Pro-Palestinian activists enduring long, unjust prison sentences in Israel is an all too frequent reminder of the grim reality there, with any resistance to Israel's occupation of Palestine quickly and if carried out by Palestinians violently quashed; while obstructions to peace, like illegal Israeli settlements and the partition Wall, are militarily enforced. It is often Palestinian villagers and human rights activists who are unfairly sentenced to extended periods in jail.
On Monday 27 December, however, it was the turn of prominent Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak, founder of Anarchists against the Wall. He has been sentenced to a three month jail term, for attending a ‘critical mass’ bike ride against the blockade of Gaza in Tel Aviv, nearly three years ago, in Tel Aviv. Charges of ‘illegal assembly’ usually end in a non-custodial sentence. However, as his lawyer Gaby Lasky pointed out, in Israel "the criminalisation of leftwing demonstrations is a policy these days".
Pollak attended the 300,000-strong demonstration against Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, still just a baby, cradled in left-wing arms (the best kind of arms). He dropped out of secondary school at age 15, a vegan and fledgling anarchist, and after rejecting of military service, he went to the Netherlands, where he lived in a squat until he was deported back to Israel. Politically engaged by the conflict in his home country, despite the decline of Israeli left movements in the late 1990s, Pollak became involved with peaceful resistance in the West Bank, "crossing sides, moving from protest to joining resistance," he has previously explained.
Having just returned from the West Bank, I can say the peace movement Pollak joined is still active. It is vibrant, creative and certainly benefits from the support AATW provides, especially through the world-renowned weekly marches against the Wall at places like Bi’lin. Here villagers will dress up like Avatars one week and Santa Clauses the next, to face the tear gas shot at them by the IDF. These demonstrations mobilise hundreds of people, not only locally but from across the world, and importantly from Israel. They are building a viable and long lasting peace movement, uniting activists across cultural barriers. And movements building solidarity with them from within Israel are still active too.
Since 2008, Pollak has served as the media coordinator for the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, a Palestinian umbrella organization working on bringing media attention to efforts in the Occupied Territories.
It is inspiring to read his court statement, as it was a powerful last stand against an already selective hearing: "The subject of my alleged offense, as well as the motivation behind it was political. This is something that cannot be sidestepped. The State of Israel maintains an illegitimate, inhuman and illegal siege on the Gaza Strip, which still is occupied territory according to international law. This siege, carried out in my name and in yours as well, sir, in fact in all of our names, is a cruel collective punishment inflicted on ordinary citizens, residents of the Gaza strip, subjects-without-rights under Israeli occupation.
"In the face of this reality, and as a stance against it, we chose on January 31st, 2008, to exercise the freedom of speech afforded to Jewish citizens of Israel. However, it appears that here in our one-of-many-faux-democracies in the Middle East, even this freedom is no longer freely granted, even to society’s privileged sons."
Whilst Pollak’s case is a travesty, it should also be noted that the number of Palestinian activists detained currently is incredibly high. This trend comes alongside the night time kidnappings and arrests of Palestinian village children, who have committed the 'crime' of using sling-shots to hurl stones at fully armed and protected IDF soldiers. I think Pollak’s court statement neatly sums up the outrageous political bias built into Israel’s legal systems: "I will go to prison wholeheartedly and with my head held high. It will be the justice system itself, I believe, that ought to lower its eyes in the face of the suffering inflicted on Gaza’s inhabitants, just like it lowers its eyes and averts its vision each and every day when faced with the realities of the occupation."
We must pressure the British government to drop its plan to change legislation allowing foreign politicians and military commanders to be charged in UK courts - a change which according to Israeli peace activists would give the Israeli government a freer hand in committing its war crimes. We also need to endorse the current promotion of Palestinian Authority delegates to the UK from ‘representatives’ to ‘ambassadors’, together with a demand that the UK recognise Palestine as an independent state. We should continue to call for unity of Palestinian and Israeli workers, women and students (and perhaps even Avatars!), around the demand for Israeli withdrawal from the territories and a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Real peace in the region depends not only on village resistance and the strength of the workers' movement in the West Bank, but also the building of a strong left opposition and workers' movement in Israel itself, supported by international solidarity.