Reclaiming the Commons in Palestine/Israel: ¡Ya Basta!/Khalas!

The regime that will succeed the nation-state will not be the fruit of preconception or social engineering, but of sociological and political imagination wielded through transformative actions. — Gustavo Esteva

Que se vayan todos (‘Let’s get rid of them all’). — message written on the walls of Argentina

The No-state Solution

Even as the neo-liberal turn takes fierce hold on the Palestinian economy, the unending impasse in Palestine/Israel points up an ever more apparent fact: the nation-state is unworkable in its conventional capitalist sense.  Palestine exemplifies the dead end of thinking that the state is any kind of a ‘solution.’  My reflections on the impasse in Palestine/Israel are in the spirit of Andrej Grubacic:

what is needed, not just in the Balkans, is an alternative to nationalism, colonialism and capitalism. [. . .]  It should be a politics of a Balkan federation.  A participatory society, built from the bottom up, through struggles for the creation of an inclusive democratic awareness, participatory social experiments, and an emancipatory practice that would win the political imagination of all people in the region.

Rage and Outrage in Ni’lin

Now, in the midst of the stench of the tear gas in Ni’lin, the hail of bullets against the peaceful, as hundreds resist the building of the Wall and the murderous Ihtilal (Occupation cum Suffocation), we have to understand the enemy is not just the Israeli state and the plutocracy and power it represents.  Not just the Zionist state.  It is this nation-state itself: we need to move beyond its violence and blindness, hype and illusions.  Jamal Juma’ (2008) of the key initiative Palestinian Grassroots Anti Apartheid Wall Campaign writes: “Nil’in will soon be ghettoized and isolated from the rest of the West Bank, with its main entrance being a tunnel running under the segregated settler-only road.  Not only will this involve the confiscation of a further 200 dunams, but it will also effectively give the Occupation military full control over movement in and out of the area.”

Neve Gordon reminds us that what is happening in Ni’lin is singular resistance, “popular acts of civil disobedience that persist despite the ruthless repression of an occupying power.”  And that this is ‘ta’ayush,’ radical solidarity: “scores of Jewish Israeli and international activists are standing beside the Palestinians residents as they try to stop military bulldozers from destroying Ni’lin’s land.”  But what he does not say is that this is part of what should become a mass movement of resistance for another kind of society, the groundswell for radical transformation of the whole society and economy on both sides of this divide.

Thoughts on such transformation are not non-existent.  Joel Kovel’s (2007) vision looks to a socialist alchemy of change, one centered on a single post-capitalist state, ‘Palesrael.’  The Haifa Conference on the Right of Return and the Secular Democratic State in Palestine in June 2008, organized by Abnaa elBalad and other groups, highlighted the urgency of new thought on the single state solution, although a socialist vision for moving forward was perhaps not clearly enough projected.  Eitan Bronstein and Norma Musih also contemplate such a vista of radical change, imagining what a state might be after massive refugee return:

We propose thinking about a form other than the familiar nation-state — one that will not have to define itself in defensive terms against an external enemy but will instead be defined by the communities of which it is composed.

They do not say socialist commonwealth, though they may dream it.  What else can work?  As in Chiapas, a Zapatista-like bottom-up movement to capture the imagination and energy and activism of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians has to be built.  At the June conference in Tel Aviv on implementing the massive return of Palestinian refugees, Uri Gordon was one of the few panelists to stress the need for a socialist (and social-anarchist) transformation at the grassroots to create a viable foundation for any kind of a single state of Palestinians and Jews and the building of a movement to catalyze that.  Uri warned about the dangers of continuing a capitalist neo-liberal structure for any such polity.  This seems only obvious.  Yet a recent interview with Ilan Pappé and Noam Chomsky, for instance, makes no reference to socialist transformation as part of a solution in Palestine.  We have to undo this silence.

Thinking outside the Capitalist and Statist Box

A sustained dialogue about options within and beyond a one-state solution is needed.  But beyond all talk, it requires energizing a movement that dares to project beyond principled opposition to the viciousness and brutality of the Occupation and its outrages 24/7.  Building that movement.  The morass in Palestine/Israel is almost an icon of the need for such thinking.  And any solution that builds toward a new architecture of a cooperative commonwealth, based on decentralized structures at all key scales from neighborhood on up (cf. Getting Free), will necessarily look likewise to transforming the greater transnational neighborhood, Mashriq and Maghreb.  As Moshe Machover has often stressed, the encompassing vision has to be socialist liberation across the whole region, a dynamic federative socialist structure beyond the turf of Palestine.

How can the Palestinians who are now in forced Diaspora return in massive numbers?  New ideas are advanced by Bronstein and Musih, and there was a lot of concrete talk at the recent Tel Aviv conference on the Refugee Right of Return.  But how can there be any return to anything other than a space transformed by a new sense of mutual aid?  How can Jewish Israelis can be awakened from decades of moral and just plain physical blindness?  Inside the Israeli Leviathan, New Profile has been tackling that job of changing hearts, minds, and mindsets for over a decade,  laying a foundation for a paradigm shift in thinking and feeling.  But it won’t come without a radical socialist movement.

ADRID, the Association for the Rights of the Internally Displaced, is organizing and agitating for a just society for all citizens of the Israeli state, and challenging Israeli apartheid.  It is associated with Ittijah, an umbrella of Arab initiatives for change inside the Israeli Leviathan.  But a movement is needed that dares to say socialism.  That dares to say: capitalism khalas, enough.  Violence khalas.  Otherwise talk about a ‘single democratic state’ is grand naiveté.  We need to get a ball of discourse rolling in a slightly different direction.  NO to Occupation.  NO to capitalism.  NO to Zionism in any form.  And NO to a politics centered solely on resistance.  YES to people’s dignity on both sides of this divide.  YES to equity and solidarity.  YES to a massive return of all refugees, the key catalyst for changing the nature of the Zionist state (Kovel, 2007).

Commenting on Zapatismo in Mexico, Gustavo Esteva, however, stresses the tentativeness of what vision should be, rooted in what ordinary people are doing and thinking:

It seems to us to be as insane as it is ridiculous to propose that some ideological or doctrinaire vision of that ‘at large’ should be a prerequisite for us to get moving, that every political initiative must define beforehand its final goal or the abstract future condition of the world.  Those who live with their feet on the ground don’t hang themselves with abstract ‘at larges’ or final finalities.

Toward a Cooperative Commonwealth

The goal of a libertarian-socialist multicultural and multi-faith Commonwealth could begin to energize new forms of decentralized direct democracy, people’s participation and horizontalism, neighborhood autonomy as it moves beyond received notions of a capitalist ‘state’ run by a corporate ruling class — in Israel a veiled dictatorship of 15 families over the Israeli economy, media, and politics.

Of, course, it’s easy to say we need a mass movement striving to create a mosaic society of ta’ayush, Arab-Jewish synergy, founded on autonomy, authentic direct democracy, mutual aid.  But beginnings can be forged, at the most grassroots, place-based local scales.  In people’s own neighborhoods, workplaces.  Central here is creating a dynamism of a

“prefigurative politics” that involves constructing concrete alternatives, especially in terms of social relations.  Prefigurative politics thus combines reference to both dual power strategies and to realising a libertarian and egalitarian ethos in the movement’s own structures, social dynamics and lifestyle (Gordon, 2008).

Democratic Autonomous Neighborhoods

One window looks to the kind of neighborhood Household and Home Assemblies that James Herod envisions in Getting Free: Creating an Association of Democratic Autonomous Neighborhoods (2007).  That could begin to generate a whole geometry of people’s initiatives from the bottom up, a network of dual power, the incubators of a new society of ta’ayush and power to the people — not just slogans, but concrete scaffolding for transformation.  Adel Samara argues that the secular democratic state conceived without concomitant radical social and economic transformation “will serve the Zionist and Arab Comprador solution.”  I agree.  But change is a process, not an event.  And has to be bottom-up.  Could the turmoil in Ni’lin also generate the seeds for that neighborhood organizing?  Only they can do it.

Paradigms from other corners can be examined and learned from.  The ongoing re-establishment of the SDS in North America is a kindred potential paradigm for ideas for participatory social activism, with a strong left-libertarian socialist thrust.  What the Power to the People campaign in the U.S. has been doing over the past half year is in part building that kind of movement, now newly linked with Hip Hop social activism.  And it has put two black women — Cynthia McKinney and Latina Rican Hip Hop activist Sister Rosa Clemente — on the Green Party ticket to stand in the electoral arena, challenging the corporate plutocracy and its parties:

we are supporting our commitment to the building of an uncompromising, unswerving, people’s movement [. . .]  We are refusing to collaborate with this Empire’s system of oppression.  Rather, we are working to dismantle it and build a fundamentally and systemically different system that addresses human needs, not human greed.

The GPUS has a clear statement on the need for exploring equitable alternatives to a ‘two-state’ solution and is the only major formation on the U.S. left to issue such a declaration.

Zapatismo and Beyond

Look to the Global South.  Social pragmatist paradigms for such organizing initiatives are now multiplying in Latin America, within Zapatismo in Chiapas, the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) in Brazil, the rise of the indigenous peoples in Bolivia, Ecuador, and elsewhere, and as a complex of autonomous movements across Argentina, a “socialism of the people, participatory and decentralized” (Sitrin, 2006).  What can be applied to spur movement building on the ground in Palestine and inside the Israeli Leviathan?  As Holloway sees it, the imperative everywhere is horizontalidad:

Probably we have to think of advancing through experiments and questions: “preguntando caminamos” — “walking we ask questions” — as the Zapatistas put it.  To think of moving forward through questions rather than answers means a different sort of politics, a different sort of organization.  If nobody has the answers, then we have to think not of hierarchical structures of leadership, but horizontal structures that involve everyone as much as possible.  What do we want?  I think we want self-determination — the possibility of creating our own lives, the assumption of our own humanity. [. . .]  The drive to collective self-determination should be the guiding principle, the utopian star that lights up our questions and our experiments.  That means, of course, an anti-state politics.

Those horizontal structures are already forming in spaces of resistance like Ni’lin.  In Palestine under the boot, and the Israeli soldiers’ state, that would require a massive popular movement to “reclaim the commons” among ordinary Jews and Arabs, energizing a new ensemble of struggles for direct and inclusive democracy and participatory economy, including dynamic inclusion of large numbers of returning refugees.  It means bringing people in the neighborhoods into a new kind of political and economic decision-making in their own streets and communities, a pro-active role in the management of their own affairs, their work places.  The progressive dismantling of all forms of Zionist ideology and domination — within workable proposals for new forms of political life, based on local control, autonomy and creative resistance.  Buoyed by a utopian realism, with practical, workable paradigms that can be learned from in the Peoples’ Global Action and World Social Forum, catalyzing an alchemy of social transformation bottom-up in Israel/Falastin, centered on human dignity and autonomy.  Don Gregorio, a Yaqui Indian in Mexico, put it well: “Autonomy is not something we ought to ask for or that anyone can give us.  It is something we have, despite everything.  Its other name is dignity.”

It entails a transformation in the reality of the Arab Palestinians who are now Israeli citizens, third-class. Wakim Wakim, of ADRID, projects that clearly:

we need a revolution of thinking within the 1948 borders, to ensure the rights of all of us based on legal arrangements, mutual citizenship, a constitution, a separation of religion and state, a new legal system to adapt to the new reality, et cetera.  An entirely new definition of a collective identity is all of our responsibility.

It takes a little more to ‘up the anti’ and start talking about a socialist revolution in thinking and grassroots organizing.  There is no alternative to this.  Kovel (2007) is guarded: “perhaps it will never come, given the awesome wealth and power at the command of the empire, and its craven press, cowed public, and corrupted political consciousness.  Or perhaps it will. . . .”

One Big Union

Grassroots working-class syndicalism among Palestinians and Israelis, forging new bonds of solidarity, is one pathway out of the morass of the ‘national question’ — and the immense ever widening gap between poor and rich in Israeli-Jewish society. It can become a hands-on incubator for overcoming mutual distrust.

As the Palestinian economy is transformed to “formalize a truncated network of Palestinian-controlled cantons and associated industrial zones, dependent upon the Israeli occupation, and through which a pool of cheap Palestinian labour is exploited by Israeli, Palestinian and other regional capitalist groups,” an imperative is grassroots radical labor organizing.  One option that can appeal to workers and the many unemployed is to create IWW-like base groups in both communities.  Not a small political party, but a horizontally structured independent movement — oriented to people’s everyday problems to make ends meet and have a say, and broader issues of self-determination and vernacular dignity.  Building, from the bottom up, a scaffolding for organizing and change, aspiring to “a world in which production and distribution are organized by workers ourselves to meet the needs of the entire population, not merely a handful of exploiters.”  A Wobbly union is one such non-hierarchical vessel for nurturing autonomy and workers’ collective action.  It is potentially robust, concrete, a structure that workers and working families can understand.  Gregory W. Esteven is right on in his perception:

I’ve long thought that the Industrial Workers of the World’s objective of organizing skilled and unskilled labor together, across national boundaries, was ahead of its time.  Far from being relics of a bygone era, the work they are doing now is cutting edge.  They have a better understanding of the present conjuncture than many mainstream unions, which have been slow to adapt to the realities of the postindustrial economy.

Now is the time, across Palestine, from the river to the sea, and out into the region.  Here is a small paradigm.

Piqueteros against the System

Or imagine a movement like that of Argentina’s piqueteros across Israel and Palestine: protesters, many unemployed and underemployed workers, large numbers of landless Bedouin from ‘unrecognized’ settlements in the Negev (al-Naqab) and Galilee (al-Jalil), staging marches again and again against the government to draw attention to the people’s plight, mounting the barricades against the plutocracy that rules them.  And massive non-violent struggle across the entire topography of the Occupation.  Taking the resistance in Bil’in and Ni’lin as paradigms.  As Chomsky recently stressed: “a non-violent struggle would have had considerable prospects for success.  I think it still is the only prospect for success.” 
Authentic organization springs from struggle, not vice versa — sustained struggle, and not just in resistance to the Occupation.  Samara asks: “For those who are busy marketing the S[ingle] D[emocratic] S[tate] today: [. . .] What is their practical program?  On what basis are they going to mobilize the masses?”  It makes little practicable sense to argue a single democratic state unless a new conception of polity and socialist economy is its guiding vision of transformation.  Only within such a framework can they move toward ‘advocacy’ — spelling out “a realistic path from here to there” — not simply ‘proposal’ (a distinction stressed by Chomsky).

Nodes for Anti-authoritarian Spaces

Nodes for an anti-authoritarian groundswell are imperative.  Some are already budding.  The social-anarchist space now opened on the Israeli left by the libertarian affinity group One Struggle (Ma’avak Ehad) needs to be broadened and extended into Palestinian society.  The need is for popularizing its anti-authoritarian values into a grassroots movement to prioritize equity, diversity, solidarity, and self-management within and across the communities in this internecine struggle.

Anarchists Against the Wall is another paradigmatic space.  In its fierce commitment to direct action, AATW could serve as a mini-paradigm of joint Palestinian-Israeli action, its praxis perhaps a template for future more systematic radical organizing of workers (and students as workers-to-be), One Big Union ‘from the river to the sea.’  AATW is involved in both direct action and demonstrations against the Wall, including in the villages of al-Ma’asara, south of Bethlehem, Beit Ummar, north of Hebron, Bil’in, and recently, almost daily, facing the brutal repression by the IDF in Ni’lin in the West Bank and elsewhere.  Some sense of the terrible repression of peaceful demonstrators is visible here: <>.  Here is a recent petition against human rights abuses there: <>. Add your signatures.

AATW is committed to a joint struggle of Palestinians and Israelis.  Its contribution, an unprecedented mode of joint Arab-Jewish sumud (steadfastness), is widely recognized in both the Palestinian and Israeli media and is regularly reported on A-Infos.   They recently issued a call for support of the legal defense of hundreds of arrested activists. Donate if you can:   <>.

Profil Hadash is another such node.  Its charter stresses:

We, a group of feminist women and men, are convinced that we need not live in a soldiers’ state. [. . .]  We understand that the state of war in Israel is maintained by decisions made by our politicians — not by external forces to which we are passively subject. [. . .]  We will not go on enabling them by obediently, uncritically supplying soldiers to the military which implements them.

Its work in struggling against militarism as an ideology and everyday mindset in a soldiers’ state is exemplary.

Of core importance is the initiative Zochrot, foregrounding for Israeli-Jewish consciousness the Nakba and the multiple evil and injustice it has wrought.

Among Arab Palestinians, ARDIB, the groups inside Ittijah and other activist initiatives, such as the huge resistance mounted by the Ni’ilin Popular Committee against the Apartheid Wall, and the movement Abnaa elBalad are all such nodes of resistance and transformation.  But sustaining them needs, we would argue, a socialist vision.  And active discussion, people’s think-tanks.  As Yael Lerer (Balad Party) said at the June 2008 Tev Aviv conference on implementing refugee return: “We should have think-tanks inside every kibbutz.  Start planning within our own communities, with other communities.  This is exactly the activity that needs to start happening, with or without the approval of the government.”  I would add: think-tanks in every neighborhood inside the Israeli state, from Metulla to Eilat.

A Hundred Flowers Can Bloom

A hundred schools of thought can contend in this pluralistic mix of ideas for transformation.  We’re at an incredible juncture in the capitalist world system, maybe a socio-seismic shift.  The chances for fundamental social and economic transformation in this planetary crisis are multiplying.  Esteven senses that: “What comes next we cannot be sure, but it seems that the time to revive the socialist project has arrived, and it must be one adapted to the needs of the 21st century.”   Building a profound sense of social empathy and solidarity with ordinary people in their oppression is part of what we are about.  That is what Zochrot is addressing, hands-on: “Only when Jews come to see the Palestinians who live here, and those who were expelled, as people worth living with can we hope to live here fairly and equitably.”

Geographer David Harvey (2000) has noted that there’s a time and place “where alternative visions, no matter how fantastic, provide the grist for shaping powerful forces for change.  I believe we are precisely at such a moment.  Utopian dreams . . . are omnipresent as the hidden signifiers of our desires” (p. 195).  Que se vayan todos.



Gordon, U. (2008).  Anarchy Alive! Anti-authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory.  London: Pluto Press.

Harvey, D. (2000).  Spaces of Hope.   Berkeley: University of California Press.

Juma’, J. (2008).  Open Letter to Shawn Brandt, Tyendinga Mohawk Community. June.

Kovel, J. (2007).  Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine.  Pluto Press: London.

Sitrin, M. (2006).  Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina.  San Francisco: AK Press. 

Bill Templer is a linguist based in Southeast Asia.

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