Imagine having an ugly, tyrannical wall that represents years of your people being oppressed looming over your homeland. Pretty cool, huh? Nope, not if you're Palestinian. The Israeli West Bank barrier, which was built to physically separate Israel and Palestine, has, unsurprisingly, drawn nothing but criticism from anyone in Palestine subjected to the past few decades of Israeli apartheid – i.e. everyone.
The problem is, besides that time Banksy painted some pictures on it – and, in doing so, cemented his place on the walls of anybody who gets a kick out remortgaging their home to own a GCSE-level political statement – there hasn't been a great deal of non-Palestinian resistance to the wall. And any time that people do go down to demonstrate, they often end up getting shot at by Israeli forces, which must be a bit of a turn-off.
The Israeli activist group Anarchists Against the Wall (AATW) are one organisation who have actually bothered to offer some kind of tangible aid, and this April marks ten years of the group campaigning to smash down the wall that separates them from their persecuted neighbours. The activists have spent the last decade assisting Palestinians at protests, and will often step in front of Palestinian demonstrators when the police or Israeli Defence Forces appear, aware that their arrest and punishment will be much less severe than that of a Palestinian.
However, because Israeli authorities presumably aren't too happy about their own citizens revolting against their wishes, they often hurl wildly absurd accusations at AATW members and have them thrown in jail for their activism. Despite the risks, their constant presence and documentation of the struggle over the past decade have made them one of the most important groups on the Israeli left. I decided to call up Haggai Matar, a prominent Israeli journalist and member of AATW, to chat about what they've achieved over the last ten years.
VICE: Hey, Haggai. So how did Anarchist Against the Wall initially get started?
Haggai Matar: A group of Israelis used to take food, water and supplies to villages in the West Bank, then – once construction of the wall began – the people in the West Bank needed not only material support, but also support in direct action, which is how Anarchists Against the Wall started. These Israelis started going out to try and stop the wall being built by chaining themselves to trees, climbing on bulldozers and so on. Then the group formed out of that.
Have you achieved anything major in the last decade?
We've constantly challenged apartheid and invoked inspiration by showing that the Israelis and Palestinians can work together – that the majority can be partners in this constant struggle – without it being a threat to either group. It's shown that, despite both the parties being forced apart for so long, we can still cooperate, and I think it's demonstrating that potential that's been our biggest achievement.
Okay. What makes your group different from other groups in the West Bank opposing the wall?
We present this alternative that is otherwise virtually impossible to imagine for Israelis. If you say to the average Israeli, "Come with me, let's go and be effective about the wall," they would say, "You're mad and you're risking your life by going there – you'll get killed." By doing this on a daily basis and inviting other Israelis to join, you can expose them to a reality that they know nothing about. And people do join and are then presented with a different alternative.
Your protests are all non-violent – do you think that's the most effective way to protest?
Well, the protests are unarmed, but they're not necessarily non-violent, because sometimes people throw stones at soldiers during demonstrations. The political reality here complicates everything, because violent conflict would make Israelis even more opposed to this movement and make things worse for Palestinians.
And it must be frustrating when you have the Israeli army and police fighting back violently.
Yeah, but I think you can try to succeed without reacting violently. The possibility to spread images, photos, videos and messages is so much better now than it used to be with the internet, and social media has played a big role in our fight and activism.
What are your thoughts on some of the accusation levelled at members of the group by the Israeli government? Are they an inflation of what really happened?
Definitely. The government and the army use the courts and the prison system as a way to oppress political events, and in that sense they're doing their jobs very well. But what we want to create is a way for people to be able to demonstrate freely and without fear of having to suffer or spend time in prison for it.
Do you think the media have played a part in misconstruing the reality in the West Bank, too?
I think that, had the media done its job better and given Israelis a better, clearer, more regular picture of what the occupation looks like, it might not have gone on this way for as long as it has. Except for a few left-wing parts, the rest of the media have just hidden anything of inconvenience – anything inconvenient for the Israeli army. And there have been protests where both Palestinians and us have been depicted in a very negative way, saying that we're violating the peace rather than demanding freedom, so yeah, the media definitely has a strong role to play.
Does it seem like anyone in Israel is changing their mind about the wall and starting to support your cause?
Well, Israelis just don’t really think about the occupation at all, and whenever there are protests and violence, they just ask, "Why are they rising up?" or "Why are they attacking us?" And we can’t talk to them, so it never evolves into any kind of understanding about the occupation. That's just the kind of entrapment that we live in in Israel.
Do you see the wall ever coming down?
I think it'll have to come down one way or another, but we can’t really tell when. It’s not something that's just around the corner, it's very unpredictable and it's probably going to take a long time. Perhaps more pressure from Israelis to break away from current policies and politics would help, but without that the chances of it coming down any time soon are very low.
Follow Sascha on Twitter: @SaschaKouvelis
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