Why the Boycott-Law is something good

While I may be accused of missing the boat due to the lateness of this post, I still think it is relevant to put this view forward. I think activists opposed to Israeli settlements and state racism should see the Boycott law, perhaps more specifically the reactions against it, as a victory – and perhaps as a sign of a turning point which could change what it is possible to say about the Israeli/Palestinian situation in North America.

Perhaps most significant written event is the New York Times editorial “Not Befitting a Democracy”, which asserts that Israel’s reputation as a vibrant democracy has been “seriously tarnished” by the passing of the boycott law, and praises the Israeli newspaper Haaretz for calling the law “politically opportunistic and antidemocratic”. This editorial does not reflect a shift in the paper’s support for Israel; the NY times remains “opposed to boycotts of Israel”, but this law changes the question – the issue is no longer “boycott or not” but whether one should have the right to boycott or not – the editor calls this “a fundamental issue of free speech.” The editorial also refers to the growing strength of the BDS movement, and explains the new law as a reaction against it; “Israel’s conservative government is determined to crush a growing push by Palestinians and their supporters for boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel” – but significantly, the motivations of the boycotters is not brought up as a way to delegitimize their right to free speech.

By changing the conversation from “boycott or not” to “the right to boycott or not the right to boycott”, the Israeli administration has severely weakened its PR position against the BDS movement. And I don’t think they can go back – to withdraw the law on principled grounds would be a sign of weakness against the growing strength of the BDS movement, but to enforce it will produce an insane situation in Israeli society as domestic activists organize to disobey the law en masse.

Unsurprisingly, the boycott law has received much stronger condemnation in Israel than in the mainstream press outside it – Alon Idan of Haaretz has called it fascism – not something along the slippery road to fascism, but fascism full stop.

I do not know if opposition to the boycott law has become a rallying cry in the massive protests which have erupted in Israel this week, but I hope this moment becomes a crystallizing event around which the left in Israel can reform, and re-orient themselves to become a genuine possible peace partner for a resolution to the conflict there.

But for the situation in North America, I think the most important thing may be the breaking of the taboo against criticizing “Israeli democracy”. It’s always been acceptable to criticize this within Israel, but much less so in America. I hope that the opposition against the boycott law can lead to more substantial criticisms of “Israeli democracy”, the racism in Israeli civil society and it’s anti-Palestinian welfare state system, as well as criticism of the occupation as a war crime, and the continued expulsion of the refugees from their villages as racist and anti-democratic. But this won’t happen on its own – it’s up to writers, journalists mostly, to make these connections while the window of permissibility remains open.

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Review: “Scars of War, Wounds of Peace” by Shlomo Ben-Ami

I was inspired to read Ben-Ami’s book when I saw his debate with Norman Finkelstein on democracy now. Unlike most debates between a intellectual concerned with Palestinian rights and an Israeli interlocutor, this debate did not devolve into bickering about facts and repeated accusations of lying on both sides. Instead, Ben-Ami seemed to accept the basic facts, and even accept Finkelstein’s corrections on certain points – while maintaining a disagreement in the realm of values. And while I may not like listening to someone who talks about the tragic events of the Naqba while justifying them as part of the greater purpose of Zionism, it is at least refreshing to hear an Israeli politicien who does not dismiss “Naqba” as a dirty word, as part of project of denying the Palestinians a narrative.

Ben-Ami’s work tells the history of Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian relations from before the establishment of the Israeli state right up to the point where the peace process most nearly reached a settlement – the Taba Summit in the year 2000. The book talks almost entirely about political relations, from the perspectives of different leaders and the various forces that play upon them. What’s interesting is that he doesn’t seem to have an agenda of displaying Israel is a particularly positive light. While he is not as critical as Uri Avnery of figures like Ben Gurion and Moshe Dayan, he does come to roughly the same conclusion – that Israel’s militaristic frame of mind, the way the golden calf of “security” dominated over all other inter-state considerations, was an essential bulwark against peace in many different situations.

At the same time, the book is clearly partisan – Ben-Ami’s portrayal of Arafat is decidedly negative, the picture of a a leader who never understood the conditions of the time and therefore failed his people repeatedly. His depiction of Arafat, however, does not make Israel look good – he’s remarkably honest about the way Israel used the PLO during the first intifada to avoid negotiating with the Palestinian leadership in the Occupied Territories at that time. And near the end of the book he does show a greater sympathy for Arafat’s position – contrasting the political situation in Israel in which a government could move forward with a proposal unpopular to the opposition without fear of the political system breaking down (although they did need at times to fear a coup by the military), whereas the Palestinian political situation depended on holding together a lose alliance of different forces within the PLO, and even appease dissent from the hardline within Fatah,  Arafat’s own party.

This is a useful book for Palestinian activists who desire a greater understanding of the inner-political workings of the Israeli state, and want to get past simplifications like “Israel is a military dictatorship” (which is at least partially true), or “Israel has made generous concessions for peace” (which is only ever true only if you compare their offers with their original territorial aspirations). It’s a complex a window into the psychology of Israeli leadership, and on the tense relationship between the civilian and military leadership, and it being written from an insider’s perspective makes it all the more valuable.

Surprisingly, I think the amount of information and analysis the book gives you up to this point really allows you to make up your own mind on the reasons for failure at Taba and afterwards, and on which party to place blame. Ben-Ami’s perspective is unsurprisingly that Arafat missed his chance at Taba, failed to recognize his opportunity, or why the offer on the table before the election would no longer be there afterwards. But who you choose to blame here depends on which side your allegiances lie – if you are sympathetic to Israel you will probably blame Israel’s shift to the right in the election following Taba on “Palestinian terror”, and call the Palestinian leadership short-sighted for not understanding the likely political effect of an armed campaign on the psychology of the Jewish Nation. On the other hand, if you are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause you’ll likely blame the Israeli populace for voting in a far right government headed by a war criminal, for whom any kind of “generous” peace with the Palestinians would be replaced by an invasion of the West Bank, who’s ramifications on Palestinian society are not properly understood, either in the West or in Israel itself.

 

Review: “Israel Without Zionists” by Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery’s book Israel Without Zionists, written in the early aftermath of the ’67 war, tells the story of Israel’s formation and first period of existence. It comprises personal histories and character profiles of major figures such as Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan, along with accounts of how Israel and its neighbors stumbled into war in ’56 and ’67. It also provides a frank account of the Nakba, and proposes a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which still feels relevant today.

Avnery’s book excels as a history by using facts and narratives to distill themes and cycles in Israeli-Arab relations. In part one of the book, entitled “The Vicious Circle”, he in various ways advances the case that the history of zionism in Palestine is caught in a viscous circle of violence and mutual non-recognition with the Arab nationalist movement. The palestinian nationalist movement, according to Avnery, has never recognized that Zionism was not simply a puppet of western imperialism but rather a legitimately self-motivated movement which used western imperialist forces for their own gain. And on the other hand, zionists refuse to recognize arab nationalists in palestine as genuinely palestinian, or as anything other than an inconvenience – fundamentally zionism believes Palestine to be an empty country, and any rootedness Arabs feel in the land can therefore not be seen by zionist politiciens. This disjunct repeats itself in an Israeli leadership unwilling and uninterested in making peace with its Arab neighbors, and Arab neighbors unwilling to recognize Israel’s existence on borders which Israel found acceptable.

In the book’s second half, entitled “breaking out”, Avnery finds a contradiction in contemporary (well, contemporary in the 1960s) Israeli society, and finds in its possible resolution a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The idea, roughly, is that Zionism is a failed idea because as it turns out there is no “Jewish Nation” in the way Zionism traditionally held. However, Zionism has, through the creation of the state of Israel, created a nation – the Hebrew nation. The solution to the conflict, therefore, is to erode the centrality of Jewishness to the state of Israel, and instead emphasize Israelis common Semitic identity as speakers of a Semitic language – something they share with the rest of the Arab world. The problem of the refugees, he believes, can be solved by offering Palestinians the free choice between compensation and repatriation, and a Palestinian Republic should be set up on the territory occupied in 1967, eventually to be united with the State of Israel in a federation, perhaps named “The Federation of Palestine”.

It’s quite amazing to read this proposal from a book written in 1968, just moments after the land now know as the Palestinian territories were occupied. I wonder how feasible this proposal is today – I certainly haven’t heard of this kind of thing advocated by any strong political movements within Israel. The idea of a two-state settlement has largely been co-opted by zionists who want to use it to preserve the Jewish (i.e. not Hebrew) character of the state of Israel, and has been bought into by Palestinian politiciens willing to sell out the refugees. According to his wikipedia page, apparently Avnery has written plenty more since 1968, and I look forward to reading some of his more contemporary work.

On Taking Sides, and “Why Nationalism doesn’t feel as Statist as I used to Think”

One thing I take home from the experience of living and travelling in various parts of Occupied Palestine, including West Jerusalem and many cities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, is an increased comfort with being partisan, with speaking in explicitly side-taking language about the situation. In the past I consistently and constantly referred to the international community when using language, and when advocating certain positions. For instance, I insisted on calling East Jerusalem part of the “West Bank” rather than part of the State of Israel, because there is virtually no international recognition of Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem despite treating it as part of the State for more than 40 years. Similarly, rather than calling all the land occupied, I made a distinction between the State of Israel within the borders in which it was recognized (the 49-67 armistice lines), and the Occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories, some of which Israel has annexed, and some of which remain under full or partial Israeli military control (it is incorrect to say that Area A in the West Bank, or Gaza, is under full Palestinian military control because Palestinians do not control their borders or Airspace, and incursions/attacks into those areas by IDF remain part of normal life). These distinctions are not explicitly grounded on one’s personal values or allegiances, but on references to international law. Therefore, when they are mobilized in an argument, they are perceived (rightly) as an attack on Israeli exceptionalism, which is a dogma deeply held by Zionists.

The problem with mobilizing the international consensus against Zionists is it creates a situation where one person feels partisan and personally invested in the disagreement, whereas the other is just saying the kind of thing they think anyone should believe. And they are probably right – objectively, Israeli and US rejection of the world consensus on a two-state settlement probably is the sustaining cause of violence and hatred in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But since this is the kind of argument you can understand and make without ever visiting Palestine, without knowing any Palestinians, in a sense it doesn’t require you to personally take sides at all. Instead you make it from a third position of critical autonomy, where your goal is not solidarity with Palestinians or Israelies, and your position is not pro or anti-zionist, it’s simply pro-peace, pro-reconciliation between the communities.

This kind of position confers all sorts of advantages. For instance, it’s the kind of position that lets you work with leftists on both sides, that brings people together, that can create a big happy family. However, perhaps precisely because of the prospects of success for the international consensus on a two state settlement, there is vicious opposition to the idea from within the large portions of Israeli society. Here I mean those who are anti-boycott, anti-67 borders, pro-settlers (“settlers are people too”), anti-peace. Essentially, I think this is the “Masada” strain in Israeli militant ideology – which sees the only options for Israeli foreign policy as absolute military domination of its neighbours, or its own destruction. (In the historical case of Masada, the suicide is not a metaphor).

I think it’s a mistake, however, to engage with Masada-Zionists on a personal level from a third position of critical autonomy – where they have all the emotional investment, and you find yourself simply trying to convince them of something logical, or appealing to the moral principles of universality and hypocricy. In these situations, there is a disjunct of bodies in their ways of dealing with the dialogical conflict – one body is engaged primarily conceptually, in Merleau-Ponty’s terms “cognitive-linguistically”, whereas the Zionist’s body is engaged primarily socio-affectively, or emotionally. This misalignment causes mis-communications, both conceptual and emotional – because each body interprets the other’s performance primarily through the interpretation of the bodily region that they are gripped by. In short: where one body is attending to getting the concepts right and conveying them clearly and distinctly, the other body is hearing the affect and the social implications of what is being said. And where the body that is emotionally gripped is conveying their view with emphasis (whether explicit or not) on their emotional connection to the situation, the body that is cognitively-attuned will mostly hear them getting the concepts wrong.

On the other hand, if you take sides, if you feel and express moral allegiance not for “peace” or “solutions” but instead stand in solidarity with the oppressed – then you can begin to be honest with yourself about your own emotional involvement in the conflict. For myself, this happened when I was taken to a refugee camp cemetery, and I realized vividly that I sympathized not only with bystanders gunned down by Israeli guns and tanks – but also with the martyrs who died fighting the zionists, whether with guns or rocks, it doesn’t matter. I realized that the same logic I believe in North of Ireland applies here – oppression breeds resistance, resistance brings freedom, and that therefore you can not establish a hierarchy of victims. I also realized that these people were from communities which the British failed to defend during the Nakba, the Zionist insurrection (“War of Independence”) of 1948 – and by extension that I might not have been born if Britain had not cowardly pulled out in reaction to Zionist terrorism, and if British troops had been properly deployed to protect the Arab villages, more than 2000 of which were depopulated that year. Moreover, my family’s relative wealth within Canada can’t be disassociated from our British heritage – which made immigration to Canada possible at a time of great opportunity, when migrating here was much easier for the British than people of many other nationalities. As such, I feel an obligation to stand with those who still suffer as a result of this past injustice, and not simply by advocating the international consensus in a non-partisan way, but by taking sides.

Taking sides involves a judgement – which is always both emotional and intellectual – of which side in a conflict is in the right. This can be grounded in other values, such as anti-colonialism, indigenous rights, anti-racism etc, but the decision is not reducible to these values. Taking sides is not the same as declaring that one side is entirely in the right, and the other entirely in the wrong. In any conflict both sides are more than likely to have elements to be criticized, but taking sides means not allowing the complexity of the issue remain a bulwark against action. I think in fact that “complexity”, the idea that a situation can’t be adequately characterized by a simple assertion that says what is wrong, or what some actor should do, is a major power that the status quo can level to defend itself. Worse, it is a power those with the privilege to spend time in a region can often wield over those not in a position to visit (this is likely a key motivation behind the funding of Birthright).

Taking sides on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for requires for me compromising a value which normally I strongly identify with: anti-nationalism. Normally I take a stance critical of any nationalist movements and against nationalist and patriotic sentiment – because it replaces critical understanding with loyalty, and allows states to convince civilians that their own crimes are virtuous whereas the crimes of the enemy are horrific. However, I’ve come to realize that being in a position to be anti-nationalistic can itself be a privilege. For example, Canada doesn’t need my loyalty to fend of an American invasion which would kill many Canadians, and force others to resettle farther north, or in neighbouring countries. The worst effect of Canadian’s lack of loyalty to Canada would be a reduced ability for Canada to pursue military actions overseas. Palestinians are not in a corresponding situation – without national resistance movements there is a real worry that Palestinians would continue to be pushed off their land, to live as perpetual refugees in neighbouring countries. So, whereas nationalism is normally related to states and sometimes to colonizing or controlling land outside a “nation’s state”, Palestinians do not have a state – so their nationalism cannot be “statist”. Nor can it be imperialist, because they don’t have control even over their indigenous territory, and at this point it seems very unlikely that this control will ever be gained. For the meantime, therefore, Palestinian nationalism seems highly connected to anti-colonial resistance.

Of course, Palestine has statist aspirations – in fact if you are reading this after September 2011, there could even be a state of Palestine. And associated with those statist aspirations there are all kinds of unpleasant aspects to the Palestinian National Authority – corruption, collaboration with the oppressor, and perhaps the worst: abandoning the core demands of the Palestinian people in favour of increasing their own power. This became explicit with the release of the Palestine Papers, which made it clear that Abbas was willing to give up control over virtually every piece of territory East of the Green Line which Israel desired, as well as control over airspace, the Jordan Valley, and specifically abominably – the right of refugees to return. This doesn’t surprise me, nor does it surprise me that the Palestinian “preventative security forces” (a kind of army, but without tanks, anti-tank weapons, aircraft, artillery, or any of the weaponry that you would associate with a modern army) are notorious for breaking up protests. The power centres that have been created through Oslo are creating a neo-colonialist enclave, where Palestinians will be oppressed by their own people rather than the IDF.

But this hasn’t quite happened yet. For now, the Palestinian preventative security forces are made up of the same kind of people who fought the Israelis in the al-aqsa intifada, and I’ve heard that most fight them again if there is another uprising. And while the goal of power centres may be to use the Palestinian people against itself, at the same time the creation of disciplined Palestinian security forces is a symbol and reality of strength for this community. It’s this double-edged sword of Oslo which opens the space in which I’m comfortable respecting and supporting Palestinian nationalism – because it remains a nationalism of the oppressed, and its institutions are strengths which can be turned back against the Zionists if there is another uprising.

Shoot to Kill – in the leg?

So, I know I’ve been writing about how I’m not going to continually spit the news back at you. But, I feel this is an exception because it’s an example of something that people in Palestine told me about, and I recognized it therefore not as an isolated incident. I think it’s useful for people to know that something isn’t isolated, and that rather it’s an example of an everyday or at least normalized procedure.

The incident is the shooting of 3rd year Engineering student Ibrahim Sarhan, from Nablus in the West Bank. He was shot by an IDF shortly after leaving morning prayers, and although he was shot in the leg, Israelis prevented ambulances from reaching him for so long that he bled to death.

I don’t know what the motivation behind this tactic is – perhaps to avoid accusations of “shoot to kill” while carrying out extra-judicial killings. However, I do know that it is a normal tactic, and that it was widespread during the 2nd intifada.

Acts like this make a mockery of the IDF’s ethics code, and if interpreted properly reveal not only the brutality, but the stale normality of occupation. The difficult thing for outsiders is to be able to judge the exceptional incidents from the everyday.

Against North American Politics: The Big Picture, or halas!

Returning to Toronto from a situation where politics is a matter of survival, not only for individuals on the margin but for a community as such, has made me bored with the everyday political rattle of Toronto. Today apparently council voted to remove a bike lane. This is clearly a bad thing – but I have trouble caring about it. It’s just one more little defeat, not insignificant, but no more significant than the little victories achieved when this type of inadequate and unsafe bike-lane is installed. I can as easily as the next person (perhaps more easily) become embroiled in a discussion about the technicalities of city planning, sustainability, relative safety, the externalizing of automobile costs in the form of un-perceived risks onto cyclists who benefit drivers by freeing the roads of heavier traffic, etc… But, in order to become obsessive about this kind of debate (which in truth simply sets the God of efficiency/ge-stell against the God of profit and selfishness), you have to believe – or forget that you don’t believe – that these kinds of little traumas are battles in some big-picture of building a better society, or saving the planet from carbon emissions, or, or, etc…

But halas! (It’s enough!) This politics of a million individual priorities, where everyone has their own personal values and their own personal way of harmonizing the values of capitalism with efficiency and sustainability, and says “if only we passed this kind of tax”, or “if only we subsidized this kind of activity” – this fails to mobilize me. Not because I think some particular assemblage of values it pursues is “false”, or because its highest goals of pursuing a better society, a fair society, or a sustainable society are “bad goals”, or even that they are not necessary (in the case of climate change, these goals are by any human standard absolutely necessary). But rather because values are social, and the quality of a politics can not only be judged by their correctness with respect to a hypothetical outcome, but also and more importantly by the unity and political force, which usually means resistance, that they mobilize in a society. The way values are mobilized here have the sense of “flogging a dead horse” – groups tend to be too interested in their own internal perfection to adequately value the need for social unity, which always means compromise, and also means being historically and culturally (situationally) appropriate to your own time and place.

To puts things simply: if the conflict isn’t clear – then how can we expect politics to coalesce into movements. Even in places where the strife and danger is much clearer and present than here, there are huge difficulties in mobilizing around a set of values in such a way that creates the political force or resistance to pursue those values. Why do North Americans think that unity can be formed around solutions to problems, when we continue to disagree on what the problems are? And in a conflict, it’s not enough to isolate the problems, you also have to identify and isolate your enemy. By focussing on solutions, we imagine that our politics is not about conflict, but simply a large rational discussion in which those of us who think some values are good for society should put them forward and try to convince others why they should agree with us, while our millions of opponents do the same. But those who remove bike lanes (or approve coal power stations, or allow the police to run rampant over civil liberties, or build freeways instead of subways, or shut down passenger train travel, or subsidize SUV production, or approve tar sands development, or privatize Dundas Square, or remove bus routes in low income neighborhoods) don’t  do it because they’ve been convinced or have failed to be convinced by some great arguments – they do it because they act in their interests and in the interests of their friends. When they do it, it’s a win for “their team” – and it’s not the team that the people trying to convince them in good faith otherwise are on.

We’d be better off recognizing that although our politics is boring and individuated, it’s no less a conflict than situations where the tensions and divisions are more poorly concealed. And given ecological realities, the stakes aren’t really any lower – but implicitly we all believe they are, and this is sustained by various ideological functions – most importantly the assumption that the simplest thing is for things to remain the way they are and it takes force to move things away from the status quo, which ignores the huge amounts of violence and ecological destruction which are required to sustain what is sometimes aptly called “business as usual”.

 

The Boycott Law (writing about things I read on the internet)

After spending time in Palestine, I’m much less eager to write on the internet, commenting about news I read on the internet. It feels repetitive, selective, and lacking in the stark honesty which is available when writing about things you see with your own eyes, or about things from the people who experience them.

Still, there are aspects of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict which can’t be grasped merely by living on the land and engaging with locals – even when I was there, reading the news (especially Palestinian news sources like Ma’an news, the Palestine Telegraph and many others) was the only way we could find out what was happening there – because you can’t be all places at all times. For instance, for a while there was an incident just about every day on Harem ash-Sharif, including this incident when settlers drank wine and smashed the bottles, and although we were living only a kilometer from this place we never would have known without a near religious use of google-news. But, when you’re there you can follow up on stories like this – one of our group talked to a Waqf guard at the dome of the rock and confirmed this story, also learning about the strange and tense relation between the Islamic Waqf and occupying IDF forces.

Back home, my only connection to the conflict again become the internet. Having now friends there I can check things, and ask questions, but primarily I’m back to the place I was before, reading articles, using google news and twitter. But I don’t find it exciting much anymore – all the stories of human rights abuses, of house demolitions, of Palestinians shot in the back – they all seem so obvious after hearing similar stories first hand. I’m no longer concerned about journalistic bias or fabrication because I’m comfortable in my knowledge that these events happen as the normal course of things, they are not anomalies.

Right now, however, there is a story which is significant, and while it’s nothing unexpected it is profound and bears commenting on. The issue is the passing of the “Boycott Law” which punishes anyone who targets Israel or the settlements with calls for boycott. The way the law works is targets of a boycott can sue those advocating it for damages without having to prove they have sustained damages. The court then decides on the appropriate compensation.

What’s interesting about the Boycott law is not only the way it is concretizing Israel’s fascism in such an obvious way that it will make the task of articulating criticism of Israel much easier, but also the amount of opposition it has received from both left and right wing Jewish groups and Zionist organizations. Even the Zionist Organization of America and Anti-Defamation League have come out against the law, stating that legislation is not the appropriate way to combat boycotts.

It’s refreshing to see the emergence of a broad based opposition to this piece of right-wing Israeli legislation, and to see the criticism based in principles of free-expression and democracy. I don’t believe Israel ever has been a democracy, but this law may change the field of acceptable discourse and allow people to begin questioning whether Israel is a democracy in circles where the question is currently taboo. Also, broad support of people’s right-to-boycott may similarly erode the taboo against boycotting, and give boycotters within Israeli society sympathy creating a situation in which their voices are heard more clearly.

Perhaps a good strategy now would be to work on creating connections between Israeli’s boycotting the occupation, and internationals supporting the boycott from outside. Unfortunately, as someone who very much wants to return to the occupied territories, I have a difficult decision to make about whether I can continue to support boycott movements publicly.

Adjusting to Toronto, Reflecting on Palestine

After being back two days, it still feels strange to be in Toronto. The weather is so un-desert like, and the streets are completely green. Even with the recent disaster in which CCRI destroyed a significant portion of our garden, our yard is infinitely more green than Ramallah or Kalandia camp. But where the real culture shock comes from is the different priorities here. For instance, over breakfast today my housemates and I found ourselves discussing how we can better utilize our waste – food waste, but also human waste, with the goal being reducing our ecological footprint as close to zero as is possible. In contrast, the garbage solution in Kalandia is someone periodically sets the dumpsters on fire. And whereas we discuss the purchase of rainwater barrels to irrigate our garden, in Kalandia water is stored in barrels because the camp is only supplied with water one day per week – and without water storage houses simply would have no running water on the other days. In other words, while here we discuss water and waste to reduce our eco-guilt, in Kalandia these issues are dealt with out of necessity, and with much less grandiose intentions. This contrast shows how being environmentally conscious is itself a privilege, and relies on a degree of relative stability which much of the world’s population do not enjoy.

Toronto is not a conflict zone. This does not mean there is no conflict or oppression in Toronto; as I return there is a manhunt on where the police are trying to locate an alleged 20,000 “illegal” migrants in the GTA. But conflict does not dominate society here – there are no prolific armed groups, there is no fear of an uprising that would drastically change the political situation.

In some ways, Palestine is a more honest place than Toronto. Oppression is less well concealed, perhaps simply because the situation is more extreme. But also because of the strength of resistance there, specifically the strength of communities which refuse to simply disappear into the rest of the Arab-world. There is nothing Zionists would like more than for Palestinians to disappear, and become Lebanese, Egyptian, Syrian, or Jordanian. But they refuse, and you can see evidence of this refusal in the force of arms levelled against them, and also in the apartheid system which denies most of them entry to the holy city.

In the end, Palestine has forced me to re-consider the national question – the question of whether identification with a nation is always statist, imperialist, oppressive. The answer I think is – not always. There are some nationalisms which are – probably not essentially, but because of their historical situation – anti-colonialist. Even with all the problems with the PA, the collusion between the PA army and the IDF, and the immense inequality and corruption in the Palestinian territories – I still don’t feel the same way about officers or soldiers there than I feel in any other place. This is because the Palestinian territories is not a state, and the soldiers and officers are essentially the same people who fight in the resistance when Israel pursues armed incursions into PA territory. For now, the “state of Palestine” seems something like an anti-state, although there are certainly forces which desire it to turn into something like a normal statist entity.

Back in Toronto, life is good – no occupation, proper water and sewage, recycling services, and many trees. But on the other hand, comparatively little strength in community – the police or army can route around wherever they please in Toronto while searching for undocumented workers, with no fear of being attacked by local militias, and no fear of kids pelting them with stones. People are linked together through work,  social media, and through activist organizations – but they live far from the people they know, and they don’t necessarily know their neighbors or have a good idea of what is happening on their street. As Hamza says, everything good brings something bad with it – and I can see this when contrasting the political and social situations between the Annex (my neighborhood in Toronto), and the neighborhoods I frequented in the West Bank and inside the Zionist entity.

Toad Lane Return

Somehow I made it through Israeli security without being interrogated. It was pretty funny when they had my bag open, and 30 keffiyehs sprawled across the table – they asked: “you have a lot of scarves?”. They also found my book on refuse-nicks, and one on Israeli settler violence.

Arriving back in Toronto is a relief, but it feels strange to be back at Toad Lane without actually having a room to live in. Tonight there is a house meeting, and I’ll find out if I can couch surf here for a few weeks.

Toronto smells wonderful – summer green everywhere, people hanging out on porches, lots of activism. Everything is so different from West Bank. I feel I’ve changed a lot since I left this place at the end of April – I’m quieter, less cognitive, less interested in debating with people to show them that they are wrong. For instance, I’m not interested anymore in the debate over “Israeli Apartheid”. This is a debate over semantics that serves (and has the goal of) concealing the real situation in Palestine – something I’m not interested in being a part of. Of course the Zionist entity is apartheid – more than this, it’s a national socialist state where most property is owned in common and redistributed back to the Jewish nation. Also, it isn’t really a state because it doesn’t have borders, but is constantly expanding by expropriating more and more indigenous land. And it’s fundamentally a national-colonist state, because it holds that any jew, anywhere in the world, has a greater right to live in a village in the state of Israel than a person who was depopulated from that village as a child. But these are just facts – I’m not interested in debating them.

If you want to ask me about my experience in Palestine, go ahead. And if you want to explain to me how your experience was different – that’s fine, do so respectfully. But don’t bicker with me, or expect me to indulge you in one of the popular contemporary debates.

I need now to learn how to live in Toronto again. I need to get a phone, buy groceries, plan my schoolwork over the next few months, meet with professors, and plan my return to the West Bank. Luckily, the weather is wonderful.

From the departure cafe level at Ben Gurion Airport

I’ve spent my seven weeks in occupied Palestine, and now it’s time go home to my everyday reality in Toronto, Canada. Leaving feels strange, feels like I’m waking up   – “back to reality”. But that’s wrong, what I’ve seen here is reality – and in the West Bank I think a few degrees more real than in the indefinitely self-reflexive and over-represented “West”. But to me, a liberal subject raised under the thick veil of publicities and public relations, the dusty real of the West Bank still remains a little beyond me, a little bit a dream. A dream which is not simply pleasant; the West Bank is not a good dream, but a daily nightmare or at best Kafka-esq absurdist routine of apartheid laws, corrupted police and local administration, and a political situation made too complicated by a situation which might be objectively without a reasonable direction in which people can aim. But there are good people in this situation, and I am now lucky enough to call some of them my friends. What astounds me most about these good people is their willingness to look at the situation with all eyes open and be prepared to commit all of themselves to finding the right decision, and also to acting on it.

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