I keep asking myself why it is that I haven’t pitched a tent and taken an active part in the tent encampments that are sweeping the nation. After all I, like most of my peers, pay an exorbitant amount of rent (usually half my income), have been active in various ways on social justice issues for years, and believe civil disobedience and popular resistance are vital tools for bringing about change.
So why am I not in a tent? There is no easy answer to this question and I’m still grappling with it as I write. I could provide a bunch of political rationalizations – indeed my politics are way left of center and I could go on about how I wish this was a protest about Arab-Jewish relations and how there needs to be a call for the end of occupation for it to be truly about social justice. But that still doesn’t explain why I don’t just go and pitch a tent with the messages I believe in.
But the protests are a process still panning out, and the fact is that it is a very personal question that has more to do with my own experiences than with any political theory. What I express here by no means should undermine the effort of the protestors (who I will generalize), or give the impression that I am any better of more justified. Rather, I don’t feel a part of this popular movement and I’m trying to understand why.
One of the most obvious reasons I haven’t pitched a tent, which I should admit up front, is that I have my routine, constraints of my work and simply prefer to be in the privacy of my home that I continue to pay rent for, rather than in the heat among the many. So while I visit the tents and attend some of the protests, I don’t stay very long, and I realize that this necessarily makes my opinion limited and biased (which is what all opinions are).
It is important for me to note, though, that I have taken part in countless direct actions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, most predominantly in the South Hebron Hills, such that I am no stranger to civil disobedience against Israeli policies, specifically those that take place under much more tense and volatile circumstances and for which I have been arrested. There was a period for about a year that a certain type of activism (with Ta’ayush) played a central role in my life and I was very committed. A big part of what kept me going is that I felt a part of a small community of people with whom I shared certain experiences, goals and maybe most importantly, trust. But even within that context, there were always certain activists and certain situations in which I felt disconnected – which stems from a variety of reasons, but one of the most dominant was my constant need to question the level of commitment. As admirable and powerful as devotion to a cause is, it is also frightening on such intense levels. In the Rothschild tent community, this level of devotion is indeed frightening.
Another reason. Most of my friends as well as my colleagues from 972 have not pitched tents there and do not spend substantial amounts of time there, beyond observing. Even though I know people who hang around there and identify with the messages of a few tents, I’m not actually friends with any of them and I am not identified with any specific group, be it students, a political party or even the “leftwing” activists and “anarchists” with whom I probably feel the closest to in general ideology. I don’t feel part of the Rothschild community or any specific tent in it.
My social status and personal relation vis-a-vis the tent protestors thus plays a huge role in my why I am not there more frequently, and while I certainly have rational political and analytical reasons, this is certainly the most honest and determining one.
Another reason is also because I am by my nature, an observer, an analyst and to an extent, a non-conformist. I’m not big on joining things, never wear t-shirts or pins with slogans on them, and am always a bit suspect of any phenomenon that generates such a huge following. As fellow writer Noam said to me while speaking to him about this, if 25,000 Israelis showed up to Bil’in, it too would feel like a big festival full of populist aspects we would likely not relate to. Indeed, while it is on the one hand very empowering to be a part of such a large gathering, I do not feel comfortable being among so many people and did not identify at all with the festival-like nationalist character the protest took last Saturday night. I’m not very keen on listening to Shlomo Artzi and singing the national anthem while calling for a social justice revolution. It’s just not me.
So maybe it is because I don’t completely identify with “the masses” of this protest movement, many of whom likely voted for political parties that I don’t relate to, who do not question Israel’s military actions but question me when I do, and who consume vast amounts of popular culture that I do not consume.
Even though I share much of the same traits as the protestors, such as socioeconomic status and level of education, and even though I speak fluent Hebrew and feel at home in Israel, and grew up with a decent amount of Israeli culture in my home, the fact is that I did not grow up here and my parents do not currently live here. I leave the country a few times a year, hold another passport and have different cultural associations, and this surely factors in to my inability to feel a part of this massive “festival.”
So I feel mostly alone vis-a-vis this protest movement. While I identify with and commend the act of taking to streets and while I agree with some of the messaging, I simply do not feel a part of it. The activism I choose to engage in – comprised of observation, research, writing, talking and polemicizing, as well as occasionally going out to the West Bank to meet with Palestinians and confront with my own eyes what is happening in my name, and mostly a lot of sitting at home and thinking – is a much more individual and lonely form of protest, but it is the one I identify with most.