איך משחקי ילדותנו הכינו את אחותי לכלא הצבאי

[Click here for English]

2940169035

Atalya and Amitai on the way to military prison.

ביום שני ה-6.2.2017 אחותי עתליה בן-אבא סרבה להתגייס לצבא ונכלאה. עתליה ראתה יותר מהמציאות המורכבת של ארצנו מאשר מרבית בני גילה. היא עשתה שנת שירות בשומר הצעיר ועבדה עם נוער מהפריפריה. היא ראתה את מציאות ההפרדה במו עיניה בירושלים המזרחית ובחברון. בחודשים האחרונים הצטרפה לפעילות ליווי רועים וחקלאים פלסטינים בבקעת הירדן ובדרום הר חברון, וראתה במו עיניה אורח חיים שהשלטונות מנסים למחוק מעל פני האדמה.

אני צופה בה בגאווה כשהיא מצטרפת למאבק בפינוי הריסות בתים בגדה המערבית. היא אומרת שהצבא לא יכול לפתור בעיה שהיא ראשית כל מוסרית ופוליטית. “הרי בנינו חומה“, היא אומרת בעודה שולפת מההריסות קרש ראוי לשימוש חוזר, “אבל מאחורי החומה הזאת יש אנשים שסובלים, אנשים שהמציאות שלהם היא כלא. אין להם את החופש לחיות, אין להם את הדברים שלנו נראים מובנים מאליהם, אדמותיהם נגזלות, בתיהם נהרסים.”

היום ליוויתי אותה לחוויית הכלא שלה. לא היינו לבד, שתי סרבניות נוספות — תמר אלון ותמר זאבי — נכלאו בפעם החמישית, וכמאה מפגינות ומפגינים הגיעו לתמוך. בעוד השלטון ממשיך בדרכו הלא מתפשרת להמשך הסכסוך האינסופי, הנשים הצעירות האלה מראות נכונות לקחת יותר סיכונים עבור שלום צודק מכל נציגיהן הממשלתיים.

עתליה הייתה בת שלוש, אני כמעט בן עשר, כשהתחילה להתעמת עם יריבים גדולים ממנה. באחד המשחקים שלנו, נהגתי להעמיד פנים שמפלצות משתלטות לי על הגוף והיא היתה צריכה להכניע אותן. זכורה לי פעם אחת בה ציפורניה הקטנטנות ננעצו בבשרי ומכת הקרטה המאולתרת שלי הלמה בה חזק יותר מבדרך כלל. שנינו קפאנו. ראיתי הלם בעיניה, שאיימו להיסדק בפרץ של דמעות. אבל אז היא נזכרה בכְּלל — בכי מחזק את המפלצות — והרטט התחלף בנחישות. היא דחפה אותי, הרימה כרית והרביצה לי איתה, ואני נפלתי ארצה בזעקות כאב מפלצתיות.

Continue reading

Advertisements
Posted in Atalya Ben-Abba, Conscientious Objection, עברית | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Antisemitism And Its Useful Idiots

All over the world people who challenge Zionism are being accused of antisemitism. You might imagine the one group of dissidents who are safe from this kind of delegitimization is the Israeli Jews—we are not. This cruel irony, when exposed, may actually play a productive role in decoupling antisemitism and anti-Zionism. As actual antisemites take positions of power in the US government while maintaining a pro-Israel stance, the need to oppose the false accusations of antisemitism becomes ever more vital.

I was recently accused of antisemitism over an article I wrote about resistance to Israeli apartheid in the Jordan Valley. Continue reading

Posted in Analysis, Antisemitism, Occupation, Palestine | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Homage to Niemöller

Homage to Niemöller

First they came for the Arabs, and I was not concerned–
because I was not an Arab;

Then they came for the Mexicans, and I did not speak out–
I was not a Mexican, so I was not concerned;

Then they came for the queers, and I said nothing–
because I was, of course, no queer;

Then they came for the blacks, the natives, the anarchists, the Jews, all kinds of brown people, Asian migrants, and all dissidents,
and I did nothing–
because I was not any of those things.

Then they came for me–
and there was no one left

to stop them.

(~November 2016)

January 2017 update:

16463262_10155113704953469_1805468014793800412_o

“First they came for the Muslims, and we said NOT TODAY MOTHERFUCKERS!”
Image from the San Francisco Airport blockade.

 

Posted in Poetry | Leave a comment

A Funny Thing Happened in the Jordan Valley Last Thursday

[This post was published on Mondoweiss and in French on Paris-luttes.info]

I found myself standing in front of a military bulldozer like this:

Cat and mouse, the Jordan Valley, 10/13/2016. Photo: Guy Hirchfeld, Ta'ayush

Cat and mouse, the Jordan Valley, 10/13/2016. Photo: Guy Hirchfeld, Ta’ayush

Continue reading

Posted in Accompaniment, Jordan Valley, Occupation, Palestine, Ta'ayush | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Death to the Fascist Insect Preying on the Life of the People!”

Back in Jerusalem again. The Western side of the city keeps on pacing in elephant steps towards its realization as an overly populated messianic Zionist capitalist dystopia, Continue reading

Posted in Anarchists Against the Wall, Clowning, Jerusalem | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Term Has Become Meaningless To Me”: On Violence, Social Change, and Nonviolent Communication

[This piece was originally published on CounterPunch. More to come!]

“Paying your taxes is violent.” I signal to both ends of the hall and say, “This side is ‘totally agree’ and this side is ‘totally disagree.’”

The workshop participants spread across the spectrum and stand at places that best signify their level of agreement with the statement. One participant sighs in frustration as he stands in the same place somewhere in the middle, clenching his fists as if unable to move.

A Palestinian participant stands at the far edge of the spectrum showing she totally agrees. “Would you like to explain your position?” I ask.

“When I pay taxes to the Israeli government,” she says. “I contribute to the occupation and to all of the violence against Palestinians. So in my opinion paying your taxes is violent.”

I hand the microphone over to the participant who sighed in frustration earlier. “I can’t move.” He laughs. “I am torn by my wish to express my political position to the rest of the group and by the understanding that the term has become totally meaningless to me.”

This workshop comes at the beginning of the very last section – the social change section – of a March 2016 two-week residential training in Nonviolent Communication (NVC) at EcoME Center in the occupied West Bank. The conclusion of the (Dis-)Agreement Spectrum described above is clear: violence means different things to different people. While some people find it important to show their opposition to acts like touching someone against their will or supporting an oppressive regime, others mill about in confusion around the middle of the space when facing supposedly unambiguous statements such as “murder is violent.” Participants from the same family or the same activist group disagree on the classification of certain acts as violent.i In our context, two important questions arise out of this apparent incoherence of the term: what are the implications for Nonviolent Communication? And, what does this mean about nonviolence as a political strategy for social change?

Let’s start with the latter. After the last statement of the (Dis-)Agreement Spectrum – “linking up arms in front of a police line is violent” – I read a statement from a UC police captain as quoted in The San Francisco Chronicle justifying the use of force against students at the University of California at Berkeley:

The individuals who linked arms and actively resisted, that in itself is an act of violence… linking arms in a human chain when ordered to step aside is not a nonviolent protest.

We then try to come up with a collective definition of violence. A participant suggests that one way to understand violence is in terms of the threat perceived by other people. In this light, if police perceives a line of protesters as a threat, then they could define the protesters’ actions as violent. Building on top of that, I suggest that violence is a floating signifier which shows the emotional disposition of the person using the term with respect to acts which they do not like. I express a concern that in the broader political discourse, the term often narrows down to a hegemonic framework in ways which de-legitimize any action which challenges the powers that be. The state can define anything which challenges its power as violent, whether it involves protesters linking arms or consumers calling for boycott, as exemplified by the UC police captain or by the way Israeli officials categorize the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as “economic terrorism.”

It follows that nonviolence as a political praxis – or pseudopraxis, in Ward Churchill’s words – is easily co-optable, and intentionally used by states in order to contain and control social movements. This process is documented in great detail in the book How Nonviolence Protects the State by Peter Gelderloos. One way in which it manifests is with the nonviolent rewriting of history. The film A Force More Powerful, which was screened at our NVC training, is a good example. The first part presents the three historical processes most often claimed as examples of the power of nonviolence – the decolonization of India, the Civil Rights movement in the US, and resistance to Apartheid South Africa – as purely nonviolent movements. There is a pattern of deceit in this narrative. All of those movements had armed factions, and all of them had widespread organized rioting (or “ungovernability,” as the ANC called it). No success can be attributed solely to nonviolent efforts.ii In fact, different methods informed each other in a diversity of tactics. It is no coincidence that the film was funded by the United States Institute of Peace, an Orwellian-named Reagan-era institution with close ties to American intelligence services and whose administrators championed counterintelligence and outright genocidal programs in Central America, Iran, and elsewhere.iii

Upon reviewing the literature challenging the hegemonic role of nonviolence, another pattern emerges with the way the discourse for and against nonviolence flows up and down the social hierarchy. While corporate media, big labor unions, NGO’s, and celebrated authors ignore and whitewash at best and at worst vilify and demonize people who choose to engage in more combative tactics, the latter can respond only from the margins of empirical discourse,iv or with anonymously written self-published pamphlets,v or with graffiti on city walls. The debate normally stalls after the unheard response, and the proponents of nonviolence repeat the same old dead-horse arguments, misquoting Audre Lorde on the “Master’s Tools” over and over again and so on, as if no one has ever pointed out their mistakes, ad nauseum. To use a term from NVC – these proponents of nonviolence don’t “reflect back” when confronted with critique. From their position on the hierarchy, they can meet their needs quite well without engaging in conversation, empathic or otherwise.

Many activists have had the experience of knocking on the doors of the people in power, begging them to acknowledge grievances and change their ways. When the powers that be smile and turn the activists down, many still return with even lengthier petitions and more colorful banners. The problem with this form of communication, however, is that it is not communication, at least in the NVC sense of the term. In this format, empathy really goes only one way up the hierarchy.

Thankfully for us NVC enthusiasts, Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Nonviolent Communication, articulated a way out of the stalemate. In his classical book A Language of Life, he briefly describes the idea of “the protective use of force”:

In situations where there is no opportunity for communication, such as in instances of imminent danger, we may need to resort to the protective use of force. The intention behind the protective use of force is to prevent injury or injustice, never to punish or to cause individuals to suffer, repent, or change. (2003: 169)

His main point is about differentiating between protective and punitive use of force towards the abolition of the latter. The concept of protective force is left perhaps intentionally vague. There is no clear articulation of injustice, nor is there a generalization for the protective use of force in the larger political context.vi The concept is open for interpretation, and may have place for the use of force or self-defense the way it is understood by popular and resistance movements the world over. As I insinuated elsewhere, is it not the protective use of force to pelt an occupying army with stones and Molotov cocktails? And isn’t the lack of decisive action in the face of genocidal injustice inherently violent in and of itself?

It is nigh time to introduce the concept of structural violence, defined by Johan Galtung in terms of universal human needs, as a form of violence in which some social institution or structure harms people by preventing them from meeting their “fundamental human needs” (1993). Or, as David Graeber claims, structural violence is “systematic inequality ultimately backed up by the threat of force” (2009). In Palestine/Israel examples abound. Structural violence allows for Jewish citizens to speed past checkpoints while Palestinians squander hours and days. In less dramatically visible manifestations, it governs and enforces implicit gender roles, like the Hebrew news on TV given in the male form and the kitchenware commercials in female. Structural violence is the invisible billy club which keeps the penniless out of the supermarket when they hunger for food. It is the lack of Arabic characters on police cars, silently showing for whom lies their allegiance.

Which leads us to answer the first question I raised earlier – there is little chance of nonviolent communication in situations which are structurally violent. Some basic human needs remain invisible to the party higher up on the hierarchy. An effort to hold that kind of dialogue without observing, acknowledging and attempting to meet those needs simply normalizes the structurally violent power dynamics. Calls for reconciliation without an end to injustice evoke the image of one person beating up others to a pulp, while demanding them to accept his feelings and needs. That is, indeed, the essence of “normalization,” meaning a process in which the inequality between occupier and occupied is made “normal” or invisible. EcoME and many other coexistence projects in Palestine/Israel are often accused of “normalizing” the conditions which perpetuate apartheid by facilitating dialogue on the level of the occupier without actively undermining the power structure.

However, after the NVC intensive at EcoME, I am hopeful that NVC has the potential of transcending these structural boundaries. As a participant in one workshop early in the program, I raised a concern that introducing NVC to the region may be a pacifying force in a situation which really warrants a decisive resistance movement. I pointed out that radical proponents of Palestinian dissent aren’t heard in the space, because they don’t attend in the first place out of objection to normalization (of course, some of them are also physically excluded from this geographic location). This triggered a long and tearful conversation. One Israeli woman expressed deep feelings of hurt, frustration and anxiety, and a need for acceptance of her differing views and background in Israeli settlements. When members of the group applied “emergency first aid empathy” – meaning they attempted to hear her observations, understand her feelings, and help meet her needs – I noticed the conversation oscillated away from the concerns I raised. Radical voices of Palestinian dissent were not introduced to the conversation, as it was consumed by the facilitation of the occupiers’ experience. In my mind I saw that image I mentioned of the crying man expressing regret and asking for reconciliation while repeatedly striking blows at another person prostrated at his feet. Although I left that conversation spent and frustrated, having given empathy without fully expressing my observations and anger, I noticed that the person went through a very deep process over the course of the retreat, really listening to grievances expressed by Palestinian participants, and really transgressing their enemy images. The question of whether she will actively participate in a decisive movement against Israeli apartheid (or in other words – whether this transgression will develop into the protective use of force when communication is impossible) is yet to be answered.

In conclusion I would like to offer two new premises: 1) that NVC can and should integrate a more refined understanding of violence, and an analysis of systemic inequality; and 2) that NVC should not be conflated with nonviolence as a political praxis. This framework can help NVC practitioners to avoid the implicit re-enforcement of structural violence, and give space for change-seeking activists to use NVC as a process of compassionate communication, without the sense that they’re being asked to give up their uncompromising fight for a livable planet. After this two-week NVC session in Palestine, I believe that NVC can be divorced from its curious wedding with state-sponsored nonviolence, and be a useful tool for activists in terms of prefiguring a harmonious society, solving inner-conflicts, and assisting group processes, among the rest. The ways in which a fundamental-needs-based worldview can inform social movements and political strategising is a topic for future analysis.

Notes

iOne can imagine that if different family members have different notions of violence, then the polarization will be much more extreme across different cultures. In our falafel context, as acutely noted by the anonymous interlocutor of this CrimethInc interview, most Palestinians see “nonviolent” simply as “unarmed,” or “popular.” Popular struggle with use of stones and Molotov cocktails is widely accepted as a legitimate form of protest. A similar observation is made by anthropologist David Graeber with respect to Egyptian revolutionaries during the Arab Spring.

iiGelderloos mentions how those movements were not nonviolent, nor were they really successful. With a deeply entrenched neocolonial system of inequality in India, an unfathomably elaborate prison industrial complex replete with a racist police force in America, and a status-quot in which a white minority controls the flow of resources and most of the land in South Africa, one can’t help but wonder whose interests are served by the nonviolent historical narrative.

ivSee, for example, Peter Gelderloos, an ex-political prisoner and college dropout writing from the squats of Barcelona, in his latest The Failure of Nonviolence, published by the esoteric Left Bank Books, carefully dissecting Chenoweth and Stephan and other establishment proponents of nonviolence who were published and endorsed by high academia.

vOne such noteworthy pamphlet was written in an attempt to explain the window smashing at the anti-WTO protests in Seattle at 1999, an event which triggered a media fiasco around the smashing of windows, regardless of the harm to individuals: “When we smash a window, we aim to destroy the thin veneer of legitimacy that surrounds private property rights … The number of broken windows pales in comparison to the number of spells—spells cast by a corporate hegemony to lull us into forgetfulness of all the violence committed in the name of private property rights and of all the potential of a society without them. Broken windows can be boarded and eventually replaced, but the shattering of assumptions will hopefully persist for some time to come.”
viAlthough he directs us to an out-of-print book about the topic: Irwin, Robert. Nonviolent Social Defense. Harper & Row, 1962.

 

Posted in Analysis, NVC, Occupation | Leave a comment

Looking for the Anarchists

It is especially early in this day of winter. We’re hoping to pass before the auhtorities arrive. Last week Taayush activists have been stopped, driven slow and madly backwards, with a one-of-a-kind warrant of ideological profiling, prohibiting activists from reaching the South Hebron Hills. They tried crossing the checkpoint by foot. The ever-dope Amira Hass wrote about it last Sunday. Ezra was let through, though. He almost crashed the car into the military barricade and was stopped not a moment too soon due to Luana’s sharp harmonious scream – “Ezra-a-a-a!!!” She said he’s so used to not being stopped on the way out into the West Bank that he just kept on driving. Everyone laughed hysterically, and the approaching gunmen were obfuscated. “They’re my four wives, don’t worry,” Ezra cried signaling at the laughing passengers and then driving off. The rest were stopped but they found their ways through uncanny roads, to meet closed military zones in every accompaniment spot.

A week later, we drive down, and the road is still snowy on the terraces. Not in the deep South Hebron Hills, though, which are turning slight green, minutely adorned with small pink colchicum, or lahlaah in Arabic or sitvanit in Hebrew. “Autumn saffron” or even “naked lady,” confused by the strange weather our region is now facing. The weird south has seen twenty centimeters of snow, as Mahdi will tell me. In this, I bet, Mr Peabody’s unprotected facetious affair with Coal has played a role. Are we in a stage in which only a universal climate disaster will lead to a global political response? Perhaps a methane catastrophe in an ice-free Arctic? Sam, my Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee comrade, wrote about indigenous resistance in Black Mesa. These are the places from which, I hope, that global response will emerge. But I digress.

A police car stops the transit. The cop approaches asking if we’re anarchists. “We’re here to identify anarchists, and return them back!” He explains. He asks for IDs or passports. G refuses, saying, basically, that there’s a court rule against arbitrary controls that forces police to conduct a search only with a provable suspicion. The cop threatens to detain him if he doesn’t identify himself. Uriel jumps in and presents his ID.

“Mr. V, are you anarchists?” The cop asks.

“Am I an anarchist?!” Uriel exclaims, and shuffling through his wallet, says: “Do you see an anarchist ID in here?”

The group is then released. This possibly immortal scene was captured in a hilarious video [Update: now with English subtitles!]:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXv0na7ojZg

The cops must have sat in the car comparing pictures of Emma Goldman and Tolstoy. Policeman approaches dark-clad person carrying sack full of treasure as an alarm reverberates through an alleyway. “Are you the burglar?” “The burglar? No, why do you ask?” “You’re not in a position to ask questions. Show me an ID. … Are you sure you’re not the burglar?” “Sure I’m sure.”

We meet Mahdi from Maghair al-‘Abid, a village on the outpost strip of the firing zone. David Shulman used slightly different names talking about it in this typically beautiful piece of writing. In close vicinity to Havat Ma’on, Mahdi and his family face daily harassment from the ultra-violent settlers. His mother was shot in her thigh. Over seventy, she goes in and out of surgery. His son is hospitalized with a mouth disease. He gives us bread. Three of us join him to carry the petrol for the plowing truck. We accompany him close to Havat Maon outpost, fast-paced, headed in a slithering line to his valley underneath the hill of the previous Havat Ma’on, two hundred meters east of their current location. Two others join us with sacks full of grain on the truck. Mahdi tells us to spread around the valley, so that if the settlers attack they won’t be able to assault all cameras at once.

The old truck noisily plows the soil in circular paths. I take a mental photo when it makes the letter Q. The work is completed successfully, undisturbed. Ezra manifests himself and picks us up. He has a new automobile, bought with some readers’ generous donations (thank you!). He says he indulged a cop that questioned him earlier. They talked about the problems of the Hebron police station. The cop told him a high-ranking officer said that no logistical changes are planned because in two years the settlements will be evicted anyway. Is the beginning near?

Our next stop is the land of the Shamasti family close to Susiya. Everyone is quickly shooed off the land with a Closed Military Zone order. Settlers come down but stay away. A strange all-adult coexistence dialogue normalization group on tour stops by. Border Police, Civil Administration, international solidarity activists from Germany and Italy, and us anarcha-anarchist folks all find ourselves together on a desolate hill with the multi-generational Shamasti family. The co-existence group had a camp or something of the kind in Germany. Israeli and Palestinian folks engaging in dialogue in a so-called neutral context. In my experience, these dialogues are often set within the occupier’s discourse, assuming a kind of symmetry between conflicting sides that simply have a misunderstanding, assuming good intentions on the part of the State, thus normalizing the reality of occupation. Tami says that people often get entrenched in their expected views and fail to communicate. Reub asks one of the Palestinian members of the co-existence group how she relates to the Israelis. She responds: “I can’t talk to them. I’ve been doing these projects since I was ten years old. They’re all Europeans. They should go where they came from.”

In the chapter “Dilemmas of Privilege” in the book Anarchists Against the Wall, Kobi Snitz writes that “normalization” means that “any interaction that Palestinians carry out with Israelis, be it for the most positive purpose, while the conditions are such that Israel occupies Palestine, contains with it a degree of adjustment to these conditions.” (2013 55-56) In this light it is obvious that if we believe that a joint struggle has potential for change, normalizing the situation cannot be entirely avoided. This creates a lot of the weirdness that we encounter daily in our activism. When are we normalizing apartheid and when are we acting in solidarity within a joint struggle?

Having the language and privilege and a curious willingness to do so, the Israeli members of the coexistence group talk to the soldiers that stand on the edge of the military zone and try to convert them to a more lefty position. I guess we do it as well sometimes, changing our language in order to make it comprehensible, placing ourselves in a slightly dishonest position. Sometimes Israeli activists find themselves negotiating “concessions” with commanders on behalf of their Palestinian comrades, in order to allow farmers to access a particular patch of land for a limited amount of time and under specific behavioral conditions, or in demonstrations. This in turn may warrant more brutality if the agreement is “breached,” or create a situation in which some protesters police the others in the name of their self-appointed negotiation. Policing forces, of course, will always try to impose their control with use of martials from the protesters themselves, in exchange for minor privileges like the ability to walk outside of pens. This is why, as David Graeber writes in The Democracy Project, folks at Occupy Wall Street in NYC decided not to have a police liaison. Interaction with authority is all different, I believe, when a clown nose is placed on the other side of the gun’s barrel.

I chat with Abdullah on the side. We’re asking ourselves what the hell is going on. One enlightened and post-military-looking fellow from the coexistence group commences interaction with us in basic Arabic. We’re not particularly welcoming to him. GH tells me off for it afterwards. He’s already made the first step, he tells me, and that’s big. “I never manage to bring people down here.” He’s right. I often complain that the movement is not welcoming and not inclusive enough. Every fit-looking man that approaches is treated as a potential douchebag (or in its new Hebrew blogosphere term – hel’an). Maybe I’m just projecting what I secretly feel about myself. I’d rather be kind next time.

Protest in Nabi Samuel. Friday December 27. Photo: Amir Bitan

Protest in Nabi Samuel. Friday December 27. Photo: Amir Bitan

The Sabbath ritual of Umm al-Arayes went accordingly, we’re told. With a Closed Military Zone and the pushing and so on. Sumoud.

We visit Umm al-Kheir. The outdoors oven is still getting attention from the settlers of Karmel. Two days ago they came with water buckets to put it out and sabotage it. Settlers wreck it regularly, they dislike the smoke.

On the way back north, Abdullah takes us to see houses facing new demolition orders in Beit Ummar. Buildings not yet completed. Ezra says the idea is to block the village’s expansion northward.

Around four o’clock, when we get back home, settlers from Havat Maon attack Twaneh. With slingshots and covered faces, they throw stones and hit Hafez in the head. He is taken for treatment in a hospital in Yatta.

Posted in Accompaniment, Anarchists Against the Wall, Clowning, Firing Zones, Occupation, Palestine, South Hebron Hills, Ta'ayush | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment