Fighting to change a destructive status quo: reflections on Standing Together’s Haifa conference
Danielle Bett is a Scottish-Israeli activist who works as Director of Communications for Yachad UK. She attended Standing Together’s recent conference in Haifa, and wrote this report for UK Friends of Standing Together. Danielle writes in a personal capacity.
This past Friday (2 February), I attended Standing Together’s national conference in Haifa. I’ll be honest – since 7 October, I haven’t been attending many pro-peace events, I suppose due to a general feeling of hopelessness and exhaustion that many of us have felt since Hamas’ massacre and since this seemingly neverending war began.
Some people , many of whom were at the conference, found the will and carry on fighting for change and standing up to hatred.
When the war began, Standing Together were quick to organise Palestinian-Jewish “solidarity guards”, a way of bringing people together, but also a way of preventing a repeat of the events of May 2021, when there was violence between Jews and Palestinians on the streets of Israel. They’ve undertaken this work in the face of a cynical political leadership here in Israel, which continues to speak recklessly, to incite, to act as though words have no meaning and to sow division.
The conference allowed a space for Israelis and Palestinians to express sorrow, pain and frustration. To discuss issues, at a political, economic and social level – and to discuss change. The speakers were diverse, Jewish and Palestinian, of all faiths and none, with different experiences and from different places across the country.
I point this out because, with the greatest of respect to my beloved Tel Aviv, we need more than just one city of progress. We need people from across the country to fight for collective change, not just Israel’s economic and liberal capital. Standing Together are well aware of this, and work to ensure that they’re heard, and that they are listening, in different cities across the country.
The messaging was clear – release all hostages, stop the killing of innocent Palestinians in Gaza, start working towards a long-term peace. But what Standing Together do differently is look at social issues that affect people across communities, regardless of their faith, gender or race, such as economic inequality, public transport or climate change. Looking at the big picture of inequalities, the complex class issues in Israel, and the way in which they affect people in Charedi and Palestinian communities alike is rather a game-changing approach. These all tie in to the issue of the occupation, of course. It’s not a “by-the-way”, but a core problem that must be solved.
Standing Together appear to be unshaken by criticism on the left and right – they’re growing in membership in Israel and popularity abroad – and they’re committed to their mission of bringing people together to push for deep political change. It was encouraging to see participants of all ages, from young to veteran activists, and people from different cities and regions. I also noted there were some visibly religious people, though a minority, and that Standing Together ensured early transport was provided for Shabbat-observant participants.
Alon Lee Green, one of the movement’s leaders, raised an interesting point on the need to recognise people’s very real fears. It’s easy to mock or dismiss. I’ve often heard people say “it’s just a checkpoint”, or “Israelis are paranoid” – statements like these suggest you’re removed from the reality on the ground. Standing Together are quite the opposite , and the diverse conference, attended by over a thousand people, proved an understanding of this complex society.
One thing that stood out was that there was only one sitting Member of Knesset (Israel’s parliament) who attended the conference – Labor’s Naama Lazimi MK. I applaud her: choosing to stand with a politically controversial movement at a time like this isn’t to be taken for granted. But I was disappointed that she stood alone. Both Israelis and Palestinians need better leaders, ones who are going to drive change and resolutions – not corruption, incitement, hatred and violence.
It’s crystal clear that political change is needed before any resolution can come about. Standing Together supporters are beginning to address this, by running for local authority elections in Israel as part of slates in cities including Haifa and Tel Aviv. This is an excellent first step – if we don’t change the political make up of this country, the devastating status quo will continue to destroy us.
As was beautifully said on Friday by Rula Daood, Standing Together’s Palestinian National Co-Director: “We haven’t won yet, but we’ve only just begun.”