Democracy is more than going to the polls
Haaretz, October 02
By Amira Hass"The protest wave has calmed down," some Israeli journalists said Friday of the Burmese military junta's success in driving thousands of demonstrators off the streets, using excessive violence. Despite the natural sympathy for the uprisers, several editors chose the word "calm," which embodies the rulers' point of view: The norm is "calm," even if it means constant government violence. The mass protest against the oppression is a disruption of order and calm. The word "calm" was an automatic reflection of how most Israeli Jews and their media see the constant, 40-year Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. This is the norm one thinks of when the Palestinians disrupt the calm. The oppression of the Palestinian people is intended to perpetuate its banishment from its land and the infringement on its rights there. But on the other side of the regime of oppression is democracy for Jews, even those who oppose the occupation. Generally, Jewish dissidents are not risking their life, livelihood, freedom or rights. However, the demonstration against the separation fence does involve certain risks - a few hours in detention, soldiers' fire, tear gas, or a blow from a gun. Therefore, each protester makes his or her own courageous decision to take part in the demonstration. Assisting the Palestinian olive harvest also requires courage, because it could end in an attack by the settlers (while the government's representatives, the soldiers, stand idly by). And yet there are dozens of anti-oppression activities that do not endanger the hundreds of devoted activists (mostly women) who take part in them. Potentially, hundreds of thousands of Jewish Israelis could have taken part in activities against the multi-faceted Israeli oppression - the apartheid laws and orders, military attacks, hidden information, economic siege, land expropriation, expanding settlements, and more. Not a hair on their head would be touched. These are people who say they support peace, with a Palestinian state beside Israel. But apparently their interpretation of participation in democracy is going to the polls once every few years, and faint protest in their living room.
However, democracy also is displaying civic responsibility, by constantly supervising the political decisions and acts between elections, thus ensuring that democracy's essence has not been eroded. Those who say they support a two-state solution are ignoring the other facet of the democracy-for-Jews - the military regime that it imposes on the Palestinians. This regime creates faits accomplis all the time, foiling the last chance for a solution (i.e. full withdrawal with slight changes to the June 4, 1967 lines and establishing a Palestinian state). The Jewish citizens who enjoy their democracy are not personally harmed by its other facet. On the contrary, they gain from it - cheap land and quality housing, additional water sources, a cadre of security professionals in demand worldwide, and thriving defense industries. This is the "calm" that even self-defined peace supporters refrain from disrupting. In the Soviet empire and racist South Africa - like in today's Burma (Myanmar) - objecting to oppression involved a high personal price. Therefore, one could understand the objectors who chose not to act. In Israel, because it is a democracy for Jews, all those who sit idle, ignoring what is being done in their name, bear a heavy responsibility. Chiefs of staff, prime ministers, ministers and generals are not the only ones responsible. Anyone who theoretically objects to oppression, discrimination and expulsion, but does not actively take part in the struggle and in creating a constant popular resistance to topple the apartheid regime we have created here, is responsible.