A lot of nonsensical accusations are leveled at Israel’s anarchist activists, a small group of citizens engaging in civil disobedience and nonviolent protest against the occupation. Most of them are lies. The fact is that the anarchists are the only group in Israel engaged in serious anti-occupation activism.
This is a translation from Hebrew of my weekly column in Time Out Tel Aviv. It was written as a response to the labeling of J14 activists as “anarchists” by Israeli Knesset Members and journalists. You can read the original here. Thanks to Lisa Goldman for translating the piece.
THE ISRAELI RIGHT has learned a new word: “Anarchists.” MK Miri Regev called the J14 protest leaders “anarchists who actively undermine the state”; Channel 10’s economic affairs reporter, Sharon Gal, said the protesters were a “type of anarchist”; online, Facebook status updates and comments on news sites reflected similar sentiments. This is all nonsense, of course. The social justice movement is led by the Israeli middle class; and there have always been far more average Israelis than professional revolutionaries at the demonstrations.
But let’s talk about the anarchists themselves. Over the past two or three years I have traveled with them many times to various demonstrations in the West Bank and I have come to know quite a few of them – primarily members of Anarchists Against the Wall. It would not be an exaggeration to say that my acquaintance with them fundamentally altered my political perception.
At first I was appalled by the manner in which the anarchists dismissed events that seemed very important to me – like Knesset elections or demonstrations in Rabin Square. Yet after awhile I began to understand the power of their political activism. One aspect of that activism is to think politically about all our life choices – what we eat, who we exploit through our work and how we oppress others. The other side is to engage in continuous, determined political action. Their activism is not only about demonstrations: Anarchists have changed the names of Tel Aviv streets to the names of streets in occupied Hebron; they have posted stickers decrying “price tag” actions by settlers against Palestinians; and they have “returned” crates of spent, U.S.-manufactured tear gas canisters used by the Israeli army at West Bank demonstrations to the U.S. ambassador.
All these are primarily symbolic actions, designed to raise public awareness of the things that are being done in their name just 20 kilometers away from Tel Aviv. The fact that this small group of people comprises the only Jewish Israelis who are willing to oppose the occupation with serious activism – and not just moan about it in café conversation or on the pages of Haaretz – is an unflattering commentary on Israeli society.
The anarchists number only a few dozen, but they have had an enormous impact. Thousands of Israelis have visited Bil’in and seen for the first the Israeli army from the perspective that the Palestinians see them – facing the barrel of a gun, rather than from behind the trigger (this is a mind-altering experience). The army altered the route of the separation barrier in Bil’in as a result of the demonstrations. But more importantly, the demonstrations helped bring some awareness of the occupation to the attention of an entire generation.
The struggle in Sheikh Jarrah was born of the anarchists’ activism. Even the social justice protesters learned something from them – and I am not referring to the breaking of a banks’ glass window.
Most of the accusations leveled at the anarchists are lies. I have attended dozens of demonstrations and have not once seen an anarchist throw a stone or attack a soldier or a police officer. Unlike the global anarchist movement, the Israeli anarchists restrict their activism to civil disobedience and non-violence – refusal to serve in the army, blocking roads, boycott and voluntary detention. For these actions they pay a heavy personal price.
Even when I disagree with them and have a difficult time with their dogmatism, I remain certain that the anarchists are the most important group of leftist activists Israel has seen in decades. In a few years, many people who are clucking their tongues at them now will claim they supported the anarchists all along. As one of the activists wrote this week on Facebook: If there were as many anarchists as the idiots in the Knesset claim, there would be a lot fewer idiots in the Knesset.