Monbiot: The movement written off after September 11 is demonstrating its worth in Palestine

Mike Friedman mikedf at amnh.org
Sun Apr 28 11:41:37 MDT 2002


World Bank to West Bank

The movement written off after September 11 is demonstrating its worth in
Palestine

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 9th April 2002


There are two sets of human shields in use in the West Bank. The first is
less than willing. The Israeli army, like the terrorist organisations it
has fought, has been taking hostages. Its soldiers have been propelling
Palestinian civilians through the doors of suspect buildings, so that the
gunmen they might harbour have to kill them first if they want to fight back.

The second set of human shields has deliberately placed itself in the line
of fire. Since the army's offensive in the West Bank began, hundreds of
Israeli peace campaigners and foreign activists have been seeking to put
themselves in its way. At great personal risk, members of the International
Solidarity Movement have sought to protect civilians by making hostages of
themselves. It is a display of extraordinary courage and self-sacrifice. It
is also the latest incarnation of a movement which just months ago was left
for dead.

The movement to which many of the peace activists now risking their lives
in Ramallah and Bethlehem belong has no name. Some people have called it an
anti-globalisation or anti-corporate or anti-capitalist campaign. Others
prefer to emphasise its positive agenda, calling it a democracy or
internationalist movement. But because they have always put practice first
and theory second, its members have proved impossible to categorise.
Whenever it appears to have assumed an identity outsiders believe they can
grasp, it morphs into something else. It is driven by a new, responsive
politics, informed not by ideology but by need.

After September 11, this nameless thing appeared to vanish as swiftly as it
had emerged. The huge demonstrations planned for the end of September
against the World Bank and IMF in Washington became a small and rather
timorous march for peace. Most US activists, cowed by the new McCarthyism
which has dominated American discourse since the attack on New York, kept
their heads down. Commentators dismissed the movement as a passing fad
which had rippled through the world's youth, as widespread and as
insubstantial as Diet Coke or the Nike swoosh.

But those who dismissed it had failed to grasp either the seriousness of
its intent or the breadth of its support. The television cameras always
focussed on a few hundred young men dressed in black and running riot,
intercut occasionally with the wider carnival of protest. But they seldom
permitted its participants to explain the sense of purpose which propelled
them. So most outsiders failed to see that the commitment of many of the
people involved in these protests is non-negotiable. The movement is no
more likely to go away than the governments and corporations it confronts.
Its survival is assured by its ability to become whatever it needs to be.

Last month, 250,000 protesters travelled to Barcelona to contest the
assault on employment laws and the public sector being led by Tony Blair,
Silvio Berlusconi and Jose Maria Aznar. This month, some of them moved to
Palestine. Among those in the British contingent are people who have helped
to run campaigns against corporate power, genetic engineering and climate
change. They were joined this week by members of the Italian organisation
Ya Basta!, which helped to coordinate the protests in Genoa. For the
movement which came of age in Seattle, the World Bank and the West Bank
belong to the same political territory.

If the protesters simply shifted as a mob from one location to another,
their efforts would be worse than useless. But one of the key lessons this
rapidly maturing movement has learnt is that protest is effective only if
it builds on the efforts of specialists. Like most of the earth's people,
the foreigners on the West Bank first became visible when they began to
bleed (five British campaigners were injured last week by the Israeli
army's illegal fragmentation bullets); but some outsiders have been working
there for decades. New arrivals join long-established networks and do what
they are told. Among the bullets and the bulldozers, the movement is
discovering a courage long suspected but seldom tried.

The protesters have moved into the homes of people threatened with
bombardment by the Israeli army, ensuring that the soldiers cannot attack
Palestinians without attacking foreigners too. They have been sitting in
the ambulances taking sick or injured people to hospital, in the hope of
speeding their passage through Israeli checkpoints and preventing the
soliders from beating up the occupants. They have been trying to run
convoys of food and medicine into neighbourhoods deprived of supplies; and
seeking to encourage both sides to lay down their arms in favour of
non-violent solutions. They are becoming, in other words, a sort of
grassroots United Nations, trying with their puny resources to keep the
promises their governments have broken.

Perhaps most importantly, the peace campaigners are the only foreign
witnesses in some places to the the atrocities being committed. Using
alternative news networks such as Indymedia and Allsorts, they have been
able to draw attention to events most journalists have missed. They have
seen how Palestinians, told by the Israeli army that the curfew had been
lifted, have been either shot dead when they step outside or seized and
used as human shields. They have witnessed the sacking of homes and the
deliberate destruction of people's food supplies. They have seen ambulances
and aid trucks being stopped and crushed. On Thursday 28th March one peace
protester watched Israeli soldiers in jeeps hunting women and children who
were fleeing across the fields on the outskirts of Ramallah, trying to
shoot them down in cold blood. And, by becoming the story themselves, as
they are beaten and shot, the foreigners have brought it home to people who
were dismissive of the murder and maiming of indigenous civilians.

The movement's arrival on the West Bank is an organic development of its
activities elsewhere. For years it has been contesting the destructive
foreign policies of the world's most powerful governments, and the
corresponding failures of the multilateral institutions to contain them.
Rather than echo the thunderous but effete demand of commentators on both
sides of the Atlantic that Yasser Arafat (a man currently unable to use a
flushing toilet) should stamp out the terror in the Middle East, the
campaigners, as ever, are addressing those who wield real power: Israel and
the governments who supply the money and weaponry which permit it to occupy
the West Bank. The movement has always been a pragmatic one, as ready to
protest against Burma's treatment of its tribal people or China's
dispossession of the Tibetans as the IMF's handling of Argentina. In
Palestine, as elsewhere, it is seeking to place itself between power and
those whom power afflicts.

Everyone else on earth is demanding that somebody should do something about
the conflict in the Middle East. The peace campaigners are doing it.


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