Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University.
While Israelis and Palestinians have mostly failed to find common ground in opposing the 50 years of Israeli occupation, a new Palestinian-Israeli-U.S. Jewish alliance is emerging that many are hoping will take root.
Traditionally, Israeli peace groups have been confined to their own safe zones. Peace activists, by and large, have given lip service to their opposition to their government’s occupation and have rallied in the comfort of Tel Aviv. Rarely have they crossed the Green Line to the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and translated their positions into genuine and continuous solidarity with Palestinians. Even committed Israeli peaceniks who crossed into the Palestinian territories for a one- or two-hour protest or meeting would then return to the comfort of their homes in Israel the same day.
Instead of these protests producing change, they tended to embolden occupation authorities and allow Israel to claim that it is a pluralistic country with a wide range of views.
What has changed is that the information revolution and other factors have left their mark on peace movements in Israel and around the world and made it possible for people to know the facts about the occupation and connect with Palestinians much more effectively. It is now accepted that holding marches and signing petitions are not enough to end the Israeli occupation.
A new, more committed alliance has emerged that is hoping to have an impact. It is made up of Palestinians who are genuinely committed to absolute nonviolence, along with Israelis and diaspora Jews who are willing to translate their support into direct action. Some existing American Jewish groups have made serious changes in the way they present their peace agenda, while new Jewish diaspora groups are emerging based on the idea of direct action.
This change both in depth and breadth of Jewish and other activists and peace groups is challenging the status quo within their own communities, but more important, it is challenging the status quo in the occupied territories.
Perhaps the most visible sign of this new phenomena is a limited solidarity effort that has turned into a much more serious alliance. A group of 300 Israelis, Palestinians and diaspora Jews from a coalition of five groups decided May 18 to join in support of a beleaguered Palestinian village in the West Bank. Their model was the Standing Rock protest, the North Dakota encampment created in an effort to block an oil pipeline near an Indian reservation.
The alliance decided to create a camp to help Palestinian villagers harassed and intimidated into leaving their homes in the village of Sarura, south of Hebron. The village and the area have been targets of a campaign by Jewish settlers and the Israeli army, which has used the largely unbuilt area to carry out target practice.
Never before have Israelis and diaspora Jews actually stayed for an extended period in an act of protest in the Palestinian territories, as a demonstration of their solidarity with Palestinians. These acts are reminiscent of historic examples the world over. It reminds us of whites traveling from the North to the deep South of the United States to join civil rights movements and similar efforts by anti-apartheid activists joining their comrades in South Africa. These kinds of genuine direct acts of opposition to the occupation represent the new kind of direct action where protesters are willing to walk the walk and aren’t just talking the talk.
Participants in this campaign, which is still continuing, vowed not to be deterred even if the Israeli army tried to remove them physically. Three times in a span of the first 12 days, Israeli troops raided the Sumud Freedom Camp and confiscated the campers’ tents, sound equipment and even a car belonging to a local Palestinian. Sumud means steadfastness in Arabic.
No one was arrested by the Israeli army and the protesters were nonconfrontational. No doubt the presence of Israelis and Jews was a factor in the relatively mild Israeli army response.
After every army incursion, the steadfast campers rebuilt their tents and continued in their act of solidarity, which is helping Palestinian farmers to return to their homes and caves that they used to live in before being intimidated to leave.
Their perseverance has won them local support. When Palestinians from nearby towns saw that the Sumud Freedom Camp survived, they began making daily visits. Many brought food and broke the Ramadan fast with their newly discovered comrades.
Other initiatives like the Sumud Camp are taking place in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere. When American Jewish and peace groups heard that the cash payment company PayPal was restricting its services in the Palestinian territories only to Israelis and Israeli settlers, they protested outside the company’s San Jose headquarters on May 16. They also presented the company’s officials with a petition signed by 180,000 people around the world. A Twitter storm that day using the hashtag #PayPal4Palestine reached some 5 million people, organizers said. In New York, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists responded to Palestinian complaints against so-called pinkwashing (a reference to Israel’s use of its putative support for LGBT people to cover up its human rights abuses) and protested at the Celebrate Israel parade on June 4. In Tel Aviv, the calls by LGBT Palestinians and Israelis to international artists to boycott the Tel Aviv film festival resulted in five out of 12 speakers staying away.
While these efforts might be small and limited in nature and scope, they represent the most effective way yet for Palestinians to regain their national rights. If these movements continue in the same direction, we might be seeing the light at the end of this dark tunnel of occupation.