Emily Henochowicz

Readers of this web log are no doubt aware that the Israeli military attacked a flotilla of six civilian ships in international waters on Monday, May 31, 2010. The ships were attempting to break the three-year long Israeli blockade on Gaza and deliver humanitarian aid to the 1.5 million people who live there. The Israeli commando raid took the lives of at least nine people and wounded dozens, sparking global calls for an independent investigation into the deadly operation and the lifting of the blockade. On June 3 the U.S. State Department confirmed that one of those killed was a 19-year-old American – shot four times in the head and once in the heart. In this article I would like to mention a part of the story that has received comparatively little attention.

On the evening of May 31, international TV channels showed people around the world protesting the Israeli attack on the “Freedom Flotilla.” A brief video clip of a West Bank protest depicted a chaotic scene of Palestinians running in the streets as tear gas canisters rained down upon them. The final seconds of the film showed a small cluster of people carrying a young woman, her hands covering her bleeding face as she screamed in perfect English, “My eye!” Who was the young woman? What had happened to her?

A Palestinian woman cries for help as she holds a cloth to the head wound suffered by Jewish American art student, Emily Henochowicz, who had just been shot in the face with a tear gas canister by an Israeli soldier. Associated Press photograph by Majdi Mohammed.

A Palestinian woman cries for help as she holds a cloth to the head wound suffered by Jewish American art student, Emily Henochowicz, who had just been shot in the face with a tear gas canister by an Israeli soldier. Associated Press photograph by Majdi Mohammed.

The young woman in the film was 21 year old Jewish American art student, Emily Henochowicz. Ms. Henochowicz is currently enrolled as an art student at Cooper Union in the East Village of Manhattan. She took part in the protest at the Qalandiya Checkpoint as a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). That group defines itself as a “Palestinian-led movement committed to resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using nonviolent direct-action methods and principles.” ISM members come from the U.S., Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, England, Spain, and many other countries.

Hundreds of Palestinians took part in the Qalandiya Checkpoint demonstration, including a number of foreign nationals from the ISM. The Associated Press reported one witness saying that some Palestinian youths threw rocks at Israeli soldiers, but that Henochowicz and other ISM members were not involved in the violence – in actuality, according to the witness, they were standing at a distance from the melee.

Regardless, Israeli troops fired volleys of tear gas projectiles at the crowd of demonstrators. The ISM alleges Israeli troops fired tear gas projectiles “directly at the heads of Emily and another ISM activist.” On the ISM website, Sören Johanssen, the ISM volunteer that had been standing with Henochowicz, insisted the Israeli soldiers “clearly saw that we were internationals and it really looked as though they were trying to hit us. 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.”

Ms. Henochowicz was carried from the scene by fellow protestors and members of the ISM, and rushed to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. On May 31 she underwent two surgeries. Her left eye, destroyed by the tear gas projectile, had to be removed. Surgeons inserted three metal plates into her head and face, as the bone surrounding her eye socket, cheekbone, and jawbone suffered severe fractures. Ms. Henochowicz is now recuperating in Hadassah Hospital.

The Tribe of Levi - Marc Chagall. 1960. Stained glass. One of twelve windows, each measuring 11 feet high by 8 feet wide. Located in the synagogue of Hadassah Hospital, Jerusalem. Photograph - Creative Commons, Wikimedia.

"The Tribe of Levi" - Marc Chagall. 1960. Stained glass. One of twelve windows, each measuring 11 feet high by 8 feet wide. Located in the synagogue of Hadassah Hospital, Jerusalem. Photograph - Creative Commons, Wikimedia.

When I read that the young artist was rushed to Hadassah Hospital, where the good Israeli doctors and staff did their best for her, I was dumbstruck by the irony of it all. Hadassah Hospital is where the 12 magnificent stained glass windows created by the famed Russian-born Jewish artist Marc Chagall (1887-1985) are housed.

Starting in 1960, Chagall began creating windows for the hospital’s synagogue, stained glass that would depict the twelve tribes of Israel. Chagall donated the windows to the hospital free of charge, and I would agree with those that say they are the artist’s greatest creation in the medium of stained glass.

On February 6, 1962, Chagall attended the dedication of the synagogue, where his windows were permanently installed. At that ceremony, the artist made the following statement: “This is my modest gift to the Jewish people who have always dreamt of biblical love, friendship and of peace among all peoples. This is my gift to that people which lived here thousands of years ago among the other Semitic people.” The heart breaks when contemplating the full meaning of those words, truths that also now include a young Jewish artist in a Hadassah Hospital bed, recovering from a terrible wound.

"Sheikh Jarrah" – Emily Henochowicz. Pen and ink, watercolor. May, 2010. The artist captioned her drawing with the following words, "Amongst the chaos of the military and settler’s attempts to squander our ability to paint a mural, a little girl sadly sits on the swing set." Sheikh Jarrah is an Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem that is undergoing an official Israeli government policy of judaization. Palestinian families are forcibly evicted from their homes, which are then awarded to Jewish settlers. The Palestinians are of course resisting, and Israeli students have been protesting the evictions along with them. As recently as May 26, 2010, hundreds of Hebrew University students chanting "We won’t sit in class while rights are being trampled," marched from their Mount Scopus campus to rally in solidarity with Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah. Henochowicz witnessed such a demonstration in early May, making it the theme of this drawing

"Sheikh Jarrah" – Emily Henochowicz. Pen and ink, watercolor. May, 2010. The artist captioned her drawing with the following words, "Amongst the chaos of the military and settler’s attempts to squander our ability to paint a mural, a little girl sadly sits on the swing set." Sheikh Jarrah is an Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem that is undergoing an official Israeli government policy of judaization. Palestinian families are forcibly evicted from their homes, which are then awarded to Jewish settlers. The Palestinians are of course resisting, and Israeli students have been protesting the evictions along with them. As recently as May 26, 2010, hundreds of Hebrew University students chanting "We won’t sit in class while rights are being trampled," marched from their Mount Scopus campus to rally in solidarity with Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah.

I discovered the works of Marc Chagall when I was but a child, and he remains one of my favorite artists to this day. His delightful modernist prints and paintings were my very first introduction to Jewish life and culture, and his works no doubt have had that same affect on untold millions.

Chagall once said that it was an artist’s duty to keep “awake the sense of wonder in the world,” but he also warned that in life’s long vigil the artist must always be “striving against a continual tendency to sleep.” It appears many have fallen into the deep slumber the visionary Chagall cautioned against.

Some will no doubt call Emily Henochowicz naïve, but I believe that in her own youthful way, she was struggling against the “continual tendency to sleep.”

Looking at her past sketches, one can plainly see a young artist fascinated with humanity, and reaching to find a means of expressing the complex realities of our time. She was grappling with the human figure, form and color, just as all art students do, and was perhaps a bit too reliant on whimsy, but she obviously has the necessary spark one needs for the serious pursuit of art.

I pray that the thuggery displayed by some goon with a tear gas gun will not deprive us of Ms. Henochowicz’s artistic talents; that she will overcome what may now seem like an insurmountable obstacle, and help to bring some beauty into this troubled world – for it is sorely in need of that.

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Visit Emily Henochowicz’ web log and flickr gallery.
Click here for information about Sheikh Jarrah.
A video that shows the shooting of Emily Henochowicz can be found on the Lede news blog of the New York Times.

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