Israeli Anarchist Speaks in Cork

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On last Thursday night the Cork branch of the Workers’ Solidarity Movement hosted a talk from Leiser Peles, an anarchist from Israel who is active with the Anarchists against the Wall. The talk was held at the Metropole Hotel and was attended by about forty people.Leiser began his talk with a quick overview of the historical background of the conflict in Israel/Palestine and how the Anarchists Against the Wall (AATW) group came together in 2003, when work began on construction of the so-called ‘separation fence’. Leiser along with other activists at the time felt they had to organise specifically to oppose the wall, and he gave some statistics to give a sense of the scale of the wall – 780 km in length, the annexation of 17 villages along with thousands of acres of farmland annexed, with some villages and towns losing access to up to 90% of their farming hinterlands because of the wall.

Leiser described the wall as facilitating a land grab, since Israel’s laws allow the expropriation of land from people by declaring the landowners absent under the ‘absentees property’ law of 1950. The wall is used to deny access by Palestinian farmers to their land on the other side of the wall; this makes plausible a declaration that the landowners are ‘absent’ and expropriation proceeds. In his talk, Leiser made the point that the maximising of the extent of the ‘Jewish state of Israel’ is one of the core aims of contemporary Zionism, and that he sees the building of the wall as a sectarian land-grab. He said that in many cases the wall has been routed to facilitate the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, and in many of the films he showed one could see armed settlers patrolling the fence, and in some cases encounter AATW activists and Palestinian villagers protesting the wall in their areas.

Despite the fact that the wall is still getting built, Leiser argued that activism and direct actions had their effect – in the first three months of the wall’s building in 2002 20% of the wall got built but now in 2007 the figure is now at 50%. He believes that the programme of protest that AATW and the Palestinian groups they work with have done has helped to slow the wall’s progress, and also that it has indirectly helped opposition to the wall by other methods (like legal challenges, international solidarity work etc.). Also, the presence at actions/protests of AATW’s Israeli militants help to create a safer environment for Palestinians directly affected to publicly register their opposition to the wall. That said, protest against the wall can be life-threatening and both Israelis and Palestinians have been shot at, badly injured (one of the short films Leiser showed was of an Israeli AATW activist being shot in the head by an IDF soldier at a protest in the West Bank - fortunately he survived, but he has suffered serious brain damage) or killed, as happened five Palestinian protestors at Bidu (December 2006, one of which was a 11-year-old boy). 11 people have been killed by Israeli security forces and thousands injured in four years of protest and action against the wall. The IDF routinely claims that protestors illegally entered a ‘closed military zone’ – such ‘zones’ can be declared at no moment’s notice by even rather junior IDF officers for any reason; this is often put out by IDF spokespeople to give plausibility to the army’s actions at protests.

Leiser also described something of the history of AATW and of its current situation. When it was founded it had a ‘membership’ of about 25, all of whom were anarchists and very committed to doing direct actions against the construction of the wall and to working with Palestinians in affected communities to devise effective forms of protest and action that all can participate in. Leiser himself lived in a village in the West Bank for over a year (for him it was the easiest way to be physically present – the Israeli government and its army etc. routinely restrict access to the West Bank/Gaza to Israelis who are not settlers by refusing permission to enter the occupied territories, and the army has over 300 permanent roadblocks and checkpoints there to refuse entry to those it deems unwelcome). He also participated in actions and protests in 32 different villages and towns along the wall’s route while he was active in AATW in Israel/Palestine, and he managed to get arrested 65 times in a two-year period, resulting in the state taking seven separate court cases against him. His experience with the Israeli courts was not untypical – the legal entanglement of AATW activists is one the main forms of harassment employed by the Israeli state against dissent. In spite of this AATW now has a ‘membership’ of around 250, and with many of the original activists from four years back still active in some way or other. However, the specifically anarchist membership and outlook of the organisation has diluted somewhat, since activists with different left-ideological positions have affiliated or joined up with AATW since it is almost alone as an identifiable group of Israeli revolutionary leftists challenging the wall. According to Leiser, AATW activists are mostly white Jewish in background, though there are some Israeli Arab members too. For Palestinians living in the occupied territories the too many restrictions imposed on their ability to travel means that AATW group meetings inside Israel are impossible for them to attend, but close affiliation and consultation with the people and communities in the West Bank happens around AATW actions and protests. Given the situation it’s the most practical way to organise in a direct-democratic way.

AATW also does actions in Israel – pickets and protests outside the HQs of arms of government involved in the wall project, and symbolic actions in Israel’s main cities. One such symbolic action was the re-erection of a section of fence and razor wire AATW activists had dismantled off the wall in a city-centre street in Tel-Aviv (Leiser showed photos from that action – very good), but such actions are often met with incredulity by ordinary Israelis and open violent hostility by some citizens and police. Leiser said that there’s quite a degree of ignorance and wilful misinformation about the effect of the wall on the communities it passes near or through.

Leiser also showed us some of the many short films he’s made of many of the action he’s been on, and more made by other AATW activists. Many show young anarchists dismantling fence sections with cutting tools and facing down soldiers (and often armed settlers), more again showed actions with people from communities affected by the wall, interactions and interviews with Palestinian community members, and many showed incidents where anti-crowd weapons and live rifle fire were used against protestors. There were also some films and photos of actions inside Israel, and of solidarity vigils with Palestinian farmers’ families whose lands were about to be razed prior to construction of the wall.

The Cork branch of WSM would like to thank Leiser for coming to Ireland to give his excellent talk, and we like to wish him well in his new life outside Israel where he cannot return without doing a stretch of prison time for his anarchist activities. His talk supplied a fresh perspective on resistance to the ‘apartheid wall’ (a description Leiser endorses) and also a necessary corrective to the spin of the Israeli state’s foreign missions, a species of propaganda that’s often repeated uncritically by international news media organisations that should know better.

More info about Anarchists Against the Wall can be found at www.awalls.org.

A contact for more info about films of AATW actions and protests is yoyacov@gmail.com.

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