Middle East Research and Information Project: Critical Coverage of the Middle East Since 1971

Activism

Solidarity in the Time of Anti-Normalization

The 1979 Camp David peace treaty may have brought an end to formal hostilities between Egypt and Israel, but their peace is a cold one. Moreover, there has always been a wide gap between how this treaty shapes Egyptian foreign policy and popular Egyptian sentiment toward Israel. Since Camp David, Egyptian academics, artists and professionals have expressed their opposition primarily through a policy of “anti-normalization,” whose logic is simple. While Egyptian citizens cannot erase President Anwar Sadat’s signature from the accord, they can ensure — by refusing to travel to Israel, by blocking the kind of cultural and professional ties expected of neighbors at peace — that relations between the two countries will remain distinctly abnormal.

Sparks of Activist Spirit in Egypt

Paul Schemm 04.13.2002

For a few days in October 2000, near the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada, it looked as though Egypt's student movement had finally found its voice again after years of quiescence. Students at Cairo University and other schools demonstrated daily and even clashed with security forces during attempts to march on the Israeli embassy to show their solidarity with the Palestinians. When this movement petered out soon after it began, most observers sympathetic to the student movement shook their heads and lamented the loss of Egypt's activist spirit.

Mediterranean Blues

Under pressure to solve immediate economic problems, 
Middle Eastern countries seek to industrialize as 
quickly and as cheaply as possible. While developed countries around the world are very slowly adopting technologies and production methods that exert less pressure on the environment, Western industry at the same time sells its old, polluting technologies to less developed countries at cut-rate prices. Too often, the myopic drive for quick economic gains means that destruction is taken for development and deterioration for progress. Greenpeace and other international and local organizations are combating this mindset on several fronts.

Burning Trash

Egyptian Environmental Activists’ Uphill Battle

In 1990, citizens of Alexandria organized to fight the loss 
of public access to a street in a main downtown square. 
The city had given the street to the World Health Organization for a planned expansion of their local offices. In a landmark case against then-governor Ismail al-Gawsaqi, the citizens’ group, Friends of the Environment and Development-Alexandria (FEDA), argued that city authorities had denied the public’s right to “locational memory” and open space in overcrowded Alexandria. Elderly residents testified in court about their memories of promenades on the street. In a piece of effective political theater, group members sitting in court attached flowers to their lapels and laid flowers on the street outside, to symbolize their mourning of the passing of urban space. The group’s tactics were mocked at first. But in the end, the judge ruled that the allocation of the street for the WHO expansion violated the constitutional principle that “public resources should be used in the public interest.” The WHO announced it would move to Cairo, though the offices are still in Alexandria at present.

Americans Against the Sanctions

As US policy supporting the continuation of sanctions on Iraq becomes ever more isolated abroad, domestic criticism of sanctions also mounts. Opponents of sanctions gained new visibility in February 1998 at Ohio State University, when pointed questions from the audience disrupted the Clinton administration's carefully staged "town meeting." (See Sam Husseini's "Short-Circuiting the Media/Policy Machine," Middle East Report 208, Fall 1998.) Activists now speak of an anti-sanctions movement drawn primarily from faith-based and peace groups.

The Israeli Peace Movement

Mordechai Bar-On, In Pursuit of Peace: A History of the Israeli Peace Movement (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1996).

Iman Abdel Megid Hamdy, “Dissenters in Zion: The Bi-nationalist and Partitionist Trends in the Politics of Israel,” unpublished PhD dissertation (Cairo University, Department of Political Science, 1996).

Reuven Kaminer, The Politics of Protest: The Israeli Peace Movement and the Palestinian Intifada (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 1996).

Simona Sharoni, Gender and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The Politics of Women’s Resistance (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1995).

Community Participation and Environmental Change

Cairo — a city home to upwards of 14 million inhabitants — is known to be one of the most polluted cities in the world. Although measures of pollutants in some places in Cairo exceed internationally recognized standards, popular collective action organized around environmental issues is rare. The case of ‘Izbat Makkawi, an industrial area in northern Cairo, and the successful struggle of the residents there to close local lead smelting factories is a reference point regarding possible forms of popular organizing in response to environmental pollution and sheds light on the limits and merits of community participation as experienced within the wider political context in Egypt.

ADL’s Spy Ring

The scandal has not yet received the national media attention it deserves, but West Coast activists are up in arms about revelations that the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith secretly employed a self-styled art dealer named Roy Bullock to collect information on a wide range of individuals and organizations deemed anti-Jewish or hostile to Israel, including Rep. Ron Dellums, the ACLU, New Jewish Agenda, MERIP and many Arab-American, Palestine solidarity and anti-apartheid activists and groups. Bullock, who was employed by the CIA in El Salvador in the 1980s and also served as an FBI informant, worked for the ADL for more than three decades, amassing a database that included files on some 12,000 individuals and 950 organizations.

Peace Projects

We may come to recall 1992 as the year of the peace activist in the burgeoning literary and cinematographic record of the Palestinian intifada. By rupturing the structure of the occupation, Palestinian popular collective action and the decisions of the nineteenth Palestine National Council expanded the possibilities for political initiatives by Palestinian and Israeli supporters of a “two-state solution,” including new forms of Palestinian-Israeli collaboration. As this perspective gained credibility as a realizable historical project, its proponents received increasing attention.

Responsibilities of the US Peace Movement

Once again the American peace movement faces the threat of war. In the 1960s and 1970s it was Vietnam, in the 1980s Central America and the nuclear threat, and now it is Arabia. This dangerous moment calls for a major change of direction for peace and anti-intervention forces. Activities underway before the crisis — the peace dividend campaign, redefining global security — have been sidetracked. Everything now depends on the outcome of the crisis in the Middle East.

Although press coverage has been scant, many groups in cities across the country have already begun organizing, and a growing movement is emerging. Most groups are united around five political demands:

Palestine and Israel in the US Arena

Ordinary children, women and men, a million and a half of them, have confounded the state of Israel, Washington’s major military ally in the Middle East, with their incredible courage and resourcefulness. Their resounding demand for political independence then prompted the Palestine Liberation Organization to declare unequivocally for a Palestinian state alongside Israel — a resolution based on “possible rather than absolute justice,” as Yasser Arafat put it. [1] More than a hundred governments have officially recognized the new state. Others, such as the major European states, upgraded their relations with the PLO. The combined force of these developments finally led Washington to open formal talks with the PLO.

You Can’t Go Wrong Pushing Peace

The Palestinian intifada is proving a headache to Israel’s image managers on American campuses. “Recent events in the territories in Israel have spilled over on to the US university campuses [and] our work has been made harder,” complains a recent book — let from the University Service Department of the American Zionist Youth Foundation. [1] Pro-Israel groups on campus have lost “the initiative,” the booklet warns. Instead of promoting “positive Israel activities” such as Israel fairs and Israel cafe nights, campus groups now find themselves “in the position of defending Israel.”

Berkeley’s Sister-City Initiative

Sister cities has become one of Berkeley’s most popular means of expressing support for particular communities and opposition to US foreign policy. Berkeley has six sister cities, including Leon in Nicaragua, San Antonio de los Ranchos in El Salvador and the South African Black township of Oukassie. Supporters of Measure J hoped its success would provide some measure of protection to the people of Jabalya. Concern was heightened in the last two days of the campaign when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir announced that Jabalya would be the first camp to be “dispersed” after Likud formed its new government.

Proposition W

The Bay Area’s “progressive” reputation was somewhat tarnished November 8 when voters in San Francisco and Berkeley overwhelmingly rejected pro-Palestinian initiatives on their respective ballots. San Francisco’s Proposition W, which called for the US to recognize a Palestinian state “side by side” with Israel “with guarantees of security for both states” was defeated by 68 to 32 percent. In Berkeley, Measure J would have established the Gaza town and refugee camp of Jabalya as a sister city; it was defeated by a 70-30 margin.

Cambridge Voters Challenge US Policy

Voters achieved an historic victory in Cambridge and a section of Somerville, Massachusetts, on November 8, 1988. By a margin of 53 to 47 percent they endorsed Question 5, a non-binding public policy question that called on elected officials to work towards a just settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. (See below.)

Organizing Around the Uprising

The Palestinian uprising has put the Palestinian-Israeli conflict onto the agendas of progressive organizations nationwide. It has ignited a broad range of activities, including coalition-building, referendums, conferences and teach-ins, demonstrations, petitions, letter-writing campaigns, lobbying and sister-city projects.

This intensified activity has promoted a newfound unity and direction of purpose in some circles, but it has also highlighted the obstacles to changing official US policies and public opinion vis-a-vis the Palestine conflict. No coordinated national strategy has emerged, and the broad range of responses reflects both the increased need to take action and the persistent differences among individuals and groups organizing around the issue.

“The Pressure Should Be on the US and Israel to Recognize the PLO”

Hilton Obenzinger is a member of the executive committee of the November 29 Committee for Palestine, and on the staff of their bimonthly, Palestine Focus. His book of poems, This Passover or the Next I Will Never Be in Jerusalem, was reviewed in our February 1982 issue. Joel Beinin interviewed him in San Francisco in February 1987.

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