U.S. student pays devastating physical price to protest Israel's actions

The "Walaja Cake," from Emily Henochowicz's blog, refers to protests in Al Walaja on the West Bank against an Israeli wall to separate Palestinian and Jewish communities. It has layers of "determined activists," "obediently angry army men" and media. (Emily Henochowicz)
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By Robert McCartney
Thursday, June 10, 2010

Emily Henochowicz wasn't thinking about protests or Palestinians or tear gas canisters when she went to Israel in February for a one-semester college exchange program.

The 21-year-old art student from Montgomery County wanted to study animation, and Jerusalem's Bezalel Academy had a good program.

It was a plus to spend time in Israel. Henochowicz grew up in an observant Jewish household and had her bat mitzvah at Potomac's Har Shalom synagogue. Her father was born in Tel Aviv, and his parents are Polish Holocaust survivors.

But Henochowicz became critical of Israel in the spring, after accompanying a friend to a demonstration in East Jerusalem against the eviction of Palestinian families. Very quickly, she began participating regularly in protests against Israeli policies, especially the expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

"I decided that I was not just going to talk about this. I'm going to do something about it," she said.

Henochowicz prided herself on being nonviolent, but she knew the protests were risky. One was "like a war zone, it was so scary," she said.

The dangers caught up with her on May 31. During a demonstration at the West Bank checkpoint at Qalandia, Henochowicz was struck in the face by a tear gas canister fired by Israeli security forces. She lost her left eye, and her jaw and cheekbone were fractured.

As a result, somewhat to her family's dismay, Henochowicz has become a minor celebrity and martyr among Palestinian supporters. Timing had something to do with it. She was injured just as controversy erupted over the Israeli commando raid on a Turkish ship full of international activists trying to break the Gaza blockade. The Qalandia protest was a response to that assault.

Now home in Potomac, Henochowicz declined to talk about the incident because her family is planning to sue Israel over it. But in her first interview since the injury, she discussed the experiences that led her to the protest and her feelings about it now.

Remarkably, Henochowicz says she "absolutely" would do it all again. Although "it's a little strange" for a visual artist to give up an eye, she said she gained tremendous understanding of Israel, the Palestinians and herself.

"It sucks that I lost my eye. But I'm so happy that I did what I did," Henochowicz said. "I love the time I spent there. It felt really amazing to be part of something like that. I don't regret it. I felt that it's what I had to do."

Henochowicz emphasized that her affection for Israel is strong even though she opposes many of its policies.

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