The col­o­niza­tion of the con­flict

Weekly demon­stra­tions at Bil’in against the se­cu­rity fence have at­tracted a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of protest-tourists

The Jerusalem Post - - Comment & Features - • By SETH J. FRANTZMAN

Re­cent rev­e­la­tions that Euro­pean em­bassies in Is­rael and the EU fund some rad­i­cal Is­raeli hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions beg the ques­tion: To what de­gree is the con­flict be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans chore­ographed and col­o­nized by out­siders?

In the weekly protest at Bil’in, Pales­tini­ans again threw rocks at sol­diers and at­tempted to break through the se­cu­rity fence. But as hap­pens ev­ery week, there were more for­eign­ers than Arabs. Even the Arabs that come aren’t from nearby. The event is like a play or sit­com staged again and again; the for­mat is the same ev­ery time.

So why does it go on? The pro­test­ers don’t have an ac­tual goal. They claim to be An­ar­chists Against the Wall or peace ac­tivists, but the events at Bil’in aren’t peace­ful and there is no re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tion that the weekly rit­ual will ac­tu­ally af­fect the fence. Nor is the fence in that area par­tic­u­larly egre­gious; it de­vi­ates from the Green Line by less than two kilo­me­ters and doesn’t bi­sect Arab homes or any­thing of that na­ture.

So why does it go on? It goes on be­cause those who ar­rive there have a vested in­ter­est in hav­ing it go on. Web sites (such as Bil­invil­ de­voted to the protest stress that many im­por­tant peo­ple and or­ga­ni­za­tions have joined, in­clud­ing the Is­raeli Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tion Physi­cians for Hu­man Rights, the In­ter­na­tional Sol­i­dar­ity Move­ment (ISM) and Gush Shalom. It is a manda­tory stop on any protest-tourist’s visit to the Holy Land. And it is the place to get wounded for for­eign pro­test­ers.

Thus Euro­pean Par­lia­ment Vice Pres­i­dent Luisa Mor­gan­tini and Julio Toscano, an Ital­ian judge, were in­jured there in June 2008. Mairead Cor­ri­gan, who won a No­bel Peace Prize for work in North­ern Ire­land, was hurt in an April 2007 protest. Ly­mor Gold­stein, an Is­raeli lawyer, was wounded in 2006. But th­ese peo­ple weren’t wounded ac­ci­den­tally or be­cause the sol­diers in­tended to wound them; they were wounded be­cause they wanted to be wounded. They chose to be wounded as a sort of badge of honor.

No one is more em­blem­atic of the sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship be­tween pro­test­ers and Bil’in than Jonathan Pol­lak, a leader of An­ar­chists Against the Wall. A graphic de­signer who grew up in Tel Aviv (and now lives in Jaffa), he is the son of ac­tor Yossi Pol­lak and brother of ac­tor Avshalom Pol­lak and film di­rec­tor Shai Pol­lak. He has sup­pos­edly been in­volved in more than 300 demon­stra­tions. As part of his work with the ISM, he even toured the US on a fund-rais­ing mis­sion in 2005. This type of protest-tourism isn’t about a le­git­i­mate cause, it is about a way of life; the protest is not a means to an end but the end in it­self. Were the wall to dis­ap­pear, the protest would have to go on be­cause so much is in­vested in it.

Con­sider the amount of money that goes into fund­ing the for­eign­ers who at­tend the Bil’in protest. Con­sider the air fares, the ho­tel ac­com­mo­da­tions and trans­port to and from the site. Con­sider the Web sites, the nu­mer­ous or­ga­ni­za­tions and the me­dia at­ten­tion. When Naomi Klein, a Cana­dian au­thor, vis­ited Is­rael in June to launch her book The Shock Doc­trine trans­lated into He­brew, she made the re­quired pil­grim­age to Bil’in and voiced sup­port for a boy­cott of Is­rael: “It’s an ex­traor­di­nar­ily im­por­tant part of Is­rael’s iden­tity to be able to have the il­lu­sion of West­ern nor­malcy. When that is threat­ened, when the rock con­certs don’t come, when the sym­phonies don’t come, when a film you re­ally want to see doesn’t play at the Jerusalem film fes­ti­val... then it starts to threaten the very idea of what the Is­raeli state is.”

The Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict is very real, but there is a side that is sim­ply en­ter­tain­ment for the West. This is ev­i­denced in the dis­pro­por­tion­ate cov­er­age in The New York Times and BBC of the most mi­nor peo­ple, in­ci­dents and events here, es­pe­cially if there are olive trees in the back­ground. The “ peace” or­ga­ni­za­tions in­volved have a vested fi­nan­cial and per­sonal in­ter­est in its con­tin­u­a­tion. Without the con­flict they would have noth­ing to do. That is why peace ac­tivism at Bil’in doesn’t take the form of peace­ful protest, but of rock-throw­ing and as­saults de­signed to en­cour­age the tear gas and rub­ber bul­lets which are needed for peo­ple to claim they were “in­jured,” all in front of the cam­eras.

That isn’t a peace protest, it’s puerile pos­tur­ing. Were the con­flict to go away the le­gions of peo­ple like Pol­lak and Klein would no longer be “ac­tivists” as a job de­scrip­tion. Peo­ple don’t work against their self­in­ter­est. If their job is peace, they live for war be­cause without it their life’s work would dis­ap­pear.

Fur­ther­more, without Bil’in where would Euro­peans and Amer­i­cans go for a protest-tourist va­ca­tion? And why are th­ese peace or­ga­ni­za­tions funded by Euro­pean em­bassies in Is­rael? Isn’t med­dling in the in­ter­nal af­fairs of a host coun­try con­trary to the job of an em­bassy?


PALES­TINIAN, IS­RAELI, and for­eign ac­tivists run from tear gas fired by IDF troops dur­ing a weekly protest against the construction of the se­cu­rity bar­rier in the West Bank vil­lage of Bilin near Ra­mal­lah.

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