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Tanks & Ostriches

by Bill Templer

“It is up to us to change our ways of changing.” – Bruno Latour1

“To smother all resistance to the Israeli version of what a solution must be.”Palestinians remain dismayed why what seems so obvious to them their subjugation, their expropriation, their humiliation, their long chronicle of multiple victimization for over half a century is not perceived as such outside the Arab and Muslim world. This has been underscored again by reaction inside the Israeli-Jewish public sphere during the abominations of the week of May 17, 2004 in Rafah camp.

As the geographer Ghazi-Walid Falah noted in a broader frame: “these atrocities continue and now have touched the very household, the most intimate scale in space and geopolitics, of almost each individual and neighborhood, I am more convinced than ever that the ultimate agenda of Israel’s political and military class is to break down the morale of the entire Palestinian society, to suffocate it into total submission. To smother all resistance to the Israeli version of what a solution must be.”2

The insanity of the ihtilal has developed a kind of “Zionist Gothic” in its war on children and the utter absurdity of its wantonness and destruction. The geopolitics of scale of the military machinery of medinat Yisrael is predicated on the total invasion of Palestinian private space and smashing, grinding down of all vestiges of its public space.

Beside all the bodies of the innocent among the rubble in Rafah, there was one episode in the rampage of the IDF that embodies the carnage and the war on children in a kind of shattering emblem of the utter monstrosity of Israeli military tactics: the destruction in the al-Brazil neighborhood of the small zoo that had been laboriously and lovingly constructed over a decade as a source of diversion and pleasure for the beleaguered families there, and especially their children.  The zoo’s co-owner Mohammed Ahmed Juma told the Guardian: “People are more important than animals. But the zoo is the only place in Rafah that children could escape the tense atmosphere. There were slides and games for children. We had a small swimming pool. I know it's hard to believe, looking at it now, but it was beautiful. Why would they destroy that? Because they want to destroy everything about us.”3

WallThe Apartheid WallIn ten insane minutes, IDF tanks (supposedly “diverted from the main road by the fear of booby-trapped explosives” according to an IDF spokesman) demolished that zoo, killing its ostriches, crushing its giant tortoises, sending its monkeys into the wild of the gaping Rafah wilderness, scattering its precious birds, its rare African parrots taken perhaps as “trophies” by the Israeli marauders. Smashing what had been the sole source of animal dreams of a whole younger generation of Palestinian kids. The dead ostrich rotting in the twisted ruins of that zoo is perhaps a fitting emblem of the “ostrich mentality” in which the Jewish Israeli public and its war machinery are locked.

Tolstoy once wrote in a powerful apothegm: “government is violence.” If Jewish Israelis and Jewish world opinion could awaken from its “bubble,” they would see the stark truth of that in the behavior of an army pursuing policies driven by an ideology of settlement and conquest that is the dark engine of the enterprise of the Jewish state. As Ghada Karmi reminds us: “As a Zionist, Ariel Sharon is as faithful and committed a servant as the Jewish state could ever have hoped for. He has merely followed the tenets of Zionism to their logical conclusion. It is not he who should be castigated but the ideology he and the state of Israel espouses.”4

Alternative Agendas

We need an exploratory network and political space for socialists who believe that transformation will come from workers and oppressed people self-organizing from below and not from the top down organizing of any state, party or union bureaucracy. To dismantle that state and its apartheid, to begin to change hearts and minds and move toward a Cooperative Commonwealth of Jerusalem/al-Quds, an alternative agenda is imperative. Our conceptions of “statehood” in any conventional sense as a solution in Israel/Palestine are a kind of frozen sea within us that must be cracked open. I have argued in detail elsewhere5 for the need for a Zapatismo-like movement to capture the imagination of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians, teaching through struggle the possibilities for a new mosaic of ta’ayush as people quite literally “regain the commons” from the politicians and the economic elites that misrule their lives. We need an exploratory network and political space for socialists who believe that transformation will come from workers and oppressed people self-organizing from below and not from the top down organizing of any state, party or union bureaucracy. Direct democracy has become a major component of the anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian struggle across the planet challenging hierarchical Power. What might it begin to look like in the context of a mass anti-authoritarian movement for people’s politics throughout Falastin?

Child with feathers.One such communitarian blueprint for learning how to change our ways of changing in reinventing political and community and economic institutions is James Herod’s Getting Free.6 It needs to be translated into Arabic and Hebrew and made available widely throughout Palestine and the Israeli state. Another is the vision of the Alliance for Freedom and Direct Democracy, founded two years ago in the U. S. (see its Manifesto). What AFADD envisions for social and political transformation can be creatively applied as people move forward toward a new conception of what political life could be and a unitary Arab-Jewish commonwealth far beyond present forms of the neoliberal capitalist nation-state. The collective forming around the new periodical Momentum Journal is another new forum from which to learn.

We need to build on that sense of the way forward to a single state – and then perhaps beyond – projecting visions of direct democracy and radical mutualism that overturn and transmute the conventional political imagination of the capitalist “democratic nation-state,” hollowing it out from within. Even Noam Chomsky, who opposes a one-state solution for basically “pragmatic” reasons, recently stated his long support for the conception of a binational state: “As to its desirability, I have believed that from childhood and still do. At times it has also been realistic. From 1967 to 1973, I wrote about it quite a lot because during those years it was quite feasible. “Perhaps in the longer term, as hostility and fear subside and relations are more firmly developed along non-national lines, there will be a possibility of moving towards a federal version of binationalism, then perhaps on to closer integration, perhaps even to a democratic secular state.”7 Chomsky offers no notion whatsoever here of what “developing relations along non-national lines” might entail, no political vision of a movement for radical transformation. His comments are totally “diagnostic.”

The cumulative effect of Intifadatal-Aqsa, the continued Occupation and its monstrosities, and the implosion of internationally engineered “peace processes,” has been system-shattering, at multiple scales. Opposition to the Apartheid Wall, including direct action by new groups such as Anarchists Against the Wall in Israel, the ISM and the grassroots Palestinian resistance initiative Stop the Wall, may signal a qualitative change in the struggle.

The Ultimate Power Tool

A major part of what we need to generate a movement of transformation for a new politics of grassroots anti-Power is massive non-violent civil disobedience. Jalal Ghazi has observed that “using civil disobedience and not suicide bombs, a non-violent Palestinian struggle for freedom might reinvigorate the Israeli peace movement.”8 Such traditions of non-violence, still marginalized, are exemplified in the work of Rapprochement in Beit Sahour, the ISM, Stop the Wall, Ta’ayush, Bat Shalom and other groups, including the new organization MEND (Middle East Nonviolence and Democracy), which is using techniques such as “participatory video.” They will need to become a more central tool for changing civil society in the decade to come, what Sonti calls a “non-violence non-cooperation movement” in Palestinian (and Jewish) life, from the neighborhoods up.9 One organization inside the belly of the Israeli Leviathan dedicated to such radical social transformation and the dismantling of the Zionist state, its entrenched militarism and authoritarianism, is One Struggle/Ma’avak Ehad. Aspects of their analysis are becoming more widely known through their central participation in Anarchists Against the Wall.

Fearing the Gandhian potential of Mubarak Awad’s10 ideas, the Israeli authorities deported him years ago. Inside the Israeli ethnocracy, new forms of non-violent resistance on a massive scale against hierarchical power can be applied by Israel’s Arab citizens here and now to press for full equality. This is a politics of the body at scales from the house and community to international issues such as refugee repatriation. The militant non-violent antipode to the geopolitics of body martyrdom of Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Brigades. The Zapatista EZNL has evolved over the past decade into a peasant “army of non-violence,” a prototype for mass struggle in what Subcomandante Marcos calls the “Fourth World War.”11

In laying the groundwork now for a political practice leading to direct democracy and communalism, a hundred flowers can bloom in this pluralistic imaginary – its very eclecticism a necessary amplitude at this juncture, as the manifesto of One Struggle stresses. Collectives beginning to crystallize around opposition to the Apartheid Wall can with input evolve in the Zapatista spirit of the Ya basta! (Enough is Enough!) movements in Italy and New York and elsewhere, termed perhaps in Hebrew & Arabic Khalas! They could establish a network of ateneos (self-managed social, cultural and educational centers) to raise, defend and promote libertarian ideas for change. Remembering that organization grows out of struggle, not vice versa.

Bill Templer is a Chicago-born Israeli on the staff of the Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture, University of Leipzig, and currently teaching at a technological university in southern Thailand.

From the August 2004 issue.

Notes

1 Latour, Bruno. We Have Never Been Modern, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993. [back]

2 Falah, Ghazi-Walid. “Truth at War and Naming the Intolerable in Palestine,” Antipode, forthcoming. [back]

3 The Day the Tanks Arrived at Rafah Zoo,” The Guardian, May 22, 2004, retrieved May 26, 2004. [back]

4 Karmi, Ghada. “It’s the Nature of Zionist Ideology: Sharon is not the Problem,” Counterpunch, 20 February 2004, retrieved 26 May 2004. [back]

5 Templer, Bill. “From Mutual Struggle to Mutual Aid: Moving Beyond the Statist Impasse in Israel/Palestine,” borderlands ejournal, Vol. 2, No. 3 [2003] [back]

6 Herod, James. Getting Free: A Sketch of an Association of Democratic Autonomous Neighborhhods and How to Create It. 4th rev. ed., 2004, retrieved May 26, 2004. [back]

7 Podor, J. and Shalom, S.R. “Justice for Palestine: An Interview with Noam Chomsky,” Z Magazine 17(5) [May 2004]. [back]

8 Ghazi, J. “True Democracy: Palestinians Must Reject Separate State and Change Israel,” 2002. [back]

9 Sonti, V. R. “A Non-Violence Movement?” 2002, retrieved 27 May 2004. [back]

10 Meir, A. “Non-Violence in the Middle East: a Talk with Mubarak Awad,” Peace Magazine, October/December 2000, retrieved 26 May 2004. [back]

11 Midnight Notes Collective. Auroras of the Zapatistas: Local and Global Struggles of the Fourth World War. Autonomedia, 2001. [back]