Sara Roy’s encounters with the occupation
From her Edward Said memorial lecture.
As I had tried to do with the Holocaust, I tried to remember my first real
encounter with the occupation. One of the earliest was a scene I witnessed standing on a
street with some Palestinian friends. An elderly man was walking along leading his
donkey. A small child of no more than three or four, clearly his grandson, was with him.
All of a sudden some nearby Israeli soldiers approached the old man and stopped him.
One of them went over to the donkey and pried open its mouth. “Old man,” he asked,
“why are your donkey’s teeth so yellow? Don’t you brush your donkey’s teeth?” The old
Palestinian was mortified, the little boy visibly upset. The soldier repeated his question,
yelling this time, while the other soldiers laughed. The child began to cry and the old man
just stood there silently, humiliated. As the scene continued a crowd gathered. The soldier
then ordered the old man to stand behind the donkey and demanded that he kiss the
animal’s behind. At first, the old man refused but as the soldier screamed at him and his
grandson became hysterical, he bent down and did it. The soldiers laughed and walked
away. We all stood there in silence, ashamed to look at each other, the only sound the
sobs of the little boy. The old man, demeaned and destroyed, did not move for what
seemed a very long time.
Throughout that summer of
1985, I saw similar incidents: young Palestinian men stopped in the streets by Israeli
soldiers and forced to bark like dogs on their hands and knees or sometimes to dance…
I learned, for example, what terror looks like from my friend Rabia,
eighteen years old, frozen by fear and uncontrollable shaking, stood rooted to the floor in
the middle of the room we shared in a refugee camp while Israeli soldiers tried to break
down the door to our shelter. I myself experienced the paralysis of terror when I stood by
helplessly while Israeli soldiers beat a pregnant woman in her belly because she had
flashed a V-sign at them. I could more concretely understand the meaning of loss and
displacement when I witnessed grown men sob as Israeli army bulldozers destroyed their
home and everything in it because the house had been built without a permit, repeatedly
denied by the authorities.