Fresh Tactics and New Voices in the Movement for Justice and Freedom in the Middle East
“You can’t have these protests in the farcical parliaments of Tehran or Tripoli; this is real democracy,” bellowed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, responding to a Jewish woman who stood up to disrupt his speech at a joint session of Congress this past May. The activist was shouting about equal rights for Palestinians and an end to the Israeli Occupation. She was assaulted by members of the audience in the congressional gallery, rushed to the hospital, treated for a neck injury, arrested, and taken to jail.
I know all this because I was that woman.
From the chambers of Congress to the shores of the Mediterranean, nonviolent protesters are rising up against the Israeli Occupation in surprisingly innovative and effective ways. There’s a buzz, and it’s stirring the hive of the American Zionist establishment like never before as we, young Jews, apply our democratic values to the situation in Israel and Palestine.
Young Jews are organizing within the Jewish establishment across the country to speak out against the Occupation. Last fall a new youth outcrop of Jewish Voice for Peace emerged at the annual Jewish Federations of North America conference in New Orleans, where fourteen young Jews held their own leadership summit and penned a “Young Jewish Declaration,” which states (in part):
We are punks and students and parents and janitors and rabbis and freedom fighters. We are your children, your nieces and nephews, your grandchildren…. We will not carry the legacy of terror…. We commit to re-envisioning “ homeland,” to make room for justice.
Five members of this new group, dubbed Young, Jewish, and Proud, then disrupted Netanyahu’s keynote address to the Federation with messages about what really delegitimizes Israel—the settlements, the Occupation, the siege of Gaza. The video of this action went viral and again broke the silence surrounding the Occupation in mainstream Jewish communities. Jewish youth are redefining an old adage to say, “Progressive includes Palestine!” As one of the founding members of Young, Jewish, and Proud, I have found in this organization a place to be “out” about my views on the Occupation while being fully present in my religious and spiritual life.
The international movement we are part of takes inspiration from the leadership of Palestinian civil society groups, village popular committees, and their Israeli allies as they organize against land theft, home demolitions, settler violence, and inequality before the law. Every Friday the West Bank villagers in Bil’in and Nil’in hold peaceful demonstrations against the encroaching “apartheid wall.” At Friday demonstrations in the village of Nabi Saleh, residents challenge the illegal theft of their land and natural spring water by the settlement of Halamish since January 2010. In an attempt to silence dissent, the Israeli army uses banned high-velocity tear gas projectiles, rubber-coated steel bullets, and at times live ammunition against unarmed civilians. Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Ambassador András Dékány stated, “The rights of Israeli and Palestinian human rights defenders protesting peacefully against settlements and the separation barrier are severely curtailed.”
In a speech prepared for his appearance in Israeli court regarding the blanket charge of incitement brought against him because of his work as the coordinator of the Nabi Saleh Popular Committee, Bassem Tamimi stated: “Land theft and tree burning are not just. Your military laws are not legitimate. Our peaceful protest is just. I organized these peaceful demonstrations to defend our land and our people.” Despite the jailing of their leaders, Palestinian villages continue their nonviolent struggle against the theft of their land and resources. But how much longer will the global community countenance Israel’s imprisonment of Palestinian Gandhis?
The Power of Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions
Here in the United States, while lobbying Congress is important, it’s up to the grassroots to lead, seeing as our elected representatives are still in thrall to the far-right Israel lobby—the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) specifically.
Boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns offer a way for people to help take the profit out of the Occupation and to focus attention on Israel’s flagrant violations of international law. The demands of BDS are threefold: a withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian Territories; the right of return for Palestinian refugees (in accordance with UN Resolution 194); and an end to legal discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel. Taking as models the successful boycotts against South African Apartheid and the Jim Crow South, this new movement is moving from strength to strength.
Abileah, Rae. 2011. Fresh Tactics and New Voices in the Movement for Justice and Freedom in the Middle East. Tikkun26(4): 19.