Israeli Democracy?

Life for journalists wanting to enter Israel is getting harder. During my interrogation at Ben Gurion airport, Tel Aviv, I was asked if I knew any violent Palestinians. Responding in the negative I was told, “Well, we think you do, but we can accept that you don’t know that you do — but you do”. The Israeli state sees all Palestinians as potential terrorists - it regularly rounds up all Arab men between 18 and 30 in many areas and interns them without charge - and so anyone who associates with them is, at best, an ‘unwitting associate’ of terrorists. This view now seems to be extended to politically engaged journalists such as myself.

Tired staple of writing theory as it is, to write well you need to write about what you know, and to know well what you are writing about. Through my political activism I know well the Palestinian communities that I lived in. It is ironic, however, that this time I had actually come to Israel to write about the Israeli side of the struggle — the Israeli left and peace movement.

It is very important to diversify the representation of Israel within the peace movement and within the national media arena, because for most people, including most Palestinians, Israelis are seen only as soldiers: killers and snipers. Civil disobedience by peace and justice movements within Israel is largely invisible. Israeli peace forces such as Tay’Ush, the Arab-Jewish partnership for peace, Anarchists Against the Wall and the growing refusniks movement represent a mounting Israeli consciousness, vital to resolving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. This is, of course, anathema to the political right within Israel, who’s Final Solution for the Palestinians is the squeezing out of Palestinian communities through the division of the West Bank and the enlargement of already illegal settlements.

Israel likes to define itself as the only democracy in the Middle East. Democracy means a plurality of views, of voices and of positions; the fact that I write from a left-wing position should not render me voiceless. When what can be said, or heard, or read, is decided by those in power, it can lead to a social psychosis, a false reality; and this is not just undemocratic but also totally delusional and destructive to any society. The human rights violations committed by the Israeli army are a reality many supporters and citizens of Israel would like to ignore and would like to deny. Recently when I told a former soldier about the killing of Baha Al Bahesh, a fourteen year-old boy from Nablus, that I saw two years ago, I was told, “You dreamed it”. I also saw peace activist Brian Avery have his face blown off by a .50 calibre bullet shot from an Israeli armoured personnel carrier in Jenin last year. “You’re wrong, it came from the Palestinians”‘ was the answer. Writing about life in occupied Palestine — investigating, witnessing and actually trying to prevent human rights violations  is a form of activism, and communicating those human rights abuses to a wider audience is an essential part of my advocacy journalism.

Even though my political activism in the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) has been used to argue that I am a security threat I am proud to be associated with it. White westerners are not supposed to leave their comparative comfort zones and get involved in bloody and violent conflicts in the Middle East; are not supposed to put their bodies between bullets, tanks and children. They are not supposed to dismantle government security walls, accompany ambulances and emergency services, live with, laugh with and grow attached to ‘security threat’ families and communities. Yet by doing all of this, the ISM volunteers have catalysed, genuine relationships  between internationals and Palestinians, and also between Israelis and Palestinians, contradicting the Israeli-state pushed belief that coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis is impossible.

I am a politically engaged journalist; my writing has a biased and loaded agenda — the promotion of human rights and social justice. I am motivated by the belief in writing as an agitational tool in support of struggles which are challenging oppressive realities, demanding and generating grassroots power and reclaiming lives lost to racist and colonialist agendas. None of this is dangerous to the people of Israel, rather it holds out a hope that Israelis will not always be prisoners in their land. As the grassroots peace and anti-capitalist movement swell across the world, and their currents start to chart new territories, borders — ideological and physical — are crossed, and new alliances, politics and consciousness can be forged.

The struggle to allow engaged journalism within Israel is a fight to create real Israeli democracy, in the hope that the Israeli social movements can, together with the Palestinian social movements, create real peace.

EWA JASCIEWICZ is a British-Polish journalist and peace activist. She was recently detained by the Israeli authorities while trying to enter the country in order to write for the magazine Red Pepper, and has been detained since Wednesday 11th August while appealing against deportation. This article is an edited version of a statement dictated from Ben Gurion detention centre on Monday evening.

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