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Solidarity Intervention

Monique Jo Beerli

5. Conclusion

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1Attracted by conflict and war, starvation and disease, natural disasters and underdevelopment, discrimination and injustice, solidarity organizations and their supporters engage themselves in struggles for the acquisition of benefits that they themselves will not receive. In the absence of political solutions addressing the demands of a given people, non-state actors are capable of appropriating functions and responsibilities upon themselves which the state is unwilling or unable to perform. Following paths of possibility and opportunity, contact between non-state actors of the North and the South demonstrate one example of the establishment transnational networks, allowing for the transfer of resources from one entity to another. While transnational networks are by no means unique to the present time period, the enhancement of internationalism given the astounding proliferation of international and non-governmental organizations since the 20th century (della Porta and Tarrow 2005; Tarrow 2005) along with the effects of globalization supporting “the intensification of worldwide social relations” (Giddens 1990: 64) have further enabled transnational possibilities, altering the context in which SMs and SMOs operate.

2Representative of one sector of the Palestinian rights social movement industry, solidarity organizations active in the West Bank working for an end to the Israeli occupation embody one example, among many, of transnational social movement organizations involved in solidarity activism. Where non-violence has been the guiding philosophy of collective action, there has been evidence of sites of resistance in which Israeli, Palestinian, and international actors come together in displays of opposition against the occupation. Responding for the most part to Palestinian demands for the support of the international community, whether as part of local or international collective action, internationals are exploiting their privilege and their identity as a foreigner to offer protection for Palestinians in activities of their everyday lives and extend the voice of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, freedom, and dignity.

5.1. The Contributions of this Dissertation

3In conducting a study on transnational social movement organizations combating for Palestinian rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, I have tried to explore what it means for TSMOs and their volunteers to participate in political altruism, using theory drawn from social movement and transnational studies while integrating data extracted from an ethnographic study. I began by using an organizational sociology, outlining the background of each organization involved in Palestinian rights solidarity work in the West Bank, followed by an examination of the strategies and structures imperative to the realization of the organizations’ shared mission. Taking into consideration the political stalemate between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities, yet the continuation of a “policy of separation”, particularly in Area C of the West Bank, non-state actors mandated themselves to fulfill duties, which they thought some entity or another ought to be performing. While implicitly addressing political questions, the TSMOs themselves have little leverage, but rather, are grounded on the hope that advocacy for an end to the occupation will stimulate a change.

4With a complicit comparison of one organization to another, two primary categorizations of organizations were exhibited as being involved in Palestinian rights solidarity activism: (a) liberal secular organizations condemning oppression and discrimination while using international law in support of their argumentation; and (b) pacifist Christian organizations believed to be enacting God’s will, relying on biblical teachings to delegate their action. Thus, as opposed to witnessing the homogeneity of the middle classes within solidarity groups, diversification and division exists according to the formal doctrines the organizations choose as their source of legitimacy. Interestingly, however, there is evidence of adaptation on the part of some Christian organizations, which, alongside a religious doxa, also incorporate support from international law, particularly the Geneva conventions. As such, the distinction between “old” solidarity movements and “new” solidarity movements is less evident, at least in a transnational context.

5The question of financial resources essentially impacts the organizations structure and, hence, its capability to initiate formal projects as well as to train and provide for its volunteers, explaining why organizations with formal, institutional support, such as EAPPI, must function in a more regulated fashion when compared to an organization like ISM, which is not accountable to any state or institutional organization, and therefore functions in a less restricted manner. Other factors, such as the statute of the organization within the country of action, determine the limits of an organizations action. In the case of TSMOs active in the West Bank, as they are not officially authorized by the state of Israel or the Palestinian Authority, they are restricted to operating a volunteer-based organization with a constant turnover.

6Moving from an emphasis on the organizations themselves to a contextual focus, I defined both the structural components supporting the formation of transnational grassroots activism in the West Bank while recapitulating personalized factors which motivated international volunteers to become engaged. Essential to the resurrection of TSMOs combating for Palestinian rights in the West Bank, I indicated the importance of Israel’s practices in the Occupied Territories and the continued resistance to what was happening on the ground by certain communities within Palestinian society. With access to the benefits of technological devices and communication platforms in addition to the opportunities provided by internationalism, Palestinian communities have come to pioneer grassroots campaigning. Strikingly different when compared to the way collective action was mobilized during the first Intifada, mobilization since the second Intifada has shifted from a predominately nationalist to a human rights discourse, advocating their cause through the diffusion of information about current events while forging partnerships with international actors. Other relevant issues included the material visibility of the occupation as evidenced by the Wall, checkpoints, etc.; the relative level of security for international volunteers; the ease of pinpointing the “bad guy” and the “good guy”; the transformation to a multi-issue framework; and the inability of the Palestinian rights movement to mobilize the masses of Israeli and Palestinian society. As pretenses to transnational networks, the presence of the aforementioned conditions also demonstrate an explanation for why a transnational nonviolent resistance movement has arisen in the West Bank but less so in Gaza.

7When considering the factors motivating international solidarity activists to take action in the West Bank, their participation can be framed both as a result of their internalization of liberal and/or Christian values through various socialization processes along with the pursuit of individualistic interests. While the solidarity organizations advertise a politically altruistic organizational mission, this theorization does not hold at the individual level. Instead individuals with previously formed worldviews search or come across opportunities with organizations that share a similar identity to their own, in this case based on internationalist liberalism or pacifist Christianity. The importance of identity salience between the organization and its participants is further highlighted when considering the fact that volunteers for a specific organization would not necessarily volunteer for another organization doing similar work if it exemplified a diverging identity.

8As opposed to being pro-Palestinian, most activists are, at heart, either human rights activists or peace activists, taking the example of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a situation wherein their ideas may be defended and put into action. Furthermore, while the term “global civil society” gives its audience a feeling of universality and perhaps equal opportunity, it is more representative of dominant world ideologies working outside of their borders of origin in order to spread and proliferate in other countries and societies of the world. In combating what is identified of a negative manifestation of power, it should be recognized that the action of these organizations is also an archetype of power, one that is based on specific epistemological resources, without which action would be unimaginable.

9Lastly, I used Bourdieusian concepts and ideas to theorize a synthesis of the daily practices and realities “on the ground” that describe the actions of international volunteers while in the field. In order to justify and make sense of the necessity of transnational activism, international volunteers engage in a process of language and discourse formation in which the denunciation of the state of Israel is essential in advocating for their own presence. While the effectiveness of their operations is less of a concern, it is Israel’s actions which are claimed to solicit an international response. Yet, as opposed to being consistent with their endorsement of human rights and similar universalizing principles of moral rationalism, their criticisms are largely limited to the actions of the occupying power, Israel, and rarely touch on the problems within Palestinian society. As a consequence, internationals find themselves compromising their own values and beliefs for the moment in the name of the struggle.

10In addition to a temporary abandonment of principles, throughout their transnational moment, the participants adjust their own habitus in order to accommodate the society which they are temporarily coexisting with. While, for some, these adaptations are easily forgotten once the individual has returned to their home country, for others, it transforms the way they view the world and disrupts their notion of the status quo.

11By presenting a view of the organizations active in Palestinian rights advocacy, the structural factors that support the evolution of transnational networks, who performs transnational solidarity activism, how it is justified, and what it looks like practically in the field, I have tried to contribute to and enrich the existing body of literature treating solidarity organizations and transnationalism. Relying on theoretical and empirical findings presented in previous research, I have presented a sociological study based on two months of ethnographic work in Israel and the West Bank.

5.2. Shortcomings and Opportunities for Further Research

12Despite the wealth of information that I have uncovered throughout my ethnographic experience and have tried to relay here, there are nonetheless several shortcomings to this work which may of themselves prompt new opportunities for future research. To begin with, whenever undertaking an ethnographic work there are, of course, implied biases as a result of the interview process. In my case being a young adult granted me access to information that my participants might otherwise have been reluctant to give. As I had participated in a number of anti-wall demonstrations some years prior to this study, I was able to use this fact from the outset to gain the confidence of my participants. Furthermore, by regularly attending demonstrations, conferences, and meetings my legitimacy was solidified within a circle of international activists. The fact of being female and the particularities of my individual character undoubtedly also played a role, though I think in most cases they played to my advantage.

13As mentioned in the introduction, I interviewed a few Palestinian and Israeli activists in order to gain a local perspective on the volunteerism and activism of international participants. Naïve, perhaps, about what I was expecting to find, what I actually did find seemed far too complex and dynamic to be mentioned in passing. As such, I believe work examining the differing opinions among local actors regarding international activists would be fascinating work and deserving of treatment on its own.

14In my research, I have only examined international activists while in the field. Though, for the limits of this work, it seemed to me a sufficient and even at times overwhelming task, it would also be of interest to make contact with volunteers before and after their departure. While initiating contact prior to the volunteer’s engagement would prove more challenging, doing follow-up work on the volunteers once they had returned to their country of origin could bring to light the level of dedication of the given individual and the pertinent networks within a given national context. Furthermore, in contemplating potential avenues of research, I thought it would be also relevant to work with Palestinian rights activists who advocate in a specific national context, for example French activists advocating for Palestinian rights in France, so as to recycle some of the questions that have been brought up in this work.

15With respect to the question of networks, unfortunately, I was not able to sufficiently address this matter as thoroughly as I would have liked. While, in some cases, I have given a list of countries which provide funding for a particular organization, questions remain as to the other donors. What is their interest in contributing resources to Palestinian rights TSMOs? What non-state actors participate in funding? Is there competition for resources among local SMOs and TSMOs?

16Moving away from the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, examinations of other transnational solidarity movements in different geographical contexts using a similar research model would help in continuing to explore contemporary political and social structures. Furthermore, as opposed to looking just at volunteer-based organizations, as I have done here, an exploration of humanitarian and development actors would also help to reveal the sociological underpinnings of political altruism. While at first glance, organizations promoting an altruistic and progressive narrative seem attractive and apolitical, deeper investigation often reveals it to be otherwise.

5.3. Experience in the Field

17During my two months of fieldwork, though an academic endeavor, it was a challenging journey, both in terms of emotions and ethics. Having previously lived in Israel for half a year in 2009-2010, I was able to rely on old friends and referenced contacts to help me find my way into the “anti-occupation network”. Despite having a foot in the door with Israeli activists, however, searching out international volunteers was another obstacle. In search of observation opportunities and possible interviewees, I went to every demonstration and conference, mostly in Jerusalem or in the West Bank, that I could get to. I remember often asking Israeli activists organizing transportation from Tel Aviv to anti-wall demonstrations in the West Bank, “where do you think there will be more internationals?”, a question which in itself revealed my true purpose.

18In the beginning, I do not remember seeing many internationals amongst the ranks of Israeli and Palestinian activists. The early months of 2012 seemed to be the rainiest and coldest the region had experienced in years, resulting in the small turnout or, in some cases, the cancellation of direct actions. While the weather conditions were celebrated, especially by Palestinian villagers who are constantly threatened with a shortage of water, I worried that I was perhaps in the right place at the wrong time. In the end, however, the various individuals and groups scattered around the West Bank became visible, and I was able to put together enough data to support this study. Working in such a terrain, however, often proved difficult, particularly given the relative disconnectedness of the organizations I sought. In some cases, emails were sent and phone calls were made but I received responses only several weeks later.

19Throughout the process, I was often questioned as to what my intentions in participating in Palestinian rights activism. Just like the internationals I was interviewing, I too was following self-interest, a reality which often left me with a feeling of guilt, particularly towards the Israeli activists who were so kind as to welcome me and help me in whatever way they could. Trying to find a balance between the role of a participant and the role of a researcher was often a struggle, yet, walking away from this experience, I am more confident about potential fieldwork in the future.

20In actualizing my interviews, at times I had to force myself to engage and ask questions, which in itself, awakened in me a way of being I had never exhibited within myself. While some internationals demonstrated a clear suspicion of me, particularly the more radicalized ISMers, making it difficult to include a truly diverse and representative sample, others were surprisingly open and often even thanked me for having stirred reflection within themselves. I cannot express how stunned I was to get the interviews that I did, particularly those in which some individuals spoke about astonishingly personal matters, matters I myself am not sure I would reveal to a stranger. Though I may have, in some way, played with a certain sense of vulnerability often experienced when one is far way from home, it is the responsiveness of my participants that has made this study worthwhile.


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