In an analysis on the political fallout from the killing of Jawaher Abu Rahmah, a Palestinian women who died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops in the West Bank on Friday, Tony Karon writes:
[T]he news of Abu Rahmah’s death has highlighted a new alliance emerging between a small number of Israeli leftists and Palestinians engaged in unarmed mass protest action. Scores of Israeli activists had actually joined Friday’s demonstration, and they challenged the IDF claim that tear gas was fired only after stones were thrown by protesters. The news that Abu Rahmah had died brought hundreds of Israeli Jews to a protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday night outside Israel’s Defense Ministry, where a handful were arrested. More were held later by the police after 25 protesters converged on the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Israel and allegedly threw some of the U.S.-made tear-gas canisters collected in Bil’in onto his lawn.
The self-described leftists and anarchists engaged in direct action in concert with unarmed Palestinian protests are a negligible presence on an Israeli political spectrum whose median has moved steadily to the right over the past decade. But their actions may be directed less at the Israeli political mainstream than at international civil society. The Israeli protesters often use English rather than Hebrew in placards and slogans, and explicitly connect Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories with South Africa’s apartheid system. That’s intended as a signal to international civil society, which helped end the apartheid regime through its support for boycotts and economic sanctions in the 1980s. Joseph Dana, an Israeli activist and the media coordinator for the Palestinian Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, says these Israeli leftists are “seeking to use the privileged access their voice carries in North America and Europe to add power to the voice of the Palestinians they struggle alongside, sidestepping engagement with [an Israeli] society that is unwilling to listen.”
Their numbers may be relatively small, but the activists are certainly making their presence felt. Weekly demonstrations against Israeli settlement activity in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem regularly draw scores of Israelis, who have also ventured out to demonstrations elsewhere in the West Bank. Just last week, Israeli anarchist Jonathan Pollak was sentenced to three months in an Israeli prison for his role in a bicycle protest against the Gaza blockade three years ago. In court for his sentencing, an unrepentant Pollak wore a T-shirt bearing the face of slain South African antiapartheid activist Steve Biko.
As much as it irks Israel’s liberal supporters in the West, the apartheid comparison with Israel’s occupation is being drawn more and more frequently, even by current Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Barak, of course, was using it to warn his countrymen of the danger of failing to achieve a two-state solution, which leaves Palestinians effectively ruled by a state that denies them citizenship. But its function for Tel Aviv leftists is to spur the international community to action — hoping that the fact that it comes from Jewish Israelis will counter any hesitation based on sensitivity to charges of anti-Semitism in the West.
The growing assertiveness of Israel’s leftists has the authorities worried.