On 15 July, thousands of Israelis marched in occupied East Jerusalem to show their support for a Palestinian “state” in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Portrayed by its Israeli organizers as a joint Palestinian-Israeli march and ornamented with the slogans of “shared struggle” and “solidarity,” the Palestinian participation in the event was however scarce — a fraction of those in attendance were Palestinians. This event came a few weeks after a similar march in Tel Aviv, and while the Jerusalem march garnered more publicity due to its location, both events expose the failures of the purported solidarity of the Israeli Zionist “left” with the Palestinians.
The term solidarity — much like co-existence — is so overused in the liberal Zionist discourse as to render it meaningless. The misconception of solidarity raises the question: what does solidarity mean and, more specifically, when can an act carried out by Israelis in the name of supporting Palestinians be considered an act of true solidarity?
Can every instance of Israelis flocking to the streets chanting “End the occupation” be blithely described as solidarity? Should every occasion of Israelis carrying Palestinian flags be ecstatically celebrated as a major boost for the Palestinian cause? Should Palestinians be simply grateful that, amid the increasing construction of settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the overwhelming surge of racism in Israeli society, there are still some Israeli voices willing to “recognize” a Palestinian state?
When persons in a position of privilege formulate and design a solution and impose it on a colonized and occupied people as the only viable solution and the “sole remaining constructive step,” as the 15 July call to action put it, this is not solidarity but rather another form of occupation. Solidarity means not telling people what you think their problem is, let alone telling them what you think the solution should be. Solidarity means not agreeing on everything or even agreeing on a fixed solution but fighting for a shared cause irrespective of the differences.
A quasi-state built on 22 percent of the land of historic Palestine is not what Palestinians have been fighting for over the last 63 years and presenting it as such strips Palestinians of their voices and of their right to decide their own destiny.
Many argue, though, that struggling shoulder-to-shoulder with Zionist leftists widens the support base for Palestine and provides Palestinians with an opportunity to debate and convince the other side. This would be true if Zionists viewed Palestinians as equal partners but they do not. The whole idea of two states for two peoples as the only solution to the Palestinian-Israeli impasse — extremely popular among liberal Zionists — is predicated upon isolationism, exceptionalism and Zionists’ sense of moral righteousness and superiority to Palestinians which grants them the legitimacy to determine the problem, the solution and the means by which this solution shall be achieved.
A “joint” Palestinian-Zionist march does not offer an opportunity to engage in a productive dialogue; it rather gives Zionists one more chance to marginalize Palestinians’ voices and lecture Palestinians on how they should resist and what they should accept.
Thus, these demonstrations that ostensibly demand equality in reality maintain the privileged status of Israeli Jews. And although such demonstrations are capable of drawing thousands of Israelis every once in a while, they do not really widen the Israeli support base for Palestinians. Instead, they reflect support for a “solution” that overlooks the refugee problem — the core of the Palestinian struggle — and fragments the Palestinian nation and dooms Palestinian citizens in Israel to perpetual inferiority and discrimination.
Solidarity is not measured by numbers; it’s not about how many people came to a pro-Palestine demonstration. It is about why those people came. Fighting alongside fifty Israelis who are truly committed to the Palestinian cause is, therefore, much more important and valuable than marching in the shadow of thousands of Israelis who think Palestine is merely the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
On its Facebook page, the 15 July Jerusalem march was titled in Hebrew “Marching for the independence of Palestine” while the Arabic version read, “Together towards the liberation of Palestine.” There is a huge difference between liberation and an “independent state.” Freedom for Palestinians means much more than establishing a bantustan in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The inconsistency in the Arabic and Hebrew wording is telling but it is neither new nor rare for “leftist” Israeli organizations to address the Palestinian public in a different language and tone to that used for addressing the Israeli public.
Of the hundred or so Palestinians who attended the march, many may have joined because of the false perception that the aim of this march was to demand freedom, rather than to call for bogus “independence.” In addition, members of the Palestinian popular committees of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, whose neighborhoods face house demolitions and a silent, grinding process of ethnic cleansing, say that they felt they had no option but to join the march in order to draw attention to their struggle. But their plight was exploited by the organizers to advertise the march as a “joint struggle,” to score political points and serve their public relations purposes.
The contributions of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, the main organizers of the 15 July march, should not be diminished. The weekly demonstrations it has been organizing in Sheikh Jarrah and al-Lydd shed light on the struggle of the Palestinian residents against Israel’s systematic policy of house demolition and evictions. Leading members of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement and other Israeli leftist peace organizations receive vicious attacks from the Israeli far right, including death threats and accusations of treason.
This, however, must not place them beyond criticism. For all their activism, they have failed to fully embrace the Palestinian public and get it involved. Their demonstrations are dominated by white, secular liberal Zionists and the Palestinian voice, which they supposedly want to make heard, is inaudible amid a chorus of Hebrew-language chants about peace and coexistence. Even the slogans and the placards which were raised during the demonstrations were decided beforehand by the Israeli organizers, turning the protests into a tedious, painfully predictable and elitist routine.
In sum, Israeli “solidarity” is a double-edged sword. It has the potential of advancing the Palestinian cause and influencing Israeli public opinion and bringing the Palestinian struggle into the mainstream media. However, there is a great risk of groups hijacking the growing grassroots movement of Palestinian popular resistance under the cloak of solidarity and coexistence.
That there is a sweeping tide of blatant extremism among the Israeli ruling elite and wider society does not mean that Palestinians should gratefully cheer soft-core Zionist “compromises.” Solidarity is neither an act of charity nor a festival of boastful speeches and empty rhetoric. It is a moral obligation that should be carried out with full, unwavering and unconditional commitment.
Those who seek appreciation and gratitude had better stay in their cozy chairs in Tel Aviv. Attempts to exploit the Palestinian plight for political purposes and to turn the Palestinian cause from a struggle for human rights, justice, freedom and equality into a parade of fake independence and cliches must be called out and countered.