Category Archives: Protest

As the threat to Susiya grows, so does the need for action.

This is an emergency! Stand with Susiya.

The Leftern Wall

[Graphic put together by Rabbis for Human Rights]

Between July 20th, the end of Ramadan, and August 3rd, the date on which the Israeli Supreme Court will hear Susiya’s case against demolition, there are expected to be a number of demolitions in the village of Susiya.

This is hideous news.

We cannot allow ourselves to be made drowsy or apathetic. Yes, Susiya has been under threat of demolition since 2012. Yes, there have been times when the call to action has been framed as urgent, and in the end, nothing happened (thank God and citizen-activists). Yes, the issue of Susiya, for those who follow this blog or the work of many other human rights NGOs and activists, is not a new one.

And yet: The essence of the story is that residents of a village are threatened with the their homes and medical clinics and playgrounds being demolished simply because…

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Divine Violence, Divine Peace: Gaza 2014

This blog is an opinion piece I wrote during the time of the Gaza 2014 war, which has been published in a special supplement (which I edited) of the journal Theory & Event about the war. The whole collection is available free on online, and includes essays by smart, insightful and sometimes sad essays by Adel Manna, Amir Nizar Zuabi, Lev Grinberg, Ofer Cassif, Muhammad Ali Khailid, Louise Bethlehem, and Trude Strand.

IAF strike on Gaza (Photo: EPA)

IAF strike on Gaza (Photo: EPA)

On July 7th I flew back to the US after a month-­long trip to the UK and then Israel. On the same day, the Israeli assault on Gaza began, called in Hebrew “Operation Steadfast Cliff” (tzuk eitan). In my summer schedule, I had set aside time after my return to Bloomington to work on a paper titled “Peace: An Emergent Norm of War and Conflict,” for the American Political Science Association (APSA) conference. I intended to consider Walter Benjamin’s essay “Critique of Violence” among other texts.1 But I had not taken into account that during the summer I would be trying to write against the background of a war that I felt immediately, a war that interrupted my daily schedule as I constantly listened for and looked at updates.

As I tried write I was facing the “steadfast cliff” of the Israeli war on Gaza. The utter pointlessness of the deaths, injuries and damage weighed heavily on me. I didn’t want to be in Bloomington. As an Israeli citizen I felt a duty that outweighed my professional duties, a civil duty to participate in the activities of the Israeli opponents of the war, my Israelis, who are increasingly subject to intimidation by ultra­-nationalist phalanxes on the streets and on social media.2

It was impossible to separate my work from my anxiety, anger and frustration. I had to submit to the interruption in order to think critically about the normal abnormality of what Benjamin refers to as a “state of emergency.” By contrast, a “real state of emergency” 3 would interrupt not only our professional normality but also the regular flow of history – in this case, the repetition of warfare. What, then, with Benjamin’s help, did I think about peace while rockets, bombs and shells fell on Gaza and Israel and the anti­-war demonstrations went on? How could protests constitute an “effective critique” of military violence?4

Through Benjamin’s eyes, the predominant, juridical ways of critiquing the violence of this war are not an effective critique of military violence because they partake in the same means that justify it. In his critique of the legal critique of violence, he argues that all law rests on a “common basic dogma,” that “just ends can be attained by justified means, justified means used for just ends.”5 In the legal framework of the self­defense of nation­states, or peoples, Israel condemns the military violence of the other as aggression, as a means to unjust ends contrary to the sanctity of human life. At the same time Israel justifies its own force as self­defense, as a means to a just end – national and individual survival. Legal norms do not rule out extensive use of military violence as a means of self-­defense, while the spiral of condemnation and justification speaks to a diabolical logic of “we are good, our enemy is evil.”6

Significantly, Benjamin considers military violence to be paradigmatic of all violence, including the “lawmaking”7 violence of the state, whose ultimate end is in preserving itself. Law cannot provide an effective critique of violence because law itself has a “violent origin.”8 The origin of law is war, in the “peace ceremony” that sanctions “every victory” by “recognizing the new conditions as a new ‘law’.”9 The peace that follows victory establishes the “frontiers” in which the law operates and establishes the “power” of the law.10 Israel historically has been the victor that has used military violence to determine the frontiers in which the state’s civil and military law apply. It has determined who has a right to live within these frontiers, as well as granting partial rights to some of the vanquished, denying them entirely to others.

The “mythical violence” that constitutes law is, Benjamin says, the violent anger of the gods, which humans experience as fate. Indeed, fate, anger and retribution are the terms in which military violence is felt, not the reasonable language of international law. Many Jewish Israelis experience rockets falling like bolts of lightning cast down by the gods, as terror, as the manifestation of the anger and hatred of an enemy who has no rational motive, only a will annihilate them. For their part, Gazans experience unrelenting violence from the skies and on the ground as the anger and rage of their implacable Zionist enemy who denies them national and often personal existence. Military violence is their recurring fate.

As an alternative to the fate of mythical military violence, Benjamin asks whether violence is ever justified as a means, irrespective of its ends. His controversial, affirmative, answer is that there is pure, immediate divine violence that halts mythical violence” and initiates “a new historical epoch”.11 Benjamin’s conception of the pure means of nonviolence comes down to pure language that is neither intersubjective nor communicative. It is not a means to an end, nor a medium, but an immediacy that “corresponds … to the messianic end of the history.”12 The pure language of nonviolent means is the same as divine violence.

But Benjamin also takes us in a different direction – towards the non­violent resolution of conflict, towards peace. On the face of it, he has a conventional understanding of the nonviolent means of conflict resolution, referring to the values of courtesy, sympathy, and trust in resolving disputes, along with conferences and diplomacy. 13 Yet, it seems to me, that along with Benjamin’s notion of divine violence is a notion of divine peace that also does the Messianic work of interrupting the cycle of mythical violence.

Must we then wait, perhaps forever, for the coming of the messiah for this violence to stop, or can there be peace now? Perhaps, but perhaps the interruptions of mythical and military violence are performed and witnessed on an everyday level even as the violence continues. As an example, I turn to the activities of the Parents Circle Families Forum ­ Bereaved Families a joint Israeli­Palestinian organization of about 600 families. For them reconciliation between nations is a prerequisite for conventional, negotiated peace. 14 During the Israeli war on Gaza the Bereaved Families have interrupted the military, mythical violence in two ways.

In a video that they disseminated through social media, they interrupt the repetition through which mourning for the fallen is sanctified by further military violence which leads to more bereavement.15 At a time of war when the impulse is for each nation to unite, to become one camp, the video repeatedly tells us in Hebrew and Arabic that they don’t want us “here,” with them, in a circle of bereavement.16 The solemn faces against the grey background speak a pure language, the sharing of language as a sharing of existence.

Parents Circle Families Forum - Peace Square, July 2014

Parents Circle Families Forum – Peace Square, July 2014

The group’s second interruption of military violence is the “Peace Square” next to Tel Aviv’s Cinémathèque, in which they counter the media propaganda and hatred running rampant in Israel by sharing their stories, and their choice for reconciliation, providing a space for dialogue.17 The talk under their canopy will lead to no peace treaty, but it is a sharing of language and a persistent presence. 18 Their slogan is “it won’t stop until we talk” and though “it” hasn’t stopped, their talk interrupts momentarily the flow of violence.

Of course, I do not mean that in actuality the violence stops. The messiah is not here, and history continues. The language of divine peace is a language we don’t yet understand, but through it passes the “weak Messianic power” that each generation has.19 One of the Bereaved Families’ projects is a dialogue on Facebook in which posts are translated from Hebrew and Arabic, and vice versa. The site is called “Crack in the Wall,”20 and it indicates how “every second of time … [can be] the strait gate through which the Messiah might enter.”21 Through these small cracks in the wall, the Bereaved Families interrupt mythical violence, making room for a different history that might burst through at any time. Peace.

Notes

1.  Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, ed. Peter Demetz (Schocken Books, New York, 1978): 277–300.

2.  Omer Raz, “Unprecedented’ violence stalks anti­war demos across Israel,” +972 blog, July 29, 2014. http://972mag.com/unprecedented­violence­ stalks­anti­war­demos­across­israel/94530/. Accessed August 3 2014.

3.  Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, (Schocken: New York, 1968), 257.

4.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 284.

5.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 278; 293.

6.  See for example Ari Shavit, “In this sad war story, Israel is in the right,” Ha’aretz online, English version, http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium­1.606865. Accessed July 29th 2014.

7.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 283.

8.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 288.

9.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 283.

10.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 295.

11.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 297; 300.

12.  Carlo Salzani, “Purity (Benjamin with Kant),” History of European Ideas 36 (2010), 444.

13.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 289.

14.  Its mission is to prevent further bereavement through dialogue, tolerance, peace and reconciliation. http://www.theparentscircle.org/Content.aspx? ID=2#.U4Ss7PldWSo. Accessed May 24, 2014.

15.  See Jon Simons, “Mourning the fallen: working through bereavement,”  Picturing Peace blog, July 26 2014.

16.  Parents Circle Families Forum, “We Don’t Want you Here,” video, July 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dgo1MpWuwgE&list=UUxz­1IROo6QyjY8fheIA9AQ. Accessed August 1 2014.

17. Peace Square Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/483960538374211/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular. Accessed August 3 2014.

18.  Israeli Social TV “Peace Square.”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KrilbWAei4 Accessed August 1 2014.

19.  Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” 254.

20. Crack in the Wall Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/crackinthewall/info.

21.  Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” 264.

Test is Copyright © 2015 Jon Simons and The Johns Hopkins University Press

 

March against racism towards peace

Heads of state take part in the march. Photograph: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

Heads of state take part in the march. Photograph: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

Against the background of the unity march in Paris, which brought two million people together in support of liberty, freedom of expression, and in opposition to terrorism, some people found an additional element of hope in the proximity of Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas among the marching dignitaries.

Children of Peace, an organization that helps “Israeli & Palestinian children build friendships through the arts, education, healthcare & sport in the hope this will lead to a peaceful future,” Tweeted a message of hope, reading the photo as a picture of potential peace. It would of course be lovely to be able to read into the solidarity expressed at the march a renewed solidarity between the leadership of Israel and Palestine in the struggle for peace.

But Twitter isn’t such a forgiving space, hardly a site for dialogue and reconciliation. Almost as soon as it was noticed how close Abbas and Netanyahu were to each other, other Tweeters were quick to condemn both of them as murderers.Capture

Very soon afterwards, one of Netanyahu’s office’s Tweets with a photo of the scene that cropped out Abbas prompted comments from various bloggers who read it as a snub throwing cold water on any hope for renewed negotiations. Alternately, another shot caught what appeared to be the coldest of visual exchanges between the two.Capture

Indeed, Netanyahu’s motivations for attending the march have nothing to do with hopes for peace. First, there are the reports that in spite of the wishes of the French government, he decided to travel so as not to lose face in his upcoming electoral competition with other Israeli politicians who announced that they would travel to Paris. So, the French invited Abbas.

More significant are a flurry of comments about the cynicism and opportunism of Netanyahu’s solidarity not with the radical, universalist values of the French republic – liberty, equality and fraternity – but with the victimhood of the French Jewish community. Netanyahu went to Paris not in human solidarity against racism and bigotry, but as an advocate of particularist Jewish nationalism, of Zionism in the form of emigration to Israel as the solution to anti-Semitism. Even before Netanyahu has spoken at Paris’ central synagogue, French Jewish leaders called on him not to treat the occasion as a platform for a call to emigration. Chemi Shalev in Ha’aretz echoed French Prime Minister Valls’ sentiment that France would not be France without its Jewish citizens, adding that a ‘Judenrein’ France would be a victory not only for the terrorists but also for the Nazis and Vichy regime. In the same newspaper Anshel Pfeiffer pointed out how the insecurity of French Jews played into the hands of the Israeli right-wing. And Allison Kaplan Sommer, blogging on the same Israeli site, accused Israeli politicians of “insensitive self-serving opportunism that infantilizes and undermines Diaspora Jewry” by calling for emigration in face of the anti-Semitic attack, the murder of Yoav Hattab, Yohan Cohen, Philippe Braham, Francois-Michel Saada by Amédy Coulibaly. Their comments – even if not their tone – were not far from Ali Abunimah’s blog on Electronic Intifada in which he wrote that “the idea that Jews are always alien and that hatred against them is eternal and immutable … is a fundamentally anti-Semitic one,” pointing to a “tacit alliance between anti-Semitism and Zionism,” by citing Columbia professor Joseph Massad. The writers in Ha’aretz I’m sure wouldn’t go as far as that last point (and neither would I), but in this context there is a deplorable confluence between Netanyahu’s almost direct call on French Jews (others were more direct) to abandon their homeland and move to their “historic homeland – the Land of Israel” and the anti-Semitic violence that undermines their sense of security. Just as it is vital at this time to ensure that the efforts of the terrorists, to drive a racist wedge between French Muslims and non-Muslims, be defied, so is it vital to reassert that French Jews are French citizens in every regard and for all time.

CaptureIf there is a picture of peace to be seen here, then, it is not that of Netanyahu and Abbas linking arms by a few degrees of separation. It is, rather, in the outpouring of solidarity that allows each person to bear their identity without antagonism to the identity of the other. What is true for the streets of Paris today is true for the streets of Israel and Palestine. There will be peace only when racism is confronted, when Palestinian Israelis are not blocked in their struggle for civil equality because they are “the enemy,” when the assertion of Jewish-only rights to the land is repudiated, when the demonization of Israelis by Palestinians (and others) as Jewish oppressors is dispelled, and when all have the opportunity to claim their rights, first and foremost, as citizens of the world.

Images of fake peace and of co-resistance

A Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli activist confront Israeli soldiers during a weekly demonstration against the Israeli occupation and Separation Wall in the West Bank village of Al Ma’sara, April 5, 2013. The Wall, if built as planned, would cut off the village from its agricultural lands. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

In this piece linked below, Activestills photographer Ryan Rodrick Beiler expresses a key idea and purpose of this blog and my research. There are images of peace and images of peace. He criticizes a “PR” image of peace, an image of peace that is and will remain an unfulfilled wish, forever deferred, because, sadly, there will (from the Israeli-Jewish perspective) never be enough people of good will on the other (Palestinian) side. The image of the boys that the article talks about is an image that Netanyahu could endorse, an image of coexistence in which nothing needs to change except “perception” or “attitudes”. If only “they” didn’t hate us it would all be fine, and we would live in “peace” and they wouldn’t mind that we dispossessed them and occupied them. But as it is, “there is no partner for peace,” so instead we will continue to like these images of coexistence and say it’s a shame that they don’t like them.

The recent talk about the photograph in the Jewish Daily Forward, following Rihanna’s tweeting it, characterizes the photo as a fake, because it is staged photo of two Jewish Israeli boys. However, as the photographer Ricki Rosen said “t was a symbolic illustration,… It was never supposed to be a documentary photo.” She’s right that it isn’t a “fake” and in that sense it’s no more fake than another similar photo by Debbi Cooper that’s touted as being a “real” one in a follow-up piece. That photo does picture a Palestinian and Jewish Israeli boy, but it’s also staged in that the boys were not already friends. As the photographer reportedly said “it was always aspirational, rather than a reflection of the situation between Israelis and Palestinians on the ground” at the time of the first intifada.

In his piece Beiler also calls Rosen’s picture a fake. But he seems to mean something different to the discussion in Forward  when he says that the photo was a “more-perfect-than-intended allegory” of the Oslo process and its more recent iterations. His point is less that th ephot is fake than that peace process is itself a fake. As he says, ” images like this endure and proliferate — because people in the West cling to the idea that if we all just came together as human beings, we could solve this thing. The problem with that fantasy is that it ignores the structures of Israeli oppression, in which one side holds virtually all of the power.” Instead, Beiler produces and advocates for other images of peace, images of just peace, in which occupation is overcome in Jewish-Arab partnership. This peace is hard work, sometimes dangerous work, work that puts activists at odds with people from their own communities, but it is peace.

Replace fake co-existence photos with real images of co-resistance | +972 Magazine.

Link

After the dreadful episode of the Israeli war on Gaza this summer, it’s easy to forget that it took place less than two years after the previous “round” of the long war which is Israel’s continuing politicide of the Palestinian people. But yes, two years ago, on November 14th 2012, Israel launched an assault on Gaza. Before the “steadfast cliff” of July-August 2014, there was the “pillar of cloud” of November 2012.  To commemorate the start of that war I have chosen this clip, a Social TV report of a small demonstration on the evening of the first day of the war, outside the apartment building of then Defense Minister Ehud Barak. In the clip, protesters ask how come that yet again a war had been launched on Gaza. They are talking wearily about the “cast lead” of 2008-9. The offenses against Gaza  repeat themselves terribly every few years.

Radical banality: “Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies.”

Placards at anti-Gaza war demonstration, Tel Aviv, July 26 2014. Still from video by Social TV.

Placards at anti-Gaza war demonstration, Tel Aviv, July 26 2014. Still from video by Social TV.

A large demonstration was planned for this evening by the Israeli peace camp in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. Today the police cancelled it in accord with the directive of the Homefront Command against the assembly of more than 1,000 people in areas including Tel Aviv because of the danger of rocket attacks from Gaza. The organizing groups (the Meretz and Hadash parties, Peace Now, Combatants for Peace, The Forum of Peace Organizations, The Young Guard in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Another Voice, and the Parents Circle Families Forum) decided to postpone the demonstration. But activists called on social media to come to the square anyway, without the stage and the speeches, but with the call: “We’re changing direction to peace: not to war, but a political solution.”

Among the slogans that will probably still be shown and shouted in the square tonight, as at so many demonstrations before, such as the one in the same place last week, is the seemingly banal statement” “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” The slogan is most often seen on the posters of the Hadash party, but everyone joins in, and others have adopted it too. It sounds like a naïve statement, as if merely repeating it will stop the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs. It seems to fly in the face of the reality of the conflict, the spiral of violence, the unwillingness to compromise, the distrust and fear. It also appears to contradict another slogan of the Israeli peace movement, often attributed to Yitzhak Rabin, that “you make peace with your enemies.” Do those who chant and display this slogan really think that the Israeli government and the Palestinian delegation, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, can find a way to restart and extend the ceasefire into a broader agreement by waving a magic wand that ends the entrenched enmity?

The slogan “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” is neither unrealistic nor naïve. It is rather a radical, if not revolutionary statement. It does not deny the reality of the conflict, but refuses to accept the ethno-national-religious grounds on which the conflict is conducted. It speaks an ethical imperative, for (Israeli) Jews and (Palestinian) Arabs to refuse to be mobilized as Jews and Arabs in this war or any other war. It refuses the seeming naturalness of the belief that “well, I’m an Arab, and you are Jew, so I hate you, because you want to kill me,” and vice versa. It rejects the imperative to impose ethno-national and masculinist identities on ourselves and our bodies, instead of putting people before flags.

People on flags. Design by Ariel Katz, produced with her by John and Hazel Varah from Same Sky.

People on flags. Design by Ariel Katz, produced with her by John and Hazel Varah from Same Sky.

The slogan calls instead, implicitly, for Jews and Arabs to recognize themselves according to other, intertwining identities – as citizens, as humans, as Middle Easterners, as people of Abrahamic faith. The slogan refers, indirectly, to the civil society of Jews and Arabs that existed in Mandate Palestine until 1947-48. It was a civil society that could, with difficulty, have survived the 1947-8 partition process, had the network of Arab-Jewish relationships documented in the film Civil Alliance directed by Ariella Azoulay been sustained. The slogan is practiced daily by joint Israeli-Palestinian peace activists in groups such as Combatants for Peace, Parents Circle Families Forum, Ta’ayush and the Hadash party. The slogan refuses enmity and embraces peace by radically changing the terms, identities, loyalties and affiliations of war. The slogan at once calls out in the identities of Jews and Arabs, and puts them aside. Instead of Jews against Arabs, Jews or Arabs, it chooses and. Jews and Arabs.

Update: several hundred did demonstrate in Rabin Square on the evening of August 9th