Genuine solidarity vs. stale promises

Upcoming march seeks to shatter paralyzing dichotomies and replace them with grassroots partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians.

Confrontation between Palestinian woman and right wing man (photo credit: REUTERS)
Confrontation between Palestinian woman and right wing man
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Thousands of Palestinians and Israelis will march together on Friday in support of the Palestinian declaration of independence, under the banner ‘First independence, then negotiations.’ The march, organized by the Solidarity Sheikh Jarrah movement and a coalition of Palestinian popular committees, will set out from Jaffa Gate and proceed through East Jerusalem, ending up in Sheikh Jarrah, the neighborhood that has come to symbolize Israeli-Palestinian cooperation against occupation and discrimination. This march has gained special significance over the past few days, since the Knesset passed the anti-democractic ‘Boycott Law,’ whose sole aim is to silence political dissent and opposition to the occupation. It has also gained additional support from this law, which has turned thousands of Israelis into activists, willing to practice civil disobedience in the form of calling for a boycott of goods from the occupied territories.
Several commentators have already noted the historical importance of this march. Ishay Rosen-Zvi, a professor at Tel Aviv University, calls it "an unprecedented event in the history of Zionism." Yael Sternhell, a historian of the American South, has compared it to marches held by the civil rights movement, and has urged Israelis to "be on the right side of history."
However, not all voices have been supportive. Professor Ruth Gavison wrote in Haaretz that she wouldn’t be joining the march, arguing that a unilateral declaration of independence would cause more harm than good. She proposes that Israelis and Palestinians continue to be patient, and to put their faith in the government’s ‘official’ commitment to a two-state solution'. It is crucial for her argument that Palestinians be subject to as much pressure as Israelis, in order for them to finally make ‘the necessary painful concessions,’ such as giving up on the right of return of the refugees. Gavison claims that Palestinians are to blame, at least as much as Israelis, for the failure of negotiations to end the conflict, ignoring the deep asymmetry of power and responsibility between occupied and occupied. She is ‘in favor’ of a solution, but is evidently unable to be part of one.
Gavison’s analysis is arguable, to say the least, but what is more important is how gravely it misses the point. It shows a deep – and pervasive – misunderstanding of much current political activity going on at a grassroots level among young Palestinians and Israelis.
Grassroots political movements like Solidarity, by stressing joint direct action, are making an entirely different kind of statement. The Solidarity movement has emerged from – and has come to shape – a new political culture, based on a deep and everyday experience in the very places where injustice rules. This new culture recognizes that endless ‘negotiations’ are yet another tool for continuing the occupation, expanding settlements, passing discriminatory and anti-democractic legislation, and attempting to squash non-violent struggle from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. As such, it rejects the empty calls upon the government, shouted hollowly from the interchangeable Tel Aviv rallies, to return to the negotiating table. It believes in – and practices – taking matters into its own hands.
This new political culture is one in which solidarity between Israelis and Palestinians is not only a means to achieve an end – dismantling the occupation – but is rather a core part of its belief system, its conduct, and its political vision. This political vision is one that intends to replace a regime of privileges based on discrimination, repression, and separation with a civil society in which all members have full equality. This vision is being made a reality every day on the ground, in the street, by Palestinian and Israeli activists. Many of the latter see themselves as mainstream and Zionist, but are forging their political identity anew in the crucible of resistance.  
It is this political culture that commentators like Gavison misunderstand or misrepresent. They think that the important thing is the abstract and constantly postponed ‘solution,’ e.g., two states, as parts of the left have conditioned them to believe. It isn’t. Gavison fails to understand that Solidarity is not making a theoretical argument for a two-state solution or for a unilateral declaration of independence. Rather, the struggle is for the recognition and support of the basic right of Palestinians to national self-determination, out of recognition that political independence is not the goal of negotiations, but rather a prerequisite for it. As Nelson Mandela put it, only a free man can negotiate: only when Palestinians and Israelis are free from the occupation will they be able to begin negotiating for peace.
Israelis and Palestinians deserve better than the pale and insincere hope offered by Gavison and her ideological partners, the Netanyahu-Lieberman government. Some of us are willing to stand up and act, shoulder to shoulder, in order to make our vision of full equality and partnership a reality. This Friday’s march is a major step in that direction.
The writer is a post-doctoral researcher at the Martin Buber Society of Fellows of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is also an activist in the Solidarity Sheikh Jarrah movement.