By Lena J
I answered the phone every day that Ahmed Oudeh called until we had the honor of hosting him here at the Palestine Center. His voice was warm and heavy with pain, even for a simple “hello.” I hadn’t noticed at first, but Ahmed slurred his words. He spoke slowly, fluent in both English and Arabic, and yet his fluency in both languages was altered by what I would later find out as brain damage. This brain damage was caused by being beat by the Israeli army. The warmness I heard in in his voice suddenly felt like fire piercing my heart.
Ahmed is a Palestinian man living in the West Bank village of Beit Ummar, surrounded by six Israeli settlements. He traveled to Washington, DC to present to our audience at the Palestine Center about life in his village; a life infringed by Israeli settlers and Israeli soldiers alike. He highlighted the struggles of living under military occupation – detailing nightly military raids of civilian homes, expansion of Israeli settlements, and violent tactics used by the Israeli military to stop village protesters.
I went into work thinking I had a rough week ahead, from personal dilemmas to work project due dates, family arrangements, and a desperate need for a nap. I thought I had a rough week. Ahmed’s slow but powerful voice immediately put me in my place. Rough is waking up to find thousands of gallons of sewage water dumped on your farmland by Israeli settlers. Rough is having access to water once every three days because the Israeli army controls the amount of water you are able to take from your own land.
Rough? Rough is traveling all the way to the United States and telling the story about why your speech sounds just a little slower. Ahmed told us of the day he was beaten by the Israeli army, the day they deliberately beat him in the head. The day the Israeli military army beat him so harshly they affected his brain in a way that lost his focus and along with that, the simple yet important ability to join in Palestinian nonviolent protests.
The Israeli army beat Ahmed Oudeh in the head because they believed it would be an effective way to strip him of his power. Wounds taken to the head can cause severe brain trauma, loss of ability to walk, to speak, to think – all ways in which Palestinians resist Israeli military control. Even with total impunity and their constant use of violence, the Israeli army failed. Ahmed Oudeh’s voice has never been stronger. He spoke strong and he spoke the truth, with a voice and a story not a single audience member will ever forget.
You can check out Ahmed’s full presentation at talk from his event at the Palestine Center here