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.