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Let us now praise the grassroots (and Seeger on his birthday)

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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Here’s a moving post by Dana Goldstein on the protests of Israel’s destruction of olive trees– the story told in the documentary Budrus:

[T]he people of Budrus were joined by a ragtag-looking band of Israeli and international leftists, including the Israeli mathematician/anarchist Kobi Snitz. When these Jewish Israeli young people first appeared on the screen, I silently groaned. With their dreadlocks and stoned-seeming demeanor, I couldn’t imagine that they’d be credible representatives of the small but growing Jewish movement against the occupation, either to Palestinians, to Israelis, or on the international stage. They simply appear to be–and are–far outside the mainstream.

…Here’s how Snitz describes his role as an Israeli in solidarity with Palestinians:

"Even ten Israelis at a demonstration can make a real difference. We know from the army’s own declarations that their open fire regulations change as soon as they think there are Israelis around. For example, they are not to use live fire when there are Israelis around, and they are not to fire rubber bullets in a direction where they think there are Israelis."

The ideology that instructs the IDF to shoot live ammunition at protesting Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, but not protesting Jewish Israelis, is deeply fucked up. But those are the facts on the ground. The presence of Jews brings not only media attention to Palestinian pro-democracy efforts, but actually protects and empowers the nonviolent segments of the Palestinian nationalist movement–the people whose political empowerment is crucial for movement toward a two-state solution.

I admire the progress that Goldstein makes here in her feelings about the activists; it’s terrain I’m traveling myself. Though I would say that part of the irritation she expresses at the start touches on status issues. It reminds me of the cultural exasperation that George Packer felt with the anti-Iraq-war demonstrators in ’03, whom he caricatured unfairly as a bunch of hippies.The grassroots really are funkier than power politics. People aren’t as well-dressed, they don’t make as much money (or for that matter care about money as much), and many of them live in humble houses. I remember having tea in Ezra Nawi’s little kitchen in Jerusalem before we set out in a battered caravan earlier this year for anti-occupation protests. It wasn’t World of Interiors.

I resisted this company myself out of fear of losing meritocratic status; but as Goldstein seems to recognize in this post, power politics have failed to produce any progress on this matter for decades, and it is out of frustration with the moral paralysis of governments that the civil-society movement has taken hold in Israel/Palestine. The grassroots are transforming this issue. (Had I stayed in MSM journalism I never would have been able to express a fraction of what I believe about the Middle East, and would have gone truly crazy.)

Today is Pete Seeger’s 91st birthday, a guy who really believes in the grassroots. Yesterday he was on the radio saying that his proudest achievement has been getting people to sing along, thereby increasing "participation," because popular participation is all that will save us. Pete lives not far away from me and has the following painted on the side of a barn, a quote from William James that shows that the grassroots are in the American grain:

I am against bigness and greatness in all their forms, and with the invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, stealing in through the crannies of the world like so many soft rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, and yet rending the hardest monuments of mans pride, if you give them time. The bigger the unit you deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed. So I am against all big organizations as such, national ones first and foremost; against all big successes and big results; and in favor of the eternal forces of truth which always work in the individual and immediately unsuccessful way, under-dogs always, till history comes, after they are long dead, and puts them on top.

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About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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