A reserve soldier went on hunger strike in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners last week, vowing to surrender his citizenship and live as a Palestinian in a refugee camp; another activist was briefly jailed. They are Israel’s new dissidents. An e-book now comes to light, shedding light on their raison d’être.
Symbolically, non-violently, they stand up against the social, political and racist iniquities perpetrated in their country against fellow citizens (the poor, women, activists, the Palestinian-Israeli minority), against ‘the other’ in their midst (the migrants and political refugees from Africa), and against ‘the other’ (the Palestinians).
They fight ‘the system’. Systematically, they test their nation’s Zionist promise – to establish an independent, sovereign, free-for-all, equal-for-all, and democratic Jewish state in the Promised Land, as officially inscribed in Israel’s declaration of independence.
“The State of Israel…will be based on freedom, justice and peace…it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture,” stated the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
They feel betrayed by their State having long reneged on its original pledge. For them, the real promise is not land, but justice.
“Despite having won independence and political sovereignty, we’re enslaved. Enslaved to our conquest, to the injustices we create; to foreign labourers whom we exploit and oppress; to the Sudanese refugees whom we – the persecuted people, the refugee people – throw in jail,” protested Na’ama Carmi, former Chair of the Israeli Civil Rights Association (ACRI), in a prescient blog written six years ago.
Marking 40 years of the now 45-year occupation of Palestinian lands, Carmi mourned June 1967 as “the time when we ceased to be free,” concluding, “The enslaver cannot be free himself.”
Now, 35 such blogposts are included in an e-anthology entitled ‘Israeli Dissidents: Notes from a slippery slope’.
They were originally written in Hebrew by ten alternative media and human rights activists from local NGOs, such as ‘Anarchists Against The Wall” (the wall which separates Palestinians from families and lands under the arguable pretext of security); or, “Boycott From Within” (which supports the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions call).
“All is ripe, just waiting for the match to ignite the fire that’ll consume Israel’s democracy, and it’ll surely come,” warns Noam Rotem.
Cassandra-like prophets of doom predicting the demise of the Jewish people’s dream to live free on the land, they’re disregarded, often damned as “traitors”, by fellow Israelis. Their dissidence is critical patriotism, they retort.
“We do not hate this land, on the contrary we love our homeland, its landscapes, flavours, scents, sounds and languages to not only live here despite the hardships and the policies we find infuriating and indefensible, but to openly champion highly unpopular ideas we believe to be crucial for the future well-being – and even existence – of a liveable polity in this country we love,” writes Rechavia Berman, editor of the compilation in the preface.
They’re branded as “self-hating” and “anti-Semite” Jews, accused of abetting terrorism.
“We do not hate ourselves,” counters Berman. “Our anger and struggle are directed at apartheid and occupation, abuse and oppression, those who support them, and those who stand in our way as we seek to battle them.”
Conscience objectors of the Internet era, they’ve taken an oath – to respect the commandment of memory, not to forget, conscientiously documenting abuses by their country. A country, they point out, born out of the ashes of the Nazi Holocaust, the extermination of six million Jews during World War II.
Shaking off the shackles of – or perhaps truly shackled to – the unfathomable tragedy, they dream of, act for, the establishment of an exemplary society that ought to abide by universal justice. Saving Israel against itself is their quixotic crusade.
Throughout the compilation, they warn against “the gradual, accelerated process in which Israel’s polity is drifting even farther away from core principles and guaranteed rights inherent in democracy.”
Some blogs relate to religious coercion – especially against Jewish women – by radical, ultra-orthodox Jews, whom the authors call “the Jewish Brotherhood”, in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Most reckon the difficulty of instilling a stringently peaceful message stems from their country being rooted in a strongly-knit society. Solidarity precedes tolerance when the prevailing – albeit sometimes irrational – sentiment is of living under the constant fear of existential threats.
The political and religious establishments have managed to maintain a powerfully consensual narrative. “There’s no negotiating partner on the other side”; the ultimate Palestinian goal is “to throw us into the sea”, are public mantras.
When national extinction is believed to still hang in the balance, the occupation becomes the lesser of two evils. Living by the sword in the foreseeable future seems to be the best recipe for those – and they’re the majority – who remain convinced that a huge Damocles sword is hanging above their heads.
“It’s impossible to discuss these issues with most of my friends. They don’t want to hear, they don’t believe me, or they think ‘the Arabs’ deserve what happens to them,” laments Lisa Goldman, feeling “increasingly isolated”.
The tragedy is, most Israelis would probably be ready to support a two-state solution that would entail a withdrawal – military and civilian – from the occupied territories, if only to preserve the Jewish and democratic character of their state.
But most also believe that the endeavour would be Sisyphean, with over half-a-million settlers living in Palestine. And, they wouldn’t easily relinquish occupied east Jerusalem.
Noting that “the worst decisions can be made in a perfectly democratic manner” – a clear reference to the democratically-elected Nazi regime in the 1930s – Berman acknowledges in the foreword, as if posthumously, “We may be unable, or too late, to sway the disastrously misguided majority, but I for one refuse to let it be said that there was no other way, or that the danger could not be foreseen.”