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J14 Tent Protests: What about the occupation?

Tent protesters have demanded time to address the issue of occupation as they push a social revolution for the full citizens of Israel. Hours before a series of major demonstrations throughout the country, I am re-posting a piece which I wrote earlier this week in the London Review of Books which raises the fundamental question; what about the occupation?

Protesters in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh attempt to erect a tent on Friday 12 August 2011. Photo by Oren Ziv/activestills.org

Protesters in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh attempt to erect a tent on Friday 12 August 2011. Photo by Oren Ziv/activestills.org

Largely shielded from the European and American financial crises, the Israeli economy has been growing at an astonishing rate over the past five years: 4.7 per cent in 2010 alone. But the wealth isn’t evenly distributed: most Israelis living inside the 1967 borders struggle to make ends meet because of the high cost of living and relatively high taxes, which are largely spent on security and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Last month, a group of Tel Aviv residents in their twenties set up camp in the centre of Rothschild Boulevard to protest against housing costs in the city. They didn’t have a serious plan for political change, but the protest tapped into nationwide discontent. Within a few days, hundreds more people had joined them. The momentum spread quickly through the country, with camps appearing everywhere from Eilat on the Red Sea to Kiryat Shmona on the Lebanese border.

On Saturday, 250,000 Israelis marched in Tel Aviv and 10,000 marched to the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, demanding ‘social justice’. Netanyahu, the main target of the demonstrators’ placards, was quick to paint the protests as a misdirected reincarnation of the ‘radical left’. But this stale tactic didn’t stop an overwhelming majority of Israelis supporting the protests. According to recent opinion polls, 87 per cent see the demands for economic reform as legitimate.

The protester’s working definition of ‘social justice’, however, is unclear and full of contradictions. Most glaringly, they have yet to address the question of the Occupied Territories. From the start, organisers maintained that their protests were a rare instance of ‘apolitical’ social organising. The Palestinian issue was understood to be too divisive to be included under the umbrella of Israel’s social justice revolution, and there’s no doubt that, had protesters connected their struggle for social justice to the occupation, many fewer Israelis would have joined the protests.

The rights of Israelis, however, are inextricably tied with the rights of Palestinians, both inside the 1967 borders and in the Occupied Territories. The protesters, like most of Israeli society, are operating under the assumption that they are disconnected from the Palestinians who live under Israeli military occupation. But the fact is that one regime rules the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and any discussion of the allocation of resources here, not to mention social justice, must take into account the rights of everyone who lives under the regime.

Despite the attempt to ignore the occupation, dozens of Jewish settlers from the West Bank descended on the protest camp in Tel Aviv last week. Carrying banners that say the solution to the housing problem lies in the West Bank, settlers have been shouting slogans against homosexuals and (non-Jewish) African refugees in Tel Aviv. At the other end of the camp, Jewish and Arab protesters have set up ‘Tent 1948’ to commemorate the dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians when Israel was created.

The protest as a whole will soon be forced to confront the question of the occupation. Last week the military announced that it will initiate a massive call up of reserves ahead of the United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood in September. Most of the protesters, young men and woman with reserve duty obligations, will have to decide whether to increase the pressure on the government by refusing to serve, or abandon their protest without having made any concrete gains. At the moment, the latter course seems more likely.

This piece originally appeared on the website of the London Review of Books

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  • COMMENTS

    1. The tent cities are a Zionist effort, ultimately a liberal Zionist effort.

      They articulate a state for all its citizens theme, but NOT in a single state perspective.

      The issues that have been raised here and elsewhere as to the significance of the occupation has been mostly in the diversion of resources to the settlements, the unfairness of it, and the misutilization of taxpayers’ (government) assets.

      It is almost a post-occupation movement in the sense of the acknowledgment of the unfairness to non-Jewish and non-Ashkenazi communities (people) in Israel.

      The occupation will not disappear as a social issue. And, by not disappear, I mean that it cannot be avoided for more than a short period.

      I would let the post-occupation consciousness evolve, so that the discontinuity between Israel and the occupied territories is pronounced, but seen by those with sympathy for those of different ethnicities.

      The great service of the tent cities is the breaking of ethnic and community barriers, of which ironically, the insistence on “occupation only”, reinforces.

      When the occupation is brought up, the differences between “us” and “them” is also unintentionally invoked.

      The social approach is a big tent, a big “we”.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Yoni

      It Does NOT Come Back to the Occupation Now (but it Will, Eventually).

      Sheizaf is not grasping the essence of the protest movement.
      Looking at it through the prism of the Israeli-Arab conflict is missing the forest
      while focusing on one bush. It is reductionism to the absurd. The truth that
      any large movement, as this one, will have eventually to confront this conflict is
      obvious. But to focus on this aspect now is missing something much larger.

      What is happening is a paradigm shift in the conscience
      of a large core segment of the population. It is a cry
      to a more humane society where caring for each other will be the norm, rather than
      the present “everyone for himself” prevailing ideology. The
      youngsters in the tents in Rothschild and elsewhere expect the Government to
      provide more than the bare minimal safety net. They call for a decent living,
      education, health acre, and especially access to housing, for everybody.
      Philosophically it is the opposite of where Netanyahu was leading since 2003,
      when he served as Finance minister in the first Sharon’s government. Then he
      imported Reagenism and Thatcherism to Israel. These protesters are yearning
      for a modern European-style social-democracy . So while here this model is
      denigrated by those who oppose Obama, there it is the unrestrained free market
      which is being abandoned. The paradigm shift has already occurred, no matter
      what happen next on the ground. It might take time until it the body politics
      is transformed, but I am ready to bet Bibi will not be prime minister three
      years from now.

      How it will affect the Israeli-Arab conflict?
      It can only hasten the Israeli withdrawal from the
      West Bank for two reasons. One conceptual and the other practical:

      Conceptually – The motto of this uprising is “Tsedek Chevrati”,
      meaning Social Justice. True social justice cannot exist within only one
      segment of the population, or in one location but not ten miles hence. This
      means that non-Jewish citizens, and the Palestinian in the West Bank, will be
      viewed more and more at human beings who deserve the same justice.

      Practically -As the State will try to look for the funds necessary to
      elevate the social services and make housing accessible, the citizenry will
      become aware of the enormous sums of money going to subsidize the settlements
      at their expense.

      So, yes, eventually this social paradigm shift will have profound
      effects on the occupation. But to illuminate conflict-related marginal
      skirmishes, is to set oneself blind to a much brighter light.

      Reply to Comment
    3. @Yoni: What do I have to do with it?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Naftali

      So, this article was published in The National, a UAE site. Lo and behold, if you try to register to comment, Israel does not exist among their list of countries.

      So, where is Joseph writing from? If Israel does not exist, how can there be an Occupation. Of course, Joseph doesn’t ask these questions. The key is to demonize Israel, regardless of the facts. Joseph has no problem with Israel being wiped off the map.

      Reply to Comment
      • Naftali, you comment is interesting for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the piece states clearly, with links, that the post was published on the London Review of Books website. I did however, publish a piece in the National this week. In your rush to attack, you have demonstrated that you did not even read the material presented here. Your comment is not based on discussion, rather my personal credibility for writing a piece published in the Arab world. Also, your registration issue is not based in reality but I am not surprised given your frenzy when dealing with these issues. You finally statement is absurd as is the rest of the comment.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Sam

      Social Justice is a great concept. One of the basic principles of social justice, as I see it, is equality.

      Now, equality is a very elusive concept on many levels. As has been pointed out before, some see equality as an equality within groups, without achieving equality between groups. I hope Jewish protesters are aware that demanding for absolute equality means that they automatically stop being privileged just because they’re Jews who live in Israel. The first step is recognizing that an equality is needed between the Jewish and Arab citizens (inside the 1967 lines).

      The second step is to recognize that since the Palestinian territories are occupied territories, the occupied there are under Israeli responsibility, and so are themselves entitled to equality with the rest of the population.

      Now, there is another step, less obvious than the previous two, and kind of parallel to them. It is thus more of a sidestep than a third step. Even if a widespread agreement is achieved whereby, say, Jewish and Arab citizens are equal before law, it remains to be seen how this equality is translated in reality. For example, the recent “minhal” decision to give preference to people who have done the military or national service over those who haven’t in allotting its goodies to the people is not, I believe, a form of equality. Of course, there are many reasons why people do not perform that service, prominent among those is the mere fact of being an Arab. So, about 20% of the population are discriminated against, not only due to this decree but due to 63 years of legislation in the same spirit. The problem resides in whether the Jewish population sees this as a form of injustice or not.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ben Israel

      I can’t believe the 972 people allowed this ridiculous piece of propaganda be posted at their site. Note this quote:
      ———————————————–
      But the wealth isn’t evenly distributed: most Israelis living inside the 1967 borders struggle to make ends meet because of the high cost of living and relatively high taxes, which are largely spent on security and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
      ———————————————–

      Israelis living over the Green Line work just as hard to get by as those inside the Green Line. In fact, the fabulously wealthy all live WITHIN the Green Line.
      Regarding the “high taxes which are largely spent on security and occupation”. Well, why can’t the writer be a little more precise. “Largely”..that means the majority. How much? 51%? 70%?. I think in reality it is about 1-2%. Why is this kind of nonsense printed here?

      Reply to Comment
    7. Deïr Yassin

      Ben Israel writes:
      “I can’t believe the 972 people allowed this ridiculous piece of propaganda be posted at their site”
      Well, if I’m not misinformed, Joseph Dana, the author of this article is one of the co-owners of this blog.
      So Ben Israel, also known as “I_like_ike_52″ on other blogs, a proto-fascist (and I stand by my words), pro-settler, one of the most intolerant and self-righteous commenters I’ve ever come across in the blogosphere should be happy that 972mag and other ‘left-wing’ blogs allow his crap.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Naftali

      Actually, Joseph, YOU didn’t address any of what I said, and I read the article very clearly. You don’t see the irony of having your piece published on Israel on a site that does not even recognize Israel as a country? Gret countries like Syria, Iran and Somalia are on their list however.

      “Also, your registration issue is not based in reality”

      Prove me wrong, show that in fact you can register on the National site as being in Israel.

      Finally, you may be obsessed with the occupation because it’s a club with which you bash Israel. However, most Israelis don’t see things the way you and the other Israel bashers do. Of course, they are all brainwashed, not like you and the rest of +972, right!

      Reply to Comment
    9. Ben Israel

      Yoni said:
      ———————————————–
      These protesters are yearning
      for a modern European-style social-democracy
      ———————————————–

      Do you really think Israelis want the stagnant, high unemployment economies of the EU. Yes, you can live fairly comfortably on the dole most of your life in those countries. I read somewhere that in France, you can remain a “student” until your mid-thirties at least getting government handouts, student scholarships, etc. All this is necessary because it is hard for young people to get jobs. But who wants a society like that? How can young people build a family under conditions like that? What kind of country and what kind of future will policies like that build? A collapse of their welfare state is inevitable

      Reply to Comment
    10. Deïr Yassin

      Ben Israel apparently reads ‘stuff’ just as unreliabel as himself.
      Absolute BS about France and the scholarships. I’ve wrote my PhD in France, work here and have daily interrelation with students, and know what hardship they go through economically.
      In fact, Ben Israel is using ‘left-wing’ blogs to post his extreme anti-social and pro-settler rants. ‘Propagandizing behind enemy lines’, in some sort.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Ben Israel

      Correction to my earlier comment-
      What I meant was I believe 1-2% of the budget is spent on security for the settlements. Obviously the total amount spent of the budget on the security forces is significantly greater than that but it is certainly less that 50% of the budget.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Ben Israel

      For Shirin-Deir Yassin:

      SHIRIN-Deir Yassin-
      What don’t you try the epithet “tribalist”? I haven’t had that one thrown at me for some time.
      To save you time and to give you the chance to spice up your comments with a little more variety, I am giving you a link to a list of insults used by Soviet State Prosecutor Andrei Vishinsky during the show trials against the Trotskyites and other undesirables, as well as “progressive” insults used in other periods against various enemies of the masses. Try some and see how they go over:

      http://www.cyberussr.com/rus/insults.html

      Reply to Comment
    13. directrob

      Ben,
      Have fun with Shir Hevers response (or by his book):
      http://www.inminds.com/shir-hever.php
      .
      For others, this talk (bottom pageI is long but full of information.

      Reply to Comment
    14. ARTH

      The solution is going to be the building of units of housing right over the Green Line and this “unpolitical” movement will accept that.

      Reply to Comment
    15. eitan hajbi

      i didn’t understand the point of this article: i agree that the occupation has to go, but other than pointing this obvious moral truth, what does it have to do directly with the j14 movement?? sometimes when we demonstrate for ending the occupation and for equal rights for all the citizens of israel people tell us – “but what about the _____ (fill in any other important subject that isn’t quite the topic that we raise…). this is not constructive, and it’s a kind of political autism, or a one track minded political approach. the fact is that the j14 cannot bring a change (at least not directly) for the palestinians in the west bank and gaza, but it has a rare chance to make some changes in israel’s economical and social inner policy. this automatic, instant and binaric criticism about the j14 is childish! i don’t mean that inside the j14 there is no room or roll for raising the issue of the occupation or the discrimination bitween jews and non jews inside israel, but it cannot be a main issue, simply because it’s not what people are protesting of. people in israel may be motivated to end the occupation as external pressure grows, inshalla. but testing the j14 according to it’s acheivments in that field is a false, disconnected, and non valid political analyse.

      Reply to Comment

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