On my recent “radicalisation”

I have been experiencing some negative feedback on my blog, and from other people more generally, who have suggested that I have become “radicalised” by my time here. I find the use of this word – and the implication that I can no longer be objective – to be deeply troubling, so have responded to some of these criticisms here.

The statement below was written on the blog of another girl who is on the ICS program with me, and whilst she doesn’t name me directly I am aware that this is directed at me as I have discussed these issues many times with my fellow volunteers.

“As for seeing things from the other side, some group members here have become radicalized by the things we have seen and heard here. They have attended protests despite this putting our organizations’ future in Palestine in jeopardy. They have become blinded by the Palestinian’s suffering and seem unable to see things from the Israeli point of view or even objectively. I however am determined to remember that I am only beginning to understand the conflict and the people involved. Ofc I am more on the Palestinian side but I won’t let that mean I am anti-Israel, I just want to be pro-peace. I am an international observer here after all and a development worker not a political activist. And at the end of the day if we let hatred creep into our judgment then what hope is there that Palestinians and Israelis will overcome their hatred to create a last peaceful resolution?”

My response follows, albeit slightly edited for the purpose of clarity for readers of my blog:

Firstly, I’d be very careful with your use of language – “radicalisation” connotes “extremism”, and my actions do not come anywhere near that of an “extremist”. Try going to the settlements in Hebron and you will understand what “radical” and “extreme” really mean. I have not been radicalised nor brainwashed, though I have admittedly taken a stronger stance based on the evidence put in front of me over the last three months.

I feel very “extremely” passionately about the Palestinian struggle, and a frustration with my own development project (and international development in general) has meant that attending protests and demonstrations and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Palestinians in solidarity has been the most that I can offer here. I had a problem with the role of international development before I even arrived in Palestine, but was still intrigued to see what it entailed. There is no doubting that NGOs do great work to improve the lives of people on the ground here, but are they really going to change the political situation which makes these NGOs a necessity? If they were then the billions that has been thrown at international development over the years would have changed the world – and Palestine – far more dramatically than it has thus far.

Your suggestion that I do not look at this situation objectively and that I have let hatred creep into my judgement is simply incorrect. Out of all of our ICS group, I am in fact the only one who has actually stayed with Israelis in both Haifa and Tel Aviv, speaking to them at length about their stance on the situation here and forming my own judgements and strengthening my own arguments accordingly. I also work with Israeli activists who are doing brilliant work here in the OPTs. I am from a part of North West London where there is a strong Jewish community, and have been brought up experiencing the best of Jewish cultural traditions. I believe more than anyone that people are a product of their environment, and I find it incredibly important to understand the environment that has bred political Zionism so that it can be combated in the most effective ways possible.

Furthermore, neither do I understand nor accept the position of “observer”. To return to a quote that I will repeat until time immemorial on this blog, “To wash one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral”. I believe that it is imperative that the human rights violations that are committed against Palestinians are observed and documented – but in order to instigate real change, not simply as an act of observation in itself. Palestine may be a litmus test for the unequal power relations which oppress so many people in our global society today, but the Palestinian people are not lab rats to be observed – this is not war tourism, and an observation of the situation here must have a final goal. Being fortunate enough to have been given the chance to visit Palestine, it is the responsibility of internationals to pressure our own governments to end compliance with the Israeli government’s apartheid policies, and incite and inspire global movements in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

I will not accept people who define themselves as “pro-peace” as if to suggest that there are people who do not want a peaceful resolution to the situation here. I believe that there are three basic demands that need to be met in any resolution to this situation – end of occupation, end of apartheid and right of return for refugees. If these ideas are “radical” in your eyes then so be it, but everything I have tried to do and learn about since I have been here has been a means to an end of achieving those goals. If you think that’s what NGOs are trying to do then you are deluded. They are alleviating the suffering which people experience as a result of these conditions, and that is an incredibly important task, but are doing very little to change the political situation which make this suffering never ending.

You have chosen your path through international development as you feel it is the right thing to do, but do not criticize the way that I have chosen to be part of the Palestinian struggle nor the motivations for my actions. I have affected perhaps only a small ripple in my time here, and have learnt far more than I have been able to offer, but with currently over 2000 hits on my blog this is something I am genuinely proud of as I believe people read this blog knowing that the things I am documenting have been based on my personal experience as a human being, relating to the pain and suffering of other human beings.

Lowkey’s new album has become my sonic Bible, and I will finish with these lyrics from Long Live Palestine  as it summarizes my feelings more succinctly than I could ever hope to do so…

“It’s not simply a question of differing views, / Forget emotions, this is fact, / what I spit is the truth… Its your choice what you do with this message, / Don’t get it confused; I view this from a truly human perspective…

…Words can never ever explain the raw tragedy, / It’s not a war they’re just murdering more rapidly, / We are automatically supporting pure savagery, / Imagine how you’d feel if this was your family!”

حرر فلسطين حرة!

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Palestinian Freedom Riders

Yesterday I witnessed six Palestinian activists demand freedom, justice and dignity as they defied Israel’s apartheid policies when the group successfully boarded settler-only buses and attempted to enter East Jerusalem, where they were eventually brutally dragged off and arrested by the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF).

At the press conference and in the lead up to the event, the activists described how they had taken inspiration from the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and the heroic actions of Rosa Parks. Drawing on the struggles of African Americans who fought against segregation and inequality in the Unites States, and South Africans who battled against apartheid, the Palestinian Freedom Riders aimed to draw the world’s attention to the similarity of the struggle faced by the Palestinian people on a daily basis.

However, it must be recognised that the formation and continued policies of Israel’s apartheid state have far superseded the actions of both the Jim Crow South in the U.S. and the white supremacists in South Africa. Only last week when visiting Ni’lin, I was told of how when the wall was being built (which stole 30% of Palestinian land from the people of this small village), the IOF imposed a four day curfew on the village. This was enforced night and day, and if the people tried to leave their homes, tear gas and sound bombs were fired relentlessly into the narrow streets.

In South Africa, the white settlers sought to dominate the native population by incorporating them as inferior citizens in a state under exclusively white control. Zionism is founded upon a similarly colonialist ideology, but goes further in its attempts to establish a Jewish demographic through an ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people from their land.

Unlike in the American South of the 60s, you will not see signs around the settlements or at the checkpoints stating “No Palestinians here” – Israel manages its PR machine far too well for such overtly racist statements to be witnessed by the other “democratic” countries which fund its existence. Similarly, Palestinians are technically allowed to ride “settler-only” buses and drive on “settler-only” roads, something repeated by the Israeli media and the settlers who came off the buses yesterday.

But the segregation, inequality and the denial of Palestinian’s rights to enter their own land is implemented in a far more covert way by Israel. Whilst Palestinians may be able to travel on the buses and roads, these buses lead either into the internationally recognised illegal settlements, or into East Jerusalem where Palestinians are forbidden to enter. East Jerusalem is the intended capital of a future Palestinian state, yet Israel has denied the majority of Palestinians access to the city without a permit, which are almost impossible to obtain.

As a result, Israel has been able to continually expand the settlements in East Jerusalem, particularly in the highly contentious area of Sheikh Jarrah, and this has lead to the annexing of Palestinian populated areas in the city so that it is surrounded by Israeli settlements, systematically destroying the possibility of having a Palestinian controlled capital.

As I hope is becoming evident, the Palestinian Freedom Riders movement is not simply about the segregation of buses, the problem here is much larger. Palestinians face an apparatus of military control over Palestinians that needs to be dismantled, along with the settlements themselves.

The Israeli government will continue to defend their denial of Palestinians into East Jerusalem and the segregation of settler buses and roads because of the “security” threat from suicide bombings, their continual excuse and reasoning behind the occupation of Palestine. However, Israel’s colonialist project and abhorrent treatment of Palestinians began long before the first suicide bombing took place, and the continued occupation will do nothing to deter the desperate and destructive acts of suicide bombers.

However, the violence that has blighted the region for many years was far from the minds of anybody who witnessed the Palestinian Freedom Rides yesterday, as they took part in a determinedly non-violent resistance that attempted to demonstrate the popular, direct action movements which have been been gaining momentum in Palestine to resist Israeli occupation.

Yesterday’s action was a well orchestrated media circus, with hundreds of journalists swarming around the riders trying to get the best shots and interviews for their stories. However, in order for the Freedom Rides to have a true impact on Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, they will need to engage the wider Palestinian community and encourage these acts of civil disobedience in the next waves of the Freedom Rides. I have every faith that the activists involved in the initial wave will continue tirelessly to do so, facing arrest by the Israeli forces and attack by the settlers at every turn.

Furthermore, the onus is now on people around the world not to co-operate with the apartheid policies of the Israeli regime and to take action against them, starting with the boycott of companies – such as Egged and Veolia who run the settler buses – who profit from Israel’s illegal apartheid system.

This protest was not about the UN Statehood Bid. It had nothing to say about armed struggle. Instead, this is one of the most inspiring acts of people power I have seen since arriving in Palestine. The Freedom Riders are demanding that their very basic human rights are upheld in accordance with international law, and to demonstrate that they will continue to engage non-violently to win the freedom, justice and dignity for which the Palestinian people have struggled for so long.

p.s. – Check me out on the front page of Palestinian daily newspaper Al Quds this morning!

http://www.alquds.com/pdfs/pdf-docs/2011/11/16/page1.pdf

Life on the other side of the wall

After six intense weeks in the West Bank, I realised that if I am to have any authority in talking about the conflict when I come home then it would be necessary to visit Israel, and at least attempt to understand the mentality that would allow a “democratic” nation of people to willingly sit-by, or actively take part in, a covert ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from their land.

Nevertheless, I had some reservations about the trip before I left. The first reason was regarding the fact that Israel’s second biggest economy after its arms trade is tourism, and it would of course be almost impossible to boycott Israeli products when inside Israel itself. Secondly, most of the students I have spoken to at Birzeit are resolutely against discussion and co-operation with Israelis. After years of failed negotiations, promises made and broken to halt the settlement expansion, the death toll and restriction of movement ever increasing, it is entirely understandable why this would be the case.

Some of the students have been offered to attend so-called “peace camps” with Israeli and Palestinian students, where the idea is that young people meet on an “equal” level to discuss and debate the issues surrounding the conflict. However, this is not a conflict, it is an occupation. In spite of well-meaning intentions, many of these projects imply equity between Israelis and Palestinians in their responsibility for the conflict.

There is the insinuation that if only the Palestinians would just stop throwing rocks! If only the Israelis would just stop building settlements for a few weeks! Then the talking could begin; then peace would be just around the corner.

This dialogue disregards the fact that Palestinian civilians live without even the most basic human rights, under an occupying colonial force that has systematically denied them the right to exist. Only free men can negotiate, and these normalisation projects ignore the fact that the Palestinian people have limited power to enforce the outcomes of any discussion. The Palestinians are not going to accept being given their freedom, it must instead be taken.

Nevertheless, after discussing this issue with my Palestinian co-ordinator at ISM, he encouraged me that my own personal discussion with Israelis, from an international perspective, is something which is necessary and perhaps beneficial, if only to strengthen my own arguments.

When I arrived in Haifa, I innocently steered the conversation towards politics with the Israelis I was hanging out with, but many times the conversation was fairly quickly shut down. Many of the people were incredibly reluctant to discuss what I had been doing in Ramallah, with most not understanding why I’d want to be in Ramallah in the first place. Having done most of their army service in the West Bank, the idea that I would want to go there out of choice seemed fairly ridiculous to them.

It was not that they were rude – in fact completely to the contrary, the people I did engage in a discussion with were very measured, and not at all like the Israelis I had been trapped with on the plane. Instead, I spent the evening with a group of very intelligent and genuinely warm people, in many ways with similarly leftist politics to me. My host was incredibly well-read, spoke four languages including Arabic, and we stayed up until sunrise enjoying the beautiful view over Haifa, discussing philosophy, music, and stories from our travels.

However, there was a continued repetition that “we don’t discuss politics at parties”. Their reasoning was that they are tired of talking about a situation that they see as having no resolution, and this is not an entirely unfounded point when you understand the complexity of the situation here. Nevertheless, I had to compare this to the attitude to all of the Palestinians I have met, for whom politics is at the forefront of every action and every thought, the occupation seeping into every element of their lives.

There is no doubt that the Israelis live under a form of almost constant paranoia – whether real or imagined – about the threat to their security and the extinction of their people, and I realise that it is this narrative which allows many Israelis to sit by and let the occupation continue, providing them with a false sense of security that allows them to lead a life of relative normality.

In spite of the recent economic problems experienced by Israel, relative to Palestinians the Israelis have an economically comfortable existence, in a country that they can proudly and openly say is “theirs”, where their fundamental human rights are upheld – things which are of course completely denied to the Palestinians.

Israelis cannot forget what the price of this normality is to the Palestinian people, and I was surprised to see that these Israelis were happy to live in a bubble world where life on the other side of the wall was certainly not at the forefront of their minds. Israelis who say they want peace, but that it is currently unattainable, and who are willing to sacrifice Palestinian rights in the interim, are akin to those “white liberals” in the America of the 60s, who maintained that the time wasn’t right for civil rights for the Black minorities.

Why is that nobody would dare to suggest a limited, negotiated form of freedom for the suffragettes at the beginning of the 20th century, for the Black minority in 60s America and in apartheid South Africa, for women in 21st century Saudi Arabia, yet this kind of attitude seems to be so prevalent amongst people who claim that they are “pro-solution”? To think about the situation here from a “pro-solution” perspective is not to be neutral, it is to side with the powerful over the powerless, and conceding to the arguments of Israelis is incredibly detrimental in asserting the just Palestinian cause.

In the most inspiring examples of struggle for basic human rights, it has been popular movements which have won liberation for an oppressed people based on the strength of their arguments, not negotiations conducted on unequal grounds. It seems to be the case that for real change to come for the Palestinians a fairly seismic shift will have to happen in the region – and in world politics – but that does not mean the daily struggle will not continue here in the Occupied Territories.

Just as the revolutions of the Arab Spring have demonstrated, the vital element in any major progressive chances for change is the confidence of the people who are demanding that it can be done. The uprisings there were shaped by the fact that there were enough people prepared to take to the streets and make the effort necessary to bring it about. Whilst Israelis may say they want to peacefully co-exist, the Palestinians will first continue to demand and take back their very right to exist as a nation from their oppressors. The Palestinian struggle has come to symbolically define the struggles of people all over the world who live without justice, dignity and freedom, and the Palestinian people are inspiring in proving that their very daily act of defiant existence is a moving form of resistance in itself.