Monday, February 20, 2006
So much happening I can't keep track
I don't want to write much about things I haven't experienced because I want to give you a sense of what I see first hand. Also there is just so much to write about that I could spend all my time writing in the office and experiencing nothing.
So I recommend that people check out the ISM website www.palsolidarity.org for updates on the many things that are happening that I can't get to. If I don't write soon I probably don't have access to the internet.
Speak to you soon,
Sunday, February 19, 2006
Israeli propaghanda removed from Qalandia
After several graffiti attacks on Qalandia Checkpoint's "the hope of us all sign" (see the post: War = Peace: Jewish activists confront Israeli propaganda - posted Feb 12), the sign has been removed. One of the activists involved in spraying the graffiti joked "now all we need to do is cover the whole checkpoint with grafiti and then maybe they will remove that."
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Protest in Beit Sira: Disciplined Mass Action fails to reach potential
Like the rally in Abud the week before it appeared that the cadre leading the rally was a solid vibrant block in the middle rather then up the front, which is usually the case at Australian demonstrations. So whilst a few younger kids ran to the front and were a bit a head the main group, who were proceeded slowly chanting and singing.
There were various chants in Arabic but it wasn't long until we bumped into a settlement. Unlike the settlements at Bil'in that confiscated primarily agricultural land that was a 15 minute walk from the village, the settlement here was literally a stones throw away. There was wire fence that separated the village from the settlement but the full-on wall project was yet to be in full swing.
Many of the villages trees had been cut down where the wall is going to be built. We moved onto a road and proceeded to Match. The terrain in Beit Sira helped things in that the whole group stayed together on the flat cement road, so we weren't dispersed on a hill side like we were at the previous two demonstrations.
A lone jeep drove through the rally. One of the soldiers stood on the roof and waved his gun indiscriminately. In this photo you can see after they parked their car in front of the demonstration the first thing they did was load their guns with rubber bullets. They were clearly trying to provoke. Still there was a thin line of them and the rally could have easily passed the soldiers in a peaceful non violent manner.
But we hesitated. Then another three of jeeps showed up at the back of the demonstration. They also wanted to drive through the rally. Many of the young people wanted to block the Jeeps to prevent them from getting through, but the elders in the village instructed them to let the Jeeps pass and the young people co-operated. Now the Army had four jeeps in front of the demo and they had some more soldiers.
They were trying to provoke the demonstration including this soldier (left) who didn't think twice about where he held his gun or the fact he had a tear gas canister in his outstretched arm. This tear gas canister threat seemed particularly silly given that he couldn't use it while we were that close. Even though there were four jeeps, a jeep is hardly a people mover and they wouldn't of had more then 24 soldiers against the 200 demonstrators
The young people (the majority of the demonstration) wanted to march but the 'popular committee' of the village instructed people to turn back. It was very clear that people were frustrated and wanted to proceed with the march regardless of the soldier presence. Whilst the popular committee were able to stop people moving forward they weren't able to convince people to move back.
So we milled around in front of the soldiers for ages, the crowd slowly diminishing. ISM and the other internationals I think made a mistake in siding with the advice of the Popular committee against the wishes of the majority of the demonstration. Had we pushed through we could have had a united inspiring rally where the peoples energy could have been channeled constructively towards reaching a constructed section of wall further down the road.
Instead people felt defeated with all there energy and frustration remaining. So the usual stone throwing, tear gas dynamic played itself out. This was the first demonstration in Beit Sira so hopefully organisers will analyse the rally and improve for next time. But like some of the rallies in Melbourne when the second intifada happened we need to be careful not to side with a conservative 'leadership' over an emerging younger layer that are wanting to do whatever it takes to win against the occupation and are winning other people to this perspective.
Drinking fun in 'fundamentalist' Palestine
Friday, February 17, 2006
The Alternative Information Resource Centre (AIRC)
Whilst the organisation is joint Palestinian-Israeli, the dominant language on all the signs in the Jerusalem office was Hebrew and most of their meetings are in Hebrew. The AIRC members in Jerusalem include many Palestinians from pre-48 Palestine. They have produced many DVD's, online information and produce 3 magazines, one in Hebrew, one in Arabic and an English language magazine 'News from Within.' News from within is a monthly magazine which produces 2000 copies per month (roughly 800 subscribers internationally, 300 through a UK distributor and 900 sold in Israel/Palestine).
One of their previous distribution organisers made an effort to sell the magazine at rallies and outside the old city in the same way comrades in Australia distribute Green Left Weekly but that seems to have fallen off and most copies are sold through the office. The organisation has about 10-15 full timers and appears to have a significant volunteer base. AIRC's politics are probably the sharpest and most clearly leftist that I have seen since I started my trip. Just a quick quote from the AIRC website "[we] provide a critical discussion of the political realities that shape the current situation, with special attention given to the radical democratic and feminist struggles, critical perspectives on the colonial nature of Israel and the alarming authoritarian features that emerge in the Palestinian Authority."
There is a clear socialist bent in the office, including some of Lenin's writings in Hebrew. I also purchased a series of pamphlets called "The Economy of the Occupation," that deals with issues such as the cost of the settlements on Israeli people, the rich poor divide and wedge politics etc. These pamphlets provide very useful information that I haven't seen anywhere else. The organisation was apparently founded by some people who split off from the Israeli Communist Party in the mid 60's and formed a group called Matzpen. Their criticisms of the Israeli Communist Party included its "lack of democracy and failure to prioritise the issue of the occupation."
I wonder if this is the split that Noam from the Communist Youth League said was, a right wing split that took up democracy issues but also supported the 6 day war (different versions of history). I purchased a doco on Matzpen and I need to watch it but hopefully it should answer some of my questions on the history of the Israeli left. Despite its origins the AIRC is primarily a media project and it isn't forming as an ideological socialist activist party like those in Australia. On the other hand their Beit Sahur branch is moving towards having weekly forums, film screenings etc, and have had people distributing a very politcal magazine so the line is blured. So it will be interesting to see if they can build an activist base around them.
AIRC were very helpful in providing me with contact details for various groups in Israel although the couple of people I spoke to didn't seem to think there was much of an ideological left and that the radicals were simply in broad activist organisations. I shall chase up these contacts and see what they are like. I have included the AIRC link on this blog and I suggest people check it out.
Mohammad Mansour: Still free, but still pursued by the occupation
This was all because Monsour does not have a permit to enter Jerusalem. Several young women also circumnavigated the checkpoint. Monsour made the point that this is just one of the daily inconveniences that Palestinians have to go through.
The absurd thing is that we were all able to get through. If it was possible for us to get past the checkpoint it could hardly stop a suicide bomber. As Monsour pointed out it "isn't about stopping terrorists it is a land grab."
We attended the court with another international. We were nervous that Monsour could be sent to jail then and there, but before the case was heard the judge decided to move the hearing till March 21. Monsour had mixed feeling on one hand he was pleased that at least he had another month of freedom, on the other he was annoyed that he couldn't get it over and done with. I thought about all the effort it took for us to get to the court and all the trouble it will take us to get their next time.
Monsour asked the judge why he was not called about the moving of the trial date to which the judge replied that they felt it easier for the decision to be made without him there. Monsour received a piece of paper stating that he had been to court and proceeded home with two American comrades, while I stayed in Jerusalem but the story doesn't end there. On the bus ride back to Ramallah Monsour's bus was stopped and ID's were checked. Despite proof that he had been in court the soldiers instructed him to get off the bus. Monsour and the two Americans got off the bus and were forced to wait an hour in the rain.
When one of the activists asked "What's the problem? He was required to be in Jerusalem for his trial, and now he's going home," soldiersders reply was "there is no problem. Only, he is wanted."
Finally they were allowed to aftere afte Monsour was 'invited' to visit Israeli Intelligence next Thursday and another time following that. The last time Monsour was 'invited' by Israeli Intelligence and he failed to show, they came around to his fathers place and threatened to arrest his father. After being blackmailed to show up last time he was offered amongst other things to be a collaborator for Israel to which he refused. It seems like Monsour and others like him will continue harassedrrased by the occupation, so long as they are prepared to continue defying it.
[Still send messages of support to Mohammad_Pal68@Yahoo.com]
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Palestinian activist to face apartheid court
The main thing they are now trying to charge him with is being involved in an “illegal demonstration.” This so called “illegal” demonstration occurred in the occupied territories. Several times he has fronted to the Israeli Peace Court (actual name) in Jerusalem. Even just getting to court is a big deal because soldiers at Qalandiya checkpoint have tried turning him back from attending his own hearings in the past because he is a “security risk.”
Despite this every time he goes to court the prosecution tries to offer him a less unfair deal, with the judge encouraging him to accept a deal. He was offered to sign a piece of paper saying he wouldn’t be involved in any demonstrations for 2 years and he refused. The prosecution even offered to drop the entire court case if he paid a small amount of money and despite having the money he refused. He told me he “refuses to pay one shekel to support the occupation, my friend is in a wheel chair after being shot at a demonstration and I am not going to fund a bullet so they can do that to someone else. I also don’t want to pay because I’m not guilty.”
These words come from a man who is in his mid thirties, has 5 children and has been in jail before. His longest time in jail was 3 years and despite describing to me personal experiences more chilling then those of Abu Grab prisoners he is prepared to go back. Whilst some torture techniques were outlawed a few year ago, it is still legal to torture people and even those techniques that were banned are allowed to be reintroduced if they can prove the suspect is “a ticking time bomb”
Asking Monsour why he doesn’t just drop out of the movement he says, “It is my duty we are living under occupation and I want to be free, and I will tell you something else I and many of the Palestinians have promised ourselves when we get our freedom we will go and help other occupied people, wherever they are.”
[Picture of Mohammed Monsour being arrested note the angle that they have twisted his hand.]
Please send messages of support to Mohammad_Pal68@Yahoo.com
Sunday, February 12, 2006
War = Peace: Jewish activists confront Israeli propaganda
Recently Qalandiya has had a recent addition. A billboard with the a flower and the words "A hope for us all." This transparent piece of propaganda is akin to "anti-terror legislation" or high interest loans to the third world being referred to as "poverty reduction schemes," needed to be exposed.
So a group of Jewish activists a couple of weeks ago sprayed the phrase "Arbeit Macht Frei," which is German for "work will set you free." A slogan the Nazi's would hang on the gates of concentration camps. This caused great stirs in the Israeli media that tried to paint the stunt action as "anti-Semitic," however as activists involved in the demonstration pointed out they weren't saying that the occupation is like the holocaust, but that this sort of propaganda was used to downplay and hide the real effects of the Nazi regime.
The Israeli Army covered the sign straight away so the activists re-sprayed the sign. So today the same activists re-sprayed the sign making it much harder to cover over. They can't stop the signal.
High School students attacked by Jerusalem Police
Whilst police expected demonstrations on Friday what they didn't expect was a quickly organised demonstration of 300 High School students the following day that took up the issue of slander. Jamjoum commented that the police built up there presence gradually without provocation the police threw sound bombs as the demonstration and fired rubber bullets into the crowed. Increasingly more students joined those at Damascus gate. The rally ended after an hour and a half, 7 people were injured including one person that was hit with a rubber bullet to the leg and 20 people who were arrested. "They attacked everyone, I saw a 60 year old man who was just trying to pass being struck by police. Not even street vendors were safe."
The Bil'in chess game continues
The Army tried to prevent the second outpost being built halfway through construction. The soldiers confiscated the bricks yet to be used, however when the soldiers weren't looking the community re-organised the existing bricks to finish building the outpost.
According to Israeli law once there is a permanent structure which has four walls a roof and a window the army can't demolish it without a demolition order. Like with the other Palestinian Outpost, it would be pretty hard to get a demolition order without making it legitimate for the Palestinians to get a demolition order on the settlements. Bil'in at the moment seems to be a chess game of move and counter move. As I walked from the outposts to the village however I was confronted with a new move. The Israelis have placed road blocks on the side of the road preventing Palestinian cars from driving up the hill and crossing the road where the wall stops. While Israel keeps putting the village into "check" situations and they move out of "check" the settlements continue to expand. Cementing themselves in the occupied territories trying to force a "checkmate"
Meeting with Palestinian Youth Union organiser and Palestinian Peoples Party cadre
Ramez Fawadleh the PYU organiser and I had a long discussion. He showed me photographs of his work in the PYU, most of it seems to be artistic workshops, volunteer work in the community and throwing community Christmas parties. Occasionally the PYU will organise a political action such as a long march between Jenin and Jerusalem that occurred a few years ago but most of their work wasn't of a political nature. The PYU like many of the previous "fronts" like PARC and a Medical NGO etc. had to be divorced from the party in order for them to continue to receive funding.
This has caused problems for the PPP. With most cadre identifying more with the organisations then the party. According to Fawadleh there is no ideological or political education in the PPP and that the only people who have had political education are long there party members. Occasionally they share this political experience but most of their younger members just aren't educated in socialist ideas. As a result Fawadleh thinks that possibly 50% of the Party don't actually identify as communist. With the Hamas victory Fawadleh admits that there is a "problem trying to confront Islam ideology." I have just received the contact details for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) a split from the PFLP. I hope to meet with both organisations shortly to get more of a sense of the other left forces in Palestine.
From Bil'in to Abud - strategy and tactics of Anti-Wall protests
There was a demonstration in Abud last Friday as well as the regular demonstration in Bil'in. I was at the Abud demonstration rather then the Bil'in demonstration. The Bil'in protest resulted in several people being arrested and others injured. Check out http://www.palsolidarity.org/main/2006/02/11/two-villages-one-struggle-Abud-and-Bil'in-against-the-wall/ for a summary of the events in Bil'in (I joint wrote the article with someone who was there). There are so many factors in Palestinian demonstration particularly one that is occurring out in an open field or on a hill as opposed to on a city street, so I don't want to comment on the functioning of the Bil'in demonstration this week although I think a comparison between this weeks Abud demonstration and the previous couple of weeks demonstrations is useful.
There have previously been demonstrations in Abud against the wall although they have not had one for a while. One thing I noticed immediately was that in Abud a large amount of PFLP and PPP (PFLP symbol on left in photo below and PPP the logo on the right), graffiti and posters as compared to other villages which are primarily Hamas and/or Fateh. Both PPP and PFLP are leftist groups in Palestine (Check the previous post on the PPP for more details but I haven't had direct experience with PFLP).
The rally met in the centre of Abud. From the start I could see PPP placards on polls being handed out. Anti-wall T-shirts and caps produced by PARC the agricultural NGO organised by PPP.
The PPP were the only group with placards, the only other symbol on the march were Palestinian flags. The PPP gathered their cadre with the megaphone grouping what appeared to be the vanguard of the rally around them. Unlike Bil'in where people just race to get down to the wall with the "militant" young people just running crazily down to the wall, here there was a real militant organised pull of young people in the middle of the rally chanting and clapping making sure we approached as a group .
One thing that stood out was the real "maleness of this rally" like the ones in Bil'in there was still a major imbalance. This is despite the fact that there is a more leftist orientation in the village and that there is more Christians as well as Muslims in the village. I think I felt this most standing amongst a large group of men, chanting and screaming whilst women without head covering (probably Christian) were looking on at the demonstration from their balcony (see the photo above.
So we moved from the village and ended up climbing a hill towards where a dirt road was (we believe this road to be the future path of the wall.)
Because of the vast amounts of rock that seem to litter every natural part of Palestine the rally was more spread out but still there was a feeling that people weren't racing. The fact that we couldn't see soldiers probably also calmed the rally.
When we got to the top of the hill the dirt was being held down by military blankets to make it easier to cement a road there in the future. The villagers burnt the blankets and started pushing stones into the middle of the road as a way of trying to cost the occupation and as a form of symbolic resistance (pictured below).
Once on the top of the hill there were prepared speeches by Bassam Al Salhi, Secretary General of the Palestinian People Party and Fateh member Moheeb Awwad, a newly elected member of the Palestinian legislative council. Both of them talked about the need for the various Palestinian factions to unite and continue to work together against the occupation.
Al Salhi made a special point of acknowledging the Internationals that were there and how the actions of their governments and media should not reflect badly on them or other people from their countries that may not share their governments views (he was primarily talking about the anti-Islamic cartoon). After the speeches were over as a united group we moved to confront the wall itself.
He also pointed out that the day Feb. 10 was the anniversary of the PPP or at least the latest version of the PPP and they wanted to mark the day with this important demonstration. The seem to have an activist focus as well as their NGO focus (if not an ideological one), I just hope it is a constant thing that is not limited to their anniversary celebrations.
The protest was quickly confronted by an Israeli Hummer Vehicle. Unlike the rallies in Bil'in where stone throwing was a small group of young men dispersed over a large area vs an infinite number of soldiers (hiding in reserve), here about 40 young people pushing back one Israeli armored car (and it worked). The terrain changed the dynamic of the stone throwing because of the height advantage, it is harder to scare the demo into running in multiple directions. The army started sending out individual soldiers and fired warning shots into the air. We left the rally area as a group in a more organised fashion then what I had seen in Bil'in before going over to the Youth Union centre to discuss how we continue the campaign.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Back to School
The children enjoyed playing with my digital camera, I have found it a rather useful device in interacting with young people in the villages. Often they take really bad shots but at least I can delete them. The girl second to the left (first photo) started off really serious so I was rather pleased when we managed to make her laughed with the other 3 and pull faces at the camera (second photo). Most of my posts till this point have tended to focus on activist stuff and the occupation, but in a town where the kids are scared to climb 100 meters above their village for the very real fear of being shot by settlers, helping them have a bit of fun was an act of resistance. To exist here is to resist. We had to leave on Thursday due to other actions that were taking place the following day and the EAPPI weren't coming back till a few days later. I hope the village will be ok, activist resources are scarce at the moment and there are so many places like Abud where just by being there and having fun you are able to help the resistance. Plus the local women make the most amazing goats cheese I have ever tasted.
Yanun surrounded by the occupation (and some Danish stuff)
On Wednesday, Japanese ISM activist Kawichi and I were sent to a small Village near Nablus called Yanun. We made the journey in a hurry because the Ecumenical Accompaniment program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) that had maintained a permanent presence in Yanun for the last 3 years left suddenly and weren't returning for a few days.
I think the EAPPI were evacuated as a precaution given they climate surrounding "the Danish issue." We had a meeting in Yanun with Rashid the Mayor of the village and some UN workers who were wanting an update on the villages situation. Midway during our meeting the UN women received a phone call saying that they had orders to go to Jerusalem because of fears around the Danish stuff. So the UN left Kawichi and myself to bravely confront the armed settlers and any people who might mistrust pastries :).
On a more serious note I think the west needs to realise the serious implications that such racist media mean for activists trying to do work in places like Palestine. In a society that is mostly Muslim, the whole population is deeply offended by the cartoons (including non-Muslims). Even secular sections of the Palestinian community are treating this as a direct insult. A great Palestinian activists who I have worked with and has spent 3 years in jail for his involvement in the non-violent resistance told me "you can take away my land, you can take away my freedom, but you can't insult my god."
As a materialist I sense that the reverse is actually true, that the occupation, "Anti-Terror" laws targeted against Muslims in places like Australia and the banning of the Hijab in European countries are more likely the cause but this is the straw that has broken the camels back. If there wasn't the ongoing oppression people would probably see this like catholic or Kiwi jokes. As another Palestinian ISM activist reminded me "The second intifada started when Sharon stood on the temple mount in Jerusalem with 1000 armed people," the main frustration and the subsequent uprisings were against the occupation but that is where it started. I am not saying this is the start of intifada 3 but who knows (a rally that was violently attacked in Jerusalem that day seems to support the hypothesis).
Anyway enough of that for now. I had two conversations on the situation in Yanun, one with Rashid and the other with his brother Yassir (see below). The conversations kinda blur in my memory so I will just give a summary of the situation in Yanun. Yanun is a small village 12 families in total. There was another 20 families in the village about 4 years ago, but the village became surrounded by ideological settlers. Most people here classify settlements according to whether they have a fairly quiet population who have moved mainly due to cheap housing (economic settlements), such as the settlements in Bil'in or ideological settlers that are obsessed with driving out the Palestinian people to further the Jewish state.
There are 3 settlements on the hills that surround Yanun. The settlers used to come down to the village and terrorize the local population. They would walk into towns with guns and terrorize the local population. They fired shots through peoples windows, beat people up and had their dogs bathe in the local drinking water, contaminating it. Only this year were they able to replace an electricity generator destroyed by the settlers. The whole town evacuated for 3-4 days but slowly started to return when internationals moved into the village. The settlers make it impossible for the village to access 2/3rds of their farming land. The village and its land is in Area C meaning that it is classified as being under Israeli military control. This means that the Palestinian Authority doesn't operate in this area. They have been able to get the Israeli military to agree to protecting them against the settlers during some of the olive harvest so they can harvest their olives. Before the settlements they had several months to harvest their olives, now they are dependent on when the military agree to help them, which one season recently was only 2 days.
Before the community was able to export their olives. Now they only get enough for themselves. Even the kid who used to run around the area freely cant climb to the top of the hill that their village is on for fear of 'provoking' settlers.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Initial impressions of the Palestinian Peoples Party and the Israeli Communist Youth.
The Palestinian Peoples Party and the Israeli Communist Party have origins dating back to 1919 in what was then called the Socialist Workers Party. The Party then changed its name to The Palestinian Communist Party in 1921. When Palestine was divided in 1948 what is now the PPP (there were more name changes in the interim) started to organise separately from the Israeli Communist Party, although as Siaf puts it they are "not sister parties, but twin parties." Both parties remained part of the Comentern (linked to the soviet union)
The Palestinian Communist Party controversialy accepted resolution 181 for the creation of two states Israel and Palestine back in 1947. They did so Noam argues because they felt that it was the best realistic option given that they wanted to get rid of British imperialism and because they didn't want to be occupied by any other middle eastern country.
Talking to Siaf he had a real sense of pride in his party saying that it was the only Palestinian party that was:
a) organised originally in Palestine as opposed to Jordan or Lebanon etc.
b) the only political party that was set up as a political party in Palestine rather then having its origins elsewhere (unlike say Hamas or Fateh) which started originally as armed organisations.
c) able to maintain international relations on a party to party level (as opposed to relating to governments.
This issue of international relations between parties was discussed further. The PPP seems to be relating to many of the healthy parties that the Democratic Socialist Perspective is relating to in Europe such as the PDS in Germany as well as New European Left Forum (NELF), but they also seemed to be relating to some weird sects such as the United States Communist party over the more healthy Trotskyist formations in the US. In Latin America Siaf said he was planning to go to Chile in 2002 to meet with the Communists there (until his trip was disrupted by the invasion of Iraq), but he seemed to think this was a bigger priority then relating to the real revolutionary processes that are happening in Cuba, Venezuela and now Bolivia.
Also now it seems like the PPP are relating to the Chinese Communist Party. I told Siaf that I thought that China had gone down the Capitalist road, he said diplomaticly that "they were just starting relations." In relating I also got the feeling that he didn't want to debate or enquire into my organisations even when I tried to steer the conversations in that direction. I also found it quite difficult to discuss the possibility of joint collaboration.
One positive thing I will say about their international solidarity is that they are very good when it comes to the issue of Iraq. I asked about the Iraqi resistance and whilst he had concerns about the Islamic nature of the resistance in Iraq like in Palestine but he came down totally on the side of supporting the Iraqi resistance against the occupation regardless of its religious character.
The other thing I'd say about the PPP is that they seem to have moved away from an ideological focus to a more non-government development focus. Up until 10 years ago the PPP produced a weekly newspaper and until only 3 years ago they produced a monthly magazine. The newspaper according to Siaf "used to reflect the mass movements."
Both were abandoned due to "a lack of funds" since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But I think the main issue is the PPP are choosing to spend their money on NGO's and development rather then ideologically trying to win leadership of the Palestinian people (leaving that window open to Islamic groups like Hamas). NGO's such as P.A.R.C (an agricultural NGO) and the Palestine Youth Union seem to be the parties main focus [later I had a meeting with an organiser for the youth union and I will post more thoughts shortly].
In terms of their international work Saif boasted a camp they ran in Jericho with people from Sweden and the focus he placed seemed to be more on volunteer work in the community then political education. Even in terms of ideology although the PPP consider themselves communist Siaf commented definitively that they don't follow the ideas from Marx and subsequent Marxist thinkers but "simply apply Marxist methodology, dialectical materialism."
After I left the PPP national office to go to Jerusalem I ended up facing some problems at the check point [see previous post], but I managed to meet up with Noam from the Israeli Communist Youth League (CYL). I went to their Jerusalem office, it was small about the size of resistance old gelling office. Despite Jerusalem and Tel Aviv being the major cities in Israel both of them have a very small number of comrades. The Jerusalem branch of the CYL was only re-established in the last 6-7 years and the Tel Aviv branch only in the last couple of years. Whilst 80% of the population in Israel is Jewish, the Israeli Communist Party (ICP) is 95% Arab. The main support base for the ICP coming from the Arab villages up north such as Nazareth where apparently the CYL has about 100-200 members and where they can mobilise thousands of people for May Day demonstrations.
According to Noam the ICP was majority Jewish until the mid 1960's when there was a split. This 1965 split According to Noam had many good points such as critiquing the lack of democracy in the Stalinist influenced ICP, however the split ended up supporting the 6 day war in 1967 which saw the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Many of the people who had split off from the ICP who tried to rejoin were put off by the party in true Stalinist style forcing apologies from them as a condition of re-joining and many of them simply dropped out.
The CYL in Jerusalem seems to have a much bigger focus on political education then the PPP. They have weekly branch meetings, the one the following day was to feature an educational on Rosa Luxemburg. They had 5 comrades go to the World Federation of Democratic Youth conference in Venezuela and have organised forums with the Venezuelan ambassador. They produce a monthly magazine (see pictures below). The articles Noam pointed out to me (I don't understand Hebrew) included something on the privatisation of universities, an article on why students should support teachers out on strike and a materialist history of wichcraft. There was also an article defending Israel's who refused to serve in the military.
Interestingly the ICP and the CYL don't have a position on whether there members should refuse to serve in the Israeli army (other then to defend members who refuse to serve). This goes for both inside and outside the occupied territories. Whilst the Tel Aviv organiser of the CYL is also the organiser of a refusing group, Noam who is both an organiser and on the CYL's central committee refuses to serve in the occupied territories but was Commander in the recruitment division. He felt that given the majority of working class Israelis completed their military service that refusing to serve would only isolate him as a "leftwing ratbags."
Interestingly the two greatest challenges that seem to face the CYL and the ICP seem to be a lack of centralisation within the organisation and its relationship with Hadash a united front they are involved with. It was difficult for Noam to provide me with facts or figures on the current state of the organisations outside of Jerusalem. There is no National Office and the CYL doesn't even have an organisers list or a regular bulletin. National Conferences only happen every 4 years which is a very long time for a youth organisation.
initiatives come out of individual branches (such as the magazine which started in Jerusalem) but there is no co-ordination so while it appears that there is a focus on Marxist education in the Jerusalem branch I couldn't find out if the same was true for other branches or even find out what other branches main focuses were. For a communist organisation it seemed that the ICP was more an anarcho-syndicalist federation of branches in their operation then democratic centralist. I think they like the PPP are still recovering from the collapse of the Soviet Union and what it means in terms of loosing paid organisers etc. Noam was leading the branch despite trying to balance 2 jobs and study.
The other problem is that most of the ICP's political profile seems to be overshadowed by Hadash the united front that the ICP uses in elections and other campaigns. Whilst the majority of Hadash's members are in the ICP the ICP seems to be hidden by Hadash a leftist coalition which has several Arab parties in it, further reinforcing the idea that they are primarily one of the Arab parties rather then a Communist party.
Noam and I discussed the possibility of links between our organisations such as them writing copy for Green Left Weekly and possibly me giving an educational as some point during my stay.
I hope to meet both Noam and Samir Saif again. Both of them have agreed to meet with me in the following week. Should anyone have anything they want me to ask either one of them e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
A really fucked checkpoint experience
I was going through Qalandia checkpoint on Tuesday night. It was 8 o'clock at night and about 3-4 degrees. When I crossed the checkpoint to get from Ramallah to Jerusalem I saw a group of 7 young men. The youngest looked about 13 and the oldest looked about 20. They were kneeling on the ground surrounded by Israeli soldiers.
The soldiers wielding rifles were telling everyone to move on and that there was nothing to see there. A friend and I refused to leave. An Israeli soldier had his hand shot at the checkpoint earlier that day so the Israeli soldiers shut down the checkpoint for several hours. Many of the Palestinian people became frustrated and decided to bolt through the fence.
These 7 were arrested because they were in a hurry and attempted to bypass a ckeckpoint on the West Bank side of the border. But the most absurd thing was that the shooting was not an act of terrorism or liberation. The shooting was an accident committed by an Israeli soldier. For this the Palestinian people were not allowed to pass.
Not only were these people arrested for something that was the Israeli governments fault but they were being abused as prisoners. Rather then letting them inside where it was warm, the Israeli soldiers kept them outside in the freezing cold for over an hour. My friend and I arrived at 8 o'clock and left at 9 o'clock. They were there before us and they were still there after we left. Our stopping to see what was happening meant that some Palestinians also stopped. They were better at arguing with the soldiers (because they spoke Hebrew and Arabic) and there was a lot of them so I left to keep an appointment in Jerusalem. I found out that they were probably released 20 minutes after I left.
The other really annoying thing is because all checkpoints are "closed military zones" I could not photograph what was happening without being arrested. So much for open transparent process democracy.
Saturday, February 04, 2006
Bil'in and beyond
Fridays protest began in the heavy rain. On the march down towards the wall there were less people, with many of the young people from Bil'in taking cover in an abandoned house. Until things cleared the rally was made up mostly of Israelis, Internationals and more experienced Palestinian activists. This in some ways set the tone for the rally as we were a united front line that was upbeat and political, we were dancing and chanting similar chants to those chanted in Australia "1,2,3,4, Occupation No More" and "Bush, Sharon you will see, Palestine will be free."
As the rally dried up more of the villagers came to join the demonstration. At at the back of the rally a soldier with a tear gas gun (featured in photo below wearing a belaclava) was threatening to fire tear gas at a group of kids with some of his friends watching. I and others tried to de-escalate things at the back with a variety of jovial banter. One his fellow soldiers had a mini-digital camera like mine and I joked about how he was taking photo's for his mum "Hey mum here is a picture of a kid I gassed today." Most of the soldiers are very undisciplined. Unlike Australian police who tend to stay quiet and not respond these soldiers displayed a wide gamete of behavior from ignoring, to arguing back, to giving the Nuremburg excuse "I am just following orders."
Some of the soldiers were visibly upset and needed their friends to reassure them that they were doing a good job after they fired a warning shot. The issue of refusers is more complicated then I thought, some of the Israelis at the demonstration outright refused to serve and some of them were still currently serving. Of the Israelis that are still in the army reserves, some refuse to serve in the occupied territories and one I met serves in the occupied territories because he feels he can lessen the impact of his group. He said he did this by "sticking up his hand before a raid and questioning his commanding officers orders." He felt that he had stopped raids from happening and had reduced their effect. He was now often kept in the outpost while other soldiers would raid Palestinian homes, but even then he thinks that these raids were less violent because his peers would face him when he got back.
When the kids threw stones at the soldiers some of them turned to us like little kids and said "look, see what they do?" We told them that if they were going to play that game then they started it by being on their land and preventing them from protesting on their land. Some of the kids dragged the Danish flag through the mud which was not useful. Such actions only alienate and scare internationals and really Australia and the US are supporting the occupation so why focus people on Denmark?
We ended up running to another break in the wall. I was leading the charge and they sent off warning shots as we advanced. We put our hands in the air to make it clear we were unarmed but kept moving forward slowly. The closer we were, the safer we were as they could not use tear gas without hitting themselves. We formed up right in front of them and some of them went a bit crazy with sticks.
We held our ground however, moving back on our own terms and ended up de-arresting some people caught up in another section of the demonstration. The soldiers fired more tear gas and we retreated back. The kids continued to throw stones, one kid threw some stones at some of the internationals that were taking pictures. An experienced Palestinian activist talked to the kid and found out he was concerned about having his photo taken given the repercussions a Palestinian can face at these demonstrations (months, sometimes years in jail).
At the end we all pulled back and watched a film. Thinking about the Israeli soldiers and the kids you get a sense that things are about to crack. Unlike Australia where the conflicts (though generally not involving tear gas) are between disciplined police and usually experienced activists, here people aren't as clear. There are too many doubts in the soldiers minds and they are beginning to crack in all directions.
Likewise the village kids who just happen to be on the front line of the occupation aren't educated in political strategy. The wall came to them, they didn't have the luxury to have 6 years of theoretical and practical education in activism before coming into the conflict. Palestinians (I say Palestinians not 'the Palestinians' because it only applies to some) have a real tendency to shoot themselves in the foot. They are frustrated by an occupation that is affecting every aspect of their lives. You can sense the psychology of this place, people are depressed.
Despite this tendency, I do see that many people are developing and talking strategy. Likewise I get a sense that the soldiers are becoming increasingly hostile to the work that they are doing. One change that seems noticeable talking to Israelis is there seems to be a big backlash against the settlers. People are pissed off that they are causing violence, that the army is having to come to their rescue, that they are getting cheaper housing and are paying less taxes then other Israelis. People have told me "only a few years ago settlers were still seen as heroes" now it seems to be a selling point in the election who can be most harsh to the settlers.
I will be talking to some people from the Palestinian Peoples Party (formally known as the Palestinian Communist Party) to talk strategy and get a sense of their ideology. I will report back soon.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Israel prepares for push on the Bil'in wall
I crossed the wall at Bil'in today. It is clear that even before the court finding on Bil'in comes down that the company is forwarding whatever progress they can on the wall. The mounds of rocks on the left of this picture are right next to the wall and are being stacked. I believe this is to make it harder for Palestinians to sneak across and to speed up wall construction when the time comes. Taking this photo I was pulled aside by Israeli security who were sitting in the van.
We will see what happens over the next few days.
Surviving the occupation, Ronnie Brnat's story
Whilst some of his sons have been in jail for long periods of time, one of the difficult things for Wagi and the rest of the Brnat family has been the shooting of his son Ronnie in Ramallah 5 years ago.
Ronnie was in Ramallah when the second interfada started, peacefully protesting when snipers Israeli snipers shot him and many others. At the age of 20 Ronnie was confined to a wheel chair for the rest of his life. He cannot move his legs and his arms have lost much of their fine motor skills.
Ronnie has continued to keep his faith in non-violent demonstrations and goes to the Bil'in protest every Friday. Even in his wheel chair Ronnie has still been attacked by the military on two separate occasions. The first time a sound bomb landed on his food and the second time he was shot with an experimental Israeli bullet.
Asked why he continues to go to the demonstrations Ronnie says it is important to defend his land. Ronnie has shown amazing courage but the way he has been abused by his occupiers for attending peaceful demonstrations, to me shows why people like Ronnie choose to take up arms or even suicide bombings. To ask the Palestinians to turn the other cheek while their sons are crippled is a hard thing to do. Still the Brnat family are staying strong and I know I will see Ronnie at the demonstration tomorrow.
To exist, is to resist.
The case in Israel is to determine if the impact of wall disproportionately effects the people of Bil'in more then Israeli security is gained by it. Of course the decision is being made in Israel by an Israeli judge in Tel Aviv where the majority of Bil'in's people cant even visit. The decision isn't being made by the Palestinians or even the UN which has found the wall to be illegal.
We expect a decision (probably against the people of Bil'in) to be reached in the next few days. The people of Bil'in however continue to defy the wall. The outpost is still there and people like Wagi Brnat continue to take their goats to graze in the fields across from the wall. I was with Brnat when soldiers came to tell him to take his 30 or so goats back to the other side of the wall. Finally the soldiers agreed to go off and see if he had the Israeli army's permission to graze the goats on his peoples land.
Finally we got the phone call that he was allowed but after months of fighting for such basic rights you would think he shouldn't have to keep going through this process.
Down from Brnat on the hill was a tractor plowing for olive trees to be planted. The olive trees are on the other side of the wall from the village. The people know that if they are cut off from their land then all their hard work will have been for nothing.
Still it is important for them to continue to farm on the land because if the land is seen to be idle the Israeli government will try and say that they can take it. One of the people plowing for the village told me that on that hill backing onto the construction site of the expanding settlements he used to have 13 olive trees. The trees were removed to make way for the construction. According to a fellow activist each olive tree would be valued at about $1,000.
Still the people are in high spirits, regularly crossing the wall despite the threat of "Mortal Danger" we had about 30 people at the outpost today and everyone was in high spirits. Brnat played what looked like a metal chair leg like a flute and people were having a great time.
[Note that I have spelt the village Bil'in rather then Bil'lin which is how I spelt it in previous posts. Since I have been here I have seen at least 4 different spellings of the village name. Things don't translate perfectly to english and there have also been different spellings of Fatah, the most accurate I now belive is Fateh and the spelling is Bil'in on the UN maps so that is how I will do it from now on I think]