Israel prime minister recently appealed for the release of Jonathan Pollard from an American jail. Just a week later, Israel sent Jonathan Pollak to jail. Although they share a first name and almost all of a last name, the two men could not be more different.
Jonathan Pollard is an American who was paid to spy for Israel. He got a life sentence in 1987 because of the damage he'd done to national security. Israeli governments first claimed he was a rogue operator, then embraced and naturalized him, and then began clamoring for his release.
Jonathan Pollak is an Israeli citizen who earns just enough to live as a graphic designer so that he can participate in the struggle of Palestinian villagers trying to save their land from Israel's remorseless settlement-building. This Jonathan has gone to jail -- he started his three-month sentence on January 11 -- instead of accepting community service because he refused to recognize the court's right to judge him for fulfilling "my duty to do everything within my power to change the unbearable situation of Gaza's inhabitants and to bring to an end Israel's control over the Palestinians."
The very different stories of these two men powerfully illuminate the past and future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel's request that the United States show Pollard clemency comes hard on the heels of its rebuff of the American administration on settlements. It illustrates the arrogance that permeates the Israeli political system because no Western country has held it accountable for its violations of international law before and since its occupation of Palestinian lands in 1967. Worse, the U.S. has for decades actively prevented others from holding Israel accountable, bringing the region to its present impasse.
By contrast, Pollak, the activist, is a shining light in the growing civil society movement -- Palestinian, Israeli, and international -- that is challenging Israel's occupation and discrimination as well as their own governments' inability or unwillingness to stop these human rights violations.
Many Israelis and internationals have put themselves at similar risk to Palestinians under occupation in order to protest Israel's appalling human rights abuses. Too many have paid with their lives or with injury and imprisonment. They are a model of courage and humility. The parents of 23-year-old American Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer as she sought to non-violently prevent the demolition of a Palestinian pharmacist's home in Gaza, often point to the far greater number of Palestinians killed. Pollak is using his jail term to draw attention to the much harsher verdicts given to Palestinians involved in non-violent protests, including Abdallah Abu Rahmah, a leader of the civil resistance.
Further, Pollak exemplifies the growing number of young Jews from within Israel as well as in America and in Europe who are joining older generations of activists in speaking out against the crimes being committed in their names. They face ostracism by their communities and worse.
These young Jews have built up trust with Palestinians, despite the shedding of so much blood and painful loss of the last 62 years. Together, they paint the possibility of a different tomorrow. As Tony Karon, a journalist from Cape Town who lives in New York recently recalled in a piece on this phenomenon in The National, when the whites stood in solidarity with blacks in apartheid South Africa, "we briefly inhabited the shared future for which we were all striving."
Even as it fears the fate of South Africa, Israel is escalating its repression against Jewish activists while it seeks to crush Palestinian non-violent resistance and speed up its colonization of East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and other lands it covets in the occupied West Bank.
The human rights alliance between Palestinians, Jews, and internationals is using non-violent protest, boycotts, and new media to shake up the international status quo that has let Israel get away with so much for so long. And, in the process, they are laying the foundation for a future of equality, justice, and peace.
Nadia Hijab is Co-director of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network