"If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time…But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." (Lila Watson)
Last week Haaretz published an opinion piece by Yotam Marom, an Occupy Wall St. organizer. The article was presented as “Advice from the Occupy Movement” for Israel’s social protest movement, which recently faced egregious police violence in Tel Aviv. Israeli activists, however, do not have to look overseas for guidance or inspiration in countering forces of oppression in Jewish Israeli society. The legacy that passes through Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., the Egyptians in Tahrir Square, and the Indignados in Spain can be found much closer to home: Israeli activists need only look over to Bil’in, Ni’lin, Nabi Saleh, Sheikh Jarrah and al-Arakib to learn about the pain of repression and value of resistance.
Marom correctly points out how the forces of deprivation disproportionately impact those already marginalized, but he forgets to identify the group of people most clearly marginalized, oppressed, displaced and dispossessed by decades of Israeli policy and practice: the Palestinian people. As Israeli protesters rally against rising prices for housing, food, education and healthcare, there is no acknowledgement that their current level of welfare, however relatively eroded, has been accumulated on the backs of the Palestinian people. Can one really articulate a compelling moral argument for affordable housing in Tel Aviv while, only a few kilometers away, the same system of power targeted by protesters has rendered entire villages into refugee camps?
Some of our finest moments here at Occupy Wall St. were exactly those in which we recognized - as Marom points out - that oppressed communities face various systemic forms of violence every single day, and that this violence is much more destructive than what we face in the streets of New York City at our protests. Only when we followed the lead of the people most impacted by this violence and stood with them against home foreclosures and against the NYPD’s racist policy of “Stop & Frisk” did we actually embody the world we want to live in.
Organizers in today’s social movement in Israel have crafted messaging to avoid alienating some of the Israeli public and attract a “broad tent.” Perhaps it was with that careful, circumscribed messaging in mind that Marom avoided any mention of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians - neither those who are citizens of the state, nor those living in the Occupied Territories or beyond. But would not a much heartier coalition be created in standing with the most oppressed?
Last summer, and again in these past several weeks, Israelis demonstrated a readiness to take to the streets to challenge the system of economic power that has prevailed there for so long. Please don’t constrain the reach and potential of your movement by adopting national and ethnic fault-lines to construct and constrict your movement’s collective identity. These fault lines have been perpetuated and celebrated by the same system that is the target of your protest. The very absence of solidarity between all the people within its domain makes it possible for this system to function. It pits Israelis against African asylum-seekers, for example, deliberately obscuring the reality that Tel Aviv’s poor neighborhoods had been severely underserved long before the recent influx of refugees and other migrant workers.
Over here, the Global Justice Working Group at Occupy Wall Street has highlighted how our struggles at home are intertwined with worldwide struggles against oppression and injustice, seeking guidance from the people directly affected by the target of our protests and following their lead whenever possible. This brought the group to trace the use of U.S.-made (and often U.S.-taxpayer financed) tear gas against civil society protesters in several countries. The gas used against our friends in Oakland and Seattle is produced by the same companies supplying the forces of oppression in Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and yes – also in Nabi Saleh and Bil’in. Israelis rising up for social and economic justice would do well to identify their oppressor and see who has borne the brunt of the suffering under its violent force: these people are your allies - those whose liberation is bound up with yours.
As Marom points out, we can learn a great deal from the violent response of the state when we succeed in challenging the status quo. Obviously, the repression of dissent in Israel did not start this past week. There is a rich history of violence to study. Even if you choose to not extend your inquiry beyond the green line, you may recall how, last April on Israel’s Independence Day, the police lay siege to the Zochrot office in Tel Aviv because activists there wanted to read a list of Palestinian villages that were razed in 1948. You may also recall the events of October 2000, which left thirteen Palestinian citizens of Israel dead. They also were your allies. Stand with their families. Stand for their memory, and for a future in which their communities will not be constantly threatened and impoverished.
In Israel, where your liberation is intertwined with that of the Palestinian people, look at where you can work together, not only under Israeli leadership. What are the Palestinian people asking for? Where can you stand with them? There have been several groups of Jews and Palestinians working together for justice for many years. Will you direct your energy in support of Solidarity - Sheikh Jarrah? Will you support Boycott from Within and other Israelis who heed the call from Palestinian civil society to join the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement?
A fight for freedom and independence and security and equality that comes at the expense of another people is not a true fight for liberation. When our fight for liberation ignores the subjugation of other people by our own hands, we remain bound and tied.
The Israeli social protest movement faces a challenge and an opportunity to end its isolation, and to join a global movement. It is a movement for social and economic justice; it is aimed at ending the domination of our political systems by the financial elites, but even more than that it is a movement that transcends the boundaries between nation-states and calls for reclamation of the Commons for all peoples. Liberate yourselves by fighting for an end to the occupation of Palestine, without which none of us will ever be free.
Udi Pladott is an activist and software developer based in Brooklyn, NY.
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