A US veteran reflects on protesting alongside Palestinian human rights activists in Hebron


Last month I was in Palestine with a delegation from Veterans For Peace. I’ve been on several such delegations over the past year, traveling with VFP to stand in solidarity with resistance movements against occupation, oppression and militarism in Japan, in the US and, in February and March, in Palestine. To be on the other side of the rifle barrel, to go from being occupier to being in support and in line with those resisting those with the guns has been humbling and rewarding, and I say that with the full knowledge that their resistance is very far from over and that their resistance is not my struggle but theirs, and, at most, I can only support and stand with them.

Below is an article I wrote about one experience myself and my comrades from VFP and CODEPINK had in Hebron in the occupied West Bank. In particular I speak of Issa Amro, known as the “Palestinian Gandhi”. Those of you who know me personally can attest to my cynicism and my self described black heart, so I think you’ll find it striking the enthusiasm and praise I offer for an individual. However, Issa Amro is a transformational leader and, as I explain in the essay, that is why the Israeli government, and the United States government, is afraid of him.

You can see video of the encounter in Hebron here.


Before joining the hundreds of other marchers, VFP links arms with Issa as noon prayers come to a close in Hebron. Credit: Ellen Davidson

I hadn’t been shot at in seven and a half years. In the week prior, some tear gas cans were fired by the Israeli army at my fellow Veterans For Peace members and me in the Palestinian town of Bil’in. But for a former tough guy Marine, that doesn’t count.

Hebron was different.

For over a decade, peaceful, non-violent Palestinian residents of Hebron, along with friends and allies from Palestine, Israel, and foreign countries, have marched through the streets of Hebron annually to demand the re-opening of their former main market place on Shuhada Street. What many hope is one of the several first steps in a process to restore dignity and human rights to the Palestinian people.

Each year the peaceful march is stopped violently by the Israeli military and police forces, as similar non-violent resistance is violently met by the Israeli military and police forces throughout all of occupied Palestine.

At this year’s march, my comrades and I, including organizers of the march, were roughly one-third of the way from the head of the protest of several hundred people, and, when we wound through the streets of Hebron, linked arm in arm, and made blind turns, walking deeper into the old city. As we descended down a hill and bent to the left, weapons were fired and the crowd came back toward us.

Explosions from concussion grenades echoed off the concrete streets and stone buildings, and the white wispy fingers of tear gas followed the crowds. The gas soon ballooned into thicker clouds of chalky white. My mate on my right arm, I now know is no simple activist. Issa Amro is his name and he said “let’s go”, and we did. Through the tear gas and toward the gun line of the Israeli army and police, we went.

Issa leads us towards the Israeli Army and Border Police troops, with Will Griffin, Mike Hanes, Tarak Kauff and Ariel Gold (CODEPINK) credit: Ellen Davidson

Amro scares Israel. If the Trump administration weren’t so ignorant and arrogant Amro would rightly scare them as well because he is an archetype of popular non-violent leadership against oppression, occupation and fascism. Recognized as a Human Rights Defender by the European Union, Amro is currently facing 18 charges in an Israeli military court. These charges are largely nonsense, meant to silence Amro and take him away from being a witness to the world and prevent his role in fighting for a Free Palestine.

In a report issued last November, Amnesty International stated: “The deluge of charges against Issa Amro does not stand up to any scrutiny,” and the group noted that some of the charges were previously made against him and already dismissed, were charges for which he was not physically present. Or, they were charges for actions that are not internationally recognizable criminal offenses. Amro is a very real threat to Israel, and if it—a racist apartheid state— is not to go the way of the Jim Crow South or pre-1994 South Africa, then it must do everything it can to silence him.

Amro works professionally as an electrical engineer. From what I understand, he’s a pretty good one, as he travels and lectures on the subject internationally. It was while studying electrical engineering at college when the Israeli military closed his university. Amro started then as a leader of the Palestinian nonviolent resistance. At his school, he led his fellow students who remained on campus to sleep there in protest until the military left. The Israeli forces relented, and the university was reopened. Issa understood the asymmetric power of nonviolent resistance, the moral authority of it, and he began to study the classic leaders of non-violent resistance and change so that he could lead and inspire his own people in their struggle for freedom. He started his organization Youth Against Settlements in Hebron a decade ago, founded a kindergarten, and is in the process of opening a cinema. He is constantly targeted and harassed by the Israeli military and settlers in Hebron and throughout Palestine, and, for good reason, he is incredibly effective.

I spent ten years in the Marine Corps. I went to Iraq twice and Afghanistan once. I’ve traveled a lot, been on television, and for a time revolved in a world of big shots and important people in Washington DC and New York City. But true leaders, people whose presence is unordinary, occur less often than we would like and, as we in America know, selfless and dedicated leaders cannot be manufactured by the military rank on one’s shoulder, the attention of a TV camera lens, or the ballots of voters.

In Hebron, I was with a leader. Amro said “let’s go, “and we went, into the gas and towards the guns of a fascist state, towards an Israeli military that wantonly kills Palestinians not just without repercussion, but also with the conscious financial reward of my own government.


The gas was too much for us on that first attempt to reach the army and police line, an effort we were making just to speak with them. We retreated, back up the street from where we came, our eyes sealing shut, our chests convulsing, and everything else burning from the gas. We regrouped around a corner where a fortunate breeze helped dissipate the gas. Between the seven members of Veterans For Peace, we had nearly 60 years of military service between us. We all looked to Amro.

A few minutes passed, the street below us was quiet, no one else continued to march, no one else was making a move to restore the lost dignity and rights to the people of Hebron. “Let’s go,” Issa said again. And we went. We linked arms again, down the hill and around the bend towards the gun line of the Israeli police and the army. No words from the army or police, no movement at all from them. As we got closer some shouts from us, “we are unarmed,” “we want to talk.” Those of us whose arms weren’t linked had hands and fists raised in the air, perhaps to show defiance, but also to show our absence of weapons and to plead with the soldiers and police not to shoot.

Halfway down the street, maybe 50 yards after the turn, the first tear gas cans rush directly over our heads. The cans are fired level at us so that we were forced to duck. If struck in the head or chest, we could be killed. Many Palestinians have died that way, on our trip I met the relatives of several who were murdered in that manner. Amro doesn’t duck. He stood tall, said, “Don’t do that” and kept us advancing. As we moved, having to duck further, we were fortunate that the gas canisters, just several feet off the ground, passed wide of us. The gas, some from American corporations, is more powerful than the human body and we had to retreat once again.

Forced to leave the street Issa still tries to conduct a dialogue with the Israeli security forces. Credit: Ellen Davidson

And here it is. Here is why Israel is scared of Amro. After ten minutes, when the gas wore off because that magnificent and benevolent breeze has worked its wonders, we walked for a third time to that same gun line. The army and police have killed people in Hebron, they have done so routinely and often; the murder of a wounded Palestinian by an Israeli soldier in Hebron has recently been one of the major news stories in Israel and Palestine. A costume of the soldier who murdered the Palestinian was a top choice among Israelis for the Purim holiday.

Often at demonstrations, after the gas and the concussion grenades are used and a greater degree of force is desired, the Israeli army and police will add the use of live and rubber ammunition. This is something we witnessed them do in the village of Nabi Saleh the following week—for those of you who have not been gassed in Palestine, the gas the Israeli army and police forces use is of a potency well beyond anything any of us in Veterans For Peace had ever encountered in the U.S. military, or U.S. law enforcement—At that point Israeli army and police had shot directly at us, and we were lucky not to have been severely injured or killed. Although there was a very strong possibility that we would now encounter rubber bullets or live ammunition. Yet we went back onto to the street because Amro led us there once more.

Me after the second gassing. It would take more than five minutes for me to be able to open my eyes and begin to function again. What we had been told that the Israelis use the Palestinians as a weapons laboratory I can attest to. Credit: Ellen Davidson

The Israeli army and police held their fire this time and we reached their line where we encountered a heavily armed and armor plated phalanx comprised primarily of apparent scared and confused 18 and 19-year old conscripted soldiers and border police officers. Nothing came of our attempts to speak with the army and police, as they quickly deployed squads to raid Palestinian homes, which punished the residents of the city for the actions of those who demanded dignity and human rights that day.

It was by no means a wasted effort to have endured the gas to reach their line, as I now understand very well that it is madness to assume that Israel’s occupation can endure, particularly if it were to ever lose its backing from its patron the U.S. As we stood in front of those young, terrified boys and girls, some not much bigger than the rifles they carried, the actuality of the legendary and mythic “Israeli Defense Forces” was evidently morally and ethically haphazard, and the folly of the occupation was too clear.

Israel is dependent on a massive infusions of cash and patronage from one of the wealthiest nations in the world, as political shielding from—well deserved—sanctions that the near entirety of the rest of the world seeks to enact against the Israeli government as a response to the decades-long Israeli governmental crimes against the Palestinian people. To keep control within its borders and within the lands it illegally occupies, Israel must heavily arm tens of thousands of teenagers, many of whom have no interest in the fundamentalist, sexist and racist views of the far hard right in Israel, a nationalist movement that takes orders from an invisible real estate agent in the sky who demands the theft and occupation of Palestinian lands. Such a position is morally bankrupt, strategically impossible and bound to collapse. Dissolution of America’s support of Israel’s apartheid and occupation is the most important element in this eventual collapse.

Desperation is now clear in Israel’s actions, how else to describe the bill passed this past week to ban the Muslim call to prayer?

VFP member Tarak Kauff approaches Israeli forces for a third time. We were unsure if they would escalate and utilize rubber or live ammunition as they have in the past, and as they used in other locations during our delegation to Palestine. Watching Tarak and the other members of our team still go forward, despite this knowledge, will stick with me for the remainder of my life. Credit: Ellen Davidson

Men and women, like Amro were raised under occupation, harassed, silenced, humiliated, arrested, imprisoned, beaten, and tortured. Every action the government of Israel can take to keep alive the occupation and the apartheid state, they have been on the receiving end.

When Dick Cheney spoke of going to “the dark side” I now no longer believe he spoke of Star Wars, but believe he was referencing the policies of Israel. What has occurred has not been a stamping out of a Palestinian people, a destruction of the Palestinian nation, or a subdued land of collaborationists and cowards. Rather Israel’s terrorism has grown a generation of non-violent popular leaders.

Throughout our time with the non-violent popular resistance in Palestine we met and worked with men and women committed to restoring dignity and human rights to their people. Many of them were of the caliber, temperament and quality of Amro: able to inspire, capable of transferring confidence and infusing hope. These Palestinian men and women are what terrify Israel; and as the Trump administration moves further along a path akin to Israel’s, President Trump and his legions will see as well a rise of such leaders from within the American people—of that I am sure.

Israel is pursuing its charges against Amro in military court. A petition has been started to remind the United Nations that Amro is a designated and recognized international human rights defender and as such, the United Nations, and its member states, have certain obligations to him.

Please take a moment to add your name to the petition and then share it with your friends and allies. Amro is a tremendous leader and he, like many other, will end the occupation of Palestine through their non-violent resistance, so long as we follow them, support them and stand with them.


Another Petition, this Time, Sadly, it Needs to be for Iraq

I have a petition going through MoveOn.org urging President Obama to not involve the US militarily in Iraq, but to pressure Nouri Maliki’s government to enact political reforms to address the underlying Sunni grievances of disenfranchisement and marginalization. Amazing, over ten years later and we have seemed to have learned nothing.

If you want to have your voice heard, please contribute your name to this petition. Last I checked we had nearly 70,000 signatures.

For my conservative friends who don’t want to sign something put out by MoveOn, I haven’t seen anything from any conservative groups at this point urging against US military intervention in Iraq. If there is something out there, please direct me to it, or if you know of an organization willing to put out something on Iraq, please let me know, I’m happy to help them too. We don’t need further loss of American lives in wars overseas nor do we need to continue our Nation’s inept, and deadly, meddling abroad. Partisanship should not supersede such sense.


Tell President Obama and Congress: Keep America Out Of Iraq!
Petition by Matthew Hoh

To be delivered to The United States House of Representatives, The United States Senate, and President Barack Obama

President Obama and Congress, don’t take new military action in Iraq. The solution to the chaos is not another American military intervention, including bombing strikes. President Obama was right to end the Iraq War in 2011, and it would be a tremendous mistake to restart it now.
There are currently 69,917 signatures. NEW goal – We need 75,000 signatures!
PETITION BACKGROUND Fallujah. Mosul. Baghdad.

Hearing these names again sends a chill down my spine. As a Marine who served in Iraq, I know well the bloody costs paid by Americans and by Iraqis in these and so many other cities over the past decade. I have friends who to this day remain on the front lines of a sectarian conflict that is tearing their homeland apart. And I am saddened to see the renewed and growing violence once again gripping Iraq.

But I also know that the solution to the chaos in Iraq is not another American military intervention. The president was right to end the Iraq War in 2011, and it would be a tremendous mistake to restart it now.

The United States and Iraq have already paid dearly for George W. Bush’s disastrous decision to launch the Iraq War. With Iraq once again descending into violence, we must not repeat the mistakes of the past. No military intervention, whether a massive invasion like the one in 2003 or the limited airstrikes some are calling for today, will solve the deep and complex challenges Iraq is facing. Iraq’s problems can only be solved by Iraqis, not American bombs. Launching another military intervention in Iraq would only throw more fuel on a fire that is raging. Even worse, it would once again risk American lives in a fight that is not ours and that we cannot win.

Over the past few days, the news has been filled with stories of a swift insurgent advance through northern Iraq. Sunni militants, under the banner of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), have taken over city after city in northern Iraq. These militants, fresh from the fight in neighboring Syria, have made dramatic progress, capturing American-made weapons and supplies left behind by the fleeing Iraqi security forces. Their advance is fueled in no small part by the repressive sectarian policies of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The situation may get worse before it gets better, but one thing is clear: American bombs are not the solution.

Even more chilling than watching the violence in Iraq is listening to the pundits here at home. The very same men and women who lied to the American public and sent thousands of my fellow men and women in uniform to their deaths are now leading the charge for another military intervention. Many of these men should be in jail; none of them should be listened to.

If my friends in Iraq are to ever find peace, if their children and their grandchildren have any chance of growing up without the butchery of beheading knives and the carnage of car bombs, peace will come through negotiation and settlement, as it briefly did post-2007, and not through an American strategy of choosing sides, choosing winners and losers, and indulging in the self-satisfactory, self-indulgent, guilt-erasing, yet illusory, medication of bombing.




If you’d like to register your name in opposition to the United States keeping American troops in Afghanistan, fighting, dying and killing, please sign this petition I created at Credo. Here’s the text:

It’s long past time to end America’s longest war and bring all our troops home now from Afghanistan.
Why is this important?

Almost 5 years ago, I resigned from the State Department over America’s failing war in Afghanistan. As a veteran of the Iraq War, I failed to see either the value or the worth in continuing to risk America’s blood and treasure on continuing America’s longest war. Today, after President Obama announced this week that nearly 10,000 troops will remain in Afghanistan next year and many won’t be home until 2017, I am left with the exact same feeling.

It’s long past time to say enough is enough. It’s time to bring all our troops home, now.

By continuing the war for more than two more years, these plans ignore the simple truth that there is no military solution to the challenges that remain in Afghanistan. There is nothing that 10,000 troops will do in two years that 100,000 could not do in the past 13. And while we are particularly concerned about the fate of women and girls in Afghanistan, there is no indication that a continued U.S. occupation would make a positive outcome for women possible.

The U.S. war in Afghanistan, now in its 13th year, has cost our nation dearly. More than 2,300 Americans – over 1,600 alone since I resigned in 2009 – and tens of thousands of Afghans have lost their lives. Many, many more have been wounded and will bear the scars of battle for decades to come. Like the Iraq War, Afghanistan has been financed on our nation’s credit card, adding nearly $800 billion to our debt, with billions more to come. And yet the war is not yet over.

The U.S. intervened in Afghanistan after the attacks on September 11. Al Qaeda’s leadership was driven from Afghanistan more than a decade ago, and Osama bin Laden has been dead for more than three years. Yet the war drags on. Our men and women in uniform have done everything asked of them, and now they deserve to come home. As President Obama has said himself, a lasting solution to nearly four decades of conflict in Afghanistan will depend on Afghans and their neighbors reaching political settlement, not U.S. military personnel.

While the President has once again pledged to continue winding down the war, there is no reason to wait two-and-a-half more years for an end that can come in a matter of weeks. Americans have made it clear time and time again that they want our troops to come home, now. But Washington is full of voices that want to keep fighting for years to come. After the President’s announcement, Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte, decried the President’s plan as a ‘monumental mistake’ for refusing to keep the war going, bemoaning the President’s ‘arbitrary date.’ For some, even 15 years of war in Afghanistan isn’t enough.

We have to answer back and say enough is enough. If progressives don’t stand up and demand we bring our troops home now, no one will. Together, we can stand up and say that two more years of war is two years too many.

Join me in telling President Obama to end the war in Afghanistan, now.