Rebuilding Camps in Occupied Palestine
To witness the brutality and viciousness of the Israeli occupation first-hand immediately gave me more tools to work with, whether in Israel-Palestine or back home in Helsinki. The Israeli direct action and human rights group Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) organizes an annual rebuilding camp in the occupied Palestinian territories. The rebuilding camp brings together international, Palestinian and Israeli activists for a two-week long endeavor of education and discussion on the history and present reality of Israel-Palestine as well as creating our own facts on the ground, usually a home for a Palestinian family whose previous home has been demolished by the Israeli authorities.
ICAHD Finland, the Finnish branch of the organization that I’m involved in, brings a delegation of Finnish participants to each camp. For me, the many summers spent in Israeli-occupied West Bank and in Israel often entail a process of thinking and evaluating the efficacy of various forms of political involvement.
In 2008, when I came across ICAHD rebuilding camps and read more about them, I was struck by, and took a liking to, the way the camp combined manual labor, in depth presentations and group discussions on the history and different aspects of the Israel-Palestine conflict and tours in the occupied territories and Israel proper. It seemed like the full package so I decided to enroll.
And the full package it was. I was impressed by the high quality of the planning and the execution: the program, the schedule and the amount of manual work. In terms of developing one’s political activism and advocacy work, the camp program and various discussions provided much food for thought.
When I look back at the 2008 camp, it proved something of a watershed for me. I underwent a process of politicization when I was a teenager and a part of that politicization was to let the notion of a lifelong political involvement to sink in. As I delved more full-time into Palestine activism, it became apparent that the involvement would be life-long. It will most likely take decades for a Palestinian movement with its international backers to manage to bring about any set of concrete arrangements that respect and enforce the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.
But ‘lifelong political involvement’ does not say a lot. Anyone involved in political activism is able to recognize how easily the notion of political involvement, or rather the act of being being politically involved, becomes an artificial, hollow manifestation of one’s desired identity. A self-declared political activist pursuing the ostensibly committed lifestyle of alleged political involvement is not a rare sight. What often follows is a weak-minded and barely disguised distinction between the vanguard and the ignorant masses, that is us and them – a distinction that needs to be underlined constantly to the extent that that underlining becomes perhaps the primary form of what the person would still insist is political activism.
The above characterization captures some of my orientations especially in the early years of my politicization. Certain writers, political movements, websites and particular historical events or phases form a milieu whose primary function is to create and foster a sense of belonging to something larger. Even of itself, that is perhaps not problematic. However, it may become counterproductive, or at any rate, dishonest, if such a sense of identity is not accompanied with, or is not a result of, actual political involvement that indeed aims at shaping political, economic, social or other realities.
As our 2008 rebuilding camp crew was going all-out in erecting our own facts on the ground, and as the camp’s educational and advocacy program featuring experienced Palestinian and Israeli activists continued to provide stimulus for political strategizing plans and fine-tuning advocacy work, I soon realized that I need to team up with ICAHD. After my second rebuilding camp in 2009 and many discussion with the ICAHD founder and director, Jeff Halper, I founded the Finnish chapter for ICAHD and the ICAHD family grew a little more.
The rebuilding camps tend to have a somewhat unique atmosphere to them. Participants from around the world and often from completely different backgrounds come together for a common cause. Most of the participants meet at the camp for the first and last time. I took notice on how working on the ground gave me a more accurate sense of proportion on the political task at hand. A sense of proportion is quite difficult to grasp back home behind the computer screen or in demonstrations.
To witness the brutality and viciousness of the Israeli occupation, to see firsthand the settlement blocks and the entire occupation and apartheid infrastructure and to hear from and meet many of the people at the forefront for our broad movement for Palestinian rights immediately gave me more tools to work with, whether in Israel-Palestine or back home in Helsinki. Many of my fellow-campers have been saying the same thing.
For anyone who wants to strengthen their Palestine activism and get more involved in the struggle against the longest military occupation in the WWII era and the last surviving apartheid regime in the 21st century, get in touch with ICAHD and let’s mix some cement.
Article was published at http://www.telesurtv.net