Sunday, March 14, 2010

Meet the "New Left": Like the "Old Left", but against Peace

Most of us have heard about the demonstrations in Sheikh Jarah neighborhood of Jerusalem. To my knowledge, after the Jordanians occupied the East Jerusalem post 1948, they evicted all Jewish residents from those sections of the city which they controlled. Through some combination of squatting, Jordanian property allocation and UN refugee resettlement programs, some numbers of displaced Arabs were then housed in what were once private Jewish homes, which had been forcibly cleansed of their Jewish residents by the Jordanians, or which emptied during hostilities.

After Israel liberated East Jerusalem in 1967, the status of Arab residents living in these Jewish properties was taken up by the Israeli courts, following petitions by the Jewish property owners or their descendants. After some decades of legal bickering, the courts established that the properties did belong to their Jewish owners. However, in a decision striking for its sensitivity and attempt at compromise, the courts ruled that the Arab families could not be coerced to leave, but were expected to pay rent to the property owners henceforth. So long as the Arab families continued rent payments, their right to remain in the properties was inviolable.

After some time, quite recently, whether out of pride, a desire to establish their claims to the properties, or a belief that the courts would not compel them to leave - perhaps all three - the Arab families in one or more properties failed to pay rent. After a protracted legal struggle, the owners convinced the court to evict the families. Whatever the Arabs believed would happen, in the absence of a rent payment, the eviction orders were carried out and they were left on the street.

The Sheikh Jarah evictions have become a cause celeb for the radical Israeli left, battered as they were in the last elections and badly needing a focus around which to rally. Weekly protests have followed, attracting from a handful to as many as three hundred protesters - quite tame, even by Israeli standards - but receiving widespread coverage in Israeli media, and growing international interest. The most recent demonstration came just days ago, and involved the following communique:
There is a New Left, and it is not a left that is content with peace talks; it is a left of struggle. There is a New Left that knows that there are things you have to fight against even when they are identified with the state and even when they are sanctioned by law. There’s a New Left that knows that this struggle will not be decided on paper, but on the ground, on the hills, in the vineyards, in the olive groves. There’s a New Left that is not afraid of settlers – even when they come down on us from the hills, masked and armed. This left does not succumb to political oppression by the police, nor does it care what Ma’ariv writes about it.

There is a New Left in town. This left does not want to be loved, does not dream of filling town squares and does not bask in the memories of 400,000 demonstrators. This left is a partnership of Palestinians who understand that the occupation will not be stopped by missiles and bombs, and of Israelis who understand that the Palestinian struggle is their own.

The New Left links arms with Palestinians in a cloud of tear-gas in Bili’in, and with them, bears the brunt of settler violence in the South Hebron Hills. This left stands by refugees and work immigrants in Tel-Aviv and fights the Wisconsin Project [privatized “welfare-to-work” program]. This New Left is us, all of us.

All those who came here tonight; all those who dared to cross the imaginary line separating West and East Jerusalem despite the threats and intimidation  -  we are all the New Left that is rising in Israel and Palestine. We are not fighting for a peace agreement; we are fighting for justice. But we believe that injustice is the main obstacle to peace. Until the Ghawis, the Hanouns and the El-Kurds return to their homes, there will be no peace; because peace will not take root where discrimination, oppression, and plunder exist. There is a New Left in town and this left stands with the residents of Sheikh Jarrah tonight, and it will continue standing with them until justice overcomes fanaticism.
The communique goes on to describe the "New Right" in predictable, demonic terms, and to vow resistance and victory. I don't know what the "New Right" thinks about itself - for that we'll have to wait for a "New Right" to issue its own press release - but I do know, from this point on, what the "New Left" in Israel thinks of itself, in its own words. What they've written here is fairly boilerplate leftist/socialist "direct action" drivel - they're against downsizing the welfare state, for better integration of immigrants, etc. - save one important point. This "New Left" no longer has a strategy for peace.

The peace movement in Israel, the one that culminated in the agreements of Oslo and Oslo II, and in the final attempts to reach a permanent settlement at Camp David, Taba and Annapolis, was largely driven by the promise of the left - a promise of peace. Once the Palestinians got what they want - self rule in the territories of Shomron, Yehuda and Gaza - a Jewish State of Israel would, after 50 years of war, finally achieve the security its neighbors had for so long denied it. The promise of "two states" was envisioned as a grand bargain, an end of conflict that would usher in a new age of safety and prosperity for the Jews of Israel, and not coincidentally, for their Arab neighbors. The promise faltered at Camp David, limped to Taba, then got on a bus in Jerusalem and was blown to pieces by a half decade of Palestinian violence.

The left, eyes glazed over by the tantalizing prospect of peace, had been mugged by reality, but was determined not to stray from its vision. It has promised the people of Israel peace, and would not allow the Palestinians to have a say in the matter. The torch was passed to the center-right, now in power under Sharon, which had no hesitation for unilateral steps, particularly those which forced the Palestinians off balance. Through the long political battle for the Gaza Disengagement, intended to be rapidly followed by evacuation of a dozen Jewish villages in Yesha, the left held on to the promise of peace. Even as large swaths of the Israeli population began to understand, and to vote accordingly - with the 2006 Lebanon War killing off Disengagement and the 2008/09 Gaza War extinguishing life from the "Two State" formula - the left remained unswerving in its commitment to peace, no matter how steep the price had risen, until now.

On this day, in this communique, the "New Left" has abandoned its commitment to achieve peace for the Jews of Israel. The "New Left" no longer cares for peace talks, nor peace agreements. It is a movement forged in the desperation of its circumstances - its core ideology, that peace is attainable for an acceptable price, has been discredited. The "New Left" is out of big ideas, emptied of pragmatic solutions; it has lost the will and intent to fight for Israel's geopolitical future, to work within the state for the security and prosperity it once promised Israel's inhabitants. On this day, the "New Left" has declared its intention to fight for the ideological vanity of its members, for the admiration of international elites, for the cameras, for a bleak nothing.

On this day, the "New Left" went mad from a nervous breakdown and was committed in Sheikh Jarah. Life will go on.

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