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Early December 2006: Infotour G8 in Israel and Palestine - Personal Impressions

Early December 2006: Infotour G8 in Israel and Palestine – Personal Impressions

The tour was organized by activists of the Israeli anarchist, communist and queer spectrum. The contacts in Palestine were also arranged by them. In Palestine we met mostly representatives of Palestine governmental and non-governmental organisations. We also had meetings with “internationals” that work in NGOs on the Israel/ Palestine-conflict and realize projects on documentation and support. All groups and individuals we met somehow work on the issue of that conflict. One big topic is the wall / fence the Israeli government is continuing to build. This wall in many regions is built on property of Palestine people and separates them from their land. Individuals and institutions in Palestine always (!) mentioned the unacceptable situation of occupation. This influences daily life enormously, concerning transport, labour, migration, militarized society, nutrition, water, pollution, sanitation, garbage, health care etc.

The inspiration for doing the G8 Infotour in Israel and Palestine was to find and make contacts with groups that like to link their activities on the G8-mobilization in the sense of anti-capitalist struggle. We also had some idea of exploring the radical left in Israel and Palestine, searching for groups that have inspiring views or proposals on the conflict. We were motivated because it became obvious that many international groups that participate in the G8-mobilization focus on the conflict and occupation – but no groups or people that live and struggle in that region itself are participating. It seemed strange for us that activists fight each other without participation of individuals or groups from Israel and Palestine (like it became obvious at the G8-preparation camp CampInski in summer 2006; a banner opposing the war in Lebanon was thrown into the toilet).

In the workshops we tried to focus on the 3 action days on global agriculture (3rd June), migration (4th June) and antimilitarism (5th of June).
It was clear that the tour is not mainly for mobilizing the people to come to Heiligendamm, but for showing links to the action days and even Popular Education on Globalization issues. Only a few people have the means and possibilities to travel. Almost all Palestinians for example cannot afford travelling or a visa (or will not be allowed to leave the country or to enter Germany or Schengen). And surely they have enough trouble in daily life and will not primarily focus on G8. Before starting the tour we knew about some 20 Israelis that already decided to come. Looks like their number is growing…

Tel Aviv
The presentation in Tel Aviv took place in Salon Mazal, an anarchist Infoshop and vegan bar (www.salonmazal.org). 35 people came. Tel Aviv is the most liberal big city in Israel, which means the scene there is quite broad. Veganism and animal rights are very important among the radical left (also queer politics). We made direct contact with a group of photographers calling themselves “activestills”. They decided to come to G8 2007. “Activestills” document protests against the wall and managed to introduce a new aesthetics in representing Palestinian resistance (see www.activestills.org).
Interesting: People mentioned that on 5th of June, which is G8 action day on anti-miltarism, in Israel and Palestine actions and demonstrations will happen anyway. 5th June was the beginning of the 6 day-war 1967. Critical people in Israel and Palestine see this date as the beginning of the occupation. Next year will be the 40 year anniversary. Probably people will embed their actions and demonstrations into the antimilitarist action day of G8 mobilization.
It became obvious that G8-mobilization has to make a decision if one or even all 3 action days are declared as “Global Action Days”. For people abroad it is not clear if the action days are for international mobilization or only for groups involved in G8-mobilization.
Questions were asked on how to travel into Germany, how to manage passport control and the risk of being deported after arrests. German police does not deport citizens of the EU. We could not answer if Israeli citizens risk being deported. Other questions were strategical: How to get to and through the fence?

We participated in a demo against occupation and the “War in Gaza” organized by the women’s coalition. There had been trouble with police when people made some action at McDonald´s. One person was arrested.
Another demonstration we took part was against the “Business Convention”, a meeting of the leaders of economics and politics in Israel. They talked and decided on privatization politics. Organized by socialist and joined by communists and anarchists, some 500 people came to the demonstration. Quite sad: there had been a small action by 3 rebel clowns showing up at the police line. They were immediately arrested by riot police (download video here: http://mishtara.org/blog/?p=139). We held a brief speech at the demo inviting people to also fight capitalism globally and to come to G8 next year. Looks like people liked it, it led to an invitation for another workshop where more than 30 people showed up (in Lod, see below). After the demo everybody sang the “International”, followed by the national anthem of Israel – initiated by socialists, without anarchists and communists singing.

The workshop took place in the Daila Infoshop, next to the Alternative Information Center (AIC) (www.alternativenews.org). About 20 people came. There was large discussion after the presentation: Activists were fascinated about clowns actions and Samba Bands (also starting in Israel). There was a long discussion if it is “moral” to laugh and have fun at demonstrations, while daily life struggle in the occupied territories consists of occupation and protesting risks you being injured or even killed. Activists were also pleased by the action at Bombodrom in Germany (army control tower was painted pink). Activists discussed intensively what they might paint pink at the 5th June…
People wanted to know about Hartz IV in Germany. The Israeli Government is also piloting forced labour for unemployed people (Workfare, the so called “Wisconsin Program”).

The West Bank
In Beit Sahour (near Bethlehem) in the OPT (occupied Palestinian territories) we met in the other office of the AIC with mostly Internationals (that work with NGOs) and some Palestinians. Participants were quite excited and interested in clown actions. Many considered this helpful in overcoming heavy situations up to shootings at protests. However, in the occupied territories people face army, not police. Army will shoot clowns like they do in any other protests. But they will think about it. Lots of discussion ranked around militancy. After watching a film about IMF protests in Prague the question followed how to avoid that movements are split up if groups use property damage (PD) or direct action (DA). It came out that media tries to split up movements anyway, even if they do not use PD but insist on anti-capitalist struggle (for example at an alternative conference). Another issue in the discussion: covering one’s face is forbidden in Germany. Painting faces not (yet).
In Palestine the question of water and agriculture is precarious, migration is also caused by that. This might be another link to the G8-mobilization (action days).

In Ramallah and Jenin we did not manage to meet grassroots, anarchist or communist groups. The occupation seems to leave no ground for non-institutional movements, working on a more global view of the conflict or even being open to other global issues.
Palestinian groups were quite worried of our political background, meaning: if we are working together with Israeli groups, even leftists and peace groups, that are “pro-zionistic” in the sense of not opposing settling in the territories. Palestinians are very scared of fixing the status quo with the enormous number of settlements; some Israeli peace groups propose this as a solution. The settlements for example take most of the water in the West Bank and sometimes pour dirty water into Palestinian territory. Also the highway connecting the West Bank and Tel Aviv is only for Israelis, while Palestinians have to face their roads in very ugly condition.
We met some representatives of Palestinian authorities and organisations, mostly Fatah-related. All of them were quite interested in what we told about the G8-mobilization. They offered us support, but needed more concrete ideas (one was the alternative summit). Some of the meetings were more official, others went deeply into political discussions. We tried to explain that in Europe many people in the radical left movements refused their solidarity after the starting of suicida bombings in the mid-1990s. Also we mentioned that lots of people focus their critique on the USA, thereby leaving aside the power politics of other governments, especially the G8, and the networked character of the postmodern global capitalist system and its rulership. We argued that capitalism is the problem, and its representatives are just the symptoms.
Palestinians told us that all political organisations made the proposal of a ceasefire to start negotiations on a two-state solution. They emphasised the fact that there have been no suicide bombings for almost two years (the Israeli government considers this to be because of having built the wall). Jewish settlements are still rapidly growing. Incidentally, out on the street we met a leader of Islamic Jihad. There was a brief discussion about the aims of Jihad and the aim of using suicide bombings. He argued that everybody in Israel serves the Army, so everybody can be regarded a target for them. This opinion was not shared by the Palestinians that were with us.

Bil’in is a small village that has some of its lands divided by the fence (www.bilin-village.org). In Bil’in there is a non-violent popular struggle that started in 2005. Every Friday there is a demonstration (70 to 1000 protesters, depending on the circumstances) with Palestinian, Israeli and international activists heading up to the wall trying to get to the lands of the residents. The Israeli army shoots mostly rubber bullets, rubber-mantled iron bullets and different chemical anti-riot ammunition – mostly on the Palestinians (with no difference of age or sex). Over the last year many people were severely injured by close distance shooting or getting hit in the head.

The village of Marda is located in the center of the northern part of the West Bank. It belongs to the city of Salfit but is disconnected from the rest of the West Bank by Ariel, a Jewish settlement, and the Za’atara checkpoint. We visited there as volunteers to help begin a permaculture project: we laid the foundation of a stone wall that will enclose a terrace field. The land belongs to a Palestinian family; about fifteen Israelis volunteered. A few weeks earlier, a group of activists held a workshop attended by more than 40 women from the village. The aim of the workshop was to spread the idea of permaculture as a possibility for a self-sufficient restructuring of local farming.
It also worked to relearn traditional agriculture from local farmers to improve the diversity and richness of the harvests given the site’s specific conditions of geology, climate, etc. This project is a perfect example of a non-violent and even non-confrontational way of undermining the official Israeli policy of disengagement (which amounts to strangulation) of everyday life in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Beer Sheva
The city lies in the south, in the Negev desert. 20 people joined the workshop – more than expected by the organizers. Most of them had no clue about globalization and G8, so we used methods of Popular Education like the “refugee chair game”. In the discussion a few people felt offended by our views about Direct Action. Arguments were that cutting a tree for building barricades is also violence. Fighting police (or even the army at Rostock-Laage military airport) is fighting violence with the same evil methods – violence. Afterwards we were told that some individuals were soldiers that took part in the evictions of Jewish settlers in Gaza. Maybe they felt in the role of “security forces” when watching the video of Rebel Clowns Army laughing at police in Gleneagles (https://video.indymedia.org/de/2005/07/129.shtml).
Another idea came up on the question if it is OK to aim on raising summit-costs by large protests, causing local people having to pay it by taxes. Proposal: try to initiate a tax-strike to refuse to pay police costs.

The workshop took place in the office of the local Communist Party (CPI, www.maki.org.il). People were interested to hear more about groups that work on anti-imperialism like the “Revolutionary Alliance” of German groups working towards the G8. We also had a discussion about the relation to and the fight against the bourgeoisie. CPI sees the conflict Israel/ Palestine under a class-conscious aspect: The Israeli government plans to “solve” it by commerce and privatization by the creation of a Free Trade Zone like Peres’s “New Middle East” (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Egypt etc.). The Government already created some small “Joint Ventures” at the Green Line between Israel and the West Bank. This means in reality: the companies belong to Israelis, Palestinians work there for very low wage and have to compete with migrant workers, mainly from Asia. Because of that, CP supports the two-state solution. Not because it is regarded as the best solution – but just because it is better to be exploited by the Palestinian than by the Israeli bourgeoisie. CPI has some common projects with communist party in Palestine (“Peoples Party”).
Later there was an interesting discussion about religion (among Christian, Muslim, Druze and Jewish participants): 10 % of the Palestinians that live in Israel are Christian; half of them in Haifa. The arab part of the city was full of Christmas decorations.

This small town is near the Gaza Strip. It was heavily shot by Kassam Rockets throughout 2006. Though only a few people died, all citizens are more or less traumatized because of the big noise the explosions cause. For three weeks there had been a working cease fire. The presentation was held in the Sappir Collage. At the workshop were 15 young people, a mix of activists and interested students. The “refugee chair game” was fun and worked perfectly as an introduction. The presentation was on both the global institutions and history of resistance towards the planning for Heiligendamm. Discussion was about why we don’t choose the institutional way and get involved in parties to reach our goals. Activists discussed with the “normal” students about that question. Afterwards we stayed in tents in a permaculture project outside the town. Activists try to live there different in a “holistically radical” way. Once again a proof for the roots of Israeli anarchist movement in the ecological, vegan, animal rights issue. In the night we heard the IDF fighting helicopters fly to Gaza and back.

This city is close to Tel Aviv on the way to Jerusalem. There was heavy Arab resistance and major demolition in the 1948 war. In the decades since then it became a melting pot of underprivileged groups of the Israeli society: 1948 and 1967 displaced Arabs, Ethiopian Jews, Russians, Palestinian “traitors”. The city is very poor and a centre of drug addiction. A group of 60 volunteers aged 18-22 is doing social work in this socially tense environment. They invited us on the demonstration in Tel Aviv three days earlier to their monthly all together event. So there was a workshop of 35, one global activist, the rest local social activists with little or no idea about global issues and the global institutions. They enjoyed the G8 introduction a lot and had many questions about the functioning of the institutions of global economic regime. We gave only a short overview about the coming summit mobilization, but felt that we attracted many of them to the topic of linking global struggle with their local issues.

Kiryat Shemona
The small city is far in the north, close to the Lebanese border. Audience was organized by activists from Mahapach, a leftist countrywide movement working to close social gaps, advance social rights and create local leadership in disempowered neighborhoods, towns and villages in Israel (www.mahapach.org).
People from Kiryat Shemona spent lots of days in the shelter when the war started. Many have neither time nor money to care about global politics. Most of the participants did not know about globalization, multinational institutions and their effects. So we did it more on how G8 influences world economy and politics and also affects local affairs. The discussion went around how to change the system. Statements were, demonstrations do not change anything. We agreed that one focus has to be on (popular) education. Also people proposed tax refuses or boycott campaigns: Individuals have power! Another issue might be to seek influence in universities. We were told that it is a problem in Israel that the country is young, there is no tradition of protest, no historic movements of workers or class struggles. This might be a reason for apathetic society referring to the conflict.

We might say, people in both in Israel and Palestine were very glad to have the Infotour there. The organizers said it was quite unusual that activists from abroad come to talk about politics in other countries. So people were not only interested in the G8 in Germany, but also in information and facts about global economic institutions, anti-capitalism and the global anti-capitalist struggle. That’s when the Infotour became almost like a popular education tour. The people were also interested in the protest history of the recent years. Remarks on police strategies, trials, and new forms of action provoked different questions and discussions. Many were really excited about getting to know about the Rebel Clown Army. We will see if activists in Israel will keep on working with that protest concept. Also we hope that the colour pink will be used here not only in queer demonstrations but also in army related stuff…
We have the strong impression that we could help a bunch of activists mostly from anarchist, communist and international solidarity spectrum to make their decision to join the Heiligendamm protest.

This tour to Israel and Palestine was the first G8-Infotour outside Europe (there had already been close to 180 workshops, about half of them in Germany). We strongly encourage more people from all over Europe to adopt the idea of Infotours and spread to other continents to talk about the ongoing G8-mobilization. It is a great opportunity to raise awareness of the connections between local social issues in a broad sense and capitalist globalization. It provides a good chance to learn from each other and bring together local struggles and the summit movement and finally connecting resistance globally.