Tears and gas: a call to mobilise

Originally published on Al Jazzera English with Jesse Rosenfeld.

As 2010 came to a close in the West Bank under the regular, weekly cloud of teargas experienced among the villages bordering Israel’s 1967 Green Line, 2011 started with the death of Palestinian woman from the village of Bil’in and the arrest of 19 Israeli activists in the Tel Aviv area.

The new year is just days underway and already it is clear that this will be the year that building ethno-nationalist rhetoric and legislation turned into concrete action.

Since the election of the right-wing Netanyahu government, the weekly West Bank demonstrations in the town of Bil’in have faced greater military repression, while the small but persistent radical Israeli left has moved from isolated protest to bringing the West Bank joint resistance model into Israel.

Following the killing of Bil’in’s first resident – Bassem abu Rahmah in 2009 – the continued jailing of village popular committee leader Abdullah Abu Rahmah, and a series of night time arrest raids without a murmur of protest from greater Israeli society, marginalised Israeli activists are now appealing outside their boarders and pushing forward the international boycott movement.

Tears and gas

After the announcement of the death of Jawaher abu Rahmah on the morning of January 1 from the complications of massive teargas exposure during the previous day’s demonstration, hundreds of Israeli leftists descended on the the ministry of defence, blockading the main road in front of it.

Later that evening another group of 25 Israelis woke the US Ambassador at his home in Herzliya chanting, ‘returning’ empty tear gas canisters and condemning the supply of teargas and other weapons to Israel by American companies and the government.

The evening ended with eight people arrested at the road block (they were later released without charge) and an additional 11 in jail from the protest at the Ambassador’s residence, facing a laundry list of charges including a weapons possession charge for the discharged teargas canisters.

The past months have seen an escalation in the crackdown on a small Israeli anti-occupation movement that has grown weary of engaging a public that is consumed by a mix of hyper nationalism and obliviousness to the reality of Israel’s expanding occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza.

Sentenced to three months in prison on December 27 for participating in a cycling protest during the 2008 Gaza war, Jonathan Pollak is the latest target of Israeli campaign against those amplifying the Palestinian call for justice. Pollak, a veteran of Palestinian popular resistance and a spokesperson for the coordinating committee for popular struggles across the West Bank, is a founder of the Israeli Anarchists Against the Wall – which has worked with Palestinian grassroots struggles since the Second Intifada.

“It will be the justice system itself, I believe, that will need to lower its eyes in the face of the suffering inflicted on Gaza’s inhabitants, just like it lowers its eyes and averts its vision each and every day when faced with the realities of the occupation,” Pollak told his packed sentencing hearing in Tel Aviv.

Donning a t-shirt with the image of Black Consciousness movement leader and anti-apartheid activist, Steve Biko, he defiantly challenged the legitimacy of the Israeli legal system while maintaining a calm demeanor.

Building on the sentiments that Pollak expressed, the January 1 demonstrations bypassed the Israeli public in favour of trying to bring international pressure on Israel for its violation of Palestinian rights.

Activists chanted ‘fight back against apartheid’ in English as they clashed with police in front of the international media in Tel Aviv. The English chants were escalated later in the evening when activists attempted to directly confront the American ambassador.

“We are tying the connections between US aid and support for Israel in general and the suppression of Palestinian popular struggle,” said Matan Cohen just after being released from jail in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Awareness and divestment

Originally an Israeli activist with the Anarchists Against the Wall, Cohen is now primarily active with the movement to divest from Israel on American college campus’ while completing his undergraduate degree in the US. He was one of the first activists jailed for blocking the road in front of the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, being shoved into a police van and beaten.

“We seek to connect the continuing resistance on the ground across the occupied territories and Israel to the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement,” he added.

On the back of rabbinical calls to bar Jews from renting property to Palestinians, rallies throughout Israel demanding the full segregation of Arabs and the expulsion of non-Jewish migrants, and the government’s push forward of uncompromising settlement expansion, Israel is now solidifying the image of what it means to be a Jewish state.

As a result, these few activists have found themselves looking in on a country where Palestinian existence is being erased from daily life, hidden behind a myriad of walls and checkpoints or evicted from homes in mixed neighbourhoods. Meanwhile the activists are faced with a government which capitalises, exploits and encourages a brand of isolationist Jewish exclusivity that both demands the world’s unquestioning support and shuns any frank discussion about the reality in the country.

Seeking to use the privileged access their voice carries in North America and Europe to add power to the voice of the Palestinians they struggle alongside, these Israeli leftists are now side-stepping engagement with a society that is unwilling to listen.

Faced with the reality that they are talking to a government that uses blunt repression to avoid its responsibilities, Israel’s Palestinian solidarity activists are now abandoning the failed attempts to be marginally heard in Israel’s national discussion and choosing to push for global direct action.