Volunteer Corner: Joseph Mutti

By Joseph Mutti

I’ve been involved with Palestinian solidarity work since I was in my early twenties when my job once involved accompanying a group of French dairy farmers to meet their Israeli counterparts. I was very ignorant of the region’s history.

Waiting for the group to gather at Ben Gurion AIrport, I had a gun thrust into my back and was taken to a room for interrogation as to who I was. It was the first of a series of unpleasant experiences which politicized me forever with regard to Israeli repression of the people of Palestine.

Later that week, as we drove from a farm to a kibbutz, we passed the remains of a Palestinian village that had been destroyed: its homes blown up and bulldozed. The Israeli guide who was accompanying us attempted to justify this crime by reciting a biblical passage (I don’t recall which one), very much to everyone’s disgust.

The following day, when our bus had made a stop – and at the invitation of a member of the group – a young Palestinian of about 11 boarded the bus to sell us postcards. The Israeli driver struck the boy across the head and threw him off the bus with such force that the entire bus reacted with astonishment and anger. I still remember the sound of that slap. With the Israeli guide desperately trying to calm everyone down, I got off the bus and told the boy where we were going next and guaranteed him substantial postcard sales. He was there at our next stop as we disembarked and every single person in our group purchased postcards from him (with our driver glaring hatefully at us all). Afterwards, the boy insisted on giving me 10 cards as a thank-you gift – a remarkable gesture for one so young and who had won us all over with his dignity and strength in the face of such a beating.

All of the subsequent good exchanges I had with Israelis and their culture were overshadowed by these incidents.

When I got back home I began reading more on the history of Palestine and Zionism. I became involved with Palestinian solidarity and eventually began writing articles on the history of Zionist terrorism: from Begin’s Irgun in the massacre of Deir Yassin to Ariel Sharon’s support of the South Lebanese Army’s massacre at Sabra and Chatilla.

In Jenin refugee camp, the Israeli Defense Force – a misnomer if ever there was one – continued the work of slaughtering Palestinians, which it does with ever more efficiency to this day. I’ve never forgotten what Philip Habib, Ronald Reagan’s special Middle East envoy (and as such, hardly a leftist) said in 1982:

“Sharon was a killer obsessed with hatred of Palestinians”.

And from Sharon’s own mouth in an interview he gave to the Israeli newspaper Daval after Sabra and Chatilla and published on December 17th, 1982:

“Call me a monster or a murderer… Better a live Judeo Nazi than a dead saint… I am willing to volunteer to do the dirty work for Israel, to kill as many Arabs as necessary, to deport them, to expel and burn them, to have everyone hate us… What you don’t understand is that the dirty work of Zionism is not finished yet, far from it”.

Who couldn’t support Palestinian self-determination after reading such repugnant bile?

When MECA began in 1988, I attended the initial reception at co-founder Barbara Lubin’s house. After that I left the Bay Area for several years, but when I returned I decided to volunteer for MECA. I’ve worked for the past three years preparing for the annual Holiday Crafts Bazaar, and working the day of the Bazaar. I’ve helped unload probably hundreds of cases of olive oil, then packed them up individually to ship to people outside the area who order online.

MECA does important work supporting people on the ground and maintaining staff in Palestine like Dr. Mona El-Farra in Gaza. It has never stepped down from its complete commitment to Palestinian self-determination and has long held its head above the despair engendered by the continuing Israeli repression.

I wish I had more time to volunteer.