Yigal Bronner spoke about Ta’ayush, a grassroots, political movement in Israel that responds to the military occupation of Palestinians through nonviolent resistance and humanitarian relief.
For the last, five years Ta’ayush, an Arabic word that means “life in common,” has been building longstanding relationships between Israelis and Palestinians in the region. Although most Israeli and U.S. mainstream media do not cover the majority of their activities, the network consists of thousands of Israeli-Jews and Arab-Israelis who bring food, water, blankets, and labor resources to Palestinians villages in Israel and the Occupied Territories. They demonstrate against the wall also.
“Almost every week there’s a visit and an action,” Bronner said.
Three years ago, Bronner served jail time because he is one of over 1600 Israeli soldiers who refused to serve in the Occupied Territories. He is one of the 600 signers of the Courage to Refuse statement. Bronner teaches South Asian Studies at Tel Aviv University and the University of Chicago.
After the second Intifada erupted in September 2000, Israeli-Jews and Arab-Israelis established Ta’ayush, which the people believed should be a joint effort structurally and ideologically. “We moved from a protest culture to a resistance culture,” Bronner added.
The movement creates long-term relationships with Palestinian communities. First, Ta’ayush sends an envoy to the Palestinian community and they decide with the residents what would be most helpful and effective. After the event takes place, they establish an ongoing presence in these Palestinian communities. If needed, Ta’ayush participants rotate sleep shifts in the Palestinian communities. These Israelis and Palestinians maintain ongoing dialog –” even if they are on opposite sides of the wall.
“We’re going to be together and not let the policies separate us,” Bronner said. “To exist is to resist.”
For several years Ta’ayush has been working in the South Hebron Hills, where violent settlers attack Palestinians. Ta’ayush participants have brought food and water to the Palestinians, who live in caves primarily. Israeli forces have a history of destroying the caves and water cisterns in these communities, thus leaving the people homeless and without drinking water. In response, Ta’ayush transported water to the cisterns they repaired so that the people would survive in the desert’s hot autumn.
In January 2002, Ta’ayush established a “blanket convoy” for the Palestinians who lost their homes. The Ta’ayush convoy consisted of hundreds of people in scores of cars containing blankets for the homeless.
In most cases the Israeli military finds out about the forthcoming event, so the soldiers have a signed form declaring the area a military zone. Upon arrival, the resisters are told to go back. In the case of the blanket convoy some people were arrested, but most of the people walked with the blankets to the homeless residents. As a result of their efforts, they attracted attention to what was happening to the Palestinians in this area.
When Ta’ayush found out that settlers near the Maon farms were leaving barley containing rat poison for the Palestinians’ livestock, which killed numerous sheep, Ta’ayush participants collected the poison from the ground and disposed of it. Ta’ayush sees their activities as a way to highlight the injustices taking place. “We don’t have the ability to solve the problem but let’s attract attention to this situation,” Bronner added.
He explained that people cannot imagine how much damage one settler does to an entire Palestinian community. During his presentation, Bronner showed a photo image from South Hebron of a group of settlers carrying semiautomatic weapons toward the camera. “This is a picture of the settlers before they attacked us,” he added. The settlers shoot livestock and people, yet the Israeli military does not stop them.
Moreover, the Israeli military uses tear gas, water cannons and shock grenades against Ta’ayush because the participants are considered a public threat. When asked if the settlers fire their weapons at Israelis also, Bronner said they shoot at Ta’ayush participants with rubber-coated, metal bullets. He explained that the settlers in this area like the extremists to attack the Palestinians and wreak havoc, but the settlers do not want the extremists living in their own communities.
As a result of the expanding settlements Israel is annexing South Hebron in a massive effort to brutally transfer the Palestinian cave dwellers. In the West Bank, the wall is having the same social and geopolitical impact also.
“The Palestinian people are becoming a landless people through the wall,” Bronner said.
Bronner noticed the cement blocks of the wall are dated with the day of their erection. During the week of the Gaza Withdrawal, Bronner noticed overwhelming construction of the wall around East Jerusalem. Many sections of the wall had completion dates corresponding to the time of the Gaza Withdrawal. As the wall is constructed in an area housing units for Israelis are built.
Since the wall annexed thousands of dunums of Palestinian land, thousands of trees have been uprooted also. Ta’ayush planted tree saplings in several communities where tree razing took place. For several farmers who could not reach their land Ta’ayush sent envoys during harvest time.
Throughout the region Ta’ayush has several chapters, so people participate in various activities near their own homes at different levels of commitment. For example some people attend meetings and activities while other people attend the activities only.
In mixed Israeli and Palestinian communities, such as Haifa, Lod and Ramleh, local municipalities discriminate against the Palestinians through lack of housing permits and they allow Palestinian neighborhoods to deteriorate. Ta’ayush participants go to these areas and renovate the streets.
Within Israel there are many Palestinian villages that Israel does not recognize geographically and financially. However, Israel will not allow the people in these villages to have running water, electricity or perform infrastructure construction. Ta’ayush participants have gone to these communities and paved roads. When Israeli forces demolished a Palestinian home of a widow and her nine children, Ta’ayush rebuilt it. Basically, people mobilize their knowledge and skills to complete various kinds of projects together.
Ta’ayush has focused its attention on the O.T., since the socio-economic situation is more urgent and on the verge of catastrophe.
Through his presentations Bronner has met Israelis who have diverse perspectives about the conflict. When asked what the majority of Israelis say about Ta’ayush, “People buy the Sharon line and they don’t want you to bother them with the details,” he said. “People don’t want you to tell them the facts.”
Although the group formed to cross psychological barriers, the occupation and the wall made the movement about crossing physical boundaries. He expressed concern for the Palestinians living in the O.T. because he foresees the wall’s completed construction will make these communities into ghettoes, with life at subterranean levels.
However, he believes the planting of an olive tree sapling is most symbolic of the Ta’ayush movement because the tree has grown and has more potential for growth.