Last week someone I met for the first time in 2011, at the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, in Cape Town, South Africa, died. His name was Stéphane Hessel and he was 95 years old. He was born during the Russian Revolution, escaped from Germany into France at the age of seven, was captured by the Nazis a number of times and placed in concentration camps, from which he miraculously (through much difficulty and subterfuge) escaped. He did many astonishing things in his life: for instance, he was a creator and signer of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A Founder of The Russell Tribunal on Palestine. He also wrote a book called: Time For Outrage, in which he reminded the world that there are abuses against human dignity and liberty that must be resisted at all costs and under all circumstances. Like William Faulkner, he believed humanity must not only refuse to accept the pain and suffering inflicted on itself as it’s earthly due, but that we must not bear humiliation, degradation, brutality, torture and genocide anywhere we discover them- if we are to remain human beings.
I am always encouraged when I see the arc of a human life that remains true to itself, as Stéphane Hessel’s long life illustrated so powerfully. Imagine: at 94 years of age, just last October, 2012, he was again at the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in NYC, calling the world to witness what disasters against the Palestinian people are minute by minute being perpetuated by the Israeli government. He would applaud what you are doing, just as I do.
It is reassuring to know that our belief in, and work for, Justice for the Palestinian people stems from our innate sense of our own integrity and worth; that we are paying forward, in a way, and honoring, our own inheritance of freedom from destructiveness and devastation.
I have traveled in Gaza and the West Bank. It is worse than most Americans can even imagine, without going there to see for themselves. Their fear of knowing what is happening, and fear of learning about it, is deeply saddening. For how can they, in our schools especially, expect students to believe anything that’s taught, if the biggest elephant in the classroom, the issue of Palestine, is off-limits for deep inspection?
As you know so well, activists of the world have tried everything we can think of to stop the slaughter of Palestinian people, the hideous murder of the children, the stealing of the land, the water, and the joy that should be every human’s birth right. We are non-violent because that is the world we believe in; the one we wish to see rise from contested ground. Palestine, and the Israeli aggression against it, presents the hardest test of our resolve to move forward the human agenda of peace and prosperity for all on our planet. BDS – boycotts, divestment, sanctions – is what we have in our arsenal. Or, I might say, in our medicine bundle. Because to oppose tyranny in this non-violent way is to lead humanity forward into a more peaceful world.
Be strong. Stéphane Hessel, Desmond Tutu, Cynthia McKinney, Angela Davis, Dennis Banks, and so many other amazing people are walking beside you. Universities are sometimes challenging places to affect change, but all this means is: never give up.
4 March 2013
Alice Walker is an internationally celebrated author, poet and activist. She’s best known for The Color Purple, the 1983 novel for which she won the Pulitzer Prize—the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction—and the National Book Award. She is a staunch defender not only of human rights, but of the rights of all living beings. She is one of the world’s most prolific writers, yet tirelessly continues to travel the world to literally stand on the side of the poor, and the economically, spiritually and politically oppressed.