Not a game

'C,' a Tibetan living in Israel, sees the Olympics as a last chance for a free Tibet.

tibet ta protest 88 224 (photo credit: Tamar Dressler)
tibet ta protest 88 224
(photo credit: Tamar Dressler)
The fear of the Chinese authorities is present in the room, the few Tibetans who live here still live in Big Brother's shadow, monitoring everything from mail and Internet to following and photographing the participants in the demonstrations outside the Chinese Embassy in Tel Aviv Interviewing C was not an easy task - only after I promised I would not disclose any details that might harm him or his family in Tibet did we meet. C, a young man in his early 30s, smiling shyly, met me in his home. Outside the living-room window there's a small garden and the warm, quiet house seems light years away from the chaos and the violent demonstrations in Tibet over the past few weeks. Unlike other Tibetans in Israel who were born in India among the exiled Tibetan community and are here as a part of an education program run by Yativ (Friends of Tibet in Israel), C was born in Tibet and his family still lives there. The interview was followed closely by a significant member of C's new life, making sure that the questions and answers did not pose any danger or reveal C's identity. The fear of the Chinese authorities is present in the room, the few Tibetans who live here still live in Big Brother's shadow, monitoring everything from mail and Internet to following and photographing the participants in the demonstrations outside the Chinese Embassy in Tel Aviv. Some 13 years ago, C made the most significant decision of his life - he chose to escape from Tibet to Dharamsala to see the Dalai Lama, who escaped Tibet some 49 years ago when the Chinese invaded. He left his parents and nine siblings behind. Despite the Chinese authorities' claims of the diminished effect the Dalai Lama has over the Tibetan people, the love and great respect is apparent in C as he speaks about his flight to freedom. Thousands of Tibetans make the dangerous journey to Nepal and India in the unbearable conditions of the Himalayas; many are shot and killed by Chinese soldiers patrolling the border. Yet they risk their lives in hope of once more living under the spiritual direction of their beloved leader. Many Tibetans have died on the dangerous journey to Dharamsala, and I asked C if this had any effect on his decision. "I knew there were only two options," he replied, "either I would die or I would make the journey. I consider this my karma. I saw five dead bodies on my way, fleeing Tibetans who were shot by the Chinese armed forces. There are many army camps in the mountains. I decided not to turn back and vowed to try to help my people in Tibet if I survived. "I did not make any contact with my family for an entire year. They had no idea as to where I was or whether I was dead or alive. I told them I was going to Lhasa [Tibet's capital] for a month to look for work. My father was interrogated four times by the Chinese police. Each time he claimed he did not know anything of my whereabouts and that I was an adult and not under his supervision. Finally they let him be. "Only a year after I escaped did I manage to send a letter to my family with a British tourist I met in Dharamsala. This is common practice among Tibetan refugees to avoid the Chinese censor. Before the Internet and cellphones, letters from India were often confiscated by authorities. This is how my family learned I was alive and well in Dharamsala." C spent seven years in the Tibetan refugee community in Dharamsala before moving here. In recent years he managed to visit Tibet despite the great danger. C's mother died, but he managed to meet relatives and siblings. He describes a different country, under the cultural influence and political regime of China. "Things have changed greatly in Tibet. Many of the Tibetans who used to be farmers are now moving into urban surroundings, the land was divided unevenly between the Tibetans by the Chinese government to raise conflicts between us. Many families decided to give up agriculture and seek different work, many of my neighbors don't have even one goat or yak, and I think this urbanization process is negatively affecting our culture." C has great respect for education and progress, but he expresses his concern over the Chinese education in Tibet. "Tibetans understand the great importance of education nowadays. When I was young, I hardly went to school, but now Tibetan children go to school - Chinese schools. The curriculum and the language spoken in the schools is Chinese and the Tibetan culture and language are nonexistent. This is one of the Chinese government schemes to brainwash Tibetans and to slowly destroy and eliminate our culture. I'm afraid the young generation will be more Chinese than Tibetan. "The Chinese authorities aim at the weak and needy population, providing them with some help. I think this is another way to develop co-dependence on government aid and deter these Tibetans from speaking against the occupation, and indeed, many Tibetans give up on resisting the Chinese government. The train into Tibet brings many Chinese businessmen and thousands of Chinese immigrants. This Chinese mass dilutes the Tibetan population and is a part of the general Chinese plan to overcome the Tibetan resistance and destroy our unique culture." Over the past 49 years, Tibetans maintained peaceful, nonviolent resistance, but this year, with the Olympic Games in sight, the demonstrations have turned violent. "I assume that feelings are much stronger this year. Maybe after 49 years of trying to communicate with the Chinese government, some of the Tibetans reached a point of no return, but I must emphasize that there were many quiet demonstrations of students in universities, walking peacefully. "The Olympic Games in China this year provide a rare chance for the rest of the world to try to persuade China on various issues, including the occupation of Tibet, human rights and their treatment of minorities. "Many people are working to reveal the true face of China and focus attention on what is going on there, it's not easy, there is no freedom of information, but I hope these people will succeed." What does C think about boycotting the games? "I have no doubts that the games are important to the entire world. I, personally, will find it very hard to see the Olympic torch passing through occupied Tibet, but perhaps the Chinese great desire to host these games successfully is the leverage for pressure on the Chinese government to change the Chinese inner policy." In the past weeks, demonstrations have been held here, as in many other countries, asking for an end of the occupation. I asked C if he thought Israel should broach the subject in its diplomatic contacts with China. "Israel, like any other country today, has a great deal of business with China. Almost anything you can imagine is manufactured in China. It has great power but I still think that the fact the millions of lives were changed due to the Chinese occupation should be on the agenda. "I managed to visit Tibet, but under great danger and without identifying myself as a Tibetan. Still I was detained at the airport for several hours and released only because the Chinese policemen were unable to decide whether I was Tibetan or not. I was lucky to be released; other Tibetans who tried to visit disappeared and no one knows what happened to them. Activists are taken away in the middle of the night and the Chinese deny they're involved. The secret police is working within the community; there is no freedom of speech or religion. Even having a tiny picture of the Dalai Lama or a small Tibetan flag can lead to arrest. This is a state of occupation; we cannot agree to life under occupation, the Chinese have to leave Tibet." The violent demonstrations ending in the death of many demonstrators are constantly on C's mind. He tries to maintain telephone contact with his family and make sure that none were hurt or have disappeared in the demonstrations, arrests and interrogations. Has he ever considered going back to Tibet to live? C stops for a moment, the yearning and excitement show clearly on his face, but he soon answers. "Under Chinese occupation? Never. I promised myself years ago that if I made it to Dharamsala, I would do whatever I could to help my people, and there is still so much to be done." Israel's policy on Tibet was revealed during the Dalai Lama's visit in February 2006. Following Chinese diplomatic pressure the Foreign Ministry declined requests for a formal meeting on behalf on the Dalai Lama and described his visit as a private one. Despite his international status, Yativ, a local NGO, was forced to rent the VIP lounge privately for his visit. The support for Tibet in Israel is by NGOs, human rights organizations and private people. On March 18, a short discussion was held in the Knesset regarding the current situation in Tibet at the initiative of MK Michael Melchior, who said: "I think we have a moral duty regarding the Jewish and the general history we're part of. I think we should apply our means in our direct contacts with China and on the international level as well. We have a moral obligation. I understand the Israeli interests in China and I don't think we should proceed with boycotts and sanctions, but I suggest we clearly say what needs to be said and what the other cultured nations have already said. I hope the Foreign Ministry will lead the way. I know we have moral and responsible people there." This was the first time the issue of Tibet was brought up in the Knesset. Israel has no intention of boycotting the Olympic Games.