From July 8-16, I will join hundreds of internationals for a week of solidarity actions in coordination with 15 Palestinian civil resistance organizations in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. To my knowledge, this will be the first attempt to bring such a large number of internationals—already over 500, according to organizers—to the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a coordinated manner. While Freedom Flotilla 2, sailing in the coming days, rightly puts the spotlight on Israel’s cruel blockade of Gaza, we intend to show that Israeli repression in the rest of historic Palestine—the West Bank, Jerusalem, and what is now Israel—is no less important and is part of the same project of ethnic cleansing and colonization.
The opening act of our week of nonviolent resistance is, in my opinion, its most creative and daring component. On a single day, July 8, hundreds of internationals and Palestinians living abroad will fly in to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport and perform one simple but radical action: refuse to lie about the fact that we are there to travel to the Occupied Territories and visit Palestinians.
Anyone who has traveled to Palestine knows the potential risks associated with this action. Israel controls all entry points into Palestine, except for the Rafah crossing into Gaza, which is controlled by Egypt and has its own Kafkaesque challenges. The Israeli government routinely denies entry to people it knows or simply suspects of being Palestine solidarity activists; journalists, academics and cultural workers sympathetic to the Palestinians; even people coming to do volunteer or charity work in the Occupied Territories.
This means that for years, the most common strategy among solidarity activists entering Palestine has been to keep your head down and lie about why you are there.
Plenty of us know the routine. You say that you’re a tourist. You play dumb about history and politics, and you never say you are going to visit Palestinians. You don’t point out the fact that every person of color in your group just got picked out for questioning. You submit calmly to interrogation and construct non-offensive half-truths, conveniently leaving out certain parts of your itinerary. When they search your stuff, you nod and say you understand it’s for “security reasons.” You swallow every rebellious instinct that brought you to Palestine in the first place and temporarily submit to a racist, invasive, intimidating security apparatus in the hope that they will deign to let you in to Palestine, and accept that this is the price to be paid for being able to do the work you want to do.
For the record, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with this strategy. In any given situation, the most useful way to interact with agents of the Israeli state is a tactical decision. I understand there are many groups of people who do not have the luxury of pissing off Israeli security: people who depend on free movement in and out of Palestine for work, study, or to see family; those engaged in long-term projects in the region for whom maintaining access to the Occupied Territories is crucial; those engaged in critical media work that gets Palestine’s story out to the world; those who may be in a more vulnerable position for any number of reasons.
But at the same time, we should be clear that Israel’s border controls and repressive entry policies are part of the apartheid system—a big part. Entry restrictions on solidarity activists, journalists, and NGO workers are a natural outgrowth of the restrictions that prevent a large percentage of the worldwide Palestinian population from returning to their own country and/or moving about freely within it. They are a component of the elaborate matrix of borders, walls, checkpoints, permits, soldiers and secret police by which the Israeli government exerts a choke-hold on free movement and political activity throughout occupied Palestine. They are part and parcel of the occupation machinery that seeks to isolate the Occupied Territories and make life there unbearable so that Palestinians will leave, and that frequently forces them out whether they want to go or not. And like all other parts of the apartheid system, they deserve to be challenged.
This year’s Nakba and Naksa Day protests saw Israel besieged on every one of its garrisoned borders by unarmed Palestinians simply wanting to return home. At the end of this month, Freedom Flotilla 2 will defy Israel’s punitive and illegal naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. We see the July 8 fly-in as our contribution to the new movement that is chipping away at Fortress Israel.
Some fellow activists have raised the possibility that this action will result in nothing more than hundreds of us being summarily deported, and possibly banned from entering Palestine in the future. It is entirely possible that this will happen, and anyone participating in this action should be aware of the risk. It seems to me a very small risk to take in comparison to the crushing violence Palestinians have stood up to for over 60 years. While this action is not for everyone, I believe the time is right for those in a position to expose and nonviolently resist Israel’s repressive entry policies to do so on a mass scale.
Just as no one thinks one flotilla (or two or three) is going to bring the siege of Gaza to an end, no one believes this one day of action will immediately alter the state of affairs at Ben Gurion Airport and the rest of Israel’s borders. In the short term, it is possible that it may even make airport personnel more suspicious and aggressive. That is how oppressors respond to acts of resistance. They often become more aggressive before they are defeated, because they rightly sense that the momentum is on the side of justice.
July 8, and the week of solidarity it opens, is one step in the long process of taking down the apartheid system. The Arab revolutions, the growing BDS movement, and Israel’s own increasingly hysterical reactions to nonviolent protest have radically accelerated the timeline of that process from what many of us believed possible only a few years ago. Israeli apartheid’s days are numbered, and now is the moment to challenge it on every front.
Laura Durkay is a member of Siegebusters Working Group and the International Socialist Organization in New York City. You can follow updates from the week of solidarity on her personal blog, Laura on the Left, and on Twitter at @lauradurkay.