Our group was set up five years ago, when BN Netanyahu was Prime Minister. The whole issue of the Israelis demolishing Palestinian homes was what speared us into existence. Since 1967, in the Occupied Territories — that is Arab Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank — seven thousand homes have been demolished.
After 1993, when the Oslo accord was signed and the peace process began the number of demolitions started going down. However, since 1996, when Netanyahu was PM and under him the hard-liners against democracy got more concrete presence in the government and administration, the demolitions were begun again.
For the Israeli State the key issue that symbolised the rejection of peace at the time was the resumption of home demolitions. That is how house demolitions became a focal and symbolic point of the peace process.
We are representatives of 15 different Israeli peace and human rights groups. All of us felt five years ago when we set ourselves up that we had not been active enough. What was needed was not a new organisation but a Direct Action Coalition that worked on the ground to actively resist the occupation of these territories by Israel.
We started with the resistance to house demolitions. We have been arrested many times. Being arrested is nothing for an Israeli. You are privileged to be arrested if you are part of the Israeli few who ever do that. An Israeli who gets arrested is privileged. As an Israeli, I do not pay any price for it; I can do what a Palestinian will be shot for doing.
If I sit in protest, in front of a bulldozer, if I am seen as a protestor, I will be perceived as a mad old guy. The security forces will simply drag me away. I am not a challenge to the system. The consistent acts of joint Israeli and Palestinian resistance, for example, to the bulldozers that mow down people’s homes is a direct challenge to Israeli authority.
From the Israeli government’s point of view, Palestinian protestors and resistance to the Israeli occupation simply get eliminated. Palestinians protesting simply get shot. It is not funny or strange, it is serious. We felt we had to break this and introduce a whole new and different dynamic at the ground in the Occupied Territories. We felt we had to use our privilege as Israeli Jews — the fact that we, being Israeli and Jews, will simply not get shot — to do acts of resistance that Palestinians cannot do.
However, in all our actions we have been together with Palestinian organisations, especially the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights the Environment and Law. This is because we feel that what Israel and Israelis claim as our territory, is the same land the Palestinians call theirs. We must respect them, we are guests here, we must work through them. We need to work as partners in the resistance; Israelis have to be the junior partners. This is important; we are serious about changing the power equations.
I say this because this realisation has not yet seeped in to the attitudes of the Israeli Left. They still behave like conquerors. We need to teach ourselves how not to behave like occupiers. For example, lets take the house demolitions and the peace movement. Without active Palestinian participation in the resistance to demolish homes, we are replicating the occupation even if we are the good guys. What we need to do is to work with Palestinians because that is what gives our work depth, understanding and, finally, credibility.
Working on a single point, a politically powerful symbol like home demolitions gives our movement greater responsibility because we are compelled to move beyond the discourse of mere protest and concretely offer something. Typically, within the peace movements, protest remains a protest, it does not proceed to become anything beyond that.
On the question of home demolitions when we resist, there are real expectations. Many questions arise. Where has my home gone? Are we going to resist the unjust demolition? How will we get the building permit? How will we rebuild? Who will pay for the lawyer? Will we succeed in making it an international issue?
So, put simply, we, together with the Palestinians, chose such an issue, an issue that compels us to be more effective. And that is how we became a force that resists a forum that resists actual acts of terror carried out by the Israeli authorities.
In the five years of our existence, we have succeeded in making home demolitions an international issue. These demolitions have been going on for 30 years without being challenged. But after our resistance at the ground level and our working closely with foreign missions and international journalists, today Israel cannot demolish a house on the West Banks or in Gaza without paying a political price for it. There is always a world outcry.
Two things happened because of the approach we followed. One, we got to know the Palestinians deeply, more than any Israeli peace groups ever before. Two, we were compelled to learn the lay of the land. Most Israeli peace groups and Israelis in general have no conception of the Occupied Territories.
There is a rather sad joke in Israel that explains what I mean: “The West Bank and Gaza are father away then even Thailand”. The West Bank and Gaza for all Israelis and many Jews are just blank spaces in the mind. Where the West Bank and Gaza are located is not exactly known, the places exist as some sort of abstractions.
The news that five people are shot by the Israeli army in Romala is the same for Israelis as hearing that five people died in a flood in Bihar! The West Bank and Gaza are just not real places with real people living there for Israel.
Now, when we go to Gaza or West Bank to resist home demolitions, what is it we are doing? The resistance to the demolitions is asking serious questions. Why are we demolishing the homes in the first place? What is the logic of the Israeli government policy that persists in destroying homes in this fashion? What are the political goals behind systematically pursuing this policy? Finally, what does occupation mean?
Our real aim is to get the reality of the occupation out to the wider public. You know, in the same area hundreds and thousands of acres of land are earmarked by the Israeli government for highways; only recently a three billion dollars project was announced. At the same time this is going on, the ‘closure’ of workshops and industries in the West Bank and Gaza has rendered thousands of workers jobless. The government has no problem giving viability settlements to the workers who loose jobs there. But the mental and physical barriers erected against Palestinians, by the government, by the army, visible in the barricades and check posts in the Occupied Territories symbolise a callous duplicity.
In these circumstances, the issue of resistance to the Israeli bulldozers becomes a real one. The rebuilding of a home is an actual act of resistance. When Jeff with his photographs and slide show and Salim, whose home has been destroyed three times — the last time on April 4, 2001— travel all over the USA, Canada, and Europe, speaking about the occupation, the attitudes that deny the awful reality of home demolitions and our resistance, changes and a whole campaign develops around it.
When we work with the Palestinians Land Defence Committee, when we rebuild homes involving hundreds of Israelis in the task — who have entered the West Bank for the first time in their lives — we are seriously impacting attitudes and causing deep shifts to occur. These people (Israelis) have never come here before. They will be seen for the first time what life for the Palestinians in Occupied Territories is like.
Do you know it is illegal to rebuild homes that have been demolished on all days of the week? We are allowed only Fridays and Saturdays, a two-day window because of Sabbath. We work only on these two days. We have to come back again next week for two more days to carry on the work.
We feel by engaging in this kind of resistance we are intervening in a concrete human way. But when the demolitions happen, as they are happening again and again – with a renewed viciousness — you feel apart of you is being torn out all over again.
There are three levels at which our committee works. The first is resistance and solidarity with the Palestinians on the ground. Second, we work with the participating Palestinian families on other aspects and issues raised by the occupation.
The third level, which is very critical, is at the level of international lobbying. We do not believe peace is going to happen from inside Israel. The Israeli public doesn’t care, it is very defiant, it blames the Palestinians unthinkingly. Therefore our international work is very important.
Though our actual committee has eight core group members, we are actively backed by over one thousand Israelis. Besides, we are passively supported by more than half of the Israeli population; not because they believe in peace but because they would simply like to rid themselves of the headache and get back to living ‘normally’.
At the moment we have a terrible government in which the Left and the Right govern together.
The story of the Israeli occupation is a sorry lesson for all humanity. You asked a question about Israel’s behaviour despite the persecution suffered by it’s own people. Despite the persecution suffered by the Jews, look at what they are capable of dishing out?
When one people gets power over another, power corrupts. Power makes you lose your humanity; you can now do whatever you want to do. Any ethnic group of people who are not in power have to be sensitive to power dynamics. You are compelled to read the map, to survive you have to be sensitive. Once you are in power there are no compulsions.
When you get into power like the Jews did — for the first time in hundreds of years — they acted just like any other set of people who get power.
“Jews are like anybody else, only more so,” said Mark Twain. Jews are one of the epitomes of a great race, a persecuted race. Once they got into power they conformed to the existing norms of power dynamics. It’s less to do with Jews, its about how all people tend to behave when they acquire power. The question we should be asking is not, “What’s wrong with the Jews, or whoever else”, but, “how can we create conditions of existence, where one set of people are not in power — or do not hold the reigns of control — over any other”. It is like caste oppression in your country!
Coming to the issue of raising of the issue at the WCAR, there is a tension here. On the one hand, we would have liked the conference and the world to deal with — exclusively — the Israeli-Palestinians issue and condemn the Israeli occupation as a form of discrimination and apartheid. The WCAR definitely offered us a potential forum to make this articulation.
But as long as the conflict is in tribal terms — Jews vs. the Arabs – people are forced to take sides. You must realise what Israel does in a cynical, systematic way. It plays on the Holocaust, it plays on the suffering of the Jews, it plays on the guilt of Europe. It does all this to diffuse criticism of its own conduct in the Occupation.
The way around this is for us, international civil society groups, to adopt a direct human rights language. This is what the WCAR should do, to uphold the ‘discrimination against none’ principle articulated in so many international declarations.
As international civil society groups we need to remind the world that Israel has signed almost all international covenants against discrimination and apartheid. If the rules of the WCAR and international community apply to everyone then it is on the grounds of non-discrimination and anti-apartheid that the illegal occupation of West Bank and Gaza must be opposed. If Israel wants to be a part of the international community it must accept international standards.
It is ironic that even after 30 years, the reference to ‘occupation’ does not evoke unequivocal international civil society outrage. This is because the Occupation has not been seen and perceived by the international community as a blatant violation of human rights. This has got to do with the power play within the human rights discourse.
If at the end of the WCAR the official document does not condemn the Israeli occupation of Palestinians what is the point of it all? Our frustration is with the European Union countries as much as the US who are resisting articulation of this. The Western media, too, for all its claim to freedom and democracy continues to use the Israeli government as its main source of information. It is also simply not independent or critical enough.
It is important for the world media to articulate honestly the gross rights violations against Palestinians living under illegal Israeli occupation. It is only then that a balanced world opinion on the issue of strife in the Middle East can be created.
This is why we Israeli and Palestinians groups decided to make our representation on the issue of occupation together at the WCAR and the prepcoms that preceded the conference at Durban. We are trying to break the idea that there are two sides that means an either or situation. We need to show that our interest and concerns are not mutually exclusive, that we both equally desire peace, a just peace.
Archived from Communalism Combat, September 2001, Anniversary Issue (8th) Year 8 No. 71, Cover Story 9