Tag Archives: pillar of cloud

Protest Theatre of the Occupation

Earlier in the week, as the “pillar of cloud” war raged in Gaza and southern Israel, Combatants for Peace had planned a demonstration for Friday afternoon calling for a ceasefire. This bi-national Israeli-Palestinian organization opposed to violence and dedicated to achieving a peaceful resolution of the conflict had no trouble switching the emphasis of the demonstration (after the ceasefire was agreed on late on Wednesday) to the acute need for direct and immediate negotiations to address the conflict. But the demonstration could have happened on any other Friday afternoon of the year. The world’s attention has been directed in the past couple of weeks to one area of Palestine striving for independence, the enclave of Gaza, but there has been no let-up in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

Combatants for Peace demonstration in Izbat Tabib, 23.11.12

In the last few months Combatants for Peace has been supporting the struggle of a small, isolated Palestinian village, Izbat Tabib, that is close to the Palestinian town Kalkilya and the large Israeli settlement, Alfei Menasheh. Izbat Tabib is in Area C of the West Bank, the area constituting about 60% of the West Bank that according to the Oslo agreements of 1993 remains under full Israeli civil and military control until a later agreement. It’s nearly 20 years later since then, and Israeli rule is increasingly permanent and restrictive. For Izbat Tabib that has meant losing about 45% of its land to the building of the Separation Wall in 2011 and demolition orders, issued by the military government, for most of the homes and the village school that also serves as a community centre.

The group of about 100 Palestinians of Izbat Tabib and Israelis from the Tel Aviv area marched the short distance from the school to the junction with the main road. Protesting  the occupation in general and the demolitions in particular we chanted slogans in Arabic, Hebrew and English: “No, no to war; yes, yes to peace,” “One, two, three, four, occupation no more; five, six, seven, eight, end the killing, end the hate,” “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” We held placards, mostly in Hebrew, on which were written slogans such as “There is a partner,” “it won’t end until we talk,” and “yes to dialogue, no to violence.” But other than passing traffic and the rain clouds quickly crossing the windy sky, nobody was listening or watching.

Combatants for Peace demonstration, Izbat Tabib, 23.11.12

And then our audience arrived. Hesitantly at first, they kept their distance. Then they must have called some friends, and a small group of military vehicles and soldiers came and stood close by. The Tel Aviv – Tulkarem group of Combatants for Peace use theatre as one of their approaches to non-violent resistance to occupation, and have previously performed for the villagers. Today, the improvised performance was for the soldiers. At first a couple of the demonstrators took up stances showing the soldiers how we saw them, how they held their guns, how they watched us. They turned to show us what they were doing, and then more demonstrators became actors, moving and standing in ways that showed the soldiers how we thought they saw us. A rainbow joined in. Then we all crammed in together to show that we could all be that close, without fear, without hatred, without any need for the red sign that warns Israelis it is dangerous to enter a Palestinian village.

Demonstrators acting the roles of the watching soldiers

The audience didn’t seem very appreciative. They came over-dressed, with far too many military accessories. Some seem to have got bored and left early in their armoured vehicle. One guy kept his distance throughout, staying with his vehicle on the other side of the road. Perhaps they were wondering why they had to be there and when they could go home. Maybe we should have brought snacks for them. We didn’t have a programme for them to take as reminder of the event. And really, they didn’t need to be there. Really, the Israeli military doesn’t need to be in the West Bank at all. They don’t need to come and demolish homes and schools, to build a Separation Wall on Palestinian land. We can get along fine without an audience, performing for each other the roles that neighbours play for each other. We’ve been playing a theatre of cruelty for too long, a theatre of domination and oppression, a theatre of fear and hatred. Combatants for Peace are writing a script for a new play and are ready in the wings to perform it. They just need a bigger troupe of actors and a larger audience.

Demonstrators acting as demonstrators

Ceasefire on social media (part two)

Sadat and Begin image by Peace Factory on facebook

Parents Circle image on Crack in Wall facebook page

Peace Factory image on facebook

There is thunder in Tel Aviv as I write this piece, but not the thunder of war, only of the heavens. The ceasefire between Israel and Gaza that began at 9 pm last night is still just about holding (there is a report on twitter already of a Palestinian shot and injured by Israeli troops as he approached the security fence), and the stormy weather can become news again. In my last post, I called for a ceasefire on social media, for an end to the exchange of hostile, hateful imagery of Israelis and Palestinians targeted at each other on facebook and twitter. From what I see on blogs, tweets and sites that I follow, that has to a large extent happened for now, in the wake of the military ceasefire. The Palestinians have more mourning and rebuilding to do than Israelis, among whom there is some disappointment that the army didn’t reinvade Gaza to end the missile threat once and for all. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is far from over, whether on the ground or on social media, and so the demonization of the Other as hateful by nature, and thus undeserving of peace, will go on too.

Social media during the war have not only been the terrain of hostile electronic propagandizing, the waging of war through hateful images. Social media have also been a field for peace-making, not only for explicit calls for a ceasefire, but also for images of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. One of the Israeli-Palestinian groups that called for an immediate ceasefire is The Parents Circle – Family Forum (PCFF, also called Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace). It is a joint Palestinian Israeli grassroots organization of over 600 families, all of whom have lost a close family member as a result of the prolonged conflict. Through their facebook page titled A Crack in the Wall, PCFF kept up their strategy of seeking peace through reconciliation. They recirculated their slogan “it won’t stop until we talk” (in Hebrew this rhymes as: ze lo y’gamer im lo n’daber) and asked visitors to use it as their cover picture. While the electronic propagandists were circulating photographs of casualties on “their” side, PCFF posted pictures that juxtaposed the suffering and destruction on both sides, underlined with the message that:

“The Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum shares in the grief of the bereaved families, who join a long line of victims of the conflict. We hope and wish the injured on both sides a speedy recovery.”

In their express call for a ceasefire, PCFF expressed concern for the civilians on both sides, pointing out that “anger and frustration only fuel the already existing fire of fear and hatred.”  The families hope to “serve as a bridge beyond hatred and fear by declaring their willingness to work together towards reconciliation between peoples despite their deep loss.”

Another constant stream of images of people refusing to see each other as enemies came through the “Israel-Loves-Iran” facebook page, along with its various offshoots, “Palestine-Loves-Israel” and “Israel-Loves-Palestine.” Following their typical format, there were lots of photographs of Israelis, Palestinians and others bearing the words: “Please stop the war.” They also marked the anniversary of President Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977 with a photograph of him meeting Prime Minister Begin, and a series of superimposed statements they made about war and peace.

The images of Israelis and Palestinians recognizing each other’s grief, pain, aspirations and hopes, acknowledging that the other wants peace, independence and security as much as one’s own side, were not those most visible amid the explosive flashes of the war. They may seem naïve, kitschy, obvious. Doesn’t everyone prefer peace to war? Isn’t the problem far more complex than a simple demand to ceasefire and live in peace can address? True, peace-making isn’t simple, and it’s proved elusive between Israel and Palestine in spite of the hope raised by the 1993 Oslo agreements. But to make peace we have to picture it, and we have to see, to imagine those we call our enemies as people who deserve peace as much as we do. See the peace you want there to be.