This morning, I started my day by browsing through reports on Susya in an effort to assemble a mini-resource guide for folks interested in keeping updated. I came across an article about the demonstration last week on PNN, Palestine News Network, which is generally a solid publication. In explaining the demonstration, the author, James Lloyd, wrote that “an estimated 200 international demonstrators gathered together in the village to support the locals there.”
“Hmm,” I thought, “there were a lot of international demonstrators there, but 200? That sounds like too many. I wonder what his estimate of Israeli demonstrators will be.”
I read on. And on. The article concluded as follows:
“The protest was, itself, a sheer sight to behold. The solidarity between the internationals and the locals there could really be witnessed. It was inspiring to see such a large community coming out to protest against the housing demolitions and show support for the local community who are under distress.”
And only then did I realize what James Lloyd’s estimate of Israeli demonstrators was:
There were no Israeli demonstrators in Susya last week.
There are a few possible ways to explain Mr. Lloyd’s failure to mention that the vast majority of the non-Palestinian demonstrators in Susya last week were, indeed, Israelis:
1. He didn’t know, and assumed that all of the non-Palestinians were internationals. If that is the case, Mr. Lloyd would be advised to do a little bit of research before coming to report on politics in a region he is not from (I do not know Mr. Lloyd, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say he is not Palestinian).
2. Mr. Lloyd is using the term “internationals” to mean non-Palestinians. This seems unlikely, though, in that he readily uses the term “Israelis” to describe the soldiers and settlers.
3. Mr. Lloyd has developed, intentionally or not, a sort of blindness that prevents him from seeing this conflict as anything other than Israelis versus Palestinians, or as Bad People versus Good People. Unfortunately, this is the interpretation that strikes me as most likely. In the middle of his article, Mr. Lloyd writes that “the targeting of the area by the Israelis goes back to the 1980s.” The Israelis. All of them. All of us. Surely it couldn’t have been Israelis who organized the buses filled with hundreds of activists to go support Susya at the demonstration, Israelis from Ta’ayush who go out every week to support the residents of the South Hebron Hills, Israelis who built the “solar panels” that Mr. Lloyd mentions in his list of what will be destroyed in Susya. Surely not. Israelis are against Palestinians. What was moving about this demonstration, for Mr. Lloyd, was not that Israelis and Palestinians (supposed, by many, himself perhaps included, to be enemies) stood together to protest injustice, but rather that “The solidarity between the internationals and the locals there could really be witnessed.” I have to wonder, out loud, whether some part of Mr. Lloyd is not talking about international and Palestinian solidarity against Israelis (and it’s important to note that in the speeches given, in Arabic, by Palestinians in Susya, we were thanked for coming as Israelis, and as friends. I also have to wonder out loud whether Mr. Lloyd even knows Arabic).
Again, I do not know James Lloyd, I do not know where is coming from, and I do not know what has shaped his lens on the situation here. But I do know that throughout my time as a solidarity activist and at demonstrations in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, this is not the first or the second or even the fifth time I have heard or witnessed international solidarity activists deny or devalue the existence of Israeli leftists, Israelis working in solidarity with Palestinians, and sometimes Israelis in general.
This is not to say that this has been my experience from all international solidarity activists, by any means. Many indeed come here with humility, with a genuine desire for peace and justice for all people, with a principled opposition to the cruelty of the occupation and to racism (which I, of course, share). But it is a word of reminder to those international activists who sometimes slip up: Israelis exist. Israeli leftists exist. “The Israelis” is not a legitimate concept, when some of them are shooting tear gas and others are inhaling it alongside their Palestinian allies and friends. Solidarity with Palestinians cannot mean solidarity against Israelis. I recognize that there is a wide range of reasons international folks come to protest in Palestine, ranging from genuine care, to personal connections, to curiosity, to the desire to witness what is a hut-button news conflict, to the desire to be an activist in a place where activism is not all that dangerous. I share a lot of these motivations. Maybe all of them. They are all fine, as is being opposed to Israel’s government, or boycotting Israel’s economy, or writing op-eds against Israel’s military policy.
What is not fine is when opposition to Israeli policy morphs into a blinding opposition to Israelis. At best, such thinking is deeply ignorant, and at worst it is hateful.