This is not an easy essay to write. I have been postponing it for several weeks. But I have many readers all over the world who trust me, and they encourage me to tell the truth, as I perceive it. And I will continue doing so, for them, even when the topic is complex and somehow uncomfortable.
Let me begin by saying that I fully support freedom for Palestine; I demand that the Palestinian people be allowed to have their own state, and to have their pride and dignity restored. Not ‘soon’ but now, and even ‘now’ is too late!
I condemn Israel, for being the Rottweiler of the West in the Middle East, for its bellicose approach in the region, for its brutality towards Palestinian people, and for its endemic dishonesty.
I have stood by the Palestinian people on several occasions: In Gaza and the West Bank, in Hebron and Bethlehem, in the Rafah Refugee Camp. I stood by them physically, not just in an abstract way, fighting, at least verbally, with the Israeli border guards, having rubber-coated bullets flying all around me, dashing illegally from Jerusalem to Bethlehem with my Israeli activists and Marxist friends.
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But that does not seem to be enough. Lately, I am constantly being ‘encouraged’, even ‘ordered’ to ‘go immediately to Palestine’, as if I were a bunny rabbit operated via remote control by some couch potato who has just realized, sitting in front of his television set, that Israel and its handler, the West, are committing an on-going crime against humanity. And instead of going there himself, he begins demanding that I (and people like me) go, immediately, ‘or else’!
‘Or else’ – meaning that I will be exposed and discredited (yes, by some part-time couch-bound living room fighter for the freedom of oppressed people) as someone who is, perhaps, not really too loyal to the cause, and not really a genuine internationalist or revolutionary.
I detest those ‘or else’ letters. I feel indignant. And I will respond to them, once and for all, now, aboard this 4 hours flight from Nairobi to Johannesburg.
For years I have not stopped. No weekends or vacations for me. I have been fighting for oppressed people all over the world, and keeping absolutely nothing for myself. Once I get paid for my films or my books, everything I earn goes back into my work, to my struggle. I have no support whatsoever; there is no institution backing me, no ‘protection’ is offered or given to me.
Often, the ‘thank you’ from my readers, that ‘you are making big difference’ has been my only fuel, when things at times get totally messed up, very scary and very lonely.
The fact is: I cannot be everywhere. I am a lone fighter, my resources and time, are limited.
I cannot jump on a plane and fly to Tel Aviv, hire a car and dash to the border with Gaza, every time Israel begins to run amok. I wish I could.
Palestine has many friends, and I am aware of the fact that I am only one of many.
Some of the greatest thinkers of our time, from Noam Chomsky to Naomi Klein, are standing by it, solid as a rock. Many people, who are otherwise politically apathetic, are ready to get involved any time the Palestinian people get attacked (although one could argue that what is done against the Palestinian nation is a constant onslaught).
There are also some great Israeli men and women who are constantly engaged in reporting on the situation, shaming the Israeli state. I know some of them personally. They are fighting against their own country, because their country is wrong, and because they want it to change, to improve.
It does not make the suffering of the Palestinian people less horrible, but at least one could say that their defense is always in very good hands: in the hands of their own leaders and in the hands of true internationalists from all over the world.
But please understand that I am often stuck reporting from places that are almost defenseless, and with a level of suffering that is unimaginable to people living somewhere in Europe or North America.
I have spent years, going back and forth, to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Between 8 and 10 million people there lost their lives, from 1995 to this day. That is as many as the same unfortunate country (unfortunate because it is so rich in minerals and raw materials, which the West needs for its communication equipment and weapons) lost during the reign of one of the most appalling monarchs in human history – Belgian king Leopold II.
I made a film – a feature documentary film – that is now being aired by Press TV. A film about how Rwanda and Uganda, on behalf of their European and North American handlers, are plundering and massacring millions of people in DRC.
Even the UN in its ‘Mapping Report’ spoke about alleged genocide. It is not some lunatic conspiracy theory. It is real and it is happening now. And two horrible fascist dictatorships, those of Rwanda and Uganda, are persistently supported and glorified in Washington, Paris and London. And the entire 1994 genocide narrative on Rwanda has been twisted and manipulated, so as to give Tutsis some moral legitimacy for the genocide they are presently committing in the DRC.
Yes, I spent more time in Rwanda, Uganda and East Kivu, lately, than I am spending in Gaza or in West Bank. I am sorry. But please see for yourself, how many people are really involved in bringing to the world some objective information about the Great Lakes region of Africa, and about this greatest episode of bloodletting in post WWII history.
10 million people! Entire communities destroyed. There are hundreds of thousands of child soldiers, perhaps millions. The land is scarred and robbed of all its resources. There are Christian fundamentalist fanatics running private armies, torturing and mutilating, executing people, simply for pleasure.
There are rapes. Millions of women have been raped – from babies to 80-years old or more, grandmothers. And the way they rape there, is also absolutely unimaginable. After being gang-raped, many women have their faces slashed open with razor blades and knives, they have their rectums and vaginas cut mercilessly, just in case they were hiding some diamonds between their teeth or inside their private parts. Men do not even bother to kill them before they mutilate them.
And there is absolute silence about this, in Europe and North America, where Kagame and Museveni are portrayed as reformers and close allies.
You know, honestly, it is easier to fly to Tel Aviv and to protest there, than it is flying to and investigating in Kigali or Goma. Honestly, I would rather go to Gaza, but I have often felt that I am needed much more in East Kivu.
I spent some time in detention, deep underground, in a Congolese intelligence bunker in East Kivu, and I would rather refrain myself from supplying you with the details.
Rwandese and Congolese soldiers once pulled me in two different directions, right at the borderline. If the Congolese soldiers had won, I would now be dead.
I also work in Indonesia, making films and writing books.
In the West, the governments and mass media want us to think that Indonesia is synonymous with those few (quite polluted) beaches in Bali, during sunset. Hilary Clinton even claimed that Indonesia is proof that Islam, democracy and women rights can go hand in hand.
Indonesia is easily one of the most brutal countries on Earth, with a homicide rate twice that of the US (per capita), with its feudal system, and with social violence unimaginable anywhere else, except in sub-Saharan Africa.
Between 2 and 3 million people vanished during the US-backed coup in 1965, perpetrated by the military and by the religious cadres. That was the first genocide in the modern history of the country.
Soon after, there followed a second one, that of East Timor, where approximately 30% of the population lost its life. Almost everybody who means anything in the present political hierarchy of Indonesia was involved in the East Timor massacres – from the President (SBY), to the Presidential candidate Prabowo and his entourage, as well as the entourage of the President-elect, ‘Jokowi’.
I used to smuggle myself into East Timor, during the occupation, but there was zero interest or appetite in the West, to support its fight for independence.
There, in 1996, I was kidnapped by the Indonesian intelligence services, and tortured. My films were developed and destroyed. I was unable to use my left arm for a year after that.
The on-going genocide in Papua is as appalling as that of East Timor. Like DRC, occupied Papua is one of the richest places of the world, in terms of its natural resources. The corrupt elites in Jakarta are allowing the total plunder of that complex cultural area, by countless Western multi-national companies. Indonesia produces almost nothing, and it lives off the pillaging of raw materials on its fringes and occupied territories.
According to Western human rights organizations, at least 120,000 people have lost their lives, but it is common knowledge among those who are investigating the genocide, that at least a quarter of a million have died.
In Indonesia, to even show the independent Papua flag is punishable by life imprisonment. To even speak about independence brings long sentences for locals, and deportation for foreigners. And foreigners are actually not allowed to travel to the territory, except to its capital, where intelligence agents follow them closely.
In Papua, local people are now in a minority, due to the Jakarta-implemented ‘trans-migration’ policy. The native population has been transformed into beggars and renegades in their own land, and is forced to adopt Islam as their religion, if they want to survive.
Local girls are regularly kidnapped by TNI (Indonesian military), raped and tortured – their nipples and clitorises are removed by soldiers as “entertainment” – as I was told by a former Minister of Education of the neighboring Papua New Guinea (PNG). If the girls speak out, their villages are burnt to ashes.
While Indonesians regularly protest against the situation in Gaza, there are absolutely no protests against one of the most brutal occupations on Earth – that of Papua, by their own, Indonesian fascist state.
Apart from a few dedicated and brave people, including John Pilger, nobody speaks about the Papuan genocide. In fact, Westerners do not consider it weird travelling to, and spending money in Bali, now, just as they never considered it strange during the genocide in East Timor.
I work all over Africa and all over Indonesia. I mostly work in those places that are far from the radars of mass media, even off of those largely progressive media outlets.
I don’t ask for recognition or support.
I only ask for some basic respect. For myself, but above all, for those defenseless people whose plight I am trying to define and to highlight.
Please try to free the Palestinian people and to support them. I will also do my very best to participate in that noble undertaking.
But please, do not insult, do not humiliate and do not doubt those of us who are trying to highlight the unknown and horrendous plight of the Congolese people, of Papuan people, or of Somali people.
Do not insult us for trying to tell the stories, of Cairo and Alexandria where the West has managed to derail the so-called Arab Spring, or from the Turkish/Syrian and Jordanian/Syrian border, nor from Thailand where the elites have once again sidelined their own people.
Your support is often all that we have. And where we are, where we operate, it is an often extremely cold and horrendous world.
And like cats, we, war correspondents and insane writers and filmmakers, also have ‘only’ a few lives. Most of us have spent most of them already and now, sometimes, are even running on reserve.
During the last Intifada, I worked all over Gaza, including at the Shifa Hospital, which was then overwhelmed by casualties. Howling ambulances kept bringing wounded Palestinian men, women and children into the bloodstained emergency rooms and corridors.
After I left, we drove towards the Rafah Camp. There was an open stretch of the road.
Suddenly, I spotted two Israeli helicopter gunships flying at a very low altitude. They flew over the roof of our car (a local hired taxi), then, a few seconds later, there was a tremendous explosion and our car jumped forward. I looked back and saw that a car that was moving behind us had been hit and destroyed, it was in flames.
I don’t know who was inside that car or how many people were killed, but it was very clear that the attack was random. I could have been killed on that road with the same ease as those people that had been driving behind us.
I could also have been easily killed, at different times and in different places; in Peru, Sri Lanka, Bosnia, East Timor, DRC, Kenya, and Paraguay, as well as in many other places.
The world is in flames. It has been, for centuries.
Our decisions – where to get physically engaged – are not easy to make, not easy at all.
Most of the time it is not about ‘where we would like to be’, but ‘where it is our duty to be’, where we will be the most effective.
I mostly aim for the most unprotected zones – not always, but mostly.
Palestine is now one of the priorities and I will try to return there, soon.
But please, help us out elsewhere, too. In Papua and DRC, in the Somali camps of Kenya where an entire generation of young people have never seen anything other than a dry desert and barbed wire, as a result of the West’s total destabilization their country.
Each human life has the same value, the same weight. Be it the life of a poor Palestinian girl or an upper-class Israeli boy, of a Papuan woman from a remote tribe, or an Italian aristocrat. We know that this is the objective and universal truth. We know that the entirety of humanity stands on this perception. And the moment this ceases to be understood as essential, the entire human race will regress, immediately, by moving back several centuries.
We know all this theoretically, but practically, the way this world is arranged; this principle has very rarely been implemented.
It should be.
And that is why the Israeli occupation has to stop, immediately.
And that is why, I will continue risking my life, writing about those people whose names we can hardly pronounce and whose culture and lifestyles we cannot often comprehend. I will do it simply because they are human beings, because they are in pain, because they are our brothers and sisters, because our greed is murdering them, and because almost nobody gives a damn.
Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. The result is his latest book: “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”. ‘Pluto’ published his discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western Terrorism. His critically acclaimed political novel Point of No Return is re-edited and available. Oceania is his book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and the market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. His feature documentary, “Rwanda Gambit” is about Rwandan history and the plunder of DR Congo. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.