Terra Incognita: The colonization of the conflict

Weekly demonstrations at Bil'in against fence have attracted significant number of protest-tourists.

bilin soldier protester scuffle 248 88 a (photo credit: AP [file])
bilin soldier protester scuffle 248 88 a
(photo credit: AP [file])
Recent revelations that European embassies in Israel and the EU fund some radical Israeli human rights organizations beg the question: To what degree is the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians choreographed and colonized by outsiders? In the weekly protest at Bil'in, Palestinians again threw rocks at soldiers and attempted to break through the security fence. But as happens every week, there were more foreigners than Arabs. Even the Arabs that come aren't from nearby. The event is like a play or sitcom staged again and again; the format is the same every time. So why does it go on? The protesters don't have an actual goal. They claim to be Anarchists Against the Wall or peace activists, but the events at Bil'in aren't peaceful and there is no realistic expectation that the weekly ritual will actually affect the fence. Nor is the fence in that area particularly egregious; it deviates from the Green Line by less than two kilometers and doesn't bisect Arab homes or anything of that nature. So why does it go on? It goes on because those who arrive there have a vested interest in having it go on. Web sites (such as Bilin-village.org) devoted to the protest stress that many important people and organizations have joined, including the Israeli Jewish organization Physicians for Human Rights, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and Gush Shalom. It is a mandatory stop on any protest-tourist's visit to the Holy Land. And it is the place to get wounded for foreign protesters. Thus European Parliament Vice President Luisa Morgantini and Julio Toscano, an Italian judge, were injured there in June 2008. Mairead Corrigan, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for work in Northern Ireland, was hurt in an April 2007 protest. Lymor Goldstein, an Israeli lawyer, was wounded in 2006. But these people weren't wounded accidentally or because the soldiers intended to wound them; they were wounded because they wanted to be wounded. They chose to be wounded as a sort of badge of honor. No one is more emblematic of the symbiotic relationship between protesters and Bil'in than Jonathan Pollak, a leader of Anarchists Against the Wall. A graphic designer who grew up in Tel Aviv (and now lives in Jaffa), he is the son of actor Yossi Pollak and brother of actor Avshalom Pollak and film director Shai Pollak. He has supposedly been involved in more than 300 demonstrations. As part of his work with the ISM, he even toured the US on a fund-raising mission in 2005. This type of protest-tourism isn't about a legitimate cause, it is about a way of life; the protest is not a means to an end but the end in itself. Were the wall to disappear, the protest would have to go on because so much is invested in it. Consider the amount of money that goes into funding the foreigners who attend the Bil'in protest. Consider the air fares, the hotel accommodations and transport to and from the site. Consider the Web sites, the numerous organizations and the media attention. When Naomi Klein, a Canadian author, visited Israel in June to launch her book The Shock Doctrine translated into Hebrew, she made the required pilgrimage to Bil'in and voiced support for a boycott of Israel: "It's an extraordinarily important part of Israel's identity to be able to have the illusion of Western normalcy. When that is threatened, when the rock concerts don't come, when the symphonies don't come, when a film you really want to see doesn't play at the Jerusalem film festival... then it starts to threaten the very idea of what the Israeli state is." The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very real, but there is a side that is simply entertainment for the West. This is evidenced in the disproportionate coverage in The New York Times and BBC of the most minor people, incidents and events here, especially if there are olive trees in the background. The "peace" organizations involved have a vested financial and personal interest in its continuation. Without the conflict they would have nothing to do. That is why peace activism at Bil'in doesn't take the form of peaceful protest, but of rock-throwing and assaults designed to encourage the tear gas and rubber bullets which are needed for people to claim they were "injured," all in front of the cameras. That isn't a peace protest, it's puerile posturing. Were the conflict to go away the legions of people like Pollak and Klein would no longer be "activists" as a job description. People don't work against their self-interest. If their job is peace, they live for war because without it their life's work would disappear. Furthermore, without Bil'in where would Europeans and Americans go for a protest-tourist vacation? And why are these peace organizations funded by European embassies in Israel? Isn't meddling in the internal affairs of a host country contrary to the job of an embassy?