Interview: Brian Avery Returns to seek Justice

Interview: Brian Avery Returns to seek Justice

The following is an interview with Brian Avery, an American ISM activist
shot in the face by the Israeli Occupation Forces in Jenin in April, 2003.
When he was shot, Brian was assisting Palestinians who were suffering
from the effects of an imposed military curfew. He was wearing a bright
reflective vest, and was clearly unarmed.

Brian is now back in Israel to petition the Israeli Supreme Court to
launch a criminal investigation into the matter.

Interview by Aaron Lakoff – originally aired on CKUT community radio,
90.3fm in Montreal (www.ckut.ca)
February 25, 2005

Aaron: Can you share with us what happened on the night you were shot in
Jenin?

Brian: It was basically a situation where myself and another ISM
colleague, Tobias Carlson, a Swedish ISM volunteer, were in the office
which ISM rented in Jenin. We heard quite a bit of gunfire in the area,
and based on the sound of it, we knew it was the Israelis. After that
had quieted down for a bit, we had a couple other ISM volunteers who were
out in the middle of the city. We decided to go outside and meet up with
them to asses what was happening with the army and whether or not there
were any civilian casualties around who were in need of any medical
assistance. We were also assisting the medical crews who were often
prevented from doing their job by the Israelis.
So we went out, and I was wearing a vest with a reflective stripe on it –
it is common for ISM volunteers to wear reflective clothing at night in
the West Bank cities to make ourselves very visible.
We walked about two blocks from the apartment when we were approached by
two Israeli vehicles. They were driving about 20km/h, just creeping
along the streets. They drove up to us, and we stepped to the side of
the road to let them pass. We also stuck our hands out to show that we
didn’t have any weapons. Once they were about 30 meters from our
position, they simply opened fire on us. They were shooting constantly
for a long period of time.
I was struck in the face with a bullet and went down on the ground right
away. Tobias escaped without injury. The other members of our grouped
reached the scene and saw the Israeli APC’s shooting at myself and
Tobias. As soon as they finished shooting, the soldiers just drove out
of the area. They didn’t stop to see if anyone needed any medical
attention, they just left.
I was taken to the Jenin hospital where they did some first aid and
stabilized my condition. From there I was airlifted to a hospital in
Haifa, and that’s where I spent the next few months. Since then I’ve
returned to North Carolina, where I’ve undergone a series of
reconstructive surgeries.

A: That spring of 2003 was a very difficult time for the ISM. Just a few
weeks before you were shot, Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli
bulldozer in Rafah, and then just after you were shot, Tom Hurndel was
also shot in the head in the Gaza Strip and died later. Why do you think
that the Israeli army decided to open fire on you? Why was this such a
violent time to be in Palestine?

B: The Israeli army was very familiar with the ISM. They knew we were
international activists coming in to document what they were doing and the
effects on the local population. So they had a very antagonistic attitude
towards us. As far as they were concerned, we were aiding and abetting
the enemy.
I think after a while it got to a point where their general philosophy
was that if the ISM wants to help the Palestinians, you’ll be treated
like the Palestinians. We became the victims of completely unwarranted
violence.
The occupying forces would like to be able to do whatever they want,
whenever they want in the occupied territories. They don’t like the fact
that people are there documenting what they’re doing, witnessing what
they’re doing – they want to be able to treat the Palestinians as they
see fit and to get away with it. They want to kill and harass with
impunity.

A: You mentioned that when you were in Jenin, you were assisting people
in the city who were under curfew. Can you describe what the effects of
curfew are in Palestine and what you were doing to help people?

B: The time I was shot was under curfew, and some people raise their
eyebrows and ask, “There was a curfew. What were you doing outside?”
It was very critical for us to be out during curfew. A curfew is
basically a 24 hour shutdown of the area. No one is allowed in or out of
their house or the city, and the military has complete control of the
area. It’s a complete stranglehold on life.
These curfews can extend to days and weeks at a time. In most West Bank
cities, even at night there’s a curfew and you’re likely to be shot on
site by a soldier if you’re out.
But since the curfew was on for so long, the local people stopped being
obedient to it. Some people were running out of food or medicine, there
were women going into labour, and there were many situations that
necessitated a violation of the curfew. People have to survive, and this
is something the Israelis don’t respect. People became numb to the
curfew, especially the young kids. There were a lot of kids out in the
streets of Jenin, in full view of the military, and they didn’t seem too
bothered by the kids. We would even talk to the soldiers in full
daylight, and there was no indication that they thought what we were
doing was wrong.
During the curfew, there were people outside, and they were shot at for
being out for legitimate reasons. This includes medical staff,
ambulances, and paramedics. There is a lot of documentation of these
people being shot at and killed because the Israeli army doesn’t respect
their job. The ISM tries to assist these people in these situations.

A: You were shot with a bullet that went through your face and you
survived. You’ve been back in the USA for the last year and a half. Can
you describe the recovery process and what it’s been like living with
this?

B: It’s been very difficult and frustrating. The bullet shattered all the
bones in the left side of my face, so the doctors have had to rebuild all
those bones using grafts from other parts of my skull. I lost a lot of
teeth which needed to be replaced. My jaw and my nose had to be
reconstructed. I can’t breathe through part of my nose and have very
little sense of smell. I have blurry vision, and my left eye is
permanently damaged. I’ve also had to have lots of cosmetic surgery on
the scars and on my nose. These are quite visible injuries.
It’s a very difficult process. I’ve been pretty much stopped from doing
anything I want to do in terms of employment. I’ve been able to do a bit
of public speaking to spread info about Palestine, and this has helped me
a bit.

A: You’re back in Israel now, and you’re taking your case to the Israeli
Supreme Court. Can you elaborate on this?

B: I’m working on a criminal and a civil suit. Through my lawyer, I
submitted a petition to the military attorney general to launch a criminal
investigation. There were two of these petitions submitted, and both were
ignored, so finally we had to submit a petition to the Supreme Court to
force the military to make a decision on launching an investigation. I
was really hoping they’d approve the investigation. I’d like whoever shot
me to be indicted and convicted.

A: What are you hoping to come out of this?

B: I’m hoping to really get a sense that justice is being served and that
accountability is taken to the fact that a serious crime was committed.
I’d like to see the perpetrator of this crime face the repercussions of
their acts.
The personal aspect is to see someone get the justice they deserve and
that the Israeli army takes responsibility for these crimes of war. What
happened to me is very typical amongst Palestinians. The only thing
unusual about me is that I am a US citizen. Palestinians were being shot
almost every day in Jenin and no soldier has ever been convicted of
murdering a Palestinian civilian. It’s a very unjust system in Israel.
If it’s possible that I can bring some justice forwards, hopefully it will
turn the tables to get people thinking about what these soldiers are doing
and what they’re getting away with. I hope this will put some pressure on
the military and the government to impose some policies to change their
decision-making process.