Brian Avery went to the occupied West Bank to see the situation for himself. His mistrust of the American political agenda and media led him to the heart of the conflict as a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement. Now, many bullets and thousands of dollars worth of reconstructive surgery later, Avery's mistrust is just as strong.
While trying to help a Palestinian through a checkpoint, an Israeli bulldozer-like tank fired a couple of rounds at him, leaving the 24-year old lying almost lifeless with a bullet hole across the front of his face, barely missing his brain. The Chapel Hill High School graduate is now recuperating at his family's home in Chapel Hill, anticipating perhaps a year of surgery to rebuild his face.
Avery, along with other members of the International Solidarity Movement, spent his time mostly in the city of Nablus, attempting to communicate with Israeli military personnel and help Palestinians move through checkpoints quicker, particularly the sick, wounded, pregnant and elderly.
"The Israeli military did not like Internationals," he said. "Most really didn't even acknowledge our presence, ignoring us. Sometimes they would threaten us, and shoot at us."
But, he said, they were needed.
"[Israeli military] would humiliate the Palestinians at checkpoints," he said. "Frequently, soldiers would give verbal abuse, sometimes physical abuse, and even cause injury."
Avery accepts what has happened to him, though it makes him mad. He doesn't have health insurance, and it's costing his family outrageous medical bills and the heartache of consecutive surgeries.
The Israeli government says an investigation cleared their troops of wrongdoing.
"Although Israel does not take responsibility for what happened to Mr. Avery, Israel does regret this incident ever happening, and feels that it truly is a tragedy," said a statement from the Israeli consulate in Atlanta.
"A primary responsibility of every state is to protect its citizens. Israel is no exception. Unfortunately, our experience with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) has been most troubling, as its activities have directly hindered efforts to bring an end to wanton terror against our citizens. The ISM harbored a wanted Palestinian terrorist in their Jenin office in March 2003. Shadi Sukiya, a senior member of the Islamic Jihad (listed on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations) who was involved in the planning of several thwarted suicide attacks, was arrested by IDF troops while hiding in the offices of the ISM. Two ISM activists helped Sukiya hide from IDF forces. In addition, ISM volunteers have repeatedly disobeyed orders to keep out of declared military zones."
Avery's will and determination to see the situation for himself was brought on by what he felt was a lack of real coverage from the American media. He says his findings were indeed different from the picture they paint.
For the next few months, Avery plans mostly on recovery and continued medical treatment. He is sure that he will stay active in the peace movement, and continue to research and develop sustainable agriculture and environmentally sound forms of community development, as he was in Albuquerque, N.M., before he went to the West Bank. Avery also will continue playing music, which has been a large part of his life.
But he insists that his ordeal has been worthwhile.
"It is very imperative to people that they learn and understand what happens to their tax money. There are so many complex connections in world politics, and it really is up to people to take responsibility. As much as I can learn is great for me, and for others."
You can send contributions to help Avery pay his medical bills to:
The Brian Avery Medical Fund
c/o Wells Fargo Bank NM
7530 Montgomery NE
Albuquerque, NM 87109