By Abir Kopty
Although some Israelis are calling for making a clear connection to Israel’s occupation, the July 14 movement for “social justice” is far from endorsing a position on this, for many reasons.
First, July 14 is not a united movement. Over time, the Israeli neo-liberal and capitalist regime has increased individualism. In Tel Aviv boulevards, one can find tents identified with many different groups and issues and demands: single mothers, teachers, students, social workers, the disabled, pensioners, etc. Israel has not only built cement apartheid walls, it has also created many psychological barriers and walls between its own citizens
The movement is trying hard to be inclusive, from right to left, in fact. It is true that all these groups have come together and rallied, chanting, “the people want social justice”. But when it comes to forming a list of demands, the divergent groups raise different interests — in some cases even conflicting ones. Consequently, major effort is put into finding common ground and agreeing on joint demands rather than addressing historical injustices and structural change.
Second, Israelis separate between the “social” and the “political”. Many people who are taking part in the movement keep repeating “the struggle is not political”. This will prevent many from questioning state priorities, which certainly entails questioning its politics. Furthermore, this mantra, along with the general inclusiveness, makes settlers, who are trampling on Palestinian rights on a daily basis, feel included. But this, of course, is political not social.
Third, the left in Israel (especially the non-Zionist left) has been delegitimized. The Israeli left is now labeled as “haters of Israel” after massive systematic campaigning by the right wing, backed by political parties like the Likud and supported by a wide range of organizations promoting the rightist agenda. The protesters of July 14 do not want to be affiliated or labeled as “anti-Israel extremists”.
Finally, Israeli protestors are not calling for the fall of the regime, as did protestors in Arab countries. If they were, I am not sure Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the state security apparatuses would be as tolerant. Netanyahu and Israeli “hasbara” (roughly “propaganda” in Hebrew) will do their utmost to distinguish Israeli democracy and freedom of speech from neighboring oppressive and criminal Arab regimes. Israelis remain eager to celebrate their democracy, and continue to deny their state’s lack of democracy or tolerance when it comes to Palestinians.
These Israeli limits are well-known to the Palestinian community within Israel. This is why our reaction took some time. Currently, there are many Arab/Palestinian encampments in major towns like Nazareth, Baqa Al-Gharabiya, Sakhnin, Arrabeh, Haifa, Jaffa, Led, Hurfeich, Yerka, Majd al-Krom, Qalansaweh, Um al-Fahem, Jaljuliya, Al-Alaraqib and more.
These demonstrators did not go to Tel Aviv’s boulevards but decided to set up their own tents in Palestinian towns and neighborhoods. In Tel Aviv, the protests are about housing. For Palestinians, it is about house demolitions and land grabs. In Tel Aviv, protests are about the high price of apartments; for Palestinians, it is about the lack of housing and planning. In Tel Aviv, protests are about “cottage cheese”; for Palestinians, it is about the 60 percent of children living under the poverty line.
The discourse in the Palestinian tents is totally different than that in the Tel Aviv tents. Occupation and historical injustices are on the table, the connection between the social and political is very clear, and the demands are the same in Sakhnin, Nazareth, Haifa, Um Al-Fahem, Jaffa or the Naqab: they are collective, not individual.
In addition, these encampments are a great opportunity to bring together Palestinian youth and mobilize them. Most tents offer different cultural and political activities —from demonstrations to lectures on planning and housing to commemorations for poet Mahmoud Darwish, film screenings, and musical events.
Many tents have even managed to bring together the various parties and political movements that represent the Palestinian community to cooperate and mobilize, which is in itself a blessing. Many tents have engaged Jewish activists, which creates an alternative and challenges the existing structure of separation.
To summarize, most Palestinians are choosing to bring their voice to this movement and not isolate themselves. July 14 is an opportunity for Palestinians to organize and motivate themselves. It will not, however, bring the change Palestinians seek. Our struggle did not start today; it started before 1948 and will probably continue after July 14.
July 14 has created opportunities for activism that the Israeli regime has worked long and hard to prevent. People have come together, and this is already power. Yet this movement will not go beyond the Zionist boundaries; it might achieve concrete demands, but it will not change the dominant social, economic and political structures. It won’t do so until it addresses the injustice underway since 1948 and comes to terms with Friedrich Engels’ famous saying: “A nation cannot become free and at the same time continue to oppress other nations.”
Abir Kopty is a media analyst and consultant and political activist. This commentary is published by DAILY NEWS EGYPT in collaboration with bitterlemons-international.org.