military Occupation of Palestine, which has entered its 40th year.

Keren and I have both been questioned regarding our eye witness reports from occupied territory. We both have been accused of being ‘used’ by Palestinians. Keren remarked, “As if I am not capable of clear and independent thought and assessment! As if what I saw and experienced was not valid or were “merely” aberrations. As if the Israeli soldiers were only “acting” in a play produced by Palestinians! Here is a [partial] report written by women from Machsom Watch, three of the four I know from going with them to the checkpoints.”

Huwara Checkpoint, Saturday September 29, 2007

Observers: Vivi Suri, (photos), Tamar Goldschmidt, Hava Halevi, Aya Baker Kaniuk (reporting)

Saturday, the Ramadan month of fasting. The checkpoint is as it always is. Cruel and mean. The soldiers, as all soldiers are. Young, cruel and racist. Their minds poisoned in the name of their parents and country and needs of the herd, to check and curb people’s movement…

I shall tell especially one thing of this ugly and depressing afternoon, so similar and different and yet similar to everything that typifies occupation and oppression and incarceration and abuse as a method and a goal in itself.

In the denial of life, enclosing people in enclaves amongst which there are checkpoints and roads for Jews only, there are these junctions, checkpoints, ‘passages’ which attract various venders to try and sell things. Mostly these are people with different vocations who have been prevented from practicing their trade by the ever-worsening rules of separation and oppression.

People who are trying to provide for their families, usually large ones, and earn a pittance. For the terrible economic situation does not enable them to charge much. No one can afford much. Still, in spite of everything, people sometimes do need a cup of coffee or some humus or diapers. And at the exit points from the checkpoints, before they board taxis on their way anywhere, they sometimes buy something. It’s good for the venders, of course, and good for the taxi drivers who usually have to wait around for hours, and good for the passers-by who have also been waiting for hours to be allowed through.

What is wrong with this? Precisely for this reason, namely that this is a last meager resort to earn and provide some relief for the passers-by, and the possibility for drivers to relax over a cup of coffee once in a while — this is just the reason to inflict harm precisely upon this miserable population.

After all, if any of them were suspect in the eyes of the Occupation, they would long since be arrested and investigated. But they are not. They must not earn a living. This is the rule of Occupation. And the means…It has become routine. It is not a whim, not a single incident perpetrated by some cruel individual soldier. It is policy. To prevent the venders from making a living.

Why? Because they are needy. That is the reason.

At points of need, the Jewish imagination is mobilized for prevention. Thus, too, the DCO (district coordination office), the very place that is supposed to provide answers to people under occupation, that acknowledges its duty to maintain the lives of occupied civilians, be driven by “relatively humane” and humanitarian motives, even in a state of war. It is the very center and brain of the prevention system [and] of its sinister nature and terrifying stranglehold.

And it is the very center for recruitment of collaborators.

Through the cynical use of sweeping, targeted prevention, and the fact that it is the only venue where Palestinians are allowed to appeal to for their everyday needs, the DCO has turned into the perfect place to demand of people to betray their own, in order to obtain even the slightest minimum.

The greater the need, the greater the possibility to pressure them. The DCO offices are synonymous with the GSS (General Security Service). That is where it sits. These are the inquisitors in a “humane” guise. Humaneness is only the non-essential language. What could be more sophisticated? If a person wants to apply for a permit to build a house, he must turn to the DCO, and of course not receive such a permit because he is Palestinian.

That is the root of it all. But then his address is already known so his house can be demolished as soon as it goes up. And if someone is ill with cancer and wants to go to another town where he is not allowed to go by the laws of separation, all the better. Ample reason to ask of him one thing or the other. And then he will pass. For prevention is methodical control and pressure which has not a thing to do with security. It is the distilled embodiment of evil. The army’s “humanitarian” hotline is the DCO. The place that constitutes one of the centers of oppression, or organizing apartheid, of administering the destruction of Palestinian society — is the one and only place to which they are to turn. It is so cynical and sophisticated and so very awful.

In Huwara…they live in dire poverty. However impoverished everyone is, there are the poorer poor, and such is this family of seven children, originally from the Jenin area. The main bread-earners are the eldest son, 16-year old Nizar, and 12-year old Mu’atasssem. The livelihood of the entire family rests on the shoulders of these two children. They earn no more than 50 shekel a day, usually less than 20. If the two children earn nothing, then there is nothing to buy food with.

Little terror squads of one-two-three soldiers venture out to hunt down the vendors.

These children usually sell tea and coffee. That’s it. They have already been beaten before. Soldiers have spilt their sugar and water and coffee on the ground. Every soldier and his own special fancy…

…There are those who beat, and those who keep silent, and those who are detained in the concrete cell for hours or placed in the sun on purpose or just yelled at that if they don’t get the hell out their wares will end up on the ground, and those who listen to their I-Pod as though there is no world around them.

I don’t usually harbor feelings of vengeance. It is not my nature. Not even against the bad guys. But I do admit that at times I need for all of them, down to the last one, everyone partaking in this sinister regime, all these young executioners, “our soldiers”, to be denied entry when they will be boarding the plane on their way to the standard post-army treks in India and South America. And that no university will ever admit whoever took part in this sinister war against another people only because it is another people. At least this.

Saturday was such a day. We did not see anyone get shot, nor beaten, nor shackled. There were only young men with helmets and guns who prevented people from moving in their land and home for their everyday needs, from going to school or the doctor or the garage to visiting their elderly sister; only if they fit today’s passage criteria. And even so, not everyone.

What criteria can be worthy to not allow someone to breathe, to live, to raise children, to eat? Why can a person who dwells elsewhere not be allowed to visit his father who lives here? Why?

Very simply, for hurt is the purpose and not the symptom. And so that at the juncture points of permit applications needed for the most trivial, minimal thing, it will be possible to recruit collaborators. The first and foremost method of destroying life texture is to poison people’s ability to trust each other.

Under such dreadful conditions of pressure, the likelihood that a neighbor or friend has been pushed into acting against his people is enormous. It is also human. And thus, you can no longer let go with one another, for who knows, perhaps the other has already received his permit and more than anything that arouses suspicion…

And he, the one who receives his permit, is sometimes more suspect than everyone else, for how did he do it? What did he tell the ‘captain’? Who knows… And so even receiving permits is problematic, and w without them nothing is possible…

A few days ago the brothers sold diapers, for during the Ramadan fast there is no demand for coffee. Again, Nizar and Mu’atassem. Soldier Israel took the bag of diapers and hit 16-year old, epileptic Nizar on the head. Then soldier Alex took skinny little Mu’atassem and said, I’ll cut off your head and tongue. They spent four and a half hours in the holding cell, standing for there is no room to sit.

Today the mother was on her way back from Nablus and happened to be there just as her sons’ cart was being kicked over. Soldier Israel and another. Three cartons, each containing 72 glasses made of glass. It’s Ramadan so they’re not selling food or beverages. Everything fell and broke. All the money was gone. She came running, crying, gripped the soldier, and one of the soldiers threatened her face with his M-16, the other pushed her from the side with his rifle butt, and she said to him: “Shoot me. Death’s better”, and they continued pushing her with their rifle butts, and she took the children and went off, and they did not shoot her…

These children are not the only children vendors at Huwara checkpoint whom the Israeli army brutes harass. There are also adults. We have written about them again and again. For as I said, this is what the soldiers were sent here to do. And do with zest. Some have dashed the vendors’ bread on the ground into the dirt. Poured out cooled drinks. Not all soldiers beat them. Some only say, “Git! Split! Get out of here!” Some draw a line in the dirt and say, ‘Don’t cross this line!” Some kick. And some do it with their rifle butts. On that day at the checkpoint some people were detained in the concrete cell because their name bingo-ed on the computer list. Some tried to bypass and some were “cheeky”, meaning they did not look submissively at the ground while being checked. Some were caught leaning “too long” on the concrete side ledge.

…this Saturday shift, as any other day, is that the soldiers of the Israeli army stood there according to their nature and the instructions of the day and abused the Palestinian people because [they are] Palestinian.


Keren and Mark Ellis are among the many world renowned speakers who will be at Baylor University October 11-14, 2007 for a Liberation Theology Conference

Eileen Fleming is the author of Keep Hope Alive and Memoirs of a Nice Irish American Girl's' Life in Occupied Territory and the producer of 30 Minutes With Vanunu. Email her at Read other articles by Eileen, or visit Eileen's website.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. DEB-Z said on October 5th, 2007 at 9:20pm #

    Also conference date;
    In Defense of Academic Freedom
    Oct 12, 2007 2-7PM
    Rockefeller Chapel, Univ Chicago

    This was a very informative article.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  2. eileen fleming said on October 6th, 2007 at 7:06am #

    And another Conference:

    Boston Sabeel Conference to explore “The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel” with Desmond Tutu, Naim Ateek, John Dugard, and Noam Chomsky

    Archbishop Desmond Tutu will address the theme “The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel: Highlighting Issues of Justice and Equality” at a Sabeel Conference in Boston Oct. 26 – 27. The event at Old South Church will feature lectures and panel discussions looking at ways the South African apartheid model of ethnic/racial segregation is applied in Palestine today.

    Participants will discuss the moral issues of confronting and dismantling apartheid-like policies Israel administers in the occupied Palestinian lands and the emerging role of social movements and the U.S. government in addressing injustice. The conference will culminate in a peace rally in Copley Square organized by the Boston chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.

    According to The Rev. Richard Toll, Friends of Sabeel-North America chair, “A serious public discussion of the apartheid-like nature of policies imposed on Palestinians by Israel really got off the ground in the United States with the publication last year of Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Ironically it was a group of Israelis in Jerusalem and Haifa who first organized a campaign to oppose Israel’s apartheid policies in 2000, following the breakdown of the Oslo Accords and the eruption of the second Palestinian intifada. The campaign to end Israeli apartheid has since become an international grassroots effort.”

    Also scheduled to speak in Boston are:

    § The Rev. Naim Ateek, Palestinian Anglican priest and founder of Sabeel;

    § John Dugard, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian occupied territories;

    § Noam Chomsky, linguist, author and lecturer;

    § Diana Buttu, litigator in the 2004 case at the Hague which indicted Israel’s separation wall;

    § Anat Biletzki, human rights activist, former head of B’Tselem, IsraeliInformationCenter for Human Rights;

    § Farid Esack, South African Muslim theologian currently at HarvardUniversity;

    § Jeff Halper, coordinator of The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions in Jerusalem;

    § The Rev. Donald Wagner, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, NorthparkUniversity, Chicago;

    § Noura Erekat, initiator of the first campaign promoting divestment from Israel, at UC Berkeley;

    § Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies fellow;

    § Nancy Murray of the US Campaign to End Israeli Occupation;

    § The Rt. Rev. Thomas Shaw, Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts; and

    § David Wildman, Executive Director for Human Rights & Racial Justice, General Board of Global Ministries, United MethodistChurch.

    For instructions on registering online, by mail or by phone: