‘The Six Day War has already lasted forty years - it is time to end it’ was the expression used by Shauki Hatib, head of the Monitoring Committee, political leadership of Israel’s Arab citizens, and quoted on the Y-net news website.
He was not the only one who felt this way. Israel has now kept for forty years, by an ever more brutal exercise of naked force, the territories conquered in those swift six days of war in 1967 - a brilliant military victory turning into a moral quagmire in which the country has been floundering and sinking ever deeper for a full two-thirds of its history.
A lot of people and groups felt the urgent need to do something, not to let this date go unheeded. To shake their country ‘Until she opens her eyes’ - a quotation from a famous Israeli song (sometimes also used by right-wingers) which was the title for a day-long event by combined human rights groups at a converted hanger in the port of Tel-Aviv.
The horrible situation in ‘Israel’s backyard’, which goes mostly unreported in the mainstream media (and which many Israelis don’t want to hear about) was presented in comprehensive lectures by dedicated field workers, sharing some of their most disturbing findings, and some digressing into describing very emotional personal experiences undergone while collecting the data.
A through analysis of the very depressing situation was offered by a variety of sociologists, economists, political scientists, past and present diplomats and political figures, in several symposiums with impeccable academic credentials and in less formal events at tents erected in street corners and on university campus lawns.
No less than five groups of artists, independently of each other, had since early this year been working on exhibitions opening in this week at galleries around the country - of photos taken directly in the Occupied Territories by Israelis, Palestinians or both together (some of them at considerable risk to the photographers) and of paintings - by local and international painters - inspired by the situation there.
Less formally, in large-scale copies of the most shocking photos being pasted over night by activists, who also turned ad busters and changed the text of huge commercial signs at the sides of intercity highways to read ‘Forty Years of State Terrorism’.
Similar signs were hung beside the enormous portrait of Zionism’s Founding Father Theodore Herzl, at the entrance to the thriving city of Herzliya, and activists staged such ‘direct actions’ as burning garbage cans filled with tyres at the entrance to Tel-Aviv and blocking Jerusalem streets with barbed wire - complete with genuine IDF warning signs taken from West Bank roadblocks.
There were also the ‘flash mobs’ suddenly appearing in shopping malls and chiding shoppers for their addiction to consumer goods and indifference to oppression; and the addition of a red powder to public fountains throughout Tel-aviv, which made them resemble fountains of blood for hours; and the ‘Critical Mass’, dozens of bicycles decorated with black ballon and red ‘stop the occupation’ flags driving with deliberate slowness in the roads surrounding the compound of the Ministry of Defence and the IDF High Command…
Meanwhile, in a more formal way, for one day the entrance to the Tel-Aviv Cinematheque - where documentary films on the occupation were shown and numerous peace and reconciliation groups had set up stalls - was converted into a military checkpoint, an exact physical replica of those dotted across the West Bank, with visitors needing to shuffle slowly through a long and narrow passage hemmed in by gleaming metal bars and gruffly ordered to present their I.D.s by an actor wearing an IDF uniform and threateningly holding a (plastic) submachine gun. And the Women in Black, who had been holding unbroken regular weekly vigils since 1988, for this week increased the frequency to daily vigils - with their characteristic big black palms inscribed with ‘Stop the Occupation’ in Hebrew and Arabic.
Aside from trying to bring the Occupied Territories into the heart of Tel-Aviv and West Jerusalem (and to a lesser degree, of other Israeli cities and towns) there were quite a few actions in the Territories themselves. The army erected barriers and prevented Palestinians from joining the anti-settler protest at Hebron’s Old City, and conversely blocked most of the Israelis who had intended to join the Palestinian peace rally at Tulkarm. But Israelis and Palestinians in quite big numbers did succeed in meeting each other and amicably mingling, mainly in and around Jerusalem: at the rally in the football stadium of Anata; the joint car cavalcade around the Old City walls and up to Mount Olive; the two days of the Peace Song Festival at Tantur on the Jerusalem-Bethlehem border; and the launching of the Jerusalem Initiative, affirming support from both sides for the Two State Solution, at the conference hall of the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center - where the Catholic Church offers a convenient neutral venue at a location which was a deserted no-man’s-land between 1948 and 1967. Members of the Gay and Queer communities expressed their own opposition to the occupation, both as organized groups within the Tel-Aviv Gay Pride Parade which by coincidence fell within the same week and in some smaller specific events - picturesque and sometimes deliberately provocative. Gay militancy was increased by the massive offensive against them launched by ultra-Orthodox groups in Jerusalem - a bigotry which quite a few Gays see as another manifestation of the narrow-minded racism of the occupation.
The Golan Heights - also captured in the same 1967 war, mostly emptied of their Syrian population, settled with Israelis and formally annexed to Israel - were less highlighted. Still, a newly-founded women’s group, centered in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat HaSharon, held a Day of Action to collect signatures throughout the country on a petition calling upon the government to stop rejecting the peace feeler of Syrian President Assad.
Altogether, it was a more hectic and action-packed week than we have seen in quite a long time. It was physically quite impossible for a single person to attend all the events - especially on the particularly packed June 5, the precise anniversary of when it all started forty years ago.
The umbrella organization known as ‘Occupation 40’ gave up in advance the idea of trying to supervise and tightly coordinate all the events, as being both impossible and inherently undesirable, settling instead for the formula of ‘a convergence’ by numerous autonomous groups, each expressing the common rejection of the occupation and all its works by its own means and methods. The joint headquarters confined itself to compiling a comprehensive list of all activities and making it available to activists and to the Israeli, Palestinian and international media, maintaining some contact and exchange of information with similar initiatives outside the country, designing a logo with a large bleeding ‘40’ numeral which was made into a widely-distributed poster - and with organizing a single joint action in which all groups could share, in addition to their own events.
Organizing meetings had taken place with increasing frequency at the Minshar Art Academy (which itself organized and hosted a historical 1967-2007 photo exhibition) and at the Kibbutz Movement Headquarters. When the moment came near, and considerable physical space was needed for the preparation and storage of posters and leaflets, the whole rooftop of a ramshackle, half-ruined building at a Jaffa industrial zone was placed at the campaign’s disposal by a friendly entrepreneur.
Some fascinating and original ideas for the main event, raised by activists - such as constructing a giant physical maze in the form of the numbers ‘40’ - turned out to be too expensive or otherwise impracticable.
Finally, the idea of a protest march ending with a rally - not precisely original, but still a worthy and time-honored formula in the Israeli peace movement - was settled upon. A considerable lot of negotiating, haggling and the diplomatic smoothing of ruffled feathers was needed to get many groups and individuals into harness together: Zionists, non-Zionists and Anti-Zionists; supporters of the Two States Solution and of the One State; staunch respectable upholders of legality and wild youths who felt that twitting a policeman’s tail was the greatest of funs… In addition there were all kind of rivalries and old unsettled accounts between rivalling groups, on less principled grounds. Still, there was more goodwill and less obstructionism than in some past joint efforts, with everybody - whatever their differences - feeling the urgent need to make a good showing on this anniversary. Negotiating with the police on the route, too, was less difficult than in some past occasions.
The date of Saturday, June 9, was chosen - both because Saturday is the best time of the week for supporters of the Israeli peace movement to gather, and because it was the day chosen internationally for demonstrations and protests against the Israeli occupation, all around the globe.
At 6:00 pm, the appointed gathering time, there were only a few scattered people at the rendezvous point at the Rabin Square, a place which looks quite desolate when empty. But the anxiety which organisers felt was premature. Israelis, at least in this respect, are indeed a Middle Eastern people and not very punctual. By 6:15 there was already a respectable crowd, with chartered buses arriving from different parts of the country and Tel-Avivians coming on foot in increasing streams. By 6:30 it was already possible for spokespersons to phone newspaper editorial, urge those not yet present to send a reporter, and say truthfully enough: ‘Thousands of demonstrators have already turned up, and thousands more are continuing to arrive’.
The time until the demonstration marshals started getting everybody into the line of march was used by various groups to distribute leaflets advertising further actions planned for the coming day: A poetry-reading evening attended by 30 Jewish and 30 Arab poets; The Victory March to Commemorate 40 Years to the War of National Erection (with a cartoon of a tank made into a very blatant phallic symbol); a planned joint donation of blood by Jewish and Arab women, to Palestinian and Israeli medical institutions; a non-satirical commemoration for the Mugrabi Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, 130 family homes demolished by Israeli bulldozers on June 11, 1967 - the occupation’s first major act of brutality, in which a woman inhabitant was crushed to death under the ruins of her home. The presence of the Raelians, whose leaflets told that mankind was created by extra-terrestrial aliens via genetic engineering, aroused some debate (‘What are these people doing here? This has nothing to do with them!’ ‘What do you care that there is at least one sect on our side’).
One leaflet was a facsimile of an advertisement published in Ha’aretz on September 22, 1967: ‘Our right to defend ourselves against destruction does not give the right to oppress others. Occupation entails Foreign Rule / Foreign Rule entails Resistance / Resistance entails Oppression / Oppression entails Terror and Counter-Terror / The victims of terror are usually innocent / Keeping the Occupied Territories will make us into a people of murderers and victims / Get out of the Occupied Territories immediately!’ The present leaflet added just one line ‘That was published 40 years ago - shall we wait another forty years before ending the occupation and rule over another people. (In 1967, the ad’s signatories - just 12 in number, supporters of the Matzpen Group - had been widely condemned as ‘The Most Extreme of All Extremists’; nowadays, they are almost as widely hailed and embraced as brave and far-seeing pioneers, and a memorial is planned for their recently-deceased organizer Shimon Tzabar).
The insistent rolling of drums of the Batucada Peace Drummers was an effective sign for getting the march underway, bloc after bloc and contingent after contingent, by an order carefully discussed and arranged in advance - followed by a large crowd of peace supporters without any manifest factional loyalty. The Communists carried their red flags and Meretz supporters had green ones, and there were also Anarchist black flags emblazoned with a large ‘A’. Some Israeli national flags were brought by Peace Now supporters, and a few Palestinian flags - by Arabs from the Galilee, but both were greatly outnumbered by the Gush Shalom flags, featuring a circle containing the Israeli and Palestinian colors together, on a white background. And in among the flags, quite a few participants held olive branches aloft.
The organizing coalition provided a large quantity of printed signs, in two varieties - red and black - reading ‘40 occupation - a stain which cannot be removed!’. Many copies were held aloft of two posters - one with the 40 Occupation logo in white on black, the other with the photo of armed soldiers and a traditionally-dressed woman crying on the ruins of a demolished house.
The vans from whose loudspeakers the chanting of slogans was coordinated were decorated with the enormous banners: Stop the Occupation! Yes to Israeli-Palestinian Peace! Back to the 1967 borders - via an agreement! No more unilateralism - Yes to Immediate Negotiations for Regional Peace! No to Walls and fences on Palestinian land! Dismantle the settlements! Checkpoints strangle the Palestinians - remove them now! In Gaza and Sderot, children want to live!
But many of the marchers had prepared their own handmade signs, some with elaborate cartoons and drawings included: ‘The occupation is our shame!’, ‘40 years of occupation, 40 years of despair’, ‘Stop Israeli aggression, free Palestine’, ‘If it is possible to talk to us, it is possible to talk to them’, ‘The occupation 40 years balance sheet: 90 Billion Dollars wasted, 18,000 houses destroyed, 600,000 (!) Palestinians spent time behind bars - shall we continue?’ ‘Army support for criminal settlers - evil, stupidity, shame’, ‘The Wall will fall, Occupation will fall’, ‘40 years of robbery’ ‘Occupation is a cancer’ ‘The answer to racism - Israel without Zionism’; ‘Occupation is the terrorist infrastructure’; ‘We all say no to the occupation!’; ‘Jews and Arabs - we refuse to be enemies!’; ‘The occupation corrupts,’ ‘The settlements – Israel’s catastrophe’. The Combatants for Peace banner depicted two fighters throwing away their guns and extending their hands towards each other.
A group of Italian volunteers, engaged in helping out at threatened Palestinian villages, had their own banner with ‘40 anni - basta!’ and the banner from the Japanese women of the Shinfojin Akiruno had a banner composed of 40 pieces sewn together, each donated by one of their activists.
As the march turned from the Ibn Gvirol Street to King Saul Boulevard, a group burst out with ‘Peretz Peretz, Hey hey hey, How many kids did you kill today!’ and was answered by another group’s ‘Dismantle the guns/ Evacuate the settlers/ Don’t want to die in vain/ Now is the time to make peace!’ (it all rhymes in Hebrew). ‘This is the last time we call out against Peretz, by the next demonstration there will be a new Defence Minister for this slogan’ remarked one of the youths. Teddy Katz’ voice could be heard from the loudspeaker of the Gush Shalom inviting the many bystanders to join the protest march. Meanwhile, the people of the Smile Liberation Front - wearing a motley collection of mismatched military uniforms, and with clown makeups on their faces - were energetically crawling on the asphalt, in a credible mimicking of soldiers on field exercise. And a girl at the side was tightly clutching a diminutive brown dog whose shaking she was vainly trying to calm down. ‘I must go away, I should not have brought him here. He comes with me every week to the Women in Black, and he was so brave barking at the Kahane fascists when they tried to attack us. But here the crowd and the noise are just too much for him, poor dear’.
As on earlier occasions, the steps of the Sha’ar Tzion Public Library facing the Tel Aviv Museum Plaza were used as an improvised podium - saving the demonstration’s budget a considerable expense. Under the banner announcing the library’s 120’s birthday - a truly venerable institution by Israeli standards - the organisers had hanged their own: ‘After 40 years of occupation, Gaza and Sderot are burning’.
Using the powerful loudspeakers, moderators Khulood Badawi and Yana Kanapova used the time until the crowd finished filing into the plaza to exhort and orchestrate a burst of energetic chanting:
‘Peace - Yes! Occupation - No! ‘Peace - Yes! The Wall - No! Negotiations - Yes! War - No! Fence and Wall - the way to Hell! Occupation breeds hate - Peace, the way out!’
‘Forty years? Who could have imagined it!’ said a white haired man at the edge of the crowd. ‘I remember 1987, already then we said and wrote that Twenty Years of Occupation was far too long and that it could not go on like this. And now the nightmare has gone on another twenty years, and became even much worse, and who knowns how much longer it will still continue?’ A remark by the woman who passed by, holding a hand-painted sign with ‘Occupation is Our Shame and Disgrace’, made him angry: ‘Me? Despair? Not on your life! When you don’t see me in such a demonstration you will know I am in my grave!’
‘I am not so much counting years’ said the youngster with the weird hairdo and tatoos who stood nearby. ‘I was born into this dirty mess, it was here all my life. We just have to go on punching these bastards on the nose - the ministers, the generals, the settlers, the police, the whole fucking bunch of them. They will fall in the end. Look at the shape Bush the Asshole is in now, already’.
The discussion was cut short by Shauki Hatib taking the floor. ‘I am speaking to you, here in Tel Aviv, in a time of danger. Forty years after the 1967 war, there is loud talking of a new war, and there is also a rising tide of racist incitement against the Arab population in Israel. Everything we say is rejected out of hand, because it is said by Arabs. A year ago we have opposed the war in Lebanon. We did not oppose it because we were agains the Jews. We opposed it because it was bad for everybody in Israel, Jews and Arabs alike. Now, a year later, everybody agrees that it was a bad war. Does that change the attitude to us? Only to the worse! But still, I am optimistic. Yes, I am optimistic! The fact that we stand here together in Tel-Aviv, thousands of Jews and thousands of Arabs together, united in the struggle against the occupation, is a good reason to be optimistic!’
The crowd burst out in a prolonged chanting of ‘Jews and Arabs/Refuse to be enemies! Refuse to be/enemies! Refuse to be/enemies! Refuse to be/enemies!’
Next to speak was Naomi Hazan, former Meretz Knesset Member, who started on a somber note: ‘I can’t say ‘good evening’. The fact that we mark forty years of occupation means this is a bad evening, an evening of pain, of shame, of anger and frustration, of realizing that our efforts in the past forty years have failed, our efforts to end the occupation and achieve a peace agreement, have failed. Which just means that we have to renew the struggle, continue it and intensify it - and this time win! We have to protest - protest against the Wall, against the settlement extension, against oppression, against the people who at this moment sit in Jerusalem and plan the next war!’ (Wild clapping). ‘But protest is not enough. We have to support a political solution, to push until it is implemented. There are lessons to learn from the past ten years. No more unilateral actions, no more partial steps, certainly no more ‘managing the conflict’, no more preconditions for negotiations and preconditions for the preliminaries to negotiations and no more obstruction tactics. No more talking of a Peace Process as a need in itself. The time has come to tackle the main problems, the fundamental problems, and to solve them. And the solution is clear and obvious: two states for two peoples, two capitals for two states in Jerusalem, dismantling of settlements, and yes - a solution for the refugees according to the UN resolutions including an Israeli admission of Israel’s part in creating this problem, and an Israeli apology for that part. There is a peace coalition of Israelis and Palestinians, who think alike, who can and should work together to achieve this solution. There is a wide international backing. A Palestinian state will set Israel free, free from being an occupier(clapping).
Before passing on to the next speaker, Badawi read out the long list of cities where demonstrations against the occupation have taken place: London, Washington, Sydney, Brussels, Sao Paolo, Toronto, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Dublin, Rome, Osaka, Amsterdam, Capetown, Johannesburg, Geneva… Each name was greeted with clapping, which increased when a greeting of solidarity with the demonstrators against the G-8 summit in Germany was read out.
Bassem Aramin of Anata, a large Palestinian suburb of Jerusalem, was among the Palestinian founders of Combatants for Peace. Five months ago, he got to the headlines under tragic circumstances when his ten year old daughter Abeer was killed by Israeli ‘Border Guards’ (euphemism for the notorious Israeli Riot Police). He spoke in Arabic, every sentence being translated into Hebrew - though on several occasions he corrected the translator, exhibiting a fair knowledge of Hebrew himself. ‘I don’t seek revenge, none of us seeks revenge, revenge is useless. We who have fought have come together to make peace. Palestinians who have taken the gun in order to free our people from the occupation, and Israelis who have come to our land as soldiers with guns, as occupiers, as killers. We are now all together in one movement, we are trying to end the occupation and make peace.
Do you know why the army is not allowing Israeli citizens to enter the Palestinian territories? Do you know why? They say it is for your safety, but that is not the real reason. The reason Israelis are not allowed to enter the territories is that your politicians are afraid that the people would find out the truth about what’s going on there. The truth is that your boys who were sent there have become bad boys, without any reservations or red lines left, bad boys who are making the Palestinians’ life unbearable. This is what they don’t want you to know!’
Nurit Peled Elhanan, who followed directy afterwards, had been billed as one of four co-equal speakers. But planned or not, hers was unquestionably the keynote speech.
‘Bassam and me are both victims of the cruel occupation which is ravaging this country for forty years already. We have both come here to cry for the cruel fate of this country where my daughter Smadar and his daughter Abeer - both named for flowers - were murdered, at an interval of ten years from each other. And during these ten years, this country was filled with the spilled blood of children, and the underground Children’s Kingdom, over which we step unheeding every day and every hour, has grown unbearably huge. But what unites Bassam and me is not only the death which the occupation has visited upon us. What unites us is especially the belief and determination to so raise the children which are left to us that they will never again leave their lives in the hands of corrupt, greedy, power-seeking politicians and blood-thirsty conquering generals. Never will our children allow these politicians and generals to set them at each other’s throats, never will they let the prevalent racism of this country push them off their chosen road, the road of peace and fellowship! For it is only this fellowship which can bring down the wall of racism which is being built in front of us.’
Full English translation
Yoav Kapshuk of the Y-net news website, walking through the crowd and seeking the two polar ends of the spectrum represented in the demonstration, talked with Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now (‘Continued occupation means the destruction of Zionism, now is the time to act before the opportunity for peace is lost.’) and with Yonatan Pollack of ‘Anarchists against the Wall’ (‘Israel is creating an Apartheid system in the occupied territories, the international civilian population must boycott Israel in order to force an end to the occupation.’).
Meanwhile, the podium was taken by artists. Rona Klein sung one of the bitter Hanoch Levin satirical pieces which had shaken the Israeli society of 1968 and 1969, still barely out of the post-war euphoria: ‘The cook prepares meat for the General/ The General prepares a sumptuous meal for the cannons/The squad follows the sergeant-major/The sergeant major also goes the way of all flesh/My brother the hero has fallen for his country/His heart is now open to the grass/His blood has flowed out/Nothing will bring him back/Not even a special decree by the Army Chief of Staff…’
The three members of the Biluyim sung a piece of their own making, full of allusions to the heroic poetry of Israel’s early years, with the refrain: ‘We have tried so hard, we have covered up the ruins, we have changed the names of all the streets, all we ever wanted was to sit with our fathers around the fire, as in the Good Old Days of the Palmach’ [pre-1948 Jewish militia].
The final word of the evening was given to a performer in quite a different style, the rapper and hip-hop artist Sameh Zakout a.k.a. Saz, who had found the style created in black ghettos of America highly appropriate for the his own life experience in the Arab community of Ramla - a discriminated, marginalized and poverty-stricken minority in what had been an Arab city before 1948. He immediately broke into a fast-moving rap song (Hebrew with some Arabic mixed in) telling of life hemmed in with walls and fences, trapped between police and drug pushers, and with the constant refrain ‘Every morning we wake up / to the same messed up reality / Every morning, every morning, every morning. / They sell you the same bullshit / Every morning, every morning, every morning.’ Finally, he called upon the crowd to give ‘a very very loud shout, to let all the fascists around here, all those who call us stinking Arabs and traitor leftists or the other way around, let them all hear what we think of them’. Only on the third try was he satisfied with the volume of unanimous shout of the crowd.
List of participating organizations in the Coalition Against the Occupation: Gush Shalom, Balad, The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Hadash, Peace Now, Meretz Youth, Meretz Young-Our Colors, Yesh Gvul, New Profile, Combatants For Peace, The Alternative Information Center (AIC), Shministim Letter, Machsom Watch, Women In Black, The Fifth Mother, The Left Forum-Haifa University, Students’ Coalition-Tel-Aviv University, Maki, Banki, Tandi, Hacampus Lo Shotek (_The Campus Will not Shut Up_), Indymedia Israel, ACTV, Ta Circle (Bereaved Family Forum), In co-operation with The Follow Up Committee For The Arab population in Israel.
Postscript: The ‘Occupation 40’ events had been announced in a major media campaign, and the impact of the many small and some bigger actions can be gauged by the rising howl of right-wingers that ‘the leftists have hijacked the commemoration of forty years to the Six Day War Victory.’
Nadav Haetzni - lawyer, settler leader and Ma’ariv columnist - can serve as a typical example: ‘This week marks forty years for our return home, home to Hebron of Our Fathers, to Ruth’s Bethlehem, and of course to Jerusalem the very Fount of our National Existence. In 1967 Zionism was vindicated in Six Glorious Days. But now, instead of breaking out in a wild hora dance to commemorate this anniversary, we are the target of a massive offensive of mourning and disinformation, aimed at completely distorting history. The more the events of 40 years to the war came nearer, the more intensive the campaign of blackening everything national or zionist or patriotic. - I was invited to a discussion organized by the Bar Association in Eilat, under the seemingly neutral title ‘Legal Aspects of forty years of Israeli rule in the Territories’. When I got there, I was shocked to find myself in the midst of a wild attack our so-called ‘occupation’ which some speakers actually characterized as ‘the most barbaric in history’’ (Ma’ariv, June 1).
For his part, the mainstream senior commentator Sever Plotker of Yediot Aharonot remarked: ‘The anniversary of the Six Days’ War is conspicuous in the complete absence of any official or public event to mark it - except for the gatherings of the organizations marking 40 years to the occupation’ (Yediot Aharonot, June 5).
Finally, one can quote the left-wing song writer Dan Almagor, who was invited to moderate a public discussion on the songs and popular culture of 1967 and the years immediately following it - both those celebrating the war and the army and the beginnings of anti-war satire and protest. ‘When I was asked to take responsibility for this evening, some months ago, the idea was an alternative event, with a more critical point of view to what happened in 1967. But the mainstream presentations to which this evening was supposed to be an alternative turned out to be already quite alternative themselves’. (Event at Tzavta Club, Tel Aviv, June 7).