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Michael Riordon, Our Way to Fight: peace work under siege in Israel-Palestine

Pluto, 2011; 248pp; £17.99

“Peace without justice is hollow, a sham, the deathly stillness of tyranny triumphant,” writes Michael Riordon, as he shares his stories of Israelis and Palestinians resisting the occupation, all of whom have experienced harassment from the authorities, sometimes death threats and imprisonment.

The Israelis, immigrants or children of immigrants, all initially supported a Zionist state as a home for Jews, but gradually came to see Israel as a colonialist oppressor. Riordon, a Canadian, had a similar journey. At first subscribing to the official view of the “promised land”, he came to draw parallels with the displacement of indigenous Canadians after learning about the expulsion of Palestinians from their villages during the war that led to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

After meeting an Israeli for the first time, he was encouraged to visit the region, and his account of this reveals the wide variety of ways in which activists challenge the Israeli state’s denial of Palestinian rights. From Physicians for Human Rights (targeted by the right wing since 2009 for its reporting of Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” attack on Gaza) to the checkpoint witnesses of Machsom Watch. From New Profile – which supports Israelis who refuse to serve in the army – to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) who attempt to prevent demolitions and rebuild demolished houses.

On the Palestinian side, there is the powerful Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as nonviolent protests. The shining example of the latter is Bil’in, the village which marches every Friday to reclaim its stolen land.

Sometimes Palestinians experience a backlash from their own people. For example, not everyone in the Jenin refugee camp supports the Freedom Theatre as it touches on sensitive subjects such as female emancipation. But, as its film teacher Mustafa Staiti says: “Prison is a state of mind; to free Palestine, free your mind”.

As Obama drops demands for Israel to stop building settlements and goes on handing it billions of dollars in aid, grassroots activism is essential for achieving a just peace. Courage, resilience and creative thinking is all that is needed and Riordon’s book shows us how!

Gill Knight blogged about her last visit to Palestine at:
www.thewallmustfall.wordpress.com