Abir Kopty (Photo: American Friends Service Committee)
Abir Kopty’s month started out with a police interrogation. The 37-year-old Palestinian activist and blogger born in Nazareth was summoned by the Israeli police June 2 and went in for questioning in Northern Israel the next day.
The reason? Kopty wrote a blog post last year inveighing against a plan to recruit Palestinian Christians into the Israeli military. Kopty (a contributor to Mondoweiss) said the Israeli police told her she was violating a law against incitement to violence and terrorism, and that they asked for a DNA sample. She refused.
“It’s political persecution,” said Kopty, who explained why, in her eyes, the police were tracking her blog posts and interrogating her–clear examples of how Israeli security forces monitor Palestinian citizens of Israel. “One is to frighten us and silence us so we do not criticize those kinds of efforts, so they would more freely recruit Palestinian Christians and make this plan happen. And the second is to deter other people, using us, from saying anything about this, from public criticism.”
But while Kopty will have to deal with the Israeli police when she gets back home–she says they told her another police file was opened because of her refusal to submit a DNA sample– she’s worlds away from that scene now. Kopty is on a national tour in the U.S. organized by the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group active in peace and justice efforts. The tour takes her from New York, where she spoke last Saturday, to Chicago, San Francisco and beyond. Kopty, who I met up with at a hotel in the financial district in Manhattan, is speaking on popular resistance in Palestine, the Oslo Accords and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement–issues she explored during our conversation.
“We’re bypassing the mainstream media that is ignoring the resistance and we’re coming to speak directly to the American people about resistance,” Kopty told me.
Kopty is well-positioned to explain these issues to an American audience. A former City Councilwoman in Nazareth and the former spokeswoman for the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, a network of various West Bank village leaders resisting the Israeli separation barrier and settlement expansion, Kopty knows the Palestinian struggle inside and out. She was a key player in the organizing around Bab al-Shams, the Palestinian protest village set up in the E1 area, a vitally important swath of land that Israel plans to build settlements in and which would foreclose a viable Palestinian state. Bab al-Shams captured international headlines and was seen as a new and creative wave of Palestinian resistance which highlighted Israeli confiscation of land and settlements.
Still, while a number of tent villages sprouted up after Bab al-Shams, it was a short-lived effort. And Kopty is blunt about the larger failures and successes of the popular resistance model. “The popular struggle has managed to maintain the spirit of resistance among Palestinians. However, it did not manage to spread and turn the struggle into a mass movement, and I think this is the biggest challenge,” said Kopty. “The successes in my eyes are not really big because we did not make any difference.” Still, she emphasized that Palestinians continue to resist Israel in a number of ways, like farming while under occupation, hunger striking and rebuilding homes after they are demolished.
Kopty lays much of the blame for this state of affairs on the Oslo Accords and the Palestinian Authority, which she says heavily impacted the will of Palestinians to resist. Signed throughout the 1990s, the accords gave Palestinians limited autonomy in the West Bank while forestalling agreements on vital issues like refugees and Jerusalem. The process, which did nothing to halt the galloping pace of settlement expansion, set up the Palestinian Authority (PA), which Kopty lambasted as a subcontractor for the occupation. The PA is a key employer of West Bank Palestinians–and some in Gaza–but it cracks down on resistance to Israel and dissent against PA leaders, causing consternation among segments of the Palestinian population.
The issue of Oslo emerged at the forefront of Palestinian protests last year that were sparked by a deteriorating economic situation made all the worse by Israeli restrictions and economic exploitation. Though the protests first focused on Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and economic hardship, they morphed into a movement showing broad discontent with the PA. Chants at the demonstrations included calls for ending the accords, a step Kopty strongly advocates for. Yet, the collapse of the PA could lead to even more economic hardship, as roughly a million people rely on their salaries, which in turn are paid because of outside aid from Western and Arab states. This goes to the heart of the central Palestinian paradox: how to end an occupation which is maintained through a reliable subcontractor in the PA, an entity that is also crucial to sustaining the lives of Palestinians.
Still, Kopty foresees the emergence of new challenges to the PA. “People have lost patience and lost trust in the leadership who have done nothing for the Palestinians,” she said. “They have collaborated in turning the Palestinian cause from a liberation movement into a development project…At the end of the day we are facing two layers of control: there is the PA, but there is the occupation, which is controlling the PA and maintaining the PA because it’s helping sustain the occupation.”
But it is the PA that the U.S. is counting on right now. Kopty’s tour in the U.S. comes as Secretary of State John Kerry continues to shuffle back and forth between Washington and the Middle East in an effort to restart the moribund peace process. PA officials say they are under heavy pressure to return to talks with Israel, though they have so far resisted. The PA finds itself stuck between a population disdainful of peace talks that have gone nowhere and an U.S. administration bent on twisting their arms to talk with Israel.
Kopty voiced harsh criticism of the peace process.
“The negotiations have just served Israeli interests and covered up the Israeli policy of continuous colonization, land confiscation, house demolitions, ethnic cleansing policies. This is what negotiations are for Palestinians.”
And she had equally harsh words for the U.S.
“We are not interested in the American broker because the Americans are supplying Israel with the military aid that is killing us and is giving unlimited support, unquestioning support to Israel.”
Kopty added that the international community’s peace process efforts have reduced the conflict to the occupation. But the issues at the heart of the conflict expand far beyond that.
“There is ending the occupation but there is also the rights of the Palestinians inside 48, and there is the right of return, which is the core of the Palestinian cause,” she said. “One of the goals of the Palestinian people is to decolonize Palestine, not just ending military occupation–that’s not enough.”