A couple of weeks ago, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an article of mine — some thoughts and suggestions for the Israeli social justice movement from the perspective of someone involved in Occupy Wall Street and connected to Israel and Palestine from afar. I received a lot of feedback from that letter, and it prompted constructive responses like Udi Pladott’s Haaretz op-ed. In that light, I want to sharpen the discussion that my earlier article began.
To be clear from the beginning: I think the occupation of the Palestinian territories and the reality facing oppressed groups inside Israel cannot be separated from issues of economic or social justice in Israel more broadly, and that those issues must be central to the movement for social justice in Israel. But actually, my individual stance is not the important part.
What’s important for Israelis to know is that so much of the feedback from my first article was about the need to place the struggle against the occupation and for Palestinian self-determination at the heart of the Israeli social justice movement. The feedback was a reflection of the fact that people engaged in struggles around the world hold the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be vital in the context of global justice more broadly, and that many members of our movements think the Israeli social justice movement must stand up firmly against the occupation and for Palestinian self-determination. That is important. It needs to be written again and again — even from so far away, and even though Israelis have heard and written it themselves — because this is the global movement of which you are a part.
It’s complicated, but it’s also not. Sure, there are all sorts of nuances and complexities to the conflict, with so much history and trauma. But it’s also very simple, when you zoom out and really just get down to it. Ultimately, there is no excuse for occupation — never an excuse for innocent deaths, for house demolitions and ongoing settlement construction, for separated families and refugees, for generation after generation of children born into conditions that will yield only suffering and hatred. There is never a justification for a place like Hebron; and if you don’t believe me, you should go there and see for yourself.
We have to be consistent and principled. A call for social justice must be a fight for freedom for all, especially in solidarity with those bearing a disproportionate share of the injustice around us. The struggle for economic justice must be understood in the context of a global economy, and must include serious opposition to occupation and war everywhere as part of that system. The violence people experience at the hands of the elite, their politicians and their cops cannot be separated from the violence experienced by Palestinians under occupation or inside Israel, African refugees in Tel Aviv or any other marginalized group. We need the broad slogans that invite many to the streets — from “Ha am doresh tzedek chevrati!” to “We are the 99 percent!” — but we must also grapple with the nuances, the difficult implications, the different ways oppression follows us home depending on where we live.
There is no better day to start than today. I suppose I just learned this lesson recently myself. I thought my first op-ed in Haaretz could stick to broad suggestions for the movement in Israel — along with mentions of Hebron and the liberation of one being tied to the liberation of all — while leaving the task of writing more directly about the occupation for another article when the time was right. It was the same mistake that some in the Israeli movement are making by putting aside Palestinian concerns for the sake of expediency. The truth is, there will never be a perfect opportunity to deal with such difficult questions. You will either fill your broad, inviting slogans with real meaning, or they will soon lose their value. You will either confront these issues now, front and center, with the courage and determination you have already demonstrated and taught us, or you will end up with a tent that is big but ultimately empty. It won’t be easy, but as my Israeli aunt always says, “Ze ma yesh” — It is what it is. In fact, these rare moments of movement upsurges that we are so lucky to be alive for are the best opportunities to struggle with the people around us, to shift our consciousness and come to new understandings.
You are not alone. It matters what people in movements around the world think — both because a globalized economy and society means you can’t win anything meaningful just for yourselves, and because we are the ones who will stand with you when our movements become strong enough to truly open doorways to new worlds. People all across the globe continue to look to you in Israel for lessons and inspiration, but being part of a global movement has real implications. This is part of why Occupy Wall Street learned to draw the connections between the power and greed of the ruling elites on Wall Street and the violence they carry out in our name, whether abroad or at home. In a globalized world, we need a globalized movement.
The occupation is essential to the infrastructure of injustice in both Israel and Palestine. It must be confronted and dismantled by a movement of Israelis and Palestinians, supported by a global movement — not as a distant result of a struggle for freedom and equity, but as a fundamental prerequisite for that struggle. For many of us, that means taking responsibility for the institutions that claim to act on our behalf, whatever and wherever they are. But even more than that, it means standing with oppressed people, who must be the driving forces of movements for self-determination. It means being in real solidarity with all those countless millions around the world rising up to reclaim the possibilities of a free society. It means offering real resistance, with the understanding that elites never give up power voluntarily, and the knowledge that freedom is something won through struggle, not given as a gift. It means having the recognition that our liberation will either come about bound together in a crazy, tangled ball of human potential ready to finally burst, or it will not come at all.
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