By this time you, my dear Free Haifa readers, are probably angry and despaired of me. What is the justification to maintain your blogger for such a long time on the sunny Haifa beach if when there are real important things happening on the ground you hear nothing of him?
Yes, if you rely only on Free Haifa for your news, you might have missed the general strike that was declared for 15/7 by the leadership of the ’48 Palestinians in solidarity with the Naqab (Negev) Arab population, against the new Israeli “Prawer Plan” for comprehensive ethnic cleansing of the area. It was a memorable day, a new step in the evolving historic struggle, as I will explain in the rest of this post.
But first let me lay down my excuses for not writing on time.
What went wrong with me?
Who said that blogging is easy or safe?
On Monday 15/7, as part of the declared strike and “day of rage”, I was embedded at your service with some 500 demonstrators, mostly young, on the main junction just before Sakhneen, in the center of the Galilee. To show their depth of solidarity and determination to resist the government crimes, the demonstrators swamped the junction and stopped traffic for over an hour. I was holding a Palestinian flag, which is a good way to show your solidarity and also saves the need to take active part in the quarrel or throw stones when push comes to shoves.
It all went very well until the police gathered an impressive force around us, including some Border Guard bullies, “Yasam” gangster-cops and some cops mounted on heavy horses. Having done all this effort in our honor they wouldn’t just let us run away under regular attack. They sent one unit to cut us from the back blocking our retreat path to Sakhneen and attacked at full force, all at once, with horses galloping at the crowd, a barrage of stun grenades with some gas grenades following, and plain clothed detectives catching individual demonstrators, felling them to the ground and beating them.
Being slow to retreat and carrying the flag up in the middle of the mess, I became an easy and obvious target to the stun grenades, pretty heavy metal devices that tend to explode, which some cops threw directly at us from short distance. I received 3 direct hits, in both legs and one in my waist. After some time, when things calmed and I could distance myself from the area of confrontation, I was carried by some youth to receive emergency treatment in Sakhneen. Sitting with friends later I heard that some other flag carriers were hit the same way, one child suffered a direct hit in his head which caused a bleeding injury.
The Haifa Demo on the Previous Night
You blogger went for you also to the Haifa demo on the eve of the general strike. It was a surprise party.
For some time activists in Haifa seemed out of focus. The parties stopped working together, somewhat because of bad feelings stemming from sharp disagreements about the Syrian revolution and somewhat because they are busy and divided about the coming municipal elections which are due on October. The youth activists were almost unseen lately after a year of intensive and exhausting support for the prisoners’ strikes.
It was at the last minutes that central activists from the Haifa Arab parties created an event on Facebook, calling for a demonstration on Sunday night in Wadi Nisnas. Everybody followed the lead and some 200 people showed up – high attendance by local standards when there is no fresh massacre to draw the people out.
After more than half an hour the youth were bored of standing in one place and started a march on Alenby Street, toward the German colony. As the whole development was spontaneous the police didn’t have the force to confront the demonstration and all went well. Reaching Carmel Avenue, the main street of the turistic area, the demonstrators stopped at the middle of the junction and halted the traffic for some time. Later the continued marching down Carmel Avenue between the posh coffee shops until “The Prisoners Square”.
The dynamics of the Haifa demo gave the tune to what happened the next day. The reluctance of the parties and the traditional leadership that felt obliged to do something to stop the mass expulsion of the Naqab Arabs – but are not in a position to lead the masses to struggle. The growing number of youth activists that follow the example of the Arab Spring, learn new methods of struggle and use social media to organize. The same pattern spread over the country on July 15.
Between the Strike and Civil Disobedience
The general strike was declared some time ago by the leadership of the Arab Palestinians in the 78% of Palestine that is occupied since 1948. This leadership is organized under the umbrella of “The High Follow Up Committee” (Lijnat Al-Mutaba’a Al-‘Uliya), which is led by the Arab (and common Arab-Jewish) parties and includes in some ways representatives of the civil society.
The angry young activists would say that “Al-Mutaba’a” don’t want to lead a real struggle. In my view it is more unable than unwilling. In this specific case, by declaring a general strike, it clearly aimed for a level of struggle that the masses couldn’t follow. Schools are on vacation and Arab Workers are un-organized, marginalized in the economy and in many cases are afraid to loose their job. In the end the strike was mostly limited to the Arab local councils. As I heard, Arab merchants in the old city of Akka (Acre) proved that the patriotic fever that has recently caught the city’s youth didn’t skip them and the market was mostly closed.
What made this day a success was the initiative of the youth activists that announced on the internet that this day will be a “day of rage” and streets will be closed. In fact the term “Day of Rage” already appeared in the official call for strike by the “Mutaba’a” – but it the youth activists everywhere that filled this declaration with real content.
On Monday morning there was a marching demonstration in Bir As-Sabe’e (Be’er Sheva) – the main city of the Naqab. The police claimed that the demonstrators didn’t obey their instructions and caused more disruption to the traffic that they were allowed to. After some time the police attacked the demonstrators and there was a confrontation. Some 14 demonstrators were arrested.
The other 2 main demonstrations were called on the entrance of Um Al-Fahm – the main city of the Arab “Triangle”, and on the entrance of Sakhneen, to 17:00 of the same day. In Um Al-Fahm, the “Wadi ‘Ara” highway was closed for more than an hour, but the police preferred to stand by and avoid violence. They had previous experience what happens when a demonstration becomes an open confrontation between violent police and stone throwing youth. A prolonged confrontation can keep the main route closed for many hours.
There were also several other local demonstrations, of which I heard of Majd Al-Kurum, Al-Makr, Akka and Yaffa. Most of them were well attended and exceeded the regular parameters… and in most of them the police chose not to intervene.
In occupied Al-Quds (Jerusalem) the police attacked a demonstration, wounded and arrested many of the participants. In Ramallah and Gaza, the different local Palestinian authorities intervened to prevent or limit local youth that tried to organized parallel protest against Israeli Ethnic Cleansing.
In Sakhneen there were some 15 people arrested, including 3 women. On Tuesday some 150 people waited the whole day in the Akka court to try to see the detainees. We heard horror stories about the behavior of the police during and after the arrests. One young demonstrator was thrown on the ground and beaten, probably he lost his consciousness. A policeman was sitting on him, beating him and shouting: “Die, Die Now!” Others were beaten in the police station. At the end of the day some of the people that attended the court hearings organized another demonstration in Akka.
Over the week there were more demonstrations, notable several demonstrations in The Clock Square in Yaffa and another biggish demonstration on Thursday in Haifa.
Where does the Naqab Day stand in historic perspective in the struggle of the ’48 occupied Palestinians?
The first general strike in the ’48 territories after the 1948 Nakba was in “Land Day” on March 30, 1976. It was a direct response to mass land confiscation in the Galilee. At the night before the day of the strike Israeli Army invaded Sakhneen, Arabeh and Dir Hana, initiating confrontation with the local population in which 4 of the locals were shot dead. The result was that the strike became a day of mass confrontation with the police all over the country, in which two more demonstrators were killed.
Most other general strikes came as a response to Israel’s massacres against the Palestinian people: The Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982, the mass killing of Palestinian demonstrators in the beginning of the first Intifada in December 1987, the massacre in Al-Khalil in 1994 and so on.
In the beginning of the second Intifada, in September 2000, the massacre begun in the West Bank and Gaza, but the Israeli police (under the ‘left’ Labor) prepared snipers to shoot and kill demonstrators on this side of the green line also. The killing of 13 demonstrators in the Triangle and the Galilee enhanced the sense of unity with the Intifada and caused a 10 day’s general strike and mass confrontations with the police.
The current strike and demonstrations were not a hot response to sight of blood and burned bodies. It was a calculated political move to press the Israeli government to stop evacuation and house demolition against the Naqab Arab. Most of the activity, from Yaffa through the Triangle to Haifa and the Galilee was not by the immediate victims.
The demonstrators, in most cases, applied the tactics of civil disobedience rather that all-out confrontation. It is the new “silmiya” (peaceful) of the Arab Spring – a studied way to press your point and try to save some force for a prolonged struggle. The police also, at least in some places, learned something from experience, and avoided confrontations that would highlight the effect of the protest. The police brutality in Sakhneen proved that it is only a thin mask of civility – behind it there is still the same brutality and racial hatred.
The Naqab Apartheid and Ethnic Cleansing
Writing all this about the struggle – there is not much place left for the most important thing – the fate of the Naqab Arab population.
The conditions of the Naqab Beduin are the most shameful expression of Israeli Apartheid. Tens of thousands of people leave there in unrecognized villages, deprived of the most basic services like electricity, water, sewage, roads, schools and clinics. In some places you may see the Israeli “Socialist” Kibutz utopia at the top of the hill, with all the comforts of modern lives from Air Conditioning to swimming pools, and the sprinklers spray water on the green lawns, while on the other side of the fence the Beduin have no drinking water – the only water that you see there is the sewage of the Kibutz that runs down the hill.
The whole idea of Zionism is to drive Palestinians out of their land, and now in the Naqab one of the biggest chapters of Zionist Ethnic Cleansing is folding before our eyes.
The main goal of the day of rage on July 15 was to be a wake up call – for ourselves and for the world. We have a serious and urgent struggle to wage.
Ethnic cleansing must be stopped now.
The Israeli racist Apartheid regime must be dismantled.