by Kobi Snitz - Anarchists Against The Wall - per cap Thu Aug 30, 2007
The truly marginalized political positions belong in a category of ideas which are considered lunatic or irresponsible. The former label usually requires no argument but the latter is supported by an argument which can not be dismissed out of hand. As the argument goes, when a position is sufficiently marginalized it is actually counterproductive. Instead, the responsible lunatic is urged towards the often-contradictory responsible position. This is possible when the basic terms of discussion are
sufficiently obscured and therefore it is useful to take another look at them.
“Our good intentions lead to this hell”; critiquing the wall in Israel.
For the last four years Israel has been building what it calls a security barrier (the wall) in the West Bank. The impact of this, the largest construction project in Israeli history can only be understood in
connection with the range of other Israeli policies and practices in the West Bank. These include according to the latest information from B'tselem - the leading Israeli human rights organization about 40 manned
checkpoints and about 470 physical barriers of other kinds. This count only includes the barriers located inside the West Bank which prevent movement between Palestinian towns and villages not from the West Bank into Israel. The checkpoints and barriers enforce an elaborate system of restrictions on the movement of all Palestinians according to
ever-changing rules which are not published and therefore almost
impossible to challenge legally . These policies and others divide the Palestinian territories into what is called "territorial units" in IDF lingo.
Some of the people involved in implementing Israeli policy are frank enough to describe their aim:
“What Prime Minister Ariel Sharon played down in his Rosh Hashanah interviews was clearly exposed by his former bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, in an interview in Haaretz Magazine (October 8). The goal of the
disengagement plan is to perpetuate Israeli control in most of the West Bank, and to repel any internal or external pressure for a different political solution.
Sharon is consistently trying to realize his vision: Israeli control over the eastern and western slopes of the West Bank, and maintaining traffic corridors along its length and breadth. The Palestinians will be left with seven enclaves connected by special highways for their use.” More than any previous Israeli policy or practice, the wall, if completed according to plan, stands to make the partition of the West Bank permanent and
irreversible. The prospects for Palestinians and Israelis living with such borders is that “Unless ... a new map is drawn separating Israel and the Palestinian state, there will be no end to war in the land.”
The writer, Ephraim Sneh - who described Sharon's plan in this (presumably critical) way is the current deputy minister of defense who wrote this before he joined the government which claims to continue “Sharon's way”. It is convenient for Sneh, especially when he was in the opposition to describe the division of the West Bank which has gone on uninterrupted under decades of changing Israeli governments as 'Sharon's vision'. However, as Ron Pundak and Menahem Klein write “The leaders of the settlers are correct in saying that they came on behalf of the state and to their mind they are the embodiment of classic Zionism”.
The spectrum of Israeli opposition to the wall from liberals to radicals falls into three main categories. The principled position is to oppose the wall on the grounds that it is a policy which punishes people for being Palestinian. The first alternative is to oppose the wall on the grounds that it is not an efficient way to achieve its stated goal of protecting Israelis either because it does not provide security or because a more humane wall could provide an equal amount of security. The first two alternatives contradict each other in the sense that to criticize the wall for being inefficient is to imply that had it been the case that the wall is efficient it would have been legitimate. A third alternative is a variation of the second. It calls for constructing the wall on the green line but crucially, not preconditioned by an Israeli withdrawal to the green line. This position is the common position on the Israeli
center-left and is part of the platform of Meretz- the Israeli social democratic party. Yossi Sarid, a former head of Meretz who describes himself as “a [former] member of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, a former minister of education in the State of Israel, [and] a Zionist without 'post.'” supports a wall which would not hurt
“Palestinians who committed no sin”. However, the wall which is being constructed “is not the fence we intended, [...] we intended a completely different fence, and  our good intentions led to his hell. An apology is in order.” Sarid explains why, as he predicted at the time, under Israeli occupation and with Sharon in power it was unrealistic to think that his good intentions would be realized. Still, in writing its platform Sarid wrote the “Meretz supports the accelerated construction of a complete... separation fence...[it is] preferable for Israel that the route of the fence not include Palestinian population or territories.”. He went on to call “Sharon's fence  a crime against humanity”. The difference between the first and third position is more than a matter of the unintended consequent route of the wall. Even if the wall would have been built on the green line as Meretz wished, without an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, the wall would have facilitated the caging of Palestinians by other means. With the Israeli army remaining on both sides of the wall, freedom of movement for Palestinians could have continued to be
increasingly restricted by checkpoints, restricted roads and internal fences. Such tight control would not have been possible without a wall preventing Palestinian access to Israel, even if that wall was on the green line.
Sarid's article is surely the strongest condemnation of the wall by such a prominent Israeli but although he assures us of the quality of his intentions the principled position is absent even in this apology.
To my knowledge the principled opposition to the wall has not been made in the Israeli press at all and rarely even in statements of the radical left. The dilemma for Israeli radicals facing a tide of support for the wall is between making an inherently racist argument or risk being excluded from the mainstream media.
To illustrate further the meaning of even criticizing the wall on other than principled grounds consider the reaction to the idea of imposing restrictions on Jews for some reason such as “a Jewish threat”. The entire discussion should be rejected out of hand as racist in the extreme and to argue that a Jewish danger could be dealt with differently would undermine that rejection. In fact, even the mere allusion to a Jewish threat by a term such as “Jewish Bolshevism” marks those using it as antisemitic. Furthermore, to continue and argue for a more efficient way to deal with such a threat is to accept one or both of the racist premise that underly it. Namely that all Jews are responsible for the actions of some of them or that even if they are not, it is still legitimate to punish innocent Jews. The first of these premises is the official position of the state of Israel and as evident in the writing of human rights icon and Israel's minister for diaspora affairs and Jerusalem- Natan Sharansky it makes for some strange bedfellows: “The state of Israel was born in order to be a national home for the Jewish people. Zionist leaders have always declared that the Jewish state belongs not just to its citizens but to the Jewish people as a whole... for example, Argentinian Jews paid a heavy price [for Israeli decisions] when in revenge for the elimination of the leader of Hezbollah the organization blew up the Jewish community center and murdered hundreds of Jews.” Such a statement can only be made by those who are considered immune from charges of antisemitism. Otherwise, the awareness of antisemitism is sufficiently developed that these terms would be automatically rejected.
This reaction should be kept in mind when it comes to racism against Arabs. To take just one of countless examples, it is apparently acceptable for a major Israeli newspaper to title the cover story of its weekend section “The Beduin Threat” in large red letters over a picture of young children at a dump site.
Furthermore, while the mere mention of the term “Jewish Bolshevism” as a problem to be dealt with is immediately understood as racist because of its implication of all Jews. The same response should be given to the widely used term “Islamic terrorism”. I have seen only one discussion about the appropriateness of using the term “Islamic terrorism” in the mainstream press. It was a side comment in a story about the
appropriateness of calling Eric Robert Rudolph a “Christian terrorist”. The almost universal acceptance of such widespread acceptance of racist terms is the reason why rejection of the wall on principled grounds is either incomprehensible in Israeli media or understood as an endorsement of the murder of Israelis. Israeli opponents of the wall do very often argue the alternative to the principled position but when they do so, it is a concession to the racist assumption underlying it.
In fact, the factual claims in the alternative argument hardly need to be made by critics of the wall any more. During arguments in the supreme court the state's attorney reversed its position and admitted that considerations other than security considerations determine the route of the wall. Those considerations are demographic and geographical, i.e. the objective is to retail the largest amount of land and natural resources with the smallest amount of Palestinians as frankly explained by many of those who were involved in planning and influencing the route of the wall
The relative importance of the security consideration versus other objectives in planing and building the wall is reflected in the fact that the border between Israel and Egypt is not even fenced for most of its length. The Sinai desert is used to smuggle weapons and was considered by Sharon and now by Olmert a security threat, to say nothing of the active trafficking of women and girls which passes through that border .
Apparently the security of these women and girls is not the kind which compels the Israeli government to build a wall. It should be pointed out that had a wall been built along the Israeli Egyptian border it would have faced no opposition. On the other hand, the borders of Israel would also not have been effectively expanded by such a wall.
Security considerations and expansionist goals in the route of the wall can come into conflict. This allows for an actual comparison in their relative importance. In certain places where Israel does not yet dare to complete its planned route for the wall, gaps remain which would
supposedly be a security threat. As Akiva Eldar writes in Haaretz
“Annexation is important, Security less so”.
Furthermore, even some of the settlers, who would presumably be at greatest need for its protection are opposed to the wall's construction. The urgency in the need for the protection provided by the wall is indicated by the fact that the damage to the scenery and habitat of small animals is cited as a sufficient reason for freezing construction of an entire section of the wall in the south. This is more than two years after it was publicized that the construction of the southern part of the wall was delayed by Sharon's refusal to construct it on the green line. The story appeared two days after a double suicide attack in Beer Sheva and concerned the section of the wall through which the terrorists entered Israel.
Tea and tear gas in the West Bank.
Media work and, to a lesser extent, other public appeals present a dilemma between opposing the wall on principled and marginalized grounds or conceding the racist assumptions underlying the alternatives. Naturally, interaction with other Israeli institutions from the high court to infantry troops present parallel dilemmas.
In several instances, in what might seem like a victory, the Israeli high court has ordered that the route of the wall be changed. Almost without exception, these decisions also set a precedents which legitimized much more of the wall. In that sense, these small victories help legitimize the wall. Regardless of the effect of the wall, an appeal to a court which approved the execution of Palestinians without trial is a repulsive concession. Furthermore an appeal to the court might also provide false hopes and defuse an otherwise more militant popular struggle. In spite of this, dozens of appeals to the high court were filed by Palestinians who were directly effected by it.
It is not hard to understand how a similar dilemma exists with respect to contacts with other levels of Israeli officials and with soldiers. For example, it is often possible for activists (especially Israelis) to have a form of local negotiations with soldiers about minor “concessions” such as being granted permission to demonstrate at a certain location. On the one hand, such negotiation might reduce the physical risk to demonstrators or buy some time but, on the other hand, this provides a recognition of the authority of the army and also a pretext for attacking the
demonstration when the “agreement” is not kept. As above, the process of negotiation also serves to defuse the momentum of a demonstration or march.
What is less widely accepted is the fact that the same sort of dilemma exists even in the cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli activists in the West Bank. The privileged position of Israelis means they have greater access to media, the ability to travel, much less legal and physical risk etc. This will tend to increase the influence they have on decisions about the struggle which effect their Palestinian counterparts much more. In other words, even when using Israeli privilege for the purpose of the struggle there is a concession. That is, in a sense, the privilege is extended to the struggle as well.
Even social interaction can extend Israeli privilege. The relative freedom of Israelis elevates their social position and social ties created under these conditions will reflect that and by that perpetuate it. At least to some degree, this is so even for the social ties between Israeli and Palestinian activists. This phenomenon is an instance of what is referred to in Palestinian society as 'normalization'. It means that any
interaction of Palestinians with Israelis under conditions of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, even for the most positive purpose includes a measure of adjustment to that condition and in a way, even its extension. This sensitivity is partly a result of the fact that some of the most damaging Israeli policies were described as confidence building measures or other processes accompanied by promises of Israeli good intentions.
There is a contrasting idea, which is that interaction between Israelis and Palestinians and in particular social interaction can eliminate mutual fear and suspicion which are the supposed root cause of the conflict. Another, form of this idea which is more realistic in my opinion, is that social interactions are valuable because they strengthen the basis for joint struggle. The value or even justification of joint political action should be weighed with this in mind.
The question can perhaps be captured by the choice Israelis make when coming to the west bank. It is the choice of whether to drink tea or to inhale tear gas at a demonstration.
A sentiment which is perhaps unappreciated in the wider circles of Israeli activists was expressed by a member of the popular committee against the wall at the Palestinian village of Bil'in. His message to Israelis was “After we end the occupation together, there will be plenty of time for tea”.
The choice of satanists, Anarchists Against the wall.
The following are my impressions of the dilemmas faced by Anarchists against the wall (AATW) and the choices it made. It should be understood that this does not represent an AATW consensus or otherwise official position, in fact such a thing hardly exists.
About four years ago, a loose group of Israeli activists formed a
political action group to oppose Israel's so called separation barrier (the wall or fence). The pattern of activity which was set at the start of the activity, and remains true to this day, is that of a non violent “propaganda of the deed” and to leave the talking and institutionalizing to others.
The group was formed around the Masha camp where together with
international and Palestinian activists a protest camp was set up on the route of the wall at the village of Masha. At the same time, while resisting the ongoing construction of the wall, the group also cut the fence and destroyed parts of it. At one such action in December 2003, an Israeli activist was shot by the IDF, in both legs, with live ammunition from close range. The large amount of publicity around that action fixed the group's previously rotating name as the name picked for that action: Anarchists against the wall.
In Israel, like many other societies, the word anarchist is so often used derogatorily that its most accurate synonym is probably “satanist”. The satanic association actually serves two purposes, it frees the group from considerations of its public image which tend to paralyze political action and more importantly is the demonstration of the group's intent to set its own agenda. This demonstration strengthens the group as it offers its members and potential members the option to act according to their honest opinion as opposed to taking a pragmatic position in a debate whose terms are dictated by others.
In late 2003 and early 2004, several Palestinian villages who were about to lose much of their lands to the wall formed popular committees to resist the wall and started demonstrating almost daily. The experience of the Masha camp lead to Israelis being invited to join those demonstrations and with it the beginning of a long term partnership between AATW and popular committees in many villages.
AATW began a period of very intense activity. There were almost daily demonstrations at several villages and AATW, with a group of several dozen Israelis, managed to have a small presence at each one of the
demonstrations they were invited to. Of course every Palestinian
demonstration also includes uninvited Israelis in the form of the army or border police. The importance of the presence of Israeli activists at demonstrations was that their presence significantly reduced the amount of violence the army used against the demonstration. In fact, the army freely admits to the fact that its open fire regulations change when they suspect that there are Israelis at a demonstration. Still, even under the reduced levels of violence, nine Palestinians were killed when demonstrating against the wall, some even when Israelis were present. Thousands more were injured or arrested and some spent months in jail.
Resistance to the wall in Israel is made difficult by the extreme racism which exists in which makes a principled opposition to the wall either incomprehensible or understood as an endorsement of the murder of
Israelis. This has meant that AATW remains marginalized and subject to legal persecution and violent attacks at demonstrations. To date, AATW members have been arrested more times than it is possible to count, 63 indictments have been filed against members of the group and one activist has already been jailed for several months. The routine of activity for AATW includes not only constant contact with the group's lawyer- the excellent and dedicated Gaby Lasky - but also a personal acquaintance with nurses at one of the major trauma centers in Tel Aviv.
Dealing with such levels of physical danger is hard for a loose group which is pretty open to new people to join and come to demonstrations. It is a constant concern for AATW to try to be as careful as possible without abandoning its Palestinians partners. However, it is not clear if there are safety precautions which can be taken to reduce the risk at
demonstrations. Of the serious injuries suffered by members of AATW or other Israelis the groups invited, only in one case the activists had a chance to prevent the injury.
Another unique aspect of the work of AATW is the joint struggle it wages together with Palestinians. This of course, is not without difficulties. It is hard to expect that Palestinians will immediately accept and trust Israelis. In addition to the fear of spies and provocateurs, cooperation with Israelis also involves an element of 'normalization' which means an adjustment to the conditions of the occupation. Israeli activists also bring with them cultural influences which might not be welcomed in some parts of Palestinian society. In light of this, and although it has no formalized ideological platform, AATW does insist on some principles of joint work. The first principle is that although the struggle in a joint struggle, Palestinians are the ones who are effected more by the decisions taken in the struggle and therefore they are the ones who should make the important decisions. Second, Israelis have a special responsibility to respect Palestinian self determination, including respecting social customs and keeping out of internal Palestinian politics (of which there is plenty).
The issue of normalization versus the benefits of social ties is a more difficult question. Unlike cultural standards such as modest behavior and dress, it would be far more repressive to try to codify appropriate social ties, let alone demand it of individuals. The only principle is the general policy of respecting requests by Palestinian popular committees in this regard as well.
The amount of details might give the impression that the above
difficulties of joint struggle are larger than they really are. However, the joint struggle faces only one main difficulty in the form of the Israeli state. The attention to the above issues is meant to highlight the process of political development which AATW has gone through together with its Palestinian partners. Over several years of intense struggle, at certain low points the above difficulties came to the surface and had to be dealt with. As perhaps the main contact between the Israeli peace movement and the Palestinian peace movement, AATW transmitted its
experience to the Israeli peace movement and played an important role in its political development. At the time of AATW's beginning, the idea of Israelis joining Palestinian demonstrations seemed incredible to the huge majority of the Israeli left. After several years of activity, the number of Israelis who have themselves participated in joint demonstrations with Palestinians is in the thousands and includes many who are not
marginalized at all. Still, other than parties with an Arab majority constituency, no Israeli political party has supported the joint struggle against the wall.
The obligation of citizens to resist criminal acts and policies carried out by their government is recognized in international law and it requires Israelis to do all they can to resist their government. More importantly, the moral obligation of resisting the wall becomes apparent to anyone who has ever witnessed it cutting off villages and towns. To look away and ignore the crimes committed in our names, with our taxes, by the students we train or those we keep polite company with is to lose some of one's humanity. This is a burden to which Israelis are enslaved by fear. In that sense, the act of disobedience and resistance is also an act of personal liberation. An option which is open to Israelis who would join the struggle.
The struggle of Palestinians against those who would have them move away or disappear is a constant struggle to simply exist. This struggle is joined by Israeli supporters one day at a time at a certain risk to themselves. The maximum likely penalty for Israelis does not include a lifetime of financial insecurity and being subjected to the whims of occupying soldiers. If those penalties are not enough to deter our Palestinian partners- neither should we be deterred.