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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/19/11

Social Origins of the Tent Protests in Israel

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The quandary of the upper class, somewhat ambivalent about the occupation yet wholly committed to neo-liberalism, is more convoluted. What it will fight at all costs is an end to Israeli economic inequities, because it is off those inequities that it gets fat. For that reason, any re-orientation of spending from militarism to housing will lay a foundation for further victories.

Perhaps more important than structural victories would be the effect of such victories on the Israeli consciousness. For that reason, the Israeli government will pay any price to divert, disrupt, or diffuse these protests if the pressure they create becomes too great to ignore, because such victories would offer a dangerous lesson to the human beings who make up the gears and pulleys and levers, all the whirring machinery of the apartheid system -- that occupation and racism are not just a means of social control over a reeling and shattered Palestinian society, but over the Israeli lower classes themselves.

Yet there is little reason to expect that those in the tents will choose economic justice over the siren song of loyalty to the state and the occupation. In their ability to ignore that siren song and combine opposition to the occupation with opposition to neo-liberalism will lie the ability of Israel to transform into a part of the region as opposed to a self-conscious irritant, placed there by the Zionists in cahoots with the imperialist powers -- first Britain and France, then America -- to whom they served up the favorite dish of the metropole: regional chaos. The state and the elites it serves would plainly prefer more chaos to a loss in their power. Hence the question is if they will founder on the shoals of nationalism or will sail around them to arrive at some measure of social justice.

These questions are not theoretical. In September, Palestinians will mobilize en masse in the West Bank and Gaza against the occupation when the United Nations considers the resolution calling for Palestinian statehood, and the state will call up reservists to repress them -- the reservists currently sitting in tents on Rothschild. And the men sitting in tents in Rothschild will either stay in those tents and demand justice or head to the West Bank with guns in their hands to deny justice to the Palestinians. Interior Minister Eli Yishai just tendered plans to build 2,700 new apartments in occupied East Jerusalem, a move meant to signal to the Israeli electorate that, as ever, Israel's social problems can be solved by deepening the occupation, proof that the occupation will arise as a determining cleavage whether the tent organizers like it or not.

And then will come the moment of choice. As in the mechanized army of Bertolt Brecht's poem, "General, Your Tank Is a Powerful Vehicle," the machine of Israeli accumulation cannot operate without human drivers. In Brecht's poem, he writes that man is useful. "He can fly and he can kill. But he has one defect: He can think." Do the "new men" of Israel share this flaw?  Nearly every #j14 protest has ended in the singing of the national anthem and the brandishing of the Israeli flag. 

In a country founded on ethnic cleansing and bound by surety in the rightness of the past, the protesters are clearly having trouble bucking the barriers of the national consensus on ignoring the occupation. Israeli history weighs like an alp upon the minds of the protesters. Whether they will be able to throw it off is the question that is now before them.


Cross-posted from MRZine Monthly review

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Max Ajl is a Cornell PHD candidate in development sociology and has worked with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in
Gaza. He blogs at http://www.maxajl.com
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Social Origins of the Tent Protests in Israel

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