Over the past five years the Israeli peace camp has dwindled. Last month marked the occupation's 40th anniversary, and no more than 4,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv to protest against Israel's longstanding military rule. Of the demonstrators who did show up, only a few hundred are what one could call ardent activists - people who have dedicated their life to peace and justice
Among the most committed of these are Israel's anarchists. Yet, over the past two years they have been under attack, and it is becoming more and more difficult for them to continue their struggle.
Established in 2003, the anarchists are made up of young Israelis, mostly in their twenties, who work closely with the Palestinian popular village committees in order to resist Israel's occupation. They have no official leaders, no office, and no paid staff, and yet they have managed to accomplish more than many well-oiled NGOs and social movements. They are perhaps best known for their efforts in the small village of Bil'in, where for more than two years weekly demonstrations have been staged against the wall that Israel is building on Palestinian land.
The anarchists are active in numerous other villages and towns as well. Day in and day out, they travel in small groups through the West Bank, supporting non-violent direct action that helps Palestinian farmers gain access to their fields and crops, while opposing the construction of the separation barrier and the confiscation of occupied land.
One of the most remarkable qualities of these young Israelis is their subversive use of their own privilege, employing it not for self-interested social, economic or political gain - as most people do - but rather in order to stand up to power. The anarchists, in other words, exploit the privilege that comes with their Jewish identity and use it as a strategic asset against the brutal policies of the Jewish state.
As Jewish activists they are well aware that the Israeli military behaves very differently when Israeli Jews are present during a protest in the West Bank and that the level of violence, while still severe, is much less intense. Indeed, according to Israeli soldiers the military has more stringent open fire regulations for demonstrations in which non-Palestinians participate. So when a village's public committee decides to carry out non-violent protests against the occupying power, the anarchists mingle with the demonstrating villagers, thus becoming a human shield for all of those Palestinians who have chosen to follow the path of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Even though the anarchists are frequently beaten and arrested, they do not desist. To date, about 10 Palestinians have been killed in demonstrations against the separation barrier and thousands have been wounded, a number that would no doubt have been much greater had it not been for the fearless dedication of the anarchists.
These unsung heroes are currently regarded in Israel as a fifth column. And when the Israeli police began to realise that beating and detaining them would not stop their stubborn resistance, a different strategy was adopted. Scores of legal indictments were issued by the state prosecutor.
The anarchists took this as a new challenge. They have launched a legal campaign, whose aim is to defend the basic civil right of all Israelis to resist their government's rights-abusive policies. Leading this battle is Gabi Lasky, an energetic lawyer, who spends many of her weekends releasing anarchists from detention and her weekdays representing them in court.
Unlike the struggle inside the Occupied Territories, the legal battle to protect civil liberties requires financial resources, which the anarchists do not have. The state knows this is the anarchists' Achilles heel and has been trying to undermine their peace-building activities by making them pay hefty legal fees. Although Lasky is working for little more than minimum wage, the anarchists' struggle cannot be sustained without help from concerned individuals around the world. Click here to find out how you can help.
* By Neve Gordon, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Politics and Government, Ben Gurion University. For more information on Anti-Israel Israeli academics, go to: www.israel-academia-monitor.com
and click on the university's name.