By Haggai Matar, translation Tal Haran, One Democracy
“Stay on the streets, keep the tents going, refuse Reserve call-up, march as usual on Saturday” — Tent 1948
Wednesday night (Aug 17) a first meeting of its kind was held by activists who have decided to facilitate an encounter of the ‘tent struggle’ movement and ‘Palestinian September’. The path we have taken might lead to a mass movement of refusal to prefer occupation wars to peace and struggle for social justice. Here is a summary and some conclusions of this meeting.
After stormy weeks filled with encounters, discussions, workshops, discourse and exchange of ideas and opinions in all the protest encampments throughout the country, with Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard encampment leading the way, this particular discussion was held at a safe distance. Wednesday night at 9 p.m., mats were spread in the northern part of Chen Boulevard (a safe ten minute walk from the end of Rotschild), a loudspeaker placed nearby and a cordless microphone began to make the rounds. The purpose of this discreet-public meeting was to discuss the ramifications of the coming September upon the historic socio-economic struggle taking place in Israel at present.
About eighty people showed up. Most of them young tent dwellers, some of them more experienced older adults. A few of them veterans of leftist activism (political left – after all nearly everyone right now has taken up the economic left ideas), some of them latent lefties, others who have only recently begun to give the subject some thought following conversations in the encampments, and this was their first time at an encounter of this kind. The vast majority present was unfamiliar to me, and that in itself is already positive.
Soon enough it became clear that the consensus in the group is based on not opposing the Palestinian move in September, on non-confidence in the government – that will prefer to resort to crisis and war rather than make peace – and on a priorities scale that places the pursuit of the socio-economic struggle above “security needs” and even strives to expand the discourse of struggle so as to demand social justice on both sides of the ‘green line’. Upon this common basis and interest we agreed to continue meeting in the future – inside the Rothschild encampment (and then also in Yafo-Yafa, Haifa, Beer Sheva-Bir Sab’a, Lod-Lydd), as well as plan joint actions in the coming months.
Naturally controversies appeared alongside our consensus. Some said we were living de-facto in a single state under a single regime, this must be recognized and we should adapt our solutions accordingly. Others continued to speak in terms of two states. There were those who supported hasbara* activity amidst the Jewish public (* a Hebrew term that combines persuasion and information, i.e. ‘inforsuasion’), promoting the idea that Occupation harms us. Some supported the line of partnership with the Palestinians and the joint message protesting Occupation injustices. There were arguments around the question whether to try and promote talk about September through the encampments’ leadership or on the street. Ideas for action, too, were many and colorful, with various emphases, and some decision will have to be taken eventually as to which of them are to be used. But everyone wanted this to be continued.
The People Already Refuses
So far the summary. What I said in the discussion, for the two minutes that were allotted me, was that the practice of our pursuit must stand on two legs – refusal and partnership.
In New Profile, (a movement of which I am an active member), we have been speaking for years about refusal that transcends the limits of army and combatants – civil refusal. Perhaps now, for the first time in many years, conditions for such mass refusal are ripe. When we speak of September (or October, whenever the vote in the UN will take place), civil refusal is something that goes beyond the narrow limits of a soldier refusing to disperse a demonstration in the Occupied Territories, or even enter the area of the future Palestinian state, or obey an army deployment order – these are all important, blessed kinds of refusal that should be taken up. But in the context of the huge protest that is flooding and changing Israeli society now, refusal must be broader.
As citizens who have taken to the streets, who have decided in an unprecedented and revolutionary manner that we are tired of placing the threats of military-security discourse above our health-welfare-education-gender-employment-housing-nutrition safety discourse, our greatest task is to hold on to this new line to the very end. We must reject the government’s attempts – those that are forthcoming as well as those that have already begun to appear – to quench this unifying, liberating protest in the name of a segregating “national unity” meant to occupy others and suppress our needs. Simply put: refuse to fold up the tents.
Our other leg, too, begins with refusal: the refusal to accept separation of Jews and Arabs on both sides of the ‘green line’, perhaps in the entire Middle East. We have already seen — and I have already written here (http://972mag.com/can-the-social-protests-help-israel-win-a-progressive-battle-that-appeared-to-be-lost/) — that this struggle is becoming increasingly civil, a Jewish-Arab struggle, a common one. As one of the participants in the meeting last night mentioned, the two greatest protest rallies in northern Israel last Saturday night — in Afula and Haifa — were defined even in the media (a bit behind in understanding this angle because of its permanent bias for the Hebrew-speaking society) as joint demonstrations. In Beer Sheva, as well, a Bedouin woman delivered a speech, representing the unrecognized villages. Everywhere that same common message resounded, beautifully formulated by Raja Za’atari in Haifa: “At the end of the day, a homeless family is a homeless family, and a hungry child is a hungry child, regardless whether he speaks Arabic, Hebrew, Amharic or Russian. At the end of the day, hunger and humiliation, just like wealth, have no homeland and no language… We are saying: it is time to speak of peace and justice in one breath! Today more than ever, it is obvious to everyone that in order to curb talk of justice, this government might begin another war. For in war as in war, the cannons roar and the tents are folded up. Whether or not a war will break out, I am not certain. But one thing I can certainly promise: we shall continue to struggle together – Arabs and Jews – for justice, for peace, for equality, for a better future, for a more just future for both peoples.”
Refusal to accept separation, then, leads to partnership. This is a partnership that is gaining ground within the ‘green line’ and will soon have to begin to cross it. It is a partnership that must become – this instant – the banner of the group that met Wednesday night, as it did at the ‘Tent 1948’ on Rothschild Boulevard and in the joint encampments in Yafo-Yafa, Haifa and elsewhere. If and when a widespread popular uprising will break out in the Occupied Territories, with demonstrations and marches towards the Separation Fences, our role as partners will be to join it, not to suppress it.
A few closing remarks: During last night’s meeting, several voices doubted the possibility of recruiting the entire civil society to such a refusal project. People spoke of “the people” and “the Left” as if these were two disconnected mutually alienating bodies that will never really be able to act together. Until a month ago, such thinking was not mine but I was able to sense the kind of social siege sensed by whoever experienced it in view of fascist legislation and popular, unrestrained attacks against the Left. Now, however, it becomes unequivocally clear that such ideas have no standing in reality at all.
“The people” referred to in political discourse a month ago was clearly the Jewish people who managed to unite only around wars and nationalist patriotism. Today “the people” is a Jewish-Arab, socialist people, uniting for a vision of justice, equality, welfare state, and struggle against the super-rich and their hold on governments. It is a people that has risen in the morning and decided it has had enough and began to walk. It is walking in the streets of Beit Shean and Arrabe, in Tel Aviv and Haifa, Lod-Lydd and Beer Sheva-Bir Sab’a, Jerusalem-Al Quds and Nazareth-Nasrah, Yahud and Majdal Krum. It is a people that in fact is already refusing belligerent ‘securitism’ and choosing partnership. Our task now must be easier than before. We no longer try to stop the tide – we try to encourage it to resist the obstacles that will be placed along the way.