Truth is a rough, honest, helter-skelter terrier that none like to see brought into their drawing rooms.
Some feel the West Bank is relatively quiet with fewer attacks on and by the army. However, Israel is consolidating control, building the wall, patrolling the streets, while many places suffer frequent incursions and lock downs. This control is becoming less visible to visitors—Kalandia checkpoint for one example. The major portal between Jerusalem and Ramallah, I’ve seen it evolve from a rough open pen to a sophisticated airport-like security center. Coming from Jerusalem to Ramallah over one month ago I did not even see it.
Others have observed that many Palestinians, at least in the West Bank, focus more on daily life than on broad-based perspectives aimed at ending the occupation. Rather than justice they seek jobs, completing their education, and more freedom of movement like getting thru checkpoints. Not so in the Gaza strip where, as I understand the situation, resistance is active and militant, with disproportionate and often brutal retaliation an inevitable consequence. I hope to report first hand next month, if I get a permit to enter.
In a word: being ordinary, living ordinary lives. Mahmoud Darwich, a leading Palestinian poet now in exile in Jordan, has stated, “All we want is to be ordinary.” While Huda Imam, director of the Centre for Jerusalem Studies, put it this way: “I don’t want even to say peace because we Palestinians do not believe in peace anymore. What we want today is to feel that we are ordinary people, and we are normal people, and we are human beings. We have the right to live in dignity and we try to do that through non-violent resistance.”
Fareed Taamallah, a friend living in Qira near Salfit, believes the main action, perhaps the only resistance action, is inspired by the Bil’in model—nonviolent, shifting themes, drawing internationals and Israelis for support, using the media effectively. The movement is slowly spreading to some 5 sites including Highway 443, an Israeli-only road, stretching across the southern West Bank from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Fareed also believes that international support for the Palestinians is slowly building. Divestment and boycott are good strategies, he feels. People are fatigued, he continued, both Palestinians and Israelis, and thus this might be an opportunity for a peace process. The talks at Annapolis, recently concluded, may be a last opportunity, in a long line of “last” opportunities. Water is key, and he’s written about the issue for the international media.
Concerning water, he said further, that there exists a decision making body concerning water, comprising equal numbers of Palestinians and Israelis but, disastrously, it operates on consensus. Thus each side has veto powers. However, the superior military power of Israel allows it to forge ahead with hydrological policy and action despite opposition from Palestine. Palestinians cannot do the same. The end result: Israel has all the power.
In addition, as Fadia Daibes Murad, a leading Palestinian hydrologist, points out, the two parties operate on different principles: Israel relies on the right of prior use and Palestine references human rights. That is, Israel assets it developed the water resources before Palestine made any claims. It has a right to the water because it is a prior user. While Palestine claims water is a human right and this right supercedes any other arguments. Palestinians claim they should have access to water resources in proportion to their population. The two populations are nearly equal, so water rights should be equal. Not so in reality. Israel controls some 85% of the available water. And this is just the beginning of the injustice.
I observe further that many Palestinians and Israelis are shifting from support of a two state solution (Israel and Palestine separate and autonomous, divided by the Green Line, the informal and internationally recognized border, and settlements withdrawn to within the borders of Israel) to either a one state solution (bi-national democratic state, equal rights for all, no longer a Jewish state) or something ill defined and yet to be specified. One key reason for this is the recognition that Israel would not abandon the settlements and Palestine would not accept them remaining. Much also hinges on the right of return, for Palestinians dispossessed in 1948 and 1967, and for Jews living anywhere in the world.
Others have observed that the 2nd intifada is moribund; there is no nationally coordinated resistance, other than the loosely affiliated nonviolent resistance spawned by the villagers of Bil’in. Isolation of the Palestinians into enclaves or bantustans helps explain why coordination is so difficult, heaped onto the surveillance of communication networks. Activists I’ve worked with are wary of using email and phone for privileged dialog.
What might be growing deep within the bowels of these two divided societies? I prefer to believe it might be nonviolence-based ideology and methods, much like what characterized the 1st intifada: tax refusal, non-compliance with transit laws, worker strikes, etc. More on what might be brewing at the end of my essay.
I hear the term “normalization” frequently. What does it mean? For opponents of normalization it means rejection of any pairing of contrary forces, any partnering of Palestinians and Israelis, as in academic projects, tours, conferences, and the like. Because this form of discourse and sharing can easily ignore the key goal of ending the occupation. When I mentioned 2 years ago to a dear Palestinian friend that I’d met with Bereaved Families, Israeli and Palestinian, those killed by the occupation, she said, “Not a good idea, this is Band-Aids rather than surgery.
For others not opposed to partnerships, not exactly supporting normalization, but de-emphasizing its dangers, the prospect of human beings coming together despite their differences bodes well for a shared and just future. For example, the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, led by Jeff Halper, seeks alliances between Israeli and Palestinians. Whereas the International Solidarity Movement, led in part by Neta Golan, believes strongly that most such alliances diminish resistance to the occupation. I side with ICAHD, believing fully in the oft repeated admonition of Quakers: Walk cheerfully over the earth answering to the divine in all beings.” Which means for me, sit down and talk, stand up and work, with those you might consider your adversaries. But be wary of dilution of energy and focus. Keep your eyes on the prize, to use an expression from the Civil Rights Movement in the States.
Many compare the struggles and conditions in Israel-Palestine with those of South Africa during apartheid. Apartheid itself, Afrikaans for separation (I’d add with fear and hatred) is an operative principle, a frame among many to describe and explain the dynamic in Palestine/Israel. Thanks to bold writers like former President Jimmy Carter more people are turning to this mode of analysis. Along with the apartheid comparison to South Africa runs the resistance comparison. And here I believe we have a major problem. Seven key elements of the South African freedom struggle seem missing, or at least much different, in Israel-Palestine: women, unions, nonviolent leadership models, cohesive organizations, lobbies in the United States, international participation, and demographics.
Women played a major role in the 1st intifada, but the local leadership generally was eclipsed when the Palestinian Liberation Organization returned from exile. Palestine is a male dominated society, very few women rise to high positions of leadership. Currently, as far as I know, women play a minor role in the movement. There are exceptions (Hannan Ashwari and Jean Zaru for two examples, Fadia Daibes Murad for another) and this could change.
Second, there is virtually no trade union movement in Palestine or Israel, at the moment and historically. Nor is there much chance of one because of the nearly total separation between the Palestinian work force and Israeli employers. This separation is new and might change, allowing a trade union moment to emerge, one that could by striking against Israeli employers force change.
Three, South Africa freedom fighters were seeded by Mahatmas Gandhi who began his Satyagraha movement in South Africa when he was forcibly ejected from a train for riding in the whites-only compartment. He lived and worked for nearly 20 years before returning to India to lead the freedom movement there. His legacy continues with grace and strength. Nelson Mandela, former leader of the African National Congress, has conceded Gandhi’s influence and himself believed in nonviolence. Altho he did, admittedly, advocate limited forms of violence later in the campaign, carefully avoiding injury to people. Palestine has a few nonviolent leaders, but like Mubarak Awad many are exiled or murdered or imprisoned. Some remain, Sami Awad, leading Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem, the nephew of Mubarak, for one example.
Four, much of the world now knows the two leading Palestinian political parties, Fatah and Hamas, are warring against each other. Even before the violence erupted between them nearly two years ago, the schisming was deep and deadly. And there are other parties. Even when Yasser Arafat was alive—some say Israel poisoned him 3 years ago—there was no organization on a par with the African National Congress which commanded most of the country’s allegiance. Now with Arafat dead the leadership is even weaker and more fissiparous.
Five, few in the US were South African, only a few more might have publicly supported South African apartheid. Thus few had vested or imagined interests. To the contrary with respect to Israel-Palestine: the Israel lobby in the US is the second most powerful lobby, driving much of the nation’s foreign policy. Mearsheimer and Walt wrote a book (and were excoriated for it), describing in detail how this lobby influences US policy.
Six, international participation, many believed, played a key role in ending South African apartheid. This participation slowly grew and eventually led to boycotts, divestment, and sanctions, and a general rejection of the South African government, rendering them a pariah state. I feel much the same is occurring now with the apartheid model gaining prominence and traction and with it the calls for divestment, sanction, and boycott. This requires patience. Several leading Israeli resistance groups like the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions and many Palestinian organizations now call for various forms of carefully targeted campaigns.
Another aspect of international participation is use of the international court system. Fadia Daibes Murad is calling for litigation over the water rights issues by the International Court of Justice in The Hague. In 2004 that same Court declared the Separation Wall illegal when built on Palestinian land. She feels this is the only body that can fairly judge the contending hydrological claims. This movement toward using the international court systems also is growing and was absent during the South African freedom struggle. A good sign in my view and one of the more hopeful developments.
Finally, demographics, a major difference between South Africa and Israel-Palestine. In South Africa whites comprised some 15% of the population with blacks about 55%, so-called coloreds (largely from Malaysia) and Indians the remaining 30%. In Palestine/Israel the proportions are roughly equal, some 4 million Israelis (of which 20% are Palestinian) and 4 million Palestinians (not counting those in Diaspora which would double the number). So population gravity in Israel-Palestine does not push the resolution in favor of the Palestinians as it did for the blacks and others not white in South Africa.
A chilling thought: that as South African apartheid collapsed in part because it was unsustainable—pass laws, racial categories, “independent” bantustans, mixed race marriage laws, etc—Israel, or at least Zionist Israel, might implode. Zionism might be a fine idea for another time, another place, perhaps (doubtful in my view) but not now, not on historic Palestinian territory in the midst of a largely Muslim-Arab block of countries. Some have written of the intoxication of victory during the 1967 “miracle” victory, the Six Day War, that altho the Israelis had no plan for occupation that heady moment propelled the conquering spirit. And this intoxication ultimately could lead to the demise of Zionist Israel. Oddly enough, some of us appearing to be enemies of Israel often express alarm that the nation might end because of its own suicidal tendencies. Is Israel trapped in its own chutzpah?
I’ve tried to learn about and from one of the few contemporary Jewish prophets, the late Yeshayahu Leibowitz. I believe the current situation frighteningly bears out some of his thoughts. From the Jewish Virtual Library:
He stressed nationalism’s religious importance, but following the establishment of the State of Israel and its independence of Halachic norms [debates among the rabbis about legal matters found in the Talmud], Leibowitz argued fiercely for the separation of religion from the state. He insisted that the state was not an ideal with an intrinsic significance, but was there to serve its citizens.
Leibowitz was also uncompromising in his political views. Although he had been active in various political groups, he disapproved of the system of party rule and the numerous political parties, including the religious parties. He labored publicly against government corruption and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Following the Six Day War, he objected staunchly to retaining any Arab territory, arguing that occupation morally destroys the conqueror. He supported military conscientious objection to serving in the territories and in Lebanon, [emphasis added] and it was largely his vociferous left-wing views that made him such a controversial figure.
The decision in 1992 to award him the Israel Prize [for his contributions to chemistry] sparked much controversy, and Leibowitz declined to receive it. He died in Jerusalem in 1994.
A final question: what is brewing in the occupied territories and in Israel? Youth are one of the keys to a solution. What is their tendency? I point out two groups as exemplars: the Israeli Anarchists Against the Wall and the Palestinian Holy Land Trust. The first, largely youth, are daring and innovative, coming to the support of oppressed Palestinians. With them is the block of refusniks, of many stripes, mostly united in refusing to engage in military actions maintaining occupation. The Holy Land Trust, primarily people under 35, grows thru its programs of summer work camps, support for nonviolent resistance, tours, honoring children bereaved by the occupation, and a new media outlet. With Holy Land Trust, not necessarily in its emphasis on nonviolence, comes the large and growing Palestinian student movements. What is brewing among the young of Palestine/Israel? I hope to learn.
This is my analysis. Based on interviews and observations and reading and video viewing and musing and pondering and being perplexed and flummoxed and troubled and tormented. One analysis: what’s it worth?
Links to Fareed Taamallah’s articles:
Links about and by Fadia Daibes-Murad: