By Christian Viveros-Fauné
By Miriam Felton-Dansky
By Tom Sellar
By Tom Sellar
By Jessica Dawson
By Tom Sellar
By R. C. Baker
By Tom Sellar
Like quite a few other Americans studying in Israel, she didn't stick to her own kind. She says she mingled with people from all over the world, including Palestinians. She spent one Passover night last spring on a kibbutz. But on another night, a friend took her to Sheikh Jarrah, an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem that is often a flashpoint of conflict because of Palestinians being evicted and Jewish settlements being erected. She wound up seeing the sparks fly with her own eyes.
A few Palestinian boys were playing with sticks in the neighborhood when several Hasidic settlers approached them. "I'm not sure how this got started," she says, "and I don't know who said what first, but suddenly there was a huge group of settlers—30 or more—and they started kind of yelling prayers."
She says she was stunned. "There are these children, and they have these sticks that are longer than their arms, surrounded by this whole group just singing at them." The boys starting lashing out with the sticks, but they were outnumbered.
"It was so strange. I had never heard prayers—prayers that I knew—used as a taunt before," she says, and she went home and drew it, making her first piece of political art.
After that bizarre religious experience, she joined up with the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-based organization primarily made up of international volunteers. Founded by Palestinian, Israeli, and American peace activists, it aims to conduct nonviolent demonstrations against the IDF. Perhaps its most famous volunteer was American activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an IDF bulldozer in 2003 while acting as a human shield trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian house.
Through the ISM, Henochowicz says, she made more Palestinian friends and spent more time in the West Bank, her eyes opened by the poverty and the families living in tents atop demolished houses.
Several of her friends tell the Voice that she had long conversations with them about whether she could learn more about art in school or out in the world. She started skipping classes—but she was still doing her art. It took her a while, she recalls, to tell her parents she was spending all her time making art and trying to help Palestinians. "My father took it personally," she says. "He thought I was insulting him." She says she told him, "This has nothing to do with you," but that didn't convince him. As she recalls their conversation: "He was like, 'But our family—we're Holocaust survivors!' " She concedes that her dad "does know more about history than I do," but says she doesn't buy his reasoning on that point.
Her father, Dr. Stuart Henochowicz, tells the Voice that he recalls "seeing on Facebook that she had changed her 'hometown' to Ramallah—which came as news to us and was a little alarming. We wondered, 'What is she up to?' "
He says he had been following her activities on her blog—"a new part of the parenting experience"—and when they finally spoke about her protesting, "I didn't see eye-to-eye with her about demonstrations and such, but we started a dialogue, which was good." This entire experience, he adds, "has had a very deep imact on me and my always complicated feelings about Israel."
Emily says her ISM protest activities were about the Palestinians, to prove to them that "it's not all of our people" who are against them. "It was important for me to tell them, 'I'm Jewish, and I support you,' " she says. "We're a people like any other, which is part of the reason we're in the situation we're in!" Not the self-serious type, she laughs and adds, "Just because we went through the Holocaust doesn't mean we aren't racist, too!"
She says her dad "came around," and he says he eventually became interested in joining Americans for Peace Now, which lobbies Israel to reach peace with the Palestinians. But for the moment, he was concerned about Emily's safety, and he made her promise not to do anything unsafe. She obliged.
May 15 was Nakba Day, the annual commemoration of what Palestinians and much of the rest of the Arab world calls the "catastrophe"—Israel's unilateral declaration of statehood in 1948. It coincides, naturally, with Israel's Independence Day. By this year's Nakba Day, Henochowicz was spending a lot of her time in the West Bank with ISM colleagues.
In the wee hours of May 31, she recalls, she was awakened at the ISM apartment in Ramallah with news that people on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla flying Turkish and Palestinian colors had been killed by the IDF. She went back to sleep, but when she got up, things happened quickly. She hadn't planned on going to a demonstration that day, but she put on her Nakba T-shirt—"the most political thing I could wear"—joined her friends, and went off to the Qalandiya checkpoint.
She says she was holding Turkish and Austrian flags, standing not far from Israeli border guards in riot gear—years ago, her grandfather had been an Israeli border guard. "I stupidly thought this wouldn't be a violent demonstration," she says, "because it was about people being killed."