Dan Berger and Nava EtShalom

June 1, 2007

Anniversaries are wonderful, terrible things. They mark moments of celebration and commemoration. Anniversaries cement old stories, but they also give us a chance to turn long-accepted stories inside out–to ask questions, pose challenges, resist dominant narratives. On the fourth anniversary of “Shock and Awe,” people across the United States took to the streets to call for an end to the Iraq war. In Iraq, people mourned the hundreds of thousands killed in the past four years–and the millions killed in more than a dozen years of U.S. involvement in their country.

June 2007 marks the 40th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. (Despite the highly publicized 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, Israel continues military actions there and maintains a hermetic seal over the region.) Next May will be the 60th anniversary of the Nakba, the catastrophic events of 1948 in which Zionist paramilitaries destroyed more than 500 villages through massacre and intimidation, and at least 750,000 Palestinians became refugees. These are terrible anniversaries. These are anniversaries which call our attention and demand our response.

Israel’s supporters celebrate these anniversaries with Israeli Independence Day every May. Around the world, celebrations obscure the Nakba experienced by Palestinians in the form of ongoing isolation, economic devastation, and military violence aided by the erection of a 730-kilometer concrete wall. Enabled by U.S. military aid, this massive construction project further confiscates Palestinian territory and isolates Palestinian communities throughout the region.

Condemned by much of the world as an “apartheid wall,” Israel’s cheekily named “separation fence” divides Palestinians from their agricultural land, their friends and family–even, in some cases, their next-door neighbors. Israel’s unilateral boundary-making is designed to make as big an Israeli state as it can with as few Palestinians in it as possible. It turns Israel into the ultimate gated housing development, armed and exclusive, leaving Palestinians a bisected, militarily monitored mouse hole of a home outside the wall. Whether these Bantustans ever become a state is immaterial: the wall makes it a place where simple municipal services are monumental tasks, where water is scarce, and where hospitals and schools in neighboring towns can be impossible to reach.

As the Wall grows, it impedes networks among Palestinians, including deep-rooted networks of nonviolent resistance. Despite the increasing difficulty of organizing in Palestine, the Bethlehem-based BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights has issued an international call for activists to creatively mark both the 40- and 60-year anniversaries in 2007 and 2008. The timing of this “40-60 campaign” is crucial: “This may well be the last decade anniversary when Palestinian eye-witnesses from the 1948 Nakba are still living,” wrote BADIL organizers in their call. “Now more than ever, Palestinians are counting on local and global society to build pressure for the enforcement of international law–the foundation for a just peace.” The 40-60 anniversaries offer the chance for a range of creative action across borders: a chance to renew and rethink international solidarity. It reminds us that visionary thinking often comes first from those whose lives most depend on it. And yet, we all have roles to play in realizing such a world.

Solidarity for U.S. organizers starts with our own government’s complicity. This has had particular resonance for Palestinians: Israel’s military actions are made possible almost entirely by the United States. Israel Defense Forces speak Hebrew, but they demolish Palestinian houses and agriculture using U.S.-made Caterpillar bulldozers, drop Boeing missiles from Apache helicopters and F-16 fighter jets, and shoot at demonstrators with Colt-manufactured M-16s. U.S. tax money supports Israel to the tune of over $2 billion in annual military aid. This money, together with the Israeli government’s manifest destiny land-grab ideology, make the ongoing occupation possible.

Across the United States, people have already marked the 40th and 60th anniversaries with protests, vigils, concerts, poetry readings, letter writing and other projects. The commemorations kick into high gear in June: thousands of people are expected to turn out in Washington, D.C., on June 10 as part of a Global Day of Action Against the Israeli Occupation, followed by a lobby day on June 11. The June 10-11 protest, teach-in, and lobbying are the first ever national actions specifically about the Israeli occupation. Sponsored by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and United for Peace and Justice, and endorsed by dozens of religious, peace, student and Jewish groups, the weekend of events will bring a broad constituency to the nation’s capitol to oppose occupation in any form. It is, says one of the organizers, a “coming out” for the Palestine solidarity movement in the United States–a protest, a party, a program for change.

Two weeks later, thousands of people will converge in Atlanta for the first U.S. Social Forum, which will bring together an array of issues, campaigns, and projects. Social forums are new political spaces, where incipient movements gather to plot and plan, build networks of trust and camaraderie, and find ways to affirm that the only way forward will be together. Palestine solidarity organizers will be running workshops and panels at the forum along with the hundreds of others. But what the forum truly allows is another stepping stone toward forging a twenty-first century radicalism that is democratic, internationalist and rooted in a politics of solidarity. The horrors of home demolitions, mass incarceration, militarized policing and lack of quality education are what empire looks like around the world–no matter the ghetto, reservation, barrio or Bantustan. The social forum creates a space for those connections to blossom.

The first anti-war march doesn’t end the war. But national mobilizations and projects like the 40-60 campaign could change our basic public assumptions about what is at stake in Palestine and how that relates to our lives and work in the United States. We can change common sense about the roots of the conflict, highlighting U.S. funding, weapons and colonial mindset as the tools that enable Israel’s ongoing land grab.

Sixty years is too long for exile. Forty years is too long for occupation. But besides marking the passage of terrible time and events, these anniversaries remind us that 60 years and 40 years are relatively recent. Despite the racist spin we tend to see in the United States–ancient conflict, time out of mind, clash of civilizations–this is a new political conflict with roots some of us can still remember, sponsorship funded by our taxes, and solutions we all have a responsibility to imagine. That is the power of the 40-60 campaign and the potential of the June mobilizations. Each one reminds us to think broadly, creatively and collaboratively–to mark also the anniversaries of conquest within our communities and to forge new memories of freedom.

Done right, an international response to these anniversaries could imagine solutions beyond two unequal states. It could break the enforced silence and narrowness of ideas in U.S. popular discourse on the subject. It could interrupt the myths that Palestinian self-determination is anti-Semitic and that Israel speaks for Jews. It could challenge more than the occupation: by taking on the Nakba of 1948, we could challenge the power of states to mobilize racism and nationalism in destroying lives–in Palestine, in Puerto Rico, in prisons, in manifest destiny and genocide in the United States. It could give life to a vibrant international solidarity that takes practical steps toward the realization of a way out of empire–and into the realms of the only peace that is possible: one that is built on justice.

For more information on the anti-occupation March on Washington Sunday, June 10, visit EndTheOccupation.org or UnitedForPeace.org. For more on the 40-60 campaign, see Badil.org. For more on the U.S. Social Forum, check out USsocialForum.org. For news about Palestine, see ElectronicIntifada.net.

Dan Berger and Nava EtShalom are writers and activists in Philadelphia. Dan Berger is the author of Outlaws of America (AK Press, 2006) and co-editor of Letters from Young Activists (Nation Books, 2005). Nava EtShalom is a poet and currently a Pew Fellow in the Arts. They are each involved in an array of Palestine solidarity and other organizing projects.