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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.

  • Earl Shugerman

    More than 88% of Israelis oppose the settlement policies. The country has not moved to the right, left or middle. The current government barely got elected. Hamas will not accept any two state settlement. How can they be a partner in peace? Israel has peace with Egypt, Jordan, and is progressing with The Palestinian Authority. Turkey is a Muslim country. The Palestinians and thousands of Jews were driven from their homes by The Arab League in 1948. I am not asking Saudia Arabia for reperations or bombing school buses in Cairo. Most Palestinians do not either, including the 1.5 million that live in pre-1967 Israel. Hamas is the only real obstacle to peace that remains. They take their orders from Iran. Why are you not writing about Iran and their treatment of their own people?

    Earl in Haifa

    • unjusticehater

      Israel never actually wants peace. The only peace the israelies are intrested in is more “piece” of palastienien land. Its always the others that are not partners in peace from your point of view. How can you expect someone be your partner in peace when you isralies pretend to talk about peace on one hand and on the other keep building illeagel settelments in the same period.

  • Pingback: Interview with Global Voices Online | ibn Ezra

  • Casper

    Unfortunately for Israel many people see it as country where most people are quite happy with the politics dictated by a minority. Also the above statement does not hold water – you do not know what the opposite side wants until you actually commit to take them seriously and sit down and talk to them. Weather or not they want to eradicate Israel you still need to talk to them as they will not stop throwing stones at your glasshouse until you do.

  • MERC

    “The Palestinians and thousands of Jews were driven from their homes by the Arab League in 1948″? And the moon is made of green cheese.

  • Jason Paz

    Since the Palestinians are not interested in a two-state solution, they rejected President Obama’s request to disarm. Gaza can serve as a launching pad for 11,000 Iranian missiles including any nuclear warheads they may possess. The self-styled peacemakers only prolong the conflict by giving the Arabs hope to destroy Israel.

    • azmat

      Jason
      You’re absolutely right x 1mill.%, the Palestinians want no kind of peace with anyone other than the Muslim militanat brotherhood. Simply because Islam doen’t teach it. They just don’t understand the long term benefits of global peace and prospaerity. The only thing they want right now is fuel for jihad against the Jews and Christians. They want to destroy Israel, the only civilized democracy in that region. But Israel is not going anywhere anytime soon.

  • William Burns

    Yeah, 88% of Israelis oppose the settlement project, and yet the settlements continue to grow. Weird, that.

  • MERC

    When are the Israelis going to disarm?

  • Casper

    I try to be as objective as possible (with a hint towards the Palestinians), I do understand why they turned down the Obama’s request, would you disarm if you then would be open to attacks by the Israeli army. If Obama had said that he would bomb Tel Aviv if the Israelis would bomb either the west bank, or gaza then things might have been different.

    They do not trust anyone, until there is trust nothing will happen – on both sides….

  • Pingback: Top 5 videos on Israel-Palestine « Global Socialite

  • azmat mall, sialkoti

    Its a sheer nonsense to believe that muslims are capable of negotiating peace with Israelis or anyone else. You have to go back to the teachings of Quran which teaches it folowers to hate and kill others. There is no teaching of co-existence, there is no pluralism in Islam. We could go on and on. My grandpa used to say, “its not the religion that corrpts people, its the people who corrupt religion.” In Islam its both ways, in theory and practice. It is not a religion of peace even though they boast it is the most peaceful. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. This religion has flourished by the dogma of submission by the sword, among people who are not educated or allowed to question its belief sytem. The concept of peace doesn’t exist in Islam. Therefore its hard for them to negotiate peace on any level. In a religion of fundamentalism there is no such thing as liberalism or moderateism. There has to be a great reformation in Islam someday to bring them out of dark ages. But I doubt it seriously that it would happen anytime soon. Looking at the present day Islamic regimes one has to feel very passamistic. As a human being you want to feel empathetic towards the palestinian plight. The big question is do they undestand or want peace? The answer is big NO.

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