Jenin Freedom Theatre Attacked Again/ Art As Vehicle For Revolutionary Change

Last night, the Jenin Freedom Theater was attacked for the third time this month. At about two in the morning, IDF soldiers rolled up in army vehicles, surrounded the theater and invaded the home of Mohammed Naghnaghiye, security guard and technician of the theater. They arrested him and one other, and left an hour later. As they left, local shebab, who had gathered to watch, threw stones at the departing jeeps, and were rewarded with sprays of live ammunition. Read the Theatre’s article here- http://www.thefreedomtheatre.org/news.php?id=201

Two days ago, the ISM crew in Nablus visited the Theatre in Jenin, which opened in 2006 to bring performance, creativity, and self-expression to the refugee camp that, just four years earlier, had suffered one of the most horrible massacres related to the Israel-Palestine conflict in recent memory.

The Freedom Theatre  has put on many local and international productions in its five short years, including a heavily politicized Animal Farm (which explicitly cast the Knesset and the PA as its oppressive characters), Alice in Wonderland, Fragments of Palestine, and, soon, Waiting For Godot (which will tour the US, once its lead actor, detained at a checkpoint and held under ridiculously fraudulent charges, is released from prison later this week). We were given a tour by Jacob Gough, volunteer from England, and shown several inspiring videos- check out their videos at their YouTube channel! http://www.youtube.com/user/thefreedomtheatre

There is theater which pleases the nobles, theater which entertains the bourgeoisie as it wines and dines; and there is theater which enlivens the masses, theater which speaks to the oppressed, theater which embodies a people’s sorrow and moves it to action. The Freedom Theatre pitches its tent with the latter camp. By opening the minds of Jenin youth to the joys of theatre, it embodies and actualizes the vital potential of art as collective therapy, performance as communal catharsis, and dramatic theatre as a vehicle for the self-expression, self-determination and strengthening of a battered community.

The citizens of Jenin, male and female, young and old, are given the space to act out the trauma inflicted on them by the occupation; they are given a space to assert themselves as independent, creative humans, to act out their imaginative potential; they are given a space to realize their community as one capable, in the midst of poverty, of producing theater that enlivens the imagination and emboldens the sensibilities. This heals the individual and binds the social body together, in one empowering stroke.  This is the transformative, illuminative power of art in every human community, and it is especially necessary for an oppressed populace, who are told by the oppressor to keep their heads and hearts low, and their mouths and minds shut.

By creating culture, the populace realizes it has the power to create culture, that it has the culture, that it is culture- and this itself is a supreme act of resistance, for aside from demolishing homes and crippling economies, Israel seeks above all to cripple the soul of the Palestinian community, to occupy the mind and spirit of the people, to breed an oppressed populace that does not believe in itself, or that believes itself to be sub-human, subservient scum. Beneath the surface picture of the occupation, where Israel appears as the power that simply wants the land for itself, the power whose brutal oppression of Palestinians has as its final goal and driving purpose to create the conditions that will compel them to leave Judea and Samaria- there is a deeper, more sinister reality, whereby Israel actually needs the Palestinians around as a second-class proletarian workforce, as an ostracized Other apart from which the Israelis can concretize and affirm their group identity as a superior people, and towards which the Knesset can constantly wield its sword, so as to distract the Israeli people away from concrete social problems.  In all modern instances of structural oppression, capitalism craves a culturally subservient proletariat that works hard and is paid little, that pays taxes and does not expect social services in return, that cleans the toilets of the bourgeoisie and stays silent, that accepts second-class citizenship, or no citizenship at all, without a struggle, that lives in the constant fear of unemployment or persecution, and so cleaves for protection to the very social system that dangles it over the abyss. To awaken this proletariat to the impossibility of its existence, and to the possibility of its liberation, is the task of revolutionary politics, whose audience is history and whose stage is the present.

Here is a video of ‘Drama Therapy’ at the Freedom Theatre, where group poesis brings out in the individual the traumas of the occupation, that they may be collectively expressed and healed-

http://www.youtube.com/user/thefreedomtheatre#p/u/18/jJJx0Sr5I_Y

At two thirty in the morning, I was the only one awake in the Nablus flat; everyone else, drained from the frenzy of last night’s 4 A.M. IDF invasion of Hebron, had passed out early. I, however, had sublimated my lack of sleep, through the aid of coffee and tea, into an even greater manic addiction to keeping watch on the Twitter feeds. For at midnight, the IDF had raided Hebron again, this time to surround a house, blow it up, and arrest a man inside for ties to Hamas. Local shebab rioted in reaction to this, and 30 were injured with rubber-coated steel bullets and high velocity tear gas canisters which, contrary to safety regulations, were fired not in the air but directly at the Palestinians. Like last night, I was assigned the task of watching Twitter feed after Twitter feed- ‘IDF invades Hebron, 30 injured’; ‘Zionist forces are in Hebron again! Anyone know what is happening?’; ‘while the world watches Tripoli, Israel bombs Gaza and invades Hebron’- and relaying any new info to the ISMers who were on the ground in Hebron, sneaking past the closed checkpoints, videotaping the soldiers. As this was unfolding, I had another Twitter page updating me on ‘al Aqsa’- a rally for Gaza which started around Damascus Gate had been suppressed by the IDF (after reports of a Palestinian stabbing a soldier), who were attacking Palestinian ambulances and medics and beating protesters; the situation climaxed when protesters made their way to Al Aqsa Mosque, and then were sealed inside by the IDF, who simultaneously closed several entrances to the Old city and flew Apache helicopters over the mosque. ISMers in Sheikh Jarrah went to the scene just as it was clearing up. Several Palestinians were detained and interrogated at a detention center west of Jerusalem.

At about 2:30 I got a call that the Freedom Theatre had been attacked. I woke up the rest of ISM at the flat, who rose like pissed off lions, stomped around on the telephone, smoked cigarettes, cursed the occupation and determined if we should take the hour-long taxi ride to Jenin. Then we got a Facebook message from a friend in Nablus, who (along with her family) had just heard gunfire and seen IDF jeeps in the city. Suddenly the air grew very tense. We walked out on the roof to listen very closely for sounds of the IDF in the city. We were all very sleep deprived, jumpy and paranoid. This was the second night in a row that the IDF had swept through the West Bank in the early hours of the morning, and we had been nervously expecting that they would come to Nablus. Eventually we determined that nothing was happening in Nablus, and we got a call that the IDF had driven away from Jenin with two detainees. I fell asleep as the sun was rising, with coffee in my veins.

As I said, this is the third arrest to strike the Jenin Freedom Theatre this month. A few members of the Theatre, due to be released later this week, have been held all month by the IDF on the absurd pretense that they are needed for questioning regarding the murder of  Juliano Mer Khamis.

Juliano Mer Khamis, born of an Israeli-Arab intellectual father and a Jewish Communist mother, spent his life championing Palestinian rights, in the belief that, as he said in 2009, “I am 100% Palestinian and 100% Jewish”. In the 1980s, his mother established a children’s camp in Jenin, and in 2006, he established the Freedom Theatre. On April 4, 2011, he was driving in his car outside the Theatre when he was shot and killed by masked gunmen. As of yet, nobody knows who killed him, but his memory will live on forever as an example of an Israeli who saw through Israeli aggression, and went into the heart of Jenin to inspire the populace, to actively make a better world. Shortly after his death, the Freedom Theatre nearly collapsed due to the loss of its founder and chief organizer, but through a renewed will and determination it lives on.

I have a feeling that something will happen tonight, somewhere in the West Bank. Nablus is a perfect target, and I hope that the city, and the rest of the West Bank, remains safe tonight.

(This was just told to us by a very cute 12 year old boy from Nablus named Majd, who runs the cash register at his father’s shop down below our apartment, who visits us every day, with whom we are about to go to the park- ‘At the end of Ramadan, every one in Nablus goes out to the shop to buy clothes; in Gaza, everyone goes out to buy sheets to bury the dead.’)

Pre-Dawn Raids in Bethlehem and Hebron

At 3 AM this morning we were all sitting around, giddily awake from our indignation over the fact that the top story on the ISM website was a travelogue called ‘the absurdity of feeding kittens in palestine’, written by newcomers, which detailed, among other things, how absurd it was that they hitched a ride from an Israeli settler- something one is never to do in ISM, not only because A.S.A.B. (all settlers are bastards), but also because were a Palestinian to see you in the car with a settler, they may think you are a spy, and it would ruin the trust and solidarity between Palestinians and that region in the entire ISM. How worse, then, for a story advertising such a fact to be given front page status on the website, where Palestinians all over the region, not to mention internationals all over the world, can see it! And how even more absurd that this is the case, when Gaza is under siege! Gaza is under siege, and when the international community comes to our website to learn about what is going on or what is to be done, they see that we are feeding kittens in Palestine, watching a camel be abused by Palestinians and crying, and hitching a ride from Israeli settlers!

We had all just finished demanding that the article be removed, and writing an angry letter to the ISM core, when a twitter feed popped up on someone’s screen- 35 arrested in raids in Hebron, IDF soldiers storming the village. Instantly we called the Hebron ISM flat, woke them up and told them to get out there, though we heard the checkpoints were rapidly closing. The tension mounted- within minutes more feeds were popping up- 50 arrested, 60 arrested…when we heard, about half an hour later, that soldiers also appeared in Bethlehem, it dawned on us that we were witnessing a full-scale assault on the West Bank, and we called everyone in the ISM, woke them up, threw clothes on and got ready to leave to Hebron. If it was true that even 50 had been arrested in Hebron in the course of an hour before dawn, this would still be the largest such operation in 8 years.

Since I am going to get my visa renewed in a week, it was decided that I should stay behind and be the media man, keeping everyone on the ground updated, because an arrest or detention could compromise my chances of getting a new visa. My friend Kyle and I sipped coffee as the sun rose, neurotically refreshing the Twitter pages, translating obscure posts in Arabic with Google translator, texting every bit of information we found to the folks on the ground- ‘soldiers outside information and service offices’; ‘soldiers in the towns of Doura, Beit Ola, Nouba, Yatta, Surif and Al Sammoa’;…reports kept surfacing that ‘Hebron, Bethlehem and Nablus’ were under siege, but we are in Nablus, and repeatedly walked out onto the roof to look on the ground for tanks or soldiers, and saw and heard nothing. Eventually the Nablus news was receded, probably a bit of gossip caused by collective hysteria and incessant re-tweeting.

As the sun was rising, I went out to the roof, every little sound I heard made me jump; insecurity hung over the air, that this beautiful, peaceful mountain town would suddenly be pierced by screams or explosions. Just then, the call to prayer began to blare out of the loudspeaker below my roof, and its cry echoed through the mountains. I was overcome by what I heard in the singing- ‘do not worry; god will protect; this too has come already, this too shall pass, and we shall resist, and bear witness to the terror and the atrocities that are committed on this earth. though we are under siege, our people’s spirit is strong; fear not tanks, nor guns, nor war, remain strong through sorrow, firm your footsteps in this sorrowful world’. my bones shivered to hear such an emotion ring so palpably in the singer’s voice, and echo through the canyons.

here is the report I wrote for the ISM website-

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Just before dawn today, Sunday August 21, IDF forces raided the towns of Hebron and Bethlehem in the West Bank. So far, 120 people have been arrested in Hebron, including at least 70 Hamas leaders.

According to the International Middle East Media Center, after midnight over 100 military vehicles and jeeps entered Hebron from 4 entrances, and raided 6 villages in addition to Hebron City, breaking into homes and occupying the streets, from which Palestinian security services were conspicuously absent. Israeli forces assaulted and detained a Palestinian man during a raid on the home of the Mufti of Bethlehem, in the refugee camp of Duheisha. So far, 2 Palestinians have been wounded by Israeli gunfire in Bethlehem.
Though no statement has been released by Israel concerning the reason for the raids and arrests, they appear to be targeting Hamas leaders, presumably in retaliation for Hamas rocket attacks coming from Gaza in the last two days.A group of ISM activists stationed in Hebron have rushed to the scene, as have ISM activists in Nablus. As of now, mobile checkpoints have been set up around Ramallah and Jerusalem. Gaza was surprisingly quiet tonight, given that it is has been under seige for the last 3 days; apparently, the occupation forces spent the night gearing up to sweep through the West Bank.

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So far, Democracy Now and Al Jazeera have not reported these raids; the only major news outlet seems to be the small Ma’an News Agency.

Needless to say, it is very, very exciting to be caught up in this whirlwind! It seems grim, however, as things look to be getting worse. As I said, an operation this large has not occurred in 8 years, and it has happened overnight, and still continues, and could accelerate in any direction throughout the West Bank. Israel is obviously showing off its might and cracking down, as a reaction against Thursday’s attacks, as a distraction from the social protests that threaten to turn the country upside down, and as a disturbing call to arms and national unity in the face of the UN Palestinian resolution set for late September.

Einstein and Zionism

Einstein and Zionism

Einstein was a very strong cultural Zionist, who believed that the creation of a national homeland for Jews (read homeland, not state) could awaken a revitalization of Jewish culture in the face of anti-Semitism. However, he, like many other Jewish intellectuals of his era, was careful to maintain the absolute primacy of moral and social equality with Arabs- the universalistic, humanistic ethos- over any kind of fanatical belief in the moral superiority of the Jewish people. His Zionist legacy is much contested right now, because he did publicly support Zionist efforts on several occasions, traveling to America in the 1930s to raise money for the cause.

(Einstein and his wife, Zionist and future president of Israel Chaim Weizmann and his wife, Menachem Ussishkin and Ben-Zion Mossinson, NYC, 1921)

“I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state. My awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power, no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain—especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish state. … If external necessity should after all compel us to assume this burden, let us bear it with tact and patience.”

– Albert Einstein, 1938 speech ‘Our Debt to Zionism’

“[the Zionist] movement [must] avoid the danger of degenerating into a blind nationalism. In my opinion, we must endeavor above all that psychological understanding and an honorable will towards cooperation take the place of resentment towards the Arabs. The overcoming of this difficulty will, in my opinion, be the touchstone that our community has a right to existence in the higher sense. I must unfortunately openly acknowledge that the attitude of our [Zionist] officialdom, as well as the majority of public expressions in this connection, appear to me to leave much to be desired.

– letter to Heinrich York-Steiner, November 19 1929

‘The most important aspect of our [Israel’s] policy must be our ever-present, manifest desire to institute complete equality for the Arab citizens living in our midst … The attitude we adopt toward the Arab minority will provide the real test of our moral standards as a people.”

– letter to Zvi Lurie, January 5, 1955

Freud and Zionism

In February 1930 Freud was asked, as a distinguished Jew, to contribute to a petition condemning Arab riots of 1929, in which over a hundred Jewish settlers were killed. This was his reply:

Letter to the Keren Hajessod (Dr. Chaim Koffler)

Vienna: 26 February 1930

Dear Sir,

I cannot do as you wish. I am unable to overcome my aversion to burdening the public with my name, and even the present critical time does not seem to me to warrant it. Whoever wants to influence the masses must give them something rousing and inflammatory and my sober judgement of Zionism does not permit this. I certainly sympathise with its goals, am proud of our University in Jerusalem and am delighted with our settlement’s prosperity. But, on the other hand, I do not think that Palestine could ever become a Jewish state, nor that the Christian and Islamic worlds would ever be prepared to have their holy places under Jewish care. It would have seemed more sensible to me to establish a Jewish homeland on a less historically-burdened land. But I know that such a rational viewpoint would never have gained the enthusiasm of the masses and the financial support of the wealthy. I concede with sorrow that the baseless fanaticism of our people is in part to be blamed for the awakening of Arab distrust. I can raise no sympathy at all for the misdirected piety which transforms a piece of a Herodian wall into a national relic, thereby offending the feelings of the natives.

Now judge for yourself whether I, with such a critical point of view, am the right person to come forward as the solace of a people deluded by unjustified hope.

Your obediant servant,

Freud

Occupation in the Jordan Valley

In the last month ISM has joined up with Jordan Valley Solidarity and a slew of other international activists to make mud bricks for a new house and football field in the small Bedouin village of Fasayil, in the Jordan Valley. Fasayil is made up of many scattered islets of Bedouin homes, animal pens and makeshift structures, spread out over a swath of desert. In the daytime, children run around in the stifling heat yelling at each other; men walk around in short sleeves busy with the day’s tasks, or sit in the shade together talking and staring off toward the mountains; women, wrapped in shawls, peek out of their houses briefly to walk across the encampments, and can sometimes be seen sitting on their porches, but otherwise seem embarrassed to appear before the eyes of Westerners (and pretty much anyone, given the conservative social structure here). There are many scattered encampments, of five or six houses each, that gradually lead up to the center of the village, where the structures are more permanent, and there is a little shop that sells cold cans of Coke, warm pita, and all the other amenities.

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Right now, though the Jordan Valley is one of the regions of the West Bank hardest hit by the Occupation, Jordan Valley Solidarity is one of the only NGOs working on the ground. This is because, in Israel’s tripartite structure of apartheid, most of the Jordan Valley falls under Area C zoning regulations, where it is under full Israeli military and civil control as a ‘closed military zone’. This means, among other things, that it is illegal for the Palestinians, most of whom are Bedouin, to build any permanent structures without a permit, which is almost impossible to obtain. Therefore, most NGOs will not work in the Jordan Valley, not so much because any structure they build will be demolished (which is largely true), but because building is illegal in the first place.

Fasayil is a unique example because the center of town falls under Area B regulations- Israeli military control, but Palestinian civil control- while the outskirts of town are completely Area C. The structures at the center of Fasayil are larger and more permanent, therefore, because, due to zoning laws, this is the only part of town that is not regularly demolished. After demolitions in Fasayil 2 months ago, 134 people, including 64 children, were left sitting under the blazing sun, surrounded by their possessions, with nowhere to go.

Because the land is designated as an Area C Closed Military Zone, the Bedouin, who have either lived semi-nomadic lives in the region for centuries or who have moved there as refugees after 1948, not only are not allowed to build structures of any significant permanency, but they also cannot dig water wells of any significant depth, and because of Israeli military checkpoints and road closures they can scarcely export goods of any significant quantity or quality. The not-yet-published Jordan Valley Solidarity factbook ‘To Exist is To Resist’ describes the difference between the two areas in Fasayil-

“Because it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain construction permits in Area C, the difference between the two sides of town is stark. Indeed, when crossing from Area B to C the demarcation is not a checkpoint or a sign, but rather the end of paved roads and the drastic change from houses to shacks. Animal shelters mix with residences, electricity is scarce and water must be bought and brought in at exorbitant prices from Israeli companies.”

The web site of PEDAL (www.100daystopalestine.org), one of the international groups that work with us here, gives a great summary of the history of the Valley-

“After the 1948 Nakba (when over 700,000 Palestinians were expelled) many refugees arrived here and in 1967, in a deal between Jordan and Israe,l they had their refugee status revoked in exchange for small plots of land. Following this, many inhabited refugee camps were demolished while the UN turned a blind eye. Since 1967 Israel has taken nearly all the remaining land, leaving just 5% Palestinian (area a+b) consisting of Jericho and 5 villages: Lower Fasaiel, Bardala, Al Uja, Zubeidat, and Ein Al Beida. The rest of the valley (95%) is now area c and subject to military control. Of the 320,000 Palestinians that lived in the valley before 1967 only 56,000 remain (75% of which live in Jericho), the rest have been displaced.”

The stated purpose of Israel’s vise-like grip on ownership and control of the Valley is to hold a security buffer space between Israel and Jordan, necessary to defend the country; in reality, however, Israel covets the Valley because (1) the West Bank, which could serve as a future Palestinian state, is thereby surrounded on all sides by Israel; (2) the West Bank is thereby cut off from economic interaction and communication with Jordan, and the rest of the Middle East; and (3) in the words of Jordan Valley Solidarity, the Jordan Valley’s “abundance of water resources, fertile soil and natural minerals offer competitive economic advantages in agriculture, industry and tourism. It also constitutes a geographical “reservoir” of land where the Palestinians could establish housing projects and public facilities.”

Every day, at about five in the afternoon, after a long day of sitting around eating pita with hummus and talking politics (or hitch-hiking to Jericho), the internationals (usually anywhere from twelve to five of us, depending on the day) walk out to the desert beside the village to begin work. At this time, the sun has sunk down to touch the top of the mountains, it is no longer unbearably hot outside, and a strong breeze begins to kick up through the valley, sweeping sand up in its path, as the hot air rises and cool air rushes in to fill the vacuum underneath. As we walk in between the houses and animal pens of Area C Fasayil, mothers smile at us from their windows, children look up into our eyes and look away, fathers nod their heads and say ‘salaam aleikum’, the smell of Ramadan break-fast wafts out of open doors, donkeys stand and neigh, goats shift their feet, dogs bask in the afternoon heat; the enchantment of this beautiful community mingles with the haunting recognition that each of these structures has received final demolition orders, and thus could be bulldozed to the ground at any time. This entire village could disappear from existence in the blink of an eye, at 6 in the morning, with the Bedouin families standing beside the rubble of their homes screaming and sobbing, and international activists arriving just in time to offer their condolences, take pictures, and write a report for the news media.

 

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At the site of work, a water tank drives up to the large pit we dug in the earth; somebody turns the faucet, and water pours out into the pit, mixing with the sand to create a thick, wet mud. Excitedly we pull up our trousers, dig our feet into the mud and begin working the sand in with the water, spreading the mixture evenly to make a consistent mushy, gooey mud which envelops everything it touches. Five mud-caked, wide-eyed, primarily European 20-somethings dancing around in the mud, surrounded by ten or so Palestinian shebab (young men) looking amused, is certainly a sight to see! We dump a bag full of ‘kash’ (straw) into the mix, and once that becomes suffused throughout the goop it is proper mud, perfect to make bricks. Some of us scoop the stuff into buckets, others carry the buckets to the third group, who stand hunched over in a line, shaping the mud into bricks, and leaving the mud bricks out to dry.

 

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Recently, the IDF has begun to crack down on our activities. In the words of an international, who would prefer to go by the name Francis Taylor,  “the soldiers came every night the last five nights. The first night they just asked us what we were doing, the second night they said ‘you know you’re building illegal houses and you could be arrested today or tomorrow’. The third night we anticipated them coming, and we left before they raided the site. When they came they stole the tools and destroyed the equipment and smashed the bricks. Since then we have made new tools and are working harder.”

We work into the night, taking various tea and hookah breaks, and then come 11 p.m. we stumble back to our single collective room, with weary bones and muddy skin, and sit down to an amazing meal, cooked by a Bedouin woman behind the closed doors of her home and served to us by her husband, who gets all the thanks.

Here is the brief article about our project, on the Jordan Valley Solidarity website-

http://jordanvalleysolidarity.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=320:working-side-by-side-with-the-community-in-fasayal&catid=15:2010&Itemid=21

Occupation in Kufr Qaddum

We just got back from the weekly demonstration at Kufr Qaddum, a small town in the North West Bank that since 1975 has suffered from the nearby (illegal) Israeli settlement of Qadumim, and the expansionist, colonialist projects that have trailed in its wake. The Popular Committee at Kufr Qaddum has held weekly demonstrations in the town since early July to protest, among other things, the nine-year partial closure of the town’s main road, the uprooting of 3,000 olive trees, the building of an Israeli military base in Kufr Qaddum, and the establishment, around the settlement, of several colonial neighborhoods which further steal Kufr Qaddum’s land.

In 2003, a crucial section of the main road that links Kufr Qaddum to the nearby large town of Nablus (from where I write this article) was illegally obstructed by Qadumim settlers, and later officially closed by the Israeli military, turning a 15 minute commute into a 1 1/2 half detour. This significantly increases travel expenses, makes study difficult for those en route to Nablus university, and endangers the lives of those trying to reach the Nablus hospital (two Palestinians have died in recent years for this reason). After years of legal protest in the Israeli High Court, Kufr Qaddum received a (rare) legal ruling in their favor, but the Israeli military delayed re-opening of the road until 2012, citing (absurd) safety reasons. Thus, the protests began in July.

We hatched a plan last night to use wire cutters to cut the waist-high razor wire fence that stretched across the main road, in plain view of demonstrators and soldiers. The purpose of this act, we reasoned, was public action- whereas the protest last week just petered out and fizzled away, with the townspeople returning to their homes in a half-satisfied Ramadan daze, we felt that this week people needed something to cheer about, a sign behind which to rally. We assigned roles- folks to cut the fence, folks to pull the fence back, folks to videotape, and folks to watch the actions of the soldiers, who were standing beyond the barbed wire fence, on the closed-off road, between Kufr Qaddum and Qadumim. It was important for internationals to carry out this action, at the front of the demo and in full view of the soldiers, because when internationals are present, soldiers hesitate to fire rubber bullets, and instead settle for the less dangerous tear gas.

The crowd, of about 100 Palestinians and 15 international activists, chanting and clapping, walked up the road towards the razor wire fence, and we saw the 20 or so soldiers standing ominously, 50 meters beyond the fence.

(you can see the fence in the two pictures above, before we cut it)

Many of us sat down crosslegged behind the fence, in a peaceful sign of protest. When the crowd had gathered at the fence, we made our way to the front; someone gave me a camera, and I began to film. In a matter of seconds it was done- we cut the fence and moved it off aside, and the crowd erupted in ecstatic cheer! To our surprise, the soldiers stood in place, without a motion. We were hesitant- should we move closer towards the soldiers, in the now-freed road space, or should we stay put? We had accomplished our mission with flying colors- in front of the soldiers, we had cut their fence; in front of the Palestinians, we had performed a potent symbol of nonviolent resistance that inflamed the crowd with hope. It is incredible to be part of such a powerful public performance, planned and carried out with intent, to achieve a specific purpose, in such a high-intensity situation. Of course, it was not the practical purpose- they could’ve cut the fence in the middle of the night- but the symbolic import of the act, which illuminated the moment with significance. To open the space for, and to enact, such a symbolic Event

Then, after about 20 seconds, came the tear gas.

Instantly I was running- I have never experienced tear gas like that before. It is like you are an ant, flailing to death in the middle of a fizzling can of Sprite; instantly, tears fill and overfill your eyes, and your throat is scorched with a pepper-like ferocity. You cannot breathe, a thousand burning pebbles prick every inch of your skin, red tingly heat claws at you from all sides, a flaming fist of cayenne pepper and chili powder punches you in the gut. Your face instantly collapses into a puddle of tears and runny snot. Thankfully, some Palestinians rushed up to me and sprayed perfume at my nose, to remind my body that it could breathe. Then the shebab (young guys) began throwing stones at the soldiers, in the thick of the clouds of tear gas, which of course, after a lull period of two minutes, prompted another volley of tear gas, which stimulated another mass run further down the road, which in turn inspired another round of stone throwing, which called forward another volley of tear gas in response….one part of my brain wanted to question ‘why do the shebab keep provoking them?’, and that part of my brain wanted to yell at them ‘stop throwing stones! i dont want to be teargassed anymore!’ but the whole point of our mission here is to support the palestinian effort; and while objectively it is obviously futile, and merely provocative, to throw stones, on the ground it is a supreme expression of will, triumph and resistance. extremely moving it is to see a palestinian teenager, completely swamped by tear gas and without even a kafiya to protect his face, throwing a stone at an advancing israeli soldier in gas mask and full combat gear. and after the demo was over, the cheering and hollering that gripped us in spasms of applause was completely electrifying! the feeling of collective accomplishment put a bright smile on everyone’s faces; we all stood in front of two soldiers positioned on top of the hill, jumping and waving, screaming in joy, flashing peace signs in their faces.

I hope, as it approaches midnight, that there are not Israeli soldiers raiding the village in retaliation as I speak…

Neturei Karta and the Revolutionary Intelligentsia

Neturei Karta is a group of anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox Jews who pray for the ‘peaceful dismantling of the State of Israel’. Descended from the Orthodox Jewry who, for hundreds of years before the advent of Zionism in the 1900s, lived in peaceful coexistence with Arabs in Palestine, they base their opposition to Zionism not only on the rich tradition of written and oral Jewish prophecy- which says, among other things, that Jews should not settle in the land of Israel until the coming of the Messiah, and that at no time during the Diaspora should Jews return en masse to the land and settle it by force- but also on their clear perception that the human rights abuses committed by Zionism run directly counter to Jewish ethics and morality.

From the USA branch’s website-

‘Neturei-Karta is the Aramaic term for “Guardians of the City”. The name Neturei-Karta originates from an incident in which R. Yehudah Ha-Nassi (Rabbi Judah the Prince) sent R. Hiyya and R. Ashi on a pastoral tour of inspection. In one town they asked to see the “guardians of the city” and the city guard was paraded before them. They said that these were not the guardians of the city but its destroyers, which prompted the citizens to ask who, then, could be considered the guardians. The rabbis answered, “The scribes and the scholars,” referring them to Tehillim (Psalms) Chap. 127. (Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Hagiga. 76c).’

Before we take this quote and apply it to the modern world, we should be clear that, according to Neturei Karta and all Orthodox Jewry, the ‘scribes and the scholars’ are primarily the rabbis and students who pour over the collected body of Jewish writings and, above all, the Torah, those who follow what is written in the Pirke Avot (Sayings of the Fathers)-

“Ben (son of) Bag Bag said: Turn the Torah over and over for everything is in it. Look into it, grow old and worn over it, and never move away from it, for you will find no better portion than it.”

Much of Neturei Karta’s condemnation of the state of Israel is founded on principles of Torah and Judaic eschatology which are foreign to us; their primary opposition to the State of Israel is founded not on its grossly imperialistic human rights violations, but on its infidelity to the true dictates of the Torah (the former, for them, derives from the latter). Nonetheless, they share with secular anti-Zionism the universal moral imperative, and the desire for a liberated, secular, democratic Palestine. Accordingly, this parable can take on meaning for us beyond its Torah context. We can apply it not only to contemporary discussions of the State of Israel, but also to the modern State as such, the capitalist cosmo-polis that threatens to engulf the planet; we can distill from this parable a drop of insight touching on the general question ‘What is to be done?’, in reference both to this particular manifestation of imperialism (Israel), and to imperialism as such. What is to be done? that is, how shall we resist? What is resistance in this day and age?

In this parable, who are the ‘scribes and scholars’, who are the ‘city guard’, and what is the ‘city’? A simplistic, surface-level bourgeoisie reading would suggest that the ‘city guard’ refers to the modern police and army, (in the case of Israel, the Israeli police force, the IDF, Mossad, Shin Bet, etc.), while the ‘scribes and scholars’ of the city refer to the lawmakers and judges, and, in a broader sense, the bourgeoisie academics and journalists, the entire literate cosmopolitan public- from the politicians who spit out policy, to the state-worshiping intellectuals who scrutinize its details while, implicitly or explicitly, paying lip service to the ideological power structures of the State (in the case of Israel, the entire ideological apparatus, from the Supreme Court and the Knesset in Israel proper, to the entire gamut of international Zionist apologist intellectuals- Dershowitz, Joan Peters, etc).

The parable’s message, according to this bourgeoisie reading, is that the ‘guardians of the city’, the preservers of the social order, are not its police, who guard its walls with brute force, but its lawyers and judges, its intellectuals, who maintain the symbolic social order by controlling, interpreting, defining, and proscribing its laws. The fountain of law flows from the lofty heights of the latter down into the guns of the former. The lawmakers write the laws, and the cops enforce their dictates. The real guardians of the social order, those who truly protect and constitute the life-blood of the social body, are not those who enforce social policy with a strong arm, those who stand in as the physical representation of its laws; rather, the strength of the city is actually ensured by those who generate the laws, those who protect and transmit the ideas and ideologies that knit the social body together.  The ‘scribes and scholars’ constitute the Mind of the State, while the ‘armed guards’ stand in as its inert and obedient Body.

But we see the flaw in this interpretation when we ask- how, then, according to this model, are we to understand that the armed guards of the city are ‘not its guardians, but its destroyers’? The police are not the destroyers, but the executors and enforcers of the written law of the state. If we are to claim that lawmakers and judges are the true guardians of the city, it does not make sense to say in the next breath that the police ‘destroy’ the city that these lawmakers guard; quite the contrary- the police, in modern societies, seem to get along just fine with the lawmakers! Nor can we be content with interpreting this parable to mean merely that the ‘purity’ of the written law of the state, as it flows from the fountain pen of the court, is ‘imperfectly’ carried out on the street, is compromised or tainted by the corrupt cops, who enforce it according to their own whims. The disparity between the ‘scribes and scholars’ and the ‘city guard’ in this parable runs deeper than this- the latter destroy what the former guard. There is clearly a moral cut that runs between the two, whereby they work not in harmony but in direct opposition. The ‘scribes and scholars’ preserve the city from the destructive hands of the city guard; if it were up to the latter, there would be no city left to guard. How can this be, if the former write the city laws, and the latter guard the city walls? Who are the ‘scribes and scholars’, if not the bourgeoisie lawmakers and intelligentsia, and what is the ‘city’ that they guard, if not the concrete city and its body of social law?

The bourgeoisie reading of this parable erroneously believes that the ‘scribes and scholars’ ‘guard the city’ by serving as its state-sponsored lawyers, judges and apologist intellectuals, developing and upholding its ideological banner, and thereby fortifying its oppressive social order. The parable does not speak of these folks at all. The ‘scribes and scholars’ of this parable play no role in the fortification of State power.

In truth, the ‘scribes and scholars’ can only be those within society who critique its power structures, those who ‘speak the truth to power’, those intellectuals and writers who, in every generation, denounce those elements of oppression within the social order that stifle the potential of the people. These writers and speakers work alongside social activists, on the ground, as part of a single concerted effort, embodying in written form the ‘theory’ that animates, as well as the poetry that gives voice to, the movement. These writers and thinkers leave traces of their spark both in the lofty heights of academia (though much of what is ‘up there’ is too far removed from the ground to serve much use, and ends up calcifying into lifeless refuse), and in the innumerable daily publications by which the innumerable NGOs of the world document the innumerable human rights abuses that occur every day. In the present struggle, the written word that ‘speaks the truth to power’ does not exist sequestered on a plane apart from the concrete, practical political fight for justice; it is the very effulgence of this battle itself, its lasting expression, cast off its breathing back like a shell, left behind to remain imprinted on the temporal skin of cultural memory.

For as long as humanity has left written traces of its existence, we find the marks of this spark- its roots lie back in the prophetic lamentations of religious texts that cry for social justice, speak for the poor and downtrodden, and decry the corruption that men of power unleash upon the world; closer to the modern age, as the opportunities for social change become more tangible and practical, we find a myriad of social movements that blossom, unleash their clarion call into the world, and wither in time, leaving their skeletal remnants as testament and sign, from which future generations draw inspiration, receive vision and become firm in footstep.

By speaking words of dissent and leaving written traces of protest, these ‘scribes and scholars’ maintain in history a revolutionary flame that illuminates the past and casts its light forward into the future. Thanks to this unbroken chain of resistance, held firm through the generations by revolutionary remembrance, we can stand at our ‘point’ on (what we imagine to be) a historical time line, look behind us, and see signs and signals left by those who came before, little lights flickering on the dark hillsides of the past that give us hope in our struggle. It is our job, as the precious few ‘scribes and scholars’, to answer to the revolutionary struggles of those who have come before us in time; for if we do not give testament to the bones of the oppressed, their memory will be covered over by the oppressors, past and present, who, in the interest of the perpetuation of their own power, would happily erase the record of injustice from the historical register (ironically, this very logic is used to justify the State of Israel in the name of holocaust remembrance; more on that below). The archive is a battleground, and, in the words of Walter Benjamin, “Whoever until this day emerges victorious, marches in the triumphal procession in which today’s rulers tread over those who are sprawled underfoot. The spoils are, as was ever the case, carried along in the triumphal procession. They are known as the cultural heritage…a lineage [Abkunft: descent] which [one] cannot contemplate without horror. It owes its existence not only to the toil of the great geniuses, who created it, but also to the nameless drudgery of its contemporaries. There has never been a document of culture, which is not simultaneously one of barbarism.” (Theses on the Philosophy of History)

Just as the ‘scribes and scholars’ are a far cry from the bourgeoisie judges, lawyers and apologist intellectuals of the State, so, too, do they guard a ‘city’ which is a far cry from the city whose walls are patrolled by armed guards, whose laws are enforced by armed policemen. The ‘city’ of the parable, the ‘karta’, refers not to the established State with its army and its laws, but rather to the productive, communal social body as such, the democratic space of plurality as it exists both tangibly- before and between us- and ideally- beyond us, as the democratic ideal towards which we strive. The ‘guardians’ of this city are certainly not the policemen who maintain law and order, nor the lawmakers who proscribe law and order, but are rather the visionaries who speak this ideal of justice to the people, who remind the human community of its moral shortcomings and its innate possibilities.

The true ‘guardians of the city’ guard a city that is not perceptible by the senses in space and time; the ‘scribes and scholars’ of each generation dwell with suspicion, distrust and outright condemnation in earthly cities, which anyway are guarded perfectly well by paid armed guards. The city guarded by the ‘scribes and scholars’ is of an entirely different nature- it is a vision of a social structure wherein humans live in democratic peace and equality, and, as a transcendent corrective ideal, it translates into immanent critique of oppressive social structures which fall far short of justice. The City is To Come, because as a human community here on planet Earth we are still divided by bloodshed and strife. Nonetheless we whisper to each other words of hope, that this City is possible, and one day may come.

In the Diaspora, observant Jews pray to God three times a day, saying, among other things-

‘And To Jerusalem, your city, may you return in compassion, and may you rest within it, as you have spoken. May you rebuild it soon in our days, as an eternal structure, and may you speedily establish the Throne of David within it.’

Orthodox Judaism is unflinching in its belief that ‘Jerusalem’ refers to the actual piece of land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean; Zionism has warped this into the political belief that Jews must now rush over there and drive out its inhabitants; but in the course of the Diaspora, many Jews, Orthodox and secular alike, have expanded the signifier ‘Jerusalem’, which in Hebrew means ‘abode of peace’, to refer not to any particular city, but to the vision of a peaceful, just, and mutually equal human community as such. The ‘Throne of David’, also, refers to the Messiah, who upon his arrival will, among other things, unite the human community in a singular peace. (Of course, there are many problematic aspects to the Jewish concepts of Jerusalem and Messiah which unquestionably prefer the Jewish people over others, but as a secular humanist Jew who believes in the universal human community, I reject these elements. If, as the Orthodox (and many secular Zionists) will claim, I have sinned before God by forgetting the special lot of the Jewish people, then perhaps my soul will not be rejoined with my body in the World to Come, when all the righteous will be resurrected to study Torah for all eternity. My bad!)

Judaism is suffused with this spirit of revolutionary remembrance, though it often runs as an undercurrent beneath the surface of revealed tradition, and is today almost completely submerged under the colossus of Zionism. As Joel Kovel says in his book Overcoming Zionism, ”Judaic being can conduce to universality and bring forth emancipation. We should regard this as its priceless potential, if not always a legacy. However, emancipation has always, indeed necessarily, occurred in reference to a critique of, and a standing away from, the established order, including the order of Judaism itself. The Prophetic tradition within the Old Testament is certainly one of the great gems given to the world by the Jewish people, and an example of this. By definition oriented to an as-yet-unfulfilled future, it is therefore grounded in critique of the given. The prophet is one of the people but stands outside the city and reminds it of its falling away from the universal that is God’s true being.” (22)

Neturei Karta, and the handful of other ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist groups that exist, represent an attempt, at the Torah level, to redeem the religious essence of Judaism from the clutches of Zionism; but Western, secular Jews who critique Israel and Zionism in word and deed also have an important role to play as ‘guardians of the city’, in this case, of the prophetic, critical, anti-establishment legacy of Judaism. The radical kernel of Judaism can be reaffirmed, in the name of the prophets, by wresting the monopoly over the Jewish legacy away from the clutches of the Zionist enterprise. Joel Kovel- ”a multiple linkage and dissolution is involved: casting off the identity of the Jew as Zionist who is to redeem Israel and restore its glory, and in the process, undoing the linkage of Zion to capital and Western imperialism” (7).

The irony, in relation to the state of Israel, is that Israel was founded in 1948 on the imperative to ‘never forget’ the Holocaust, and now, in the name of precisely this sort of ‘remembrance of the oppressed’, it continues to pump its ideological life-blood from the corpses of the six million Jewish victims of Nazi Germany. Its Zionist apologists portray themselves as precisely those ‘guardians of the city’ who fight to protect the remembrance of past oppression from the clutches of the ‘armed guards’, the Islamo-fascists who today are enemies of Western ‘freedom’. Israel, then, is portrayed as the physical embodiment of the morally virtuous City of Peace, upheld by the ‘scribes and scholars’ who protect the remnant of justice in the world. Zionism has usurped for its own purposes a stale image of Judaism’s revolutionary, prophetic function, and uses it to bolster its banner of State power.

This sort of trick is emblematic of all postmodern, decentralized, disembodied, omnipotent, immanent forms of societal oppression- even the ground on which one could stand outside of and critique the existing order seems swallowed on all sides by that order, so that one has nowhere to turn; even the voice of resistance, which speaks different tongues in different ages, itself blares out of the megaphones, and is emblazoned on the banners of, the very social structure against which one must nonetheless speak. Regarding the Holocaust, Zionism has twisted remembrance of the oppressed into a new oppression, and perversely uses the former as the weapon of the latter, creating, out of the specter of anti-Semitism, and inscribing, on the fabric of the moral weight of history itself, a seemingly impenetrable shell to house the parasite within.

On December 12, 2006, Rabbi Yisroel D. Weiss of Neturei Karta gave a speech in Tehran, Iran at the controversial ‘International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust’. Largely denounced by the Western intellectual community as a hotbed of Holocaust denial, the conference aimed in its own words to open a space “for suitable scientific research so that the hidden and unhidden angles of this most important political issue of the 20th century becomes more transparent”, to, in the words of the Foreign Minister of Iran, “create an opportunity for thinkers who cannot express their views freely in Europe about the Holocaust”. While I can currently pass no judgment on the conference (I have only given a cursory glance at its Wikipedia page), it is safe to say that its very existence highlights the fierce political, social and moral battle over the memory of the Event. Zionists would claim that the Holocaust itself, as well as this conference, as well as any attempt at all to criticize Israel, constitute examples of “a document of culture, which is simultaneously one of barbarism”; while others would claim that Zionism itself constitutes such a document of culture, as it manipulates the memory of the Holocaust to justify the existence and actions of a brutally oppressive military regime and imperialist monster. Here are the words of Neturei Karta rabbi Yisroel Weiss-

“Now maybe I can say that at the discussion of the holocaust, I may be the representative, the voice of the people who died in the holocaust because my grandparents died there. They were killed in Auschwitz. My parents were from Hungary. My father escaped and his parents remained. He wasn’t able to get them out of Hungary and they died in Auschwitz as were other relatives and all the communities that they knew. So to say that they didn’t die, to me you can not say that. I am the living remnant of the people who died in the holocaust and I am here, I believe sent by God, to humbly say, simply to speak to the people here and say, “you should know that the Jewish people died, and do not try to say that it did not happen. They did die.” There are people throughout the Jewish communities, still alive in their seventies and eighties and every one of them will tell you their stories. It is something which you can not refute, but that being said, it doesn’t mean that the holocaust is a tool to use to oppress other people. And that is the most new unfortunate piece of the holocaust, why the holocaust is such a bad word, because the holocaust is being used today to oppress another people….The main people who are suffering anew from the holocaust today, would be the Palestinian people…The holocaust is being manipulated and abused by a movement that refers to themselves as the Jewish nation, that usurped the name of the Jewish nation. The Jewish nation after World War II was very weak and the people who were in power, who were non-religious, people who were far from God who decided for convenience sake that they wanted to use the word “Judaism”, they wanted to use the Star of David, they wanted to use the Bible to be able to gain a materialistic gain: the state of “Israel”. They decided that they are going to use the holocaust to be able to reach their goal of having a nation…There should be Nuremburg trials on the actions of the Zionists. Not only that, but the irony is, they said “as more Jews die then we will get more land because the more the bloodshed, then the nations will feel guilty and the nations will give us land”. After World War II they went to the nations and said “you must give us land”. They were given the land. Therefore they use the word “holocaust” because they demand that, that is one of the reasons to give them land. And they are afraid that if you talk about the holocaust, you will be able to find the truth: that they are guilty just as the Nazis are…Jews were killed, but they died to sanctify God’s name. Their souls went up in purity and they don’t want to be brought down now to rebel against God. I am here to speak the cry of the dead of the holocaust: “We do not want to be used, to be soiled, to rebel against God with our blood. We do not want the state of “Israel”. We don’t want that our blood should be used and tainted for the state of “Israel”, which is a steady rebellion against God. We want a speedy and peaceful dismantlement of the state.”“

Like all struggles against oppression, that against Zionism is fought not only on the ground, in the present, but in the past as well. It is a battle over the past, where the tides of ideology turn in line with our changing comprehension of the timeline of events that have led us to this moment. We see this not only with regard to the Holocaust, but also with regard to the Nakba (disaster), the name given to the ethnic cleansing of 1948, the primitive accumulation by which Zionism drove out the Palestinian inhabitants of this land to secure for itself the territory necessary for the Jewish state. A major battle was won in the 1980s, when a New School of historians from the right and the left (Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe, and others) unearthed into the public light something which had long been denied by Zionist historians- that the Arabs did not leave of their own free will in 1948, that they were actually brutally driven out by their oppressors. Folks on the ground, not least the actual victims of the Nakba, had long known this to be the case, but for the first time the entire literate public was forced to remember that which for decades had hovered over the precipice of obscurity.

In our struggle, we must remember that those who struggled before us, struggle anew alongside us today; we must struggle in the name of the wellspring of resistance that bubbles just beneath the surface of the officially recognized, bourgeois picture of history. For as we struggle against oppression, we inherit, we give voice to, we carry the flame of a struggle that long precedes us, and will continue long after we are gone. The ‘scribes and scholars’ of every generation play a vital role in guarding, carrying, and transmitting this revolutionary inheritance.

“The danger threatens the stock of tradition as much as its recipients. For both it is one and the same: handing itself over as the tool of the ruling classes. In every epoch, the attempt must be made to deliver tradition anew from the conformism which is on the point of overwhelming it.” – Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’