Elisabeth Tzurkov, a project director at an Israeli hotline for migrants and refugees, spoke to Pete Radcliff.
It’s hard to tell where the deal [signed by Israel on 26 August, for a ceasefire] may be leading us. I’m sure that Israel will never allow a seaport or an airport to be built in Gaza while it’s under Hamas control. This is something that is unacceptable to 99.9 percent of Israeli Jews and it will just not happen.
Rather, Israel hopes to make issues go away with time.
In 2005 Israel committed itself to helping aid to enter Gaza to allow the rebuilding of the seaport. It never happened. Israel’s hoping to do the same this time too.
The anti-war movement basically supports the demands made by Hamas to lift the siege. So it can appear as if we’re are siding with Hamas.
And it’s absolutely not the case. We’re for the Palestinian people, and we want them to live and have access to the outside world so that they can trade with Israel and the West Bank etc.
In Israel there’s a difference between being anti-war and being pro-peace. Anti-war is something that comes almost entirely from non-Zionist Israelis.
The pro-peace camp is much larger. But the pro-peace camp usually stays silent during wars. They don’t want to criticise the government in time of war.
The anti-war movement is quite small. Our voices are not presented in the mainstream media except to ridicule us.
So unless Israeli society changes — and we’re working on that — we really need help from people around the world. The demographic trends inside Israel are not making me optimistic. Polls consistently show that young Israelis are much more racist and much more nationalistic than older people. We definitely need pressure from outside to force the government to end the occupation.
I think that Israel is getting away with what it’s doing to the Palestinians mostly because the vast majority of people in the world are simply unaware and aren’t interested in the issue.
International pressure on Israel doesn’t even need to be serious sanctions. Even initial steps, arms embargoes, recalling ambassadors, can pressure the Israeli government into ending the occupation.
I personally think that that it is very moral to boycott goods that are produced in settlements.
Whether a wider boycott is the smart thing to do, I’m not so sure. It can definitely trigger a reaction in Israel that “the whole world is against us, everyone is anti-Semitic”. We only have only have ourselves to count on. I think every person needs to do what feels right to them.
I personally don’t buy goods produced in settlements. When you live in Israel it’s impossible to practice BDS. If I applied BDS to my life I wouldn’t be able to live here.
Certain companies, for example companies that are involved with Israeli military, with all sorts of human rights violation, should be the first targets of boycott. That would signal to the Israeli public that the whole world is not against us. The world is against the occupation.
Many other BDS targets are simply companies which appear to be targeted just because they are Israeli. In some ways all Israeli firms — unless they make a very significant effort to not do so — are connected to the occupation. For example banks that serve all Israelis offer mortgages to settlers who build their homes in settlements. So a boycott can promote the reaction: “the boycott of just Israel, not other human rights violators, is anti-Semitic”.
I think that anti-Semitism definitely exists inside the Palestinian solidarity movement. We see it in chants made by supposedly pro-Palestine protesters that are in fact simply anti-Semitic. We see it in the way Israel is singled out compared to other human rights violators.
Anyone who honestly cares about Palestinians and wants their lives to improve and wants the draconian military rule over them to end, I welcome into my camp. I don’t welcome people into my camp who are motivated not by love of Palestinians but by hatred of Israel or hatred of Jews.
In Israel the largest labor organisation is basically part of the state — the Histadrut. They have absolutely no role in the anti-occupation movement. They don’t even have a role in the struggle for labour rights in Israel, to be honest.
The strikes that they organise mostly benefit mostly the people in the government sector who already receive hefty salaries. They don’t concern the people at the bottom who work through private contractors, or people who are at the bottom and are just not earning much.
There are new initiatives. The largest one of them is Koach La Ovdim (Power to the workers). They have collectively bargained and unionised thousands of people.
All the people who lead the organisation are very clearly leftist and against the occupation. However the organisation itself does not attend anti-war protests or call for an end to the occupation.
WAC-Ma’an is a Jewish-Arab labour organisation. It’s very strongly anti-occupation. It participates in every anti-war protest. The problem that it is quite small.
Many of the people in the anti-war movement don’t support the two-state solution. They support a bi-national democratic state.
I personally don’t think that solution is realistic in the short term. In the long run I definitely want a world without borders and nations; but I don’t think right now you can put together two nations that hate each other (Palestinians for a very good reason, Israelis because to justify the occupation to ourselves Palestinians are presented in a racist caricatured way).
Polls show consistently that most Israelis support a two-state solution and most Palestinians support a two-state solution.
The problem is that the government has convinced Israelis that the other side is not interested in peace.
The government presents all sorts of claims that the Palestinians have rejected very generous offers, although the offers were not generous. And the Palestinians who support peace honestly have every reason to feel that Israelis don’t want peace.
So the problem is that people on both sides who support this two-state solution feel that it’s not achievable in the short run.
The anti-war movement does a lot of work with Palestinian organisations. The problem is that due to the restrictions on movement, Israelis and Palestinians are really, really separated.
You see the cooperation mostly in protests in the West Bank to which Israelis travel.
The hotline for refugees and migrants was established in 1998. At the time it dealt mostly with migrant workers who came here on tourist visas and overstayed them or people who were invited into Israel to replace Palestinian workers.
Being a migrant worker here even for five, ten years does not guarantee you citizenship at any point. You are expected to leave once you’re not needed any more.
Then a wave of African asylum-seekers began arriving in Israel in about 2005/ 2006 and they became our largest focus.
Asylum seekers in Israel, unlike in any other Western countries, are detained indefinitely in a desert camp called Holot. They are pressured in those detention facilities to leave Israel — to agree to leave, because deporting them would be against Israeli law.
We have the lowest recognition rate of refugees of anywhere in the western world.
The populations that we’re dealing with here are mainly Eritreans and Sudanese who are fleeing persecution.
Another group that we help are human trafficking victims. Israel used to used to be a hub for human trafficking for sex work. Now that phenomenon has been abolished. But we’re still dealing with people who’ve been trafficked into Israel for other work.