Monday, May 18, 2009

Fighting Oppression in the West Bank

Guardian Weekly

For Israeli national and Anarchists Against the Wall activist Ronnie Barkan, 32, joining the nonviolent Palestinian struggle against the occupation is the obvious choice of humanity over nationalism. He describes his experiences of peaceful demonstrations that have turned ugly, and how Israelis and Palestinians are standing side by side to fight oppression

A lot of my friends tell me it’s dangerous to come to the West Bank, and that the vast majority of Israelis are brainwashed and think all Palestinians are terrorists. I keep responding that it is dangerous because there are Israeli soldiers here. When I cross over into the West Bank – and sometimes I come here on my scooter, so I’m totally exposed – the only people I’m afraid of are the Israeli soldiers, who are armed and dangerous. Very dangerous actually.

My friends don’t believe me when I say this, but when such a horrible incident like 31-year-old Bassem Ibrahim Abu Rahma’s death here in Bil’in [on 17 April], or when my good American friend Tristan Anderson was critically injured; when you show them video footage of all this, some still try to deny it and come up with all kinds of excuses, but some people are genuinely shocked by what they see.

Bassem embodies the spirit of the non-violent struggle. Up until the very last minute of his life, he was engaging with the soldiers near the segregation wall and talking to them about what we are doing here. He tried to tell them: ‘Calm down, don’t shoot, this is a nonviolent demonstration'. The very last thing he told the commander who is in charge of his murder was that there was an Israeli woman – she was actually French but he believed her to be Israeli – who was hit. And as he was telling them this he suffered a fatal blow in the chest from a teargas canister.

I held him in my hands as he was dying. I will remember him as a really great person, always smiling, with a lot of energy and charisma, and who would never let go of this spirit of struggling for his land and engaging with people. He would approach every single person and say hello, shake their hands, ask if they need anything. Upon hearing of his murder, everyone in Bil’in reacted emotionally and everyone said he never picked up a stone. He was such a non-violent person.

We formed our group Anarchists Against the Wall in 2003 during a peace camp with Palestinians, when the Israeli government attempted to annex more than half of a village’s land. That was our first joint struggle against Israeli oppression.

Our group focuses on demonstrations and direct action against the apartheid wall, settlements and land confiscation – and they are all in solidarity with the local population. We use different techniques. Anything that can bring attention to what the military is doing here is well and good, as long as it’s nonviolent.

When they were building the wall, which took up to 60 per cent of Bil’in’s land, we tried to stop the bulldozers in many different and creative ways – and some of the villagers here are very creative. They did an excellent job at the time, if only symbolically. We stopped them from building the wall for days. And on the day of Bassem’s death, we organised a protest in Tel Aviv that was attended by over 500 people.

In the last four years, the symbol of Bil’in has gained reputation and momentum throughout the world. It is known as the village that is steadfast in its struggle against Israeli oppression. Among the people of Bil’in there is a change and I hope it will carry on throughout this region, where people are accepting all kinds of different people in these peaceful demonstrations.

We do not just take part in Bil’in demonstrations, but in every nonviolent struggle across the West Bank and wherever we’re invited.

Initially it was a little bit difficult because there is a large divide between Israeli and Palestinian society. A lot of people in the village were a bit afraid; they were questioning what the Israelis are doing here. But throughout the West Bank, wherever I go people realise very easily that I am with them, not against them, and I’m welcomed wherever I go and it’s a nice feeling.

This is a joint struggle. Palestinians treat us as equals, as partners, and this is very important. This is what the Israeli authorities are most afraid of: that Israelis cross the barrier, both the physical one and the mental one, and they put on a lot of pressure to prevent it. When I go to Ramallah, for example, it’s forbidden by Israeli law. When I come here they say that for the Israelis security’s sake it’s a closed military zone, so you can’t enter and it gives them a good excuse to arrest us. And we get arrested a lot. But what I care about is international law rather than Israeli law.

If I was a Palestinian, I would surely be dead by now because of some things that I do on a daily basis. Such as crossing a checkpoint when I’m not allowed to, or standing in front of a soldier aiming a rifle at me. The Israeli armed forces do react differently, depending on whether it's a Palestinian, an international or an Israeli standing in front of them.

I am a conscientious objector to the Israeli military. I think this was one of the best decisions I ever took in my life. I must say I faced very few repercussions because of this stand, although others were less fortunate. I stand 100 per cent behind such a decision between humanity and nationalism, and I choose to be first and foremost a human being before anything else.

• Ronnie Barkan was talking to Karl Schembri in Bil’in, West Bank. Anarchists Against the Wall is an Israeli group that supports Palestinian resistance to the Israeli separation wall.


At 7:59 PM, Blogger Frank Partisan said...

Interesting post.

I'm not sure I would advocate any particular tactic on principle. I'm not saying I'm advocating violence, but self defense is legit as well.

I support the anti nationalist agenda of Ronnie Barkan.


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