This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:
Rami Almeghari reports from Gaza City on Valentine’s Day, as people celebrate their loved ones despite scarce commodities because of the ongoing Israeli siege. Read transcript and listen to individual segment
Palestinians fight to stay on reclaimed Ein Hijleh land in the Jordan Valley. We talk with Lema Nazeeh of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee. Read transcript and listen to individual segment
Sarah Irving speaks with Uri Gordon, editor of a new book: Anarchists Against the Wall; Direct Action and Solidarity with the Palestinian Popular Struggle. Read transcript and listen to individual segment
Music from Reem Kelani: “Galilean Lullaby”
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Listen to the entire Electronic Intifada podcast:
At this well-known store in Gaza city, customers, mainly young men and women, are buying gifts and flowers to exchange with their relatives, friends and those they love. The activity at the Ambassador of Love store has been repeated every year on Valantine’s Day for the past 14 years.
Nida is a twenty-year-old woman and university student from Gaza city. She is here to mark Valentine’s Day.
I am going to buy some chocolate for my family, my brothers and my parents.
The owner of the store, Waseem Abdo, says that this year’s celebration is a bit different from previous years in terms of the availability of goods he sells.
This year seems to be much slower for business, compared with past years, to meet the needs of our customers. A few days ago, some religious preachers came to my store and started preaching to me against Valentine’s Day celebrations, saying it was prohibited from a religious point of view.
However, Abdo adds that since the Hamas party took political control of the coastal territory in 2007, his business has not been interrupted.
Since 2007, Israel has enforced an economic blockade on Gaza, and stores’ owners like Waseem Abdo have relied on underground smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. Since June of last year, Egyptian authorities have shut down the majority of those tunnels, making many essential goods and commodities scare.
Rami Almeghari for The Electronic Intifada, Gaza.
Video: “Second evacuation of Ein Hijleh,” 12 February. Israeli forces raid village land, demand IDs
Also see Ryan Rodrick Beiler’s photo essay on Ein Hijleh.
Lema Nazeeh: Yesterday, we went — nine people from the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee — to go back to Ein Hijleh after we took the paper from the church that we were allowed to use the land for two months. We arrived there, and set a bonfire and started to work on the village. In 15 minutes, the Israeli forces came, and actually there were 15 jeeps of Israeli forces and special forces which came. They started to evict us again before even talking with us or seeing the papers.
After that, they took three activists right away, they took them aside and for the rest of us, they detained us. After that, they released one and decided to take two of the activists, Mahmoud Zawahre and Monther Amira, and we stayed for two hours in Ein Hijleh. They asked questions, they confiscated my phone, and they took all of our IDs, and after that they told us to go back and that it was [declared] a military zone for one month.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: And what’s the current situation today, after that sweeping arrest raid yesterday?
LN: Now, the lawyer of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee is trying to activate the paper that we have that [says] we can use the land for two months. So now, we’re waiting for the court decision to cancel the military order.
NBF: Can you talk about how determined the community of activists are in trying to reclaim this land and maintain a presence on it now?
LN: Actually, the Jordan Valley, all of the Jordan Valley, is one of our targets, because it’s now on the negotiations table and there is much speaking about it and argument to take it. And for that reason, we as Palestinians reclaiming it as part of the Palestinian land, and we’re not going to lose it, especially because there are water resources and it’s Palestinian land — the [private] owners are Palestinians, and of course we’re going to reclaim it and we’re not going to just turn our backs on it.
NBF: Lema, can you talk about what the plans are, if the military order is overturned, what are the plans that activists have for this village and especially as a symbol of resistance inside the occupied West Bank and inside historic Palestine in terms of reclaiming Palestinian heritage and land?
LN: Actually, this is actually two double [efforts] — because we’re trying to push the Palestinian Authority to not let the Jordan Valley go in the negotiation, so we’re making this one pressure, and the other pressure is on the Israeli forces, that they cannot take it. So we’re trying to push the PA and the Israelis, and of course for that, we’re going to go back each time and reclaim it, we’re not going to give up on the Jordan Valley, that’s for sure.
NBF: Lema, can you talk a little bit more about the current situation inside the Jordan Valley right now, Palestinian villages, Bedouin communities are being demolished on a regular basis. What does the Jordan Valley look like right now?
LN: For example, yesterday when I went back to Ein Hijleh, it was a really sad view to see and it felt really like there were people living here and they were forced out, and every time we hear about a new village in the Jordan Valley, new orders to destroy houses, to confiscate more land, the situation there is really dangerous. Everyone knows it’s really dangerous, and the Jordan Valley must be one of the main topics now.
NBF: Lema, if people want to know more about the work of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, and get regular updates, how can they do that?
LN: We have a Facebook page and Twitter account, and they can follow all the events, all the actions we do, and even the press releases that we release.
Read Sarah Irving’s recent review of this book
Sarah Irving: You are obviously one of the editors of a new book out with AK Press that is a compilation of pre-existing and, I believe, newly-commissioned writings by people involved with Anarchists Against the Wall. Can you give me a little background to the book?
Uri Gordon: Well, the book was an initiative that came out of the Institute for Anarchist Studies in New York, and they are publishing a series of books called Anarchist Interventions which are supposed to be relatively short. They approached the group to do a book with them, and I became involved and we took materials that had appeared in a kind of fanzine that the group had made back in 2007, I believe. And then we also asked people to write new pieces, so the book has essentially two main parts.
The first is a collection of statements and speeches given by members of the group over the years, mostly things that were issued in the early days of the group — calls to action and leaflets, things like that. The second part is slightly longer essays and reflections that address a real wide range of topics like the politics of solidarity and negotiating privilege, internal dynamics, how we relate to friends and family who do not share our views, all of these kinds of topics. Relationship with the media, emotional first aid and dealing with post-trauma, and also a lot of just personal stories and experiences that are told in there.
SI: One of the things that very much came out of the book for me was that there was a real stress from a lot of both the kind of “official” statements but also from a lot of personal statements that Anarchists Against the Wall very much respects the idea that the primary issue here is a Palestinian one, it’s about Palestinian leadership and that Israeli activists really very much have to respect that and be allies. How do you see that as differing from the mainstream Israeli peace movement?
UG: I think that the difference is probably that the mainstream Israeli peace movement does what it does without much contact with Palestinians. There is almost this kind of perception of two separate societies, or as if the West Bank and Gaza is a different country that already has its borders, that is under occupation and therefore things should happen distinctly on each side.
I think that part of the contribution of Anarchists Against the Wall was to really change the default understanding of what resisting the occupation means, and the kind of actions like demonstrations inside Israel, or petitions, or interfaith dialogue or all these things which were in the repertoire of the mainstream left until then, have now been supplanted with the idea of a joint struggle, with the idea of Israelis coming to give solidarity on the ground where they’re invited by grassroots Palestinian initiatives.
Whether that’s for demonstrations in the West Bank, or to accompany olive harvesting, or to be there when there are attacks by settlers or the army, to try to resist housing demolitions, all of these things are now I think understood to be what it means to be truly against the occupation. And we have to remember that the mainstream Israeli peace movement has basically fizzled out over the last ten years or more, and today there is very little that is heard from groups like Peace Now, for example. What they do is mainly — they have a settlement monitoring project, where they monitor the growth of the settlements in the West Bank and the outposts and so on, which I think is useful work, but they don’t organize mass demonstrations anymore, or any of that.
And similar with others — basically as the mainstream of Israeli society shifted to the right in one bloc, the parts of the far left who stayed where they are, also realized the reasons why things like the Oslo process had failed. And therefore what remains of a peace movement, or more of an anti-colonial movement in the Jewish Israeli public is much more radical today, and has defined the faultlines of politics in Israel in a new way.
SI: In terms of dynamics within Israel now, we’ve been hearing a lot over the last year or two maybe of serious problems with racism not just against Palestinians but also against refugees from North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa and from other places. How much do people like those who have been involved in Anarchists Against the Wall try and draw together those kind of struggles, and the ongoing issue of the occupation?
UG: The radical left in Israel is so small that it’s basically the same group of however many dozens of people who are doing everything that Israelis are doing in those various issues. So people who are on Friday with the Anarchists Against the Wall hat going to demonstrate in the West Bank, two days later with the resistance to the Prawer Plan hat , going to participate in resistance to the dispossession and ethnic cleansing of Bedouin citizens in the south. And then another day they are in south Tel Aviv working together with refugees or trying to resist right-wing provocations by even members of parliament coming to raise hatred towards refugees coming from Eritrea or Sudan in Tel Aviv.
So essentially, these things are absolutely linked not just in theory but just because it’s the same handful of people who are taking action on all of these issues.
SI: When you talk about the numbers as being that small in terms of Israel’s activist community, how much space would you say there is in society, and how much of a hope do you think can actually be carried by such a small movement?
UG: Not a lot. And I think many of the participants in Anarchists Against the Wall, and this is something that comes through in the book, are acting despite a lot of despair and cynicism about where things can go. It’s a kind of fatalism that you also hear a lot from the Palestinian counterparts.
I think that it’s important to do no matter how effective it turns out to be in the long run. I think as well it can’t be left to the small Israeli radical community to do this on its own. And that is why there have been increasing calls for supporting boycott, sanctions and divestment coming from outside the country. This combination of international pressure and Palestinian popular struggle with Israeli accompaniment is basically the only method that we really have in order to try and generate some shift in the politics on the ground.
I don’t think that a resolution of the conflict is around the corner. I don’t think that the occupation will end tomorrow. But I also don’t think that things can stay as entrenched as they are for much longer. This kind of current creeping annexation is a real pressure cooker. The way out of it in the immediate term, or the way that that pressure is released may not be necessarily a positive thing, it may take the shape of another large-scale confrontation. But something is going to shift in the coming years in one way or another.
As a child, Chloe Ruthven declares in the opening moments of this film, she hated the Palestinians. It’s a strong statement to make, especially against a backdrop of newsreel from the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing ahead of Israel’s establishment.
Her emotion was the reaction of a child who idolized her grandmother Pamela Cooper and would probably have liked more of her grandmother’s attention. Instead, Cooper was working in refugee camps across the Middle East and establishing the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians.
But as an adult, Ruthven obviously began to wonder what had driven her grandparents’ passion for Palestine. The outcome is The Do Gooders, a film on the question of aid and international intervention in Palestine.
The result, unfortunately, is a confused narrative, with different strands bumping uncomfortably up against one another. There are some important points made — mostly by Lubna Masarwa and other Palestinian speakers — but sadly they are often lost amid a lack of context and sometimes contradictory messages.
The first half hour focuses on volunteers and solidarity activists in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. We witness meetings at Project Hope in Nablus, the opening of Cinema Jenin, human rights observers and a demonstration against the siege in Gaza.
In this section, Ruthven’s voiceover raises some significant issues. Yes, an increasing number of Palestinian (and non-Palestinian) voices are questioning the way in which the West Bank has become the latest fashionable place for Western twenty-somethings to spend a summer “helping” those less fortunate.
Yes, there are deep ethical questions about why a seemingly unqualified, unaffiliated international is “interviewing” a victim of Israeli human rights abuses — especially when the victim is a sobbing minor, unaccompanied by parent or guardian, just released from detention to an empty home which has been trashed by Israeli soldiers.
Some of the volunteers we see are indeed patronizing or uncomprehending of the values and norms around them. But the film’s narrative never seems to grapple with what exactly is wrong; all we hear is that Ruthven is “uneasy” or “uncomfortable.” Hazy Sometimes, indeed, the link between Ruthven’s narrative and the action on screen is hazy. When she heads to Gaza, for instance, we’re told that only “serious aid professionals” can get in — but she then spends her time with activists from the International Solidarity Movement.
Part of this incoherence seems to come from Ruthven’s own lack of knowledge. At the start of her journey she films her Lonely Planet guidebook and her grandmother’s autobiography, and admits to surprise that she’s not seeing the Nakba-era refugee camps depicted there.
Of Ramallah, she “expected tanks” but finds instead “a five-star hotel.” It’s a valid description of the “Ramallah bubble,” but we get no information as to how concentrations of aid money and credit have created this economic and social anomaly.
There is also, one senses, a slight disappointment that Ruthven hasn’t found a crisis. “I couldn’t see what Fassbinder had to do with the people of Jenin,” she comments of the cinematic library there. Perhaps arthouse movies aren’t top priority. But why shouldn’t Palestinians have access to global culture? Breath of fresh air It is therefore a breath of fresh air to hear the activist Lubna Masarwa’s cogent critiques. As she emphasizes, there are deep problems with some international involvement in Palestine, when foreign activists dictate agendas and enforce discourses of “nonviolence” which deny Palestinian ownership of their struggle.
Why aren’t these activists, Masarwa asks, demonstrating at home, resisting their own governments, instead of coming to a place where they don’t understand the issues or the language?
Masarwa’s prominence in the film coincides with a shift in focus, to the multi-billion dollar world of USAID and European Union funding, rather than solitary activists and volunteers (although Ruthven doesn’t seem to articulate how she sees the two as linked, if indeed she does).
Ruthven is whisked off with “her own private PR woman and a jeep with tinted windows” to visit USAID programs. The water projects each cost US taxpayers $45 million, yet, says the “off-script” engineer to alarm from the PR woman, USAID is fully aware that restrictions on Palestinian water use enforced under the Oslo accords render the expensive pumps useless.
In the Jordan Valley, meanwhile, a shepherd named Abu Sakr makes the most telling statement of the entire film: “I don’t want [World Food Program] flour and the lentils,” he says. “I want the international community to pressure Israel so I can use my own resources on my own land.” Simplistic Ruthven’s naivete is a major aspect of her narrative device, but as she is the film’s main voice, it also means that the conclusions are frustratingly simplistic. “I’d had no idea how dependent the Palestinian economy was on aid,” she states. The obvious question is why, when making a documentary on aid in Palestine, she hadn’t done such basic homework?
She draws dichotomies between “aid” and “political action” without clarifying who she sees as being guilty of separating the two. Later, she says that she has learned that “the people at the top can’t change anything” — which seems to contradict her earlier call for political rather than humanitarian action.
“I was beginning to feel frustrated about how stuck it all seemed,” she declares. “What the fuck is all this non-violent resistance? Just get violent!”
In making such statements, she is guilty of the same agenda-dictating she earlier criticized, as well as ignoring the dangers which Palestinians have to weigh up when they select their tactics.
As often with critical narratives, the final problem is the failure to propose answers.
We get a brief view of the work of Dalia, a community-based organization, held up because of its independent stance and refusal of funding which comes with strings attached. But again, the wider context is absent — for instance, the attempt by an entire network of Palestinian non-governmental organizations to boycott conditional funding, and the tough decisions that has meant.
It is depressingly typical of this film that it ends not by grappling with the moral and political bankruptcy of Western “aid” but with a passing thought from Ruthven on what her grandparents might have said, followed by a day on Jaffa beach.