Keren Wheeler arrived in Ramallah on March 28, 2002, as part of an international delegation, intending to meet with Palestinian civilian groups and observe the situation inside occupied territories. The next day, Israeli tanks laid siege to the West Bank city.
Wheeler, 23, was not the only foreigner to participate in the events of those 10 days inside the occupied territories. But she was likely the only Jewish woman from Pittsburgh holding dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship to do so.
It's not the distinction her parents would have hoped for. Ross Wheeler and Naomi Wheeler have lived in Mt. Lebanon since 1985; they're also dual U.S.-Israeli citizens with deep ties to the Jewish state.
Naomi's family arrived there in the late 1930s and early '40s, before statehood, having escaped eastern Europe one step ahead of the Nazis.
"My father lost both his parents and his brother in a concentration camp," Naomi Wheeler said. He was only 13 at the time, and would have died with them if a Zionist youth leader hadn't arranged to smuggle him into British-mandate Palestine.
Ross Wheeler emigrated to Israel from the United States in 1969. He and Naomi met on a kibbutz near Haifa, where they married and where Keren was born. The couple are both veterans of the Israel Defense Forces, and the whole family, including another daughter, returns often to visit a raft of relatives.
What Keren Wheeler saw was Israeli forces destroying streets, houses, water and electrical lines with tanks, bulldozers and helicopter gun ships. She felt the anxiety of being trapped inside for three days while food was running out, heard the shelling, the sniper fire and the children of the family upstairs crying in fear.
"We were 50 meters from Arafat's compound," she said. "We could see it out our window. We had tanks in our back yard and war planes overhead."
At one point, she said, Israeli soldiers forced their way into the house where Wheeler and two other young women in her group were staying. The soldiers, she said, went room to room in search of terrorists, ransacking drawers and closets, breaking dishes and furniture, punching holes in walls and, at one point, flirting with the young women even as they trained their weapons on them.
"When they found out I was an Israeli citizen, it really seemed to aggravate them," Wheeler said by phone from London. "They tried to convince us that we were being used, but we wanted to be there."
On the fourth day, Wheeler said, her group was able to move around. She volunteered to ride in an ambulance with a medical relief group, delivering food, water and medicine to trapped civilians.
"People would call in orders, and we'd pack them up and try to deliver them. We had plenty of supplies donated by Israeli civil and human rights groups, but the problem was getting them through. We kept being stopped and searched.
"Ambulances, according to international law, are supposed to be able to move freely in a war zone, but we experienced severe restrictions. Three times we were shot at by snipers on the rooftops, even though the ambulances were clearly marked."
Israeli officials say they have no choice but to stop and search Palestinian ambulances because some have been caught transporting weapons and ammunition. Wheeler acknowledged one instance of a bomber riding inside a marked ambulance and called it "a terrible abuse." But, she added, "ambulances in general are there to do relief work.
"I said to one Israeli soldier that we were bringing food and water to civilians and they shot at us. He said to me, 'An ambulance is not an ambulance; an ambulance is terror.'"
Wheeler called civilian deaths on both sides "disgusting and tragic," but added, "We have to ask what makes a person want to lose their life in a way that kills other people. There has to be nothing left for them. I hold the Israeli government directly responsible for the deaths of its citizens because of the way it is treating the Palestinians."
Keren Wheeler arrived in Ramallah by way of Brown University, where she joined an activist student organization while majoring in Africana studies, and a semester abroad at the University of Sussex in Brighton, where she got involved with the Palestine Solidarity Society. It was from England that she traveled to the West Bank with a group of Europeans leftists. She returned there afterwards and remains there now, working on her senior thesis on nationalism in South Africa and Israel.
"I'm 100 percent Jewish, culturally and religiously," she said. "It's how I grew up, it's my belief system and how I live. I've always had certain principles of democracy and human rights, but I didn't go just anywhere to pursue them. I went where I have a stake and a responsibility.
"Jews do not all have to hold the same political opinions," she added. "We have to be able to differ without being termed un-Jewish or, God forbid, anti-Semitic."
Dynamic Collective 2005
In 2005, the Collective running the Young Communist League magazine Dynamic, consisted of Shane Brinton, Cesar Casamayor, Melissa Chadburn, Julia Donahue, Maya Funaro, Cristina Gallo, Abdul-Aziz Hassan, Molly Kelley, Tony Pecinovsky, Kristy Ringor, Brandon Slattery, Mike Tyner, Keren Wheeler.
Communist Party award breakfast
The 2005 Missouri/Kansas Friends of the Peoples Weekly World annual awards breakfast drew more than 130 trade unionists, activists, and religious leaders to the Hershel Walker Peace and Justice Awards Breakfast on April 30. The event, then in its 13th year, honors Hershel Walker, a life-long peace and justice advocate who joined the Young Communist League USA in 1930 and spent the rest of his life in the Communist Party USA. Walker was killed in a car accident in 1990 while on his way to deliver petitions for the campaign to save 4,000 jobs at Chrysler Plant #1 in Fenton, Mo.
2005 award recipients included state Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford (D-St. Louis), Progressive Vote organizer Margarida Jorge, and the registered nurses of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 655.
The keynote speaker was Keren Wheeler, editor of Dynamic, the YCL magazine, and the event included remarks from Student Worker Alliance member Danielle Christmas. The SWA had recently won a living wage for Washington University campus service staff after a 19-day sit-in. Christmas thankedd the World for its coverage and support. “This truly was a community victory,” she said.
The Missouri Legislature had recently passed HB 539, which eliminates Medicaid services for up to 130,000 state residents.
After receiving her award, Mott Oxford, who opposed the bill, apologized for the Legislature’s action and vowed to do everything in her power to fight implementation of the cuts.
The breakfast also recognized the lifelong contributions of John Pappademos, who had recently celebrated his 55th year in the CPUSA. Pappademos received a standing ovation from the packed union hall. Members of SEIU Local 2000, AFSCME Local 2730, CBTU, and UFCW Local 655 were among those who attended, along with state Rep. John L. Bowman and 22nd Ward Committee members Jay Ozier and Fay Davis. The event raised more than $4,000 for the World’s 2005 fund drive and local activities.