Category Archives: Direct Action

The Gaza Peace Boats

I haven’t posted in a week or so, largely because I’m on holiday in the South of France, and because I’m working on a longer post about the Climate Camp. This said, I have to flag up the incredible voyage of the Gaza peace boats, as well as the delightful hypocrisy in the response from the defence ministry, who claim that

“You can demonstrate, that’s OK with us. But you are not allowed to break international law.”

The beauty of this project is that it shows the alternatives to waiting around for a lull in government inertia. The response of the international community to the crisis in Gaza has been a mixture of general approval and mild criticism, but the countries that matter have supported Israel wholeheartedly. Earlier this year we were shown that the citizens of Gaza have the power to tear down the walls of their oppression. Here, we see that citizens of the world can take part in this mass struggle against oppression.

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Filed under Direct Action, Israel and Palestine, Politics and Power

The Problem with the Police – Time for Climate Camp

The police are insisting that their raid on the Climate Camp at Kingsnorth, in which they confiscated rope and board games, was carried out in the name of preventing lawbreaking, and that they are only too keen to police lawful protest. They have no desire to intimidate and scare people off. Whilst this may be true for some of them, the reality is that their actions are likely to mean that some people are less likely to turn up, particularly if this were to be their first time at an event like this. The actions also point to a broader structural problem with the police at such events.

Whilst the confiscation of items like rope was probably carried out to look effective (it’s a camp site, there’s rope there!) it is highly likely that the law will be broken this week, with or without the disabled access ramps which have been seized. I am of the opinion that, if the law favours those who pump carbon dioxide into the air at unsustainable levels, then the law is wrong and should be ignored. More to the point, if the state authorities aren’t going to prevent companies and corporations from pursuing projects which cause great harm, as a new coal plant from E.ON would, then it is the responsibility of citizens to do so.

The problem with this is that if the police are only ever going to uphold the strict word of the law, then they will become tools of the state and of the unjust laws that state is pursuing. The police will stop us from shutting down the Kingsnorth power station because, whilst they support lawful protest, they do not support unlawful action. I realise that they are not allowed to do anything else, their task is enshrined – hence it being a structural problem.

Laws which fail to ensure security and quality of life are not worth following or upholding. A few protestors might be unsettlling in the short term, but they are nothing compared to what the effects of allowing E.ON to (legally) build their coal plants would be. Nazi Germany gave us a stark example of how ignoring the law can be an absolute moral duty (a duty which many sadly failed to carry out). Whilst I’m not saying that we are in such a situation, it does help to remember that the law is not immutable, and that the rule of law is not an absolute concept. Breaking the law won independence for the colonies, it carried the Civil Rights Movement forward, and it ended the Vietnam War. Unjust laws should be ignored – how else can we ever build respect for proper laws? If they have no moral and utilitarian content, then they have no purpose beyond testing our subordination.

If the government won’t shut down E.ON, then ordinary people have to do it. If the government decides to renege on it’s duty to protect its citizens, then its laws cease to have relevance and purpose. The police will insist that they are ‘only doing their jobs’, but this is an argument with little real content. The Evening Standard will scream that we are terrorists, and fabricate stories to show the world that we can’t be trusted, but they will, as usual, be wholly wrong. We are simply people who have recognised that their government is failing to protect them, and that if they do nothing about it, then it is up to ordinary citizens to take over the reins. Come join us!

Edit: My girlfriend, trying to enter the camp at the moment, has just told me that the police have formed a line across the entrance, and are not letting people/food/bags in. I’m sure they will soon stop this particular distraction. Like so many other small irritations, it forms part of the project of making it harder and harder for us to camp and to act. What they will realise, as they did with Faslane, is that our resolve to make life harder for their system goes far beyond anything they’ve got!

Edit edit: Maybe they’re keeping them out because Arthur Scargill’s speaking this afternoon? They don’t want a whole new generation of trade unionists to fight.

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Filed under Climate Change, Direct Action

On Legal Challenges to the Apartheid Wall

There’s a pretty good little article in this week’s Economist, which describes the actions of some Israelis who work against the occupation their country is imposing upon the Palestinians. I’m doing a little research on this during the summer, so there’ll be more on this soon, but for now I want to draw out the part of the article which concentrates on the legal challenges which are being made against the pathway of Israel’s wall.

The focus of the article is on the activist group Peace Now, who represent what could be called the moderate wing of Israeli activism; more radical groups such as Gush Shalom and the Anarchists Against the Wall are ignored. This is a shame, because the tension between the methods and motives of the two groups are worth discussing (although it should be noted that this tension does not negate the fact that both types of groups make valuable contributions to the resistance). At Marxism, Eyal Weizman led an interesting tactical discussion about whether or not the small and genuine gains made by legal challenges of the type Peace Now propose are worth the resulting legitimisation of Israel’s occupation. Whilst a successful court battle against the pathway of the wall might win villagers in the West Bank some of their land back, it may also serve to provide a humanitarian facade which strengthens the popular myth that Israel tries hard to balance the need for security with some ‘concern’ for the Palestinians, and thus give ammunition to those who envisage the wall as a permanent feature of the Israeli countryside.

The victories which have been won in court have been hard fought. In Bil’in, activists struggled for years to win back even a small portion of their land from the snaking pathway of the barrier, and, as I have argued elsewhere, they managed to do so through both determination and use of the moral high ground. Weizman flippantly dismissed the example of Bil’in as a success, on the grounds that they had ‘only’ got 1.7 kilometers of their land back. This attitude is a little too pessimistic in my view – when you count that amount of land in terms of the number of olive trees and fields, and consider the unprecedented nature of this and similar judgments, it should not be ignored. However it is right to regard the development as insignificant compared to what the Palestinians are justly owed.

There is then the uncomfortable need for consequentialist maths. In Peace Now’s route (tactic A) we have small victories, more certain, which may win tangible gains for the Palestinians – gains which can be measured in terms of trees and land and water. In a route which denies this legalistic perspective and refuses to engage in court battles (tactic B), victory is far less certain, but the end-point is the end of occupation, not the modification of occupation. At first glance it may seem that tactic A and B should be used together. Whilst the long-run view should be the end of the occupation (the form this should take is a separate discussion), in the short term it seems reasonable to argue that we should push for small gains and alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians. The problem is that, as mentioned above, employing tactic A may make the long-run goals less achievable. Supporters of Israel such as Alan Dershowitz claim that Israel is special because it struggles and suffers to ensure that the humanitarian concerns of the Palestinians are met. Human Rights organisations rightly note that these claims are false, however in the all-important media war, small concessions on the part of the Israeli government play very well. Victories also help to calm the protesting population – the weekly demonstrations at Bil’in have subsided since the ruling in their favour last September, despite the fact that they still stand to loose a considerable portion of their land to the wall.

This is not necessarily to say that the legal battles should be abandoned. The importance is to understand the potential trade-off, and to frame tactical discussions appropriately. How we should then proceed is a decision for the Palestinian activists, which we should respect and follow. It’s a classic dilemma – the short run versus the long run, likely small gains versus less likely large gains, collaboration and legitimisation versus stalemate and the moral high ground. For now, tactic A seems to be the order of the day. Only time will tell what this can achieve.

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Filed under Direct Action, Israel and Palestine