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Flotillas, flytillas, solidarity marches and the makings of history

It appears as though Israel has thwarted the “flytilla” campaign by preventing hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists from boarding planes to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv. This is the second “failed” campaign by foreign activists to enter the Palestinian territories in recent weeks (the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza being the other).

As I explained yesterday, however, this sort of failure can actually become a success for the activists, as it only serves to underscore the brutal grip Israel has over Palestine and anyone who seeks to help it. Nevertheless, the long-term effectiveness of a foreign activist campaign such as this has yet to really be proven.

There aren’t many historical antecedants to draw upon. The international boycott of South Africa during the apartheid era is one example of foreign involvement in a people’s struggle, but it’s not nearly as direct as the type of action many pro-Palestinian activists have engaged in. Also, there actually is a boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, which is only one part of a much larger movement.

Another historical parallel might be the dozens of humanitarian aid trips Kathy Kelly’s Voices in the Wilderness took to Iraq during the sanctions era of the 1990’s. They were an illegal defiance of an unjust US policy. So, rather than challenging a foreign government, Voices was really going after its own.

With that in mind, the historical precedent being set by these ’tilla campaigns becomes more clear. What isn’t clear, however, is whether they will be remembered as a game-changer or just a great media campaign. In that light, it’s important that we not overlook the other work being done in support of the Palestinian cause.

One upcoming action actually has a great chance at becoming a game-changer. It’s a solidarity march planned for July 15 in Israel. While marches take place all over Palestine as part of the independence movement, the one comprised of Jews in Israel stands to draw the most attention if not make the biggest difference.

As Yael Sternhell explained in a great piece for Haaretz, “Taking part in a solidarity march is a similar choice to the one of the whites who joined the march from Selma. It is the choice to take a stand, in real time, on the right side of history.”

She further explains:

We, the Jews who live in Israel, participate each day, each hour, in the denial of basic rights to Palestinian citizens, in the perpetuation of the settlements and the occupation. We’re in a similar position to that of many whites in the United States in the 1960s.

Most of us find it hard to support the Palestinian struggle for independence, whether out of laziness, indifference or a basic loathing of those we’ve been told all our lives are a necessary enemy. Most of us find it hard to stand up to the story told by the government and most of the media that the Palestinian declaration of independence is a disaster for Israel, exactly as most whites in the South saw the granting of voting rights to blacks as the end of civilization.

Most of us find it hard to believe that it’s possible to live together in peace, just as those whites in Alabama found it hard to imagine life in a free society in which members of all races have the same rights. Most of us also have more pressing matters to attend to, just as the whites all over the United States found it hard to see why the fact that Southern blacks couldn’t vote should keep them awake at night.

The march supporting the Palestinian declaration of independence is a golden opportunity for change. It’s the moment we can say to ourselves, to our Palestinian neighbors and the entire world that we too can be freed from the chains of hatred, fear and the racism that grips the State of Israel.

This is the time to show that we too are capable of seeing beyond the paranoia that paralyzes us, that blocks all possibility of reaching a solution. In how many years will people look back on us, the Israelis, as people who couldn’t grasp reality, who waged a useless war against others’ legitimate aspirations?

These are powerful words and one wonders how Israel will respond to its own citizens taking such a stand. It can easily dispense of foreign activists, but what of the very people whose consent it requires to govern?