A woman chatting idly in Ramallah on Sunday said dismissively: "The High Court of Justice's decision to move the separation fence in Bil'in proves nothing about the effectiveness of the popular Palestinian-Israeli struggle. Israel needs it to portray itself as a democracy."
Her frustration is understandable. The lives of tens of thousands of Palestinians are disrupted by a fence whose route elsewhere is no less "disproportionate" than it was in Bil'in. After two and a half years of weekly demonstrations by Palestinians, left-wing Israelis and foreign activists - demonstrations that were brutally dispersed, with numerous protesters being injured or arrested - the fence was moved a mere 1.7 kilometers. And the same High Court that moved the fence also legitimized the Jewish neighborhood that had already been built on Bil'in's private land. The gap between the huge effort and the meager results is characteristic of the activities of all Israeli groups that work against the occupation. Last Friday morning, the eve of Yom Kippur, Machsom Watch activists had to spend hours making frantic telephone calls and using their connections with high-ranking officials to enable three sick people to traverse the Qalandiyah checkpoint and reach Jerusalem for urgent treatment. Media reports had promised that despite the hermetic closure, humanitarian cases would be allowed through the checkpoints, but by noon, most of those cases had given up and returned home.
In other cases, Machsom Watch's female volunteers try to alert commanders when soldiers are harassing people passing through the checkpoints. Months of correspondence and requests, reports in Haaretz and monitoring by B'Tselem resulted in two commanders being removed from the Taysir checkpoint. This did not stop a soldier from harassing people at that checkpoint a few months later, nor did it prevent similar abusive conduct at other checkpoints. Needless to say, the checkpoint and roadblock policy continues, despite the reek of apartheid it emits.
But those frustrated by the limited impact of Israeli anti-occupation activity are ignoring two of its salient characteristics. First, by helping to return one dunam of land to one individual, enabling farmers to complete an olive harvest without harassment and attacks by settlers, shortening the waiting time at a checkpoint or releasing a patient or a minor from detention without trial, life is made a bit less difficult for particular individuals at a given moment. This results from the activity of people who, by exploiting their immunity as Jewish Israelis, challenge the occupation bureaucracy. Moreover, this immediate personal relief is interwoven into a more fundamental, longer-term Israeli-Palestinian struggle against the occupation. Since the 1990s, Israel has endeavored to separate the two peoples. It has restricted opportunities to meet and get to know one another outside the master-serf framework, VIP meetings or luxurious overseas peace showcases from which the term "occupation" is completely absent.
Because of this separation, the Palestinians know only settlers and soldiers - in other words, only those whose conduct and roles in the system justify the Palestinians' conclusion that it is impossible to reach a just agreement and peace with Israel. This separation also reinforces Israelis' racist - or at best, patronizing - attitudes toward the Palestinians. The anarchists, Machsom Watch, Yesh Din, Rabbis for Human Rights, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Physicians for Human Rights and other activist groups - few as their members may be - disrupt the separation policy and its ills. They remind the Palestinians that there are other Israelis, so perhaps there is still hope. And in their immediate environment, they expose Israelis to facts and experiences that make it difficult for them to keep wallowing in their voluntary ignorance and disregarding the dangers that our oppressive regime poses over the Palestinians.