On December 27, 28-year-old Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak was sentenced to three months in jail. He was the only one arrested at a Critical Mass bike ride in Tel Aviv, thus clearly indicating the arrest was politically motivated. Jonathan went to jail on January 11. We spoke on January 2 in Tel Aviv.
RV: About your decision not to appeal and not to do community service—can you explain why?
JP: The decision not to appeal is part of the general context. My case received a lot of attention, both because of the absurdity of the case—but there are people sent to jail for many absurd cases—but also because I am a Jewish Ashkenazi Israeli from a certain background. If I appeal, I will probably be acquitted—we have a very good case.
But if I appeal I will be made a figure for Israeli democracy. The Israeli courts will have saved the day again, from the deterioration of Israeli democracy. While in fact my story, as uncomfortable as it is, is really just a side note in this very massive campaign of persecution against the popular struggle, against the civil struggle against the occupation [for more, see Joseph Dana and Noam Sheizaf’s article in the March 28, 2011 issue]. And I think it would have been a mistake for me to appeal in this context. Yes, I could probably have won my freedom, but only for the reason that it would serve the purpose of perpetuating the occupation and of strengthening Israel’s ability to suppress resistance.
The other issue is that I simply don’t recognize the authority of the court to try me for what I did. And by appealing it I would be recognizing the court’s authority. I did not choose to go to the court, I was taken to court. And I would never, out of my own initiative, go to the court requesting it. The court operates under the laws made according to the vote of only part of the population which is affected by it, and I cannot see how it is legitimate.
The decision to not do community service stems from the fact, again, that I’ve done nothing wrong. I am not going to cooperate with my punishment for protesting, for resisting the occupation. Also, there is the issue that they make money out of people who do community service, and they lose money if they send people to jail. And there’s absolutely no way I’m going to send good money to the state, voluntarily put money into the state’s piggy bank.
RV: There’s an increasing crackdown on Jewish Israelis, and an increasing crackdown on Palestinian unarmed activists, though obviously they are not at all comparable in terms of severity. Do you see this as part of the same pattern?
JP: I think they’re both part of the same pattern and two different patterns. There’s the general pattern of the deteriorating ability to protest, the narrowing space for political activism against the occupation, everywhere, with the growing space for racism and nationalism. So this is sort of an umbrella, this is sort of a dark cloud that lies atop of everything.
But I don’t think the repression against Palestinians and the repression against Israelis is comparable. I don’t even think that the repression against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and Jewish Israelis is comparable. I think what scares the regime most is the Palestinian movement, and that’s where the bulk of the repression is, whether it’s administrative orders, such as in the case of Adnan Gheith, who was banned from the city he was born in, the city where he lives, under secret evidence, under no charges. [Adnan, an activist in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, was expelled from Jerusalem the day after Jonathan’s trial.]
So if it’s these kinds of cases or if it is the political persecution in the military courts, where the military prosecution clearly says it’s politically motivated—I mean you don’t need my opinion for it, they actually say it. In the sentencing arguments for both Abdallah and Adeeb Abu Rahmah [members of the Popular Committee in Bil’in], they said the sentence should be harsh in order to serve as a deterrent, not just for Abdallah and Adeeb but for others who may follow in their footsteps. What are their footsteps? Grassroots organizing! So it’s very, very clear.
RV: We’re actually feeling a lot of optimism in the United States, that the movement is growing and that there is a lot of grassroots organizing. It feels like things are changing there. But here in Israel among activists, I hear mostly despair. In terms of the work you’re doing, do you feel you’re trying to reach other Israelis?