Truth's Flashlight

Crossing the Line: Inside the Israeli Anarchists Against the Wall

Palestine News Network

Not ironically, the biggest problem for the Israeli Anarchists Against the Wall is organizing. With no functional leadership and no place to meet, they come together in Tel Aviv at vaguely agreed-upon times for bouts of organic, decentralized discourse and then disperse in borrowed cars and bicycles. The only reliable place to find the Anarchists together, it seems, is under a cloud of tear gas during one of the weekly anti-wall protests in the West Bank.

Dr. Kobi Snitz, longtime member of the Israeli Anarchists Against the Wall, surveys the signs of military activity on the way to a protest in al-Nabi Saleh village. (Christopher Baer, PNN)

Though the Anarchists, formed in 2003, disdain position titles and spokespersons, it is seven-year veteran Dr. Kobi Snitz, 39, who functions as the group’s historian and figurehead. Imprisoned more times than he cares to count and hit in the head by at least one tear-gas canister, Snitz has credentials with the Anarchists that belie his academic background as a postdoctoral mathematics researcher. But no amount of experience can stop a flat tire.

“This is a metaphor for the popular struggle,” says Snitz, getting out of his battered Subaru to inflate the tire at a Tel Aviv gas station, on the way to a protest in the central West Bank village of al-Nabi Saleh. “Once you get to the demonstration, most of the work is already done.”

The work can be automotive, logistical, legal, or technological, but it usually boils down to the financial. “Everything is bad about money” for Snitz and the Anarchists between legal bills for arrested activists, much higher legal bills for Palestinians, the occasional gas mask, and replacement glass for the car windows that Israeli soldiers shoot out whenever they find a car used by the Anarchists, who they consider traitors. But high costs are just part of the job—to say nothing of injuries and arrests.

Children wave Palestinian flags at the weekly al-Nabi Saleh demonstration. (Christopher Baer, PNN)

“It’s work and it’s very tiring,” says Snitz. “But in a way it’s liberating to have some kind of outlet for the frustration of being Israeli. Being arrested is a relief. It frees you from a certain kind of burden.”

Snitz, who is considered to be the first Israeli to be arrested and convicted in the occupied territories, says he admires the Palestinians who endure arrest, imprisonment and often torture without the privilege of judicial restraint exercised for Israelis like him. But beyond being an act of solidarity and redemption, arrest is part of Snitz’s reason for staying in Israel.

“The strongest reason for being here is the struggle,” he explains. “I could live comfortably somewhere else. The state is mostly an enemy, though I don’t want to say the same about Israeli society.”

The Anarchists are far from ideological lockstep about anything, much less about leaving the country whose government policies they protest so vigorously. Some, like 34-year-old software developer Ayala Shani, echo Snitz in saying that the resistance is the only reason to stay.

“I don’t define myself as a Jew, and I don’t like to see myself as part of a nation,” explains Shani, a practicing Anarchist of two and half years. “If I wasn’t actively resisting, I would leave. “

Israeli Anarchist Ayala Shani says she resisted identification with Zionism from an early age. (Christopher Baer, PNN)

Others, like 27-year-old Tali Shapiro, rule out the option offhand.

“No, I won’t leave. I was born here,” says Shapiro, who has associated with the Anarchists for two years. “I found a community of people who are important to me. I’ve found my place.”

Nevertheless Shapiro admits that her place is among the likeminded in Israeli society, meaning that she goes out of her way to orient her actions within the state toward reform. She doesn’t vote but tries to “sway elections” toward socialism, shops and eats with a discriminating eye toward settlement products, and attends weekly protests against the wall. She says her latent resistance took on new urgency when she realized her job “typing up army gibberish” as army secretary implicated her in violence in the 2004 Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

“I happen to know for sure that something I typed ended in the blinding of a 12-year-old girl named Huda Darwish,” recounts Shapiro. “I saw it on BBC and connected the dots. I knew I was there.”

Tali Shapiro says she balances her activism and nationality by “making choices all the time.” (Christopher Baer, PNN)

Shapiro took up with the Anarchists a few years afterwards and began making weekly trips to the West Bank to protest. Though at first she was “scared shitless,” she quickly came to find solace in purpose.

“There’s no place I’d rather be on a Friday,” she says, though she admits it isn’t easy. “When I get home, I’m exhausted. I lie down on the floor, maybe take a bath.”

The fatigue factor depends largely on the protest in question: marches in Bil’in or Ni’lin typically last one or two hours, while a demonstration in al-Nabi Saleh, to which PNN accompanied the Anarchists, goes from around noon until sundown. Al-Nabi Saleh has been a flashpoint for activists since Israelis from the neighboring settlement of Halamish started drawing water from—and denying Palestinians access to—a natural spring near the village in 2009.

On the Friday drive to al-Nabi Saleh, Snitz points to the red-roofed and isolated Israeli communities.

“I think of how beautiful it would be without the settlements,” he says. “It would be like Crete. Sometimes it seems like [the settlements] go out of their way to seem foreign, with the red roofs meant to have snow slide off them. What snow? It’s like they’re saying, ‘We’re European.’”

Suddenly the Subaru wheezes to a stop on a steep hill on the way to al-Nabi Saleh, and Snitz pokes around under the hood. A flock of sheep moseys through the scene. Then the Anarchists are back on the road, only to be forced to park near the home of a Palestinian farmer, a rousing half-hour hike from their destination: the Israeli military has designated al-Nabi Saleh a “closed military zone” as it does every Friday, blocking off all road access to the village.

The Anarchists dash across a patrolled road and pause in the shade of olive trees, waiting for Snitz’s all-clear. When the join their companions in al-Nabi Saleh, they become just seven Israelis in a crowd of roughly 80 other protestors, marching the length of the village to encounter heavily armed Israeli Border Police at either end.

Snitz is surprised at the relative calm. “Usually they’d have gassed us by now,” he remarks.

A Palestinian boy throws a stone at Israeli Border Police during the Friday protest. (Christopher Baer, PNN)

Then it begins, but the first shot and the first stone are so close to each other as to rule out the question of how. Israeli troops fire rubber bullets and lob tear gas grenades into the village, once into a house itself, and protestors sling rocks back. The home raids begin about two hours into the protest, resulting in at least two arrests. Other protestors escape to resume another violent round of hide-and-seek, with the Border Police attempting pincer movements to isolate them near a soccer field.

It doesn’t work. As tear gas clouds bloom in the olive groves and the air fills with cries in Arabic, Hebrew, and English, the protestors start to flee every which way. It would be, in a word, anarchy, but Snitz is on hand for a clarification of terms and deems it “chaos” instead. Everyone ends up in al-Nabi Saleh by sunset to watch the Israeli jeeps leave.

A Palestinian protestor runs through a cloud of tear gas in al-Nabi Saleh. (Christopher Baer, PNN)

The protest was, by al-Nabi Saleh standards, a light one. After a meal graciously provided by a Palestinian family, Snitz, Shani, and the other Anarchists head back to Tel Aviv—their Israeli passports will get them only curious looks at the checkpoint, through which most Palestinians cannot pass.

Snitz is happy about the result and appears to take the brutality in stride. He is only noticeably disappointed in the performance of his beat-up Subaru, which he says he may have to trade in before next week. But the Anarchists go with what works. Finances, modes of transport, even membership numbers may waver—for as long as the occupation exists, however, they will resist it.

Hat Tip: Revolt of the Plebs