In conversation with FRANCES O'ROURKE
is head of campaigns with Dublin-based Front Line Defenders, which works to protect human rights defenders worldwide.
From a Jewish family in New York, he was a founder member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a group committed to resisting Israel using non-violent, direct-action methods
‘I’VE BEEN IN IRELAND since September working with Front Line Defenders on campaigns. We’ve developed one related to the Olympics involving 15 human rights defenders around the world. It’s the longest I’ve been in one place for I don’t know how many years; I’ve been working on different projects and make documentary films as well, and have been in Afghanistan, Darfur, Syria.
“Huwaida and I met in spring 2000, when we worked for Seeds of Peace in Jerusalem. We were colleagues, I wouldn’t even say we were really friends.
“The intifada, the Palestinian uprising, began in the fall of 2000 and that is one of the things that brought us closer. We started supporting Palestinian non-violent protests and ultimately started the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).
“We spent more and more time together. After our first date, she insisted I explain my intentions, where this was going. Three months later, I proposed. Then I flew to the States to formally tell her father. That was a big ordeal. Her dad was initially opposed to the marriage – not because I was Jewish but because coming from a Jewish family, I would have, according to Israel, more right over his land than he would. Plus, although her family isn’t traditional, he was worried about what his community would say. That later resolved itself when I entered Arafat’s compound the first night of the Israeli invasion in 2002. [In an ISM protest, Adam and Irishwoman Caoimhe Butterly took an ambulance into then president Yasser Arafat’s compound to bring out injured people and were trapped as the compound came under siege by the Israeli army.] That made headlines around the world and part of the story was Huwaida and I being engaged. Members of his community became supportive and, overnight, he came on board.
“The wedding was two months later. I’d gone back to the US and then Huwaida got arrested at a protest. She was in jail, on a hunger and thirst strike. Her mom and sisters were calling me, we had over 300 people coming to the wedding and I was convinced at one point she really wasn’t coming.
“I don’t regard myself as Jewish . . . it’s a question of faith and religion, not ethnicity and blood. Mainly, I think of myself as a New Yorker.
“How have we managed to stay married for 10 years in these circumstances? We’re both so passionate about the work. Palestine is the core, but we’re both interested in each other’s work. Skype makes a huge difference. And we appreciate the time we do have together. We never fight or argue over anything except politics. We never have domestic squabbles.
“Do we worry? Yes to some extent but you get used to it. I appreciate how brave Huwaida is and support that.
“There’s never been as much international solidarity with Palestinians. Momentum is shifting. Ireland’s a great example, the Irish Government is very outspoken on issues like settlements.”
was born in Detroit, Michigan, a year after her family – Catholic Palestinians from a small Christian village in Upper Galilee – left Palestine. A human rights defender, she is one of the founders of the International Solidarity Movement, and is on the board of Free Gaza, the movement which has organized flotillas in an attempt to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza
‘SINCE ADAM AND I got married in May 2002, we haven’t lived together steadily. I didn’t come to Ireland with Adam last September, I was in Palestine. I came in January and I’ve been back and forth between there and Bahrain on human rights missions since then. Adam’s not allowed to enter Palestine but they can’t keep me out as I’m a citizen of Israel.
“We were founder members of the International Solidarity Movement. The whole idea was to provide a resource for Palestinian popular resistance.
“My main reason for resigning from Seeds of Peace was the tendency of organisations like that to portray the conflict as being between two equal sides. But Palestinians inside Israel are not equal citizens. My father’s extended family still lives in a Palestinian village inside Israel. Over the past four decades the land of the village has been halved because the Israeli government took the land.
“Our wedding was in May 2002. Adam was going to the US and wanted me to leave with him right after a demonstration in April: he was afraid I wasn’t going to leave when the time came. I got really mad. ‘Are you trying to say I’m gonna stand you up?’
“A few days later we started this action at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. When they arrested me I went to jail rather than be deported from my country. Six days later they agreed to let me go and to free my colleagues as well. After I’d left, they reneged – my colleagues were still in jail.
“My sisters planned the whole wedding, went dress shopping for me; we didn’t have any part in planning our own wedding. You have to have fun at your wedding and it was really joyous but at the same time I had a sense of guilt. We took a very short honeymoon, just three days.
“Since then we haven’t really had any holidays, only two or three days here and there. Our biggest holidays are special occasions when we go and spend time with our families – who are friends – in the US.
“We never meant to not have children but we never had a steady base, or a steady income . . . it’s always been, one more year, one more year . . . and now it’s been 10 years. Every time I call my mother, she’s expecting news.
“For the past three years, I’ve been working in the Free Gaza movement, to provide non-violent opposition to the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Yes, things are getting worse in the Middle East but there has never been as much international solidarity with Palestine, for example, with support for the global boycott, divestments and sanctions campaign.
“Brave? Neither of us has a death wish, neither is going to do anything stupid.
You know that you have to take certain actions that can be very dangerous to change the situation. It would be hypocritical of us not to.”