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Dykes and the Holy War

The fight against Apartheid and queer struggles in Israel/Palestine

Wednesday 22 September 2010, by Yossi Bartal (Date first published: September 2007).

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As a queer-anarchist activist from Israel I am quite often confronted with questions concerning the engagement of queer groups or individuals in the Palestinian struggle against Israel’s Apartheid regime. How could I, as queer and as an anarchist, fight for the establishment of a State where the powers of occupation will just change hands and will erect new and old oppression? What do we have to do with a National movement that is reconstructing the same national ideals we are working to dismantle in our own society? In this article I will try to examine these questions and expand my thoughts on the role of Solidarity and joint struggle from a queer-anarchist perspective.

[First published in September 2007 in the book “Barrieren durchbrechen! Israel / Palästina: Gewaltfreiheit, Kriegsdienstverweigerung, Anarchismus”, Edited by Sebastian Kalicha, from the publishing house of Grasswurzelrevolution]


Maybe the most important point to clarify in the beginning of this text is the role that the occupation since 1967, and the oppression of the Palestinian Minority in Israel since 1948 (’48 Palestinians), play in Israeli-Jewish society. The state of Israel, which claims to be a “Jewish and Democratic state” and to uphold equal rights for all it inhabitants, is having great difficulties maintaining its democratic aspirations in light of its colonialist and religious nature. It is highly recognized that the democratic rights and freedoms of members from even the “more privileged groups” in Israel are suffering from the 40 year-old ongoing occupation, and the social reality that emerged from it. The need for national unity in the face of ever-coming wars, the rapid Militarization of a Society that needs to control every step of 3 million Palestinians, and not forgetting the Demographic war that needs to be waved against the Palestinian uterus, take its toll from minority groups in Israel and harm all emancipation struggles like the ones of the Feminist movement, the LGBTQ community, workers organization, Ecological campaigns, Ethiopian and Mizrahi (Jews from Arab decent) groups and many others. In a society that is in a constant state of emergency, it is very difficult to fight for social justice or even speak about it.

The history of the LGBT rights movement in Israel might serve as an example for the influences of major political events on a specific struggle for equal rights. The existence of Gay and Lesbian groups since the 1970s, together with several openly gay artists, poets and film-makers, did create a small circle of understanding and tolerance for sexual minorities, but no one could ignore the fact that the biggest and strongest wave of LGBT political action and successes took place in the 1990s, particularly after the election of Rabin (together with the big electoral achievement of Meretz, the Zionist liberal-left party) and the beginning of the Oslo ’peace process’ with the PLO. As unrealistic and false as they were, the hopes that the failed ’peace process’ raised among the Israeli public - hopes for a real democratic state, for an end to religious coercion and a new middle east - gave the push that the LGBTQ community needed in order to gain recognition and legal achievements. The second Intifada, orchestrated with the reemergence of religious control, nationalism and militarism, stopped these processes and, one might argue, also led to the big backlash and the huge wave of homophobic violence, in the streets as well as in the media, which was sparked by the attempt to lead an international gay pride parade in West-Jerusalem.

Thus it is clear for many political activists in progressive circles that the national conflict currently blocks any kind of radical progress, disables building of coalitions, and is being used and intensified quite often in order to silence social conflicts inside Israel (one can find a similar phenomena within Palestinian society, were the struggle against Israeli occupation is being used by some reactionary groups to silence social and feminist critics). The first step for a radical social and feminist change in Israeli society must then be an end to the occupation - but what does it really mean?


’When the occupation will end...’, how many times did we say this sentence to ourselves, fantasizing over a future in the paradise we will live in, and becoming more and more cynical and disillusioned with every passing year. Today we know better - the occupation is not going to end, it is here to stay. 2 truths stand before my eyes as I make this statement: first, the end of the occupation with a two-state solution based on the ’67 borders is unrealistic, and second, the occupation is not just ’the occupation of 1967’ but a much broader situation existing under the control of the state of Israel.

A solution comprised of two national states coexisting side by side as equals is today a sad joke, and maybe it always was. This much-endorsed solution was hijacked from its progressive supporters many years ago already (it was only the Communist party in Israel that demanded ’two states for two people’ in the 80s), and distorted it in order to legitimize the Apartheid of the 21st Century. Today we know what these two states will to look like: barbed-wired Bantustans surrounded by the same big military camp known as Israel. The occupation will just continue under the new Orwellian definition of Peace process and a false independence.

But opposition to the two-states solution is not based solely on its implementation being impossible, but also on the fact that it ignores numerous aspects and existing problems. The occupation of ’67 cannot be understood as an external problem, an invader’s colonial fight. The occupation of ’67 is not an external problem disconnected from Israel’s internal problems. The Apartheid and the politics of occupation are the very basis of the state of Israel: the ethnic cleansing of 800,000 Palestinians in 1948 and the continued refusal to allow their return, the barefaced discrimination and the ever-increasing police violence against ’48 Palestinians, the need to settle and protect the land from the illegal people, to judaize the periphery, to wage a demographic war - all of these take place in ’Israel’ and not in what is known as the ’occupied territories’. The occupation doesn’t stop at the checkpoint, it is all around us, there is no ’here’ and ’there’. Israel is the occupation


The struggle against occupation and Apartheid must be waged, not because they are the first step towards the revolution, but simply because daily war crimes and mass human rights violations shouldn’t be allowed to happen, regardless of whether the victims of these crimes are revolutionary Anarchists or hard-working, poor conservative Muslims. The fact that the oppressed sector is not the perfect revolutionary subject (if there is such a thing) does not in any way diminish my obligation to stand alongside it against the state - my state - which is curtailing its basic rights. This should be enough to explain why one should fight fiercely against the occupation. However, fighting against something is never enough; we need to fight for something, for a different future, for what we think is the best solution for all people to live with - but what is it?

One of the most important issues for Israel’s radical left, especially since the beginning of the Intifada, is the joint political work of Palestinians and Israeli Jews. This could be understood as a reaction to the racist politics Israel stands for: total separation between Israelis and Palestinians, be it with walls (in ’48 Israel and in the west bank), checkpoints and Apartheid roads, or through separate schools, racist and religious marriage laws and racist harassment of ’Arab-looking’ people at the entrance of every mall, restaurant or club. In such a blatantly racist atmosphere, the most radical act is to break this separation, by demonstrating together with Palestinians, living together, talking to each other, loving and caring for each other - even to make love with each other. It is not very well-recognized what a strong and amazing emotional effect meeting Palestinians for the first time as equal partners in a struggle, or even becoming friends with them, has on an Israeli Jew, and how important it is to have these contacts in order to challenge your own racist and orientalist attitudes and destroy the “Clash of Cultures” theory (I can personally admit that sometimes it was only my emotional connection to my several Palestinian friends that kept me sane under the constant wave of racist and nationalist propaganda). To come together, to live together – Ta’ayush in Arabic - is simultaneously our means and our ends.


Bringing down the borders of nation and race might be the ultimate goal, but the situation is a bit more challenging: Palestinians, as an ethnic group suffering from national oppression and devoid of its own self-determination and state, is fighting against his oppression in the most common and familiar way: Palestinians are leading a national liberation struggle in hope of achieving an independent, national state. The fact that people forced to live under racist or nationalist oppression merge into a national group as a way for fighting for their rights, along with the sad fact that almost all national liberation struggles create new oppressive systems, should not be alien to us as Israeli Jews.

But what should do as Anarchists in this struggle? What are we actually fighting for, and with whom? Are we trying to be a part of this ’national Liberation process’ as some Israeli radical left activists do, and see ourselves as Jewish-Palestinians? Or do we believe that national liberation is just a point one should go through, one step forward, and that the day it ends victoriously (and another good question would be what does the end of a national liberation struggle in Palestine mean?) will also be the day the exploited Palestinian masses start the social revolution together with their Jewish working class brothers and sisters? Or maybe it is totally irrelevant what we think or want, because we are a part of the colonialist society and as such should only offer our unconditional solidarity to the goals and needs of the oppressed sector? These questions, although cynically phrased, are not entirely false. National liberation is always ambiguous: it is the liberation from colonialist oppression and at the same time the construction of new models of oppressions and exploitation, and it is exactly within this ambivalent situation that we need to choose our path. This becomes even more complicated when we talk about a colonialist situation that cannot be dealt with by driving the colonialist powers back to their home-countries, but rather through de-colonizing the settler society, taking the Israelis into account not only as the current oppressors but also as a people that deserves the same freedoms and rights as all other peoples in the region.

The joint Palestinian-Israeli struggle - the fight against the wall that AAtW is leading, or the many campaigns that Ta’ayush organized in the occupied territories or in ’48 Israel - seem to be the best way to tackle the many contradictions we face in a politically productive way. The joint work of Israelis and Palestinians is in this sense one of the goals, and maybe the most important goal, of every campaign we take part in, be it the wall, house demolitions or resisting army invasions. Through this work we deconstruct the racist foundations of the conflict. An Israeli taking part in a Palestinian demonstration, risking his life and body in the face of brutal army oppression, is challenging not only the basic understandings of the Israeli soldier (soldiers ask us quite often, before or after shooting at us, if we are not afraid to get killed inside the villages by their Palestinian residents), but also those of the Palestinian farmer that met Israelis only as their oppressors.

Naturally, the coming together of Palestinians and Israelis is not an easy task for both sides. We must remember that many cultural, political and social differences exist alongside our positions of power within this conflict, positions we cannot simply ignore out of hope or belief that we are all just equal partners in a struggle. The struggle to change and challenge Palestinian culture with its Patriarchal, Militarist and Homophobic elements is not our task but that of our Palestinian comrades to whom we must offer our solidarity first and foremost by lifting the weight of the occupation from their shoulders and fighting those same elements in our own society. Liberation is always a process, and it can evolve and intensify only by removing the biggest obstacle that stands in our way.

The process of trying to build a joint future for Israelis and Palestinians in the present rife with so many preconditions raises plenty of contradictions. Our greatest task is finding out how to avoid these contradictions stopping us from carrying on our fight, as well as finding out how to learn from them and embrace them into a new understanding of the struggle against global Capitalism. We are on the geographical and ideological frontline of the new War, and our experiences, victories and failures will echo around the globe.

Yossi Bartal

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