‘There is the idea that a nation that oppresses another nation is not free. I would say that in the case of Israel, even the beneficiaries of the occupation are not free.’
Badran Jabber is a veteran progressive activist, politician, and freed political prisoner living in the West Bank city of Hebron. Jabber talked to Molly Dubrovsky, the editor of alternativenews.org, and Corey Sherman, a contributor to the site, about the evolution of co-resistance in Palestine.
MD: When did you begin to believe in or participate in the joint-struggle?
BJ: From the first day that I began to read Marxist-Leninist thought as a philosophy to analyze the political, social and economic condition of the world. My readings brought me to the point where I realized a human is a human. And that societies are divided into two categories: the oppressor and the oppressed. I made the decision that I am with the oppressed — irrespective of identity, nationality, religion or geographical divisions. American, Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese, Greek. The oppressed is oppressed wherever he is, and the oppressor is the oppressor wherever he is. Being from a poor family and living under subjugation and domination, I found myself a friend to all the oppressed.
I realized the truth that in Israeli society there are also oppressed, subjugated, and persecuted people. And it is in their interest to join this struggle against oppression. That is to say: the struggle against their state, its theft [of Palestine], and its politics vis-a-vis the Palestinian people. Their struggle within Israeli society is to place a limit on the government’s authoritarianism.
There is the idea that a nation that oppresses another nation is not free. I would say that in the case of Israel, even the beneficiaries of the occupation are not free.
What does that mean? There are Israelis who practice injustice and subjugation — daily, against his own people and against the Palestinian people — and use it for their own benefit such that it becomes in their interest to continue the occupation. On the other hand, there are those who are damaged by this occupation and know that it poses a threat to their values and their humanity and they are compelled to take a clear stance against oppression — to stand with the Palestinian people in their struggle to end the class and national oppression that characterizes Palestinians’ reality.
This conviction presented itself in real life more than once. One time was through direct relations with Israelis. We established a political group in 1973 in collaboration with the Black Panthers. [The Panthers] grew up on its own and became a wing in anti-occupation activism and against Israeli policies in occupied territory. They arrived at the conviction that the occupation will not end through charity; it will end through the struggle against the army of occupation and against the thieving settlers. As soon as we started our joint work together, we were discovered, arrested, and tortured simply for having the same thoughts — us, and the Israelis. In the end, the Israelis’ assassination of direct cooperation [between Israelis and Palestinians] resulted from this network. [Our main contact’s] name was Dani Saeil and he was declared a traitor to Israel. In our political discourse, we call him a struggler for freedom for both his people and the Palestinian people. This relationship brought me back to the conviction that I came to through Marxist-Leninist thought: that a human is a human.
At the international level it is well known that in 1969 we began building armed alliances in Lebanon and in Jordan. There were our international partners: Germans, Japanese, French, Spanish, Basque, Irish. They were with us in the training camps.
You can say that we did not start out in opposition to anything. We arrived at our positions through a dialectic. We never hated anyone who didn’t harass us. On the other hand, we welcomed anyone who was willing to join in our struggle for achieving self-determination on our land like every other people in the world.
MD: How are those who benefit from imperialism impacted by these unequal relationships and how can they join in the struggle against that?
BJ: From a psychological perspective it is reaffirming when Israelis stand against the policies of their government: extrajudicial killings, mass arrests, deportation, home demolitions, land confiscation etc. Even if the opposition is only a verbal one, I look at him as a friend and supporter. Verbal opposition is important for creating the climate to develop the critique further within Israeli society so that direct action can be taken to end these policies. Any position of this kind — one that says, in a word, no — even from the so-called privileged Israeli position is really a heroic response to the general climate in Israel, especially at a time when the voice of the state rules over everything: culture, thought, and national consciousness in general.
CS: Why don’t all Israelis think this way?
BJ: There are the thoughts that prevail among the public and there is the culture of the state. And in this case, the culture of state comes from the Zionist movement, which is racist and reactionary. It creates a distinction between a Jew as a person and the rest of humanity. This relationship is played out on an economic level — whether it is discrimination between Jews and Palestinians in the workforce; directly paying settlers to live on stolen land; lowering interest rates on loans; tax relief etc. When you live as a parasite, you are tempted to support positions that oppose at the most basic level peace, truth, justice or human dignity.
As for the Israelis who say no to their government’s policies, they cannot find work; they cease having access to public services; their homes are taken away from them. All of this, simply for opposing Zionism and racism. The struggle requires sacrifice. It is hard today to be progressive in Israel. It results in being outcast from society. So from my perspective, I look to anyone who does say no as a hero.
MD: What does the joint struggle look like today in Hebron, especially in light of the closure the past few weeks?
BJ: At the moment there are 800,000 people in the Hebron district affected by the current closure — students who need to get to school, people who need to go to Jerusalem for work, sick people who need to leave for medical treatment. Services in the district are not being provided adequately. What we are experiencing is a slow death. It’s not just Hebron. For the past two weeks Bethlehem has also been blockaded just like Gaza.
Every person needs to understand and realize that we have the right to movement, the right to water, the right to basic human needs. Everyone needs to see what is going on right now. Demonstrations are important. Gathering in front of government buildings and saying to the Israeli government: “we are organizing in the streets of Jerusalem and the streets of Tel Aviv to send a clear message against the policies that entrench the status quo.” What I ask from progressive Israelis is to take an explicit position against the policies of their government. The Israeli government will understand how its policies have damaged the unity of its own people.
Israelis also need to voice their opposition to the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel. Israelis need to send the message to the American people that both of their governments — generally, “governments of occupation” — are founded on genocide, oppression, killing, building barriers, denying people access to water, denying people movement and silencing their dissent. There have been 27 journalists arrested since October 2015 because they want to give people a picture of what is going on in our country. In the past few weeks, 1,000 people just from the Hebron governorate have been barred from traveling to Jordan for work or school.
All of this makes it hard for me to convince other Palestinians that Israelis as individuals are not violating our rights as a people. This encourages us to ask progressive Israelis to take the opportunity to voice more strongly their opposition to the situation. Abu Omar [Yasser Arafat] used to say there is light at the end of the tunnel. I am saying there is no light.
MD: How has Oslo impacted opportunities for co-resistance?
BJ: In my opinion, the occupation was more of a daily insult before Oslo. Our people were more united against the occupation then. At that time, there was no hope to collaborate or work with the occupation. The struggle was easier and clearer and the Israelis, on their part, were more ready to join in the struggle. Today we are divided. Today there is a class of Palestinians who have control over the decision-making process and are used to working with the occupation on a daily basis. This pushes the progressive Israelis to the sideline. Because there are even good relations between Mahmoud Abbas and Naftali Bennett, Israeli progressives have little space to voice opposition. The centrists and right wing in Israel can always say, “we have peace, so what are you struggling against? What more do you need?” The same goes for the Palestinians who would struggle against the occupation. If they go to breach a checkpoint, for example, they face on one side the Shabak [Israeli security forces] and the other side the Palestinian security forces. There is a lot more at stake today for Palestinians who want to resist what is going on in their own society.
But I would say for both Israelis and Palestinians something very simple: the struggle requires sacrifice. You cannot lose hope. I learned this from the prison cell in Al-Moskobiyya [Russian Compound]. There, I saw the bottom clearly.
CS: How should people learn from the struggles inside the prisons and apply their strategies or messages in the streets?
BJ: The official Israeli policy is to try to break the human spirit of Palestinians by refusing to recognize their human rights inside and outside of prisons. What distinguishes Bilal Kayed and his comrades from people outside of prisons is the immediacy with which they face the occupation and its full control over them. In those moments, he and others are given the choice of abandoning their Palestinian-ness or risking death in the pursuit of freedom. Bilal Kayed is not facing this choice alone. We currently have 50 prisoners on open-ended hunger strikes [in solidarity with Bilal Kayed]. So what the Israelis need to understand about their detention policies is that prisoners become, first off, heroes of the national liberation struggle. These heroes form the base of a leadership that articulates the alternative to this close collaboration with the occupation.
If Israel were serious about peace, it would need to end administrative detention and take advantage of the opportunity that is available now or otherwise close the door to any kind of future [Palestinian] coexistence with an entity, that, under a shadow of bad policies, is withholding the freedom of an individual who already served 15 years in prison and is now placed in administrative detention. His family was coming to meet him, and now he’s cut off from the world. No one can contact him, even his sister. And his mother hasn’t been able to visit him for two years. No lawyer visits, no visits from people outside of his family, and no explanation for why they renewed his detention order. So I advise that he continues his refusal and that the others continue to join him in his struggle to defend his rights. There is no reason to punish someone for the same offense twice. He’s now in jail, so what else can they do to him? Demean him. Put him in solitary confinement for more than a year. Prevent him from reading. Prevent him from contacting his family. In Bilal, they saw a full Palestinian who they did not want to be living amongst his people [because he poses a threat to Israeli power]. From here, it is said that Bilal now carries and embodies the Palestinian people who refuse to be meek and be put down, and his position expresses that he holds on to his dignity and his honor similar to everyone else — even after spending 15 years in jail.
When I was released from jail in 2007, my sons were still in jail. It causes me some heart-ache: I dream about them, I think about them when I eat, I think about them when I am sick and need someone to take care of me. But this is what affirms my belief in the necessity of the struggle. No one ever utters a bad word against prisoners. When I used to teach in the university, I would have female students asking me to help them marry prisoners. Imagine this: you have young women asking to be in a partnership with someone who is suffering, and she will suffer too, but this is because prisoners are heroes and these women are ready to be partners in a life of struggle. A substantial portion of the Palestinian population has been or is in jail. So there is a constant emotional and spiritual link between people inside and outside, even if they do not see each other.
When there are demonstrations for prisoners people demonstrate against the occupation in general — and vice versa. Yesterday we had a protest here in Hebron of about 1,000 people for the prisoners. This needs to be a central demand of Palestinians and Israelis — ending administrative detention. This is the case for Palestinians inside ‘48 and outside. There have been demonstrations in Umm al-Fahm, Sakhnin, Nazareth — in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem not a word, silence.
[Note: On July 27, three Israeli NGOS — Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, The Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI) — issued a joint statement with Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association calling for the release of Bilal Kayed]
MD: What do you see for the future of joint struggle?
BJ: I’ll say again that to stand in verbal opposition is enough for me. This should not be so difficult when the situation is such that those who film extrajudicial killings, like the one carried out against Abd Al-Fatah Al-Sharif [in Tel Rumeida], are arrested. Abu Shamsiyya is under house arrest for taking a video of a soldier executing someone in the street. So this is an option: documenting what is happening in Palestine.
CS: How do you keep hope in light of all of this?
BJ: It is because I have full faith that the occupation will end. The injustice of the occupation will disappear because of the crystallization within our society of anti-occupation activism. And there will remain people inside of Israeli society who sometimes advance positions opposing the politics of their governments – for instance, in Europe there is the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and opposition to investments in settlements. [Palestine] will remain on the international agenda, especially in terms of our recognition as an observer nation in the UN. We will progress beyond being recognized by 127 states. The cause will also continue to develop at the regional level, where there are parties that hate Palestinians more than they hate Israelis — like the reactionary Arabs, like Saudi Arabia. We hope that this position will be changed for solidarity with the Palestinian people. We hope that we will not pay a price for ignoring the politics of solidarity and leaving our people and our cause to commit suicide.
Translated by Ahmad Jaradat and Corey Sherman, via the Alternative Information Center (AIC), Beit Sahour.
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