Even Picnics in Israel are Political

Our farewell picnic to Ezra Nawi before his prison term for peaceful protest carried a new message to most Israeli picnics

Picnics, like almost everything else in Israel, are often political.
Oz Shelach underscores this point in his collection of short stories, Picnic Grounds,
where he describes how a history professor takes his family on a picnic
in the pine forest near Givat Shaul, a Jerusalem neighbourhood.

professor teaches his son some of the camping skills he learned while
serving in the Israeli military, using old stones to block the wind and
to protect the newly lit fire. The stones, we are told, are the remains
of a village known as Deir Yassin.

Shelach does not say as much, Deir Yassin was a Palestinian village
located on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The Jewish neighbourhood, which
now stands in its place, was built not long after Israeli paramilitary
forces evicted its Palestinian residents, massacring an estimated 100
men, women and children out of a total population of 600.

does not recount this history; he simply describes how the father
builds a fire with his son and then ends the story by noting that the
history professor "imagined that he and his family were having a
picnic, unrelated to the village, enjoying its grounds, outside

Many picnics in Israel take place in pine forests that
were planted to cover the remains of hundreds of Palestinian villages
destroyed in 1948. Wittingly or unwittingly these gatherings have a
political effect, since the people enjoying their leisure time on these
sites reenact the historical suppression of the Palestinian Nakba.

past Saturday I also went on a picnic with my family, but in stark
opposition to most Israeli picnics it tried to enact a remembering by
exposing the continued domination and expulsion of Palestinians. We
joined a group of Jews and Palestinians from Ta'ayush in the south Hebron desert to break bread together and bid farewell to Ezra Nawi, who the following day began serving a jail sentence for resisting Israel's occupation.

chose this spot because almost a decade ago the Palestinian cave
dwellers who lived there were expelled from their ancestral land by
Jewish settlers from Susya; these settlers were supported by the
Israeli government, military and courts. Nawi and other Ta'ayush
activists have, over the years, aided the expelled Palestinians to
return to the last swathe of land they can still call their own. Today
there is a small village made up of more than 10 tents, a few caves,
several scores of sheep and chicken and a solar and wind-based
electricity system.

Located just a few kilometres from where we
sat is Um el-Hir, another small Palestinian village where in 2007 Nawi
was arrested for protesting against the demolition of a tin shack.
While the entire protest was filmed, the border police officers claimed
that Nawi attacked them during the few seconds that he ran into the
shack and that consequently were not captured on video.

points need to be stressed. First, the movie clearly shows how a few
minutes earlier Nawi took a rock out of the hands of a Palestinian
woman and threw it on the ground so that she would not use it against
the police. Second, anyone who is familiar with the Israeli border
police knows that if Nawi had actually attacked the officers it is
unlikely that he would have been able to walk out of the shack.

like these did not persuade judge Eilata Ziskind, who convicted Nawi.
Based solely on the officers' testimonies, Ziskind sentenced Nawi to a
month in jail and an additional three years probation, during which if
he is caught insulting an officer, disturbing the public order,
participating in an illegal protest, etc, he will immediately be
imprisoned for six more months.

This sentence is not a minor
matter. The Israeli court has basically decreed that the only
legitimate way to oppose the occupation is by standing on the side of
the road with some kind of placard. Any form of civil disobedience or
direct action, like lying in front of a bulldozer that is building the
annexation barrier or demolishing a house, picking olives in a grove or
walking Palestinian children to school in an area that has been
classified a closed military zone, is now subject to harsh punishment.

Nawi's conviction points to a relatively recent development regarding
the restriction of resistance, to extremely passive modes of protest.
And, in some cases, even these kinds of protests are prohibited, as in Sheikh Jarrah where activists are repeatedly arrested simply for demonstrating against the seizure of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.

Nawi put it during the picnic, in a country where laws are immoral,
civil disobedience is obligatory; therefore, he continued, it will not
be long before more of you will join me in jail. As he walked away, I
looked towards the soldiers who stood gazing at us from a nearby hill,
wondering whether soon picnics, too, will be considered acts of civil

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