This is the final chapter of Road Map to Nowhere â€“ Israel/Palestine since 2003 To appear in July 2006 with Verso.
The Struggle: Expanding the Prison Cells
Right from the very beginning of
But by 2003 there was a feeling, especially among the new, young generation of Israeli activists that joined the anti-occupation struggle during the intifada, that these acts of solidarity were not sufficient. While they were of crucial importance in building the anti-occupation movement and directing Israeli attention to the realities of the occupation, they did not develop into a joint Israeli-Palestinian political struggle, led by the Palestinians themselves. By the end of 2002, the construction of the
At the same time, however, another model of support for the Palestinian struggle had been developing in the
A handful of young Israeli activists decided to join the ISM individually, often without exposing their identity as Israelis. In 2002, they started traveling in all areas of the
In early 2003, on the eve of the
At the beginning of March 2003, a Palestinian Emergency Committee (PEC), was formed, comprising NGOs and human rights groups. It extended a call to the Israeli anti-occupation forces to stand together and to plan shared acts of protection. In response, representatives of 16 Israeli anti-occupation groups met in Tel Aviv on March 12, and a week later there was a joint meeting with the PEC. Of the many initiatives agreed on, I will follow here just one, which pertains to the future development of the joint Palestinian/Israeli struggle against the wall. In fact, following the meeting, there was some debate in the Israeli anti-occupation camp which is important to pay attention to precisely because it regarded the very definition and concept of a Palestinian-led joint struggle. The debate took place in e-mails to the mailing list of the Coalition of Women for Just Peace (CWJP), where many of the other anti-occupation groups are also represented. Since this was a closed mailing list exchange, I will omit the names of the participants, but I can disclose that I identify with A.
A few days after the Tel Aviv meeting, the coordinator of the CWJP list sent a message: â€œWe have a request from Ta’ayush: Is the Coalition willing to donate money for food to the Palestinians in the territories?…â€. This solicited the following response from A.
Fri, 21 Mar 2003 18:49:54 +0100
Subject: Re: [CWJP] funding for food?
…I attended the meeting of March 12 of all anti-occupation organizations at Gush Shalom’s office. This was a response to the appeal by the Palestinian Emergency Committee to the Israeli organizations. Y.H. presented the summary of a previous meeting with the committee, and the “list” of their requests from us. One very explicit thing they said is that at the present emergency stage, they don’t need food. They prepared for the emergency locally, and they feel this front is covered. What they need from us is political support. A request they attached much importance to was that there would be also Israelis among the international solidarity people in the territories, particularly in this dangerous period.
I believe there is a deeper reason for their request for us not to focus now on food, a reason which I deeply share. If we continue to focus on food donations, this suggests that our responsibility to what is going on is that of a charity organization… (Of course I don’t mean to imply that people should not donate – only that we shouldn’t feel we are doing any form of struggle this way)… The challenge the Palestinian Emergency Committee posed to us is a real one. Being present in towns and villages which face most danger at this time is taking real responsibility. It is difficult, even dangerous. Obviously the army is trying to intimidate the international solidarity people, with Rachel Corrie dead, and Eric Hawanith, 21, from
Through the responses and discussion that followed, it became apparent that there were two fundamental questions on which the participants could not achieve consensus. One concerned whether food convoys were still a meaningful form of struggle at the time. The other was the concept of the joint struggle, with A representing the position that it should be the Palestinians who lead the struggle and propose its focus and strategies. The following reply from a member of Taâ€™ayush addressed the first question, explaining the importance of maintaining the food convoys:
Date: Sat, 22 Mar 2003 23:01:39 +0200
To: “Coalition of Women for a Just Peace”
Subject: A’s email
I must disagree with A.
First the facts. According to the World Bank the effects of the siege are stupendous. Twenty-seven months after the outbreak of the intifada, 60 percent of the population of the
As to politics. I share with A. her fear that Israeli activists will underplay the politics of resistance and underscore in its stead a humanitarian approach. But this again is not the case regarding the food campaign.
In South Hebron, for example, one of the locations to which we delivered food this week the local population is fighting daily with their teeth to hold on to the land, despite the harassment, constant intimidation and violence of the settlers and Israeli military. The food supply and solidarity visit we held there earlier this week is crucial for their struggle, which is actually our struggle. Indeed, the food supply is meant to strengthen the Tzumud [sticking to the land] of the Palestinians, who are fighting against all odds, trying to hang on while Sharon and the Israeli government constantly and systematically destroy their infrastructure of existence.
Second, the activities Ta’ayush organizes, including the food campaign, manage to do a few other things. First, by going to closed military areas we break the military siege, the political, physical, and psychological barriers that are at the basis of
Third, the food campaign is used to mobilize the Israeli and international public, by exposing once again the oppression and subjugation of the Palestinian people. In and of itself the exposure of the dire poverty in the occupied territories, particularly during a period in which the media cares about nothing but the war against
The discussion continued, with most participants siding with B and adding further arguments as to the importance of food convoys. No one doubted the importance of humanitarian work and aid to suffering people. However, Aâ€™s perspective was that such aid cannot replace political struggle. Focusing on just a battle for the survival of the oppressed means, indirectly, accepting that the situation cannot be reversed. Where hope lies is in the next phase of resistance and struggle. In any case, the crucial factor at the time was that the initiative to shift the focus away from aid and solidarity work came from the Palestinians. This second question, on the meaning of a joint struggle, was largely ignored in the discussion. A replied to B and others:
Date: Sun, 23 Mar 2003 20:00:12 +0100
Subject: [CWJP] Facing the Palestinian emergency appeal
Trying to figure out the way the discussion of the Palestinian emergency appeal has developed, I think two issues have been conflated. The one, that most responses related to, is our daily and long-term strategies facing the atrocities of the occupation and the suffering of the Palestinians, and the other, which I have been trying to focus on, is our response to the appeal of the Palestinian Emergency Committee (PEC ).
As far as I can see, none of the responses pro food-donations in the present discussion addressed the specific statement of our Palestinian partners. The discussion remained an internal assessment of what the Israeli anti occupation forces believe is good now for the Palestinians, or for the political struggle of Israelis.
The appeal of the PEC to the Israeli organizations is something of a historical precedence, and, in my opinion, it deserves more attention…
Regarding [the PEC’s request for] presence in areas of danger: The last days, a group of us has been forming, who would like to work on this front. The basic concept shaped through further consultation with PEC and ISM, is that in the West Bank, the area in most danger is the North – areas around the new “fence” (Qalqilia, etc)…
The debate continued for several days, and then died out without reaching an agreement. Those who eventually answered the Palestinian call were at the time the activists of the young generation (most of whom did not concern themselves with this old-guard email debate). There was at that stage, a difference in views between the younger generation, which was ready to cross the lines and join the Palestinians in their struggle, and the established anti-occupation groups who were more cautious (but who would eventually join in). At about the same time, I had signed (together with around a hundred thousand people from around the world) a Znet-initiated petition that emerged in response to the threat of a new era of U.S.-led war. The signatories committed themselves to a grassroots struggle for peace and justice, in solidarity with oppressed peoples throughout the world. I decided to join the younger generation of Israeli activists in their pursuit of a meaningful grassroots struggle.
On April 5 2003, as the
The bulldozers have arrived to the village Mas’ha, adjacent to the Israeli settlement Elkanah. Elkana is about 7 kilometers away from the green line, but the route of the fence, approved in the government meeting of June 24, 2002, was changed so that it will include Elkana as well in the Israeli side. The bulldozers have started to separate Mas’ha, in effect, from its only remaining source of livelihood after two and a half years of closure. 98% of the lands of Mas’ha will be placed in the Israeli side of the fence – between the fence and the green line, together with thousands of dunams of Bidia Sanniriya and other villages in the area. Along with the lands that will be cut off the villages, the fence disconnects the road from Jenin to Ramallah, a segment of which will now be in the Israeli side of the fence, thus establishing further the isolation of the Palestinian enclaves from each other.
The initiative to establish the camp came from the villageâ€™s farmers, who were losing their land. The driving force was Nazee Shalabi, a father of seven, who was determined to not give up his land without a struggle. He gathered together a group of equally determined fellow villagers, among them Tayseer Ezzedden and Raâ€™ad Amer, and together with Riziq Abu Nasser, the head of the Land Defense Committee in the Salfit region, they mobilized the village council, organized demonstrations and made contact with international activists in the area. The international womenâ€™s group IWPS (International Womenâ€™s Peace Service), based in the nearby
The Masâ€™ha camp was erected close to the path of the wall, with the aim of documenting, protesting, focusing Israeli and world attention, but strictly avoiding confrontations with the Israeli bulldozers or army. It was obvious that any attempt to physically disrupt the work on the wall would immediately lead to the military sealing off the area and dismantling the camp. By adhering to its principles of non-violent resistance, the camp lasted for four months.with the Israeli army unable to find an excuse to destroy it. 
A constant 24-hour presence in the camp was maintained, with a minimum of two Israelis, two Palestinians and two internationals sleeping there every night, and often many more. On the Israeli side, the camp quickly attracted a wide spectrum of young activists, ranging from environmental and animal-rights activists, to anarchists, students and high-school kids. This was the new generation of the anti-occupation struggle – youth that got their political education through alternative internet zines, and who were themselves involved in forming the Israeli Indymedia. Some were graduates of the
The Masâ€™ha camp quickly became the center of the struggle against the wall, with bigger groups spending a day there on activities ranging from demonstrations and non-violent resistance training, to meetings and discussions that went on long into the night. The principles shared by the young activists were those of the global movements: direct democracy and grassroots struggle. Significantly, this was the first time in the entire history of the Occupation that a real joint Israeli-Palestinian grassroots struggle was forming. Previously, Israeli-Palestinian cooperation had been the product of coordination between the “leaderships” in Ramallah and Tel Aviv, often ending in nothing more than the issuing of a joint petition. In Masâ€™ha, the spirit of direct democracy prevailed: decisions on the actions and policies of the joint struggle were taken in meetings at the camp by those present, rather than made by some remote leadership. For many of the Israelis, this was the first time that they had encountered the other side, while the Palestinians had only known Israelis as employers or soldiers. â€œUntil you arrived,â€ Nazee Shalabi said once, â€œI didnâ€™t have any idea that there were Israelis who want to live with us in peace.â€ In the midst of the discourse of blood and terror that has prevailed in
The American activist and writer Starhawk, who visited Masâ€™ha as part of her trip with the ISM, captured vividly its spirit in her piece â€˜Next year in Masâ€™haâ€™:
On the eve of Passover, after a month I spent in the occupied territories of Palestine working with the International Solidarity movement, a month that saw one of our people deliberately run over by a bulldozer driven by an Israeli soldier, and two young men deliberately shot, one in the face, one in the head, I found myself unable to face the prospect of a Seder, even with my friends in the Israeli peace movement. I couldn¹t sit and bewail our ancient slavery or celebrate our journey to the promised land. I was afraid that I might spew bitterness and salt all over any Seder table I graced, and smash something. So I went to the peace encampment at Masâ€™ha. Masâ€™ha needed people, and the moon was full, and I thought I could just lay down on the land under the moonlight and let some of the bitterness drain away…
To be at Masâ€™ha is to be on the absolute edge of the conflict. The road block that separates the village from the settlement is the divide between two realities. I got to Elkanah from Tel Aviv on the settlers¹ bus, full of elderly women who could have been my aunts and old men that could have been my uncles… We drove through one settlement to let people off and I got a tour of what looks like a transplanted Southern California suburb, complete with lush gardens and new houses, all with an aura of prosperity and complacent security-provided by armed guards and razor wire and the Israeli military… From Elkanah, I walked down the road a few hundred yards and climbed over the road block bulldozed to keep Palestinians out of
The camp at Masâ€™ha is on a knoll, two pink tents set up in an olive grove on stony ground studded with wildflowers, yellow broom, and prickly pear. The olives give shade and sometimes a backrest. If you look in one direction, the groves are spread out below the hilltop for miles of a soft gray green with blue hills in the back ground and small villages beyond, But encircling the hill, and cutting a gray swath across the hillsides, is the zone of destruction, a wide band of uprooted trees and bare subsoil, where a giant backhoe is wallowing like some giant, prehistoric beast, grabbing and crushing stones, gouging the earth, filling the air with dust and the mechanical bellowing of its engines…
A young man is sitting under a tree as I arrive, writing on stones with a black marker. He¹s a farmer, he tells me. In Arabic, he writes, “Don¹t cut the trees.” He thinks for a moment, and adds another graceful line. I ask him to translate. He gives me a sweet smile, and points to the ground. “What is this?” “Earth?” I ask… “The earth speaks Arabic,” he tells me.
All the Israelis but one have gone, to celebrate Pesach with their families. There are only two of us from the ISM and one woman from IWPS who stay over, along with two of the Palestinians, to guard the camp. As the full moon rises, I lie on the stones and meditate. I am hoping to find some peace or healing, but the earth is tortured here and all I can feel is her anguish. Down and down, through layers and centuries and epochs, I hear the ancestors weeping. The land is soaked in blood, and generations have faced ruthless powers and been cut down, and why should we be any different? I am woken up at three AM to take my shift on watch. I sit by the fire, exhausted, and finally drift back into sleep, waking again in the morning feeling sick at heart.
But people begin to arrive, for a midday meeting. The women from the IWPS, and the men from the village, and dozens of Israelis. We sit under the tent with its sides raised, talking about building an international campaign against the wall. One of the men, a stonemason, makes miniature buildings out of the stones at our feet as we talk. “Maybe we canâ€™t stop it here,” one man from the village says,”
But maybe we can stop it other places.”
The Israelis who come are mostly young. They are anarchists and punks and lesbians and wild-haired students, and it strikes me that the mayor of Masâ€™ha and the village leaders in a very socially conservative society might actually have more in common with the Orthodox Jews who hate them than with these wild, social rebels. But the village accepts them all with good grace and a warm-hearted Palestinian welcome. One woman is from the group “Black Laundry”, which requires a somewhat complicated three-way translation of a Hebrew play on words. [In Hebrew, the word for laundry is kvisa, and the word for sheep is kivsa. So the name of the group -black laundry suggesting exposure of evil, creates an association with black sheep â€“ standing for those viewed by the consensus as deviant.] She explains that it is a lesbian direct action group, and asks our translator if that¹s a problem. “Not for me,” he says with a slightly quizzical shrug, and the meeting goes on.
Later we meet with the village women, who want to know if we can help them in any way. They are about to lose their source of livelihoodâ€¹is there anything we can do? We have a long discussion about what we do in the ISM, and promise to research organizations that do community development work.
Back at the camp, all the young shabab-the term for young, unmarried men–have come out for the evening. We sit around the fire while two of the men prepare us dinner, laughing and talking. And suddenly I realize something wonderful is happening. The Israelis and the Palestinians can talk to each other, because most of the young men speak Hebrew. They are hanging out around the fire and talking and telling stories, laughing and relaxing together. They are hanging out just like any group of young people around a fire at night, as if they weren¹t bitter enemies, as if it could really be this simple to live together in peace.
So it was a strange Seder this year, pita instead of Matzoh, the eggs scrambled with tomato, hummous instead of chicken soup, water instead of wine, and instead of the maror, the bitter herbs which I have already tasted, a slight sweet hint of hope.
I can¹t ever again say “next year in
By next year, the camp at Masâ€™ha will most likely be gone. Already the contractors who work for the Israeli military have begun blasting a chasm that will soon cut the olive groves off from the village. An international campaign to stop the building of the wall has begun, but the reality is that they have the capacity to build it faster than we can organize to stop it.
And yet I say it again, as an act of pure faith:
Next year in Masâ€™ha.
By mid June 2003, about a thousand Israelis had visited the camp or stayed overnight, and the core of regular Israeli activists was approaching three hundred people. The camp was beginning to attract some media coverage, thereby focusing attention on the wall, which until that point had hardly had any public debate in
From the start, the Masâ€™ha camp faced an apparently unexpected obstacle â€“ the Palestinian Authority. Not only did the PA district representatives not back the villageâ€™s grassroots organization; they also exerted all kinds of pressure against the camp. The reasons behind such behaviour are complex and painful. As we have seen, following the
We should note that even three years after work on the wall had started, the Ramallah headquarters of the PA had still done nothing to protest against it, or to support the struggle of the people living along the path of the wall. In December 2004, eighteen months after the events of Masâ€™ha, when protest had already spread all along the wallâ€™s route, Haâ€™aretz reported on a demonstration by dozens of Palestinians outside Palestinian cabinet meeting in Ramallah. They accused the cabinet of doing nothing to stop the wall: â€˜The ministers don’t care about the barrier, it doesn’t affect them. They get VIP treatment at checkpoints and send their children to study abroad,â€™ Salameh Abu Eid, 25, from Biddu village told Reuters… â€˜We ask you, Qureia, to stop supplying cement for the wall!â€™ they shouted… The furious demonstration attested to growing popular discontent with the perceived incompetence and corruption of the Palestinian Authority, which has contributed to a surge in popularity of Islamist militants.â€ Sometimes, the Palestinian Authorityâ€™s measures against the struggle were disturbingly comparable to Israeli ones. In May 2005, in a similar demonstration organized by the popular committee of the