/ 1 September 2004

Meaning beyond slogans

Last week’s picket against Israel’s apartheid wall, organised by Jewish Voices (JV) and the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), is significant for more than the slogans on placards.

Many Palestine solidarity activists in the picket had debated the joint action. Not because JV is a Jewish organisation — a number of PSC members are Jewish and the solidarity group in Cape Town has had joint action with Not in My Name (another grouping of progressive Jewish people) — but because some positions held by certain members were disconcerting.

After initial meetings, some solidarity committee supporters and members criticised the organisation for meeting with a group with whom we couldn’t agree on the exclusivist nature of the Israeli state or on a seemingly minor issue such as whether to use the term ”apartheid wall”.

Pro-Palestinian activists engaging in the dialogue asked three questions:

Firstly, will working with an organisation such as JV compromise the principles of the PSC?

Secondly, does the Palestinian struggle benefit from this collaboration?

And, thirdly, do Jews benefit from it?

There is no question that engagement with a Jewish organisation, political parties (including the government) or social movements compromise no principles. For us, the issue is about a people being denied their human rights, their self-determination and being brutalised on a daily basis — and not one of religion.

The question of whether the Palestinian struggle would benefit from such an engagement is critical. In a liberation struggle, it is necessary to analyse the nature of oppression and those who benefit from it.

Just as there were whites who were staunch upholders of apartheid in South Africa, there were also whites who were socialists, liberals or simply critical of apartheid.

In the Palestinian context, too, there are different groups among Israelis and their supporters, including conscientious objectors, groups against house demolitions, supporters of Palestinian prisoners, and groups arraigned in the protests against the apartheid wall.

In that regard, Israeli society has a prouder record of supporting the Palestinian struggle for human rights than South Africa’s Jewish community. For us, the Palestinian struggle is not between religious communities. We have always stressed that the Palestinian struggle is linked to all just struggles: the Burmese struggle and the struggle of the people of Darfur.

The trend-line for this week’s protest and our collaboration has been coming for several years now. In 2001, 300 Jewish people signed the ”Not In My Name” declaration. Others have protested Israeli actions, with some even supporting a single-state solution. Highlighting and exposing such voices helps develop stronger international solidarity and a quicker resolution to the problem.

But does such engagement between Jewish and Palestine solidarity activists benefit Jews? Uncritical Jewish support for the Israeli state and the horrors it unleashes dehumanises this community, too. Such collaboration with the Palestine solidarity movement allows members of this community to take a stand for justice and human rights and to liberate their Jewishness and allows them to reject what is done ostensibly on their behalf while reclaiming the progressive strands in their history.

We will continue working with JV and hope that collaboration can extend to issues of Palestinian political prisoners, collective punishment and sanctions — despite differences on issues like whether the solution is for one state or two.

Na’eem Jeenah is the chairperson of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee

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