Akiva Orr on J14: ‘The longest journey starts with one small step’

Over the years of writing and wrestling with Israel/Palestine, Akiva Orr has become a supportive figure. Born in 1930’s Berlin, Orr has lived the entirety of Israel’s existence. From Eric Fried to Joe Slovo, Akiva can speak for days about his personal relationships with some of the most interesting revolutionary leaders of the late twentieth century.

It is not Akiva’s circle of friends rather his work on the ground in Israel/Palestine as a founding member of Matzpen which is most fascinating. Orr wrote Max Blumenthal and me an email this morning in reference to our latest piece about Israel’s tent protests. It is reprinted in full along with an interview Blumenthal and I did with Orr last summer regarding Israel’s wars as well as a youtube link to a full length documentary about Orr’s political party in Israel, Matzpen.

By Joseph Dana

Author and activist Akiva Orr on Israel’s wars from Max Blumenthal on Vimeo.

Your article on the “social-protest” is excellent. Full of factual data and ideological insights. I found it excellent and learnt facts I did not know. I fully agree with its content but I still consider this protest unique and politically important in Israeli politics. This is so due to my own political development. Let me explain.

I was politicized by my participation in the great Israeli seamen’s strike in 1951. By the way,  a film about that strike was shown in Rothschild tents recently and I was asked to comment.

Until the seamen’s strike I was just an ordinary Israeli kid imbibing all the Zionist education without questioning it.  I grew up in a non-political home,  as a Tel Aviv ‘Beach Boy.’ I joined the “Hagannah” in 1945 when I entered High School. So did 25 of my other class mates out of which three joined Begin’s ETZEL and one joined the Stern Gang. The remaining six class mates joined nothing.  Keep in mind that this was typical to all Jewish high schools at that time. In the “Hagannah” we did military training in summer holidays and fly-posted Tel Aviv streets with weekly at nights. We also participated in anti-British demos. We never did anything anti-Arab. I participated in “Hagannah” activity as a cog participates in a machine. I became platoon commander at 16 and trained 30 kids in drill and use of fire arms but we never fired a bullet (too expensive). All this sounds very political but I was totally a-political. I knew nothing about Marx, Lenin, or the USSR and could not tell the difference between the various Jewish political parties in Palestine. I detested all politics.  It reeked of emotional blackmail.

I visited neighbouring Jaffa often as a kid and though it was 100% Arab it never occurred to me that the Arabs might oppose Jewish independence in Palestine. To me – and to most of my generation – the Arabs were part of the physical landscape like the mountains and the vegetation. We did not hate – or fear – them. It never occured to us that a lengthy military/political conflict with them is inevitable. It was simple: our enemy were the British who ruled us,  not the “natives”.

Only during the 1951 seamen’s strike did I become politically critical because I read the various press reports about the strike. At that time most Israeli newspapers belonged to political parties.  I read them and saw that most press reports were biased against the seamen, and distorted the real facts of the strike. Only one paper gave a factually accurate reporting – and supported the seamen.

It was the paper of the Communist Party (CP). So I joined that party knowing nothing about Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, or the USSR. It took another 2 years of CP membership before I became an anti-Zionist. In the CP, I met Palestinian comrades who were not “Uncle Tom’s” and when I sold the CP paper in Jerusalem (every Friday for 6 years), I encountered violent hostility and opposition that forced me to learn the facts about Capitalism and the Zionist-Palestinian conflict. The 1950s were the peak of the “Cold War” and anti-communism was rough and rampant. I acquired my political education not by books but by political confrontations. I firmly believe that political confrontations with adversaries is the best political education.


Now back to Rothschild tents. Most young people in the tents face their first political confrontation in those tents. Before July 14 they were just fodder in politics. Now they are becoming politically critical – and aware. Whatever the outcome of this unique protest – their minds and attitudes are changed and will stay so. They will not be political fodder again. Give them time and many will become anti-Zionist. One cannot be weaned in a week from what one embraced uncritically for many years at home, in nursery and school. This confrontation/protest changes their minds – and lives. Nothing similar ever happened in Israel before. Moreover,  thanks to the mobile phones, Facebook, and the Internet, this protest is completely self-managed. No external organization hatched it or runs it. Massive Citizens’ self-organizing activity never existed in Israel before. This makes all political parties tremble. They know that this protest changed the rules of the political game in Israel. Israeli citizens cannot be treated as “election fodder” in the future. Whoever will treat them so will pay dearly at the ballot box.

My political activity aims to make the ballot box obsolete by direct participation of all citizens in all political decisions.

This protest is a “first small step” in that direction, and as Mao used to say: “The longest journey starts with one small step.” Though I am not – and never was – a Maoist,  I agree with him. That is why I support this protest despite all its drawbacks.

Keeping up the struggle – and enjoying it