Monday, September 27, 2004

Palestine-Israel, Recent Palestinian Popular Resistance and its Israeli Support*- by Kobi Snitz 27/09/04

Palestinian resistance
Palestinian popular resistance is nothing new, yet in recent months it has reached a new level of development. The catalyst has been the confiscation of Palestinian land for the construction of the separation wall, the path of which stands to create enclaves containing tens of thousands of Palestinians. One of the leaders of the new type of resistance is Ayed Morar (Abu Ahmed) of Budrus, a small village close to the Green Line. Since November 2003 Budrus has been the model for what has come to be called the Third Intifada: Popular resistance to the wall by whole villages. According to Morar, there are several reasons why Budrus has been a model of organizing. Budrus is a small village with strong social and familial ties where the social and political leaders all know each other. So when it came time to organize a popular committee in Budrus, it happened quite naturally. Morar stresses that it was important that the popular committee include everyone: Religious leaders, members of Fatah, leaders of the mosque, school headmasters, leaders of the youth club and the civic council. Women's groups were particularly strong and vocal in demonstration in Budrus, unlike in some other villages.

In addition to the local committees, a council of 9 villages was formed to coordinate resistance among the villages. For various reasons, however, other villages where the wall was constructed did not put up an organized fight. According to Morar, the villages that did not resist were not as unified as Budrus and also did not know exactly how to go about actually resisting the wall.

> >>From the beginning of the demonstrations in Budrus on Nov 11*, 2003, the popular committee made a clear decision on three principles: To use only peaceful means in their struggle; to involve the entire village;and to seek international and Israeli support. The organizers were both morally committed to non-violence and also believed that it is the most effective way to struggle in this situation. Morar explained how it is easy for a handful of soldiers to disperse a crowd throwing stones from a distance but very difficult even for large groups of soldiers to control a disciplined crowd that approaches them. Morar's assessment is confirmed by Haaretz reporter Arnon Regular who describes "confused regular and reserve troops [facing Palestinian demonstrations], acting without a guiding hand in violation of regulations they do not know" [Haaretz April 14, 2004]. Commentator Amos Har'el commenting in the same issue on soldiers assigned to face demonstrations.
concludes that "it is not hard to guess which is the least favorite mission amongst soldiers in the central command region." In contrast, the army does not suffer from confusion or lack of guidance when it resorts to the use of violence, and according to Amos Har'el at least, Israeli soldiers prefer anything, including the use of violence, to confronting nonviolent demonstrations.

"At first it was very hard for us to get near the soldiers. With their history and their armor and weapons we were intimidated," says Morar, adding that "once we got past the fear, the soldiers were unable to control us and we were able to push the soldiers back a few times and stop the bulldozers." One key to maintaining unified and disciplined demonstrations in Budrus was that the leadership placed itself in front of the crowd and was always present. The level of coordination and trust was such that the people of Budrus were able to do one of the most difficult things in a demonstration, which is to walk away from a standoff without being hurt.
When they wished it, they would march up to the soldiers and hold their ground for an amount of time they decided on in advance and then turn back. In that way they gained a measure of control of the situation, and preserved their energies for days on which their goals were more ambitious.

As mentioned above, certain kinds of confrontations are easier than others for the army. Therefore, the army would try to escalate the situation into a confrontation between small groups of soldiers and a crowd throwing stones from a distance of 50-100 meters.
It is probably not the case that explicit orders are given to prevent peaceful demonstrations. Rather the soldiers on the ground are effectively given permission to use tear gas, shock grenades and rubber coated metal bullets at their discretion and given orders that make escalation inevitable.
After hours in the sun, performing a frustrating job they are not equipped or prepared for, soldiers act in the predictable way to make their job easier- they escalate the confrontation. The realization that the soldiers' job is difficult (if not impossible) does not remove their guilt. Soldiers do have the options of refusing to serve as thousands have done before them. However, the larger part of the blame belongs to the commanders who send soldiers on missions with predictable outcome and who set standards for conduct that allow soldiers to attack peaceful Palestinian demonstrations without fear of being disciplined. This is the sense in which it is army policy to prevent peaceful Palestinian resistance. As further evidence one can compare army procedures when dealing with settlers. In a recent example (May 17, 2004) no less than 1000 troops and police were used in the demolition of the single permanent structure in the Mitzpeh Yizhar outpost. With such huge numbers of troops, the need to escalate violence (to rubber coated metal bullets) in order to carry out orders does not exist. It goes without saying that the army would retreat before using live fire on settlers.

In the case of Palestinian demonstrations, violence would usually break out after the demonstration disperses. Usually soldiers would shoot rubber coated metal bullets, shock grenades and tear gas at the dispersing crowd.
Soldiers would sometimes even enter the village and chase people into houses. For their part, the young people of Budrus would respond with stone throwing. Morar emphasizes that the demonstrations were disciplined enough to prevent stone throwing but that demonstrations organizers should not be expected to be responsible for how the young people respond to army provocation after the demonstration is over. In addition, the army would often raid villages at night arresting those they suspect of stone throwing or political organizing. Once arrested Palestinians can be held indefinitely without trial.
Morar himself was arrested in this way and held for 10 days. Eventually, after the intervention of a member of the Knesset, Morar was released by a military judge who criticized the arrest in a rare move.

The price of resistance has been very high for Budrus and neighboring villages: Six dead and hundreds wounded. If the army succeeds in violently crashing this popular resistance it would escalate the level of violence in two ways. First by condemning thousands of Palestinians to life inside of open air jails and second by making non-violent resistance impossible. Army commanders and Israeli policy makers must know this and would welcome the escalation of violence for the reasons mentioned above. The higher the level of violence the simpler the confrontation is for the army. On the other hand, Ayed Morar and the other leaders of the Budrus resistance are striving in the opposite direction. As Morar says " We do not demonstrate against Jews, Israelis or even against soldiers. We demonstrate against the wall and the occupation. We have to act in a way that gives people a hope of freedom." That hope is both the strongest force against the escalation of violence and the strongest force of the popular resistance.

Israeli support

Israeli resistance to the separation wall in the form of direct action and support for Palestinian demonstrations has been growing along with the construction of the wall. The group I am familiar with is best described as a spontaneous anarchist organization, which has operated under different names such as "Jews Against Ghettos" and "Anarchists Against the Wall."
Although the form of organization is anarchistic in the sense of no centralized power and direct participatory democracy, most participants probably do not consider themselves anarchists. While in practice being far from the anarchist ideal, the group does benefit from the main advantages of such an organization: highly motivated and creative participants and a resilience against political pressure or repression.
Since the end of 2003*, the group has been mostly active in supporting Palestinian demonstrations against the wall. The main aims are to reduce the threat of violence against Palestinian demonstrators and to increase media attention. It should be made clear that the roll of Israelis is that of support. The initiators and large majority of participants in the demonstrations are Palestinians, who are also the ones who suffer the brunt of the violence and repression.

Between January and May, demonstrations occurred practically daily and often in more than one village.

Israeli participation falls into two categories, weekdays and weekends. During the work week construction usually goes on and the border police and army are out in force to prevent the demonstration from getting near the bulldozers. In spite of the best efforts by organizers, almost every weekday demonstration ends with at least a few wounded Palestinians. As the Christian Science monitor reported, [May 6 2004], 262 people have been injured and 5 killed in Biddu alone.

Weekend demonstrations are relatively safe since on those days there usually is no work being done on the wall and therefore less army or border police will be present to protect the bulldozers. However Friday demonstrations are also attacked sometimes such as in Beitunia on April 16, 2004, when 17-year-old Hussein Mahmoud Hussein Awad was killed. Because of the constraints of work and school, and because of the increased risk, a relatively small number of Israelis participate in weekday demonstrations. The Friday demonstrations are quite successful in drawing Israeli participation. The most successful Friday demonstrations have been organized mostly by Taayush and have drawn hundreds of Israelis to Budrus.

One aspect of the demonstration which does not make it into the media coverage is the interaction with occupation forces. It is sometimes possible for Palestinians as well as internationals and Israelis to safely approach the soldiers and negotiate or debate with them. It is not expected that soldiers will be persuaded to immediately put down their guns and refuse to continue to serve in the army. The hope is that it will be harder for soldiers to open fire on people they have just talked to and that a residue of moral pressure will still settle in them. It should be added that while internationals and especially Israelis might have more access to soldiers, their interaction with occupation forces should be approached very carefully. In my experience, soldiers have been surprisingly open to discussion and frank about their dislike of what they say they must do. However, as Gadi Elgazi pointed out to me, some of that sentiment should be understood as an attempt by the soldiers to divide Israelis and Palestinians demonstrators. The danger is that any agreement or even familiarity between Israeli demonstrators and soldiers can cast doubt on the solidarity of Israeli demonstrators with Palestinians. Still, with the conscientious objector movement growing amongst Israeli soldiers it is important to keep repeating to soldiers that they can follow the thousands of others before them and refuse to serve in the occupied territories or refused to serve at all.

The first mentioned goal of Israeli participation in the demonstrations is the increase of safety. It is impossible to know exactly how much safety is provided by Israeli presence. However, according to a senior army officer who commands the region "there is no doubt that the introduction of Israelis into [demonstrations] changed the picture... the most significant thing to change when Israelis are around is the open fire regulations." [quoted in Haaretz weekend section April 16, 2004]

The second main goal of Israeli support of Palestinian demonstrations against the wall is to increase media attention to the popular struggle. There has, in fact, been much media attention but most of it centered on the shooting of an Israeli protester by the army in Mas'ha on Dec 26, 2003.
Much of the rest of the coverage was about the participation of Israelis and not about the demonstrations as such, let alone the cause of the demonstrations. Still even with such racist priorities in the press, the existence of principled Israeli opposition to the wall and its critique as a means for Palestinian dispossession are now well known in Israel-- something that was not true 6 months ago. The over attention to Israeli demonstrators is motivated in part by the Israeli press's familiarity with the Israeli propaganda device known as "shooting and crying". By this device, domestic criticism is used as evidence of the liberalism and ultimate benevolence of "the only democracy in the Middle East." Indeed, a receptive Haaretz readership always feels flattered by depoliticized depictions of the beautiful Israeli lefty.In this way, just as familiarity with soldiers, so can over-familiarity with the Israeli press can corrupt Israeli dissidents.

There are several obstacles to the organizing of Israeli support of Palestinian popular resistance. It is a reflection of deep racism that permeates Israeli society that even after the army shot several Israelis and very nearly killed one of them, many potential supporters have to overcome their fear of the Palestinians they would be supporting rather than fear of the army. For those who do come out and support the Palestinian struggle, the reception has been completely positive--almost overwhelmingly so. This type of refutation of Israeli racist assumptions (about the hostility of Palestinians to individual Israelis for example) is perceived as a novelty and thus is one reason for the amount of attention given to the demonstrations.

Another typical, obstacle to drawing more Israeli support for Palestinian popular resistance is the particular opinion received by those more sophisticated than us. It is the idea that political activism is generally futile. This idea is communicated with empathy in the form of "very good of you but do you think any of it makes a difference?" The almost universal prevalence of this idea generally reflects the anti-democratic tendencies in societies where people are governed by other people and is not unique to Israel. It is both personally convenient and convenient for governments when people believe that their roll is essentially as spectators. The fact that the belief in political impotence is a product of indoctrination and personal psychology is reflected in the fact that it is typical exactly for those who do have the most political power and as such are subject to the most indoctrination.

One more indication of the power of the myth of political impotence is that as soon as this myth is refuted, political action suddenly becomes very attractive. In this particular case, the relatively large amount of media attention, (in spite of it being mostly derogatory) did give the impression that these actions have an effect and consequently the interest in joining the actions increased dramatically.

As mentioned above, media attention has a corrupting effect. While it is essential, it is dangerous for political action to be directed by a quest for media attention. On the contrary, much of the work of resistance is the unglamorous tedious work of political organizing. In many ways organizing is harder, more important and more democratic than the work that can be done by small groups of people. The true of success of direct forms of resistance is success in organizing a growing number of people.

At this point Palestinian popular resistance is in need of more Israeli support. Given the effect that a relatively small group of activists has had, it seems possible to increase significantly the political and material cost of constructing the wall. This effort does not really require an intellectual contribution (if this term even makes sense) in the form of literary metaphors or marketing expertise. The Israeli support effort requires resources and an honest effort on the part of Israelis. It requires more people, more creativity, more money and more work.

* Article written for a conference at the Van-leer intitute by Kobi Snitz
* Ed. Note: The upsurge in the struggle on November 2003 followed an initial project started at the Spring at Mas'ha. It was a camp of Israeli anarchists and others joining in protest against the wall local villagers, and Internationals. When the construction of the fence forced them away they moved the camp to Dir Balut for a while. The first joint action which even lead to damage of the fence was in Zabuba.
(en) Israel - Palestine, Tel Aviv - Zububa, Twenty meters of fence removed - in joint Israeli/Palestinian action
(en) Israeli anarchist group - One Struggle - initiated an internationalist action against the wall

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