23rd December 2013 | International Solidarity Movement, Charlie Andreasson | Gaza, Occupied Palestine
You stand below a dam because you have discovered cracks where water leaks out. You try to seal them with your bare hands, but they are not enough. The pressure is too high, and the cracks too large. And you scream for help, to let people know what is happening, stop the pressure from the inside before the disaster happens. But no one listens to your warning, and no one seems to want to see the water that wells between your fingers. Some even claim you are exaggerating. And you stand there,not daring to move your hands, wondering how long you will be able to hold back the pressure, how long you can keep calling before your voice fails. This is the metaphor that best describes the frustration activists here feel from time to time, a frustration we have to deal with because it cannot pass in dejection.
To be an activist here is not just to go with farmers into the “buffer zone,” or out to sea with fishermen, more or less as human shields: to try to seal the cracks with your hands, if I am allowed to continue using the metaphor as an explanatory model. Far more time is spent interviewing victims, gathering information, going to demonstrations and writing articles, to call for help and draw attention to what is happening. And it is mainly during the search for information that you unwittingly also look for something to show that a change is afoot. One’s eyes skim through title after title, then suddenly it’s there, the article that makes you pause. Standing below the dam, you notice a change among those high above you. Maybe now something’s finally starting to happen. And you feel relief and joy, and share the news with all the activists you meet.
Most recently, on 8th December, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had planned to inaugurate a container scanner at the Kerem Shalom checkpoint, but called off the whole thing when it became apparent that the scanner would not, contrary to Rutte’s assumptions, facilitate and thereby increase the movement of goods between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Israel is determined to keep these two parts of Palestine separated from each other.
On the same trip, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans refused to accept an Israeli military escort in the 1967-occupied territories, instead canceling his planned visit to Hebron’s older neighborhoods. Other foreign ministers have recently visited them without military escorts, and Timmermans did not accept the new conditions to avoid creating a precedent.
Netherlands, you are great among activists here now. Upright, a standard-bearer for human rights, the defender of the Geneva Conventions. Only days later, we read that the Dutch water company Viten ended a partnership with Israeli water company Mekorot. Also on Rutte’s trip was Dutch Minister of Trade Lilianne Ploumen, whose visit to Mekorot the Israelis abruptly canceled. Perhaps this was because Dutch media had revealed that the same company was denying Palestinians water, but we may never know.
Netherlands, you are a light in the darkness, and may other nations follow that light. You demonstrate that there is a political space to maneuver to bring about a change. And now Romania denies its citizens work in Israeli settlements in 1967-occupied territory. Salvation is close, you can stop shouting now, and soon you will no longer need to keep your hands over the cracks.
But we are deceiving ourselves, and maybe we need to do it to not be dejected. For while we focus on the good news, we shut our eyes, at least temporarily, to the bad, which is much more plentiful, and more serious in nature. As the UK develops a new type of drone with Israel, and Italy expands its cooperation on several levels with the aforementioned occupying power, that members of the Knesset already have started congratulating each other for the peace talks that do not seem to lead anywhere … the list is grows longer every day. And when we go out on the streets of Palestine, we see that nothing has improved. Do average people here know the Netherlands stands up for them? Do they react the same way we do to the news??
People here are hardened. They believe in a change only when they see it. They’ve had enough empty promises to stop dreaming. And that’s why they pay tribute to every Palestinian who returns from an Israeli prison, no matter what he or she has done – armed resistance, political activity, being in the wrong place at the wrong time – because this person tried, in a concrete way, to change the situation. That’s all that counts after the betrayal of all who walk above, without giving a thought to the cracks you frantically try to seal. They are about to be drowned further downstream from the dam. And we continue to cry out for help.