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Israel: A Belief In Coexistence – Interview With Activist Ibn Ezra

While Israel as a whole has moved to the right in recent years, there are nevertheless Israelis who oppose their government’s policies towards the Palestinians, and are active in groups such as Peace Now, Gush Shalom, New Profile, Machsom Watch, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and Anarchists Against the Wall. Global Voices Online has interviewed activist Joseph Dana, who blogs at Ibn Ezra, about his involvement with the group Ta'ayush (“coexistence”), the state of activism in Israel, and using social media to get the message out.

Why have you chosen to use the name Ibn Ezra?

I am a student of Jewish philosophy and as such I have come into contact with the 11th Spanish Jewish philosopher Avraham ibn Ezra. Ibn Ezra was a Bible commentator and wrote extensively about co-existence between Jews and Arabs in Muslim Spain. When I was thinking about a title for the website it felt like a natural fit. It is also a meaningful play on words, as ibn Ezra literally means “son of Ezra,” as if we who are involved in direct action are all sons of the prominent activist Ezra Nawi, a long time member of Ta'ayush and a guru of the Israeli and Palestinian left whom I wanted to include on the website in a meaningful way.

Joseph Dana documenting new construction at an outpost near the settlement of Susya.

Joseph Dana documenting new construction at an outpost near the Israeli settlement of Susya in the southern West Bank.

Could you tell us something about Ta‎’ayush? How did you first get involved?

From its earliest days, Ta'ayush has produced action only, neither manifestos nor ideological debates. The group that consolidated wanted to reverse the usual scale of priorities: after realizing that declarations do not always stand the test of ‘moments of truth’, action was chosen as the way to demonstrate a refusal to accept the repetition of incursions, and to be present where things took place. Direct, non-violent action was the path chosen, as well as decision-making by consensus. Ta'ayush formulated a position paper by the end of December 2000, but its fine-points took up too much time and energy. It was decided to put off this task, and gain the participation of everyone who identified with the actions that were planned to express clear positions. Protest by actual doing, by outspoken negation of the separation between Arabs and Jews in Israel in every realm of life, and of the Occupation itself, of starvation, closure, movement limitations and military incursions that Israel practices in the Occupied Territories.

As an Israeli-American concerned with the conflict and firmly against the occupation I was drawn to Ta'ayush because of the inclusion of voices and viewpoints. I feel that most of the organizations and groups on the ground are deeply mired in rigid ideological viewpoints. Ta'ayush, while clearly against the occupation, does not make solid claims on ideology or long term goals. Instead we focus on direct action week after week. Furthermore, as an Israeli Jew, I think that it is important to work with fellow Israelis that want to break down barriers between Palestinians and Israelis, as opposed to simply fueling anti-Israeli rhetoric like other anti-occupation groups tend to do.

While you are clearly working to support Palestinians in resisting the actions of Israeli settlers, the military and the police, your videos seem to focus on the experience of the activists themselves, rather than that of the Palestinians. Is this because the videos are aimed at an Israeli audience?

Often times the interaction that we experience is between us and the settlers and soldiers. Understandably, Palestinians tend to hover behind us during these interactions because they live by a very different system of laws than we do. Meaning, an Israeli can be detained and by law will see a judge within 24 hours while a Palestinians can sit in jail for up to three days before seeing a judge. So they generally prefer to leave the interactions with the soldiers/settlers to the Israeli activists.

There is an aspect of showing the interaction vis a vis the rule of law between Israelis and soldiers/settlers to the Israeli general public and the American Jewish community (the website is in English specifically because my main audience is the United States public). I want to stress the image that Israelis that choose to work with Palestinians against the occupation lose some of their rights as citizens and efficiently start to experience a slice of the reality of law that Palestinians have to live with. I want to cover our reaction to this phenomenon and show it to Jewish communities throughout the world.

Do you feel that anti-occupation activism has increased or decreased in Israel in recent years? How are Israeli activists generally perceived? Is there mainstream Israeli media coverage of the activism taking place?

Israel has moved far to the right over the past ten years as Israeli society has largely accepted the status quo of occupation and the lack of a Palestinian partner for peace. “Leftwing” governments’ consistent role in the settlement project since 1967 and the recent war in Gaza has exposed the weakness of traditional left parties like Labor and Meretz. As a result of these trends, I feel like the Israeli left has died. In its place, a new left has begun to take shape. A left that is interested in direct action against the occupation and is highly critical of the Israeli army and security establishment.

While this group is still a minority, it is gaining strength and exposure, however the majority of Israel considers it to be radical and questionable. As a result, anti-occupation activists tend to be marginalized in the general public. But it should be noted that occupation monitoring organizations such as Peace Now, B'tselem, and Yesh Din garner respect in society and are recognized as important resources for information.

In terms of mainstream media coverage of our actions, most media outlets are happy to air footage or reports of settler violence. However, the media is still unwilling to air stories or footage of IDF violence directed toward Israeli peace activists. This is a line that simply has not been crossed in Israel yet, as the majority of the Israeli public is not yet willing to challenge the dominance of the IDF.

I have been working hard on using internet media to get out Ta'ayush experiences and it has been met with great success. My website has become a resource for on-the-ground videos and commentary about the reality of the occupation in the south West Bank. The live tweeter updates (@ibnezra) that I have been sending from the West Bank have found an important international audience that I hope will grow as the story of Israelis that resist the occupation must be told.

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