Ronnie Barkan came to the UK from Portugal where he joined Palestine Action for direct action against Elbit, the largest Israeli arms manufacturer which has several production sites in the UK. He was arrested and is now under house arrest and facing trial at Bristol Crown Court on April 17th 2023. At the end of part one of his story, he confirmed himself as a humanitarian, vegan and an activist.
In this article I will generally refer to the country as Palestine, although it is known by many as the State of Israel.
After a year and half of struggle with the military authorities, where he refused to act as a soldier, Ronnie managed to get exempted from the army. Along with other dissidents, Ronnie co-founded two groups ‘Boycott from within’ and ‘BDS in Hebrew’. These groups were set up to support indigenous people, Palestinians, in their struggle for their basic rights and against apartheid.
Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), demands three fundamental rights for the Palestinian people, freedom for those who are currently under a harsh and brutal military occupation, equality for those who are currently second class citizens inside Palestine 48 (aka Israel proper), and, most importantly justice for the majority of the Palestinians who have been ethnically cleansed and live in forced exile, or as internally displaced persons ever since, demanding their right to return home. Support was only given by a handful of dissidents – there weren’t enough people to call it a movement.
To support himself financially Ronnie taught maths and worked in IT. He regularly went to demonstrations in the West Bank to support Palestinians. One Friday, whilst demonstrating, a Palestinian friend was shot and killed. He died in Ronnie’s arms. On that day he was expected to attend a family dinner and he told his parents and said he wanted to go to Ramallah to honour his friend, but his parents insisted he went to dinner. When he went home, no one spoke about the killing so Ronnie had to force them to discuss the event. His parents rarely spoke about politics because they accepted the status quo.
After the 2014 massacre in Gaza, the first enquiry into war crimes by Israel was set up as part of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine; these were similar to the recent ones set up regarding Julian Assange. This enquiry followed the format of ‘The Russell Tribunal‘, set up by Bertrand Russell following the war in Vietnam. There were several sessions, one session held in several countries, such as New York, South Africa and London. A special session was held in Brussels following the events in Gaza.
Ronnie attended the enquiries held in London and Brussels. He decided he wanted to leave his country of birth, as he felt it was irresponsible to stay there. He felt the system needed to be abolished and that it was essential to apply as much pressure as possible from the outside in order to change the situation. He states that the propaganda machine is very effective and most Israelis believe what they are informed about. He stayed in Brussels for a while, then moved to Italy. He was then invited to move to Berlin where he had friends. Germany was also the ‘last bastion of Zionism’. Ronnie says that Zionism is based on the same notion of Ubermenschen vs Untermenschen – similar to other supremacist ideologies from the KKK to Nazism. During these periods of moving, Ronnie gave talks about BDS, the nature of the Zionist race-state, and the struggle to abolish seven decades of Zionist crimes against humanity.
The people who are driving the Israeli crime of apartheid represent only one third of the people of Palestine. Seven million of the people of Palestine are privileged Israeli Jews, another third are either subjugated second-class citizens or live under a harsh military occupation, while the final third are kept in forced exile, absent from their land and denied their right to return home solely because they were born into the wrong ethnicity. Many Israelis describe themselves as liberal Zionists which Ronnie says is illogical. Zionism and liberalism are opposite to each other; people are swayed by the Zionist propaganda tool. He describes Zionism as “a form of Mental Disorder”.
Ronnie states that the Israeli State in Palestine is based on racial supremacy and ethnic cleansing, that the Zionist version of apartheid is more sophisticated than apartheid was in South Africa. Most Israelis live in a bubble where they don’t have to connect with Palestinians. It’s easy not to see what is going on and to accept the Zionist narrative and how they describe Palestinians. Now there are demonstrations going on in the Israeli State in Palestine against the Israeli Government, there is a realisation that their rights are being threatened so they are struggling to preserve them.
A third of the population has rights that are preserved and enshrined in law at the expense of two thirds of the total population whose basic rights are denied.
It was necessary for Ronnie to return to Palestine for a few months because of a personal health reason. Whilst he was there, Covid hit the country and this kept Ronnie in Palestine longer than he anticipated, so he had to revise his plan of where he was going to travel to. He made a decision to move to Portugal.
After being in Portugal for a few months, he visited the UK. He joined an action against the Elbit headquarters in Bristol. Nine people were arrested following the action and they are now facing trial.
I asked Ronnie what his time in the UK has been like, and he said it’s been rough and on a psychological level very difficult. Being under house arrest has forced Ronnie to change life and work plans. His mum isn’t well and she worries about him. Because of the restrictions imposed on him in a country that he is not legally allowed to reside or work in, he isn’t allowed to leave the UK so can’t visit his mum and family.
Ronnie and a fellow dissident were held on remand for a month; he was remanded in Bristol prison. He arrived there with a broken rib caused by the security guards at Elbit who assaulted him. He felt prison was psychologically damaging for anyone staying there and obviously dehumanising, he was confined to his cell most of the day and allowed out for one hour for exercise. He was lacking any agency; everything was in the hands of the guards who couldn’t care less about the people whose lives they control.
Ronnie told me about spending time in prison in Palestine. It happened several times but never for longer than 72 hours before being released. On one occasion he was arrested with a Palestinian friend. Ronnie was in detention for two nights, his friend was held for eighteen months, with the same charge but different court and system. He was in a civil prison subject to civil law; his friend was in a military prison subject to military law. He felt on balance the prison guards in the UK are more professional. In Palestine the guards were more prone to act in a more hostile way, saying things like they wished him dead. There were also many prisoners in one cell.
After one month Ronnie was given bail. He is now awaiting trial and currently resides in Brighton. He is not allowed to work and has no means of income. He spends his day helping to raise awareness of the apartheid state of Israel and the oppression of Palestinians. As he is denied legal aid, he has to raise funds for representation at his trial. His case could cost £50,000 if he is found guilty.*
Since arriving in Brighton, Ronnie has started a group with another person from the Israeli State in Palestine. This group is called ‘Everything Palestine’ and meets on Tuesday evenings.
When Ronnie was interviewed for ‘Conversations with Israeli Dissidents‘, he said: “I’m opposed to everything the Zionist State stands for and I’m actively working to abolish that horrible barbaric system of oppression in order to bring about a better future for all sons and daughters of that land.”
The trial is on April 17th which is fast approaching. I wish Ronnie the best of wishes, and hope that he is acquitted on all charges. This would be the only just outcome.
More to come ………………………………………..