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(en) Italy, Pisa and Valdera, ANARCHISTS IN ISRAEL: AN IMPORTANT PRESENCE

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 15 Nov 2004 16:54:18 +0100 (CET)


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The development and the coming into the limelight of an anarchist
and libertarian movement in Israel is an extremely important fact.
The small size of the various anarchist groups who are struggling
against the Wall and in general against the state of war, do not
diminish in any way the political strength of this new situation
which has sparked the interest of many people, and continues to do so.
We are dealing with a part of the world, the Middle East, where capitlist development
in the form of imperialism has created social conditions which are profoundly diferent
from those created in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. Consequently, libertarian
socialism has met with many more obstacles to its birth and development.

The bourgeoisie there has not "dissolved all the feudal lies in the
exchange value", as Marx said in the [famous] Communist party
Manifesto, in a somewhat extremist interpretation of a process
which saw capitalism bring, together with blood and exploitation,
a series of formal and substantial progress in the relationships
between men.

Capitalist development there has, instead, turned those feudal lies
and social structures to its own use and for its own benefit.

Take for example a regime like that of Saddam Hussein, famous
for being a relatively secular if bloody regime, which grew in strict
synergy with American imperialism, which developed a powerful
form of State capitalism, but which governed by utilizing and
perpetuating the clan structure of Iraqi society.

Paradoxically, up to a point, the State of Israel in that context is a
sort of parody of progressive capitalism of the sort that Marx
spoke of.

But a parody nonetheless. In Israel it is possible to have a
demonstration of 100,000 gays and lesbians, there is relative press
freedom and freedom of association, the appearance is that of a
Western democracy. But all this is only for the "free" people, not
for the slaves, not for the "human refuse", to use the disgraceful
expression used by the Israeli statesman Ben-Gurion in reference
to the Palestinians.

A Western-style democratic bourgeois State, but at the same time
one which tends towards a theocracy, based on the apartheid of
the Palestinian Arab population: in other words, it is one of the
"paradoxes" of imperialism in a part of the world which is the
nerve centre of energy resources.

In such a difficult, and at the same time important, context the
presence of a visible, incisive libertarian political player is
something which cannot be easily expected.


POINTS OF VIEW WE DON'T SHARE

The Israel-Palestine question, which the Israeli anarchists refuse
to call a "conflict" preferring to define it simply as "apartheid", is
famously at the centre of all the geopolitical and economic
interests of the imperialist powers, and has been for some time.

Imperialism has always used the national question in its "game of
chess".

The expansionist policies of the imperialist powers have always
been met with and have always interacted with community,
religious or national identities which already existed but which
these policies have sought to shape, to make them more
functional.

In this way, imperialism has itself created "national questions"
where there would otherwise have been only community,
religious, national or some other identity.

With respect to the national questions and particularly regarding
the Israel-Palestine question, the Italian radical left is marked by
two different attitudes which we do not share.

On the one hand there is that anti-imperialism which is the
radicalized child of a certain culture of the 1970s extreme left
which sees the national question as one of the principal
contradictions of the imposition of imperialism in the world, and
therefore makes a "battle cry" of national questions. This at times
takes the form of adopting that "campist" attitude adopted with
respect to the "socialist camp" in times gone by.

As far as the Israel-Palestine question is concerned, at times
certain totally unaceptable points of view regarding the legitimacy
of national identities are taken.

The Jewish-Israeli identity becomes per se illegitimate as it is not
based on any of the premises which national States are generally
based on: links of territory, language and common administration.
As the Jewish community is essentially based on religion, it is
held to be illegitimate even without the crimes perpetrated by the
State of Israel. In this sense, Zionism tends to become a sort of
ideological original sin, a sort of cultural monster which is ripe for
imperialism to make use of. Palestinian nationalism instead tends
to become good per se, and there survives in fits and starts a
conviction that the Palestinian people are "naturally" socialist.

At the other extreme are those ultra-internationalist positions,
represented for example by the Bordighists or "Lotta Comunista",
who refuse to face up to the real, concrete nature of national
questions and limit themselves to seeing them as simple "clashes
between bourgeoisies". This leads to a certain diffidence towards
the popular struggles of the Palestinian people and a substantial
negation of the very existence of a Palestinian question.


ON THE LEGITIMACY OF NATIONS

With regard to the legitimacy of nations and of the very definition
of the nation, several passages from the book "Israel, Palestine:
The Truths of a Conflict" by the Editor-in-Chief of "Le Monde
Diplomatique", Alain Gresh, are of interest:

<<In the Middle Ages, the term "nation" was understood in terms
of its etymology, "nasci" (to be born): a nation was the totality of
individuals born in the same place and having a common origin.
The historian Suzanne Citron explains that the term "could also
designate a religious community. Up to the Revolution, there was
mention made in France of the Jewish nation [...] Language and
religion are, among other things, elements of collective identity
which anthropologists indicate with the expression 'cultural'. The
nation in its ancient sense was therefore, and foremost, a cultural
fact".

This ethnic-religious dimension would persist in Eastern Europe,
the Balkans or the near East.

The French Revolution marked the emergence of the modern
nation founded on a body of data which was permanent and stable
throughout the centuries: a shared territory, history and culture.

In a celebrated conference [...], one of the most influential
intellectuals of the Third Republic, Ernst Renan, replied: "a nation
is a soul, a spiritual principle. It is the result of a lengthy past
made up of efforts, sacrifices and disappointments; sharing
common past glories and a desire to repeat them, these are the
essential conditions in order to be a people".

[...] No scientific criterion allows us to establish if a community of
people is or is not a nation. What about the Corsicans? Or the
Bretons? Or the Basques? We do not know how to define a
nation, observes the British historian Eric Hobsbawm, but we can
recognize nationalist movements. Some have succeeded while
others have failed. In the former case, the nation becomes
established around a State; in the later case, it dissolves, it
becomes integrated into the dominant body or sometimes it
resists, as in the case of the Kurds. In most cases, in fact, the
nation has needed a State in order to realize itself fully, a State
which unifies its national market, uproots any particularities and
ensures the loyalty of its citizens. In order to consolidate the
consensus of its citizens (which in the early stages is often
fragile), the State also imposes an "official history" which goes
back to its "origins". Vercingetorix was "invented by the Third
Republic in its search for legitimacy"; Rumani
a under Nicolae Ceaucescu claimed descent from the Dacians, an
Indo-European people; certain leaders from the former Yugoslavia
hid their crazed ambitions under even more grotesque historical
myths. But despite these aspirations to eternity, nations are, we
repeat, modern creations whose prehistory is often more
imaginary than real."

The point of view expressed by Alain Gresch and those quoted by
him, are certainly far from being libertarian points of view.
However, their arguments serve to develop a correct reasoning
regarding the Israel-Palestine question.

The unfurling of history generates collective identities none of
which has greater legitimacy than the other because it is based on
territory or language and not on religion or the collective memory
of a more or less real common past.

It is the dominating interests coagulating around the State which
officially "legitimizes" a collective identity which becomes a
Nation. And it is the imperialist system of the States which directs
the balance of powers, submitting one collective identity to
another, utilizing the interests of the native dominant classes and
often giving rise to more reactionary tendencies.


THE JEWISH-PALESTINIAN PROBLEM

The Jewish-Palestinian question is emblematic in this sense.

The Jewish identity was formed over the centuries, basically
starting from the fact that Jews have almost always been a
religious minority wherever they have been found and have
therefore been persecuted for that reason.

As the Israeli libertarian communist Ilan Shalif states, Zionism
was born "as the dialectic opposite of anti-Semitism" (1) at the
beginning of the 1870s and 1880s. Before that time, in fact, the
massacres and the incidents of intollerance and discrimination
towards Jews were not supported by any precise racist ideology.
Anti-Semitism was born out of that "frenzy for the 'classification'
of peoples" that "was rife among the scientific and intellectual
community" (2) in order to justify the colonial adventures of the
late 17th century (3).

The anti-Semitic pogroms provoked by the Czar of Russia
beginning in 1881 also had a great influence on the birth of
Zionism.

Zionism, or the ideology which foresees the creation of a Jewish
homeland in Palestine, doubtless contains within it since its
inception certain disturbing features. Its complexities cannot,
however, be synthesized in the present-day sneerings of the
criminal Sharon.

The strong socialist leanings of early Zionism are well-known. It
is interesting to note that for a while during the 1920s, the famous
Zionist trade union, the Histradut, formed part of a Palestinian
Labour League which also included around a thousand Arab
workers and which called for the emancipation of the workers,
both Jewish and Arab (4).

It was the English imperial power which, starting with the famous
Balfour Declaration and later with the support for and filtering of
Jewish immigration into Palestine, pushed Zionism towards a
more obviously colonialist and accordingly racist direction.

At the end of the '20s, the outline had already been drawn.

Here is what the anarchist Camillo Berneri (who was extremely
sensitive to the Jewish question) had to say on the occasion of the
bloody events of 1929: "Which side is right? The Arabs.
Sentimentality is out of place. The world's press may well have
recorded the Jewish victims and depicted the horrendous scenes
of the massacre of defenceless Zionist colonists; there may well be
a just tradition of pity towards the Jewish victims of absurd and
unjust laws and of the pogroms which massacred them; the
efforts of the Zionists may well be admirable, but all this is
counterbalanced by the weight of the Arab victims, by the fact that
Zionism serves as a screen for English imperialist policy, by the
regime of inequality which dominates in Palestine [...] The Arabs
have watched as hundreds upon hundreds of Jews disembark in
Jaffa and Haifa, they have seen their most fertile lands occupied
by Jews, they have seen fall into Jewish hands lands which have
been made fertile by the labour of Arab farmers, they have seen
the lion's share of public monies going towards the benefit of the
Zionist community, they have watched land bought for a few shekels
sold for astronomical sums... the demographic factor is not the central
factor. What worries those in the area is the nature of Jewish immigration,
economically selected and technically endowed with capital. The Immigration
Ordinance of 1925 in fact states that Jewish immigrants must
have an annual income of at least 60 pounds sterling or a
minimum of 250 pounds sterling in capital" (5).

The Jewish-Palestinian national question was thus born, with the
need of the British powers to create a wedge in the Arab world in
support of its control over that strategic part of the world. That
same control that it would lose after the Second World War when
the world would be dominated by the twin powers of the USA and
the USSR. This was to drive England towards closer relations with
the Arab states and to turn its back on Zionism. It must be
remembered that in 1948, the Israeli State was recognized by the
UN thanks to the votes of the USSR and the USA and that
England abstained from the vote.

At that stage, following the enormous tragedy of extermination at
the hands of the Nazis, the aggressive character of Zionism
became stronger, "legitimized" as it was by the weight of the
Holocaust.

>From a complex and well-articulated crucible of cultural,
religious and territorial identities which were not in themselves
linear, English imperialism first and US imperialism later brought
about the creation of an Israeli Military State which itself created a
regime of gruesome modern apartheid.

The Palestinian national identity which, like the Israeli identity,
had been anything but linear up to that time, then became an
extremely "real" reality, starting with the massacres, the
discrimination, the looting.

Following the War of 1967, the condition of the Palestinians
cannot simply be defined as a condition of "capitalist oppression",
just as the condition of the Jews in the Nazi camps or that of the
Soviet dissidents in the gulags cannot be so defined.

The characteristic of capitalism as we understand it is that it
places all men in a condition of formal liberty, relegating
exploitation and the oppression of individuals to the economic
sphere, with the exception, naturally, of using State violence at
any time when the oppressed demonstrate that they will not
accept the hard law of economics.

While it is true that the reality of capitalism, even Western
capitalism, never fully corresponded with this model, the current
condition of the population of the Occupied Territories has little to
do with that model.

When the State can destory your house from one day to the next,
when it can deny you water, when it can deport you, torture you,
fence you in, prevent you from working or kill you, and when all
this becomes the norm, even the class difference between
Palestinians becomes subjective, an unessential factor of one's
existence.

All these calamities come about not because one is proletarian but
because one is Palestinian and it is here that the national question
passes from being a "purely cultural" question to a material one.

Certainly, in the final analysis it is imperialism, and therefor the
capitalist system, which generates these calamities - but only in
the final analysis.


THE SOCIAL QUESTION BETWEEN THE SECOND INTIFADA AND ISRAELI LIBERALISM

If the national question exists, a real fact of the Middle-Eastern
tragedy which cannot be avoided is that in the background there
also exists the social question.

The Oslo Agreements of 1993 created a system of Middle-Eastern
Bantustans (6). These are territories which are controlled (if that
is the right word) by the Palestinian National Authority, where a
rotten class of corrupt leaders gathered around Arafat shamelessly
sells out its aspirations for the emancipation of the Palestinian
people in exchange for a few crumbs of Power and international
recognition (7).

Unfortunately, the Palestinian popular masses have rarely been
able to free themselves from the yoke of their indigestible ruling
class.

Take for example the weighty role in Palestinian nationalism
played at the time of the Arab Revolt in 1929 by the Mufti of
Jerusalem, Amin al-Hussein, a religious authority and wealthy
feudal lord who we find again side by side with the Nazis during
the Second World War, and who was probably involved in the
massacre of Jews in Bosnia (8).

The socialist tendencies in the Palestinian liberation movement in
the '60s and '70s can only partly be attributed to a real
phenomenon from within. It is much more likely attributable to
the alliance between the palestinian organizations and Soviet
imperialism at the time.

However, there is no shortage of examples of autonomy in the
history of the downtrodden Palestinian classes.

The Arab Revolt of 1936-39 was not only directed against the
Zionists and the British, but also against the Palestinian Arab
landowners (9).

The First Intifada of 1987 was a genuine movement from below,
without hardly any direction at first, which caught unawares the
historic Palestinian organizations and registered significant forms
of popular self-organization.

Certainly, the Second Intifada (which began in September 2000
and still goes on) has for the most part been controlled from
above, and not only by Fatah - but also by the religious fanaticism
of Hamas, responsible for the destructive practice of
indiscriminate bomb attacks against the Israeli civilian population.

Even so, there are examples of interesting phenomena during this
intifada, such as the active participation in public demonstrations
of Arab Israelis, those Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. In the
2001 elections, the Arab minority of Israel put into practice an
organized abstentionism which saw practically total participation
(10).

The bomb attacks are only one face of this Second Intifada.
Popular resistance, in particular against the building of the Wall,
has been the order of the day and a factor of great significance has
been the growing number of mobilizations and direct actions
carried out jointly between Palestinians, international pacifists and
groups from the non-Zionist Israeli left.

Any positive evolution in the situation must come through
effective struggle by the Palestinian resistence, but also through a
rupture within Israeli society.

If we make a no illusions analysis of the forces at play, there can
be no help whatsoever for the Palestinian cause from US
Democrats (who under the Clinton-era Oslo Accords of 1993
demonstrated their nature at mediators), nor from European
imperialism (which is unable to develop a policy of its own
independently of the US), nor from the Arab states who have their
own sub-imperialist interests.

Only by contradictions developing within Israeli society tied in
with the struggle of the Palestinians can drive things forward. For
this reason the suicide bomb attacks, apart from being aberrant
from a human point of view and reactionary from a cultural point
of view, are also profoundly wrong from a political point of view.

Not only are there in Israel significant minority sectors of young
people who morally and materially rebel against the militarization
of Israeli society (groups such as "Anarchists Against the Wall"),
but also the class contradiciton emerges at times in its crude
reality.

Though unemployment among Palestinians is at 50%, it is
nonetheless at 12% among Israelis and the neo-liberal policies are
gnawing steadily at the Israeli proletariat's conditions, even more
so than in Western countries.

Though over half a million Palestinians suffer from malnutrition,
the incomes of the less well-off elements among Israelis has been
reduced by 10% in recent years (11).

FOr some time now there have been phenomena such as the
"Lionesses", Israeli women from poor areas who organize against
benefit cuts to large families, price rises and high interest rates.

The activities of the Lionesses include proletarian expropriation of
bread in order to distribute it free in the poorer neighbourhoods,
laying siege to banks and cutting off water supplies to rich
neighbourhoods (12).

By the spring of 2003 there had already been a spree of strikes
throughout Israel against cuts in social spending and in
September 2004 once again there was a lengthy strike in protest at
the delays in paying the wages of 20,000 local authority
employees.

Thousands of families are reduced to hunger while the
government is spending billions on financing the horrible war
machine and building roads and houses for the settlers in the
Occupied Territories (13).

Apartheid, the genocide of the Palestinian population and the
impoverishment of the Israeli lower classes are two sides of the
same coin.

It is clear that building a common front of struggle in this situation
is not the easiest thing in the world.


THE THEORY AND PRACTICES OF ISRAELI ANARCHIST
GROUPS

Anarchism began to show new signs of life in Israel in the early
1970s. But Israeli anarchism can only be considered as an active
political entity since the appearance on the scene a year and a half
ago of the "Anarchists Against the Wall" initiative. Around this
time too Internet began to provide us with detailed news of the
libertarian presence in this area which is so important for the
world's powers.

The name "Anarchists Against the Wall" was invented by Israeli
TV with reference to the groups of young libertarian-oriented
people who had for some time been carrying out actions to
damage the Separation Wall behing which the Sharon government
hoped to "fence" the Palestinian population.

This group won its notoriety in Israel at the end of 2003, after the
first serious injury from gunfire of one of its members, Gil
Naamaty, who was shot in one leg while trying to knock down a
section of the fence near the Palestinian village of Mas'ha.

Thanks also to its effective media skills, the group has also
managed to bring its ideas to the attention of certain sectors of the
public (and not only inside Israel) the inhuman injustice of a Wall
which means only more expropriation of land at the expense of
poor peasants, the destruction of houses and the end of every
freedom of movement and work.

But the most important feature of the Anarchists Against the Wall
from a political point of view is that they direct their energies into
political work with the Palestinians and into the creation of joint
mobilizations between Israelis and Palestinians. The principal
aims of the group, according to one presentation of the group, is
"to cooperate with Palestinian civilians in order to carry out acts of
civil disobedience, using the popular grassroots insurrection as an
alternative to politics based instead on various factionsd and
parties...".

And this is not only a slogan.

The 4-month camp at Mas'ha against the Wall in the spring and
summer of 2003 which saw the participation of over a thousand
Palestinians, Israelis and international pacifists, was responsible
for the spread of political relationships and self-management of
activities with the Palestinian people which have been going on
for a year and a half.

The injuring of Gil Na'amati and the participation in the
insurrection at Budrus at the end of 2003 were the fruit of political
work begun about a year earlier. From that point on, activity has
been more or less non-stop with actions and joint demonstrations,
and woundings and arrests of the Anarchists Against the Wall by
the Israeli army.

This continued until what we can call the 5 days at Budrus and
Beit Awwa (19-23 September 2004), where hundreds of
Palestinians and hundreds of Israelis clashed with the army for 5
days, practically bare-handed, only to be shot at repeatedly with
rubber-coated metal bullets, resulting in hundreds of injured.

The Anarchists Against the Wall initiative is a non-structured
collection of groups. The social background would mostly seem to
be from the pacifist and punk movements. They themselves
define themselves as "anarchists more in the way they work than
because of any ideological affiliations". However, over the last
year and a half they have demonstrated great political capacity, the
ability to manage their public image and the ability to work as a
group with the Palestinian people, apart from their great physical
courage.

But there are other anarchist groups operating in Israel. In
particular there are groups which are more classically rooted in
communist, class-struggle anarchism such as the Anarchist
Communist Initiative and the Israeli Libertarian Communist
Collective. These groups, as far as can be understood from
internet, seem to be less involved in the movement of actions
against the Wall, but seem to have a greater propensity for
analysing the social forces at play and for political elaboration.
Whereas these various groups' points of view on the Palestinian
question are not too far apart, they do seem to differ on their
approach to Israeli society.

While the Anarchists Against the Wall seem to ignore the class
element and, at least in the short term, seem to have little faith in
the Israeli workers' movement, the anarchist communists and
libertarian communists are much more attentive to the class
contradictions within Israel and are more geared towards a
perspective (even though it may be premature) of building
opportunities for bi-national proletarian unity.

Finally, there is an Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative which
sympathizes with the anarcho-syndicalist international
(IWA/AIT), which even more directly than the anarchist
communists, aims at creating Israeli-Palestinian workers'
organizations.


TOWARDS AN ANARCHIST POINT OF VIEW ON THE
ISRAEL-PALESTINE QUESTION

The differences between the various anarchist groups can be seen
as a resourse and source of strength and the movement as a whole
shows great potential for the liberation of this land where the State
shows its fiercest face at the service of the dominant Israeli classes
and also of American imperialism.

For anarchists in the rest of the world it has never been easy to
approach the Israel-Palestine question.

The absence of any sort of political reference point in such a
dramatic and complex situation has been a handicap of no small
count to being able to express an authoritative point of view.

The Anarchists Against the Wall and other Israeli libertarian
groups have given us once again a strong voice regarding a
question of great importance in world politics.

A question which more than any other forces us to strike a
balance between the need for a strategic perspective of the total
social liberation from the yoke of Capitalism and the State, an
anarchist society, and the need for indicate intermediate objectives
which are able to improve the dramatic situation of the
Palestinians in the short term.

An end to the Apartheid and the genocide, the withdrawal of
troops from all the occupied territories, the immediate destruction
of the Wall, the conquest of equal civil rights and labour rights for
all the inhabitants of those lands: these are important objectives to
which we must all contribute, even through international
mobilizations.

As anarchists, we attach little importance to the possibility of
these objectives becoming reality within a Palestinian State or a
bi-national State with equal rights for all.

For the moment, the hypothesis of a Palestinian State which is
not simply a bantustan seems as remote as the second hypothesis.

In any case, no State has ever granted freedom for the oppressed
or indeed any partial improvement in their condition.

The only way to obtain both of these is the one which our Israeli
comrades have indicated.


COORDINAMENTO ANARCHICI E LIBERTARI PISA E VALDERA
(Anarchist & Libertarian Coalition of Pisa and Valdera)


(1) "Intervista con un anarchico israeliano sulla questione
Israele/Palestina" on the Contropotere forum
(www.ecn.org/contropotere) 15/11/2003. English version available
at http://www.ainfos.ca/03/oct/ainfos00204.html

(2) "Israele, Palestine, Le verit


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