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Yonathan Pollack: One protest at a time

Yonathan Pollack by S:P:S
Yonathan Pollack, a photo by S:P:S on Flickr.

I had the opportunity a little while back to interview infamous Israeli anti-apartheid activist Yonathan Pollack who is also the legal aid co-ordinator of the Palestinian organisation Popular Struggle Coordination Committee. He is a self-confessed anarchist and suffice to say he isn’t well received within Israeli society. Some consider him somewhat of a traitor although he has only being imprisoned for nothing more than attending an illegal gathering or some destruction to property. We are about the same age and I do remember seeing him at various events in the West Bank during my own time up there as a writer and photojournalist in 2008, so I was happy to sit down and have a chat with him.

He was visiting SA for what he said was for fundraising for legal costs of those who are arrested during protests and to increase awareness around the current boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel – an elaborate economic attack, that seems to be gaining traction and support in SA and hit Israel in its economy, theoretically forcing them to reconsider their policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

I won’t go through the whole interview, there is quite a lot I could write about the conversation – some of it simply newspaper interview style; more about the dissection of his ideology; being a non-activist myself there is a fair amount I disagree with – but one point that was brought home and made me think was his repeated point of the ‘ability to assemble’ – a concept that rings loudly in the aftermath of the Marikana massacre in North West Province on 16 August this year, as a number of groups who wanted to march in protest were systematically denied that right that is so enshrined in our constitution.

Pollack’s resistance comes in the form of marches, protests and direct action at various sites around Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He has a point when he says, “protecting the ability to mobilise. If we lose that we have nothing left”.

“Direct confrontation between ordinary people and military might – that is the most effective way to undermine a regime.”

And that is true for South Africa just the same, apartheid struggle aside. As written by the Daily Maverick here in response to the crackdown on gatherings following the events at Lonmin mine.

“Official attempts to put red tape in the way of organisations right to assemble, gather and picket is commonplace,” said Jane Duncan, Highway Africa Chair of Media and Information Society at Rhodes’ journalism school. “What makes the recent squashing or rights to assemble noteworthy is that it is happening in a context where these prohibitions are intensifying.

“There seems to be an intensification of attempts to prohibit gatherings on spurious grounds. Fears expressed by number of people close to the Marikana struggle that there is an undeclared state of emergency there. What is happening is bearing those fears out. The security cluster has made it clear they will clamp down on illegal protests, but are making it impossible for protest to happen. So protest will happen anyway and could lead to spiral of violence. This is a very dangerous moment for protestors in South Africa,” Duncan added.

Comparisons between South Africa’s past and the current political structure in Israel are always clumsy, but listening to Pollack describe the importance of the ability to mobilise as harbouring the core of his protest action, it does strike similarities in this case. And I think we will all continue to watch how our economic protests in SA will be handled by what many consider to be an increasingly oppressive government.

Interesting times.

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