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(en) Freedom 6404 22 Feb, 2003 - Tactics for fighting imperialism

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 3 Apr 2003 11:05:08 +0200 (CEST)


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Is Palestine's International Solidarity Movement (ISM)
supporting the establishment of a new state? What
role does non-violent direct action play in the intifada?
On 25th January Jose Marti argued in Freedom that
violence was an inevitable response to Israeli
aggression. Now Ceri Gibbons, an anarchist member of
the ISM, explains why other anarchists should
recognise the importance of the organisation's work,
while Dave Rolstone defends the use of nonviolence.

The International Solidarity Movement isn't
particularly an anarchist group, and is effectively open
to anyone who wants to join it. In practice, though, it's
fast developing into an anti-hierarchical group. It
demands consensus in its decision-making, from
people on the ground through to its core group. At the
moment it's being developed along decentralist lines.
This has been largely due to the generally
anti-hierarchical and egalitarian views of the majority
of volunteers joining it, many of whom are well-versed
in non-violent direct action from their campaign work
in western countries and the western anti-globalisation
and anarchist movements.

Anarchists, then, have played a major role in the
development and practice of ISM organisation. Saying
that, it was begun in Palestine by Palestinian political
activists seeking international witnesses and
peace-keepers in their conflict with the Israeli state.
They're used to doing things for themselves in a
country where the United Nations has consistently
failed to follow through on its resolutions since 1967,
other than in the supply of food aid and infrastructure
that's now been largely destroyed by the occupation.
Meanwhile, remarkably, local UN officials have been
killed with virtual impunity by Israeli forces. The
casualties have included Ian Hook, a British passport
holder, whose murder has been quickly forgotten by
the British establishment. Most UN workers on the
West Bank are in fact Palestinian employees who
suffer the same abuse, humiliation and control by the
racist Israeli army as everyone else who lives there.
I was amazed, one December day in Nablus, when the
ISM was phoned by UN workers asking for help in
getting through an Israeli Occupation Force
checkpoint with medical supplies. This we did, and the
next morning we were visited by the driver who wanted
to thank us all personally for our help. The irony of the
whole situation is staggering. The ISM is largely a
collection of self-funded individual volunteers, peace
and human rights activists Ğ including many
anarchists Ğ who are largely without political power or
influence in their home countries. Yet in Palestine,
simply by being present, they have more effect on the
Israeli army than the United Nations.

At present the organisation includes people who
believe in the need for a separate Palestinian state, a
dual state, a single state, an Islamic state or a
communist state, alongside those who want plain
independence from all state systems. So it isn't simply
the propaganda wing of the Palestinian National
Authority Ğ in fact there's been a refusal to accept
much-needed financial support from the financially
corrupt PNA in order to underline this fact. But it
does have to operate within a culture of competing
political factions and militias, most of whom would
claim it as their own initiative if they could. So far, I
believe, this trap has been sidestepped.

I think what unifies us all as activists, both Palestinian
and International, is a commitment to strategic,
non-violent confrontation with Israeli military
aggression and human rights abuses, in co-operation
with all Palestinian parties, NGOs and refugee
committees. The aim is to get the message out about
what's happening in Palestine. Having seen the horrific
conditions people live under in the West Bank, I for
one am prepared to abandon sectarianism and work
with any association as long as it doesn't exclude me
from working with any other.

I'm not taking a blandly liberal view in this, but a
position of solidarity with victims of racist occupation
against their oppressor. It's not for me to tell people
what to think or who to support in the local political
culture. All I can do is show support for the struggle
against those who all Palestinians oppose Ğ the Israeli
occupying forces.

The impact of anarchist activism within the ISM
structure is undeniable and, as a result, the message to
Palestinian communities who come into contact with
the ISM every day is clear. The question 'who is your
leader?' comes up often, and at that point the
consensus idea is discussed and elaborated.

The ISM website's claim that the movement is
'Palestinian-led' might sound elitist to some, but in
practice it's more a process of communication with
local communities. It's not simply another colonising
force or missionary group, but rather a development
from a Palestinian initiative. This also, I hope, deters
colonialist peace activists, who come to impose their
peaceful civilisation on what they seem to see as an
uncivilised, violent population. Such an attitude isn't
tolerated for long.

We consciously do nothing without the consensus
support of the communities in which we're hosted and,
rather than act as a vanguard of revolutionary action,
we offer ourselves as a protective and supportive
resource for the already strong non-violent resistance
in the West Bank. This isn't to say we stop the
justified armed resistance of the Palestinians against
the fourth largest army in the world. They have the
right to defend themselves by any means necessary.
The intifada has the involvement of all Palestinian
people, from children to grandmothers, in the
shrugging off of their oppressors. I, for one, support it.
I won't tell a child not to throw stones at tanks and
jeeps that are there simply to intimidate them. I will,
however, do whatever I can to stop that tank or jeep
from firing at them. If I was in their situation I'd be
throwing stones myself. Non-violent resistance is just
one strategy amongst many. It's not the same thing as
pacifism, and few of the ISM activists that I've met are
pacifists anyway.

The ISM isn't helping to build a new state but simply
to end the Israeli occupation, in order that
Palestinians can decide for themselves what kind of
political system they live in. Anarchist activists have a
real opening in the ISM to put their heartfelt beliefs
into action against imperialism, while making a real
and recognised contribution to the protection of a
tragically wronged people. This isn't the Spanish Civil
War, but politically it's just as important. Surely
anarchists should show solidarity against an
imperialist oppressor?

Ceri Gibbons
Ceri is currently in the UK, but he returns to the West
Bank soon.
If you'd like more information on the ISM visit
www.palsolidarity.org (Palestine) or
www.ism-london.org (London). For daily reports from
activists in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, join
palsolidarity-subscribe@yahoogroups.com


I've just returned from my second trip to Palestine,
where I worked with Ceri Gibbons for two months. I
can safely say that we don't need to teach the people
of Nablus anything. Last month in this newspaper,
Jose Marti made a case for violent revolution without
ever saying how it might be fought. But Israel has all
the means of violence. Tanks and APCs prowl the
streets every day, backed up by F16s and Apache
helicopters, and troops with a mentality that gives
them no compunction about shooting children. The
Palestinians have no arms except a few M16s which
Israeli soldiers have sold them, either through
corruption or as a tactical excuse for extending their
own violence. There's no way they can possibly win
using violence.

Nonviolence can't win every struggle. But this is no
reason to abandon it, because the objective isn't to win
but to change the situation itself, a radically different
concept. At first glance, nothing is stranger than the
notion that people without weapons could take on and
defeat the British occupying forces in India. The
British always slaughtered and maimed whoever got in
their way. But the British didn't liberate India, the
Indians did. The whites in the American South didn't
end racial discrimination, black people did. And they
did it without violence.

Nonviolence isn't pacifism. It's active resistance, a
way of showing realistically that we can oppose power,
however strong and violent it is. More importantly,
non-violence helps build communities along anarchist
lines, communities that think for themselves. This is
what's happening in Palestine. People couldn't face
down heavily armed soldiers on a daily basis in any
other way. Schoolchildren break the curfew.

Communities organise and demolish road blocks.
While I was there, we got into houses in the Old City
that had been occupied by assassination squads,
exposed their position so they had to leave, and got
hostages released. Every day we proved that
non-violence works. It's a practical, workable way to
change society.
Dave Rolstone

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