Transcript edited by Pierce Butler.This is the 30th in a series of transcript excerpts from the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program collection at the University of Florida.
Dezeray Lyn was interviewed by Jessica Taylor [T] and Lara Alqasem [A] in 2009.
T: Where were you born?
L: In Hollywood, Florida [in 1978]. I had a lot of siblings and we had financial difficulties so we moved a lot and had a house foreclosed on. It was just difficult.
When I was in school and Desert Storm was going on was the first that I heard about war and conflict. But I wasn’t in the proper mental state to pursue any knowledge about the specifics. I felt very removed from what was happening.
T: What was the point where you were able to focus on these?
L: It started with animal rights. I got an email of a picture of animals a hunter had killed and it spelled out the word PETA. And I didn’t think it was funny and I didn’t know what PETA meant. So I looked up, what is this? I saw this video called “Meet Your Meat.” I’m not a supporter of PETA now, but I went vegan on the spot. From there I learned about a lot of other issues, environmental issues and social issues, what was being done to animals worldwide. That launched me into this whole world that I even didn’t expect that just started from an email one day.
T: To you what is the relationship between animal rights issues and human rights issues?
L: They’re sentient beings: they should have freedom of movement, freedom from pain and exploitation. Eating meat is seeing to it that people are going hungry all over the world because the land that’s clear-cut for cattle grazing and the wheat that goes into feeding animals could be feeding the world. Suffering is linked between species, between countries, between cultures. Once my eyes were opened to that I started becoming really sensitive, like a sunburn.
T: When was the moment that you were interested in the Israel- Palestine conflict?
L: In 2008 when Cast Lead, which was a genocidal offensive against the people in Gaza happened, it seemed just so crazy that it couldn’t be real. I started doing Friday demonstrations at the Israeli consulate. I was living in Philadelphia at the time and went to D.C. to march against U.S. complicity and funding what was happening, and found out about the white phosphorous gas that was being used. People are being maimed and killed and it was very visceral and scary.
At the time, I was involved in numerous things like the Occupy Movement, Food Not Bombs, different homeless advocacy groups. One other person and I co-founded this group called The Better World Project in Philadelphia.
I’ve always painted hubcaps and left them in the streets, tied them to light poles. Just wanted people to see pretty things, taking trash and making something beautiful out of it. So we were having light pole art galleries. We were collecting garbage and doing White House crime scenes out of boxes, and doing displays and newsstands like, this is the real news. We would do scale models of the situation in Iraq, and in Palestine. it was really crude artwork using trash. We were trying to do different things so that people in their daily life walk around and see random pieces of artwork and information on it about workers’ struggles, or consumer politics and stuff.
T: What were the effects of your artwork?
L: We never stayed to find out. We left stuff anonymously. We travelled from Philadelphia to Florida, and then across to the west coast. We stopped in different cities, everywhere: Baton Rouge, Phoenix, San Francisco, Dallas. We would do these things and just leave them and walk away. Hopefully people saw them and read them and cared, and it added a little something different into their day.
T: Can you talk about the main [organization] that you work with?
L: The Palestine group? Yeah, International Women’s Peace Service. My friend here, I don’t wanna say her name – I met her on a Day of Rage during the bombing in Gaza. I was talking to her about how I wanted to go to Gaza, to do something, and she’d been there like seven times. She was telling me about the International Women’s Peace Service and, throughout the following year, we talked a lot about it. Then I became involved in a Block the Boat movement, her and I kind of co-founded it, and things got really, really intense during this campaign. Once I got money up to go, then I learned a lot about them.
They’re located in a village called Deir Istiya. Women come, they work out of this volunteer house, and they do numerous things, like provide accompaniment for farmers facing violence from settlers, they interview. Interviews can be former prisoners, families whose children have been killed, or their husbands or wives have been killed by the occupying force, shepherds, or anything. Also, engaging in and supporting nonviolent resistance to the occupation and intervening in human rights abuses. International Women’s Peace Service has been around since 2002 and they have a really good reputation in Palestine. I’ll be going back either with them or International Solidarity Movement in September.
T: Can you talk a little bit about how things unfolded there?
L: When I arrived at the airport, my friend here had gone with me and we pretended we didn’t know each other in case one of us was flagged. She was taken away and interrogated, deported, and I got through. So from the beginning it was harrowing. I got to the village and it was a giant culture shock. Immediately I started working, doing interviews, and found it’s a very sad and very frightening place.
The first two weeks I didn’t think I could stay the whole time and it just seemed really upsetting and emotional. I had a really difficult time, especially after the first demonstration I went to, and the tear gas and being shot at. Just really frightening.
But after the third week, getting connected to the land and the people and I felt like roots were growing really quickly. And I wanted to stay there. I got really, really involved in the work and doing reports, as many as I could, I wanted to see all the refugee camps, and expose myself to as much as possible. There’s so much more that I wasn’t able to come close to touching, which is why I felt like my work was not finished there. It was a really amazing, stressful, scary, powerful experience, and really beautiful.
I didn’t wanna leave, I was gonna stay until I was deported. But I have a court case here that I had to come back for. It was really, really difficult and I was really conflicted leaving there. Going through Israel to Tel Aviv to leave was really upsetting because, whereas a couple days earlier I was running from these soldiers shooting at us, there they’re on the bus with me. Many, many soldiers on the buses and walking down the street while I was trying to get to the airport. It was really strange, kind of a shock and uncomfortable.
T: Can you talk about the airport incident when you were trying to get there?
L: If you’re there in any kind of human rights capacity and they suspect it or have proof of it, they’ll deport you and ban you. You have to get a solid story together. We expected both of us to get through, but we set up two different meetup points, just in case. She was in a line aside from me and up ahead, and I saw her getting questioned for a minute or two, and someone came around the counter and took her away. It was thirty-one hours before I knew what had happened to her.
During one of the trips that she was there, the Israeli Times did an article about I.W.P.S. They weren’t supportive of Palestinian liberation, so they did a really ugly article. They mentioned not only her name but her home, her address, her husband’s name, and where she lived.
It could’ve been really dangerous for her, because if some person was very Zionist and against Palestinian human rights activists, they could have easily gone to her home and hurt her or her family. Because of this article, her name was flagged.
The article had come out three years earlier. They took her aside, questioned her, yelled at her, get out of here, you’re a liar, and all this stuff. She was trying to pacify them and let them know that she wasn’t there to help Palestinians, she wanted to visit the Holy Land. But they ended up not believing her. Questioned for four hours, held for ten, and then deported and she’s banned for ten years from coming back. But I don’t feel that after ten years they say, oh, okay, you probably don’t care about Palestine anymore so you can come back in. So it’s tantamount to a lifetime ban.
T: You said that when you first got there you felt a culture shock. Can you explain that?
L: First of all, visually it’s completely different than anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s really, really beautiful. The hills are really beautiful, there’s ancient olive trees. But also things like the military presence, these watchtowers, and these Israeli flags everywhere and barbed wire and the wall and checkpoints, heavily armed people standing there. When I first got to the village, one of the people that I was gonna volunteer with told me, wait at the corner, I’m gonna send a taxi for you, but be careful. This is not just a settler-only road, but settlers go through here to go to the settlements and they’d just, a few weeks before, tried to kidnap two kids and shot at them and they were going through all this trauma now. Be careful if you see a yellow license plate, which identifies an Israeli car.
It was a climate I wasn’t used to where I didn’t feel safe anywhere. I worried about homes being raided ‘cause the home I stayed at had tried to be raided weeks before I got there. They actually broke the metal door so they couldn’t get in. We had conversations like, if they come, what do we do? So immediately it was like, okay, this is very different from what I’m used to. Palestinians, they’re very kind and very welcoming and very open. Come into my home, and have some tea. And the military presence and the occupation … it was just different.
T: What was the point that you decided that you wanted to stay until you had to leave?
L: I think it was when I went to Hebron. In the villages, it was somewhat quiet, but when I went to Hebron to work with I.S.M., that’s where everything changed. I got really angry and really defiant while I was there. The occupation is right up in your face. There’s soldiers all over the streets, checkpoints everywhere. Just to get to where the checkpoint is to monitor the children coming in, there’s numerous checkpoints you have to go through. There’s signs, “This land was stolen by Arabs,” and “This is our land now,” and there’s hundreds of Israeli flags everywhere. It’s like a graffiti battle of “Free Palestine,” and then they’ll spray paint blue stars over it. There are homes in cages.
You were very clearly on one side or the other. You’re very obviously in the middle of a military occupation. You can very clearly see the result of what’s happening on these families and you can clearly see what the agenda is. There’s segregated roads there that Arabs and Palestinians can’t travel on so you’re yelled at by soldiers, give me your passport! We have to make sure you’re not Arab!
That was where things started to change for me. I met a lot of people from the International Solidarity Movement and they were very kind and supportive. I met a lot of Palestinians, like medics and people at demonstrations and people at Palestinian-based resistance groups there. They were very helpful.
Palestinians, even if you don’t know them, are gonna help you get to where you need to go or stop in the street and ask you if you need a ride. It’s not hard to get connected with people there really quickly.
See http://ufdc.ufl.edu/l/AA00035192 /00001?search=dezeray+=lyn for the full transcript of this interview; look for a second segment in the next issue of the Iguana.
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