by Anonymous on March 7, 2010 ·
A scene from the protest in Sheikh Jarrah (Photo: Yotam Ronen/

Last night’s huge demonstration against the Israeli government’s program of Judaizing East Jerusalem, which took place at Sheikh Jarrah, looks to me like it could become one of those historic symbols that mark a fundamental turning point. It’s not the first such moment for Israel/Palestine, by any means, but it’s big and striking and (I hope) will take its place in the history of the struggle. For other contexts, think Stonewall. Think Rosa Parks. Think Selma. Think Little Rock. Think the great march on Washington.
I have tried in recent months to convey my own sense of how the discourse about Israel/Palestine has been changing and also about how thrilling it has been to see it getting play internationally, at last. Most especially, what has stood out has been the voices of Palestinians, people like Omar Barghouti but also many others, who have seized the struggle against occupation and apartheid and redefined it. And in fact it’s been in the air for years now: BDS, the weekly demonstrations against the Wall at Bil’in and then at Na’lin. And now, in response to yet more grotesque Israeli policies to Judaize East Jerusalem, in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan. The participants have been Palestinians demanding an end to occupation and oppression and supporters from the Israeli Jewish and international communities–including the Anarchists against the Wall, those defined as “crazies” by the establishment. Crazies they are not. And they have never misunderstood that it is a Palestinian struggle to which they lend their voices and bodies.
For decades Palestinian voices in the United States, while present, have been ignored. The discourse in Washington certainly was set for the US Government by the most right-wing pro-Israel Jewish groups (and in the Bush years by evangelical Christians as well). Insofar as the right-wing, pro-settlement narrative was challenged, new Jewish groups stood in the forefront, most notably, J Street in the past two years. But it’s still been a Jewish story. Not a single speaker at the J Street convention opened his/her remarks without the requisite profession of love for Israel–to the point, I thought, of being embarrassing. Further, J Street’s mandate–to achieve a “two-state solution” by US-led diplomacy–has been overtaken by the Israeli-manufactured realities on the ground: first, the Israelis have colonized Palestine to the point where a Palestinian state could exist only in the virtual world of a computer game, and they produce the public rhetoric to match what they’ve done; and second, Barack Obama has not defined an agenda to achieve such a goal and, indeed, has capitulated to the Israeli program. So those who talk diplomacy are living in a fantasy world. I’m sorry to say. I used to believe in two states for two peoples, but I don’t see it as a possibility anymore. And more and more Palestinians don’t either–for good reason.
That’s because two states as an option is dead–and that’s because the Jewish nationalist regimes in Israel (all of them), supported by a massive consensus of Israeli Jews, killed it, actually long ago. Realization, however, has taken its time catching up with reality.
Back to last night at Sheikh Jarrah. There’s a great account on from the Web site Coteret (which offers translations of a lot of valuable material otherwise available only in Hebrew). The Magnes Zionist also offers some terrific material.
Relatedly, I listened the other day to a fascinating conversation on Democracy Now, about the BDS (Boycott Divest Sanctions) movement, with Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of BDS, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder of the Shalom Center and a civil rights activist and left-wing activist regarding Israel, who opposes BDS. Barghouti, whom I’ve heard many times before, is very impressive; he tells a Palestinian story. Waskow came across as a sad apologist who is very well intentioned but profoundly out of touch. I was again taken with how significant it is at last to have Palestinians seizing agency, telling their story as they want to tell it, from the perspective of those who are the victims of Israeli oppression.
That other story told by hand-wringing Jews worried about the fate of Little Israel and therefore of “trying to save Israel from itself” is still out there, of course, but the big story belongs to the Palestinians. How they tell it–how effectively–and how they bring in allies is another question. But the new discourse is about how they advance their resistance to the occupation and the injustice. The path will be strewn with obstacles for sure, but it’s got to be taken. Making mistakes doesn’t mean that the effort is not worthwhile and it surely doesn’t mean that it will fail. The Barghouti/Waskow conversation gets to the heart of the matter.
As Palestinian activists who are rightly fed up bring fresh ideas and leadership to the matter, many Jews, even sympathetic ones, are bewildered, angry even. It is my hope that that small kernel of the Jewish and Israeli populations that truly abhors the obscenities carried out in its name will take a deep breath and think through what’s happening. We’re at a crossroads. The demonstration at Sheikh Jarrah last night was remarkable for its size (not that settlers can’t bring out the numbers). It should not be compared with the much larger annual Rabin Square demonstrations marking the anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin: those are organized by the establishment for the “left wing” of the consensus (also establishment): when the speakers are Peres or Barak (or both), you know it’s a self-congratulatory event about nothing. But Sheikh Jarrah was huge, and the spread of demonstrations in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem represents the future.
A friend and her family attended last night. Following (with her permission) are her reflections as I received them this morning. She captures exactly what I’ve been talking about; indeed, she left feeling “disheartened”:

We were at the demonstration last night in Sheikh Jarrah (with the girls and [a bunch of friends]). Despite the “large” numbers (if the police say 5,000 it can’t be less than that) and the encouraging showing from the “consensual” Zionist Left, I was nonetheless left disheartened. There is such a disconnect between the Palestinian rhetoric and the Israeli rhetoric, even at such a gathering. Israeli Jews don’t want to hear that Palestinians are angry, they don’t want to be told (by one Palestinian speaker who, admittedly, could have been more sensitive to his audience — only for the sake of rhetorical effectiveness) that the Israeli flag (waved by some in the crowd — with the word “Shalom” in place of the star of David) for him could only be a sign of oppression, that the Judaization of Palestine and the struggle against it is happening all over — including in Jaffa, Lod, Ramle, in the Negev, and — coming soon… — Umm al Fahm.
I was talking with [one of my friends] afterwards about just this question (she of course lives and breathes these issues since she is working at Bimkom–Planners for Planning Rights), and two things came up. The first thing she said was “I must have been sleeping — because I woke up one day and realized that no one on the Palestinian side talks about the two-state solution anymore.” This is from firsthand conversations she’s had in the framework of her job.
The second thing we discussed was the question of rhetoric — i.e., should this same Palestinian speaker have been more aware of the sensitivities of his Israeli/Zionist audience? I said that although I would, to some degree, feel better were the rhetoric at such events and in general all about coexistence and working together, this is truly not the issue most pressing on Palestinians. Secondly, I said, let’s take a case in point of another speech, a few minutes earlier, by Prof. Dafna Golan (introduced as “one of the regular activists in the Sheikh Jarrah struggle, along with her children). Now, Prof. Golan’s speech was very irritating, in that she spoke entirely (albeit saying her lines in Hebrew, English and Arabic) about how proud she was of her own children and of the many young [Israeli] people who have come out week after week and led this struggle in Sheikh Jarrah. I said that her speech was equally dismissive of and insulting to a Palestinian listener. Although the question of the growth, strength or even existence of a “left” or of “civil disobedience” in Jewish-Israeli society is a relevant intra-Israeli question, it completely misses the point of the untenable daily reality of the Palestinians themselves.
p.s. despite the “parve” quality of the demonstration, the haredi gawkers and insulters standing outside the protected area (just as in the gay pride parade in jerusalem, such gatherings cannot take place in the middle of the street) were frightening indeed. One of them apparently said to [a friend], “I wish you a stroke and brain cancer!”
Talk to you later,

You hear the dissonance. I hope that in the coming period, this discussion will continue, openly and thoughtfully, because the issues are not going away. Jews of good will need to understand that Jews no longer get to decide for Palestinians. They’ll also need to come to terms with the fact that it is Israelis who have obliterated any possibility of two states.
The fact of a new resistance to the occupation and of how it plays out will be, I think, the most important piece of the process going forward. It will not be Obama or Mitchell or indirect talks or direct talks or four months or punishing those who don’t cooperate; the American government has written itself out of the script.

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