In his famous essay on civil disobedience Thoreau describes a file of soldiers – colonel, captain, corporal and privates – all “marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars.” They have no doubt that it is a “damnable business” with which they are concerned. They march against their common sense and conscience, “which makes it very steep marching indeed,” and yet they march on.
Now, Thoreau asks: are these men at all or “small moveable forts and magazines” in service of the state? And he answers: these soldiers, like the standing army, the militia, the jailers and the constables, serve the State’s lust for conquest “not as men mainly, but as machines.”
Activists who find themselves confronting the military or the police for the first time often experience a feeling of liberation. They are no longer subject to the same compulsion which pushed Thoreau’s group of soldiers to march on. These situations witness much violence and brutality practiced by the state, but the activist knows that unlike those confronting him, he is there because of his brain and conscience, because of her conscious choice and belief in her path. Standing up to the occupation machine allows the activist the wonderful feeling of discovering the humanity inherent in themselves. This is a profound experience, but this change is still only internal. In order to effect a change in reality, the activist’s individual experience must be translated into a socio-political movement as wide as possible. In Israeli society, which is often described as “a people who are an army and an army which is a people,” this is an elaborate challenge.
A People Who Are an Army And an Army Which Is a People
In Israel, “a people who are an army and an army which is a people” is not just a slogan but rather a reality. Parents send children who they had nourished for 18 years to dangerous military service; families bid farewell to their loved ones for prolonged periods of reserve duty; young men and women are exposed to traumatizing, violent experiences; grief strikes many households. In an increasingly hedonistic society this becomes an almost unbearable burden.
When the human soul faces a situation it cannot take anymore, to the point of imminent collapse, a pathological defense mechanism may develop. The unbearable reality is denied and in its place an alternative solution is created, one that is not realistic but that can be contained. It seems that Israeli society is undergoing a parallel pathological process of distorting the intricate reality into two sole choices: to be or not to be. In this scenario the abnormal situation of grief and incessant fighting becomes a lone prerequisite for continued existence, and so the many sacrifices it demands become bearable. Conversely, rational explanations for Israel’s aggression, based on an analysis of political and economic interests, are excluded from the discourse. From the perspective of the pathology we have just outlined, any fighting is necessarily a war for survival.
Movements such as Im Tirzu present the radical epitome of reliance on the existential threat as a truth which denies any other moral argument. In the argumentation system they create, moral are what increases Israel’s power and immoral is what undermines its righteousness. It seems that this fascist mindset is becoming more and more dominant, the most tangible evidence being the singling out as enemies of those who had previously been a legitimate part of the political map. Alongside the amorphous enemies beyond the separation walls, Israeli society has recently acquired new alleged enemies: those who maintain that Israel’s military actions are not meant to guarantee its existence and protect its civilians but are acts of aggression. In the face of parliamentary investigations, the threat to prohibit funding and the increasing hatred on the streets, the Israeli left has mounted a rearguard action for the ability to maintain critical discourse. It seems that the spirit of justice beating through the leaders of this protest has prevented them from seeing how critical discourse has become a matter for a rapidly dwindling public in Israeli society.
The Alternative Is Not to Be Right
The Israeli left is disintegrating, yet it is fiercely holding onto one asset it still has: it is right. This is not a general feeling of justice but an assurance that it has the solution, be the exact formulation as it may. On June 4th, 2011, Tel Aviv saw a demonstration which called on the Israeli government to recognize a Palestinian state. All of the left’s ritual representatives took part in the march, which was basically an amalgamation of solutions ranging from two states according to the 1967 borders to “they get a state, we get [settlement] chunks.”
An analysis in pathological terms of the processes the Israeli public is currently going through, allows us to understand just how weak such solutions are in the battle for consciousness. A pathological structure rejects any logic which is not the distorted logic motivating it. Indeed, it seems that the Israeli pathology, characterized by deep existential anxiety and denial of reality, is managing to subdue the way in which the left is arguing its points. In order for their words to gain holding, representatives of the left cling on to the argument that only separation would guarantee the Jewish existence, and thus strengthen the pathological mechanism. Furthermore, in response to the regime’s refusal, the left displays mythical confidence in the idea that separation is a solution agreed upon in the public, and to some degree in most of the political spectrum, since there is no other “rational” solution.
In practice, though, it is clear that not only the regime but the Israeli public as well, refuses to accept the Palestinian people’s recent moves in their quest for independence. While the “no” echoes strongly, the left chose to march under the slogan “Israel says yes.” And so, the Israeli left continues to be “right” in its own way but disjoint from the consciousness of the Israeli public, which sees saying an adamant “no” as a basic part of its survival.
The Israeli public follows power but is in fact in deep anxiety from what the future holds. That is how organizations like Btselem and Breaking the Silence, which crack its psychological defense mechanisms, can be seriously considered to be an existential threat. These defense mechanisms serve a complex function: on the one hand they distort reality, but on the other hand they protect society from disintegrating. Thus, a true alternative cannot comprise of only a theoretical solution formula. It must provide society with a kind of glue that would prevent it from disintegrating. That glue is solidarity.
The Fight Is Not for Consciousness But for Reality
Over the past ten years a movement has emerged which has managed to break through the borders of the discourse in certain places. This movement started the arduous process of creating certain spaces that are free from both the official pathological repression mechanisms and the left’s amorphous feeling of justice. These spaces were created by action rather than information, that is, by changing the reality which enables the fears feeding the repression mechanism: instead of a battle for life or death between Israelis and Palestinians, spaces of partnership and solidarity.
In these villages and neighborhoods a partnership has emerged which is based on a Palestinian refusal to be oppressed and an Israeli refusal to oppress. The success achieved defending houses and territories, even if it varied from location to location and was for the most part only partial, was a secondary achievement. The spirit of struggle, however, is what was and continues to be the real threat. This is something the occupation forces have not managed to crush. Despite numerous attempts to oppress it, the resistance – In Bil’in, Sheikh Jarrah, Nabi Saleh, Ma’asara, Ni’lin, Hebron and Silwan – is still standing.
Several months ago, throngs of Egyptians took to the streets in order to change the course of their lives. In Thoreau’s terminology, individuals who chose not to serve created at first islands of resistance, which the regime was at pains to disperse since in many respects they were beyond the reach of the national repression mechanism. In the next step, once the regime’s pillars of control began to crack, the spaces of resistance which were spread throughout the land could gather in one physical and ideological space – Al-Tahrir Square. This joint stand led to the Egyptian revolution.
Breaking free of the occupation regime is a revolutionary act for both societies, Palestinian as well as Israeli. If there is something to be learned from the Egyptian model, it is that only hands joint in struggle can tear apart the bonds of oppression. Hope lies, then, not in separate demonstrations in Tel Aviv but in joint demonstrations in front of the separation walls and on the border and seam lines.
On 15 July
we will stand with our Palestinian partners
in a Palestinian-Israeli march
through the heart of Jerusalem
for the independence of Palestine -
because the Palestinians too deserve to be
“free in their country”.
Because Jerusalem is the place for this freedom to be realized
and because Jewish-Arab solidarity is the only response to hatred and racism. We will march together in both sections of the city,
the Israeli and the Palestinian, to express our support of Palestine’s independence and our commitment to fight for it together.
See: Marching for independence – 15 July 2011
See here for the facebook event
A crucial time for the Left: A Joint Struggle against the Occupation or Submission to Fascism
On occupation, oppression and the road to independence/ Zvi Benninga
Fighting Fascism with the Fist / Dorit Argo
The Beauty of Defiance / David Shulman
Solidarity leads key Israeli figures in appeal to European leaders: Support Palestinian independence
What is our struggle about?