A resident of Conway, Massachusetts, John Petrovato is a co-founder (along with Ben Scribner) of Boston to Palestine (B2P), an International Solidarity Movement (ISM) affiliate that describes itself as “a group of Boston-based activists who work in solidarity with the Palestinian people in their non-violent struggle to resist and end the occupation of Palestine by the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF].”
Petrovato and his fellow B2P members, along with their ideological kin in the ISM, have traveled to Israel to demonstrate against, and to disrupt the anti-terrorism activities of, the IDF.
Characterizing Israeli civilians as “violent ideological settlers” and “terrorists,” Petrovato condemns Israel for allegedly engaging, with impunity, in “violence” aimed at the “ultimate destruction of Palestinian society and culture, and the expansion of the state of Israel in its place.”
Petrovato calls it “a grave mistake” to depict Israel as “a liberal democracy,” because, he says, that nation “differentiates groups of people based on ethnic/religious definitions and enacts structural barriers and discrimination against its minorities.” “The Palestinian ‘citizens’ of Israel make up over 20% of the population yet they are prevented from enjoying the same privileges of citizenship as the Jewish population,” he elaborates.
Petrovato cites, as an example of how “Israeli laws directly discriminate against the Israeli Palestinians by restricting the terms of citizenship,” a 2002 statute which “empowers the central election committee to prohibit individuals and entire political parties from running for the Knesset if they either (a) reject Israel’s identity as a ‘Jewish and democratic state,’ or (b) support the armed struggle of an enemy state or terrorist organization of Israel.” From this, Petrovato concludes that:
“[T]he law prevents and limits free speech of elected representatives and outlaws the expression of support for the [Palestinian] Intifada. It also restricts political participation to only those whose positions are supportive of official Israeli state ideology. While such undemocratic impulses and racist laws have existed in most liberal democracies at one time or another, they are not tolerated at least partly because constitutional provisions worked in favor of, rather than against, the interests of minority populations.”
In other words, Petrovato believes that a person’s commitment to Israel’s destruction should not disqualify him or her from serving in the Israeli government.
According to Petrovato, Israel has a “horrific human rights record” replete with such abuses as:
“unlawful killings; torture of prisoners/detainees; intentional destruction of houses (sometimes with the residents still inside); making medicine inaccessible by the use of checkpoints; the denial of humanitarian assistance; using Palestinian civilians as ‘human shields’ during military operations; preventing children from their right to education;… massive levels of imprisonments without a charge; causing injury and death to peaceful demonstrators with tear gas, sound bombs, and rubber bullets; indiscriminate killings of non-combatant Palestinians, and so on.”
Petrovato finds it “extraordinary” that, “under such harsh conditions,” Palestinians nonetheless “have built democratic institutions … on their own.”
Petrovato impugns Western writers who have described Palestinian society as one that is governed by a “dangerous” and “hate-filled” dictatorship. In Petrovato’s calculus, such depictions amount to expressions of Western “ignorance and racism.”
Petrovato maintains that the separation barrier in the West Bank, which Israel constructed in an effort to stem the flow of suicide bombers into Israeli civilian centers, in fact was built for reasons having “little to do with protection.” It was erected, he said, “to annex the best Palestinian land and give it to Jewish settlers [who] themselves are illegally colonizing Palestinian territory.”
In Petrovato’s estimation, the Arab-Israeli conflict is entirely the fault of Israel. The prospects for Mideast peace, he says, become increasingly remote “every time a [Palestinian] family member is randomly pulled out of line at an Israeli checkpoint”; “every time a death is caused to a woman or her unborn child because the Israeli military refuses to allow an ambulance to travel to a hospital”; “every time land is stolen from a Palestinian family for the building of the so-called security wall or for the benefit of Israeli Jewish citizens”; every time “Israeli settlers, who reside illegally in the Occupied territories, physically attack Palestinians and their property without punishment”; “every time that a parent learns that their child was mistreated by the Israel military”; “every time non-violent demonstrations are met with Israeli military violence in the form of beatings, arrests, and rubber coated metal bullets”; and “every time a Palestinian is detained and tortured in an Israeli prison without a trial or access to lawyers or family.”
“The sad fact,” Petrovato summarizes, “is that peace will be impossible until a just solution to the Palestinian situation is achieved — a fact that Israel continually refuses to consider.”
Petrovato has served as a general director of the Washington, DC-based Institute for Anarchist Studies — a charity that works closely with the Marxist organization Industrial Workers of the World. He also co-organizes the annual Renewing the Anarchist Tradition conference in Vermont, an event which seeks to promote the social and political tradition of anarchism; i.e., the elimination of formal government and the state.
Some of Petrovato’s writings have appeared in ZMag.
Petrovato is the owner of Raven Used Books, a shop specializing in the sale of scholarly used books, located in Amherst and Northampton, Massachusetts.