From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true. /FK (Contact: TBONotebooks at fastmail.fm. The Blue Octavo Notebooks welcomes mail, although we cannot guarantee a response. Your email may be posted in part on The Blue Octavo Notebooks unless otherwise requested.) Please enjoy the notebook entries, and thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Hebrew: Like, Totally An Inherently Oppressive Language And Stuff. Or: Toilet Paper, Bickering Activists, And Other Discontents. I picked up a magazine called New Voices the other day. It contained some interesting enough articles, including an “Israel Correspondence” written by Chaya Rubin and entitled “Coffee for Nazee: Uniting Against the Separation Fence at Camp Mas’ha.” Rubin recounts some of her experiences working with Palestinian, Israeli, and other activists at a “protest camp” outside the village of Mas’ha, in the West Bank. Rubin’s account offers a few interesting insights into the mindsets (or, perhaps, lack thereof) of some of the protesters. Many of these protesters, especially those from the International Solidarity Movement, come across as breathtakingly insufferable, in terms of both their putative ideologies and intelligence.

Gush Shalom had donated a cell phone to the camp, to be passed among the protesters. Whoever had the cell phone was responsible for making sure Israelis were at the camp at all times. That at least was the theory. The only problem was the anarchists.

Proclaiming themselves to be primarily animal rights activists, members of the Israeli anarchist group Ma’avak Echad (One Struggle) refuse to define their organization as an organization, or a movement, or anything else for that matter. Their mission is vague: to fight the institutionalized forces of oppression in Israeli society. But they do have guts. Members of Ma’avak Echad can be consistently relied upon to show up at protests in parts of the occupied territories where more respectable lefties fear to tread. It’s just that when they get there, they tend to infuriate everyone else.

At the camp, the anarchists were reluctant to take the cell phone when it was their turn because they didn’t want to tell people what to do. The concept of an obligation ran counter to their ideology. Since they wouldn’t tell anyone to come, there would be times when no one came, forcing the Palestinians to drag sulky activists in to the occupied territories at 11 o’clock at night, just so they could stand watch for a few hours and then go to work in the morning.

Problems like this were meant to be addressed at our biweekly organizational meetings…. We sat on mattresses on the ground, and took turns serving as the meeting’s designated facilitator. Each group of activists—Israelis, the Palestinians, and the internationals—elected two representatives to speak on their behalf. Decisions were to be made by consensus.

Despite the best of intentions, the meetings would invariably spiral out of control. The anarchists, of course, rejected all attempts to structure and coordinate our activities. But it was the personalities of all the organizations and their members, and their deep differences over what the camp should be and do, that were the real source of chaos.

Should we simply try and get more activists to come to the camp and work together? Was building alliances and mutual understanding our ultimate goal? Or should we be raising hell and attracting media attention? Were we trying to stop the wall or just help the farmers of Mas’ha? Should we confront the construction crews directly, stand in front of bulldozers like Rachel Corrie, try to get arrested? Or would that just hurt our cause?

The first fights would usually break out between the Israelis. The mostly middle-aged, upper-middle-class immigrants from Europe and North America who made up the ranks of Ta’ayush and Gush Shalom would clash with the younger, more radical activists of Kvish Sh’hora (Black Laundry)—a queer anti-occupation organization that protests mostly within Israel, linking the issues of queer rights and military occupation through outrageous street theater and provocative slogans like “Transgender not transfer” and “Limor Livnat [a right-wing Israeli politician], go down on me.” Then the members of each Israeli group would start bickering with each other.

Next, the international activists—Europeans and Americans from the International Solidarity Movement and the International Women’s Peace Service—would antagonize all the Israelis by scolding them for not deferring to the Palestinians. Israel, the internationals insisted, drummed the idea that Palestinians were inferior into all its children’s heads. It was the responsibility of the Israeli activists then to reverse those years of immoral socialization by letting the Palestinians speak first, yielding to their arguments, and never, under any circumstances, raising their voices.

Naturally, this led the Israelis to start shouting at the internationals, who couldn’t seem to grasp the fact that raised voices are simply an indispensable part of Israeli communication—a cultural imperative and nothing personal. Truly angry now, the Israelis would scream at the internationals for being so sanctimonious and self-righteous, and the internationals would scream right back, denouncing the Hebrew language as inherently oppressive. Finally, the Israelis would give up and go back to fighting with each other.

Despite all this not-so solidarity-esque infighting, squabbling, and sulking, the protesters were able to come to agreement on at least one matter, this one pertaining to a convenient utilization of Jewish women:

To protect ourselves from religious settlers—whom we feared might simply come to attack us—we hit on a system of placing non-virgin female Jews closest to the camp’s perimeter. Religious Jews would stay away from “impure” Jewish women, went our thinking, and so who better to guard us?

Such thinking. Interestingly enough, while hilltop encampments in the West Bank are often bewailed as nefarious violations of the Geneva Conventions, this particular campsite seems not to have bothered any Anti-Occupation activists. But the protest camp was apparently fairly sparse: Three tents, a campfire, a volleyball court, no showers, and a hole in the ground for a toilet. “On most days,” Rubin recounts, “there was toilet paper—but the environmental rights activists that came to the camp wouldn’t use it.” No kidding.

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