Archive of _The Other Israel _ Newsletter of the Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace
The Other Israel
Founded in 1983 by :Uri Avnery,Matti Peled,Yaakov Arnon,Haim
Bar'am, Yael Lotan, Yossi Amitay
Will it go down in history as a turning point, to be remembered and commemorated? Or is it just one more intermezzo, yet another of the failed efforts leaving behind only more bitterness and despair.
The Arabic word "Hudna", which denotes a cease-fire for a fixed duration, dates back to the time of The Prophet himself. Throughout the centuries since, it has come up again and again in the annals of the wars waged by Muslims -- with each other as well as with those of other religions.
The Israeli public first became aware of the concept in late 2001, through an initiative launched by the maverick businessman/peace activist Eyal Ehrlich. On a visit to Jordan, Ehrlich chanced to observe a Hudna being declared to calm down a local bloody conflict in a country town, and conceived the idea of applying that proceeding -- so deeply rooted in Muslim tradition -- to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He managed to get the support of Israel's president Moshe Katzav -- whose position is purely titular but who wields a considerable moral authority -- and who was to launch the Hudna via a conciliatory speech to the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah. The plan was scotched by a firm veto of PM Sharon, which Katzav dared no defy (see TOI-101,p.5). The aborted Hudna was followed by some of the most bloody and terrible months in the course of the conflict.
Still, the idea of Hudna kept occasionally cropping up in commentaries and the speeches of politicians, on both the Israeli and the Palestinian side. Moreover, the idea was taken over by the European Union, whose emissaries made strenuous efforts to gain the support of all Palestinian factions. This was almost achieved in September 2002 -- but precisely an hour after the inter-Palestinian agreement was signed, an Israeli fighter plane bombed the house of Hamas leader Salah Shehadeh in Gaza, killing not only Shehadeh but also 14 Palestinian civilians, half of them children. Once again, the Hudna was swept off the agenda for a considerable time. It took nearly a whole additional year, with all its bloodshed and suffering, before it would emerge again.
What ultimately made it possible to translate the Hudna from theory into reality was the convergence of the increasing war-weariness in both societies with the Iraq War and its wider consequences.
More than a year of harsh Israeli reoccupation of the Palestinian cities conclusively failed to eliminate suicide bombings, and made clear to Israelis that there were few if any military options left. IDF generals ceased to make confident predictions of "the Palestinians on the verge of breaking down" or proclaim such grandiose war aims as "burning into Palestinian consciousness the fact of defeat."
The curfew in the Palestinian cities was gradually phased out -- not only as a goodwill gesture, but also simply because enforcing it strained the army's available manpower to the breaking point. (An attempted increase in the annual term of military reserve service was hastily scrapped when it threatened to provoke a widespread reservist mutiny, going far beyond the hard-core of the politically conscious refuser movement.)
Meanwhile, the Israeli economy was in shambles, with hardly any tourism or foreign investment left, and unemployment climbing. Economists and business people were virtually unanimous in asserting that cease-fire and renewal of a peace process were a precondition for economic recovery.
For its part, the Palestinian economy was of course in an incomparably worse state, with the Israeli roadblocks cutting the West Bank into hundreds of isolated enclaves and making even the most elementary economic activities into an ordeal. Only a trickle of international aid and the extremely strong ties of extended-family solidarity kept masses of Palestinians away from actual starvation. As unbroken and defiant of the occupation as ever, Palestinians were nevertheless longing for a respite and a chance for some amelioration of their situation.
Many Palestinians still considered suicide bombings as a legitimate way of "getting even" with Israel for bombings of Palestinian cities or the assassination of Palestinian leaders -- but few if any of them still held to the idea that the pressure of continued attacks would of itself cause a precipitate Israeli withdrawal, an idea derived from mistaken analogy with the May 2000 Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. And an
increasing number of Palestinians were becoming aware of how much the suicide bombings were playing into the hands of Sharon -- some calling for a limitation of the armed struggle only to attacks on soldiers and settlers in the Territories themselves, others calling for unarmed struggle by such means as mass defiance of the numerous Israeli military orders and restrictions.
On August 13, following the army's decision to continue the closure of Hebron Polytechnic, more than 200 students broke into the closed campus by cutting the chains across its doors with small chainsaws.
At a meeting held inside, student union leader Khalid Karaki declared: 'For six months the college has been needlessly closed, depriving us of our education. We've had enough! We will stay here until it opens again.' At the time of writing, a celebratory concert is planned, marking the re-opening of the college, and a phone call from PA President Arafat, congratulating the students, was broadcast over a loudspeaker. Activists of the ISM (International Solidarity Movement) and CPT (Christian Peacemaker Team) arrived to express support, and contact was established with friendly students and lecturers at Tel-Aviv University. Meanwhile, a similar action was taken by the students of Hebron University, at another part of the city -- also closed by the army.
Meanwhile, the regional and international diplomatic arena was focused upon the American conquest of Iraq and its aftermath. At least a year before the war was actually launched, there were already widely-publicized scenarios predicting that it would be followed by a high-level American diplomatic initiative aimed at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, following the precedent of Bush the father, who had convened the 1991 Madrid Conference in the immediate wake of the Gulf War. And Washington's need to be seen taking such an initiative became more and more manifest, the more difficult and problematic the occupation of Iraq turned out to be.
Already before launching the war on Iraq, Bush published officially "The Road Map for Peace", worked out by "The Diplomatic Quartet" consisting of the US, the UN, the EU and Russia, under which a viable Palestinian state "within temporary borders" is to be created before the end of 2003, and to gain its definite dimensions and status by 2005. Even though the word "cease-fire" or "Hudna" did not explicitly appear among the stages enumerated in the Road Map, the achievement of such a cease-fire was evidently an indispensable preliminary, so as to create the appropriate public atmosphere.
Such was also the opinion of Mahmud Abbas ("Abu Mazen") elected to the newly-created position of Palestinian Prime Minister at the same time that the Road Map was unveiled, and who declared the achievement of a Hudna to be among his main priorities. But this priority was in no way shared by Sharon. In fact, the Israeli PM, his ministers and his generals were vociferous in denouncing the whole idea of a Hudna which "would merely give Hamas and the Islamic Jihad a chance to regroup and prepare for new terrorist attacks after the end of the cease-fire."
Based on this argument, Sharon demanded that Abu Mazen and his security Chief Muhammad Dahlan completely disarm the Islamic groups, so as "to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure." Any attempt to do so would obviously entail a bloody civil war among Palestinians; this, Abu Mazen and Dahlan firmly stated, they were both unwilling and unable to do. Instead, their declared immediate purpose was to achieve voluntary adherence of all Palestinian factions to a Hudna, with the longer-term goal of eventually amalgamating all the militias and armed groups into a single Palestinian force under a unified command.
With such profound differences on the most immediate steps to be taken -- not to mention later stages on which the differences go even deeper -- it is hardly a surprise that in early May, the first official meeting between Sharon and Abu Mazen ended in dismal failure and utter disagreement. This fiasco left a vacuum, which was immediately filled with a new round of killing and counter-killing. To more than one commentator it looked like the Road Map was going to join very many previous diplomatic initiatives on the ash heap of history.
At this juncture, however, President George W. Bush suddenly undertook the kind of high-profile personal involvement which he hitherto avoided and which Sharon's advisers had confidently predicted he never would: personally flying to the region at a moment's notice and summoning the various leaders to attend hastily-organized summit conferences. It was, in fact, more the kind of action typical of Clinton...
Like many other summits, in this and other regions, the get-together of the US President, the Israeli and Palestinian PM's and the King of Jordan at the latter's Port of Aqaba on the Red Sea was, first and foremost, a photo opportunity. Still, although there was no trace of the wild euphoria of Oslo 1993, the live broadcast spectacle did make some impression on the skeptical, not to say bitter, Israeli and Palestinian societies: Maybe after all something is happening here? Something to get us out of the hell of the past two and half years?
More than had been the case in the days of Oslo, it was evident that the Road Map tends to orient Palestinians and Israelis not at each other but at the outside umpire. And though the Road Map had been the creation of "The Diplomatic Quartet", there was nothing quadrilateral about that umpire. In line with the rampant "unilateralism" of his administration, Bush altogether excluded the Europeans, Russians and the UN from the proceedings, denying them even the symbolic role that they got from his father at Madrid in 1991. Not even Tony Blair, Bush's most staunch ally, was considered worthy of an invitation to Aqaba.
That was very much in line with the wishes of Sharon, who had come to regard European involvement in the region as a dangerous threat to his aims. But Aqaba also made clear that Sharon's successful delegitimization of Arafat has been largely nullified by the appointment of Abu Mazen. In Bush's far from sophisticated classification of world leaders, the Palestinian Prime Minister was unmistakably chalked up among "The Good Guys", and so were his Security Chief Dahlan and his Finance Minister Salam Fayad (who happens to be a graduate of the same university in Texas that the president himself attended).
Therefore, Palestinian concerns, which went unheard when voiced by "Bad Guy Arafat", could now expect to get a bit more of a friendly hearing in Washington. (Bush seems only dimly aware that Arafat and Abu Mazen have been close political associates over more than three decades...)
Bush to the rescue
Meanwhile, the immediate aftermath of Aqaba seemed to confirm the most cynical of skeptics on both sides. Abu Mazen had gone to Aqaba confident of his ability to achieve a Hudna -- based on intensive talks that he held with the leaders of Hamas and other factions. But these same leaders felt offended by what they considered a too-conciliatory speech delivered by Abu-Mazen at the summit, both his explicit reference to suicide bombings as being acts of terror and his unprecedented acknowledgment of "the historical sufferings of the Jewish people."
The radical factions' misgivings were further fuelled by an Israeli army unit killing two Palestinian militants at Tulkarem, on the very day following the summit. Several Palestinian organizations joined forces in a retaliatory raid on an Israeli military camp in the Gaza Strip, killing four soldiers. For their part, the Israeli generals launched a large-scale aerial manhunt of the Hamas leaders. Three of them were killed by the missiles shot from Israeli helicopter gunships. Abed El-Aziz Rantisi -- the Hamas spokesman, who as member of the political echelon was not hitherto targeted -- narrowly escaped a similar fate, jumping out of his car a second before the missile hit it; but several passers-by, who happened to be on that street, were not so lucky. On the following day, Hamas blew up a bus in Jerusalem, killing seventeen passengers -- the kind of horror of which Israelis had started to hope they have seen the last.
Pilots, look out!
On the morning of Wednesday, June 11, about twelve hours after the Rantisi assassination attempt in Gaza, several dozen members of Ometz Lesarev (reservists who claim that refusal to serve in the Occupied Territories is Zionist) picketed the Defence Ministry in Tel-Aviv. They held such signs as Do we undergo pilot's training in order to kill women and children? and Pilots, look out! Sharon and Mofaz play games with you.
Two days later, the mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot (June 13) published the results of an opinion poll, indicating that 67% of the Israeli public opposes assassinations. The figure included 58% who called for "temporary suspension of liquidations, so as to strengthen Abu-Mazen's position" added to 9% who wanted an unconditional end to assassinations.
Still, while the Hamas leaders were determined to retaliate to the attacks, they were nevertheless amendable to renewed negotiation feelers on a Hudna -- well aware that their own grassroots supporters, like virtually all Palestinians, were longing for a respite.
An enormous diplomatic effort was launched, involving the disparate power foci in the Palestinian political system: Abu Mazen and Dahlan, the only ones to whom Sharon and Bush would talk, but who had little support among the Palestinians themselves; Arafat -- still retaining an overwhelming support among the Palestinian masses despite (or precisely because of) his long-lasting siege in the half-ruined Presidential Compound in Ramallah; Hamas with its own large base of support, its armed militias and its network of social welfare organizations. From his prison cell Marwan Baghouti -- the prominent Fatah leader arrested by Israeli soldiers last year -- proved able to exert a significant influence on the course of these inter-Palestinian negotiations.
International mediators abounded. The Europeans -- trusted by Palestinians far more then the Americans, and possessing an extensive network of contacts -- were able to recoup a bit after their exclusion from Aqaba. So did President Mubarak of Egypt, whose hosting the summit had been vetoed by Sharon, and who now sent his own influential security chief Omar Suleiman to help mediate between the Palestinian factions.
The Israeli side was not officially involved, with ministers declaring the ongoing negotiations "an
internal Palestinian affair" and gruffly pronouncing "we don't want Abu-Mazen to make deals with Hamas, but to fight the terrorists." Nevertheless, the negotiations were followed intensively on the Israeli media, with commentators going into minute details and enumerating the interplay of various Palestinian factions, militias and factions inside factions.
When it was finally announced that Hamas, Jihad and most (though not all) of the other factions had committed themselves to a three-month Hudna, there was a collective sigh of relief throughout the Israeli society. Literally within days, a marked increase was noted in the number of young Israelis streaming to week-end entertainments, and the shopping centers of metropolitan Tel-Aviv reported an abrupt 20% increase in sales.
On the Palestinian side, the Hudna was also widely welcomed -- with the expectation that the IDF would immediately reciprocate by removing the measures that had made Palestinian life into hell over the past two and half years. In this, however, Sharon soon proved extremely tight-fisted, leading to increasing feelings of anger and frustration.
Wriggling out of pledges
For Palestinians, the most onerous of burdens is the system of roadblocks and barriers erected around all cities and towns, villages and hamlets, making each Palestinian community virtually into a prison. Upon signature of the Hudna agreement between the Palestinian factions, the Israeli army opened to Palestinian traffic the main north-south artery of the Gaza Strip, which had been closed for years, and TV cameras caught the cheers from cars loaded with Palestinian youths, speeding unhindered through road stretches where hitherto they had to wait for many weary hours. Later, a few roadblocks in the West Bank were removed as well -- most notably the notorious Surda Barrier west of Ramallah, which for two years made life extremely difficult for the students and staff of Bir Zeit University.
Still, these were the exceptions. A month and half into the Hudna, most Palestinians remain imprisoned in their communities, and most West Bank main roads remain off-limits to Palestinians, reserved for military and settler traffic. (The settlers' powerful "Judea, Samaria and Gaza Council" feel that "Palestinian traffic on the roads is a deadly threat to settlers" and so far their considerable pressure prevailed over the counsel of some military officers who suggested a more rapid opening of roadblocks.) Even the handing over of Bethlehem to Palestinian control failed to evoke the enthusiastic response that could have been expected among the townspeople -- since their city remains ringed with military barriers, preventing or greatly hampering travel even to the nearest villages.
A second highly contentious issue are the Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons and detention camps -- about 6,000 in number, of whom more than a thousand are held in "administrative detention" without trial, while several hundred others already spent twenty years or more behind bars, having failed to secure release even in the heyday of Oslo.
On few issues are Israeli and Palestinian perceptions so polarized as on the prisoners. Palestinians in general -- even those who object to suicide bombings -- tend to regard their detained compatriots as prisoners of war, fighters of the struggle for national liberation whose release is a precondition for any reconciliation. Among Israelis, the same prisoners are regarded as terrorists and murderers. (The positions would have probably been reversed, had the Palestinians been in a position to capture and hold Israeli air pilots and tank crews who had been involved in the bombing of Palestinian cities.)
From the depth of our sorrow
On Friday, July 4, Ha'aretz bore a huge ad -- the appeal of bereaved families, victims of terror, who nevertheless (or exactly because of it) support reconciliation and peace: 'From the depths of our sorrow we say: If freeing prisoners will advance the peace and prevent further bereavement... Free them!!!'
One of this group, Rami Elhanan, spoke out on Kol Yisrael radio: 'Of course I support releasing the prisoners. The man who killed my daughter Smadar killed himself at the same moment and is beyond human punishment. But if there are prisoners who were involved in sending him to Jerusalem -- yes, I will support releasing them, too. I don't want revenge. I want an end to the killing, I want to make sure that no other parents will have to go through what happened to me and to my family' (July 5).
Again and again the Sharon cabinet debated the issue of releasing Palestinian prisoners, with hardliners making every possible obstruction (reportedly, with the covert encouragement of the Prime Minister himself). The criteria defined for entitlement to release excluded "prisoners with blood on their hands" with this term interpreted very broadly.
To start with, the government also excluded from release any prisoner belonging to the Hamas or Jihad, waiving this restriction only after the alarmed Abu Mazen warned that it could lead to collapse of the Hudna. (Nobody would like to be held responsible for that.)
After more than a month of deliberations, the government came up with a list of less than 500 prisoners, most of whom had been soon due for release anyway, and some of whom were common criminals ("Them Israel could have kept, as far as I am concerned" said Abu Mazen). Moreover, during the same period nearly 200 Palestinians were lifted from their beds and detained in the ongoing nightly raids. Altogether, the prisoner release -- intended as "a confidence building measure" -- turned out to have precisely the opposite effect.
Things were not much better with regard to still another contentious issue: the removal of illegal
settlement outposts, dozens of which had been constructed on hilltops throughout the territories -- an issue first taken up by the Israeli Peace Now movement, whose Settlement Monitoring Team is regularly documenting this ongoing process, and whose reports gain worldwide currency.
On this, the text of the Road Map is quite clear -- Sharon is to remove all settlements built after March 2001, the time when he came to power. Satellite photos of the West Bank are taken several times per day, sharp enough to distinguish individual houses, and the photos from 2001 on are on record. So it would seem there was no room left for ambiguity.
However, at Aqaba Sharon managed -- with the tacit acquiescence of Bush -- to replace this clear obligation with something quite different: he pledged to remove "unauthorized outposts." Here one gets into a far darker field: the bureaucratic procedures by which settlements and "settlement outposts" get authorized by the Israeli authorities are anything but transparent. A whole set of signatures is required by such shadowy officials as the Defence Minister's Adviser on Settlement -- a procedure that seems designed to make it possible to tell the opposition and the outside world that a certain outpost is unauthorized while the settlers get hold of a piece of paper looking suspiciously like an official authorization.
And indeed, the army's list of settlement outposts to be removed fluctuated from day to day and week to week, as did (and even more so) the implementation.
Some "unmanned outposts" were removed without exciting much interest -- a few empty mobile homes placed on hilltops here and there, regarded as expendable by the settlers themselves. The army did also evacuate a few inhabited outposts. Each occasion became the scene of a major violent confrontation, with fanatic young settlers beating up bewildered conscripts in front of eager media cameras, and being finally evicted -- only to come back at night to the spot, which the army left conveniently unguarded.
At noon on Friday, May 2, Peace Now activists formed a human chain opposite the Defence Ministry in Tel-Aviv, each one holding a sign with the name of one of the 110 settlement outposts established at the Occupied Territories in the past year and located by the movement's Settlement Watch Team. An enormous banner read: Remove all outposts and all settlements -- Get out of the Territories, for the sake of both peoples! [www.peacenow.org.il]
"I tried to calculate how many unauthorized outposts were evacuated in the month and half since you pledged to evacuate them, Mr. prime Minister" said KM Yossi Sarid on the Knesset floor. "Deducting those which the settlers built again, I come to a grand total of -- one."
Confrontation over the Wall
At the end of July, Abu Mazen held his first official visit to the White House. While all the grievances enumerated above figured in his talks with the Americans, the Palestinian PM gave precedence to still another issue that Palestinians have come to regard as crucial and indeed existential: Sharon's "Separation Wall" steadily cutting its way through the West Bank.
Originally conceived in Labor Party circles, as a way of both protecting the Israeli population against suicide bombers and achieving a "unilateral separation from the Palestinians", Sharon has taken over implementation of the idea and transformed it into a way of pre-determining the future borders of the Palestinian state. "State", in fact, is hardly the right name for what Sharon has in mind: a series of crowded and isolated enclaves embracing no more than half of the West Bank, surrounded on all sides with settlements and military camps -- a decidedly non-viable entity. (From Sharon's point of view, there is hardly anything new about all this. Expert Sharonologists claim that as early as 1979 he had drawn a map with his idea of partitioning the West Bank, virtually identical to the present-day course of the Wall.)
Already, the Wall has made the town of Qalqilya into an enclave, surrounded on three sides and having a single narrow road as its only connection to the outside world -- this road being often blocked by the army. Already, villages lost their fields and water sources, left on the other side of the Wall, while other villages were left behind the Wall in their entirety, cut off from the rest of the West Bank. And the Wall's next installment, not yet formally approved in the cabinet though planned by Sharon and his advisers, would go still much further -- cutting dozens of kilometers deep into Palestinian territory so as to loop around the settlement-city of Ariel and effectively annex it to Israel.
Abu Mazen managed to explain all this in words the President could understand, as well as presenting him with photos and maps. At the ensuing joint press conference, Bush stated to a worldwide TV audience: 'I think the wall is a problem and I've discussed that with Prime Minister Sharon. It is very difficult to develop confidence between the Palestinians and Israel with a wall snaking through the West Bank.'
Sharon's own visit to Washington, a few days later, failed to eliminate the tensions with Bush on this issue, despite an effort to present a harmonious picture, with the two leaders addressing each other as "George" and "Ariel."
A few days later, the Americans started talking about the possibility of deducting the cost of the Wall from the loan guarantees promised to Israel -- the kind of measure, which led to a major confrontation between George Bush Sr. and Yitzchak Shamir. Press reports told of Sharon about to give way. Without an official announcement there seems to be a prime-ministerial decision to delay by at least half a year the construction of "the controversial section."
On other issues, however, the Americans proved less attentive to Palestinian grievances. For example, Bush failed to heed Abu-Mazen's request to pressure Sharon to release more prisoners. (Neither as President nor in his previous job as Governor of Texas did George W. Bush ever show a tendency towards clemency to prisoners.)
Moreover, to counterbalance the pressure on Sharon with regard to the Wall, Washington started to pressure the Palestinians on the issue of "dismantling the terrorist infrastructure."
Published as ad in Ha'aretz, August 1
P.O.Box 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033
Abu Mazen and Dahlan reiterated that a Palestinian civil war was not on the cards, and begged for more time to do things their way. The Americans were inclined to grant that -- but nevertheless Sharon and his generals felt encouraged to step up once again the nightly raids into Palestinian cities ("as long as the Palestinians don't do the job, we have to do it ourselves"). This led to escalation, imperiling the entire Hudna.
The Hudna did not completely stop the mutual bloodshed, though it was considerably reduced. The killing of Palestinians despite the Hudna was not acknowledged as violation in Israel. Usually, explanations were offered such as "terrorist resisting arrest" or the "civilian regrettably mistaken for terrorist and shot." While taken at face value by most of the Israeli media, such explanations were far from satisfying the Palestinians.
Violations on the Palestinian side derived mainly from rogue groups, taking such actions as kidnapping Israelis in the hope of exchanging them for the prisoners Sharon would not otherwise release. Ironically, the radical Islamists proved highly disciplined and faithful to their signature of the Hudna, and the most problematic were some members of Fatah -- Arafat and Abu Mazen's own organization.
Fatah had always been a heterogeneous organization, composed of many disparate groups with little to unite them but the general tenets of Palestinian nationalism, capable of many conflicting interpretations. During last year's invasion and reconquest of the West Bank cities, the Israeli army and security services made an active and quite successful effort to break up the Fatah militias' chain of command.
The result was not, as intended, the complete elimination of the militias -- but rather the creation of many rogue squads, taking orders from nobody. Further, some such groups in the northern West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus have reportedly come under the influence of the Iranian regime and of Hizbullah, the Iranians' Lebanese ally.
Rather then hand Nablus and Jenin to Palestinian rule and let Dahlan make the effort of reasserting control over the rogues, Sharon decided to keep these two cities as long as possible under Israeli rule.
On the morning of August 8, the army conducted what was apparently the largest raid since the Hudna was declared. The elite Naval Commandos entered the Askar Refugee Camp in Nablus, and surrounded a three-storey house where a group of Hamas activists were hiding. In the ensuing firefight four Palestinians were killed, as well as one of the besieging Israeli soldiers, and the building totally collapsed -- large parts were destroyed in the explosion when an Israeli missile apparently hit stored explosives, with the demolition later completed by army bulldozers.
The army claimed that the Palestinians had been involved in the production of explosives, which is likely enough. It was also claimed that they had been on the point of using those explosives in a series of suicide bombings -- which sounds far less plausible, since they were members of Hamas, which up to that moment adhered with no exception to its Hudna obligations.
However, precisely the killing of its activists prompted Hamas into declaring a "one time retaliation." On the morning of August 12, two suicide bombers exploded themselves -- one at the entrance to the Israeli settlement of Ariel, which figured so largely in the debate on the Wall; the other, at the town of Rosh Ha'ayin, just inside Israel's pre-'67 border. Each of the explosions claimed the life of one random Israeli. Afterwards, having taken its revenge, Hamas declared its reversion to the Hudna rules, unless Israel killed any more of its people.
Israelis were shaken, and there started an intensive debate on "Is the Hudna still alive?" Sharon, apparently hard-pressed by the Americans, decided to answer the question in the affirmative, and declared that there would be no special military retaliations (beyond the 'routine' demolition of the two suicide bombers' homes and the making of their families homeless).
However, two days later an army force in Hebron surrounded the home of a senior member of the Islamic Jihad and killed him, in circumstance almost identical to those of the Nablus killing a week before. As could have been predicted, speakers for the Jihad vowed to take their revenge, the Hudna non-withstanding.
As this goes into print (mid-August), Israeli Defence Minister Mofaz just held an emergency meeting with his Palestinian counterpart Dahlan, with the declared aim of shoring up the crumbling Hudna. Mofaz brought what he considered a tempting offer: the handover of four Palestinian cities, Qalqilya and Jericho at once, Ramallah and Tulkarem within two weeks -- Ramallah being the big prize, which Sharon and Mofaz hitherto refused to hand over, since that would imply removing the long-standing siege of Arafat's compound.
Mofaz attached, however, a barb: the handover of the cities would be cancelled if the Islamic Jihad carries out its threatened retaliation, or if anybody
else carries out any serious terrorist attack. The Kol Yisrael commentator remarked that the Mofaz offer could serve "either to strengthen the Hudna, or to remove from Israel the blame for its collapse."
After two and a half years as Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon has become the arbiter of Israeli politics in a way that, according to several commentators, is incomparable since the time of the country's Founding Father David Ben-Gurion back in the 1950's. His Likud Party controls forty Knesset seats, a full third of Israel's parliament, and his position is not seriously challenged by any party or combination of parties of either the left or the right, nor by any faction or rival leader of the Likud Party itself.
The revelations of corruption scandals involving Sharon and his two sons, which might have sunk the career of a prime minister in another country, seem not to damage Sharon's standing in the polls. Average Israelis believe that "all politicians are corrupt."
The sharp cuts in welfare payments and the protest marches and sit-ins by the particularly hard hit single-parent mothers aroused much public sympathy. The anger was, however, was directed solely at Finance Minister Netanyahu -- the rival whom Sharon manoeuvred into taking up the unpopular Treasury.
Furthermore, the Labor Party is not in a position to challenge Sharon's position, defeated and decimated in this year's elections and involved in deep internal quarrels. A year ago, the assumption of the Labor leadership by such an idealistic and unworldly person as Amram Mitzna had aroused great hopes. However, Mitzna's position was soon undermined to the point that he decided to resign. His place was taken by the veteran Shimon Peres, staging his umpteenth comeback.
Far from being a white-hot oppositionist, it is Peres' dearest wish to lead his party back into the Sharon Cabinet, in which he had been Foreign Minister for two years and from which he departed only reluctantly. For the time being, however, Sharon is more or less satisfied with the cabinet he has. Labor can only hold the thankless task of being an understudy, ready to step into the cabinet should it be deserted by some of the present coalition partners.
In fact, it is the threat of Labor stepping in which serves to keep the parties of the extreme right in a cabinet that is -- at least verbally -- committed to the creation of a Palestinian state. In acrid debates held among the settlers and their friends, the supporters of staying on in the cabinet repeatedly state: "Don't worry, Sharon doesn't really mean it", while more pessimistic settlers retort: "He is already on the slippery slope, he will not be able to stop."
To despair or not to despair
The same debate, or rather its mirror image, is what we nowadays face, in the peace movement with all its groups and organizations. After two years in which we had very little hope -- mostly just a dogged determination to go on resisting, whatever the odds -- how much hope, how many expectations can we afford to invest in this newly-launched process in which a central role is played by such characters as Sharon and Bush?
Some among us can see no reason at all for even a glimpse of hope. They see a Sharon who bestrides Israeli politics with no real challenge, and whose aim is to lock the Palestinians into narrow Bantustans and call them a state. They see a narrow-minded Bush, whose occupation of Iraq copies the methods that Sharon used in Palestine, and who will soon face an elections campaign in which he will need the support of the powerful Israeli Lobby (and of the Christian Fundamentalists).
They conclude that Sharon will achieve his aim through settlements that will be neither frozen nor dismantled, and through the Wall whose construction would be completed in one way or another. They see the two-state solution finally made impossible, and turn to the vision of a bi-national state where the two peoples would one day live together in peace and amity. They turn to it -- not in the expectation that it could become real any time soon, but because when you gird yourself for a long, long, dogged struggle with very little concrete hope, a beautiful strong vision can help sustain you.
But not all of us are willing to give in to despair. Conflicts that seemed as intractable as that between Israelis and Palestinians have been resolved before, and peoples whose plight seemed worse then that of the Palestinians finally gained their liberty (The East Timorese, to mention just one recent example). Quite often it happened through dubious processes presided over by politicians acting out of opportunistic motives.
One might remark the deep-seated war weariness that was so instrumental in bringing about the Hudna, and the fact that by all polls Israelis in their great majority -- including most of Sharon's voters -- are ready to make deep concessions for peace (far greater then what Sharon seems right now to consider).
One may argue that when Sharon speaks of "a Palestinian State" and "an end to the Occupation" he means something with a very limited territorial scope -- but most of his voters are not so aware of such distinctions and nuances, and they might take such terms to mean something quite different. In short: Sharon might be in spite of himself preparing the public opinion to concessions that he personally does not intend.
Looking further out, one might note that, while diplomatic formulas always reflect cynical power interests, such formulas can gain some power in themselves. The fact of a complete international consensus that the Two States Solution is the appropriate way to solve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is not without meaning.
Also, having placed so many of its soldiers in harm's way at volatile Iraq, the US could hardly afford to have an uncontrolled new outbreak among Palestinians, which would certainly reflect on the Iraqi situation. The row over the course of the Wall seems to indicate that Bush's vision of the borders of the future
Palestine might not chime in with Sharon's.
And, not to forget the ultimate argument: if the Palestinians are not broken by their extreme hardship, who are we to give up now the only solution in which we can believe as a reality.
Focus of struggle against Wall
Saturday, May 3 -- some two hundred Israeli demonstrators arrived at the approaches to the village of Mes'ha in the Qalqilya District of the West Bank. What had been two and a half years ago a bustling highway is now completely blocked off by two piles of earth, at a distance of some fifty metres from each other, making it impossible to get by car in or out of the town -- the same kind of barrier as could be found at the entrance of virtually every Palestinian community in the West Bank, from tiny hamlets to big cities.
The official reason is that "if the movement of all Palestinians is hampered, the movement of suicide bombers will also be hampered." The unofficial reason is the assumption that disrupting the Palestinians' daily life would bring them to their knees. Neither reason seems to be working.
Nevertheless, the siege continues, and the earthen barriers have already been at the entrance to Mes'ha long enough to sprout a lot of vegetation. Incongruously, on the bit of asphalt between the two mounds there are several supermarket shopping carts, placed here for the benefit of villagers who need to traverse this strip while carrying heavy luggage.
By such practical devices, the people of Mes'ha manage to slightly ameliorate their daily life. But now, a still heavier burden is about to descend -- the wall that Sharon is in the process of constructing through the West Bank, officially "the Separation Barrier" hereabouts known as The Apartheid Wall or just The Wall. Whatever the name, it has become the most important fact of life for these thousands of villagers -- since its planned course in this area will leave the houses of Mes'ha on one side and some 98% of the town's agricultural lands on the other.
It is The Wall that has brought here the three busloads of Israeli activists from Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem. Over the past three weeks it had already brought an increasing number of Israelis and internationals, as well as Palestinians from other locations, to the ongoing protest encampment erected near the site where the wall is being erected.
The earthen piles make it impossible for the buses to get anywhere near the place. It would have to be a considerable walk. Making a virtue of necessity, this walk was made into a demonstrative procession. Crossing the barriers (there was only a token force of five or six soldiers) the Israelis find a crowd of Palestinian villagers already waiting, with a sprinkling of the internationals who had been here for quite some time.
Together they form a colorful mixture: the emblems of half a dozen Israeli peace groups; the conspicuous two-flag signs of Gush Shalom; the shirts of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees recognizable by the green tree in a circle -- and worn also by internationals and Israelis; the competing red flags of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Palestinian People's Party; Fatah supporters bearing the national Palestinian Red-Green-White-Black and among them youngsters in the shirts of European Anarchist groups. One woman has a rather worn shirt with Down with the Occupation in Hebrew, English and Arabic ("I am wearing this in every demonstration since 1988 and will continue to do it until the end of the occupation").
To the front, big signs are unfurled: 'Israelis and Palestinians Together Against Occupation'; Gush Shalom's 'The Apartheid Wall -- Prison for Palestinians, Ghetto for Israelis', the black triangular 'Oppression of Palestinians is Our Oppression' of Kvisa Schora.
Slogans are constantly exchanged and translated back and forth between Hebrew and Arabic: Settlers Go Home -- Two States for Two Peoples -- Liberty for the Palestinian People -- A Different Future Without Wars -- No Killings of Civilians, Jewish or Arab.
As we walk through the town's main street, there are smiling and welcoming faces. Little boys dart into the crowd with bottles of cold water, very needed under the blazing sun. A participating Israeli farmer takes out a nylon bag full of fresh fruit and hands it to one of the boys, and soon the fruit is also distributed by many little hands to the marchers.
Out of the last houses and into the fields and olive orchards. There is no shadow here at all, and the chanting is slackening. Going up and down several hills, and there it is: a white strip, dozens of meters in width, cutting through the whole landscape north to south. Three months ago, there were hundreds of olive trees over there, now gone without a trace. Three months from now, approaching it might invite an immediate shot from a guard tower. At this moment, the Wall itself has not yet been erected in this sector and it is still possible to cross the strip of devastation.
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On the other side, the side that will become inaccessible once the Wall goes up, is the protest encampment: four large tents, one used as kitchen and the other giving shelter to some twenty activists who come forth to greet us. Many of them are wearing a specific T-shirt with the picture of an enormous bulldozer destroying olive trees. All around is an exhibition of many such photographs, documenting in minute detail the ongoing ravage. No less than three groups of international activists are present: the well-known ISM; the women of IWPS; and also the Ecumenical Accompaniers sponsored by the World Council of Churches.
A young villager provides a kind of guided tour, and we follow him to the top of a nearby hill. "Over there is where the Wall will go up. And when you look where I point now, you can see how much land it will
take away from us. Further on in that direction, where you see the houses with the red roofs, that is the settlement Etz Ephraim. The settlement Elkana, which is bigger, is hidden by that hill. Both of these settlements were also built on Mes'ha land, we lost very much when they were built. Then we gradually lost more, we lost very many olive trees that are near the settlements. The army does not let us go there, and the settlers harvest our olives. The trees that are here in this hill, these we did harvest this year, but when the Wall will cut us off the settlers will have them all."
The rally starts, with a big rock serving as improvised podium. Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom calls for a moment of silence to commemorate Rachel Corrie. Afterwards he describes in detail what he calls The Big Con Game: "The Israeli public is told that here is being built a security fence to protect us against suicide bombers. If it had been built along the Green Line, the old border, that would have been somehow plausible. When we see that it is snaking around deep inside the West Bank, curving here and there to contain all the settlements, it is clear that this is just one more device for stealing Palestinian land."
"The Sharon who builds this Wall has nothing to offer the Palestinian people, except for killing and murder and robbing of land," Suhil Salman of the Palestinian People's Party exclaims, and Razaq Abu Naser of the Democratic Front adds: "23 percent of the whole West Bank are going to be consumed by this Wall, and this 23 percent includes 80 percent of the fertile land; 80 percent of the water sources."
He is followed by two internationals: Karen of IWPS ("Thirteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall; nine years after the fall of Apartheid in South-Africa") and Allison of the ISM ("The Israeli government and army threaten to expel us, but we will persist in our mission of solidarity").
Prof. Tanya Reinhart spoke of "the junta of the army generals and the ex-general ministers, who treat us to the myth of 'liberating' the land, liberating it from its inhabitants." Aharon Shabtai read his poem 'My heart' written during the big invasion a year ago: "(...) The roadside corpse that help couldn't reach, the empty oxygen tanks at the clinic in Nablus."
"Our land is our honor. We want to live in peace with Israel. Suicide bombings are not our way, but how can anybody expect us to live in peace when our land is stolen, our trees uprooted, the last piece of bread taken from the mouths of our children?" cried Nabih Shalabi, representative of the directly affected farmers, holding a sign in Arabic and Hebrew: The Wall: Over my dead body! Not on my land! [AK]
The story of Nazeeh
In the following Oren Medicks writes about the experience of being months long part of the Mes'ha Protest Tent community. A series of photos appears on www.gush-shalom.org whose webmaster he is.
Perhaps you need to be an Israeli in order to appreciate fully the improbability of the following situation:
A group of Israelis, Palestinians and international peace activists, living together in an olive grove deep inside Palestinian territory.
Palestinians and Israelis searching together for firewood at night, preparing information boards during the day, or washing dishes -- pouring a very careful trickle from a battered old coke bottle, because running water is unavailable. Sitting quietly next to each other on the short shifts of guard duty -- in apprehension, not of each other but of a possible raid by the Israeli army.
The average Israeli would shudder with a reflex vision of some murderous scenario. Being in the middle of "Intifada-land" in the middle of the night? Surrounded by Palestinians? With no soldier in sight to protect you? Very few of us would dream of doing such a mad thing. Two months ago, even those Israelis who were on that hill could not fully grasp that that was actually where they were.
As often happens, the camp started as something quite different.
Three months ago, Nazeeh, a farmer from the Palestinian village of Mes'ha, received a confiscation order, issued by the Israeli authorities.
According to the order, 95% of his land was to be confiscated in order to build the Separation Fence. (The Separation Fence was marketed to the Israeli public as a reasonable security measure, meant to separate Palestinians from Israelis -- but in reality, the only separation it offers is between Palestinians and their land.)
A father of seven, Nazeeh realized immediately that the confiscation order spelled doom for himself and his family. With no land and no way either to leave the village or make a living within it, how could he feed his family?
As people who live in free countries, living where we choose, moving freely from place to place -- it is incredibly difficult to imagine the terrible feeling of impotence, frustration and loss. Of being absolutely powerless in the face of a force capable of playing with your life at will, a force that actually wants you gone.
With these heavy feelings and thoughts, Nazeeh looked at his poor options:
The legal way was there, but he knew very well how little were the chances for a Palestinian appealing for Israeli justice. Besides, who could afford the attempt?
A demonstration? What's the point? It would be scattered immediately by volleys of rubber bullets, in the best case -- live ammunition in the worst; and all those who participated would pay dearly.
Appeal to media attention? No one is interested in the story of another miserable Palestinian.
Nazeeh, a man who is used to working 16 hours a day, whose feet are as hard as wood from walking bare-foot in his olive grove since the age of five, could not contain his sorrow, frustration and anger.
He set out to his grove, to be with his olive trees for as long as he could.
He told his wife: "Don't wait for me. I have days,
perhaps weeks, till the bulldozers erase my olive trees. I want to spend this time in the grove." He took some water, a small bag of coffee and sugar, and two boxes of cheap, home made cigarettes, and left for the grove.
Gradually, the story of Nazeeh started going around in the village, and then seeped out, through the roadblocks, to international peace activists in a nearby village -- and from there to Israeli peace activists.
Slowly at first, people started coming. At first just to visit, and then -- to stay. Within a few days, a little tent was erected in the grove.
Very soon, the tent turned into a protest tent against the occupation. People created information boards with photos and maps. Media representatives started coming. Nazeeh's tent became a story. Till now, two months later, Nazeeh has not left the grove for more than a few hours.
Some 500 Israelis and international peace activists already had the experience of spending there a night or more -- a night that might change their outlook forever.
'Next year in Mes'ha'
One of those who spent time at the Mes'ha tent camp is the U.S. peace and environmental activist known as Starhawk. The following is extracted from a longer description she wrote. Full text at www.starhawk.org.
(...) To be at Mes'Ha is to be on the absolute edge of the conflict. The roadblock that separates the village from the settlement is the divide between two realities.
I got from Tel Aviv to Elkana on the settlers' bus, full of elderly women and men who could have been my aunts and uncles and a few young people, everyone wishing each other Hag Sameach (Happy holiday -- for Passover). We drove through the settlement to let people off and I got a tour of what looks like a transplanted Southern California suburb, complete with lush gardens and new houses, all with an aura of prosperity and complacent security -- provided by armed guards and razor wire and the Israeli military.
The landscaping featured olive trees in the street dividers. I suspected they had been transplanted from some farmer's stolen fields -- the Palestinians' livelihood turned into a decorative element of the settlements.
From the Elkanah settlement, I walked down the road a few hundred yards and climbed over the roadblock designed to keep Palestinians out. And then, I was in Me'sha, a dusty village of old stone and new cement houses and shuttered shops, backing onto open hillsides of ancient olives.
The tent camp at Mes'Ha is on a knoll, two pink tents set up in an olive grove on stony ground studded with wildflowers, yellow broom, and prickly pear.
The olives give shade and sometimes a backrest. If you look in one direction, the groves are spread out below the hilltop for miles of a soft gray green with blue hills in the background and small villages beyond. But encircling the hill, and cutting a gray swath across the hillsides, is the zone of destruction, a wide band of uprooted trees and bare subsoil. There, a giant backhoe is wallowing like some giant, prehistoric beast, grabbing and crushing stones, gouging the earth, filling the air with dust and the mechanical bellowing of its engines.
A young man is sitting under a tree as I arrive, writing on stones with a black marker. He's a farmer, he tells me. In Arabic, he writes, 'Don't cut the trees.' He thinks for a moment, and adds another graceful line.
I ask him to translate. He gives me a sweet smile, and points to the ground. 'What is this?' 'Earth?' I ask, not knowing if he means earth or land or soil. 'The earth speaks Arabic,' he tells me.
As the full moon rises, I lie on the stones and meditate. I am hoping to find some peace or healing, but the earth is tortured here and all I can feel is her anguish, down and down, through layers and centuries and epochs.
I catch some sleep, then I am woken up at three to take my shift on watch. I sit by the fire, exhausted, and finally drift back into sleep, waking again in the morning feeling sick at heart.
But people begin to arrive, for a midday meeting. The women from the IWPS, and the men from the village, and dozens of Israelis. We sit under the tent with its sides raised, talking about building an international campaign against the Wall. One of the men, a stonemason, makes miniature buildings out of the stones at our feet as we talk. "Maybe we can't stop it here," one man from the village says, "but maybe we can stop it in other places."
The Israelis who come are mostly young. They are anarchists and punks and lesbians and wild-haired students, and it strikes me that the mayor of Mes'Ha and the village leaders in a very socially conservative society might actually have more in common with the Orthodox Jews who hate them than with these wild social rebels. But the village accepts them all with good grace and a warm-hearted Palestinian welcome.
One woman is from the group Kvisa Schora, which requires a somewhat complicated three-way translation of a Hebrew play on words (it can mean Black Sheep or Dirty Laundry). She explains that it is a lesbian direct action group, and asks our translator if that's a problem. "Not for me," he says with a slightly quizzical shrug, and the meeting goes on.
Later we meet with the village women, who want to know if we can help them in any way. They are about to lose their source of livelihood -- is there anything we can do? We have a long discussion about what we do in the ISM, and promise to research organizations that do community development work. They are excited to learn that we watch checkpoints and help people get through them. Students from the village who go to the university often get stopped at the checkpoints, or have to walk round through the mountains. Maybe we can help them.
Back at the camp, all the young shabab -- the term for young, unmarried men -- have come out for the
evening. We sit around the fire while two of the men prepare us dinner, laughing and talking.
And suddenly I realize something wonderful is happening. The Israelis and the Palestinians talk to each other. Most of the young men speak Hebrew. They are hanging out around the fire and talking and telling stories, laughing and relaxing together. They are hanging out just like any group of young people around a fire at night, as if they weren't bitter enemies, as if it could really be this simple to live together in peace.(...)
Dorothy Naor wrote a reaction to the above and includes a remarkable experience on the way from Mes'ha to Herzliya, where she lives.
I second Starhawk's wish, Next year in Mes'ha. But unless a miracle occurs, Mes'ha won't refer to the camp. Today the contractor informed Nazeeh that next week the fence would begin going up, closing off the area in which the camp now stands, depriving Nazeeh of his land. I hope that we can have a large crowd there on the day/days that occurs, to witness what is happening.
Today the crew working on the road dynamited three times. We were informed, and duly escorted to an area safer but not entirely safe, as the third of the explosions showed: rocks showered over and around us. Fortunately none hit anyone. Following this the contractor posed, 'Did you see that?' and commented, 'You might know how to manage an intifada, but that's the way to throw rocks.' This is the same contractor that on the second day of the camp told those there 'to leave, because now this is Israeli land.'
As my spouse, our 18 year old grandson (who accompanied us today), and I were driving home from the camp at about 15:00, we saw 14 Palestinian men on the side of the highway being held by three soldiers, rifles extended. The men's belongings were strewn on the highway and the men were standing waiting. We stopped the car, and I walked closer to see what was happening. One of the soldiers ambled over to me and asked, not rudely, 'What do you want.' I informed him that I was from Machsom Watch (which I had been at one time), but that I did not have my credentials with me since I'd not planned on being on duty. He said he believed me.
I inquired about what was happening. He replied that the Palestinians claimed that they had been working in Ramallah all week, and were returning to their village; the soldiers were checking their belongings and their credentials, and that special care had to be taken due to the holiday. I asked how long he thought the process would take, and he said ten minutes.
I continued to stand there, saying nothing, but watching closely. In less than two minutes the Palestinians were told they could pick up their belongings, which they quickly did, stuffing them into their individual bags. The ID cards were returned, and in less than five minutes total they were walking up the hill to their village, smiling at me and saying 'shukran' (thanks).
I have no idea of how long they'd been standing or how much longer they would have stood. But I'm relatively sure that they were released sooner than had we not stopped to overlook what was occurring.
Once again, I echo Starhawk's sentiment: 'Next year in Mes'ha', and add, 'may it be in peace and without soldiers, for all.'
To be put on Dorothy's list: firstname.lastname@example.org
Meeting in Ramallah
"We welcome the increasing move towards Hudna and the chance to break the cycle of violence, bloodshed and killing of innocent Israelis and Palestinians -- but a cease-fire can be no more than one step in the right direction. A stable and lasting peace cannot be achieved without putting a complete end to the occupation that is the root cause of the hatred and bloodshed. Leaders, politicians and diplomats cannot be relied on to do the job alone. There is needed a daily struggle for peace, a grassroots struggle, a joint struggle of committed citizens from both sides, acting together."
The above sums up he mood among two hundred Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, public figures and intellectuals who gathered on the morning of June 28 in Ramallah on the West Bank, under auspices of the newly-founded Joint Action Group for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.
In order to get there, the Israeli participants had to find their way through the army roadblocks at the entrances to Ramallah. After several dozen Israelis mingled among Palestinian pedestrians at Kalandia Checkpoint on the south side of the city, soldiers blocked the entrance. The remaining activists, however, traveled by back roads and eventually made it to the conference hall.
A few hours later, when they were exiting the city, soldiers at Kalandia wrote down meticulously names and ID numbers, threatening the Israelis on their way home with prosecution for having broken a military order -- the three-year old decree forbidding Israelis from entering the Palestinian cities ("Area A").
"Our most important declaration is the fact that we are here, peace-seeking Israelis who came to meet peace-seeking Palestinians and speak of how we can work together. The government wants to prevent Israelis who desire peace from going into Ramallah; this is a privilege only of soldiers and settlers. But we are here to say to you, our Palestinian friends, that we are not enemies; that the joint enemy of all of us is the occupation, and the joint purpose -- peace between the state of Israel and the state of Palestine", said Dr Lev Grinberg of Ben-Gurion University.
"I am happy to receive and host here so many peace-seekers", said Hanan Ashrawi, one of the main Palestinian organizers. "The approach common to all of us here, to Israelis and Palestinians alike, is based on the concept of security -- not military security, but human security, creating mutual trust and recognizing the humanness of the other. Even the most difficult problems outstanding between the two peoples, such
as settlements, refugees and Jerusalem, must be squarely faced and equitably solved, rather than swept under the rug."
Uri Avnery, who had a central role in bringing about the conference, set out a list of proposals about what Palestinian and Israeli peace-seekers could do together. For example, a more systematic coordination between Israelis and Palestinians, for the holding of joint protest actions on immediate hot issues such as the Palestinian prisoners, the roadblocks cutting up the West Bank or the "Separation Wall".
He also mentioned the possibility of more ambitious long-term projects such as setting up a committee of experts to prepare a detailed Draft Peace Agreement, dealing with all the difficult issues, or creating a "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" on the model of the South-African body chaired by Bishop Desmond Tutu, with the aim of looking at the history of the past century and trying to formulate a version that both peoples can recognize.
"We want to confront the feeling of despair among both peoples, who totally lost the belief that there can be a different future. We want to tell both peoples that they have a partner for peace, that there is somebody to talk to", said Yehudith Har'el, a driving force behind this initiative for dialogue and cooperation. "From here, from Ramallah, we want to give a message to both our peoples. There is an alternative to the policy of occupation and bloodshed. An alternative based on recognizing each other's rights; of ending the occupation through evacuation of settlers and withdrawal of the army behind the '67 border. The refugee problem must come to a solution by agreement between the two sides, cooperation with the international community and basing itself on the relevant UN resolutions."
The principles enumerated by Har'el were in fact those set out in a new Israeli-Palestinian joint manifesto, which has already been signed by more than a thousand people and of which numerous copies in Hebrew, Arabic and English were on the stalls at the entrance to the hall (see TOI-107/8, p.26). Naim el-Ashab, who took part with Har'el in drafting the text, told of the numerous preparatory meetings between Palestinians and Israelis, starting from a small nucleus and gradually extending to more people on both sides until the final text was unveiled in big ads published in Ha'aretz and the Palestinian press.
Referring to recent political developments, he said: "The Road Map, originally created as a joint document of four international actors, is more and more usurped by a single one of the four -- and one that has been showing itself all too often as biased. This poses the danger of the whole thing being derailed.
We cannot leave everything in the hands of the politicians and the diplomats. We here, the peace-seekers on both sides, must monitor the actual implementation of the Road Map, see to it that it does get to its official stated purpose -- end of the occupation and creation of a viable Palestinian state that is the only way to achieve peace."
He concluded by calling for the stationing of international forces, to ensure disengagement between two sides that have shed so much of each other's blood in the past thousand days.
Former Knesset Member Tamar Gozanski had been delayed at the army roadblocks and arrived an hour late. "Sharon and Bush are trying to sell old merchandise in a new packing. They both know that the great majority even of Israelis is weary of war, occupation and bloodshed. Both of them know that it is impossible even to contemplate a solution without talking of 'creating a Palestinian state.' But their using this concept is emptying it of the original content. Sharon means to create Bantustans and call them a state. We have to start using new language, take care to be very precise about what we mean and not give up, for example, on the '67 borders."
Dr Gabi Baramki, former President of Bir-Zeit University, spoke of the two army roadblocks created at the Surda area between Ramallah and the town of Bir-Zeit, forcing students and lecturers to trek daily some two kilometers by foot, there and back. "This is a sadistic measure that serves no Israeli security need whatsoever. The only purpose is to make our life difficult, to make it more difficult to maintain the normal academic life of our university." Bir-Zeit students also spoke and took up the same point: Israeli activists, some of them students or lecturers themselves, expressed interest in the suggested joint protest at the Surda Roadblocks.
Whether or not it had anything to do with the wide circulation that reports of the conference got, two weeks later Sharon ordered removal of the Surda Roadblock, as a conspicuous gesture made ahead of the PM's visit to the White House.
A matter of right
In the following, Yehudith Harel & Amr El-Zant ponder the right of return and the struggle for truth.
The results of the recent poll conducted by Dr Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, in which the vast majority of polled Palestinian refugees did not express an interest in returning to what is now Israel, led one of us to recall a visit to three refugee camps in Jordan in 1996.
Except for a few, the nearly fifty refugees we talked to said that despite their attachment to their ancestral land, they did not, if given the choice, intend to go back to Israel. For them, the Palestine of old had disappeared, taking with it their villages and houses. Most of them preferred compensation in order not to resettle into a society not designed specifically for their sake, a society actively pursuing the purposes of another people. Indeed, the bitterness born of the realisation that one is irrelevant to the proposed grand design defining the country can only be aggravated by the knowledge that for many previous generations, it was the culture of one's ancestors that determined its identity.
Nevertheless, absolutely everybody said that they insisted on being given the option of repatriation, and would never accept to be "told" by Israel that they cannot return. The unanimous and adamant demand of recognising this right came out so forcefully that it made one stop and think hard about the phenomenon. And it was then and there that one came to realise what the right of return really meant for the Palestinians and that without its recognition there would never ever be any resolution to the conflict.
Among the many motivations behind this insistence is an important point of principle involving the symbolic content the refugees attach to any compensation they might get as part of a peaceful settlement. They require it to be viewed as their fundamental right being dispossessed former inhabitants of the land, and not as charity granted to them by Israel, out of "generosity and good will." This they could not accept. They would not allow their cause to be reduced to a "humanitarian case." This refusal is a sort of settling of accounts with the Zionist movement, which they hold responsible for the destruction of their society and heritage (all the while placing the blame entirely elsewhere) and for the rewriting of history in a way as to marginalize the importance of the destroyed communities.
For most Israelis the issue of the right of return evokes apocalyptic images of the "destruction of Israel." As shown by Shikaki's research, however, the recognition of the right of return is not about demographic warfare. It instead involves a conceptual struggle between competing narratives. The demand for recognising the right of return aims at penetrating the hegemonic status and the self-righteous and self-declared moral superiority of the Zionist movement over the moral and historical rights of the indigenous population. Israelis refuse to cede this precisely because they are not ready to admit their share of historical responsibility for the Palestinian tragedy.
When denying and negating the right of return, Israelis are protecting an interpretation of events that has become entangled with their own sense of identity. For what is up for destruction is not the country, but its implausible idealised reconstruction of its past. The danger is not embodied in a flood of refugees, but rather in a series of revisions of cherished beliefs. The return that is in fact feared is that of a haunted history.
It is the discrepancy between the acceptance by the refugees of the reality of the situation in Israel, and the absence of any conceptual modification of mainstream opinion in Israel, that may have enraged the mob that recently demonstrated against Shikaki. Neither ordinary Palestinians, nor the refugees, would allow the issue to go away unless their perspective of the events tied to the founding of the Jewish state is taken seriously.
Under no circumstances can they be converted to the Zionist reading of the events leading to the destruction of their society. For they know that in the absence of that movement they would have been, for better or for worse, masters of their own fate in their own state. The key to compromise is therefore recognition of this situation by those who won, whose plans actually materialised.
The recognition of unpleasant facts facilitates the advent of a less tormented future. While many Palestinians are ready to accept the reality of Israel, few can be forced to see justice in the fact, which is so intricately entangled, as to be inseparable from the processes that lead to their dispossession. They require that Israel view its peace proposals not in terms of "generous offers" but as minimal reparation for those who paid the price of its emergence.
Yehudith Harel is an Israeli peace activist and one of the founders of the recently formed Palestinian-Israeli Joint Action for Peace.
Amr El-Zant is an Egyptian physicist who was a research fellow at the Israel Institute of Technology (1996-2000), and a member of the Cairo Peace Society
[This was published July 28 in Ha'aretz English, and Aug. 7 in the Cairo-based Al Ahram Weekly.]
Harvest Against Violence
South Hebron Hills, June 14.
The threat of expulsion still hangs over the isolated Palestinian population of the South Hebron Hills. At the Supreme Court, there is a long drawn-out proceeding over the state's assertion that these villagers are "illegal interlopers" -- an outrageous claim since they have lived there for generations, but made in all seriousness and backed by all kinds of "evidence." Should the court rule against the villagers, the army would be free to carry out a total expulsion, leaving the settlers in complete possession of the area and facilitating its annexation to Israel.
While the Supreme Court judges dawdle, on the ground various acts of daily harassment are going on. Farmers are being shot at, to prevent them from working their land; children are attacked on their way to school; construction or development of any kind is completely banned; isolated khirbehs (hamlets) are subjected to "visits" from soldiers and settlers. (In many cases, these two groups seem nearly one and the same, since units such as the Lavi Regiment contain a disproportionate number of settler recruits.)
On a certain night in early June, Lavi soldiers targeted the tiny village of Twaneh. They entered late at night, riding their jeeps and making a terrifying racket, woke up the villagers and marched them into the nearby wadi while wantonly destroying property. The company commander then informed the villagers that they were forbidden to have any further contact with "Israeli leftists", stating: "If these people come here again, throw stones at them -- then we will leave you alone."
But the villagers did not want to throw stones at Israeli peaceniks. After the soldiers left, they called the Ta'ayush movement, whose members are regularly coming there, told what happened and asked for a group to come again, and in greater numbers then before.
So it was that on Saturday morning, June 14, not long after dawn, hundreds of Israeli peace activists from all over the country left their homes in order to join the Twaneh villagers.
That Saturday marked the end of a gory week: a suicide bombing in the center of Jerusalem had followed upon two "targeted" assassinations of Palestinian leaders in Gaza -- altogether leaving behind a long list of innocent Palestinian and Israeli victims. Especially at a time like this, we felt it important to demonstrate solidarity with our Palestinian friends. With black flags on every vehicle, we drove towards Twaneh.
Approximately one kilometer past the Green Line soldiers and the border police barred our way with an improvised roadblock. They had been waiting for our arrival. Their commander told us that the area had been declared "a closed military zone" and told us to turn around and leave immediately. However, he could not show the appropriate legal warrant -- which did not prevent his soldiers from continuing to bar our way, while at the same time waving settler cars through. A closed military zone -- closed to peace activists only.
Following repeated demands on our part to see the warrant, the officer announced that his superior -- Lieutenant-Colonel Yehuda, in command of the Lavi Regiment, would soon arrive to show it. After waiting about half an hour we decided that as long as we were being blocked, settler cars would not pass either. Accordingly we sat on the road, blocking it to all traffic.
At this point the local officer allowed four activists to drive on to the next checkpoint, where the elusive Colonel Yehuda was to be found. He did duly present a written order declaring the road on which we had been traveling to be "a closed military zone" for the twenty-four hour beginning at 8:00 AM on June 14.
In fact, he had a whole collection of such warrants, covering each and every alternative road that we might have chosen. Still, he was open to some negotiation, especially since we were still blocking the road to settler traffic.
"My job is to prevent a violent collision between peace activists and settlers" said the Colonel. Our representatives assured him that they had no wish for any such confrontation, and their entire wish was to help the villagers harvest a wheat field under their full ownership, but where Palestinian farmers had often been harassed by the inhabitants of the nearby Maon Settlement.
After lengthy negotiations, the Colonel permitted two Ta'ayush cars to pass through. He announced that there was no restriction on harvesting the field and even promised that his soldiers would safeguard the harvesters. Despite the fact that 150 activists had come from their homes with the specific intention of reaching the village, meet the people, and help with the harvest, we decided to compromise -- hoping that the Palestinians would finally get an opportunity to harvest their field. They had been waiting a month and a half, and in a few weeks it would be too late.
Among the passengers in the chosen two vehicles were the well-known authors David Grossman and Meir Shalev, who had joined the convoy. The rest of the cars drove to Jimba, a Palestinian cave dwellers' community located further south, who are also victims of ongoing settler harassment, blocking their access to water wells and fields.
Meanwhile, at Twaneh our Palestinian friends greeted the activists. Since the tent where we gather every week had been knocked down by the Lavi soldiers during their raid, the meeting took place under the open sky. The villagers told that they had been preparing for the harvest since early that morning, and that the soldiers together with the supervisor from the military government's Civil Administration had limited the harvest to those patches of land furthest away from Maon Settlement -- which contradicted the promise made earlier by the regiment commander.
But even that more limited harvest was to be cut off at the very outset. Just as Palestinians and Israelis started work, a group of settlers came running down from Maon, led by the settlement's Rabbi, shouting curses and threats and with many of them waving their guns. Thereupon, the soldiers immediately ordered the harvesters off the field, in total disregard of all previous pledges. As is usually the case in the South Hebron hills, it is the violent law-breakers who get military protection.
At least, the presence of the two writers ensured far more media attention than such actions usually get -- and the Ta'ayush activists immediately began plans for coming back on the following Saturday.
www.taayush.org - email@example.com
On Monday, July 14, some 25 activists from different groups protested by the courthouse in Haifa, while inside proceedings were taking place regarding the state's demand to destroy the paved road constructed on August 2001 during the Ta'ayush work camp at the "unrecognized" village of Dar-Al Hanun. Located at the predominantly Arab region of Wadi Ara in northern Israel, Dar-Al Hanun is one of many Arab villages whose existence is not recognized by the government and that consequently are denied basic services.
When some of the demonstrators wanted to enter the courthouse, they were stopped at the entrance and told that those participating in the vigil would not be allowed in -- a grave violation of the right to a public trial. Only after pressure applied to the court secretariat were some allowed in.
Inside the courtroom Adv. Abu-Husain, the villagers' lawyer, was putting searching questions to Mr. Korman of the Haifa District Planning and Building Committee. Korman claimed that several proposed zoning plans for Dar Al-Hanun, presented over the past years, had been rejected out of hand because of "technical faults."
However, when asked by the judge whether a technically perfect plan for Dar Al-Hanun would have gotten a hearing, Korman stated that "in general, the policy of the District Committee is not to approve new villages." The statement aroused some
ironic laughter from the audience, considering the fact that Dar Al-Hanun has been in existence for nearly 80 years, as well as in view of the fact that quite near that village construction had just began of a new community - intended for Jewish habitation.
The session ended inconclusively, and the proceedings seem destined to last for a considerable further period. For the time being, at least, the people of Dar-Al Hanun can continue enjoying the use of their road.
Gush Shalomers removed from courtroom
July 14, at the Tel-Aviv District Court: the trial of Marwan Barghouti -- member of the Palestinian Parliament, secretary general of the Fatah Movement in the West Bank, and one of the most influential of Palestinian leaders, now standing accused of heinous terrorist acts.
Arriving long before the trial's start, we still found ourselves barred from the hall where it was to take place. We, that is: some twenty Gush Shalom activists of all ages (pensioners & students -- who else is free during such hours?) as well as a huge number of cameras & journalists (no less frustrated!). Instead, we were all led to another hall, on another flour, where we would be able to follow the proceedings on a closed-circuit video screen.
Soon, we decided to take from our pockets and unfold the pieces of paper that we had prepared for the moment that Barghouti would be led in. Each bore the same slogan, printed and enlarged earlier that morning on the Gush copying machine. The cameras happily turned away from the video screen to focus on our live slogans: Barghouti -- Negotiate With Him; Don't Jail Him.
Most of the signs were soon snatched out of our hands and torn to pieces by the furious security guards -- which only made the scene more media-genic. And the journalists followed us when we were violently ejected from the room and "escorted" by guards all the way down (five stairs), meanwhile chanting 'Release Barghouti, Release the Prisoners!' Uri Avnery, who was among the "rioters" told journalists: "Release of prisoners would create an enormous good will. And Barghouti, who helped the cease-fire come about, could do so much more if he were out."
Just beyond the doorstep we reorganized and pulled out spare signs, to form a picket line. Only then did we see what had happened to activist (and "new historian") Teddy Katz, who got wounded in the turmoil and had to go to the nearby Ichilov Hospital to have a toenail removed.
Meanwhile our little action appeared already on the radio and in the media internet versions -- to be shown later on the TV news, in Israel and even several places abroad.
We had only gotten a glimpse of the legal proceedings themselves. As on previous occasions, Barghouti refused to offer any defence to the charges of terrorism leveled against him, declaring: "This is the occupier's court, where I stand no chance of a fair trial. The verdict was already written down before the court ever convened, and nothing I could do or say will change it."
In proof, Barghouti cited a declaration of Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein -- who had recently labeled Barghouti "an architect of mass-murdering terrorism", without waiting to hear the judges' verdict.
Presiding Judge Sara Sorota also expressed sharp criticism of Rubinstein's comments, which "constituted sub judice, as Barghouti has not yet been convicted of any charges." The judge's comments immediately filled the airwaves -- answered by a statement from Rubinstein's office, to the effect that "Rubinstein's comments were made to the prime minister in the context of the A.G.'s efforts to prevent Barghouti being released as part of a political or diplomatic deal." [BZ]
Gush Shalom, pob 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033
'You are guarding a ghetto!'
In spite of the wall, a joint protest
July 31. 'Kodem Kol, Hachoma Tippol' (first of all, the wall must fall!). That was the chant of peace activists at the demonstration against the Apartheid Wall, called jointly by the public organizations of Palestinian Qalqilya, the Israeli Gush Shalom and the international ISM.
It was days after Sharon offered to transfer the town of Qalqilya to the control of the Palestinian Authority. But there had been no suggestion of removing the walls and fences that surround the city on nearly all sides, leaving only a single narrow exit. "Once a thriving commercial center for its entire region, our city has been reduced to destitution" said Qalqilya Mayor Ma'aruf Zaharan in his speech.
In the morning, Zaharan and hundreds of his townspeople marched from the town center up to the Wall, holding flags and banners, accompanied by a sizeable contingent of internationals. On the way some youngsters managed to decorate the wall with various kinds of graffiti. Finally, they arrived at a point on the southern side of the city -- the predetermined rendezvous, where a barred gate makes it possible to see the other side. At this particular moment, what they could see through was the arrival of the Israeli contingent.
It was a heterogeneous group -- veteran activists who had been involved since 1967 (even before) rubbing shoulders with energetic young anarchists. There were internationals on the Tel-Aviv bus, citizens of such disparate countries as the US, Denmark and Poland -- including a Vietnam War veteran turned peace activist, who the night before piloted a jet plane on its flight from New York to Tel-Aviv. "Tonight I am due at Ben Gurion Airport to take her back, but the hours in between are mine to do with as I choose" he said.
The Israelis spread out in a long line, facing the wall with banners: The Wall -- a Ghetto for Israelis, a Prison for Palestinians / The Green Line -- Border of Peace / Where there are walls, there is no peace.
The Palestinians with their waving flags were clearly visible, some twenty meters opposite. They heard the greetings in Arabic made to them on the megaphone by historian Teddy Katz, and answered in kind.
Sandwiched in between was a large force of soldiers, brought in to ensure that the two bodies of demonstrators would find no way of coming together. The young Itay Rotstein of Tel-Aviv took the megaphone to address them directly:
'Soldiers, did you give any thought to what you are doing here? Do you realize that you are guarding a ghetto - yes, a ghetto? Do you realize that you are holding tens of thousands of people prisoner, preventing farmers from cultivating their land, preventing merchants from having customers, driving a whole population down to poverty and misery? Can you look yourselves in the mirror?'.
The soldiers looked on impassively, making no overt reaction. For their part, Rotstein's fellows burst out chanting: Not a fence but a ghetto, not soldiers but prison guards! and Refuse, Refuse, Refuse!
"There is a semantic debate about whether to call this thing in front of us 'wall' or 'fence', since physically it is a bit of both" said Uri Avnery. "But as to its function, the best term might be 'noose'. A strangling noose around Qalqilya, around all Palestinians, around the neck of all of us in this country and this region, a direct threat to all our hopes for peace."
Towards the end of the demonstration, the military commander on the spot relented to the extent of allowing a single Palestinian to cross the closely guarded gate and present a message to the Israeli participants. The worthy officer gave his consent to such a radical step only reluctantly, at first declaring that it would constitute too much of a security risk (which declaration was greeted by jeering remarks from the demonstrators).
The young woman was allowed to spend only a few minutes on the Israeli side, before being escorted by soldiers back into her beleaguered city -- just long enough to say a few words, hand over a hastily scribbled message of thanks and solidarity, and receive an enormous cheer from everybody present.
+++ On the way back to Tel-Aviv: listening to the radio and, yes, the action got mentioned. (Later, both TV channels had it in their news, First Channel actually picking up the "ghetto" theme in the questions put to a former officer appearing as a security expert). But the same broadcast also carried the news that the Knesset now definitely voted into law a regulation that makes it impossible for an Israeli citizen to bring a Palestinian marriage partner over to live in Israel. This measure will force many Israeli citizens, especially Arab ones, to choose between leaving the country and living a clandestine life. One more struggle to wage, one more in injustice on top of so many...
Meanwhile, just as the bus was entering Tel-Aviv, an urgent phone call: the District Court was just about to hold a hearing on the cases of two internationals, who arrived yesterday, were denied entry and had spent the night at the far from comfortable Airport Detention Cells. The bus was immediately diverted to the court building on Weitzman Street, and some 25 activists went in -- encountering some suspicion from security guards, but finally getting to the third floor just in time to fill the courtroom benches as the proceedings started.
Judge Tzippora Baron expressed surprise how these hardly arrived detainees got so many friends together. "Your presence will have no influence whatever on the court's decision!" she sternly warned. Then, the state representative started her case with the usual line -- the ISM is "supporting terrorism", "obstructing the security forces" etc. etc., and the presence of any of its members in the country is a manifest threat.
Defense advocates Gabi Laski and Yoni Lerman riposted: "My learned colleague is talking as if the International Solidarity Movement is an illegal organization. It is not. There are procedures laid down in the law of this country to ban an organization, procedures that have been invoked on many different occasions. The government did not see fit to invoke them against the ISM. So, we are not dealing with members of a banned organization, we are dealing with two men concerned with human rights, whose concern brought them to this country.
David Watson is not at all a member of the ISM. When he was here in March, he spent several days as a volunteer in the ISM office, as he did with several other peace and human rights groups. That's all. Michael Shaik is indeed an ISM member. He had acted as the organization's media coordinator, talking to journalists and providing them information to be published -- which is a perfectly legitimate activity in a democratic country." ("He publicized dangerous provocations against our soldiers!" interjected the prosecution representative.)
Then, the plain-clothes man who had introduced himself as an "Adviser from the Prime Minister's Office" and who had refused to give his name, asked the court for permission to introduce Secret Evidence. The request was granted, and all of us -- spectators, defense lawyers and the two prospective deportees - were bundled out to the anteroom. We used the intermission to talk with David and Michael and exchange anecdotes and jokes. Then back into the hall, and the judge announced tersely: "The verdict will be given on Sunday, until which time the two men will remain in custody." As the police took them to the special prisoners' elevator, we all waved.
P.S. In the event Judge Baron, in the immeasurable goodness of her heart, allowed David Watson to stay in the country while approving the deportation of Michael Shaik.
Gush Shalom: pob 3322, Tel-Aviv; www.gush-shalom.org
Open the gate!
Direct action by farmers and peace activists
Last year, when in preparation of the Separation Fence land confiscation orders had been handed to farmers in dozens of Palestinian villages, the villagers appealed to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. The judges accepted the state's position that the Fence was "a vital security need" and rejected the Palestinians' appeals but the state was obliged to maintain 26 "agricultural gates" through which farmers could get to their lands on the other side.
However, as the Fence/Wall was erected Palestinians found out (to no surprise) that passage through the gates was often problematic.
The village of Anin, in the northeastern corner of the West Bank, was especially hard-hit; the gate leading to their fields and olive groves was kept most often barred in their faces.
The action that took place on July 27 went beyond an ordinary demonstration, and was a response to weeks of frustration. In the morning, some 300 villagers set out towards the fence with its locked gate. In the van, shielding the Palestinians from the army ahead, were some thirty internationals of the ISM, and a similar number of Israelis from Ta'ayush and other groups, who had arrived at the location via long winding side-roads, which the army had filled with large broken boulders.
Chanting 'Free, Free Palestine' and 'Stop the hate/Open the Gate' the activists marched up to the razor wire and the huge barred gate. On the other side, the soldiers were waiting, with their armoured personnel carriers.
Within a minute, activists were shaking the gate, while other pulled wire cutters from their pockets and were cutting open the lock and getting to work on the wire of the gate itself. The officer in command on the far side was not slow in reacting: the soldiers immediately opened up.
"I have never been in such a situation" told ISM volunteer Greta Berlin, of Los Angeles.
"The first noise bomb went off right in front of us. Then tear gas, then more noise bombs, then more tear gas, this time aimed directly into the crowd of internationals and Israel peace activists. As we crouched and covered our ears, the first international was hit, Andrew shot in the stomach with a rubber bullet. Then, seconds later, Thomas was shot in the back as he clung to the side of the gate, its outward swing turning him toward the soldiers, and making him a conspicuous target. I and another international walked quickly toward Thomas, to see if he was OK, and the Army shot directly in front of me, a rubber bullet grazing my right calf. On the side, the media shot footage as fast as they could. After all, If it bleeds, it leads...
Within five minutes, the gate was open and five of us were wounded with rubber bullets. Kelly was wounded in the back as he tried to carry away Sam, who had been shot twice in the leg as he tried to pull the onerous gate down. Five wounded, tear gas now being shot directly into the seventy of us, so we pulled back.
Still, the gate stood open, and it was repaired only several days later; no Palestinians were harmed (had we not been there, the army might have used live bullets); and the scenes were picked up on TV screens all over the world."
Anin, act 2: on the morning of Saturday, August 16, over 200 activists answered the call of Ta'ayush -- made via phone, email and an ad in Ha'aretz. They met at the Israeli Arab village of Arara, from which they drove to the lands from which the Anin villagers are cut off by the fence. Army and police tried to block the way, but the activists quickly descended from the buses and entered the Anin olive groves.
On the other side of the fence, some four hundred villagers were approaching, accompanied by a contingent of internationals -- but the army denied them access.
That was the beginning of three exhausting hours of negotiations, in an open field fully exposed to the summer sun. "You can come back in October, when the trees are ready" a young soldier told the Palestinian negotiating team. The level of that soldier's agricultural training is as yet unconfirmed.
Meanwhile, however, the Ta'ayush people began the work of clearing the land beneath the olive trees, a necessary preliminary towards the approaching olive-picking season. The work is not especially complicated, and the city-dwelling activists received a short instruction from Arabs familiar with what is needed in olive groves.
And behind the restored barred gate, the negotiations finally concluded with the military allowing a token delegation of 12 Anin farmers, accompanied by two TV crews, to get access to their own fields.
After shaking hands with the Israeli activists, the Mayor of Anin declared: "We will not cease our demands because we have been thrown a small bone. We will continue until our right to our own land is recognized."
Ta'ayush: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.taayush.org
Will the bulldozers come today?
After a respite of some months, bulldozers are again at homes of the Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, demolishing and destroying everything in their way. An absurd and discriminative set of complicated and confusing rules, regulations and resident-unfriendly zoning leave many East Jerusalem Palestinians with little choice but to build "illegally."
Nor did the East Jerusalemers (or anybody else) get any relief from the government of Israel officially adopting "The Road Map", which unequivocally stipulates that "GOI (Government of Israel) will take no actions undermining trust, including (...) confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property, either as a punitive measure or in order to facilitate Israeli construction." In fact, precisely in the months
after the official adoption of the Road Map, the threat to many Palestinian homes increased.
On July 29, an urgent email appeal was circulated by Rabbis for Human Rights: We urgently need your help! In the past two weeks, the Ministry of the Interior is handing out large numbers of home demolition orders in various East Jerusalem neighborhoods -- Beit Hanina, Sur Baher, Jabel Mukaber and Shuafat.
The list that we have been able to put together, and that might not be complete, already includes 45 demolition orders -- some handed out, others delivered orally. Some families have succeeded in receiving stays of execution, but at least seven are already in direct and immediate danger, and many more could get to that condition soon.
We are exploring every possible avenue to stop these demolitions, such as lobbying, a letter-writing campaign and legal action. But starting on August 1, we also need activists willing to stay the night in threatened homes, or at least come there in the hours when bulldozers are most likely to come.
+++ Victoria Buch, long-time activist provided an account of 'bulldozer-watch' on Tuesday, August 5.
Today we again spent a morning in the home of Khader, a Beit Hanina resident. Like its neighbors, the house is subject to a "ticking" demolition order. Bulldozers may come on any of the mornings this month. Our group consists of Jerusalem left wing and human rights activists -- Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights, Jeff Halper of ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions) and people from other organizations. The group has come every day since Sunday, before sunrise, and has been waiting with Khader for a few hours: Will the bulldozers come today?
So: we arrive early in the morning. Cars are parked near a silent clump of houses, we trot in the darkness to a rickety entrance of Khader's house. Khader opens the door. He tells me later he has not slept normally for the last year and a half. "It is like if you know you have cancer -- the thought does not let you sleep, really." His eyes are red. People come to stay with him through these terrible nights. Last time the elderly in-laws were present. This time -- a young friend.
Coffee is served and plans made for passive resistance, should the bulldozers come today. Khader notes my disposable camera and asks me to photograph the house. Taking photos has a ritualistic quality -- Khader with Arik and Jeff in the living room; Khader with the group. Khader calls Arik "my father", which is weird since Khader is older. Then a guided tour of the house -- I with a camera, Khader pointing.
Empty children's bedroom -- the kids were scared and went to sleep with their mom. Three of them are sleeping in the big bed in the parents' bedroom, the remaining bunch -- on the floor around it. The mother peers sleepily from among the children when we go in with the camera.
The house is a strange combination of poverty (scanty furniture, pile of rubble instead of entrance steps, bare walls) and an effort at luxury (beautiful tiles in a huge living room -- Khader is a tile-man).
We climb the roof, joined by a neighbor -- also named Khader, and also with a ticking demolition order for his home. The other Khader seems to take it better -- he is able to sleep in the afternoon, and he can smile. I am told that there are ways to avoid the ordeal -- huge bribes, or collaboration with the police. They point to a nearby house whose owner secured a safe future by this kind of means.
The sun rises over the little valley. At the bottom there is a long lake, polluted by sewage. A distant man is measuring a plot of land at the bank. "The crazy guy wants to build a house there!" I am told.
We view together the morning manhunt. On that side it is part of the West Bank, on this side it is Jerusalem. People with Palestinian IDs are trying to sneak from there to here, and Border Policemen in patrol cars have come to catch them. A woman is stopped and sent back, we hear her curses from a distance.
A patrol car arrives slowly from the right, a "catch" of some ten laborers with plastic lunch-bags marching meekly behind. Their IDs were already taken by the BP "for inspection." A precious workday is lost. They will be detained for hours in the side street, waiting for their IDs to be returned.
The patrol car stops directly in front, on the other side of the valley. We see the boots of the resting Border Policeman sticking out of the window. Noises like gunshots emanate from there -- produced by the BP tapping on a loudspeaker mike "for fun", Khader tells me. Then a Hebrew song is broadcast, loud enough to wake the neighborhood. I am told that the BP repertoire also includes an imitation of the muezzin call for prayers, and ejaculations in Arabic such as "Feyn baba?" ("Where is daddy?").
The car disappears. Immediately afterwards a seller of bagels bursts running frantically to the other side, without upsetting the tray on his head. It seems he made it, and will earn a few shekels today selling bagels on the streets of Jerusalem.
The small valley grows quiet, and time crawls. Finally we conclude: "not today." "Get some rest, man" I suggest to Khader. "Cannot, going to meet a guy from the municipality." We go off to our free world, where houses are not demolished and people are not hunted on their way to work.
Meanwhile, a long-prepared event is taking place in the struggle against home demolition. Among the thousands of destroyed Palestinian houses through the years, the home of the Shawamreh family is outstanding. It is located at the town of Anata, northeast of Jerusalem. Four times did the Shawamrehs rebuild their demolished home on their small piece of land, with the help of volunteers organised by ICAHD (Israeli Committee against House demolitions).
The strain of living in such total insecurity took their toll upon the family members, especially upon Arabia Shawamreh, mother of the family's seven children.
After the house was demolished for the fifth time, and after the military authorities made clear that
they had marked this family for an especially harsh treatment, the Shawamrehs decided not to go through the same anguish again.
Still, rather then admit defeat, the Shawamrehs authorised the fifth rebuilding of the house, as an act of resistance -- but rebuilding it as a peace center, to be named Beit Arabia (Arabia's House), housing a permanent exhibit of the ongoing tragedy of house demolitions and serving as a center for educational activities, study tours, activist events and peace-building between Palestinians and Israelis.
The various political and social organizations in Anata all gave their approval to the project. On August 8 a two-week international work camp, the fruit of long preparations by ICAHD, was opened at the site, and is still going full swing at the time of writing.
The professional Palestinian masons are joined by some fifteen international volunteers, of many ages and origins, who arrived in the country especially for this; and there is also a constant presence of enthusiastic Anata youths and of Israelis who come for a day or two from nearby Jerusalem.
Both Ta'ayush and Peace Now sent contingents of activists to take part in the construction, and the Palestinian Authority Minister for Jerusalem, Hatem Abdel Khader, attended a traditional lunch at the campsite -- prepared by Abu Musa, the local Jahalin Beduin Muktar (Headman) who slaughtered a sheep in his honor.
Among the participants were Kathy & Bill Christison of New Mexico -- writers and former political analysts for the CIA -- who stated: "It is exhilarating to be doing something tangible in opposition to the occupation, and to be taking a meaningful step to express our opposition to our own U.S. government's horribly misguided policy in this region."
And "It is a symbol of hope to see people of all nationalities and faiths work together, in a land and amongst a people brutalized by occupation and oppression, witness to the possibility of harmony, justice and peace for all the people of the land" said Rev. Andrew Ashdown, Vicar of the All Saints Church at Denmead, England, who spent several days of hard physical work at the site.
At the time of writing, the roof has already gone up and volunteers are busy laying out terraces around the house. In the coming days, the American "Labor Painter" Mike Alewitz is to produce one of his famed full-wall murals. And assuming there is no interference from the army (so far, there was nothing but small-scale observation patrols by a few soldiers) the new Peace Center will be ceremoniously inaugurated on August 21.
ICAHD, 37 Tveria St. J'lem, email@example.com
[Protest at Umm el-Fahm]
Saturday, May 18 was spent in Umm el-Fahm, participating in the protest against the arrest of thirteen Islamic leaders -- lifted from their beds during a nightly raid by an 800-strong police force. (The highly respected Sheikh Raed Salah was arrested in the hospital at the bedside of his very ill father, who died the following day.)
At short notice Ta'ayush had sent out a call for participation in the Islamic protest, since 'whether or not we share the ideas of the Islamic movement it is our obligation to stand by a public that is being delegitimized and demonized.' The call was passed on to the network of Gush Shalom, which already took a stand on the issue in its weekly ad (Ha'aretz, May 16): "Sharon is extending his war against the Palestinian people. (...) He wants to push the 1.2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel into the bloody struggle".
Altogether there was a group of some hundred "Jewish Israelis" (among them were also Arab Ta'ayush members, but as it turned out these Arabs were for the occasion counted as Jews as well); the whole group was placed somewhere in the end of the (long, sun-drenched) march through the streets and alleys of Umm el-Fahm -- after the political parties, before the women and children.
But when marching into the Umm el-Fahm stadium it was a very visible block, which was enthusiastically announced as 'Here enters a group of Jews who support our struggle. Welcome, welcome!' And people came running from all sides, offering cold drinks.
The rally was long, with very many groups and individuals taking to the podium to express outrage -- too long for the plan of some participants to travel straight from Umm el-Fahm to the Peace Now rendezvous in Tel-Aviv, where buses were waiting for the Jerusalem demonstration in support of the Road Map.
This action, also announced at short notice and not to be expected to attract more than a few hundred people, was scheduled to take place during the first Sharon-Abu Mazen meeting, confronting a right-wing protest.
As we were afterwards informed, a newly started group of Religious-Zionist dissidents mixed among the counter-demonstrators with slogans such as: In God's name: let's get out of the occupied territories. The police, whose task at such occasions is to separate left and right, complained that "these religious leftists could not be told apart from the settlers; they all wear the same clothes." [BZ]
A father's outcry
The following is extracted from a two-page article by Daniel Ben Simon, published in Ha'aretz, July 4.
"I see them pulling out of Gaza now and I'm eating my heart out," says the father of Staff Sergeant Erez Ashkenazi who got killed two days before the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
As a member of the Navy's Special Reconnaissance Unit, Ashkenazi took part in an incursion into the Gaza Strip. Within 48 hours the cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians was due to take effect, and the army was preparing to leave the territories it had recently reoccupied in the Gaza Strip.
It was clear to the commando fighters that this was going to be one of the last operations before saying farewell to Gaza. Erez told his girlfriend, Malki Gonen, that the operation would take just a few hours
and promised to phone her the moment it was over. He had already taken part in dozens of similar actions, and it seemed as though this was a mission from which they would return unscathed. On Thursday night, Malki fell asleep, calm and serene.
The soldiers of the unit were sent in the middle of the night to capture a number of members of the Al-Rul family, members of Hamas, who in the past had orchestrated attacks on soldiers and settlers near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip.
Erez and his fellow commandos came to the house where the wanted men were hiding, in the Bakshi neighborhood, south of Gaza City. A firefight developed. Suddenly a terrifying explosion was heard. From inside the house an explosive charge was detonated that had been well concealed in one of the corners. Erez, who was nearby, was mortally wounded. An hour later, he died. (...)
In the afternoon on the day after the funeral, Yinon Ashkenazi sat alone in the garden of his home on Kibbutz Reshafim. The temperature had skyrocketed to 40 degrees Celsius in the shade, and the kibbutz members had shut themselves into their air-conditioned homes. He was holding the daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot, the front page of which celebrated the exit from Gaza.
The happiness on the faces of the soldiers in the picture exacerbated the sense of having missed out that consumed him. Had the operation been postponed for two days, had it not happened at all, had the exit from Gaza taken place two days earlier -- almost certainly Erez would still be alive.
Yinon wonders aloud and in brutal language about how soldiers were stationed in those places, on how they were sent into death traps without a clear purpose. His friends said of him that he was strong in mind and body, that his son Erez had inherited his sturdy physique. But deep inside, he felt otherwise. Were he able to, he would utter a great outcry against the terrible injustice that has been done him, until the whole country trembles.
His heart predicted ill. Three weeks before the disaster, Ashkenazi began to have a very bad feeling about his son. "This feeling gave me no rest," he says, finding it difficult to conceal his anger, "until I said to my friends that I was afraid for the boy. When my brother fell in the Yom Kippur War, my mother told me that my father had had a premonition. That's how it happened with me with Erez."
He fixed his eyes on the front page of the newspaper, unable to stop gazing at it. "It eats my heart out," he added. "I see them coming out of Gaza now and it eats my heart out. Why didn't that happen a week ago? Good God, why did it happen only after Erez was killed? Why did they have to send soldiers to defend Gush Katif? We should have gotten out of there a long time ago. Who needs those settlements in Gush Katif? Who needs 2,000 people in the middle of a population of millions of Palestinians?
To me it doesn't matter any more. My son is gone and that's it. I don't know how it's going to end, but my son is gone. What a boy. Ask in the whole kibbutz and ask in the army and they'll tell you what a boy Erez was. He was the salt of the earth. As his father, I was proudest of him in the whole world. And none of the leaders of the country said a word about Erez, none of them called to offer a word of condolence, none of them sent a telegram, none of them came to the funeral, none of them uttered a peeps, as if Erez were a foreign resident. As if he had not been sent on the mission by the state.
Do they care at all, our politicians? What is there for us to do at all in Gush Katif? Who needs Netzarim? Why does Erez have to die for those people? It hurts, it hurts me so much I could explode. In fact, I don't want any of the ministers and politicians to come to the Shivah [seven-day mourning period]. When you mourn, you want only real friends around you."
Fear of flying
On July 1, Akiva Eldar of Ha'aretz published the story of Yoni -- a young Israeli from a well-known Haifa family, whose parents had been living in Seattle for many years. At the age of eighteen, Yoni had come back to Israel in order to serve in the country's armed forces, and won a place in the pilots' training course. Over the next 21 months, the IDF had invested hundreds of thousands of shekels in training Yoni as a helicopter pilot. But three months before the end of the course, he was thrown out. It is very rare for a cadet to be fired so far along in training, and in fact the order was signed by air force commander Dan Halutz personally.
"Why did my career as a pilot come to such an unexpected end? I was given a lame and incomprehensible excuse, varying from commander to commander" wrote Yonni in a message to his parents, which was circulated among friends by his father.
"They were all clear about what wasn't the reason for my expulsion. It had nothing to do with remarks I made on several occasions, regarding the moral difficulties in the use made of Apache Attack Helicopters (my branch) in the occupied territories. Nor was it because of my openly stated difficulties in viewing the killing of civilians as an unfortunate job necessity. And also not because I requested a transfer from the attack helicopter branch (Apache) to air assault helicopters (Blackhawk) [i.e., from the kind of helicopter that carries out bombings of ground targets to the kind mainly designed to fight other flying vessels. Ed.].
But after explaining that none of these was the reason for my expulsion, the commanders failed to explain what was the reason. Upon my leaving, the commander of the Flying Academy did give me some advice for the future: when disagreeing with the general opinion of a large company/foundation, it is better to try to go with the flow and keep your disagreements to yourself.
Another one of my commanders argued that although I am very mature, there is a naivetŽ in my desires. 'A fighter,' my commander added, 'is here first and foremost to defend the country, even if it means ignoring or overcoming personal ethical
guidelines; that is the price we pay for living in the Middle East.'
The commanders all wished me well and suggested that, after I do a year and a half as a combat officer elsewhere, I could come back to the academy. At that time, they assured me, there would be no problem about my graduation. In response I offered them to kiss my ass."
Upon inquiry at the IDF Spokesman's Office, the journalist Eldar -- who had obtained a copy of Yoni's letter -- got much the same kind of answer as Yoni himself: "In no case, and in no way, were the cadet's personal views among the considerations for the decision to drop him. The air force and the course commanders encourage an open dialogue with cadets on all sorts of ethical, moral and other issues of values...."
Why, then, was he dropped from the course? Well, "the cadet did not meet the necessary characteristics for being part of an aerial combat team. For reasons of privacy, no further details can be released."
However, General Halutz -- who was personally involved in the decision -- already stated his own views quite clearly, in an extensive Haaretz interview last August:
Question: A pilot drops a bomb and unintentionally kills children. Isn't it legitimate to ask the pilot afterwards how he feels about it? Isn't it reasonable to expect him to ask himself that question? Isn't it reasonable to find out if the question was even asked in the air force?
Halutz: No. That's not a legitimate question and it is not asked. But if you insist on wanting to know what I feel when I let a bomb drop, I'll tell you: I feel a slight bump in the plane, as a result of the bomb's release. A second later it passes. That's all. That's what I feel."
At noon on July 22 Shachar Halinovsky, a Tel Aviv peace activist, set out with friends to walk all the way to Jerusalem, wearing an ISM t-shirt and holding a sign reading "Tanks are not food." Such inter-city walks have become a popular means of protest since Vicki Knafo, a single-parent mother, walked all the way to Jerusalem from her home at Mitzpeh Ramon in the Negev Desert, to protest the sharp cuts in welfare payments. She had set up a protest tent in front of the Finance Ministry, and her act was emulated by many other victims of and protesters against government policies. Halinovsky intended to join this ongoing protest and speak out against the diversion of welfare budgets to military and settlement aims.
At the very outset, however, he ran into trouble: "While I was still well within Tel-Aviv, a green Skoda started to circle around me and the three young men inside called abuse. After ten minutes of this, I approached the car and asked them what was the matter.
In answer, one of them swung a long stick at me. I instinctively raised my arms to ward off the blow -- but the stick was studded with sharp blades, and I was cut deeply. Then they got back into the car and drove away fast.
All this happened just next to the Azrieli Towers, one of the busiest intersections in the city, in front of hundreds and hundreds of motorists. The police arrived a few minutes later. I showed them my bleeding hands and wanted to lodge a complaint, but they just said in a bored voice "You have to go to the station."
A friend took Halinovsky to Beilinson Hospital, where deep cuts in his right hand and arm were sewn. Undaunted he started walking again the next morning.
"I was feeling a bit apprehensive, but also defiant, ready to face new confrontations. But there were no further manifestations of hostility. Just as I was getting tired, I got into conversation with people who had a small stall on the entrance to Moshav Yad Rambam, and after a few minutes' talking they invited me to stay the night. Also on the second day, all the way to Jerusalem, I got friendly reactions. It seems that these nasty people in the Skoda were very much the exception."
Who is afraid of nonviolence?
During the April 2002 invasion, activists of the ISM (International Solidarity Movement) confounded the army by entering the besieged Presidential Compound in Ramallah and acting as "human shields", later repeating the act in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.
Since then, the government of Israel had been treating the ISM -- and foreign peace and human rights activists in general -- as enemies to be deported and preferably denied entry altogether. But then came the tragic killing of Rachel Corrie, as she tried to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in Rafah, followed by the shooting and severe wounding of ISM volunteers Tom Hurndall and Brian Avery.
The government found itself suddenly very much on the defensive, having to issue repeated explanations and apologies both internally and internationally.
Moreover, it was at that time that the new Interior Minister Avraham Poraz entered upon his job with a highly publicized show of instituting more liberal policies (since then considerably tarnished). Among other things, he considered changing the instruction to immigration officials at Ben-Gurion Airport, to automatically deny entry to any foreigner "suspected of ISM connections."
The situation changed again with the suicide bombing at the Mike's Place nightclub on the Tel-Aviv waterfront, perpetrated by two British citizens of Pakistani origin and leaving three Israelis dead. Investigation by the Security Services established that the two had stayed in the Gaza Strip and had there met with ISM members.
In their press conference, the ISM confirmed that the two had indeed briefly visited the ISM apartment at Rafah, and were welcomed -- like many other foreign citizens who expressed solidarity with the Palestinians under occupation.
The ISM -- an organization totally committed to
non-violence -- categorically denied having had any inkling of the lethal designs entertained by their casual guests, and not a shred of proof to the contrary was ever produced.
Nevertheless, the government went on the offensive with a large-scale publicity campaign in the Israeli and American media, aimed at portraying the ISM as a "terrorist support group." And on the ground, the army raided the main ISM offices in Beit Sahour (shared with the Palestinian Rapprochement Movement), confiscated computers and papers and detained three activists.
At the same time, a new military decree made the entry of any foreigners through the army roadblocks at the Gaza Strip entrance conditional upon their declaring themselves to be "non ISM members or supporters" as well as signing a waiver absolving the Israeli army from any responsibility for injury or death they might suffer while inside the Strip.
When many activists proved willing to sign that outrageous document, albeit under protest, the controls were further tightened -- with entry to Gaza restricted solely to members of a very limited list of "authorized NGO's."
As long as the "Separation Fence" is not yet completed, the army cannot exercise that absolute a control over entry into the West Bank. Still, in different cities soldiers started to swoop and haul activists off to detention, en route to deportation.
Other groups also felt the heat. The CPT (Christian Peacemakers Team) whose activities in Hebron for over a decade had gone unmolested by the army, suddenly got their premises repeatedly raided, a Canadian member arrested and threatened with deportation, and the other seven team members got their movements inside Hebron severely restricted by military order -- on pain of being altogether expelled.
For Israeli groups such as Gush Shalom, New Profile and the Committee Against Torture, it was a time of emergency. At any time of the day or night there could come a phone call telling of yet more activists detained (sometimes, the call came from the people themselves, and the soldiers' shouting could be clearly heard on the other side of the line).
Then there was the scrabbling to inform the Israeli and international press by beeper and fax and email; to let protests from all over the world flood police stations and government offices; to arrange legal representation; to let Israeli activists come to courthouses, sometimes at very short notice and in inconvenient locations, so as to let judges feel a public gaze upon their handling of deportation proceedings; to organize protests and solidarity demonstrations and lobbying of Knesset Members and public figures...
Escort first, arrest later
ISM volunteers Mike Johnson, age 52, from Washington, Matteo Bernal, age 22, from Kentucky and Osama Qashoo, age 21, from Qalqilya arrived at the Tulkarem Refugee Camp at approximately 7AM, just as the army started a heavy invasion. Three tanks, multiple armoured personnel carriers, a D-9 bulldozer, hummers and jeeps all rolled in, and a curfew was declared by loudspeakers.
About fifteen girls between nine and eleven years old, who had been on their way to school, were left stranded -- crying and paralyzed in fear of the Army's sound grenades and random firing of 'rubber bullets.'
The ISM volunteers informed the Israeli military of their decision to escort the girls out of harm's way. At that stage, the officer with whom they talked agreed to let them take the children home. But upon their attempting to leave the camp at 9:45AM, after having led the schoolgirls to safety, the soldiers informed the volunteers that they were under arrest and ordered them onto a large truck, which took them off to detention. (From the ISM press release, 24.5)
In the immediate aftermath of the raid on the ISM offices, about a hundred members of Gush Shalom, Ta'ayush and the Women's Peace Coalition picketed the Defence Ministry in protest.
Later on, the already-planned Rachel Corrie Memorial Meeting, held in Tel-Aviv's Tzavta Hall, became also a protest against the persecution of Corrie's living fellows. ISM co-founder Neta Golan, an Israeli woman married to a Palestinian and living in Nablus, told:
'When we started this whole thing, we assumed that having the privilege of an Israeli or foreign passport would enable us to do a little bit to protect the Palestinians. But we also knew that if we go on long enough to make them mad enough, sooner or later we would lose these privileges, sooner or later the army would start treating us as Palestinians are treated...'
In the Knesset, no less then five Members asked for a special debate on the ISM affair: Ahmed Tibi (Hadash), Ethan Kabel (Labour), Chen Reshef (Shinuy), Zehava Gal'on (Meretz) and Jamal Zahalka (Balad).
Reshef -- a newly elected KM and member of the Interior Minster's own Shinuy Party -- stated: "In preparing for this debate, I did not content myself with reading sensational press accounts. Yesterday evening I personally met with several people from the ISM, and let me tell you -- I was a bit impressed. They are quite idealistic young people. I don't agree with all they say, with their putting all blame exclusively on the occupation. Still, when so many people in the Territories are in favour of deadly violence, an organization committed to non-violence is not such a bad choice, is it?"
The main arena for deportation cases remained, however, in the courts. Four Israeli lawyers -- Shamai Leibovitz, Gaby Laski, Yoni Lerman and Leah Tzemel -- threw themselves diligently into the struggle, fighting dogged courtroom battles in case after case (see p.16) and gaining some partial victories.
The crucial test case turned out to be that of eight ISM activists detained in the beginning of June: four arrested as the army broke up a protest camp against the Wall at Arabuna Village on the northern tip of the West Bank; four others -- while helping Palestinian
villagers in their attempt to remove a particularly irksome roadblock at Tal, east of Nablus.
On June 17, the case went before Judge Yeshaya of the Tel-Aviv District Court -- who behaved with marked hostility to the activists and their lawyers, took up without reservation that the state's position about the ISM being "a grave threat to security" and ordered their immediate deportation.
Four were put on a plane the same night. The lawyers managed, however, to delay deportation of the remaining ones, and a week later got Judge Gabriel Kling of the same District Court to take a position diametrically opposite to that of his colleague. In his verdict he stated that the ISM did not represent a "security risk" and that "in a democratic state, to protest is not illegal", and ordered the ISMers released on bail, pending a further hearing at the Supreme Court in October. (They were, however, forbidden to enter the Occupied Territories.)
Meanwhile, the ISM got considerably reinforced, with nearly a hundred new activists managing to enter the country and scatter in different West Bank cities. (Entry into the Gaza Strip remains highly problematic.)
On August 5, no less than 38 of them were detained within a single hour, together with six Israelis -- when blocking construction of the Wall at Mes'ha Village. (With the section due for construction that day, the Wall would surround the home of a Palestinian family with six children, leaving them completely cut off from the rest of the village.)
Rather then attempt to fight that many deportation cases through the courts, the authorities fastened upon a single one -- an Italian woman, schoolteacher by profession, who they insisted, had "assaulted policemen." The other 37 were released on bail with no objection from the state, and senior Interior Ministry official Herzl Getz told the press: "We have no objection to peaceful protest" (Ha'aretz, Aug. 6).
ISM, pob 24, Beit Sahour, West Bank firstname.lastname@example.org
Occupation in the dock
Court martial of The Five
The Jaffa Military Court, June 24.
For a whole hour before the scheduled time of the court martial session, dozens of youths lined the sidewalk in front of the building, holding up placards and chanting "Occupation is Terrorism! -- The refuser is a hero!"
Long before the judges came in, the small courtroom was filled far beyond capacity, with many envious activists left outside. In the front row were sitting Knesset Members Roman Bronfman (Meretz) and Muhammad Barake (Hadash communists) as well as former KM Tamar Gozanski. When the five accused filed in, they were greeted with prolonged applause.
Adv. Dov Henin started by outlining the main defence line. "This trial is not about technicalities and obscure points of the law. This trial is about a major constitutional issue with which no Israeli court has dealt before.
Conscience is the most basic part of human dignity, the part of the personality that defines the essential values; the part that if broken, breaks the whole person."
First to take the stand was CO Haggai Matar:
"In 1999, I joined a series of joint summer studies by Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian pupils. Soon afterwards I started correspondence with a Palestinian Administrative Detainee who was held in an Israeli prison for six years without trial. When at last he was released, I visited him in a house riddled by Israeli bullets and with broken furniture.
I joined actions of the Gush Shalom and Ta'ayush movements. We went to the Territories to rebuild houses demolished by the army, to provide humanitarian help in towns hit by closure or curfew, to support Palestinian villagers who have been violently assaulted by settlers. Always, soldiers tried to block us and in many cases used violence against us.
In 2001, I met again with some of the Palestinian pupils of the summer camp. They told harrowing stories of being beaten up and arrested by soldiers. One told of witnessing his friends in Ramallah being shot to death.
On August 20, 2002, three days before I was due to present myself for enlistment, I and several other activists got an emergency call to go to Yanoun Village, a tiny place where settlers have so terrorized the inhabitants that the Palestinians all left. We came there and the empty houses were terribly depressing and somber sights. We were very happy that due to our presence the people started coming back.
With all my experiences, I had no doubt: I absolutely don't want to be and can't be part of the Israeli army -- an organization that in my view is no longer entitled to call itself an army of defence."
The philosophical analysis of CO Matan Kaminer, next in line, was no less impassioned.
"In this testimony I would like to describe the guiding lines of my conscience and explain why it is incompatible with service in today's Israeli army. For some people the basic value from which their conscience is derived is God's word. For others it is loyalty to their country. For me the basic value is human liberty, human rights.
I believe that all human beings have inalienable rights such as the right to life, the right to equality, to welfare, to education, to association, to democracy.
All of these rights are violated in countless ways by the occupation -- mainly violated as regards the Palestinians, but in many ways also regarding Israelis.
The right of Palestinians to life is violated by the policy of liquidations (which indirectly causes also the loss of Israeli life, as we saw so tragically last week), and by the constant military activity in populated areas, which causes the death, and wounding of civilians.
The right to equality, both of Palestinians and of Israelis living within the Green Line, is violated by the policy of settlement that takes land, resources and basic human dignity from Palestinians and that discriminates against most Israelis in the division of national resources.
The rights of Palestinians to welfare and to
education are violated by the ongoing closures and curfews, which cause skyrocketing unemployment figures and severe disruption of the educational system.
The most fundamental, though not necessarily the most directly painful, is the violation of the right to live in a democracy. The very rule over another people, a people that is denied the right to control its own life and future, is a flagrant violation of that right. After 36 years the pretence that the occupation is "temporary" wears thin.
The contempt for democracy is gradually crossing into Israel proper, with racist extreme right parties becoming an acceptable and common component of government coalitions.
The deprivation to the right of democracy of the Palestinians is the root cause of all the crimes that accompany the occupation -- both the crimes of the occupier of which I described part, and the crimes of the occupied, pushed to immoral and inhuman ways of struggle. Neither set of crimes is in any way justified. Both are direct derivatives of the occupation and can only be abolished by abolishing the occupation itself.
From all of this, it logically follows that service in the army, which is the main instrument for implementing the occupation, is totally against my conscience.
My decision to refuse enlistment does not mean that I am against the state of Israel, against the people in Israel, or against the Israeli society of which I am part. On the contrary, I feel impelled to do all I can for the Israeli society. I can't go into the army. I can only ask that my conscience be recognized and that I be provided an opportunity to do alternative civilian service for the benefit of the Israeli society.
At three in the afternoon it was the turn of Shimri Tzameret.
"Already for years I know that I am not going to join the army. I know it with as much certainty as I know that I will never kick a homeless person lying on the sidewalk, never rape a woman, and when I have a child -- never abandon it.
We all of us have our own reasoning and my reasons are a bit different from those of others who spoke before me. I feel that there is no need to detail what the occupation is doing to the Palestinians. What it is doing to us ourselves is reason enough.
First I want to talk about the suicide bombings. It is a very central part of our life here in this country and many of us are touched personally in one way or another. It happened a bit more than a year ago, exactly on the day when I decided to tell my schoolmates that I was going to refuse to serve in the army, that a suicide bombing happened in which the mother of one of the girls in the school was killed. And later on the day it turned out that her sister was killed as well.
It brought home to me that the life of this girl whom I knew would never be the same again. How terrible it is when something like this is suddenly breaking into a life.
Some of my schoolmates were angry with me. They said: how can you refuse to go to the army when such things happen. I told them: such things are exactly the reason that I am refusing. The army's being in the territories is not a way to stop terrorist attacks; it causes them. Exactly because I told Merav that I feel committed to do whatever I can to prevent such things from happening again to others, I feel that one of the most important things that I as an individual can do is to refuse to serve in the army.
After all, everybody knows how the present situation will end: always in the last centuries the rebellion of an occupied people eventually ended in its freedom. The only question is how much time it will take, and how many more casualties there will be. I try to make both a bit less.
Another point: what the occupation is doing to our society. I want to tell about Rami, whom I met in the prison. I sat with him for hours, listening. It is incredible how many terrible things he had witnessed in just three months of service in the Territories.
He told me about the young boy who threw a stone at the lieutenant colonel's jeep, which did not hit -- but the colonel still chased the child, caught him and beat him brutally with the butt of a rifle. And there was another child, a child whom a Shabak agent tied up and then urinated on him. When Rami tried to protest, the man shouted: go away, I am conducting an interrogation.
And he also told me of soldiers looting a shop, and then destroying everything that they could not carry. And he told me about how he could not stand it any more, and how he sat in the toilet for several hours in the night, the barrel in his mouth, his finger on the trigger. In the end he just ran away, and that's how he got into prison.
That's what happens to the sensitive people. The non-sensitive ones, those who get used to these Wild West norms, afterwards bring these norms into the Israeli society itself. We are corrupting ourselves. I am not willing to be part of the main instrument of corruption."
July 14 -- once again the courtroom was packed with supporters, among them Israel Prize laureates Shulamit Aloni and Professor Dan Meron.
The session began with the testimony of Major Noam Burstein, the officer who had given the five accused, each in turn, the order to enlist in the IDF -- refusal of which order has brought them to this courtroom.
Cross-examined by Adv. Henin, Burstein admitted that he had never seen any official regulation dealing with Conscientious Objectors, nor did his superiors ever provide him with any briefing or guidelines -- despite the fact that his job required him to deal regularly with dozens of such cases. Burstein explained that his method of dealing with refuseniks was "a mixture of discussions and prison sentences", which -- according to him -- often induces the refusenik to change his mind. (But he could not provide the names of these refuseniks on whom his method had proven so effective.)
Adam Maor took the stand, speaking of a number of
cases that typified the evils of the occupation and the critical role of the IDF in enforcing these evils.
He spoke at great length about the affair of Yanoun Village, already briefly mentioned by Haggai Matar -- an affair that had had a great weight in making definite his decision to refuse military service. "Any decent person who saw or heard about what happened in Yanoun would be shocked. Every sane person would understand that the settler leader Avery Ron, who day and night intimidated and terrorized the villagers of Yanoun in order to force them to leave their homes, is indeed a terrorist, even a model of terrorism.
But I want to stress at this point that my quarrel is not primarily with this Ron and his gang. Religious and nationalist fanaticism, even severe manifestations of racism, are things that happened all over the world, at every period in history. To my mind, the crucial question is what does the mainstream do in such cases.
Of course, if Avery and his gang had come to my house to rob me, no one would have permitted this to go on. And if the Yanoun residents were to enter a settlement, the army would respond very speedily indeed. But when Avery and his gang went as robbers and terrorists into the village again and again, night after night for years, they enjoyed immunity, if not a full cooperation and collaboration. The mainstream, the supposed sane centre of Israel society, did not stop them. The mainstream sent soldiers to protect Ron and his gang while they were doing it.
These soldiers were not necessarily supporters of Ron, of his ideology or his violence. Still, people who have nothing in common with these fanatics are in practice defending them and perpetuating them. People who do not like the settlers are among those who actually implement many of the ugly deeds that the IDF perpetrates in order to advance the criminal settlement project. For example, the confiscation of land from Palestinians, officially for military purposes, actually in order to extend settlements and build new ones. When the IDF becomes a tool in the hands of fanatics then all its soldiers -- even if due to a lack of understanding or to simply not caring -- themselves become part of the fanatic project."
Noam Bahat was the last of the accused refuseniks to testify. His words, shorter then of the others, were devoted mainly to his role as an educator and to the deep contradictions that he discovered between the educational system that disseminates "occupation values" and his own understanding of morality. "In cases where the law harms the interest of the physically or mentally weak, violates their freedom, discriminates against them, or denies them other basic freedoms, I consider it my civil and moral duty to break such a law. You can first try other ways to oppose the injustice, but if these ways are not successful you cannot allow the law to eliminate people's basic rights."
Noam analyzed the values inculcated in Israeli youth via the educational system and discussed his efforts as a youth group leader to change this reality. He also discussed the way he was exposed to the level of crime perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians. He expressed amazement over the very small number of people who are really aware of these tensions. "Everything that appears evil is indeed evil, but people refuse to understand that they are Goliath. They insist on seeing themselves as David -- small, heroic and wise. In truth we are just one more country dominating another people, almost to the point of slavery. In the face of this reality, I feel that I must refuse to join the IDF."
The text of the testimonies given here are extracts from the hours-long testimonies. Some full texts from:
email@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org
Sorely-needed donations can be sent, earmarked "refusenik legal aid", to New Profile, POB 6187 Ramat HaSharon 47271, Israel.
The imaginary pacifist
Yoni Ben-Artzi case nearing decision
On August 8, the Yesh Gvul movement held a public meeting at the Tzavta Hall in Tel-Aviv, to mark a full year of the incarceration of Yoni Ben Artzi, longest-serving of the imprisoned refusers.
There was a long list of speakers -- including former Education Minister Shulamit Aloni; actress Hanah Meron; the jurist and former Attorney-General Michel Ben Ya'ir; Dr. Yigal Shohat, combat pilot turned surgeon and peace activist; former KM Tamar Gozanski and present KMs Issam Mahoul and Roman Bronfman; Nurit Peled-Elhanan, activist of the Bereaved Parents for Peace; and Adv. Avner Pinchuk of the Civil Rights Association, who had represented several of the imprisoned refuseniks.
Still another speaker was Dr. Meir Pa'il, military historian who had been a Colonel, in command of the Officers' Academy, and later a Knesset Member. Pa'il speech aroused some curiosity, since for many years he had been opposed to refusal and a firm supporter of "working from the inside the army." Now, however, he declared 'Without the refuseniks, the occupation will never end.'
The event concluded with actors of the Cameri Theatre presenting a scene from Yehoshua Sobol's new play, "The Eye-Witness" -- loosely based on a true case of an Austrian Conscientious Objector, executed in 1943 by the Nazi regime for his refusal to join the Wehrmacht.
Yoni Ben Artzi's friends and family members were in a rather optimistic mood, with the growing indications that his prolonged struggle might soon be vindicated. The past months had seen an unfolding drama at Yoni Ben-Artzi's court-martial -- held in the same room and before the same presiding judge as that of "The Five", but separate from theirs, since he is a pacifist objecting not only to the occupation but also to any and all military service and use of violence.
From the inception, defence lawyer Michael Safard sought to question the competence of the army's "Conscience Committee," which had examined Ben-
Artzi three times, and which had three times concluded that he was "not a real pacifist."
The prosecutor, Captain Yaron Kostelitz, tried to get that entire line of defence ruled "irrelevant" and confine the proceedings solely to the question "did Ben Artzi get a legal order, and did he disobey that order?" which would have predetermined the result. But presiding judge Avi Levi overruled these objections, and let a series of testimonies unfold that gradually shook and eroded the prosecution's case. First, Ben-Artzi himself testified in his own defence, telling at length of the development of his pacifist convictions while still at High School -- particularly of the formative experience of a family holiday in France, during which he visited the Verdun battlefields of World War I where hundreds of thousands of French and German soldiers perished in futile fighting. "And I saw these enormous cemeteries, and remembered that nowadays France and Germany share the same currency. Why did so many young men have to die!"
This was further bolstered by Yoni's sister Ruthi, who was on the same family trip and witnessed how enormously moved her kid brother was. "I was not a pacifist then, nor were my parents. In fact, in my time I served in the army quite enthusiastically. Nowadays it is different, during this struggle Yoni seems to be converting us all."
Then came the testimony of Yoni Yechezkel -- a refuser who shared prison terms with his namesake and who got a sudden and unexpected discharge from the Conscience Committee (nearly the first applicant to gain an exemption since the committee was formed in 1995). The questions of Adv. Sfard revealed a refusenik of quite different style, a bit flippant one who frequently went AWOL, played a kind of cat and mouse game with the military authorities and had been quite frankly willing to make all kind of compromises ("I told the army I don't care what way they get me out, Conscience Committee, Incompatibility Committee, psychiatrist -- whatever they choose, but they will never make a soldier out of me").
Also Yechezkel was cross-examined, and the prosecutor -- who tried so assiduously to disprove Ben Artzi's pacifist credentials -- was now in the opposite role of bolstering Yechezkel's. But he was unconvincing in trying to show that Yechezkel is more of a pacifist than the punctual and principled Ben Artzi.
But what really sunk the prosecution's case was the testimony of Colonel Shlomi Simchi who headed that famous Conscience Committee, and about which it is worthwhile to quote the statement issued at the time (July 29) by the Forum of Refusers' Parents:
"Yoni doesn't lie; he really believes he is a pacifist; but the Committee has no doubts: he isn't"; thus could be summarized what Colonel Shlomi Simchi admitted in an hours-long cross-examination by Adv. Michael Sfard. Yoni joins the honor with Martin Luther King, whose credentials as a genuine pacifist were also put in doubt by the colonel.
This caused an explosion of laughter of the family and friends, among them Uri Avnery, on the spectator benches. And further on, the name Tolstoy seemed to mean nothing at all to Colonel Simhi.
This came up after Sfard exposed the total lack of criteria or guidelines of the Conscience Committee.
Sfard enumerated the percentage of successful applications to the Conscience Committee and it turned out that over the years less than 5% were recognized. Sfard had with him a dossier showing the statistics in other countries that have conscription and do recognize the freedom of conscience, and in which 60% to 95% of applicants succeed to get CO status. Simchi responded that he neither knows nor cares about other countries.
Then Sfard showed him the statistics for Israeli women draft refusers who go through a different commission -- which, unlike the one for males, is composed of civilians. There, the number of successful applications is 95%. Moreover, the number of applications by women is tenfold that of the males. Sfard argued that the few applications of male refusers is the result of the low chance of success, as well as of the army not making the existence of a Conscience Committee known.
Outside the formal structure of the trial, the prosecution suffered yet another setback. Dr. Avi Sagi -- philosopher of the national-religious Bar-Ilan University, who had been hand-picked by the military authorities as the "token civilian" to be placed on the Conscience Committee, suddenly became independent and rebellious, giving a highly critical interview to Ha'aretz, stating that "the Conscience Committee's methods of operation do not meet the most minimal standards" and specifically calling for recognition of Yoni Ben Artzi as a pacifist. 'They say that his testimony contained some contradictions. Even if it's true, so what? A boy of 18 is not required to present a Ph.D. paper in logics, just to show the sincerity of his motives.'
On August 10, the prosecution and defence in the Ben-Artzi Trial were called upon to present their summations -- when the presiding judge suddenly dropped a bombshell. He froze the legal proceedings and made a strong "recommendation" to the military authorities to let Ben Artzi's case be reviewed by the Conscience Committee.
"Don't make hasty celebrations" cautioned Adv. Sfard, and rightly. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that after all that had gone in past months, the committee would reject Ben Artzi yet again and leave the military authorities with an unfinished affair that is becoming more and more of an embarrassment.
Moreover, in the past months the military authorities have moved to quietly end the outstanding cases of many less-famous refuseniks. Some, like Yoni Yehezkel, have gotten a discharge from the Conscience Committee; others, from the Incompatibility Commission. Also, many reservists who show up at their units and declare refusal to serve in the Occupied Territories get sent home rather then to jail. Little is left of the army's militant attitude of head-on collision with the refuseniks, of just a few months ago.
Messages to Yoni via email@example.com
The Nusseibeh-Ayalon Initiative
Former Admiral Ami Ayalon, who commanded the Israeli Navy and later took over direction of the Shabak Security Service in the difficult aftermath of the Rabin assassination, became after his discharge a leading dove and proponent of reconciliation with the Palestinians.
Sari Nusseibeh, presently Dean of Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, had never had anything to do with military affairs or armed struggle, his career in the Palestinian society being mainly academic and political. He had held some important positions in the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, but was always known for his independent thinking and willingness to voice original -- sometimes provocative -- ideas. ("If you don't give us a state, why don't you annex us and give us civil rights?" he once asked, interviewed on Israeli TV.)
In 2002, Ayalon and Nusseibeh got together and decided to launch a new, daring initiative. Joint Israeli-Palestinian petitions, setting out principles and also concrete plans for peace, there had been before -- quite a few. It was very rare, however, for the total number of signatories to exceed a thousand or two at the most. The People's Voice (often referred to simply as The Nusseibeh-Ayalon Initiative) set itself the goal of getting tens or even hundreds of thousands of signatures on both sides, so as to exert real influence on the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships alike. "We hope for a critical mass of grassroots activism", as Sari Nusseibeh formulated it.
Much of the petition is familiar from previous peace proposals: a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with Jewish settlements on occupied land removed, and Jerusalem as capital of two states, its holy sites under religious auspices. But we have some problem with the Ayalon-Nusseibeh total rejection of the right of return for Palestinians. That would make it easier to get a lot of Israeli signatories, but Israelis need also Palestinian partners. The petition states that Palestinians have the right to return to the Palestinian state, which is like telling to millions of refugees: you have the right to return to where you are.
Palestinian reactions ranged from skeptical to downright hostile -- as was published on the initiators' website www.mifkad.org.il -- in an article by Dan Williams of August 3. While among Palestinians some under no circumstances want to give up the Right of Return, others see it as their best card in negotiations, and are angry to see that Nusseibeh is undermining the Palestinian negotiating position.
Still, if we can believe the rough estimates published on that same website, then not only on the Israeli side but also among Palestinians there would already be many thousands of signatories.
The initiative is sponsored enough to be able to manifest itself prominently -- and frequently -- via the advertisement pages of the mainstream media. Whether it is to be considered significant depends upon whether to some extent its ambitious goals will indeed be reached and, especially, whether the number of Palestinian signatories will keep up with the Israeli ones. So far, we have not yet seen lists of names, only numbers -- round ones...
After "Intifada" (shaking off) and "Shahid" (martyr), another Arabic term has entered the world's vocabulary: "Hudna" (truce).
In Islamic tradition, the word evokes a historical event. The first Islamic truce was declared in the year 628 AD at Hodaibiya, in the course of Muhammad's war against the pagan chiefs of Mecca. According to the version now doing the rounds in Israel, Muhammad broke the truce and conquered Mecca. Ergo: Don't believe the Arabs, don't believe in the Hudna.
In Arab history books, the same event is presented quite differently. The Hudna allowed the adherents of the new faith to enter Mecca on a pilgrimage to the holy rock. The pilgrims used the opportunity to make converts. When most citizens had accepted Islam, Muhammad entered the city almost without bloodshed and was received with open arms. Ergo: already in their earliest history, Muslims realized that persuasion is better than force.
Therein lies the answer to the questions that are being asked now: Will the Hudna last? Will it continue after the initial three-month period? Will Arafat and Abu-Mazen succeed in bringing Hamas along with them?
The answers depend completely on the mood of the Palestinian population. If the Palestinians want the Hudna, the Hudna will last. If they detest the Hudna, it will collapse. Hamas does not want to lose public sympathy by breaking a popular Hudna. On the contrary, it wants to play a major role in the future Palestinian state. But if the population comes to the conclusion that the Hudna has borne no fruit, Hamas will be the first to break it.
On what will this depend? If the Hudna delivers a major political achievement to the nation and a marked improvement in the quality of life to individuals, it will be popular and take root.
That is logical, and that corresponds with my own personal experience. I have already mentioned in these columns that in my early youth I was a member of a liberation and/or terrorist organization (the definition depends on your point of view). At that time, I learned that such an organization needs public support and cannot operate without it. It needs money, means of propaganda, hiding places, new members. For an organization like Hamas, that has also political and social ambitions, popularity is doubly important. As long as the Hudna is popular, Hamas will abide by it.
This is primarily a test for Abu-Mazen. What can he do to make the Hudna popular? He must secure the wide-scale release of Palestinian prisoners; the amelioration of the horrible living conditions; the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the towns and villages; the removal of the checkpoints that make Palestinian life miserable; the restoration of freedom of access to the urban centers, the work places, hospitals and universities; an ending of targeted assassinations,deportations, demolition of homes and uprooting of groves; a freeze on building activities in the settlements and an end to the construction of the "fence" that is biting off large chunks of land from the West Bank.
If there is no progress along these lines, the Hudna will collapse. Should this happen, the Israeli military and political establishment will shed no tears. There, the Hudna was received with much gnashing of teeth, as if it were imposed by some hostile force. As a matter of fact, it came about by sheer American pressure. As if by order the Israeli media, all of whom have long ago become propaganda instruments of the "security establishment", received the Hudna in unison, with comments like "It has no chance. It will not last" -- a prophecy that may well prove to be self-fulfilling.
The army command opposed the cease-fire. As always, the officers explained that victory was just around the corner, that all it needed was one last decisive blow. Exactly this, in the very same words, was said by the French generals who opposed ending the war in Algeria, and by the American generals when Nixon finally gave up in Vietnam. This was said by the Russian generals in Afghanistan, and now they are saying it again in Chechnya. They are always just about to win. They always need to deliver just one more blow. And it's always the corrupt politicians who stick a knife in their backs and bring about defeat. The truth is that the army commanders have failed dismally. They have had many small successes, but they have failed to achieve their main aim: to break the will of the Palestinian people. For every "local leader" who was "targeted" and "liquidated", two new ones arose. The "terrorist infrastructure" was not destroyed, because there is no way to destroy it. It is not composed of arms workshops and leaders, but of popular support and the number of youngsters ready to risk and abandon their lives.
After 1000 days, in spite of the killing and the destruction, the Palestinian spirit of resistance and their fighting capacity were not broken. The Palestinian people has not given up the demands expressed at Camp David and Taba. At the beginning of this Intifada, some individuals volunteered for suicide missions; at its end, hundreds stood in line.
The Palestinians did not win, either. They have proven that they cannot be brought to their knees. They have prevented the Palestinian cause from being struck from the world agenda. The Israeli economy has been hit hard. The Intifada has cast its shadow over daily life in Israel. Many of the acts that are considered criminal by Israelis look to the Palestinians like glorious acts of heroism. The destruction of Israeli tanks, the elimination of a major checkpoint by one solitary sniper, the attack by Palestinian commandos who crawled under the "separation wall" -- acts like these have filled the Palestinians with pride. And the very fact that after 1000 days the Palestinian David remains standing and facing the mighty Israeli Goliath is by itself an achievement that will be proudly passed down to the coming generations of Palestinians.
But the Palestinians have not succeeded in imposing their will on Israel, just as Israel has not succeeded in imposing its will on the Palestinians. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians are exhausted. This Intifada has ended, for the time being, in a draw.
Moshe Ya'alon, a chief-of-staff with an unquenchable thirst for talking, has proclaimed victory. But on the same day, in a respected Israeli public opinion poll, 73% of those polled expressed the opinion that Israel has not won, of whom 33% even saw the Palestinians as the victors. The largest circulation newspaper in the country headlined a story about the chief-of-staff with the ironic words: "For your information, We Have Won!" The majority does not believe that the Hudna will hold. But in the meantime, every day that passes without human sacrifice on either side is a pure gain for all of us.
What now? Real negotiations? Negotiations that are nothing other than make-believe? Efforts by both sides to court the Americans? American pressure on both parties to come up with some real actions?
Ad in Ha'aretz, August 15
Two States -- One Future
In view of Sharon's tricks, it is important to state again:
There is no solution to the conflict other than the establishment of Israeli-Palestinian peace, based on the co-existence of two independent and sovereign states, the State of Israel and the State of Palestine, on either side of the Green Line, with their capitals in Jerusalem.
Gush Shalom, one of the pioneers of the idea of 'Two States for Two Peoples', believes that this is the realistic solution for the historic conflict.
We reject categorically Sharon's policy of deceit. He talks about "an end to the occupation" and "a Palestinian state" - when all he means is Palestinian enclaves, cut off from each other, on half the area of the West Bank.
We shall continue to fight against the building of the "separation wall" that is designed to realize this aim of the Sharon government.
Peace -- Not Occupation!
Partnership -- Not Separation!
This ad was made possible by many small donations
Gush Shalom, P.O.Box 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033, Israel