Monday, July 11, 2011

A March for Palestine and the Deterioration of Israeli Democracy

This upcoming Friday, July 15, the weekly Sheikh Jarrah solidarity protest group is planning a massive protest to support the establishment (and UN recognition) of a Palestinian state this upcoming September. With the Israeli right-wing government once again attempting to legalize anti-democratic laws, this protest cannot come at a better time.

The planned protest follows similar protests of Israelis saying “Enough to the 44 years of Occupation!” In June, the Jewish-Arab left party, Hadash, along with Meretz, Peace Now, and other affiliated groups organized a massive rally in Tel Aviv supporting a free Palestine. Currently, Hadash is also in the midst of a signature campaign and providing information about the upcoming UN vote, which will recognize the right of the Palestinian people to a homeland, aside Israel, with Jerusalem serving as a joint capital for the two peoples.

Friday’s Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity march organizers (see my past blog on the SJS group), have declared the following:

This Friday, July 15th, 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 also deserve to be “a people, 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.

Writing in an article in Haaretz, Yael Sternhell likened the upcoming march and Israeli solidarity with the Palestinian cause similar to the participation of whites who joined in with the African American civil rights protest in the 1960’s and concluded by saying that:

The march supporting the Palestinian declaration of independence is a golden opportunity for change. It's the moment we can say to ourselves, to our Palestinian neighbors and the entire world that we too can be freed from the chains of hatred, fear and the racism that grips the State of Israel.

With her earlier acknowledging that:

In the Israel of 2011, every manifestation of basic human empathy toward the Palestinian side, every disclosure of understanding for its aspirations and priorities hits a wall of hatred, distrust and the growing siege mentality.

While certainly there are huge differences between the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the struggle for equal rights in the US, it is hard to argue with Sternhell, especially in light of the continued attempt at legislating anti-democratic laws in Israel. Today in the Knesset the anti-boycott law is being currently ironed out which applies “severe punishments on anyone who calls, directly or indirectly, for boycotting Israel.” While Haaretz is known for its left leaning editorials, today’s editorial is particularly scathing, highlighting the danger of this law:

This is a politically opportunistic and anti-democratic act, the latest in a series of outrageously discriminatory and exclusionary laws enacted over the past year, and it accelerates the process of transforming Israel's legal code into a disturbingly dictatorial document. It casts the threatening shadow of criminal offense over every boycott, petition or even newspaper op-ed. Very soon, all political debate will be silenced.

Certainly, with such laws being enacted, Israeli settlers are receiving blatant support by the Israeli government to continue their colonization project. The struggle for Palestinian independence should top the agenda of every freedom loving and democracy supporting Israeli, who are subjected on a daily basis to the systematic and compulsory collaboration with an oppressive state who has denied the Palestinians their basic rights for the last four decades. Perhaps, with such grass roots movements, and the restructuring of the Israeli left into a democratic front, more and more Israelis will also join in on the struggle for Palestine since it seems that most Israelis have come to the conclusion that the future of Israel as a Jewish state is contingent upon leaving the occupied territories; sadly, however, the current Israeli government refuses to listen to the silent majority remaining merely as a mouthpiece for right wing factions. While I will not be participating on Friday’s march, they certainly have my support coming from my current residency in Istanbul.