USA: American student loses eye in West Bank protest

While the world had its eyes fixed on the Gaza flotilla, another tragedy was unfolding not too far away.

Soon after news emerged of Israel's deadly raid on the Turkish aid convoy, the Mavi Marmara, protests erupted across the world in condemnation of the assault.

One such protest occurred on May 31st, in the occupied West Bank, at the Qalandiya checkpoint. While other protests throughout the world ended without any disturbance, the rally at the Qalandiya checkpoint ended in tragedy for a 21-year-old American student, Emily Henochowicz.

Emily attended the protest to condemn Israel's attack on the Mavi Marmara. It was a decision that would cost her dearly, as the student lost her eye after an Israeli troop fired a tear gas canister, allegedly, directly at her face.

Warning: Some may find the following image disturbing:

Emily Henochowicz loses eye at West Bank protest – Courtesy of International Solidarity Movement

A student at the prestigious Cooper Union art school in New York, Emily – of Jewish descent – went to the Palestinian territory as part of the International Solidarity Movement, to join in non-violent resistance to Israel's illegal occupation.

News of the tragedy quickly made its way online, with tributes flooding in from across the world on Emily's blog, Thirsty Pixels:

Paul Birchard said…
Emily Sweetheart –
Though I don't know you – only heard of you today after the hurtful, unfortunate thing that happened to you today – I hope you are not feeling too awful and that in spite of this terrible, deliberate hurt inflicted on you, that you recover and continue to create your BEAUTIFUL work – your visual work, and the work you have so bravely done today – One day the person who shot at you today will meet you and ask for your forgiveness…I love you – God loves you, the Divine Mother and the Divine Father in One – May He/She uphold you with infinite love, and joy and strength, and do the same for your immediate family – and your wider family in Palestine and all around the world…Much love -Get Well Soon!
MAY 31, 2010 6:03 PM
Ersel Jira said…
Dear Emily
I'm so sorry, I'm sure one day, those responsible for your pain and Palestine's long sorrow will be punished.
Get well soon
Ersel Jira
JUNE 1, 2010 5:26 AM
Xena said…’
Dear Emily , get well soon!

I hope this unfortunate event won't bring you down , but will make you even stronger than what you are. Thank you for being there, and acting against injustices! I sincerely hope you get well soon, and continue your beautiful art work!!!
From Russia

JUNE 1, 2010 6:22 AM

Gilgamesh said…
These days I cannot believe my eyes. I cannot believe how irrational people can be. I'm scared.
Please keep your spirit, be strong.
I hope they will not go unpunished once again, as they always do. Yet I know I'm naive.
Best wishes from Belgium
JUNE 1, 2010 8:56 AM
More tributes for Emily have been flowing in on her YouTube page, as well as Facebook, where a page dedicated to Emily titled Emily Henochowicz is my hero has been created, already attracting more than 1,500 supporters.
Outrage and sadness were equally voiced on Twitter, with the following tweets:

avinunu Can Israel maim Americans with impunity @StateDept? Justice for Emily Henochowicz #flotilla

JeremyJHardy On Monday, Emily Henochowicz was shot in the face with a gas canister at Qalandiya checkpoint. She lost her eye. Explain that, Netanyahu.

hughsansom To @nprnews, @npratc, David Brooks, EJ Dionne: What's ur defense of IDF shooting Emily Henochowicz, pointblank in eye w/ tear gas canister?

slavdavidzon @IsraelMFA Do you have a statement re: attack on American Emily Henochowicz at a #Flotilla protest? Was she attacking your soldiers too?

Medusafern @flotilla Emily Henochowicz lost eye 2 Israeli teargas canister & Furkan Dogan lost life to 5 Israeli bullets & U.S. Govt still luvs Israel.

Video footage of Emily's tragedy has gone viral on YouTube, with the following report by DemocracyNow! uploaded a number of times on the site.

***Warning – graphic scenes***

Reactions to the incident were sombre, particularly from several prominent American bloggers.

Popular American Jewish blogger, Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss, maintained continuous updates on Emily's wellbeing. Weiss posted the following, titled “Can the Israel government maim Americans with impunity?”:

Cry, my beloved country, … [for] the shooting of Emily Henochowicz, 21, a Cooper Union art student demonstrating against Israel's flotilla raid on Monday, is at the Baltimore Sun site (she's from Maryland)… More photos of Henochowicz, I'm afraid very graphic, at ISM site. Henochowicz lost her left eye and had to have reconstructive surgery on her face, in Israel.

No news at the Cooper site, though they did issue a statement we picked up Tuesday.

Note the grim surroundings of the Qalandiya checkpoint, this is the eastern side of the checkpoint. Oh and it has been reported that Henochowicz is Jewish.

She is an artist. Here is her youtube page, check out Walkers and a frontier, and the flipbook. Wow. What was such a young and gifted American artist doing at Qalandiya checkpoint? We're pulling for you, Emily.

Mondoweiss’ coverage of Emily's incident drew several comments to his posts expressing outrage at Israel's actions and Obama's silent response, including:

James June 1, 2010 at 3:36 pm

this is like a rachel corrie moment… i am very sorry to hear of this and my wish is that israel will stop it’s bullshit while the world community will say enough is enough to israel as well.. unfortunately a number of politicians don’t get involved unless they are directly involved in this kind of thing thru a family member, or close friend.. i truly wish more politicians grew a backbone and if any out their are reading this, learn how to be independent and a voice for change instead of this bs…

radii June 1, 2010 at 4:45 pm

… this incident should be the dividing line for American jews who support security, peace and prosperity for jews around the world as opposed to those who have a blood-lust for conquest in the name of zionism.

the Obama administration’s near-silence and refusal to allow the UN Security Council to issue a strong condemnation comes down to one thing: the approaching 2010 election and the calculation the Obama-ites have made that they need American jews’ money. As Phil and others have pointed out – citing learned surveys – between 40% and 60% of money raised by the Democratic Party comes from the 2% of American jews

Naomi Klein, another reputable American blogger, was horrified at reports that an Israeli troop fired a tear gas canister directly at Emily.

Warning: The following also includes another graphic image of Emily posted by Naomi Klein, and sourced from the International Solidarity Movement:

Emily Henochowicz bandaged eye – Courtesy of Naomi Klein and the International Solidarity Movement

Like many of us around the world, Henochowicz, a 21-year-old Cooper Union art student, joined protests on Monday against Israel’s outrageous attack on the humanitarian flotilla. But unfortunately, the protest Emily attended was in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and like so many protests in the West Bank, it was violently attacked by the IDF. According to a report from the International Solidarity Movement, Emily was “hit in the face with a tear gas projectile fired directly at her by an Israeli soldier during the demonstration at Qalandiya checkpoint today.” Sören Johanssen, a Swedish activist standing beside Henochowicz, reported that, “They fired many canisters at us in rapid succession. One landed on either side of Emily, then the third one hit her in the face.”This courageous young woman is now the wrenching embodiment of a policy that systematically targets witnesses and human rights advocates—from Stop the Wall's Mohammad Othman, arrested on his way back from a European speaking tour, to the vicious smear campaign waged against Justice Richard Goldstone.

Visiting Emily's homepage, I was struck that eyeballs are a recurring theme in her work. Not surprising, I suppose, for a visual artist. But an eyeball was how she chose to present herself to the world.
Scott McConnell at The American Conservative is equally perplexed at Obama's silence over Israel's actions, questioning – with reference to Emily – just how far Israel needs to go before Washington responds:

One wonders whether there is anything, anything,  that Israel can do which would force America to say no, that’s enough. Bar Noam Chomsky from speaking at Bir Zeit University, check.  Blast out an eye of an American girl peacefully protesting the flotilla assault, no problem. Start a war with  Iran and endanger America’s troops throughout the region, on the agenda.

Obama, those who know him attest,   “gets it”—knows that  the occupation is wrong, knows the blockade of Gaza is wrong. The blockade could not last for two days if the United States wanted to end it. And yet Obama says and does nothing. In the core strategic area of the Mideast, America now acts like a middling power with limited sovereignty.

Shelley Ettinger, who like Emily is an American Jew from New York, wrote a tribute to Emily on her blog, Read Red:

I think it is right to salute Emily by name for a few reasons. For one thing, the Palestinian people are doing so; there has been an outpouring of love for her from them. For another, she is a U.S. Jew. She, Adam Shapiro and other young Jews who have broken with Zionism represent a turning point, it seems to me, the leading edge of a long overdue and oh so welcome development that's accelerating and can't be stopped. She is an artist–how specially terrible it must be for a visual artist to lose an eye–yet from all reports she remains strong and committed as she recovers, so for this too I must salute her.

You can take us Jews out of the Zionist camp, but you can't take the wisecracks out of us Jews.

Well done, my dear young sister. You do us proud.

And yet, for all the horror that Emily has endured, the young American activist logged onto her Facebook days after she lost her eye, giving reassurance to her family and friends with a bit of humour and a lot of courage:

Emily Henochowicz Attack of the cyclops! Friday at 8:41pm

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