There is a left movement in Israel. By left movement, I mean a political and social culture of understanding and critical thinking about the reality of Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza. One simply needs to look at the work of Gideon Levy or Amira Hass to understand that we have voices dedicated to critical thinking that receive mainstream attention. There are also numerous groups that monitor abuses and expansion in the occupied territories such as Btselem which is by far the most visible. Smaller groups exist like Combatants for Peace and Breaking the Silence which are doing incredibly valuable and important work. But how many direct action Israeli groups exist? How many Israelis actually go to the West Bank and monitor, confront and expose the reality of the occupation? Do not get me wrong there are many international direct action groups working in the West Bank. They are doing their work and, at least in my experience, tend to be divorced from the Israeli narrative. Lately, I am questioning why more people in Israel that identify as left do not venture out and make their voices heard.

If you are an American living in New York, educated and angry about the Iraq war, what options of protest or dissent do you have? Write a letter to your congressman, go to a protest, and attend a Noam Chomsky lecture. It is beyond the imagination to travel to Iraq and monitor the situation yourself. That is not the case in Israel. If you understand the gravity of the occupation and live in Tel Aviv, you can travel forty minutes by car and make yourself a presence. If you live in Jerusalem, you can literally venture out of your neighborhood. This is a privilege and I am saddened that more people do not take advantage of it. Please do not get me wrong, there are plenty of Israelis that stand up to this challenge and engage in direct action. The group I am addressing is the mainstream left or those that define themselves as mainstream left. It would be easy for people that vote Hadash or Meretz in Tel Aviv to give up one Saturday and go experience the reality of the West Bank. This would send a message to society that we have had enough with the double standards and routine deceit of the occupation. If it does not start from these people, the mainstream political and social left, then where is it going to start?

To quote an esteemed mentor, activism (direct action) is the new frontier in combating the occupation. I am not trying to decry my fellow Israelis rather I think that the lack of direct action in the West Bank is an interesting window into our political and moral culture. I think that we can see a tacit approval of the occupation through our collective unwillingness to act out against it. The greatest danger facing Israelis that want to make their presence against the occupation known in the West Bank is the IDF and settlers. We should be asking ourselves why this is the case and do something about it.

I will say this again; I am not trying to decry my fellow Israelis. The opposite, I think that we have enough people in this country that understand the problems to make a profound difference. In fact, two weeks ago Ta’ayush joined Combatants for Peace for a tour of Palestinian Susya; you can read my recount of the day, which ended in violence. During the tour, our group with well over eighty people including at least thirty for Tel Aviv, decided to have a look at the well of the land owner only to be faced with a ‘closed military zone’ by the IDF. Of course, settlers from Susya joined the scene and the army did not threaten them with arrest or evacuation. This is standard fare in the southern West Bank for Israeli peace activists. Here are videos with English translation.

Combatants for peace decided that they were unwilling to get arrested and as such everyone left and obeyed the order expect of course the settlers. It was great that many Tel Avivians were able to see firsthand the reality of the rule of law as it pertains to non-settler Israelis. Collectively though we could have had an act of civil disobedience that surely would have made waves in the media in Israel and possibly elsewhere. According to my knowledge, actions of civil disobedience like this one is what it is going to take in order to create a sea change in the Israeli mindset that will save Israel from itself. Few are willing to take the risk. Maybe it is the predatory American capitalist sprit which has slowly invaded Israeli culture that is to blame for our collective display of selfishness. It is clear that the international community is not going to coerce Israel into behaving rationally; it is only up to the citizens to change the course that we are on. Given the almost sadistic nature of the last Gaza campaign, what are we waiting for? What is it going to take for people to get out there and make a difference? Don’t Israelis want to live in a democratic society ruled by laws that have moral foundations? Are we so accustomed to the lies of the state that direct action in numbers is unattainable?

I think that protests in Tel Aviv are great but are not nearly enough to combat the settler movement and occupation. Anyway, when was the last major anti-occupation protest in Tel Aviv? Coincidentally, the settlers are well organized and willing, albeit with insane fever, to group together in numbers in direct actions against the Palestinians, the leftists, the IDF and ultimately the Israeli public. Where is the response? How can we defend ourselves and the laws of the State of Israel? I understand that we have lives and someone actually has to work in society unlike the settlers but the point is clear. Have we let our collective lies scare us from action? Most of us have been in the Army and many have seen the occupation as soldiers. Despite our collective attempt to banish those experiences from our minds with cheap drugs and travel in India the residue stays behind. In the words of Primo Levi, “someone who, accustomed to lying publicly, ends by lying in private too, to himself, and building for himself a comforting truth which allows him to live in peace.”

Joseph Dana works with the Israeli peace organization, Ta’ayush and is currently finishing a master degree in Jewish thought at the Hebrew University. He blogs at ibnezra.wordpress.com.