Saturday, August 6, 2011

Palestinians and the "Housing Crisis/Tent Protests" in Israel

Dear friends,
as you will have probably heard for the last two weeks, thousands of ordinary Israelis have been involved in "tent protests" through out Israel opposing the high cost of housings and other economic issues. Last night more than 300,000 Israelis marched in Tel Aviv.

As a number of radical Israeli activists have noted on their blogs and in articles, there has been a reluctance by a number of the organisers to incorporate into these social justice protests the issue of the occupation or the issue of inequality and discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel. As a number of commentators have noted there seems to be a disconnect, not only in the Israeli media, but also amongst many of those involved in the demonstrations/protests between Israel's economic woes and the massive spending on ISrael's occupation and apartheid policies, as well as the social injustice suffered by Palestinians both in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories. In the last week, a number of Israeli activists have sought to introduce these issues into the protest and to make the links.

I have included below two articles which give a Palestinian perspective of the protests. The first is an article by Abir Kopty, a Palestinian activist with Israeli citizenship and the second is an article by Israeli journalist, Amira Hass, who has interviewed a number of Palestinian activists in the Occupied West Bank about their thoughts on the protests.

In solidarity, Kim


Tent 1948
By Abir Kopty ⋅ August 6, 2011 ⋅

If you are Palestinian, it will be difficult to find anything to identify with in Tel Aviv’s tents’ city on Rothschild Boulevard, until you reach Tent 1948. My first tour there was a few days ago, when I decided to join Tent 1948. Tent 1948′s main message is that social justice should be for all. It brings together Jewish and Palestinian citizens who believe in shared sovereignty in the state of all its citizens.

For me, as a Palestinian, I don’t feel part of the July 14 movement, and I’m not there because I feel part. Almost every corner of this encampment reminds me that this place does not want me. My first tour there was pretty depressing, I found lots of Israeli flags, a man giving a lecture to youth about his memories from ’48 war’ from a Zionist perspective, another group marching with signs calling for the release of Gilad Shalit, another singing Zionist songs. This is certainly not a place that the 20% of the population would feel they belong to. The second day I found Ronen Shuval, from Im Tirtzu, the extreme right wing organization, giving a talk full of incitement and hatred to the left and human rights organizations. Settlers already set a tent and were dancing with joy.

The existence of Tent 1948 in the encampment constitutes a challenge to people taking part in the July 14 movement. In the first few days, the tent was attacked by group of rightwing activists, who beat activists in the tent and broke down the Palestinian flag of the tent. Some of the leaders of the July 14 movement have said clearly that raising core issues related to Palestinian community in Israel or the occupation will make the struggle “lose momentum”. They often said the struggle is social, not political, as if there was a difference. They are afraid of losing supporters if they make Palestinian issues bold.

The truth is that this is the truth.

The truth is, this is exactly what might help Netanyahu, if he presses the button of fear, recreates the ‘enemy’ and reproduce the ‘security threat’, he might be able to silence this movement. The problem is not with Netanyahu, he is not the first Israeli leader to rely on this. The main problem is that Israelis are not ready yet to see beyond the walls surrounding them.

Yet, one has to admit, something is happening, Israelis are awakening. There is a process; people are coming together, discussing issues. The General Assembly of the encampment decided on Friday that it will not accept any racist messages among its participants. Even to Tent 1948 many Israelis arrived, read the flyers, listened to what Tent 1948 represent and discussed calmly. Perhaps if I was a Jewish Israeli I will be proud of the July 14 movement. But, I am not a Jew, I am not Zionist, I am Palestinian.

I don’t want to beatify the reality, or hide anything for the sake of ‘tactics’ and I will not accept crumbs. I want to speak about historical justice, I want to speak about occupation, I want to speak about discrimination and racism, I want to put everything on the table, and I want to speak about them in the heart of Tel Aviv.

Social justice can’t be divided or categorized. If it is not justice to all including all Palestinians, then it is a fake justice, elite justice or “Justice for Jews only” exactly as the Israeli democracy functions “for Jews only”. July 14 is a great opportunity for Israelis to refuse to allow their state to continue to drown into an apartheid regime.


Palestinian pride: Israel protests influenced by Arab world
By Amira Hass, 6 August 2011, Haaretz

Palestinian social leaders believe Israel is 'inadvertantly becoming part of the Middle East', however, there is little Palestinian interest in the protests that have erupted throughout Israel in recent weeks.

Palestinian social leaders believe the social protests that have erupted throughout Israel are largely influenced by the Arab Spring, contending Israelis must realize they too are suffering due to the occupation and money spent on settlements in the West Bank.

Israelis are imitating the Arab world, and West Bank Palestinians believe this to be a good thing. According to the Ma’an news agency, 14,032 (nearly 75%) of the 18,722 readers who responded to their online survey, believe that what is happening in Israel’s streets is influenced by and imitating the “Arab Spring”.

“Israel is inadvertantly becoming a part of the Middle East,” said sociologist Honaida Ghanim, who researches Israeli society, adding that“this is the power of bottom-up activity, when the country’s ideologists aren’t consulted.”

Ghanim wasn’t surprised when the protests began. As an Israeli citizen, born in Marja and General Director of “MADAR” the Palestinian Forum for Israeli Studies, the sociologist is well acquainted with Israeli polarization. However, she is certain that the recent events in Egypt and Tunisia had a large impact on the Israeli protest movement.

Sufian Abu Zaida is a member of Fatah and former prisoner, who currently teaches about Israeli society in the Birzeit University and the Al-Quds Open University. He was born in Jabaliya, a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, to a family of refugees from the town Burayr (today Bror Hayil).

The Palestinian teacher promises to remind his students next year that “this might be the first thing Israelis learnt from Arabs. They have always presented themselves as the only positive ray of light in a pitch black Middle East. Suddenly there is something to learn from these retards."

Ghanim cited additional sociological factors as part of the impetus for change in Israel, saying "on the one hand, there is neo-liberalism and globalization that have resulted in an unacceptable gap between the wealth of the state and individuals and the harshness of life for the masses. On the other hand, these are similar tools – online social networks, with Facebook heading the list, which had a far-reaching effect on the media.”

Despite this, there isn’t much interest among the Palestinians in the protest occupying Israel for over three weeks. “We are a people in perpetual struggle with the government, three weeks of protest are not long enough to seriously catch our attention,” said Nariman al-Tamimi, from Nabi Salih, and Afaf Ghatasha, a feminist activist and member of the Palestinian People’s Party.

However, they are both impressed – as are other Palestinians –that the Israeli movement is geared toward improving the already high level standard of living in Israel in comparison to that of most Palestinians. Israelis are making “demands that are luxuries,” according to Ghatasha.

“I know something about the housing crisis,” said Tamimi, who was wrongfully placed under arrest for eight days a year and six months ago, for the attack of a policeman with a sharp object. She was eventually convicted of “obstructing a police officer in the performance of his duties,” during a demonstration against the appropriation of town land and a well.

Her husband Bassam was arrested four months ago and is charged with organizing the demonstrations in their town. “For us Palestinians, it isn’t a housing crisis we are facing but a housing ban. Though the Israeli government being at fault is a common denominator,” she said.

The Civil Administration issued a demolition order for her house built in Area C. The original house, built in 1963, wasn’t large enough for the entire family, and they were forced to expand their house without a permit; a permit Israel doesn’t issue.

From their home, which could be destroyed any day, the family members can see the settlement of Halamish growing. “A few days ago, my daughter saw the Israeli protests with me as I was surfing the web,” Tamimi said, when we met at the al-Bireh Popular Resistance Committees offices.

“She asked me, are they also dispersed with tear gas, are they hit? I told her they weren’t. She couldn’t understand the difference; we are also fighting for social justice, are we not?” Tamimi said.

The main element missing in the Israeli wave of protests, according to Tamimi, is the disconnect between social struggle and the Israeli occupation.

Abu Zaida is the only who seems optimistic about the protests, saying“the public will start reckoning with its government on what it is spending on the settlements and settlers. It’s about to happen. Social justice means an equal distribution of the country’s resources. Everyone knows that this isn’t the case due to political and ideological reasons.”

Ghanim, however, believes the Israeli protest movement will fail because political correctness will prevent people from seeing the natural link to the occupation, with the government continuing to make settlements the highest priority and depriving the Palestinian people of their freedom.

“The movement is headed by the middle class and many intellectuals, as a social class that generates much knowledge in the sociological sense but not in the spiritual sense, Ghanim said, adding "they will eventually make the connection to the occupation. However, strategic processes take a long time historically, while the leadership will have the short-term in mind, not treating the root of the problem. And then the movement will collapse. Netanyahu will bring the West Bank to Tel Aviv, meaning he will upgrade apartheid, and that’s all.”

Tamimi and Ghatasha believe this is an opportunity for Israelis to understand that they too are victims of the occupation. “All the tear gas grenades thrown at us in demonstrations cost money which cannot be spent on improving social conditions for Israelis,” Tamimi said. However, said she heard that one of the protest leaders spoke out against the anarchists, because they demonstrate against soldiers.

“These are the activists standing by our side in recent years,” she said, “How can you demand social justice for only one group?”

Ghatasha , who was born in the al-Fawwar refugee camp, to a family from the depopulated Palestinian town Bayt Jibrin, also found herself hard pressed to see any difference made by the protests that have swept up the country.

This May she met with Israeli leftist activists, who came to a conference for Palestinian leftist parties in Hebron. At the conference she talked about two processes hindering feminist Palestinian activities and female participation in the struggle against the occupation.

On one hand, she claimed, NGO-ation (the channeling of activities to NGOs funded by different countries), reduces the influence of women groups. On the other hand, militarization of the second intifada pushed most of the population, including women, out of the struggle’s public sphere.

“What is it that makes some Israelis get it and others not?” she mused in her party’s Hebron offices. “I’d like to understand the rationality of the Israeli people,” she added.
“On one hand there’s this selfishness, of a people living off another people’s misery, with no regret. On the other hand, it is obvious that they would be better off were they to live like a normal country, not squandering their money on upholding the occupation, Ghatasha said.

Despite their misgivings, all four agree the protest will allow the Palestinians – most of whom know Israelis only in the form of settlers and soldiers – to see that “Israeli society isn’t one-dimensional, that it is complex, that it shouldn’t be flattened, that it has struggles and oppressed classes of its own,” Ghanim said.

“The protest is shattering the Palestinians image of Israel as a perfect country, where all are full, own villas and trade in their cars every year," Abu Zaida added.

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