Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Drummond coal kitchen workers' strike

My friend is out in Colombia at the moment, blogging away. She's just been helping out at a strike of kitchen workers at a coal mine. Before the strike started (which they won two-year direct contracts from, but no improvements in wages or conditions as yet), she wrote this report about their lives, which I thought was very worth a read.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A rant about nationalism

I'm just back, all fired up, from the counter-demo to the 'Support Israel' rally.

Part of me knew it would be a horrible confrontation, of people shouting and not listening, that mirrored the Israel-Palestine conflict in a depressing way. But I wanted to go because I wanted there to be a 'Jews for Justice for Palestinians' presence.

I wanted to show that not all Jews support Israel, especially not when it chooses to bomb densely populated areas and kill hundreds of human beings. I wanted people on the pro-Palestinian side to see this wasn't a Muslim-Jewish thing. And I also hoped to be able to challenge those that were supporting Israel, to spend a moment thinking about what they were actually supporting.

So I covered some cardboard with old flipchart paper, and made placards that said
"So you support shooting at ambulances?"
"You support using cluster bombs? Depleted uranium? White phosphorus?"
and "An eye for an eyelash?"

I hoped this might provoke some thought, though I was aware many people's responses would be
"Well, yes, when they are carrying terrorists"
"The IDF denied use of white phosphorus today"
and "Terrorism must be stopped"

If I ran the world, the counter demo would have been full of moral and challenging placards, and maybe we could have done a lot of dignified staring. It's not my world, and so I had to listen to all my least favourite chants until I couldn't stand any more nationalism and had to leave.

When I first arrived, I was pleased that 'our side' had a loudspeaker. I liked the sense of strength. And I liked not having to listen to any pro-Israel nationalism which I'm sure I would have found even more upsetting.

I understand that these chants serve a purpose. To make people feel unified and strong. To help release anger. And I could deconstruct the words of each one in a way I'm comfortable with.

"Stop the killing. Stop the hate. Israel is a terrorist state."

Well, if you define terrorist as 'deliberately targeting civilians to achieve objectives through fear', having been to Palestine, I would say that people's experiences definitely, definitely show that that is happening. Though the counter argument is that civilian casualties are merely collateral, and not deliberate like a suicide bomber's target. I'd say this shows an ignorance of the IDF's actual behaviour on the ground.

"Israel is a racist state."

Well, technically, it does have a fairly different set of laws for one ethnic group, so yep.

"From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free."

Palestinian citizens of 1948-Israel are second class citizens, and have a different set of laws that apply to them. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are stateless and occupied. I'd love them all to be free and live with equal rights to everyone else from the river to the sea. And if some of them want to refer to the land they are in as 'Palestine'. Fine. But god I HATE this chant. When I was more active in this issue, I heard a lot from Israelis "But they want to drive us into the sea. We are protecting ourselves. We have a right to be here." And I would say, "Honestly, go meet them. They don't think that. They just want justice and equal rights and then this can be a small blip on the thousands of years of history where Jews and Arabs have mostly peacefully coexisted (when you weren't nicking their land and trying to dominate them.)"

How much does that chant undermine my argument? I hate that chant enough when it's not directed at a 'Support Israel' audience. Why can't people think through the helpfulness of their actions?

But at the top of my 'Least Favourite Chants' countdown, is
"Down, down Israel."
Again, I can kinda get behind the concept, given I'd also like to tell Israel off for its naughty slaughtering behaviour. But I had a clear concept of how a big group of British Muslims with keffyahs worn as headbands chanting that, would appear to people who believed that Israel is under threat and needs supporting.

What use is nationalism? What use is identifying with one group of people, and deciding they are worth more or more deserving of life and security than any other group? I know it's a little clich├ęd, but really, can't the discourse focus on being pro-human rights and pro-justice rather than pro some nonsense nationalist identity, when we're all humans together?

One term I don't like though is 'pro peace'. The 'Support Israel' rally did get some points for its 'Peace for the people of Israel and Gaza' placards, but I question what peace is meant by the people actively supporting Gaza being bombed. My experience is that 'peace' for Israelis generally means 'You stop killing us, and we'll all be fine.'

New research shows that when Palestinians stop killing Israelis, that doesn't stop Palestinians from getting killed.
And 'peace' for Palestinians is not about an absence of fighting. For Gazans it has been about ending the blockade, and it's also about getting justice for the Nabka, for land thefts, for false imprisonments, for deaths, for injuries and for so much more.

Peace cannot come about through more bombings. It'll come one day. But it'll need a whole lot of listening and reparations.

One chant from today I liked: "What do we want? Justice? When do we want it? Now?"