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The Israeli Left must show up to protest 50 years of occupation

After 50 years of a racist military regime, it’s time for the Israeli Left to go out and protest en masse — and, in the face of such an urgent task, to overlook our differences.

File photo of Israeli anti-occupation activists protesting in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. (Maya Levin/Flash90)

File photo of Israeli anti-occupation activists protesting in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. (Maya Levin/Flash90)

Things can sometimes be very simple. Read, for example, the following invitation to the anti-occupation protest taking place in Tel Aviv this Saturday night:

We will take to the streets en masse to protest against the absence of hope from the right-wing government, against the occupation, against violence and racism. This extremist group in the coalition, drunk on power, cannot be allowed to continue running riot, spreading hate and inciting against minorities, the media, the justice system and anyone who dares to criticize government policy.

We are about to mark 50 years of occupation. Fifty years of a racist military regime, which operates two separate legal systems in the West Bank — one for Jews and one for Palestinians. Fifty years in which Jerusalem has remained divided, although along national lines rather than recognized borders — separating citizens who get to build, receive services and take part in democracy, and those who suffer from systematic discrimination and home demolitions. Fifty years of Gaza seeing military rule replaced by a brutal siege and wars. Fifty years of destruction, killing and needless deaths.

Fifty years too many, as +972 Magazine’s project to mark half a century of occupation has been called. Fifty years that could have been prevented, and which we are obligated to bring to an end.

We are also witnessing the nonviolent uprising of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, who have been on hunger strike for 40 days in a demand for the basic rights that Jewish prisoners (including security prisoners) already receive: protection from extended administrative detention with no trial; the right to telephone access (under supervision); the right to study in jail in order to lay a foundation for the future once they’ve been released; the right to visits. There has been a growing protest movement in support of the prisoners both in the occupied territories and among Palestinians in Israel; meanwhile, dozens of the hunger strikers are already under medical supervision and are entering a hazardous phase of their strike.

Israelis hold signs calling to fight against racism, occupation, and for freedom of speech, in a march against the occupation at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem Old City, April 1, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israelis hold signs calling to fight against racism, occupation, and for freedom of speech, in a march against the occupation at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, April 1, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Where is the Israeli Left today, in the face of 50 years of occupation, 40 days of hunger strike and popular Palestinian protests? Where is its own protest against the occupation? Where is the mobilization against the Israeli consensus, which chooses the status quo of settlements, perpetual military rule, siege and racism? Where is the opposition to the anti-democratic processes being driven by this extreme right-wing government, which censors art, shuts down Palestinian movements, parties and media outlets on both sides of the Green Line, and incites against Arabs, journalists and those opposed to the occupation?

There are protests, here and there. There are people doing good work on a daily basis, in solidarity with prisoners, organizing against fascism in Jerusalem, protecting Palestinian shepherds from settler thugs in the south Hebron hills and in the Jordan Valley. But a strong public voice is also needed, and at the moment there is no loud, clear cry against the occupation from the Israeli public, or the Left, aside from this upcoming protest on Saturday evening. That’s a good enough reason to attend — the Left needs to be there together, Jews and Arabs, to shout out loud.

After half a century, a broad coalition is needed — despite its flaws

Yet there is also a critique to be made of this demonstration. As Yuval Eylon points out on Local Call, the organizers of Saturday’s march include the Labor and Meretz parties, whom he justifiably accuses of capitulating to and edging towards the Right, of collaborating with the occupation, of backing the delegitimization of Palestinian political movements and more.

But they won’t be the only ones at Saturday’s protest, and it’s not a demonstration in support of the Labor party. They weren’t the original organizers of the event — it’s a Peace Now initiative, which is also being organized by Standing Together, Combatants for Peace and the Parents Circle Families Forum. These groups stage grassroots Jewish-Arab, anti-occupation and anti-racist initiatives across the country.

Right-wing Israelis confront members of ‘Women in Black’ during their weekly vigil against the occupation, central Tel Aviv, January 22, 2016. Women in Black have been holding weekly vigils against the occupation for two decades.

Right-wing Israelis confront members of ‘Women in Black’ during their weekly vigil against the occupation, central Tel Aviv, January 22, 2016. Women in Black have been holding weekly vigils against the occupation for two decades.

Representatives from councils of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev will also be at the protest, as will residents of Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam and numerous joint organizations from the Galilee. Palestinian and Mizrahi feminist groups will be represented, along with MachsomWatch. The list goes on. And there will be both Palestinian and Jewish speakers, including Joint List head Ayman Odeh and Eli Bitan, an editor at both Local Call and B’Hadrei Haredim, a major ultra-Orthodox news website.

Nonetheless, we mustn’t ignore the rightful criticisms of the event, above all the presence of Labor. The party bears huge responsibility for the occupation, settlements, wars and the military regime. It persecutes Palestinian citizens inside the Green Line, and stopped referring to itself as a left-wing party years ago.

To criticism of Labor must be added criticism of the army generals who “shoot and cry,” as well as those who engage in day-to-day racism, and then speak out against it in lofty tones. Most of the time, we must also struggle against the Zionist Union of which Labor is a part, and against its policies — the acquiescence to Operation Protective Edge, the attacks on the Islamic Movement and Balad, and so on.

But when these people are finally prepared to form part of a broad front against the occupation, to take to the streets once every few years to call for peace, hope, and end to racism and incitement — why not join them? The small, radical Jewish-Arab bloc on the Left cannot end the occupation alone. When a unified force is needed to make change, we are compelled to create alliances — even when there are disagreements over countless issues (such as the solution to the occupation).

The demonstration on Saturday is one of those instances. After 50 years too many, we need to show that there are still plenty of people here who are opposed to the occupation.

This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call. Translated by Natasha Roth.

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    1. Firentis

      I would say that Peace Now have a decent chance of getting around 4,000-6,000 people to the square. It was a pretty smart move on their part to have decent musical acts to beef up the attendance numbers somewhat. At least according to FB none of my Tel Aviv friends are attending and this thing is today which probably means that this event hasn’t going particularly viral. Peace Now’s European paymasters are going to be disappointed. Oh well, there is always next year.

      It doesn’t matter if you attend or not. The numbers are too small. No “unified force” is going to come out of it. In any case, if this protest had actually gone viral and would have had a decent turnout then the worst thing you could have done is show up with your marginal European-funded anti-Israeli friends waving Palestinian flags and screaming about ending Zionism. That would somewhat undermine the “broad front” you want to promote.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Firentis: Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman have just come out with their new book “Kingdom of Olives and Ash” about life under occupation. Do you think that will help the turnout for demonstrations in the future? From the Amazon review:

        “A groundbreaking collection of essays by celebrated international writers bears witness to the human cost of fifty years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. In Kingdom of Olives and Ash, Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, two of today’s most renowned novelists and essayists, have teamed up with the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence—an organization comprised of former Israeli soldiers who served in the occupied territories and saw firsthand the injustice there—and a host of illustrious writers to tell the stories of the people on the ground in the contested territories.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          Perhaps this will be the first ever anti-occupation book written by American Jews that someone in Israel will read. Perhaps not. I’d bet on the latter.

          Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Those awful Europeans, getting all principled and impartial and justice-minded and caring again. The nerve of them. Tsk tsk.

        European Ambassadors Boycott Tour of New Israeli Rail Route Because It Traverses West Bank
        Ministry scraps outing to Jerusalem-Tel Aviv fast train line after EU representatives decline invitations.
        The Transportation Ministry canceled a tour for foreign diplomats of tunnels for the fast Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway line under construction. Senior Israeli officials and European diplomats said the tour was scrapped after European Union ambassadors decided not to attend, on the grounds that one of the tunnels traverses the West Bank, considered occupied territory by the international community.
        After reviewing the situation, the foreign and transportation ministries concluded that the EU ambassadors’ decision might cause other ambassadors to take similar action, turning the tour into a highly embarrassing diplomatic incident. It was ultimately decided to defer the tour to a later date and to inform the foreign ambassadors of the change.
        The two ministries were surprised by the European ambassadors’ decision, viewing it as a boycott of sorts that could render the fast train project a controversial subject in the international community….
        In May 2011, Germany’s national railway company, Deutsche Bahn, announced that it was pulling out of the railway project because part of the line was to pass through the West Bank. The company, which is owned by the German government, had been serving as a consultant to Israel Railways, and for this specific project was responsible primarily for reviewing documents.
        The German weekly Der Spiegel had reported at the time that Germany’s transport minister at the time. Peter Ramsauer, told Deutsche Bahn´s CEO that the projected rail line was “problematic from a political perspective” and violates international law.
        read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.791997

        Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          Yep. Arrogant Europeans are using their financial resources to interfere in the domestic politics of foreign countries by supporting and sponsoring marginal political organizations that have no real domestic support on the ground. Strangely despite massive amounts of funding these European proxy organizations have failed to gain much support amongst Israelis. Perhaps it is something in the personalities of people that are willing to sell out their own country for a fistful of euros that causes people to not trust them or respect them. Perhaps it is just that the agendas that these European proxies pursue are odious to average Israelis. Then again, what do I know? It might just be bad luck or insufficient funding.

          Apparently the Europeans haven’t gotten the message that their empires ended and that they do not in fact have the right to try to impose their will on other countries. Perhaps one day they can learn the hard way that this is immoral and unethical. Perhaps one day some foreign country in the East will use its resources to try to influence European domestic politics. I am sure the same European countries will thank such a country in the East for its commitment to whatever set of bs principles that it uses to cover up the fact that it is simply promoting its own interests.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The West Bank is not your country.
            What this translates in to is “the Europeans once had their empires and it’s our turn now, and those nosy Europeans should butt out and stop it with their hard won interest in human rights. They should stop trying to impose their will on our imposing our will on the Palestinians.
            The Israelis want to have their nice little creeping annexation and subjugation and cannot believe that Europe is actually getting ethical about this. What a drag!

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            Rabin square where European-sponsored Israeli-registered organizations organized this protest is very much in our country. And the collaborators that the Europeans pay to push forward their objectives are Israeli citizens. And the primary goal of such organizations is to impact internal Israeli politics.

            And regardless of the final disposition of the West Bank neither it, nor Israel are in Europe. European attempts to impose their desires in other parts of the world are arrogant and imperialistic. Their means in this case are an affront to the ideas of democracy and sovereignty. Their supposed justifications for their interventions don’t interest me. It used to be that they wanted to spread their religion. Then they wanted to spread their “superior” culture. Then they just wanted to run everything. They used to do this by claiming to be the protectors of some local group and then using that as an excuse to impose its will. They would pick local proxies that were most willing to sell their countries out and work through them. They would send money to buy influence and fete and promote local politicians most amenable to their desires. Not much has changed. In every other case what the European countries are doing in Israel would be called out for being exactly what it is – European imperialism. Only in Israel’s case are the usual suspects silent.

            But no worries. This will end soon enough. Foreign governmental funding for Israeli marginal groups will be dried up in one way or another.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Again, it is NOT simply internal Israeli politics. This is an assumption that needs exposing again and again. Secondly, neither the West Bank nor Israel is in the United States either. And yet the United States has intervened massively in the internal affairs of this little region. Before you get on your high horse and tell me why the Europeans should not “attempt to impose their desires” (as opposed to Israel’s imposing desires) then tell us why the United States gets special desire-imposing privileges? You can’t tell me it’s because this utter jackass Trump is such a swell guy but Angela Merkel is suspicious, can you? So what is it?

            Reply to Comment
    2. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      But a majority of the Israeli population is happy with the actual situation. The Judea and Samaria have been liberated 50 years ago and the Jewish communities are growing well due our high birthrate. The Jewish holy city of Hevron has been liberated 50 years ago and it is a real miracle.
      The left can try to protest en masse. The People is with us.

      Reply to Comment
    3. BOAZ

      Yesterday’s night rally has not been the failure predicted by Firentis nor the success it might have been.

      Moreover, polls show that the Israeli proponents of the 2SS and the end of the occupation still exceed the number of those favoring annexation.

      All this time lost by the radicals bashing liberal zionism…..For that matter, Avi Bouskila is one, and there is no way denying it.

      Haggai, and other +972 bloggers, aren’t you sorry together with your diasporic friends (JVP for North America, UJFP for France and UPJB for Belgium) for time lost demonizing the mainstream peace camp ?

      Reply to Comment
      • Firentis

        I don’t think 4,000-6,000 would have been much more of a failure than the 10,000-15,000 that showed up.

        The turnout was decent, but simply insufficient to cause any real impact.

        I wouldn’t blame Haggai or his anti-Zionist friends for this though. The Israeli Zionist Left is starting out at a massive disadvantage. Their supposed peace partners insist on celebrating as heroes the murderers of Israeli civilians. You can read out a thousand speeches by Abbas about how much he wants peace. Naming one square or school or cultural center after a terrorist and the whole thing sounds like BS. The only thing that would revive Israeli faith in a negotiated solution to this conflict is the Palestinian acceptance of the principle of two states for two peoples. That Haggai and his friends are insistent on supporting the Palestinians in their rejection of such a principle is what you should really be blaming them for.

        They are not sufficiently numerous or prominent to have an impact on Israeli society. They are the Israeli equivalent of the crazy people walking around Manhattan talking to themselves. Yet they get sufficient exposure internationally (thanks to European money) and among the Palestinians that they leave the Palestinians clinging to the hope that if they just hold on a bit longer they will be able to get all their dreams fulfilled without having to accept that they have permanently failed to dislodge the Jewish state.

        Reply to Comment