Tag Archives: Hadash

Standing together, standing in one another’s shoes

IMG_20160605_234815For this first time (June 3, 2016) I’ve been able to participate in the monthly Palestinian-Israeli “Freedom March” held at “machsom haminharot,” an Israeli checkpoint on Route 60 to the south of Jerusalem, just by the Palestinian town of Beit Jala. The march is organized by a coalition, in which Combatants for Peace are a key partner, called “omdim beyachad” in Hebrew (standing together). The group has operated since an upsurge in violence in October 2015, offering a clear alternative to the usual pattern in which Israeli Jews and Palestinians each increase their antipathy to and fear of the other.

Being who I am, I had already seen video clips and photos of the event posted on social media, and was expecting the colourful cloud of balloons in the hands of the marchers when our bus from TDSC00067el Aviv arrived at the meeting point. The protest procession crossed the main road slowly, but did not block it, and amid the shouting of slogans and the displaying of placards, found shelter from the sun under the monumental concrete overhang of the separation barrier at this point.

DSC00079The protest ended with short speeches (translated into Hebrew and Arabic) by MK Aiman Oudeh, the charismatic leader of the Joint List, Leah Shakdiel, a long time feminist and social activist who represented the religious peace group Oz v’shalom, and representatives of Combatants for Peace. But I won’t talk today about the content of the speeches, the formulation of slogans (also translated and transliterated between Hebrew and Arabic), or even the ritual of releasing the balloons from under the concrete canopy into the freedom of the skies.

Instead, I want to focus on another part of the protest, the performance of a short scene in which Palestinians and Israelis role played soldiers and themselves in a typical encounter at a checkpoint, an encounter which involves verbal and physical violence, detention, constriction, humiliation, pushing people to the ground. The performance ends with a call for non-violence, to the applause of those who had gathered round the scene. An upper level of the walkway by the separation barrier served as a stage, and some but not all  of the demonstrators gathered together to watch – although it was difficult to hear. Yet, the point is not the production or acting quality of this performance.

DSC00094“Standing together” itself performs the vital political position of “refusing to be enemies” at a time of hightened tension, and in the context of a conflict to which no political resolution can be seen on the horizon. Combatants for Peace, along with other groups participating in the freedom march, such as the Bereaved Families Forum, and the Jewish-Arab parliamentary bloc Hadash, have performed this partnership, including acts of co-resistance, for years now. Combatants for Peace has also turned consistently to the “theatre of the oppressed” as a key element of its activities, often in more rehearsed ways and in settings in which the audience could participate more easily. They have documented some performances, and I have written about one I saw a few years ago.

In the setting of the demonstration the performance has particular significance. We can stand together, we can march together. But we can do so meaningfully better when we have learned to stand in the shoes of the other, whether through role play or dialogue or hearing each others’ stories. Combatants for Peace is a partnership if Israelis and Palestinians who have seen how their armed force and violence of the other feel from the point of the other. They stand together by seeing themselves from the other stands, When you have stood in the shoes of the other, and experienced with them what it’s like to commit or be subject to violence, then standing together just feels a whole better than standing against each other.

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

Ceasefire on social media (part one)

Golda Meir saying on Arabs’ lack of love for children

Anti-Semitic images posted by GYBO on 19 November

Lior Arditi’s cartoon of “Israel in the jungle”

It is wearying, dispiriting, often sickening to be immersed in social media these days, as the Gaza “pillar of cloud” war is waged through it. There is nothing new in the media being used as weapons of war, the display of blooded bodies of dead babies as justifications for the righteousness of our way and the demonization of the evil enemy. As the state of Israel and the armed groups in Gaza battle each other, unevenly and unsymmetrically, with rockets, shells, bombs and missiles through the sky, each is also fighting and mobilizing its supporters to capture as much as possible of that vague territory called “world public opinion.” Or maybe that’s not the best analogy, as much of this propagandizing impacts only those already allied to one side – the tweets you follow and your facebook friends. Anshel Pfeffer, writing in the liberal Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, refers to Israel’s “electronic propaganda (hasbara) army” acting as a “virtual ‘Iron Dome’,” responding rapidly to criticism of Israeli military attacks on Gaza, yet only persuading the persuaded.

I have friends and family who have been mobilized into the Israelis state’s electronic army, who share facebook postings from the Israeli military and other sources, while I also follow the sites of Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere, as well as Israeli and Israeli/Palestinian peace groups who forward reports and postings from Palestinian sources. The latter are vital for getting a fuller picture of what’s going while in Israel, since the mainstream media here are also mobilized for the war effort, as the Israeli Keshev organization for democratic media points out in its Hebrew blog.

Yet, along with the stream of disturbing, painful reports about the terrifying sounds of Israel’s ongoing aerial attack on Gaza, civilian casualties, destroyed homes and public infrastructure – of a whole, trapped society hostage to violence –  there is also a flow of angry hatred that leaves little room for the negotiation and dialogue needed to stop the violence. It’s understandable that Palestinians – and Israelis – subject to attack respond with hate and disgust themselves. Fear, violence, and grief nurture hate. But much of the condemnation, hatred and racist demonization directed against Israelis and Palestinians in this electronic propaganda war is promoted and circulated by “victims by proxy,” identification with the pain of others, but only those who are “the same side.”

A key trope of the demonization of the Other – Palestinian or Israeli – is to figure “them” as full of hatred, not “us.”  Palestinian blogger Ali Abunimah titled a blog that I’ve been following in which he posted a video report of a demonstration against the war in Tel Aviv organized by Hadash, as well as right-wing counter demonstration, on November 14th, as: “’May your children die, you dogs’: As Gaza burns, Israelis bay for blood in streets of Tel Aviv.” He focused on the right-wing messages of hate – to Israeli leftists as much as to Palestinians – at this event, not the often repeated slogan chanted at this and other Hadash demonstrations; “Israelis and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” Ali Abunimah is right that “much of the Israeli Jewish population stands behind Israel’s attack on Gaza, believing the government propaganda that Palestinians are firing rockets at Israel unprovoked while Israel seeks peace and quiet.” I and the other Israeli demonstrators there don’t speak for a consensus, even if we outnumbered the right on this occasion. And the world should be aware that such murderous speech circulates freely in Israeli culture and politics. But amplifying the message of racist hate at the expense of the voices calling not only for a cease fire but a negotiated end to the whole conflict misses an opportunity – however slight – to bring an end to the killing and injury.

On facebook I’ve been following the page of Gaza Youth Breaks Out. On Monday most of their posts were simply the names of the Palestinian casualties in Gaza – names that seldom appear in the Israeli press – as well as reports about where and whom Israeli air strikes were actually hitting. But they also posted an unattributed image, containing a stereotypical anti-Semitic image, to draw attention to the huge disparity between Israeli and Palestinian casualties.  It’s a fair point to make, given that the Israeli media directs attention only to Israeli casualties. Tens of comments on GYBO’s facebook page objected to the anti-Semitic imagery while expressing sympathy with Palestinian plight, as well as pointing to the damage such racist imagery does to the Palestinian cause. But the picture is till up there.

Such imagery and discourse does circulate in the Arab and Muslim world, providing plenty of ammunition for the Israeli electronic army’s charge that Hamas and the Palestinians are driven by racist hatred, being by nature implacable enemies of Israel and Jews. An image and saying of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir circulating among the Israeli electronic army illustrates clearly the sense of moral superiority that accrues from considering the other to be hateful and oneself peaceful. It goes further than to say that the main obstacle to peace is “Arab” (Meir notoriously refused to acknowledge the existence of the Palestinian people) hatred. It dehumanizes all Arabs by implying that they don’t love their children the way “we” do, an absurd and foul generalization.

Another example of racist dehumanization in the Israeli electronic army’s arsenal is to figure Israel as the civilized human living in a dangerous jungle. While the cartoon by Lior Arditi uses Disneyesque figures rather than depicting Arabs as frightening wild beasts, and unwittingly lends support to the argument that Zionism is colonialism by picturing the Israeli in a pith helmet (as Arditi later realised), it’s racist connotation that justifies killing the “Arab animals” is clear.

Lost in this exchange of hostile, hateful imagery is the capacity to feel the pain of others, of those on the “other side.” Without empathy for suffering across the lines of hostility, without the capacity to imagine our foes as deserving peace, we are condemned to continue to justify our own hate, anger and violence by projecting all that ill-feeling onto the other side. Without dwelling on the grounds and contexts for the levels of hatred, fear and mistrust that do exist, we trap ourselves in a cage with an enemy we believe to be hateful by nature. So, along with a ceasefire of rockets and bombs between the actual (but asymmetrical) armed forces, we also need a ceasefire of the exchange of hostile imagery. No more warfare, no more image-fare.

Protesting “Pillar of Cloud” in Tel Aviv | Ceasefire Magazine

This report by me on the public and media mood in Israel and protests against the “Pillar of Cloud” war differs from my usual focus on images of peace and anti-war/occupation activity, but is still relevant.

Protesting “Pillar of Cloud” in Tel Aviv | Ceasefire Magazine.