There’s a song by Skunk Anansie called Yes, It’s Fucking Political. I don’t it hear often, but I’m hearing right now. When I first heard it several years ago, I don’t think I really understood it. “Yes, it’s fucking political! / Everything’s political!” Seemed kind of vague. I only really understood it a few months ago, reading an interview in unerzogen magazin with a couple who decided not to tell anyone outside the family about their young child’s biological gender. The point was made there with incredible clarity, and I’d like to argue it here. Continue reading Everything’s political
Bjarne argues that while we don’t need a planned economy, we do need an economy that takes people into account and acts fairly and morally. I tend to agree, but I am not sure how this is supposed to look. I would argue that global fair trade must come along with a strong domestic safety net, or not at all, and that financial exploitation is only one aspect of a bigger problem.
Unintended consequences of fair trade
What were to happen if every developed country in the world simultaneously passed good labor laws that applied not only to workers in the country, but also to workers employed directly or indirectly by companies in that country? In other words, what if the first world would suddenly apply the same standards when it came to those it employs in the third world as it does to those employed domestically?
Like any change in a complex system, this would have all kinds of different consequences, some of them unintended. For one, this would, with 100% certainty, mean that almost all goods and services sold in the first world would become a lot more expensive to produce, and somewhat more expensive to consume. This would hurt the middle and lower class hard: they would no longer be able to afford to consume nearly as much as before, at least in the short term. In the long term, this would give companies in the first world less of a reason to employ people in the third world, meaning more people in the first world would have jobs. This would, in turn, also mean that the first world would produce more goods and services, increasing exports. So I imagine it might actually balance out eventually. (I’m trying to think like an economist here – tell me if it’s working.)
A conclusion is simply where you stopped thinking
So in the short term, making world trade fair would harm everyone in the first world but the rich – massively. This is, of course, a bad thing. Should this be our conclusion then, that fair trade is a luxury and forcing it upon society would punish “our own” poor? No, of course not, that would be near-sighted. Rather, I think fair trade is a good argument for social solidarity and a strong safety net in the first world.
After all, there is an enormous amount of wealth in the first world. The existence of poverty is not a force of nature but an aspect of our economic system. With tools as simple as progressive taxation and a basic income guarantee, we could tweak our system to protect all individuals in society from the chaos of post-industrial life. And if we can make sure that even a large, across-the-board spike in the price of goods would not harm anybody too much, we can afford to trade fairly with the developing world.
In other words, global solidarity and domestic solidarity are interconnected. Only enforcing fair trade would harm the first-world poor in the short run. Only guaranteeing economic security in the first world would come at the continued cost of the third-world poor. In fact, presenting the two as separate could be seen as a subtle factor in why neither is terribly popular – if you really care about the basic rights and conditions of all people, why should you want to improve conditions for the poor at home but not elsewhere, or vice versa? But if we consider the two to be one package, one thing, inseparable, suddenly the parts all make sense.
Schooling the world for the wrong jobs – colonialism is alive, and kicking the third world in the face
But fair trade is not enough for the third world, either. The western corporate colonization runs much deeper than that.
This summer, at IDEC@EUDEC in England, I had the opportunity to watch a very difficult film, Schooling the World. What I learned is that what we know as conventional schooling in the west is being forced upon communities in the developing world which have no need for this form of education, nor for the content taught in it – essentially the same content as taught in the first world. Young people there are being trained for western jobs and academic careers where there are none, in communities which have their own way of life, requiring neither. The young people subsequently have no real choice but to move to big cities, where there is at least some chance of finding a job they are qualified for – but there there are still not enough modern jobs for everyone. Imagine being a young adult faced with the choice between poverty in the big city, where you have a chance of finding a job you are somewhat prepared for, and moving back to the countryside, where you might not even speak the language (as many schools forbid native languages and enforce the use of English and/or the state language) and would have to learn traditional crafts from scratch in order to be useful.1
Bringing “modern”, “high-quality” education to the developing world – often motivated by the best of intentions – is destroying cultures and forcing young people to either work for first-world companies or actually move to the first world. And if this is not stopped, universal fair trade could be a disaster for the third world as well, at least until developing economies are able to offer the jobs domestically that “modern” education requires for its graduates.
Exploitation of low or non-existant standards in the developing world is in the end only one facet of what western colonialism has become in the “post-colonial” era. Although the colonies are gone and the developed world’s mindset has shifted, it has not changed completely. In our arrogance, we help the developing world mainly in ways that help us more, and there are many, many fronts to fight on for a more just world, with freedom for all. The past is never gone, no matter how much we wish it so, and we have to be curious, brave, and determined if we are to find and root out its poisonous remnants wherever they may be.
- It’s worth noting that radical democratic schools would not have the same effect, as their content is whatever the people present bring in – not a curriculum designed by someone from the city. [↩]
For our second guest post in this discussion about economics, here’s my dear buddy Bjarne Braunschweig. He cites Klaus Werner-Lobo and Jesus of Nazareth as the main influences on his economic thinking, and everyone who knows him knows he cares a lot about Fair Trade. As always, comments below are open for your questions and comments.
Michael stated that systemic problems within existing systems ought to be recognized, and then we should try to figure out how these can be overcome. Mattan wrote something quite similar: “We should see how permissive we can get, how much we can let people run their own life – and then see where and if it fails and how can we fix it in the least disruptive way.” They described the “system” in different words: Mattan called it freedom for oneself, and Michael simply called it the system of the society we – at least in Germany – live in right now.
My problem is: We already have seen our system fail again and again and again.
If you’re looking at 2008 and the devastating “minus” on the stock-markets or if you look at how Greece is crumbling into little pieces of foreign policy-intruders, you can see it, feel it, sense it.
And what are we doing? Nothing but to curl up in our own little nests of comfort – built of money – which we want to keep as comfortable as possible, by any means necessary. We fail to look at the system itself or the big picture. When I am talking about “this system” or “our system” I am talking about the free market, which is run by enormous companies and governments cooperating with each other. This may not be true for all the markets and economics of every country, but we have infiltrated even the smallest and poorest countries with our “Diet Coke and Snickers” ideology and we are thereby undermining the free and less stable markets in a lot of African and South American states.
Our system is failing. Right now.
Freedom for us and the free market? How about freedom for everybody.
The situation in Germany is grand! We have public schools, for which we do not have to pay. We have a lot of universities at which we can study for free. We have a welfare system, which is failing in some cases to provide personal freedom and dignity, but provides money in exchange for sending a few letters of application per month. There is a serious problem, though. A so called “new lower class” is rising in Germany. What they lack most is not money, but education and perspective. But that is a topic, as Michael also said, that should be addressed in a different post. And seriously, we talk and cry, while we are standing above most of the worlds population in almost every way possible. Health care, schools, money, we have it.
And as much as I see the need of people in this country who try to get a job which does not leave them empty inside, perhaps even heartbroken, I also see people suffering on a much greater scale in so many parts of the world, such as east Africa or China.
We have freedom of speech. We have freedom of religion. We have the right to speak up against injustice.
An estimated 70 to 75% of the world’s population does not.
As Michael stated, we as the wealthy people – living among, beside or away from the poor – have certain responsibilities. We have power, in one of the few currencies power can come in: money. And with great power comes great responsibility. “We are all capitalists: we all agree that where the market works, it should remain, because we realize that free enterprise is a necessity for our freedom and that the free market, where it works, is the only moral way for people to interact in their skills, abilities, time, needs and wants”, said Mattan so passionately (emphasis mine).
The problem is: morality and economics often do not go together. Stephen J. Levitt, economist and co-author of Freakonomics, says: “Morality, it could be argued, represents the way people would like the world to work – whereas economics represents how it actually does work.”
And that is, from my point of view, the problem which makes me so angry and lets our system fail so often in so many different ways. We fail to bring together decent moral standards we use in everyday life in our own (wealthy, democratic) countries – like equality – when we are exploiting workers in so many other countries. We fail on such an enormous scale to apply decent standards of morality to our economic system: Speculation on food prices, modern colonialism in the form of land-grabbing (where people from all over the world buy huge pieces of land in Africa and South America), and not enough money and no sign of ethically right treatment for the people who make our clothes and raise our food. That is exploitation and a new form of slavery. We made those people dependent on our money but we fail to pay them enough.
Our economics system itself is indeed corrupt and the only reason it still exists is because we do not want to see the evil we are doing. The longer we deny that, the longer we live a lie in our wealthy, comfortable homes.
Why are we responsible for children dying in Africa, while we are living in Germany? There are a lot of reasons, but sticking to economics, it’s because we exploit the farmers and manufacturers there and pay them hardly enough to survive on their own, let alone to support a family. Because we export our left-over food and milk and sell it for only a small fraction of what the food costs if it is produced in Senegal itself, for instance. Because we only look at our own well-being, our own freedom and our own human rights.
We don’t need thoroughly planned economics, because that would not work and is an insult to freedom itself. But maybe we should finally see where the system and the free market itself fails and that people should always matter more than money.
In his guest post, Mattan Mamane argued that any form of central planning of the economy should be avoided, and only turned to when necessary. I have to say, I tend to agree with this approach. But first of all, I think there’s a case to be made for placing severe limitations on freedom when it comes to economics, because such limitations are already – actually, always – necessary. And second of all, there is planning and there is planning – not all planning is the same.
Now, I feel I lack some of the historical background knowledge that Mattan brings along. I can be ignorant sometimes, as I form my opinion in discussions more often than in deep reading. But if I’m not mistaken, the important insight of socialism is that there are certain dynamics in an unrestricted market which severely, systemically, and systematically limit the freedom of vast swathes of the population.
The idea of basing the economy on central planning is not a good one, that’s for sure. It depends on the planners being very smart, very well-informed, very quick, and very moral. With any of those missing, people will suffer. But obviously there are many economies, most economies really, which are based on many individuals making individual decisions without central planning, but within a set of rules and systems designed to protect societies from some of the ills of unlimited capitalism. I said “most economies” but it’s really all modern states, as modern states have laws and modern governments manipulate the economy in all kinds of ways. It’s really a question of how.
Mattan brought up a good example: privatization. Privatization of public institutions can be good, but the calls in the #J14 movement to end privatization in Israel are justified: the kind of privatization pushed there by Netanyahu and others is not the right kind; calls for tenders are tailored towards single corporations or individuals with large sums of money. As a result, privatization is used to drive more economic centralization and harms the competition needed for a free market; instead of a single government carrier for public services, we get a single private carrier, without the checks and balances of public oversight nor those of multiple private shareholders.
So it’s not privatization itself that is good/bad, it’s how you privatize that can be a great thing or a really bad thing. In the same way, combatting economic centralization or poverty can be done in good ways and in bad ways, and I think Mattan’s suggestion of focussing on freedom is a very good one.
However, I would caution Mattan and others from believing the oft-repeated claim that everyone is better off in a USA-style capitalistic society. Perhaps they are when compared to economies based on central planning, but the modern state is a very new thing as far as history is concerned, and we probably have all kinds of economies to try out. I think it is key to recognize systemic problems with existing systems, and try to figure out how these can be overcome.
One systemic problem of capitalistic societies is poverty. Here I mean relative poverty: being poor compared to the people in your society – not some absolute idea of poverty compared to the whole planet. We are all encouraged implicitly or explicitly to be innovative, take charge of our future, and be the very best we can be. Poverty, as I understand it, is a feature of the system of modern society: the existence of a category of person who, from birth, is not so likely to achieve those things which we should all aspire to. Perhaps some people are poor because they somehow have less potential, by nature, but this is not what I mean.There are many brilliant people born into poverty, who simply have the odds stacked starkly against them from the start. ((I believe that people’s ability is affected very much by their schooling and upbringing; specifically, I think that a traumatic childhood – such as that experience by most of us in unjust factory-like child-correction institutions mockingly called “schools” – is key to limiting people’s ability in most areas. But that’s a topic to be tackled separately.))
The measures taken against poverty are many and varied, and some are better than others. Welfare, at least as I know it in Germany, is not a very good one, in my opinion. Under this system, people have access to a living stipend if they meet certain criteria, the main type of welfare being available to people who are unemployed. Even assuming the stipend is enough to keep them from being poor, this system still limits their freedom: they have to go through embarrassing, even humiliating bureaucratic procedures on a regular basis and are forced to take a job, any job, even one they would hate. Such a system makes poverty slightly less awful without making it go away, and diminishes people’s freedom in the process.
Does this mean that welfare as a whole is a bad idea? I don’t think so. The German system just isn’t a good way of doing it. Perhaps all welfare systems ever tried aren’t good, but that doesn’t mean a good one can’t be created.
What I beg you to realize is that systemic problems in an economic system are never “somebody else’s problem”. They belong to everyone in that system, whether you happen to mainly benefit from it or mainly suffer. Like me, you probably have that image in your mind of a self-made man insisting that he made every single cent by his own hard work and wits, insisting that nobody ever helped him, outright raging that he doesn’t owe anybody anything. I’m sure many wealthy and successful people feel this way; if they didn’t personally make the fortune but rather inherited, they might feel this way on behalf of whatever ancestor did. But those who feel this way are deluding themselves. We live within complex social systems which can empower us to do great things or condemn us to lives of hardship. Sure, some measure of luck and some measure of ability are involved – but they do not exist in a vacuum. If you benefit from a system and that same system makes others suffer, their suffering is your problem, and you are benefitting from it whether you like it or not. I don’t mean to say the wealthy or successful are evil or something – just that no matter what they think, they bear a responsibility for the poor and the failures.
I think we have to take responsibility over the systems we live in and be brutally honest with ourselves about what they do right and what they do wrong. And when we recognize a wrong, we have to be creative and find a way to fix it while doing as little wrong as possible. It’s not easy, but it seems to me like an interesting challenge, and I believe it is the right thing to do.
I have one or two more guest posts lined up to continue this discussion. In the meantime, comments are open. What do you think about all of this? Are there good ways to improve capitalism? If so, what are they?
I had the pleasure of translating an important post (Hebrew) by the always-excellent Shalom Boguslavsky. Here it is in English:
Should you strengthen the van, you will weaken the rear.
Should you strengthen your right, you will weaken your left.
If you send reinforcements everywhere, you will be weak everywhere.
“The Art of War”, ca. 500 BC
Fifteen years ago I didn’t know what “Nakba” means. I was probably more politically involved than today, I had already entered into dialog with Palestinians, I was familiar with the Palestinian National Covenant and all that stuff. I wasn’t exactly an ignoramus in these things, but I didn’t know the term “Nakba”, for the simple reason that nobody around me was using it.
Now it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t know the term. It’s in every mouth and in the headlines of every paper. Netanyahu gives a special speech in its honor, “Im Tirtzu” distribute a brochure full of bullshit about it, and the very best publicists write articles about it. It doesn’t matter that most Israelis’ response varies between curling up in a whimpering ball in the corner and vehement denial. The central thing is that the issue is on the table. Because political success is measured in what’s being talked about even more than in what’s being said. Almost nobody in the Jewish political system wants to talk about the Nakba. They would not have brought it up on their own initiative, and nonetheless they have been forced to deal with it.
The credit for this success belongs mainly to Palestinian citizens of Israel. The Oslo two-nation-states doctrine left them as dead weight, and so, unrepresented by the government of the Jewish state and neglected by their Palestinian brethren, they started moving to turn the Arabs of 1948 into a political group demanding recognition as such, from the Palestinians, from Israel and from the international community.
Here there is an interesting parallelism between them and the settlers. The settlers, too, have been required to pay the price for a solution that does not address their needs. The settlers, too, have been pushed to reorganize and make themselves present in the public discourse, and they too have used 1984 to do this, and for a similar reason: floating the issue of ’48, reminding everyone that the heart of the conflict lies there, is the best way to float the limitations of a solution based on the 1967 lines. So the settlers, like the leaders of the Arabs of ’48, make sure again and again to remind us that Sheikh Munis is conquered land, and that a solution will not come without seriously addressing this fact. In this respect, the the most radical thing in today’s politics would be if the settlers and the Arabs of ’48 started to talk. Unlikely? Maybe, but stranger things have happened and I wouldn’t be surprised if this happened too.
In 1923, Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote his exemplary essay “The Iron Wall”. Besides being a master’s class in political writing, the article was quite on target for its time, and to a significant degree for ours as well. Jabotinsky presents the Zionist movement as a colonial project no different from the familiar European colonialism (today some would call him “traitor” and “anti-Zionist” and demand to check his funding over this). He argues that the attempts at dialog with the Arabs are fantasy, as no nation – and he recognizes them as such – would agree to a foreign entity being established on its lands, and his conclusion, which he called an “iron wall”, is that the Jews must become such a force as to make it impossible to move them elsewhere or hinder them from realizing their aspirations. But the “iron wall” has an expiration date: when they realize the Zionist project is a fait accompli, Jabotinsky wrote, the moderates will come to us with offers of mutual concessions, and then the conflict can be solved in dialog.
In 1923, all of this was science fiction. But as befits a text that reflects sober recognition of reality more than some political ideal or another, we got to see it come true. The “iron wall” was put up, the Arabs failed in their attempt to hinder the Zionist project, suffering catastrophe in the process, and since the 1970s the moderates have been coming to us with offers of mutual concessions. They don’t do it out of recognition of the rightness of the ways of Zionism – this they will never do – but because it is clear to them that the presence here of Jews as a national group is a fait accompli. They regret it, but will clench their teeth and find ways to co-exist. Just as Jabotinsky knew they would.
But his self-proclaimed heirs on the Israeli right have substituted the practical “iron wall” of force with an ideological “iron wall” made of fear.
My right to exist here comes from the fact of my existence here, as ending it would be an unjustifiable wrong. The right of the group to which I belong to define itself in terms of nationality comes from the right to self-definition and not from anything else. Where is such a thing to be heard, that such basic rights depend on some belief in the “righteousness of the way”? Who would ever think, for example, to make the right of the United States to exist dependent on the belief that the catastrophe imposed on Native Americans was justified? What’s this bullshit?
The international community recognizes the rights of Jews in the Land of Israel due to the fact of their presence in it. Even the Arabs, for the most part, are willing to recognize them on this basis, and of all people the Jewish politicians, wannabe patriots that they are, are shouting from every hilltop and under every tree that if it were only proven that our history does not excel in justice and morality or that our narrative is not absolute truth, we would have to pack the suitcase and swim back to the Ukraine. And you know what? Our history is no less ugly than others, and full of glorious atrocities. Those who believe recognizing that cancels their right to exist here are welcome swim to the Ukraine themselves. I am not here because of blind faith in some lie, and I intend to stay here even if it were proven that the fathers of Zionism were vampires from another planet that came here to conduct medical experiments on the local villagers.
So this is my “iron wall”: the rights of human beings do not depend on the purity of the historical circumstances that brought them where they are. This is a position we can defend. If we need to defend every misdeed of Zionism if not all Jews everywhere – as the Right wants us to – we will fail. And that is exactly what is happening now.
I am actually rather conservative as regards the Palestinian catastrophe. I do not accept, for instance, the claim that the status of refugee can be inherited. If it were so, all residents of planet Earth would have to receive such status. I also think it’s important to remind everyone that the ethnic cleansing of 1948 was bi-directional: the Jews were expelled from areas seized by the Arabs. I think the ethnic cleansing we committed was more a matter of circumstances than a dark conspiracy, and I certainly don’t beat myself up over the crimes of Zionism.
But I certainly admit and acknowledge them, do not presume to justify them all and certainly think we should take responsibility for them and resolve the matter in conjunction with the Palestinians. Not because there’s a matter of absolute justice here but because this is unfinished business between us, and we will have to resolve it. And yes, this will have a price that I don’t necessarily like. That’s how it is.
But for us to deal with it, we need our politicians to cease their endless paranoid prattle. It may help their career to tie our very right to exist here with their personal ideology, but it does not serve any Israeli interest. Just the opposite. Their constant din is what’s eroding the justification of our existence and what gives tailwind to the delegitimization of Israel. Of course it also serves their career pretty well. Dealing with the Nakba does not scare me at all; our politicians’ stupidity does. They are the only existential threat around.
Written on March 30
I am on my way to Augsburg, where I will be giving two talks about democratic education. But while my the train heads to Southern Germany, my mind is in the Middle East, where my involvement in democratic education began, where people are killing one another, perpetuating the conflict while convincing themselves and each other that they are acting to end it.
After preparing notes for tonight’s talk, I watched Occupation 101, a pro-Palestinian (but not anti-Israeli) documentary. As always when confronted with a non-Israeli, non-Zionist view of the conflict, watching the movie was highly uncomfortable. As much as I read and write about my country’s wrongs, there’s still something deeply unpleasant about having it criticized from without. I found myself constantly checking how much longer the movie runs, but managed to watch through to the end, feeling it was important to see that side of things. The movie is not perfect, but I do recommend it. It illustrates the horrors of our conflict, including Palestinian terrorism, but focussing on the unimaginable ongoing suffering of the Palestinians.
Many Israelis are going to dislike what I’m about to write, but it has to be said: Israeli existence is a state of denial. From the violent ideological settler to the fiercest anti-occupation activist, every Israeli profits from the state of things (me and my family included, of course). Not only do we profit, but one had best not think about what previous generations have done to ensure we do so well. It is utterly awful to think about the (few?) massacres and the destruction of (many!) villages1 that led to the fleeing of so many Palestinians and subsequently to the post-1948 situation, in which Jews are a vast majority within sovereign Israel. It is particularly awful to think about because it stands in such stark contrast to the kind of society that has developed within that land in these past 63 years. How can we understand our existence as a fundamentally cosmopolitan, modern, diverse society while thinking about what was essentially an ethnic cleansing, one understood as such by its perpetrators (who may have used the euphemism “Judaization”)?2 And how can our limited human minds possibly reconcile between the terrific life one can lead in Tel Aviv and the hellish desperation of Gaza refugee camps?
The answer is that we, all of us, every single Israeli, try to reject agency over the bad things.3 Personally, my way of rejecting agency has been to leave the country and, for a while, try not to know about what goes on there. (This blog is a testament to the failure of that approach.) For many on the Left, the way is to blame the mainstream, or the Right, or the settlers. For the center, I guess the way is to blame the “extremists” on both sides, particularly ideological settlers and Palestinian terrorists. For the Right, the way is apparently to blame the Palestinians and occasionally the Left.
But blaming other people, whether or not they are factually to blame, is counter-productive to improving the situation. No one group is entirely to blame for the conflict or its continuation — not the terrorists, nor the settlers, nor the governments, nor Israelis in general, nor Palestinians in general. When we blame others, we deny our own ability to change the situation. This absolves us for all those many moments in which we did nothing to stop the conflict, all the myriad ways in which we benefitted from the situation. It allows us, with clear conscience, to continue standing by while the conflict persists, to continue to benefit from the Israeli economy that thrives on it. Unfortunately, this is necessary to some degree, because tossing and turning all night for shame and guilt certainly won’t help our ability to change things.
However, the least we can do is to acknowledge reality, warts and all. Reality is that, one way or another, our side used force to cause hundreds of thousands of people to leave the land in 1947-8.4 Reality is that our side has never treated the Arabs under Israeli control equally — inside or outside of our borders, with or without citizenship. Reality is that we have been part of making the lives of a few million people incredibly difficult over generations. Reality is that while we have a state, the victims of ’48 and their offspring are for the most part consigned to life of destitute poverty in refugee camps.5
Make no mistake: one can acknowledge these basic, undeniable realities while holding any opinion on the political spectrum. One may hold that all of these realities are justified because of a Biblical claim to the land or the necessity of a Jewish nation-state. One may hold that these realities were the right and just response to violence and pressure towards Jews and towards Israel. Or one may hold that these realities obligate us to make amends and seek ways to right our wrongs. But we will make no progress while in denial of reality.
A final note
I don’t know my way around Palestinian politics, but it’s fair to assume similar issues apply there. I imagine those in favor of violent resistance — which keeps the conflict alive and heated — claim they have no choice and are forced into this course of action. I’m sure many Palestinians are in denial of the suffering violent resistance has caused, or simply choose to see that suffering as a necessary price for their liberation. But due to my near-total ignorance, I’ll leave it to Palestinian activists to deal with Palestinian denial and continue to focus on the Israeli side.
- Yuval Ben-Ami at +972 recently found a curious old map documenting some of these. [↩]
- Apropos Judaiziation, Max Blumenthal has a pretty good overview of the Jewish National Fund’s role in this ongoing project. [↩]
- Emily L. Hauser has an excellent post on this topic. [↩]
- Whether or not there were massacres, whether these people could be said to have been driven out or merely to have fled, and whether or not they considered themselves Palestinians at the time. [↩]
- As is often pointed out, this could have been resolved by our Arab neighbors offering them citizenship and housing. But clearly they are no more disposed to offer these to the refugees than we are. [↩]
As some may have already heard, today for the second day in a row a Palestinian teenager has been killed by settler fire. Assuming for the sake of argument that the version on Ynet is not a total embellishment, what happened today was that a few settlers were out on a peaceful hike when some Palestinians started throwing rocks at them. Fearing for their lives, they responded with live fire and hit a boy in the head, who is now clinically dead. Subsequently,
[e]xtreme rightist Baruch Marzel of the SOS Israel organization urged the settler public “not to be deterred and continue traveling throughout the Land of Israel. The Arabs must take into account that Jews are not suckers and are allowed to defend themselves against those who want to take our lives,” he said.
There’s a few interesting things about this case. First of all, the settlers going for a nice stroll through the Holy Land were, obviously, carrying firearms; there’s nothing unusual about this. Second of all, they were there asserting their right to go wherever they damn well please in the Land of Israel, disregarding the established practice (and law?) of coordinating this kind of thing with the police and military.1 Third of all, once the clash had begun, the IDF showed up and defended the illegally hiking provocateurs, wounding further Palestinian civilians.2
There’s a logic to each of these things that’s at least well-understood in Israeli society, if not outright accepted or taken for granted:
- It really wouldn’t be safe to hike in a large group unarmed, even if in recent years it hasn’t been quite as bad as it used to.
- Settlers have always argued that Jews should be allowed to go and live wherever they want (preposterously claiming that Arabs can, an outright lie); while most Israelis probably see this kind of thing as a provocation, the basic logic is appealing and accepted on some level. Ideally, I too wish it were possible and safe for Jews, Muslims, Christians, or just humans in general to go and live wherever they want.
- The IDF is the military of Israel, and Israel sees its mission in physically defending the Jewish people, including any Jew, anywhere, from violence. That’s how the Holocaust justifies our statehood, after all. Also, Israeli taxpayers (which include the settlers) rightly expect the army they pay for to come to their aid when they face violence.
However, taken together, especially points 2 and 3, these things result in a tragically skewed balance of violence. Palestinians who wish to defend themselves must do so with stones. Israelis can do so not only with their own guns (which are sometimes full-fledged military-grade assault rifles) but with the assistance of an advanced modern army with a bigger budget than any other organization in the country. Combine this fact with Israel’s lenient attitude towards settler provocations, settlers can easily just “go hiking” somewhere where there are Palestinians, and be fairly certain the latter will come out of it with more bullet wounds than themselves.
I don’t mean to insinuate that all settlers are out to kill as many Arabs as possible. Some certainly are, but I’ve known too many lovely people who come from settlements to make generalizations about the whole population. However, there is an ideological settler movement which holds it to be perfectly fine to use violence against Arabs in order to maintain freedom of movement. This movement is currently not effectively reined in by the Israeli government and security establishment, and I’m not sure it ever has been. While the army regularly claims “keeping the peace” to be its motivation, such as when imposing a closed military zone somewhere, it usually ends up helping provocateur settlers rather than hindering them. In fact, settlers now know they just have to go to, say, a water hole, clash with some Arabs, and they will no longer be allowed to go there and collect water.
It should be obvious these provocations do not further our overall common interest of living in peace.
It gets worse though. Arabs prosecuted for violence towards Jews rarely win. It is common practice for the state to submit secret evidence, which the defense is not even allowed to see, and such “evidence” is often used to convict them. Sometimes, dubious information extracted from youths under duress is used as well, as it famously was in the case of Abdullah Abu-Rahma of Bil’in. On the other hand, Jews prosecuted for violence towards Arabs often have their case dropped before trial, and if convicted will always have a very lenient sentence. It’s also far unlikelier that the state will even try to prosecute them in the first place.3
The bottom line
Even if the bits of logic each kind of make sense on their own, the situation in the West Bank is currently a very vile form of apartheid. Not kinda-like-apartheid. Apartheid.4 If the Israeli state were truly interested in peace, public order, sovereignty, etc., the IDF would easily be able to keep the settlers from provoking violence.5 If the Liberman/Netanyahu/Barak government doesn’t do something quick (like, today) we may see more and more enterprising settlers go on “hiking trips”-cum-pogroms next week. And all the while, Egypt is exploding in revolution, our neighbors to the North and East aren’t looking as stable as they used to, and every week another country recognizes the Palestinian Authority as a sovereign state in the ’67 borders.
The Middle East is headed towards a world of violence, and frankly I don’t see anyone in the position to stop it. Shalom aleynu, wa salaam aleykum, wa salaam ma3hum. Peace be with us all.
- This isn’t limited to the West Bank; I used to go hiking in an organized youth hiking thing and all hikes were coordinated with the security forces and escorted by an armed civilian. [↩]
- Fourth of all, Marzel sees the armed killers as the victims, but whatever. [↩]
- All of this is just my semi-educated impression. I may have read it somewhere, but I admit I can’t be certain. If I’m wrong, please provide data to contradict what I said! I’d be glad to be corrected! [↩]
- It should be noted the division of rights in this apartheid is not based purely on race, but also on citizenship. It is apartheid none the less. [↩]
- One way to do this, off the top of my head: take away weapons from all civilians in the West Bank, provide IDF protection only within settlement and in activities coordinated in advance and deemed non-provocative. Dismantle indefensible outposts as though they were unrecognized Bedouin villages. [↩]
There I was again, thinking about how ridiculous the concept of a “delegitimization campaign” against Israel is. How I’ve never seen any talk of it amongst those who are allegedly involved. How it must be paranoid fear or some kind of conspiracy that causes hasbaraniks and politicians to keep going on about it.
And then it hit me. Could it be? Could it be that there actually is a delegitimization campaign? One that I’ve actually been involved in without realizing it, however marginal my role? Maybe they were right all along?
Of course there’s a delegitimization campaign going on. Continue reading And then it hit me
Students at democratic schools are given control and responsibility over how they use their own time.This is simply respect for their autonomy. But one could also think of it as training for one of the biggest challenges of our age. More than ever, we are bombarded with choices from all directions. This is no secret. However, of all approaches to education, only radically democratic schools (like Sudbury schools) seriously address the issue. Continue reading Only autonomy prepares you for autonomy
The term “democratic school” has always seemed problematic to me. It’s problematic because democracy isn’t really the point. Democracy is a tool for creating something else: a community where free learning is possible, as much as such a community is possible. All democratic schools should be run by a democracy, but not every school that is run democratically is automatically a democratic school.
A democratic school is a place where students are responsible for how they use their own time. It is a school which does not try to encourage students, explicitly or implicitly, to take classes and tests. It is a place where people are treated with respect, and know they can expect justice to be served when someone disrespects the community or an individual.
It just so happens that certain styles of democracy serve as excellent tools for upholding freedom and respect. However, it’s very easy to get it wrong, which is why Sudbury schools are very insistent on getting it right. These schools set up very well-defined democracies, because democracy is only good so long as it does not overreach — it has to be there to protect students’ freedom in the present, without presuming to know what choices are better for their future, or infringing on the privacy of their feelings.
Incidentally, the word “republic” comes from the Latin res publica, meaning “public matter”. This hints at a very important idea: the polity (the state, the city, the school) is a public institution, and is something you keep separate from private things.
Sudbury schools use a Judicial Committee which focusses on whether school laws were broken (not on why, or what the individual is going through personally). Some in the free school movement express uneasiness about this seemingly severe approach to justice. However, anyone who has spent some time in such a school knows it is a good thing. Judicial Committee deals with the public aspect of disputes — disrespect of community decisions in such a way that bothered someone enough that they fill out a complaint. This process ignores the personal aspects completely and intentionally.
However, it leaves plenty of room for individuals to address these aspects on a truly personal level. And these are things that come across better when they’re truly and sincerely personal (like talking about problems at home, or about issues one is having with the school or with people there). The judicial process may not directly address the problems that lead people to break community decisions, but it does help others see the problem, which allows them to deal with it. And on the upside, it respects people’s privacy — sometimes you don’t feel like telling just anyone about how you feel.
There are other benefits to separation of the public and the personal. When the community has accustomed itself to this habit, democratic meetings work better — being warned by the Chair is a technical issue, not a personal thing you have to get annoyed about; you can argue strongly against a friend’s motion without them taking it as an insult; every member of the community can apply their thinking to the process as much as they’d like without constantly worrying about the conclusions being taken the wrong way.
When a democracy protects the community’s interests and the individuals’ interests while keeping them separate, that democracy can create a democratic school. It can create a place where students develop freely and learn to direct their own learning and gauge their own success. It empowers students to determine their own direction and participate vigorously in community life.
None of these things are automatic, and protecting them is half the secret of success for those democratic schools that have succeeded.