My dear friends,
Does this sound familiar:
“I don’t mind protesting in Tel Aviv but I’m not crazy enough to do it over the Green Line”
“I can’t go there, I might get arrested or shot. Anyway I have to pick up my kids from swimming lessons.”
“My wife won’t let me go. She’s concerned what the family will say if I get arrested”
And so on….. And so on….. These are some of the reasons I’ve heard from Israeli Jews who want to limit their participation in protest and resistance to the Israeli Occupation in The West Bank. My own excuse goes something like this. “My wife won’t let me be arrested. I’m expected home for dinner.” Most of us decide on our level of activism by our social schedule, family restraints, and work commitments.
Some of us commit inadvertant crimes as a result of protest activities and then become upset by the ensuing arrest and conviction. The young lady who threw a cream pie at Reuven Rivlin (Israeli Minister of Communications) last Autumn now has to serve a year of full time community service. She was quite upset by the sentence. However what a statement it would be for dozens of activists to commit similar ‘crimes’, perhaps a little worse, and end up in jail.
There is a small core of Israeli activists, probably less than a hundred who will go anywhere, anytime, and commit acts of civil disobedience in order to demonstrate their commitment to a just peace. Are the rest of us wimps? Or merely being rational about our protest activities. If we are in an armed conflict to determine the status of the West Bank and Gaza why are there no Israelis fighting side by side with Palestinians. A few Israeli Jews have indeed joined the PLO over the years but they are the rare exception.
The civil rights movement in the USA during the 1960s saw thousands of white Americans standing shoulder to shoulder with blacks in the southern states where institutional racism was the norm. They braved the brutal repressive measures of State authorities and many were jailed, some were killed. In South Africa many whites joined the African National Congress when it was defined as a Communist/Terrorist organization by the Apartheid government. What constrains Israeli political activists to restrict their activities to ‘safe’ protest?
For many activists the Zionist ethic still prevails. Even among the extreme left there remains a core belief that Israel must remain a Jewish state and any political program or activity that undermines the ‘Jewish Character’ of the state is to be avoided. Thus a recent Peace Now demonstration in Tel Aviv with the slogan “Get Out of the Territories – Get Back to Ourselves” supports the Zionist paradigm of separation from non-Jews, without reference to the inherent injustice of such a philosophy. It negates the existence of over one million Palestinian citizens of Israel who have little interest in ‘Getting back to themselves’ but are increasingly identifying with their brethren across the Green Line. Many, if not most Peace Now supporters would close ranks with the right wing if there was an imminant possibility of a single democratic state being formed from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, or if the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees was actualized. Their protest activities are contained within this framework.
Most of the other organizations involved in protest, resistance and peace activities similarly have agendas that restrict their activities. Some, like Rabbis for Human Rights, Bustan l’shalom and Tay’aush combine humanitarian relief with political protest and resistance activities. Others have purely political agendas. There is very little agreement among groups regarding strategy or even the ultimate goals of the ‘Peace Movement’ beyond vague statements such as ‘End the Occupation’. We don’t even agree on which occupation. Some refer only to the West Bank and Gaza, others include the Golan Heights and a brave few discuss Haifa, Jaffa, and the 400+ Palestinian villages in Israel now covered with rubble, Jewish settlements and kibbutz fields.
The great peace activist Ghandi discussed the resistance strategy of filling the jails to overflowing with political prisoners who refuse to accept the brutalities of oppression. He was not only talking about Indians, or South Africans, or Palestinians, he was talking about us – Israeli Jews.
So what are the strategies that will take us into the unknown, the slippery ground of activities defined by the state as criminal acts? Shall we destroy the machines of war, perhaps chain ourselves to tanks, or declare a mock curfew in Tel Aviv as some fine young people did a couple of months ago. Couragous acts of creative resistance would result in a cadre of political prisoners that would give hope to the Palestinian people that some of us really do care. No matter how hungry they get, most Palestinians would prefer to see Israeli activists in jail for their resistance than bringing supplies of food and water bought with donations from our rank and file. Perhaps we should be raiding the industrial food processing plants and corporate supermarket chains that have profited from the captive Palestinian economy, and deliver the booty to the Palestinians. Now that would be a political statement – – and a crime that would put us in jail. Maybe I’ll be arrested for suggesting it. At least that would be a start in the right direction. Oops, what am I saying! I need to talk to my wife before I can be arrested.
So where does this leave us, my activist friends. Shall we all get together and hatch a grand plan to fill the jails with activists? Or shall we continue our tepid brand of protest and complain when the army fires tear gas while we attempt to transport humanitarian supplies to Palestinians who only half want them in the first place. Make no mistake, I point the finger first at myself. Do I rise to the challenge or listen to my wife who needs her husband to come home every day and my two young children who need their daddy to be close. Then I think of all the dead Palestinian and Israeli Children, those senseless deaths that took them forever from their daddys’ love. How great a personal price should we pay to avenge all those deaths? How great a sacrifice can we demand of ourselves to redeem our society of the stain on our honor? I have not yet found my answer. Have you?