Fringe benefits By Lily Galili
A strange thing happened this week to the anarchist movement in Israel. In a single moment, to the sound of whistling bullets, it was transformed from an anonymous and irrelevant body into an organization that makes big headlines. Suddenly it has a spokesman, suddenly its members' mobile phones never stop ringing and suddenly the media are courting it.
And mainly, suddenly it has a hero. Gil Na'amati, who was shot and seriously injured by Israel Defense Forces soldiers while he was participating for the first time in a movement demonstration at the separation fence at Maskha, has unwittingly become the undisputed hero of the radical left. At all the Internet sites that deal with these issues, there is mention of his injury at the hands of "occupation soldiers" as a milestone that will always be remembered. This is how myths are born.
But on that same occasion something bad also happened to the anarchist movement. The cry by one of the activists, "Don't shoot - we're Israelis," the result of understandable fear that has been documented in a video film, grates on many ears on the left. Of all people, it was the anarchists, who are disgusted by the state and by any label of national identity, who cried out to the IDF soldiers in a moment of great and natural fear: "We're Israelis."
In an attempt to minimize the damage, the anarchists are explaining that they did this precisely because it is the IDF that discriminates between blood and blood. And they are also saying that the press is to blame for the media "spin" in the wake of which they are not saying that soldiers "opened fire on people," but are saying "on Israelis."
In retrospect, it also bothers them that from their midst, a non-hierarchical body by definition, a hero has emerged. "There's something infuriating in the fact that the whole business has become a kind of national event," says Liad Kanterovitz, a 26-year-old student of Middle Eastern studies and gender studies at Tel Aviv University.
"We recognize the fact that practically speaking, in the eyes of the army our lives are worth more than the lives of the Palestinians. For this reason we make it a point of being in the front line in every action," explains Santiago Gomez, 28, a graphic designer by profession.
"This is a red warning light not for us, but for the racist society itself, which differentiates between blood and blood," argues Yonatan Pollack, 21, who left school at 16 and is now unemployed. "It really bothers us that all the `memorialization' that the media are doing to Gil is along national lines. We are opposed to any attempt to elevate a person to the level of a symbol and a shaheed [Islamic martyr]. Also, this isn't the first time that they've shot at us; it's just the first time they've hit anyone," says Pollack, who finds it difficult to remember how many times he has been arrested and released.
But these fine distinctions have had not the slightest effect either on the moment of glory they have obtained, not to their benefit, in the messages of solidarity that have been coming in from anarchist organizations elsewhere in the world or on the continuation of the activities of "Anarchists Against the Wall." (And throughout the meeting with the three activists in Jaffa, where they live, Pollack never ceased for a moment to follow the protest activity his anarchist colleagues are conducting against another segment of the separation fence, worrying about one activist with whom it was hard to make contact, and moving forces on the ground. (And, indeed, these "forces" took part in a further action this week, at Budrus, in which the IDF used rubber bullets.)
For a moment it seemed, there in Jaffa, as though the young Pollack, the son of actor Yossi Pollack ("Dad's not an anarchist, but he is supportive") was the official coordinator of activities in the territories. Though he, like his colleagues, was not conscripted into the army ("We were found unfit for each other," he explains), during the months of activity that have involved moving around in the territories, including Areas A that are closed to entry by Israel, he has accumulated considerable experience that qualifies him for direct actions by remote control.
Pollack, most probably, would object to every word in that last sentence. Altogether, the conversation with the three anarchists is like walking through a minefield, where the interlocutor is likely to stumble at every turn on a different verbal landmine. It is very clear to them what they are not, but it is hard for them to define what they are. "We don't believe in the state, in hierarchy, in compulsion," they say. "We acknowledge the existence of state institutions de facto, and work within the framework of the reality, though we try to live to the best of our ability outside the system. We totally negate capitalism, but we also do not accept the Marxist assumption about `after the revolution.' Rather, we live here and now; there is no reason to wait for liberty."
Their worldview is also expressed in the way they live. They want to limit the use of money, to live in a communal way and to have as little dependence as possible on state institutions. For example, some of them, like Pollack and Gomez, eat only natural foods and no meat or dairy products and do not even drink coffee because, they say, "The coffee-harvesters in the world live in a kind of slavery." They speak longingly of anarchist groups in Europe and the United States that have the ability to sustain completely independent communities, including alternative housing in squats.
Though most of them voted for Hadash, they define anarchism as a movement that dwells outside the political system. "Everything is connected," says Pollack. "The root of the problem is in the system of relationships between people, in the general view that exploitation is legitimate. This is not a puritanical idea, but rather an effort to understand that the occupation, the slavery of the coffee-harvesters and cruelty to animals - spring from the same root."
From this approach an anarchist group has sprung up that calls itself "One Struggle - Anarchist Group for Animal Rights," which is based on a radical vision of liberating animals as part of ending all exploitation. On the back of a brochure they produced there is a quote from the preface to, oddly, the Ukrainian edition of George Orwell's "Animal Farm." Some of the anarchists are members of "One Struggle" and others join activities ad hoc, like "Anarchists Against the Wall."
In their estimation, there are about 200 people in Israel who define themselves as anarchists, most of them young and Jewish. There are no Israeli Arabs in the group, but among the Palestinians in the territories they have found a few kindred souls and small groups of anarchists, in the refugee camps. In the direct style of action that they prefer, they chose to fight the separation fence not in street demonstrations but rather by going to live in the territories alongside Palestinians whose lives the fence threatens to disturb.
This encounter was not at all simple. To the obvious gap between the two societies, the Israeli anarchists added the punk culture from which most of them have sprung. Pollack's arms are heavily tattooed, and Kanterovitz showed up for the meeting in Jaffa dressed and adorned in the best punk tradition. This is not how they set out for the territories. When they went to stay with the Palestinians, Pollack made it a point to wear a long-sleeved shirt and Kanterovitz dressed as modestly as she could. "We have territories clothes," they joke.
To the question of whether the Palestinians understand them, they reply with a definite "No." "We certainly do look strange to them, but they understand that we come from a different culture," they relate. "After five months at Maskha, we started to talk to them about anarchism, a natural diet and feminism, and they showed a bit more understanding."
There is something hallucinatory about the meeting with them. Despite the longing with which they speak about the lives of the anarchist communities in Europe and the United States, where they have spent various amounts of time, they chose to return to Israel "because here is where we influence more," according to Gomez.
Despite Pollack's sweeping declarations that "I have no attachment to the State of Israel - political, national or cultural," it is a very Israeli struggle that they are conducting here. In short, they are as Israeli as anyone can possibly be, a definition that angers them. After all, they are not even certain that they are part of the Israeli left, and Pollack relates that internationally there is a huge debate going on about whether or not anarchism is a part of the left.
In Israel, of course, there is no such debate. In a situation in which the ideological debate inches along the range between Knesset Member Danny Yatom of the Labor Party and Knesset Member Ehud Yatom of the Likud, there is no scope for relating to the expanding margins that are bubbling with new energies. The anarchists are not the only ones. At all the demonstrations of the more established left there are individuals and small ideological groups roaming around peddling their goods, handing out materials and trying to win over takers for what is burning in their bones. Sometimes they look embarrassed and sometimes they wear the expression of superiority of people who possess the truth but are forced to compromise with the reality.
Thus, for example, it is possible to obtain there the manifesto of "In Defense of Marxism," which suggests joining its ranks through Yossi's mobile phone number or visiting the movement's international Internet site, www.marxist.com.
But there is no point in rushing to the phone. Yossi's number does not answer and the revolution will have to wait. The Internet site, however, in an impressive array of languages, presents the positions of the active Trotskyite movement. The most recent editorial, which was written after the attacks on the synagogues in Turkey, argues that "the attack on the synagogue abets Israeli imperialism" and holds that "it will never be possible to defeat imperialism through the use of terror, and what is needed now is a worldwide anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist front."
Anarchist Yonatan Pollack is very familiar with this organization, and he is alarmed by the idea that the anarchists will appear in the same newspaper article as them. After all, in 1921 Trotsky ordered the elimination of the anarchists who embarked on an anti-Bolshevik strike. And Pollack does not forget.
At another stand at many left-wing demonstrations, a leftist demonstrator can receive a copy of "Dialogue," a publication for discussions between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. Here, the option is offered of ordering a subscription to the publication from Pierre Lambert, whose street address is Faubourg St. Denis in Paris. In a telephone conversation in which Lambert was asked to explain who is behind the publication, he only agreed to declare: "I am Pierre Lambert, the son of Russian Jewish refugees, a Trotskyite." Going by the solemn tone in which he declaimed this statement, it was possible to imagine him standing on a wooden soapbox, delivering a programmatic speech to enthusiastic masses.
The Israeli activists of another organization, "The Socialist Struggle," recognize the Trotskyite trends that are present in Israel too, but are not enthusiastic about them. "After the collapse of Stalinism there are many organizations that call themselves Trotskyites, but they have distanced themselves from the workers," they said this week at the weekly meeting of the Tel Aviv branch. "A revolutionary has to connect to the consciousness of the masses."
"The Struggle," a Trotskyite movement, can chalk up an impressive achievement the likes of which few movements can boast: During the past five years the number of its members had grown twentyfold! In absolute numbers, they have grown from two to 40 members. This is also the only leftist movement in which there is impressive representation of the Russian-speaking public: About 12 percent of the members, that is to say, five activists, are young immigrants from the Confederation of Independent States. It costs money to be a member. Each pays according to his ability, "a sum that will be significant to the comrade, but not break him."
Attending the meeting in Tel Aviv were Yuval Gal (the branch secretary), who works at the Abu Adam hummus shop in Tel Aviv; Sefi Samuelov, a student of the social sciences and politics; Gal Hayyat, an unemployed computer programmer; Eyal Atzei-Pri, a demobilized soldier "who fell into the arms of manpower companies and is working at odd jobs"; Melanie Pallaci, a television broadcast supervisor and very experienced at unemployment, and Amnon Cohen, a software engineer of 40, who is the oldest of them.
Cohen, who immigrated to Israel from England 15 years ago, was one of the founders of the movement in Israel, after having been active in the Trotskyite faction of the British Labor movement. Some of them came wearing red sweatshirts with the movement logo in three languages - Hebrew, Arabic and Russian.
They work mainly in the field. They go to demonstrations and workers' strikes, link up with existing struggles and suggest strategies and trudge out to employment bureaus, where they meet unemployed people and introduce themselves. It is hard to believe that the phrase "socialist struggle" became an instant hit. "You are mistaken," they say. "At first, even the word `struggle' would put people off. The response was, `Whaddya mean struggle? It's necessary to convince the politicians.' But that's finished. People have already despaired of the politicians, and even socialism no longer frightens young people who are looking for an alternative to the system that is destroying them."
They can see the change even in the attitude of the police towards them. Gal relates that several times during the past year that police at demonstrations took them aside and said to them: "You're right." After all, the police are also working class and screwed, they say.
Because the activists are young, the issue of service in the IDF has also come up in the movement. The position that is emerging is not to serve in the territories, but not to call for non-enlistment in the IDF, "because that's where you meet the masses."
Nearly all the members come from middle class homes, not from poverty. However, the fact that nearly every one of them has experienced unemployment has been an ideological catalyst. "Unemployment influences ideology," says Pallaci. "They don't prepare you for this when they tell you how wonderful capitalism is."
The members of Struggle think and talk in terms of revolution. "There's no alternative," states Amnon Cohen flatly. Alongside the social program they also have a political platform, the essence of which is a socialist Israel and a socialist Palestine as a stage on the way to the establishment of a socialist confederation. All this is written about in detail in their publication, "The Struggle," which can be purchased for NIS 2, or at the solidarity price of NIS 5. This is the main source of income for funding the future revolution, which they have no doubt will come.
They are considered members of the International Socialist Movement, which is struggling in 37 countries for workers' rights. In Ireland they even have a member of Parliament who was interviewed not long ago for "The Struggle" newspaper. The members in Israel are making do at the moment with the founding of a branch in Be'er Sheva