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The Other Israel _ February-March 1995, Issue No. 65

Contents

To the Breaking Point
Editorial Comment by Adam Keller

Netzarim: Crossroads to Mutiny

Calls to Really Get out of Gaza
by Peace Now, Gush Shalom, Young Meretz,
Settlers at Rafiah-Yam, and Yesh Gvul

The Battle of El-Khader, by Adam Keller

Campaigning Against the Odds
Political Reactions to Beit Lid

Gush Shalom Speaks Out Against Separation and
for a Real Solution to the Conflict

If Not Today, Then Tomorrow
Beate Zilversmidt talks with Naif Al-Rajub

Avnery Awarded Erich Remarque Peace Prize

Peace Actions:
Gush Shalom, Labor Party Youth, Non-Violence Center,
Alternative Information Center, Jahalin Solidarity,
Hebron Solidarity Committee, Peace Now Youth and
Ibn Haifa
Calls for Arab-Jewish Peace Movement

Nuclear Update

Women for Peace

Struggling for Individuals: Hamoked

Dissent Inside the Army

*Requiem to Oslo?
by Major General (Ret) Matti Peled

Sharp Drop in Soldiers' Morale in Territories

------------------------------------

THE OTHER ISRAEL is the newsletter of the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, P. O. Box 2542, 58125 Holon, Israel.
Phone/Fax: (03) 5565804
Editor: Adam Keller
Assistant Editor: Beate Zilversmidt

For a free copy of this issue, please send your name and postal address to AICIPP via Peacenet e-mail.

THE OTHER ISRAEL
February-March 1995, Issue No. 65


TO THE BREAKING POINT
(EDITORIAL)

On December 10, 1994, Rabin, Peres and Arafat received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. Israelis as well as Palestinians were watching the televised proceedings in a mood of pent-up anger, turning into cold indifference. The other Oslo ceremony, which had started the whole thing, seemed ages ago. In the intervening year and half the Middle East had seen too many peace spectacles without real content, too many hopes turned to ashes.

The Palestinians had expected "Oslo" to put an end to Israeli occupation and domination. Israeli soldiers were indeed removed from the streets of Gaza -- but only to bar the way for Palestinian workers who want to enter Israel, and to maintain the still-intact settler enclaves occupying a full third of the overcrowded Strip's scarce land.

On the West Bank the occupation remains in full force, with the promised Palestinian elections and redeployment of Israeli forces receding into an ever more hazy and uncertain future. Some aspects of the occupation -- such as travel restrictions, land confiscations and settlement construction -- have actually increased. The expected prisoner release did not come about; instead, thousands of new prisoners fill the prison camps, and the Shabak interrogators have gotten a more free hand in the use of "moderate physical force".

For Israelis, the Oslo Agreement was supposed to mean, first and foremost, an end to terrorism. This was explicitly promised by Rabin and Peres, in speeches on the Knesset floor which they now would like to be forgotten. Instead, no less than 127 Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks since Oslo -- more than double the number in the preceding period, as the right-wing opposition incessantly points out. In Israeli nightmares the suicide bomber has come to replace the knife-wielding Palestinian of the early 1990s. Israeli bus companies reported a significant fall in the use of public transportation, the fearsome bombers' main target.

Yet only a few Israelis would admit to a connection between this nemesis and the growing Palestinian frustration and bitterness. As depicted on Israeli TV and in the mass-circulation papers, suicide bombers are just monsters, born of religious fanatism and of unreasoning, reasonless hatred.

A year and a half after the Oslo Declaration of Principles -- often dubbed "peace agreement" though it never claimed to be that -- the Israeli-Palestinian war is as hotly on as at any time in the past decades. And on both sides, the leaderships which committed themselves to Oslo are steadily weakening.

Even were Arafat willing to try an all-out confrontation with the Islamic opposition -- which Rabin is hard pressing him to do -- the outcome would be far from certain. The bloody events of last November clearly demonstrated the enormous popular support of Hamas. Since then, several more months of misery and deterioration further swelled the Islamic movements' support, often for reasons having little connection with religious motives. (A recent survey indicates some support for Hamas even among Christian Palestinians.)

On the Israeli side, opinion polls are crystal clear: were elections to be held now, Likud leader Netanyahu would emerge as the winner. A bare two years after being regarded as the Labor Party's savior and main electoral asset, Rabin is increasingly considered a liability and deserted by opportunists who flock to his would-be successors.

For his predicament, Rabin has mainly himself to thank. A Nobel Prize winner, hailed throughout the world as the great peacemaker, he has done more to undermine the Oslo Agreement than any terrorist could: Endlessly dragging his feet over the implementation of Oslo, arrogantly discarding and trampling upon time-tables explicitly set out in the agreement, and enacting ever-new Confidence-Destroying Measures -- the latest being the accelerated creation of a closed ring of settlements around Jerusalem, on confiscated Palestinian land.

As this issue goes into print, a new Rabin-Arafat summit has taken place at Erez Checkpoint -- the latest in a series of "last efforts" to shore up the collapsing peace process. Afterwards, it was announced that 15,000 hungry Palestinian workers would be graciously allowed to go back to being overworked and underpaid in Israel. (A bare three years ago, some 120,000 Palestinians worked in Israel on a regular base -- a period which the Palestinians, in retrospect, regard as a lost Golden Age.) The Erez summit also produced the announcement that "intensive negotiations" are henceforth to take place towards the full implementation of Oslo.

Given the experience of the past year and half, one can't help being a bit sceptical about such promises. It remains to be seen whether Mr. Rabin will seize what is probably the very last chance, not only to redeem the promise of peace, but also to save his skin -- and his party.

The editor
Tel-Aviv, February 17, 1995.

****

P. 2
Netzarim: crossroads to mutiny


Due to Yitzchak Rabin's insistance upon not dismantling even the tiniest, most isolated of settlements, the Gaza Strip remains dotted with armed Israeli enclaves -- a source of endless friction and daily confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians, creating an extremely complex and precarious task for the soldiers charged with guarding the settlers.

Most problematic of all is the settlement of Netzarim, a few kilometres south of Gaza City, where thirty settler families lead an affluent life, having at their disposal more land than the 25,000 inhabitants at the nearby Nuseirat Refugee Camp. (The land is cultivated by workers from Thailand, whom the settlers got a special permit to "import.")

At Netzarim itself and in the corridor linking it to Israel, soldiers are constantly on duty -- far outnumbering the settlers which they protect. At one point the settlers' access road crosses the main north-south artery where all the Strip's Palestinian traffic passes. The guard post at this junction has become a true soldiers' nightmare.

On November 11, recently-arrived reserve paratrooper companies were just starting a month's tour of duty. It was also the day on which 21-year old Islamic Jihad militant Hashem Hamad set out to revenge his mentor Hani Abed -- killed a week earlier by Israeli undercover agents. Hamad arrived at the junction riding a bicycle. Passing the guard post he unleashed the explosives which were stuffed in his belt, blowing himself up and taking three Israeli officers with him. (One of the Israelis who got killed, 31-year old reserve lieutenant Yotam Rahat, had been hotly defending the peace process in all the debates among the reservists...)

Even before this fatal day, the soldiers felt some misgivings -- which now burst out and were expressed to journalists who converged on the scene. For several days, Netzarim Junction became the focal point of political action and public debate for both sides of the spectrum -- the continued existence of the isolated mini-settlement being at stake.

The paratroopers, many of whom expressed great doubts as to whether Netzarim should be maintained, complained about unclear orders and instructions. The road itself is under Israeli control, but the land on both sides is under the custody of the Palestinian police, and soldiers can only enter it in ill-defined "exceptional cases". An armed Palestinian may be either a Palestinian policeman, to be treated as an ally -- or a terrorist, to be shot down. And it is far from easy to distinguish between the two. A more concrete grievance the soldiers had was about the quality of the equipment issued to them, such as non-operational radios and projectors, or the keenly-felt lack of bullet-proof jeeps.

After the blast, the army command hastily decided to reinforce Netzarim. However, the units sent -- the only ones found at short notice -- consisted of rear-echelon reservists, many of them with health problems, and all with no combat experience and only sketchy knowledge of the use of arms. On finding themselves at the notorious junction, the new soldiers refused to leave the buses which brought them. For several hours there seemed to develop a clear case of mutiny -- until a senior officer, using a mixture of threats and pleading, succeeded to talk them out. Then, it was the paratrooper officers who talked with scorn about being "reinforced by such garbage" (Ha'aretz, 14.11.94).

Following the detailed press reports, the army announced that "within weeks unfit soldiers would be replaced" -- which utterly failed to calm down the unrest. Nor were matters helped by a personal visit from Prime Minister/Defence Minister Rabin and Army Chief-of-Staff Barak. Many of the soldiers refused altogether to leave their tents and see the visiting VIPs.

****



Meanwhile, tensions were rising fast in nearby Gaza: under heavy Israeli pressure, following the Netzarim blast, the Palestinian police carried out massive arrests among Islamic militants; the opposition called huge anti-Arafat rallies; it culminated with the carnage of November 18, when Palestinian police opened fire on Islamic demonstrators.

P. 3
On November 19, following the funeral of the victims, a huge Palestinian crowd set out towards the embattled Israeli army outpost. The soldiers opened fire, killing 17-year old Yasser Mustafa -- but the Palestinians continued to advance undaunted. Thereupon, the soldiers were ordered to withdraw and avoid further shooting.

The soldiers took position within the settlement perimeter, while the Palestinian demonstrators took possession of the junction. (That evening, disbelieving Israelis saw on their TV screens a Palestinian youth standing on top of the abandoned army position, proudly waving a Palestinian flag in one hand and a Hamas flag in the other). After a few hours, the Israelis invoked the Cairo Agreement which stipulates that "disturbances by Palestinians will be dealt with by the Palestinian police." The Palestinian policemen did arrive on the spot, and after tense negotiations succeeded in convincing their compatriots to evacuate the junction more or less peacefully.

Some hours after positions were re-occupied, a few hundred Israeli right-wingers arrived; they came to support the Netzarim settlers and demanded that soldiers convoy them to the other end of the road. After an hour, the right-wingers made their way back home and a surrealistic, hectic day seemed to be over. Not so: in the late evening fire was opened from a passing Palestinian car, killing Sergeant-Major Gil Dadon, three days after his 26th birthday.

****



At his funeral on the day after, the slain soldier's father Eli Dadon -- a well-known retired police detective -- made an emotional speech in front of TV cameras, venting his fury not only on the Palestinians but also on the military high-ups. Appealing directly to his sons' comrades he shouted: You have been used as cannon fodder!

The next days' papers were virtually flooded by interviews with paratroopers' wives, followed by paratroopers themselves opening their mouths -- in defiance of military regulations. Ma'ariv came up with the following disgruntled reservist's outcry:

I could talk for hours about how it feels to know that you may go home in a coffin, and always having to fight yourself when again you have a mission of escorting settlers. I don't understand why they are not evacuated. It should be done as quickly as possible, before a lot more blood is shed here.

Okay, I know, we are soldiers and this is the task the army gave us. But can any of the generals come and explain to me why they don't give us the equipment we need to do their dirty work? (21.11.94).

The soldiers' discontent was not only verbal. Reports came of a soldier refusing to man the post -- and being sent home by the commanding officer; of a whole squad, including its officers, refusing to board open jeeps and go on patrol. A paratrooper officer was quoted: "In the past three days, soldiers talked of disobeying orders, of starting a mutiny, of just going away -- and I can understand them" (Ha'aretz, 21.11.94).

Yet it never came to a general mutiny. The soldiers -- a cross section of a deeply divided Israeli society -- could not formulate a comprehensive common aim: some demanded that the government withdraw the settlers; others wanted permission to shoot at any armed Palestinian approaching them, regardless of Oslo; many wavered between the two demands.

Meanwhile, several generals in succession visited the paratroopers at Netzarim, some threatening with court-martials for talking to the press, but most relying upon appeals to the unit's esprit de corps and regimental honour -- and also providing the paratroopers with a cornucopia of new, advanced equipment.

****



An opinion poll of those days showed the wider Israeli society evenly divided on the question of evacuating Netzarim (Yediot Aharonot, 18.11.94). Foreign Minister Peres declared Netzarim to be a thorn which to be drawn out -- but under pressure from the Prime Minister, added a few days later that time was not yet ripe for it.

Rabin remained adamant that Netzarim, like all settlements, stay in place until the definite Israeli-Palestinian Agreement scheduled for 1999. As in the debate on removing settlers from Hebron after the February '94 massacre, Rabin got it his way -- and the settlers stayed where they were.

It seems that Rabin -- who is not known in general for treating dates and timetables as binding -- was afraid of letting things move too fast. He probably did not realize that the pressures in the army and the whole society, denied their vent, would thereupon turn in the opposite direction -- against the peace process and the Rabin government itself.

****

Calls to Really Get out of Gaza
by Peace Now, Gush Shalom, Young Meretz,
Settlers at Rafiah-Yam, and Yesh Gvul


+++ Under the headline Let's really get out of Gaza!, Peace Now published, on Friday November 25, ads in several papers calling upon the public to join a demonstration outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on the following day. This venue does not have the space for a really massive rally; the choice contained the message that not very many people were expected. But the tone of the appeal was more drastic than anything coming out of this movement for years.

* As long as the settlements remain in Gaza, confrontation and conflict, bloodshed and sacrifice will continue.
* As long as the settlements remain in Gaza, we will not be able to reach true peace.
* The settlements in Gaza are a burden on the IDF and cause the senseless loss of life.
* Join in the call to evacuate the settlements from the Gaza Strip!

Several hundred -- mostly youthful -- Peace Now supporters answered the call. A sizeable Gush Shalom contingent participated as well. There were chants of Peace -- Yes! Settlements -- No!. and Meretz KM Ran Cohen got wild applause after declaring: The whole of Netzarim is not worth one soldier's fingertip!, yet the atmosphere was somber. News reports already made it clear that the Prime Minister, hidden behind the high wall of his mansion, had decided not to touch Netzarim -- and the demonstration was not massive enough to shake his resolve.
Contact: Peace Now, POB 8159, Jerusalem

P. 4
+++ Immediately with the outbreak of the Netzarim Affair, Young Meretz asked the military authorities for permission to hold a demonstration at Netzarim Junction -- and were turned down "for security reasons." They appealed to the Supreme Court, seemingly having a good case -- since during that fateful week, several right-wing groups were granted permission to hold rallies at Netzarim, receiving intensive military protection on their way to and from the settlement.

During the Supreme Court proceedings, however, a distinction was made by the military authorities: the right-wingers had been invited by the settlers themselves to come and demonstrate inside the settlement perimeter; the Meretz people neither got nor sought such invitation -- leaving as the venue for their demonstration the more exposed ground outside. The judges would not hear of allowing a demonstration there: "A Hamas bomber may even disguise himself as a Meretz demonstrator!" remarked Judge Dov Levin fatherly. "How they care for our safety!" sighed appellant Shmuel David.
Contact: Meretz, 21 Tchernichovsky St., Tel Aviv 63291.

+++ On November 16, a few days after the Netzarim blast, the settlers at Rafiah-Yam -- another tiny Gaza Strip settlement -- officially called upon Rabin to grant them compensations so that they could leave immediately. The appeal, entitled Rabin, let us go! got no answer, and requests for a direct meeting with the PM were rejected.

"Rabin is eventually going to give up all the Gaza settlements," said Hagar Biton, the settlements secretary. "He only wants to keep us as a bargaining counter. We are trapped here, because we invested our money. No Israeli would now buy our houses, and they don't allow us to sell to Palestinians. Therefore, my children have to travel every day three hours to school and back, through a winding road where there are frequent shooting incidents. That is what Rabin has done to us!"(Ma'ariv, 18.11.94)

+++ For about half a year, the military authorities avoided imprisoning soldiers who refuse service in the Occupied Territories. A change seems to have occurred in January: in one week two reserve soldiers were sentenced by their respective commanding officers to 28 days of imprisonment each.

First to be imprisoned, on January 18, was Eli Gozanski, a veteran refuser. (A conscript in June 1982, he was the first to refuse service in Lebanon.) Within days he was joined in the Atlit Military Prison by Sergio Yahni, an immigrant from Argentina.

Yahni had been ordered to be a settlers' guard at the Neve Dekalim settlement in the Gaza Strip. From prison Yahni wrote an open letter, published by friends outside, in which he explained to the Neve Dekalim settlers why he was not willing to guard them:

How can you expect me to convoy your children on their way to their piano lessons, at a time when a 'closure' prevents dangerously ill Palestinian heart patients from entering Israel and receiving treatment?

He did offer to support them should they decide to leave and demand compensations from the government.

Yesh Gvul -- after a year where time seemed nearly ripe for writing memoirs -- held again a solidarity meeting on the hill overlooking Atlit Prison, with some 100 supporters, waving to the prisoners below and once more raising their signs Release the Prisoners of Conscience! and Stop the Occupation! Hadash Knesset Member Tamar Gozanski used the loud speaker to call greetings especially to Eli Gozanski -- her son.
Contact: Yesh Gvul, POB 4472, Tel-Aviv 61041.

****

The battle of El-Khader

by Adam Keller


The very first decision taken by the Rabin government, upon assuming power in June 1992, was to freeze settlement activities in the Occupied Territories. The announcement was publicized to a worldwide audience, bringing a glow of satisfaction to Rabin's dovish voters and enabling the U.S. administration to terminate the Loan Guarantees row which had bedeviled its relations with the Shamir government. The outcry by the West Bank settlers, who held a series of violent protest demonstrations, helped give credence to the government's resolve.

A far less dramatic sequel went almost unnoticed: an "exceptions committee" was formed, composed of senior government officials. In a series of rulings -- couched in dry bureacratic languague and published, if at all, on the back pages -- the committee "defroze" an increasing number of settlment construction projects.

In many of the cases, it was stipulated that the settlers themselves finance the construction -- but, as has now come out, this "private building" got generous government subsidies and loans. There were, moreover, some areas which were singled out for a special favorable treatment, since Rabin would like to see them eventually annexed to Israel. Foremost among these is the so-called "Greater Jerusalem," -- a huge area, whose control by Israel would virtually cut the West Bank in two. There, the government financed extensive building projects directly and officially from its own budget.

It was repeatedly announced that no new settlements would be created -- but the "exceptions committee" did grant permits for "new neighborhoods," sometimes very distant from the "parent settlement" and constituting a new one in all but name.

Also, it was solemnly promised that no Palestinian land would be confiscated -- but Israeli law does not define as "confiscation" the act of declaring land to be "state land." In such cases, it is legally deemed that the Palestinian villagers had always been trespassers -- even when they had held the land for centuries -- and that the "state land" is Israel's, to dispose of as it pleases.

P. 5
Though the Rabin government did not go out of its way to publicize its settlement activity, this was not exactly kept secret either. Indeed, it would have been impossible to hide bulldozers working at dozens of sites, and new buildings going up at others.

For those wanting to know, detailed settlement reports continued to be compiled and published by various organizations*, and there was occasional mention of the matter in the Israeli media. But in the optimistic days after Oslo, the dismantling of existing settlements seemed to be the immediate agenda; continuing settlement construction seemed a meaningless anachronism, the last convulsion of a dying beast. As 1994 wore on, a harsh reality became evident: while the peace process was running down, the settlement process was alive and well, moving into ever-new lands.

One of the government aims in approving settlement projects is to surround the large block of Palestinian habitation south of Jerusalem with Jewish settlements, thereby separating it from other major Palestinian areas. Some features of this area, however, facilitate the possibility of the Palestinians to resist.

It includes Bethlehem -- whose place in Christianity assures anything happening in its environs the attention of the international media; Beit-Sahour -- noted for its defiant resistance to Israeli taxation in the late 1980s, and for its inhabitants' close contacts with the Israeli peace movement; Deheishe Refugee Camp, a well-known center of Palestinian militancy before and during the Intifada; and, last but not least, the village of El-Khader -- soon to prove a worthy part of this constellation.
* A meticulous 'Report on Israeli settlement in the Occupied Territories,' is regularly published by Foundation for Middle-East Peace, Suite 800, 555 13th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20004-1100, U.S.A.

****



For some time, Palestinians living south of Jerusalem have been looking northwards with growing anxiety. The land of Abu-Ghoneim Mountain, at the edge of Beit-Sahour, has been designated the site for a large new Jewish "neighborhood" -- to be called "Har Homa" and house tens of thousands. Here, Palestinian landownersip was well-established, and no legal tricks could get the area designated "state land." The authorities therefore went through the full legal procedure of "confiscation for public purposes" -- the "public" being defined, in this context, as consisting of Jews only. The Palestinian landowners lodged a Supreme Court appeal, jointly with the new Israeli association Ir Shalem (see TOI-64, p.10) -- and were turned down, the court ruling the confiscation legal and clearing the way for the bulldozers to come.

+++ The by-now traditional Israeli-Palestinian Christmas Peace March in Beit-Sahour was dominated by the Abu-Ghoneim issue. It was larger and more militant than in previous years, with a considerable percentage of the town's population, especially the youths, taking part. On the Israeli side, this year's march was sponsored not only by the Jerusalem Rapprochement -- the Beit Sahourians' veteran partner -- but by Peace Now and Gush Shalom as well. Tzali Reshef and other Peace Now personalities marched at the head of the Israeli contingent, under a banner proclaiming in Hebrew and Arabic: Abu Ghoneim mountain is Palestinian!

There was a tense moment when an overzealous Border Guard officer had been about to disperse the procession by firing a tear gas canister. The Peace Now leaders proved effective negotiators and the rest of the march went on with no further incident. While the procession wound its way through the narrow Beit-Sahour streets and alleys, a smaller group of Palestinians and Israelis climbed on top of Abu-Ghoneim itself, lighting torches which were visible from far.

As it turned out, however, the most immediate threat was in a different direction -- at El-Khader, Beit-Sahour's neighbor to the south, where a major struggle was already on the brink of bursting out.

****



Over the past decade, the settlement of Efrat has been creeping northwards. The hill of Baten-al-Muasi, on the outskirts of El-Khader, had been long ago declared "state land" and legally awarded to the settlers -- but until December 1994, they did not seriously attempt to take physical possession of it. At some time in 1994, plans for constructing 400 settler homes were approved -- as was revealed later, with the personal involvement of Rabin himself. (Rabin had good reasons to cultivate the Efrat settlers, who often declare themselves to be "pragmatic" and "moderate;" they broadly hint at their willingness to acquiesce in the eventual evacuation of other West Bank settlers -- provided that their own settlement be allowed to grow and flourish.)

It seems that neither the settlers nor the army foresaw any special problems in what seemed to be a routine operation. But when the Efrat bulldozers with their habitual military escort arrived at El-Khader on December 22, news spread fast. Within a quarter of an hour hundreds of villagers, among them workers cut off from their Israeli workplaces, arrived on the spot -- to throw themselves in front of the bulldozers, be roughly evicted by the army and come back, again and again.



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The first Israeli peace activists arrived in El-Khader on the evening of December 24, alerted by (still modest) news reports of the growing confrontation. A group of ten stayed the night, sitting with the Palestinians around watch-fires on the threatened site (a day earlier, the settler bulldozers had arrived by night, apparently in the vain hope of catching the villagers off-guard). In the morning more Israelis arrived, to participate in planting olive saplings in the hilly soil.

In the afternoon, the army made a belated appearance, declaring the area "a closed military zone" and ordering all Israelis to leave; in the ensuing confrontation two peace activists were arrested (the writer was one of them).

The following evening, an emergency meeting of peace groups took place at the Bat Shalom office in Jerusalem. Peace Now, Gush Shalom, the Alternative Information Center, and a host of smaller groups promised to mobilize their members; friendly Knesset Members were alerted.

For their part, the settlers were not sitting idle. Pulling out their bulldozers for several days, they officially requested the authorities' help in taking possession of what was legally their land -- under the law of the occupation.

P. 6

****



Having obtained the promise that five hundred soldiers and police would give them backing, the settlers made their grand offensive on the morning of December 27 -- openly, with prior announcement, and under the eyes and cameras of multitudinous local and foreign journalists. (An army attempt to exclude journalists from what was now dubbed "the disputed hill" was foiled the day before, through a Supreme Court appeal lodged by the Association of Israeli Journalists.)

When the first soldiers reached the top, they found there a crowd of villagers, with numerous Israeli peace activists among them. The officer in charge made the official proclamation, in Hebrew and Arabic, informing all present that they were tresspassing on the settlers' land and ordered them to leave.

The Peace Now contingent, about a third of the Israelis, followed their movement's long-standing policy "never to break the law, whatever the circumstances" and moved aside. The other Israelis sat on the ground among the Palestinians, all holding on to each other. What followed -- the dragging of some fifty demonstrators one by one to the police vans, the chanting of slogans, the screams of Palestinian women -- was seen that evening on TV screens around the world.

After cleaning the hill top, the soldiers established a perimeter all around; only then did the bulldozers move in.

There were further confrontations. When the saplings planted two days earlier were systematically uprooted, the Palestinians surged forward; at their head was to be found Dr Sa'eb Arekat, senior member of the Palestinian Authority, who gave a good account of himself in the ensuing clash with soldiers. Hadash KM Tamar Gozanski was roughly dragged off by women soldiers, as she tried to block the advancing bulldozers. By the afternoon, settlers and soldiers had established control of the disputed site -- but at the price of transforming El-Khader into a major political issue, both inside Israel and internationally.

On the following day, banner headlines announced that Rabin and Peres were "reconsidering the Efrat expansion plans." However, the bulldozers continued working frantically, day and night. Meanwhile, civil rights lawyers set to work to gain the release of the 13 Israeli and 31 Palestinian detainees.

The peace groups together with the El-Khader Villagers' Committee decided upon a rally, to take place in El-Khader on the morning of December 30. The army responded by promptly forbidding "all demonstrations in the Efrat-El-Khader sector." Here, again, a divergence appeared among the peace groups, on the issue of disobedience.

Peace Now decided to appeal to the Supreme Court -- and the hearing of its appeal was fixed for December 30 itself. Gush Shalom, on the other hand, decided to push on -- with or without a permit. Rather to the activists' surprise, the Gush Shalom bus (effectively disguised as a tourist bus) encountered no roadblocks on its way from Jerusalem to El-Khader, where a large crowd of Palestinians was already waiting.

Despite the prohibition, paratroopers and military policemen stood by for two hours, while Israelis and Palestinians held speeches on an improvised rostrum. A speech was also made by Yasser Arafat from Gaza -- transmitted to the organizers' mobile telephone and broadcast over the loudspeakers.

After the rally was over, an attempt was made to march towards the disputed hill half a kilometre behind the military cordon. Television cameras caught the scene, which was later broadcast again and again -- showing clearly those who marched in the front rank: KM Taleb A-Sana, Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom and Arafat Adviser Ahmed Tibi.

The attempted march did not get past the first few metres; it precipitated a wild charge by the soldiers, pushing and beating in all directions. In some incidents Israelis were able to protect their Palestinian fellow demonstrators from the soldiers' fury; in other places, Israelis and Palestinians were beaten up together. After two hours of increasingly savage chase, stone-throwing and tear gas, El-Khader was "pacified" -- but again, the political cost to the government was prohibitive. (According to the army, "Jewish inciters were to blame." Of 26 demonstrators arrested, 22 were Israeli -- among them 71-year old Avnery.)

All the while, the activists mobilised by Peace Now were sitting in the movement's buses in Jerusalem, impatiently awaiting the judges' decision -- which never came. When the first radio reports of the El-Khader clashes reached them a near-mutiny broke out among Peace Now's grass roots. Under such pressure, the leaders at last allowed the buses to start -- but already at Jerusalem's Gilo Roadblock they were stopped by the now-alert police. Perforce, the Peace Now demonstration took place then and there -- reinforced by the delegates of the International Women's Peace Conference, and by those Gush Shalom demonstrators who avoided arrest and had made it back to Jerusalem. The Peace Now leadership did not succeed in preventing the demonstration from spilling onto the road and illegally blocking it.

****



On January 2, the Israeli cabinet met for a decisive debate on the Efrat-El-Khader imbroglio. It was obvious that the ongoing settlement extension had gotten back on the international agenda. Many ministers wanted to take the opportunity of changing the settlement policy -- arguing that letting the settlers keep the hill, after all that happened, may disrupt the already-shaky peace process.

On the other hand, knowing Rabin's previous record, it came as no surprise that he reached a compromise with the settlers -- which, after a long and sometimes acrimonious debate, he imposed upon his ministers: the settlers were dislodged from the Baten al Muasi Hill, but were given in compensation another hill to build on -- one also taken from El-Khader residents, but further away from the village center and nearer to Efrat.

The final engagement in what may be termed "the Battle of El-Khader" occurred on January 4: two busloads of young Meretz members, angry at and frustrated by "their" government, set out to demonstrate at the new settlement site -- led by KM Ran Cohen. They never got to their destination, being stopped by a large group of settlers who blocked their way. There followed a lot of fist-fighting and wild shouting; TV viewers watching the scene could feel the gulf of naked hatred separating the two groups.


P. 7

****



In the coming three weeks, the focus of attention shifted away from El-Khader, whose example was followed by villagers throughout the West Bank ( and some in the Gaza Strip as well.) Everywhere they were demonstrating, protesting and obstructing settler bulldozers. Like the Intifada of 1987, this "Land Intifada" rose up more or less spontaneously from the grassroots level, though the Palestinian Authority and the various Palestinian factions tried to organize and systematize it.

Some of these demonstrations were forcibly dispersed; but in most cases where the press was around, the army avoided new embarassing scenes. In some cases, indeed, the Palestinians gained real concessions; thus, the army ordered the settlers of Morag, in the Gaza Strip, to give up some "disputed land" -- rather than continue with a confrontation in which Palestinian policemen backed the local villagers (Ma'ariv, 9.1.95).

Meanwhile, Peace Now made an extensive survey of ongoing settlement construction, with the results published in a well-covered press conference. For their part, the Meretz ministers demanded that a full account of actual and planned settlement activity be rendered by Housing Minister Ben-Eliezer, and that the now infamous "exceptions committee' be abolished. In the third week of January, things started to move fast: the Meretz ministers met with the Prime Minister, receiving promises which made them sound very satisfied -- and which alarmed the settlers; statements made by Foreign Minister Peres, and by Rabin himself, seemed to indicate that they were considering abandonment of the whole "Greater Jerusalem" concept -- which would have been a major change in Labor Party policy. Labor hawks were mobilizing for a counter-attack, helped by the Shas Party -- Rabin's unsteady but highly valued partner.

When the cabinet convened on January 22, all seemed set for a major political showdown. Shortly after the cabinet meeting started, it was interrupted by the Prime Minister's military adviser rushing in, with the news of a Palestinian suicide bomb attack blowing up 21 soldiers at Beit Lid.

In the atmosphere of nationalist reaction, encompassing Israel in the following days, the hawks' full program -- construction of thousands of housing units in "Greater Jerusalem" -- was approved by the cabinet against only a feeble Meretz opposition. Had the suicide bomber been the settlers' pay, he could not have rendered them a better service.

****




Campaigning against the odds


January 22. Immediately after the news from Beit Lid, radio stations and television networks switched to the disaster scenario, with a 24-hour program about the bloodshed and the pain; with the horrifying full-color details in close-up; with the individual stories of the many victims and their families.

The 21 victims, all but one, were soldiers. In time-honoured Israeli fashion, the media related to them as to the most innocent civilians -- "The Children Who Will Never Come Back" as the headline of Yediot Aharonot put. Of course, practically every Israeli has a soldier in the family. But the enormous sensitivity to soldiers being hurt also derives from the place of the army in Israeli society, which relies on it for security -- material and emotional. Therefore, the fact of the victims being soldiers made the blow all the more harder, and its political implications more devastating.

President Weitzman, hitherto considered dovish, had not waited long to make a very unpresidential move. In a televison interview he advocated a stoppage of the talks with the Palestinians in order to start a process of "rethinking" -- in which the Oslo-opposing Likud should participate. A number of politicians from "the center" hurried to follow Weitzman's lead and abandon what seemed to be the sinking government ship.

Rabin's "speech to the nation" on the following evening was extraordinary pale. After earlier disasters he used to storm and blast in all directions, demanding "a free hand to fight terrorism without bothering about human rights" -- but also accusing the settlers of causing us all these problems and repeating with a firm gaze that the peace process will go on at all costs.

This time, he announced in a tired voice an indefinite closure of the borders, excluding Palestinian workers from Israel -- a measure which his own security advisers already told him would not stop terrorism. For the rest, Rabin endlessly repeated clichÇs about the heroic history of Zionism -- without even a hint of conviction. He seemed to be speaking as a man who had lost it all. He had started the peace process, but had been too hesitant to go ahead with it. Meanwhile the momentum had been lost in the cycle of terrible bloodshed.

Among Rabin's listeners were the participants in the Gush Shalom weekly organizational meeting, which took place that evening. They listened to the faltering Prime Minister on a small portable radio, in a mood of bitter irony. Thereupon a very emotional and desperate debate started, which spread out over the next weeks.

P. 8
Finally, the activists came to the conclusion that since the government lacked the moral strength to get out of the deadlock and rescue the peace process. Gush Shalom must make loud its pessimism -- in a last hope effort to prove itself wrong. Furthermore, it was decided that all efforts possible should be made to enter the public debate on the newest idea of "separation between the two peoples", being offered by a considerable faction inside the government

The public should be made aware of the fact that a "separation" with fences, guard towers and police dogs -- as graphically described by Police Minister Shahal -- would not for long protect anybody against the anger of the unemployed, starving Palestinians who would find themselves in a kind of Bantustan without means of livelihood. The public should also be reminded of the fact that there does exist a solution to end the bitter conflict with the Palestinians: disarming the settlers; withdrawal of the army from all territories occupied; allowing the Palestinians their state, including a fair share of Jerusalem.


Gush Shalom Speaks Out Against Separation and
for a Real Solution to the Conflict


+++ During stormy wheather, dozens of Gush Shalom activists demonstrated outside the Defence Ministry in Tel-Aviv on Thursday, February 8 -- the eve of a Rabin-Arafat summit. An urgent call was made on Prime Minister/Defence Minister to lift the closure: Closure leads to Hunger and Despair! Only Peace can bring Security!

Wrapped in raincoats, the demonstrators stood there for an hour, conducting an ongoing dialogue and debate with soldiers from the nearby military camps as well as with stalled motorists. (The Defence Ministry is located on one of Tel-Aviv's most congested throughfares.) A distributed leaflet gave Gush Shalom's explanation of the new concept "separation". The text was a copy of that same week's Gush Shalom advertisement in Ha'aretz.

Also on that week, a Gush Shalom press release was prominently quoted in Ha'aretz (2.2.95): "Gush Shalom condemns the government's decision, to prolong the closure indefinitely, as an irresponsible act which turns the Gaza Strip and West Bank into a hothouse of suicide bombers". On February 3, the right-wing Jerusalem Post felt obliged to devote much of its editorial to an attack upon Gush Shalom: "The Jewish Gush Shalom group, which in past weeks joined Palestinian demonstrators against Jewish building in Judea and Samaria has called [the plans for new settlement building] 'a gross provocation against peace.' (...) [It] must be hoped that (...) threats by Palestinian officials and their Israeli allies will not hold back this enterprise."

+++ On February 12, Gush Shalom activists stood in Jerusalem, awaiting the Ministers on their way to the weekly cabinet meeting with a brand-new huge banner: You are burying peace! You are digging your own grave!

Rabin could read the same text, big and bold, as an advertisement in Ha'aretz of Thursday 16th, on the back seat of his limousine speeding to another summit with Arafat.

****



+++ On January 27 -- a few days after Beit Lid -- a small group of peace activists held a vigil in central Haifa, with the signs Occupation is the hothouse where violence grows! Down with the occupation! Stop the cycle of bloodshed!

"We had many hesitations before going out on the street at such a sensitive moment," organiser Iris Bar told TOI. "We were afraid there may be violence, and therefore asked old and infirm activists to stay away. But in the event, we encountered no violence -- and though many bypassers were hostile, there were just as many who supported us and said that peace is the only way."

+++ The Labor-linked Federation of Young Workers and Students decided upon mobilising its membership to counter anti-Oslo tendencies, now appearing even among Labor Party ranks.

On February 6, the youths stood outside the Prime Minister's Jerusalem residence, wearing the movement's blue shirts and carrying signs Peace is Security!. Press photographers caught a rare smile on the harassed Prime Minister's face, as youths shook hands with him and gave him flowers.
Contact: GFYWSI, attn. Ephra Cohen, 120 Kibbutz Galuyot St., Tel-Aviv 66877

****



+++ On February 17, the Tel Aviv-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) issued a paper on the situation of the Gaza Strip health services. The Palestinian Authority inherited a totally neglected health care system after 27 years of Israeli occupation. The new Health Minister, Dr. Riad Zanoun did extend the health insurance system which now includes 39% of the Strip's population, as compared with 25% at the transfer of responsibility seven months ago. But the means are lacking to improve services. The closure, preventing Palestinians from working in Israel, is a further blow for the health system which derives more than 50% of its budget out of payments deducted from the salaries of these workers.

The writers of the paper, PHR activists Neve Gordon and Dr. Ruchama Marton, make their point, based on impressive statistics, that Israel cannot shrug off responsibility for the grave situation of the health system which it handed over to the Palestinian Authority -- and that it should take supportive measures. PHR has approached the Israeli Ministry of Health on the matter -- so far without any result.

Full report from: PHR, POB 10235, Tel-Aviv 61101; fax: 972-3-5662527.

+++ As this goes into print, mobilization is going on for a new anti-closure vigil at the Ministry of Defence, called this time by the Hadash Communists, and scheduled for February 20. It will be held against the background of grim statistics recently published, showing that no less than 70,000 workers have been brought in from Roumania, Thailand and other countries -- working under shameful conditions often barely distinguishable from slavery. Aside from these workers' own plight, their appearance already had the effect of filling up most of the jobs hitherto available for Palestinians.

P. 9

****


If not today, then tomorrow

Beate Zilversmidt talks with Naif Al-Rajub


On Wednesday, January 11, we got a phone call from Naif, who had succeeded in getting to Tel-Aviv. Naif Al-Rajub is 38 and lives in a village on the West Bank. Nearly half of his life, he had belonged to the Tel-Aviv scene. For many years you could find him day and night at Maxim Cinema, selling tickets, painting or renovating, doing whatever work there was in and around the cinema which he considered to be "his." At that time he was also an enthusiastic fan of the Hapo'el football club.

For many Tel-Avivians, among them peace activists, Naif Al-Rajub was the first Palestinian worker they came into real contact with. But ever since the Gulf War, repeated closures barred also his way to Israel. Ever since, he is most of the time unemployed, fretting in his home how to feed his family.

On that Wednesday, Naif at last had gotten an invitation from an employer to come and talk, and from the occupation authorities he had obtained a one-time permit to travel to Tel Aviv. Thus, we met him at five. It was the first time since long that we saw him; he had several times invited us to come again and visit him, but it always had to be postponed because of something which happened and which made visiting a Palestinian friend in the Hebron area "unadvisable".

Naif has become meager, and his skin darkened. "These days, I have a lot of time for sunbathing." Though he smiles he appears nervous. It turns out that twice already on this day he was ordered by police to show his permit. In the bus we ask the sheepish question "how is life." With the same kind of smile he answers: "Miserable."

After we arrive in Holon he relaxes a bit. Naif is very disappointed in the Rabin government. Before the elections he broke a Palestinian taboo by telling all his Israeli friends to vote for Rabin. He expected that Rabin as Prime Minister would bring about some improvement of the situation. Also now he speaks about the Israeli government as his: "It's time the government gets to its senses. The government seems afraid of the big mouth of the settlers. Don't they know that these settlers are chickens? As soon as the army withdraws, the settlers will come running after."

Perhaps it is because he is very fascinated with the computer ("Can it do Arabic, too ? How much does it cost? It would be something for my kids...") that he suddenly decides to write a letter to the Hebrew press, and to have it sent to the papers by the fax.

'I am Naif Al-Rajub from Dura, in the Hebron District. I am one of the more than hundred thousand unemployed Palestinian workers. I would like to express my opinion regarding the daily misery in which we unemployed Palestinians are living.

Left without income for us and our children, we are living a life of hunger and inner despair. From the moment that the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles was signed we thought that soon the situation would change to the better. But after the Gulf War, and even more since the Declaration of Principles the situation has become much worse. Not only is the government of Israel depriving us of our daily bread but it is also destroying our state of mind and our family life. I am one of those thousands who year after year paid income tax, national insurance, health tax, but everything is lost now.

The Israeli government stated that because of the terrorist attacks the Palestinian workers are not allowed in. I would like to remind those interested that in the end of the 1960s and the early 1970s the attacks were more violent and brutal than today. The late Moshe Dayan understood that in order to overcome terrorism the people in the Territories should be given the possibility of a better life. He allowed the inhabitants of the Territories to work in Israel and everything changed. There followed a very long period in which terrorism went down.'

The little chance that had existed for Naif to find work was altogether lost with the Beit Lid carnage, and the following hermetic closure. As we learned later, the letter which he had written on our computer was reason for several journalists to contact him. One wanted to check whether he was really the writer of the letter sent in his name ("Do you know Hebrew that well?"). The other wanted to interview him.

On the telephone Naif was speculating about the possibility of finding paid work by writing a regular column in a Hebrew paper. "Or perhaps I could become a travel guide for Israelis who want to visit Jordan."

He also sent another "Letter to the editor."

'A good neighbor is better than a far brother' -- this is an Arabic expression and it is also the subject of my letter. I propose a way for good neighborliness between the state of Israel and the state of Palestine, far from all violence and mutual terrorism. I think that seperation between the two peoples is the right thing.

To begin with, all settlements should be dismantled because they are a malignant illness, a cancer for both nations. Required also is the payment of fair compensations to all who have worked legally in Israel. We must declare total war upon all the crazy extremists of both peoples, upon everybody who wants bloodshed.

The time has come to show courage and establish two states with a border and embassies, and all the rest. No longer should we let ourselves be dictated to by extremists and murderers.

Those who read this may feel that it is a dream, but it's reality. That is how things are going to be, if not today, then tomorrow.'
P. 10


Avnery awarded Peace Prize
-- Erich Remarque Prize for engages --


Uri Avnery is this year's winner of the Erich Remarque Peace Prize, named for the German anti-Nazi author of the famous Im Westen nichts Neues (All quiet on the Western Front). Avnery got the prize for his more than forty years of untiring efforts on behalf of Israeli-Palestinian peace. The prize, in the sum of 25,000 DM, will be officially awarded at a ceremony in June at the Town Hall in OsnabrÅck, where Remarque was born.

A second award will be given to the Bosnian writer Miljenko Jerkovitz, who lives in besieged Sarajevo.

Born in the German town of Beckum in 1923, Avnery emigrated with his family to Palestine in November 1933. Five years later, at the age of 15, he became member of the Irgun -- an anti-British underground organization. An underground fighter until 1942, he gradually became disenchanted with the movement's simplistic nationalism.

In 1947 Avnery published the first of his books: War or peace in the Semitic region, a call for an alliance between the Hebrew and Arab national movements. Yet the times were against such an idea, and with the outbreak of war in 1948, he joined the newly-formed Israeli army, served in the "Samson's Foxes" commando unit, and was wounded in action.

While a soldier he acted also as a war correspondent for Ha'aretz; his articles formed the base for a book, In the fields of the Philistines, which was a best-seller in 1949. But his 1950 book, The other side of the coin, was boycotted by the authorities because of its exposing the ugly side of the 1948 war. In the same year he became publisher and editor-in-chief of Haolam Hazeh news magazine -- a position which he held until 1990.

Ever since 1948 Avnery has been an outspoken advocate of the Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution. He propagated this idea incessantly in Haolam Hazeh and waged a consistent struggle against the military adventures of the Ben-Gurion regime, which branded him "Enemy No.1". He called on Israel to welcome the Egyptian and Iraqi revolutions, and participated in 1959 in the "Israeli Committee for a Free Algeria" which held secret contacts with the FLN. In 1965 he headed the "Haolam Hazeh -- New Force Party", the first to advocate a Palestinian state, and was twice elected as its representative to the Knesset (1965-1973). The ideas are expounded in his book Israel without Zionists (1969), which was translated into many languagues.

In 1975, Avnery was one of the founders of the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (and became member of The Other Israel's editorial board when the paper was launched in 1983). He also took part in the creation of the Shelli Peace Party in 1977 and returned as its representative to the Knesset (1979-1981).

He had a prominent role in starting the (initially secret and risky) dialogue between the Israeli peace movement and the PLO. This came to a dramatic climax in July 1982, at the height of the Lebanon War: Avnery openly crossed the lines in besieged Beirut and had an unprecedented meeting with Yasser Arafat. The story of Avnery's years-long contacts with Arafat and other PLO leaders was told in My friend, the enemy (1988).

In the early 1990's, Avnery seemed to gradually retire from active involvement in politics and settle into the role of respected commentator and "elder statesman", writing columns in Ma'ariv and Ha'aretz, frequently invited to speak at popular TV programs. His central role in the growth of modern Israeli journalism was recognized, also by his most bitter rivals, and he was invited to become a lecturer at the Study of Journalism program of Tel-Aviv University.

Since 1992, however, Avnery was drawn back to daily involvement in radical politics, by the growing feeling that Yitzchak Rabin (whose candidature Avnery originally supported) was badly mismanaging the peace process. Following Rabin's decision to deport 415 Palestinian activists to Lebanon, in December 1992, Avnery was among the first to organise the protests out of which grew the Gush Shalom movement. At present he is a frequent participant at practically all protests and peace events going on in Israel and the Occupied Territories, showing an energy and zest which would put much younger people to shame.

****

Peace Actions

+++ On the evening of December 10, at the time of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Gush Shalom held a demonstration at the CinematÇque Square of Tel-Aviv. About two hundred participants were holding torches and signs reading: Peace Prize OK, but where is the peace? Peace Prize OK, but what about implementation of the agreements? Israeli television showed the demonstration together with the Oslo ceremony.
Contact: Gush Shalom, POB 11112, Tel-Aviv 61110.

+++ On the same day, several dozen members of the Labor Party Youth demonstrated at the Ra'anana Junction north of Tel-Aviv, praising Rabin and Peres for their efforts to bring peace. Soon, police forces formed a buffer between the youths and right-wingers who had started "Rabin-Traitor!" shouts.

Confrontations between Israeli supporters and opponents of the peace process occurred also at Oslo itself, outside the hall where the ceremony took place.

+++ On December 11, the Palestinian Non-Violence Center and Gush Shalom stood together at Ras-al-Amud, on the border between the West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem, protesting the continued Israeli settlement activity in East Jerusalem, where new cases of land expropriation and demolition of (Palestinian) houses had been reported recently.

The demonstration was marked by only one incident: police demanded the removal of a Palestinian flag; the woman holding it refused, and in the end the police gave in. Some things did change...

Contact: Non-Violence, POB 20999, East Jerusalem.
p. 11

| Traveling through the Gaza Strip on December 31, some fifty Israelis met with a great variety of Palestinians: grassroots activists and Palestinian Authority officials; supporters, critics and opponents of the Oslo Accords. The Alternative Information Center had to overcome enormous obstacles in organizing the tour, which should have taken place already on November 26; the bloody events on the 18th, when Palestinian police shot and killed Islamic demonstrators, necessitated a delay. It had also not been easy to obtain the army's permission for Israelis to cross into the Palestinian areas. In the weeks after the Netzarim blast the army was especially nervous about the presence of Israelis in Gaza and tended to forbid it "for their own safety." This rule does not, of course, apply to settlers...

Contact: AIC, POB 31741, Jerusalem

Calls for Arab-Jewish Peace Movement

+++ On January 13, a demonstration took place at the encampment of the Jahalin Bedouins, threatened with eviction orders since the site is slated for extending the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim (TOI-60, p. 10).

Some hundred participants stood in a long line astride the settlement's main approach road. It was a heterogeneous crowd: Israelis, international volunteers, veteran Palestinian activists and of course the Jahalin themselves. A single settler also came to express support: a young woman, recently arrived from Russia, with little understanding of Israeli politics but much compassion for the plight of her neighbors.

On the evening TV news one of the young Jahalin commented on the government offer of an alternative site: "The place they want us to go is right beside the municipal garbage dump. Let Rabin himself go to live there with his wife, we will follow him!"

Contact: Jahalfn Solidarity, POB 20531, J'lem.

+++ On the morning of January 17, more than 200 Bedouins of the Yatta area, at the extreme southern edge of the West Bank, were forced at gunpoint to board army trucks with all the possessions they could carry. Their land was declared "military area" and is destined for extension of the nearby settlements Susia and Ma'on. Five Palestinian journalists working for international news agencies were detained for filming the eviction and property destruction.

Palestinians from nearby Hebron alerted the Hebron Solidarity Committee in Jerusalem. On the morning of January 21, a joint Israeli Palestinian protest took place -- together with Bedouins who had gone back to their ravaged cave homes in defiance of the army.

Living in the periphery, these Bedouins so far had little contact with peace organizations or mainstream media, which makes them an easier target of ruthlessness.

Contact: HSC, POB 31714, Jerusalem.

+++ In Haifa, the struggle against settlements brought together two disparate groups. The Peace Now Youths have been holding regular weekly vigils over the past year at the Horev Center in the affluent Jewish neighborhood on top of Mount Carmel. For their part, the Ibna Haifa (Sons of Haifa) draw their membership from the impoverished Arab neighbor hoods on the mountain's lower slopes.

On January 20, some forty activists met for a joint vigil outside the Shekem Department Store, on the border between the Jewish and Arab parts of Haifa. For an hour and half they stood, holding aloft their signs: Dismantle the Settlements! -- Say Goodbye to the Territories! -- Down with the Occupation! -- Withdrawal Now! At a small table placed on the sidewalk, signatures were collected on a petition against the settlements, There were confrontations with right-wing bypassers. One man who had hurled sexual insults at the women demonstrators suddenly pulled out a badge, proving him to be a plainclothes policeman...

Contact: Iris Bar, 10 Yarden St., Halisa, Halfa.

+++ On January 21, a conference of peace activists from different groups was held in Haifa at the initiative of the Hadash Communists, in order to discuss the deterioration of the peace process. There were several speeches, but the guest of honour was Dr. Haider Abd elthafi of Gaza, former Palestinian chief negotiator, who called for the creation of a peace movement joining together members of both peoples.

The 150 Jewish and Arab participants divided into workshops, to discuss such issues as joint Israeli Palestinian activities, reaching out with a renewed message of peace to the general Israeli public, the problems facing Palestinian workers and peace activity among believers of various religions. The main concrete idea adopted was to hold a joint Israeli Palestinian May Day demonstration, at a point on the pre '67 border accessible to both sides. Contact: Hadash, POB 46081, Halfa.

+++ More than a hundred Israelis and Palestinians, nearly all of them veteran peace activists, participated in a joint conference against settlements which took place on Friday, Feb. 17, at the Bast Jerusalem Ambassador Hotel under auspices of the (Israeli) Alternative Information Center and the (Palestinian) Land and Water Institute.

After listening to addresses by Dr. Haider Abd Al Shafi, Haim Baramj Michael Warshawsky and others, the conference split into workshops. The one led by Shawki Al Issa dealt with the need to create a joint body for the defense of Palestinian villages against the settlements. The one led by Yossi Schwartz dealt with Israeli public opinion.

In the workshop led by Uri Avnery, a "two level approach" was adopted. This means that the work of existing groups, which deal with particular localities (Hebron, Nablus, Beit Sahour, Jahalin) or subjects (housing, water etc.) is to be encouraged. At the same time, there is an urgent need for the creation of an overall Israeli Palestinian Coordinating Committee which will plan actions, pool resources, collect and distribute information, influence the media etc. In the final session, this recommendation was adopted unanimously, and its implementation within three weeks decided upon.

+++ On the morning of January 28, some forty Israeli peace activists boarded a bus in Jerusalem, bound for what seemed a fairly routine event: a visit to recent victims of settler encroachment, initiated by Mubarak Awad -- the well-known Palestinian advocate of Non-Violent Action. The bus set out for the area south of Bethlehem, where settlers of Ma'ale Amos had placed prefabricated homes on Bedouin land.

P. 12
At the spot the Bedouins told to the group how the settlers had been harassing them and their herds for a long time. Though the military authorities acknowledged that the land upon which the caravans were placed two days earlier belongs to the Bedouins, no steps were taken to have the settlers remove their caravans.

Together with the Bedouins, the group set out to see for themselves. They arrived at a settler caravan standing empty with a Palestinian flag on its roof. The settlers apparently failed to place proper guard on the instrument of their provocation. At this point, the caravan was still intact -- but when the Israelis and their escorts advanced half a kilometre, some young Bedouins set the caravan on fire.

A few minutes later, the walking group came under gun fire from the settlement side. Uri Avnery, who was among the Israelis was extensively quoted on the next day's papers: The bullets whizzed over our heads, first single shots and then volleys of automatic fire. We lay on the ground and took cover. Each time I tried to raise my head the settlers opened fire again. In the end we succeeded in escaping by crawling, close to the ground. (Ma'ariv, 29.1.95)

After the whole group had succeeded in escaping back to the bus, they found large military forces whose commander threatened to arrest them. They demanded that he arrest the settlers and confiscate their weapons -- which of course did not happen.

On the following days the settler leaders made dire threats against "Uri Avnery and his friends, who collaborate with the Hamas" -- but made no move to replace the burnt caravans or otherwise encroach upon the Bedouin land.

****


Nuclear update


With the Non Proliferation Treaty due to be internationally renewed in April 1995, the nuclear issue moved to the forefront of the Middle East diplomatic scene. The Egyptians make their signature of the NPT conditional upon an Israeli signature -- a position made abundantly clear at all possible international forums. The Israeli side rejects that demand, but does feel that lip-service has to be paid to the idea of a nuclear-free Middle East, to be created at some unspecified future date.

The Rabin government insists that any such agreement must include such potential nuclear states as Iraq, Iran and Lybia, which is reasonable; but Rabin rejected -- after some U.S. pressure -- the semi-official diplomatic feelers of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qadaffi, who both indicated their wish to join the peace process.

Officially the Israeli government still sticks to its long-standing policy of refusing to admit the existence of Israeli nuclear bombs -- but respectable international journals such as Jane's and researchers like those of The Institute for Strategic Studies constantly publish detailed reports on the number of Israel's tactical and strategic nuclear warheads. Recent disclosures included detailed satellite photos of eight nuclear sites in Israel -- not only the famous nuclear pile at Dimona and the smaller one at Nahal Sorek, but also the sites where the bombs are assembled and where different kinds of nuclear missiles are stored.

These details, now freely available, far outweigh the information published in 1986 by nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, who remains incarcerated under conditions of complete isolation.

****



On December 12, pro-Vanunu demonstrators were detained by American police after holding sit-ins at the Israeli consulates of Philadelphia and Los Angeles -- following similar sit-ins in San-Francisco, Chicago, New York and Washington.

In the same period, the British Campaign to Free Vanunu sent a high-profile delegation to Israel, including such VIPs as Sir Ray Shaw of the British Arts Council, Canon Paul Oestreicher of Coventry Cathedral, and the actress Susannah York, well-known in Israel. The delegation's visit to Israel was scheduled for December 10 -- International Human Rights Day, and also the day that the Nobel peace prize was awarded to Arafat, Rabin and Peres at Oslo.

Directly after arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport, the delegation traveled to the Ashkelon Prison, accompanied by activists of the Israeli Vanunu Solidarity Committee. Presenting themselves at the prison gate, they asked to see Vanunu in order to present to him the Sean McBride Peace Medal, awarded to him in absentia by the International Peace Bureau of Geneva.

The delegation's appearance created a great flurry, with an enormous number of police and prison guards converging on the spot; the Vanunu supporters got their passports and IDs confiscated, and narrowly avoided arrest. (At about the same time, protesters in Oslo set up a replica of Vanunu's cell near to the venue of the Nobel Ceremony.)

On the following day, the British activists with their Israeli componions appeared at the Presidential Mansion in Jerusalem. President Weitzman at first refused to see them; then, suddenly, he changed his mind and received them for a lengthy and quite friendly discussion -- but refused to make any commitment on a pardon for Vanunu.

Susannah York's impassioned plea for Vanunu, on prime-time Israeli TV -- as well as her spirited debate with the notorious nationalist commentator Tommy Lapid -- helped precipitate a public debate on a wide scale. Expressions of support for Vanunu were made by such people as the respected jurist Moshe Negbi, and Yediot Aharonot columnist Sylvie Keshet who dubbed him "The Forgotten Prisoner in the Black Hole." More crucially, the chair of the Knesset Constitutional Committee, Meretz KM Dedi Zucker, decided to take up in public the issue of Vanunu's prison conditions.

P. 13
Even Zucker, the head of a key parliamentary committee, had to threaten appealing to the Supreme Court before the Shabak (Security Service) approved his visit to Vanunu's cell. The prisoner himself was informed only a few minutes in advance of the impending visit -- the first, other than by family members, he had received in eight years.

Afterwards Zucker told the Jerusalem Post (29.12.95): "I met a healthy man who looks good. He seems to be a man of impressive inner strength, stable and rational." Zucker furthermore reported that Vanunu, who has "a profound sense of mission," did not express regret over his actions. Vanunu's only wishes were "that Israelis discuss the country's nuclear activities and that he be removed from solitary confinement."

Zucker vowed to struggle for abolition of the regulations giving the Israeli Prison Authority the power to keep a prisoner under indefinite solitary confinement.

Vanunu Solidarity Committees:
POB 7323, Jerusalem 91072, Israel;
2206 Fox Ave., Madison, WI 53711, USA;
89 Borough High St., London SE1 1NK, UK;
IPB, Rue de ZÅrich 41 CH-1201 Geneva Switzerland.

Letters to Mordechai Vanunu can reach him at Ashkelon Prison, POB 17, Ashkelon, though he is not always able to answer.

****


Women for peace


Between December 28 and 31, several hundred women -- Israeli, Palestinian and delegates from 23 countries from all quarters of the world -- gathered in Jerusalem for the long-planned Conference of Women in Black and Women's Peace Movements. As the organisers put it, the conference was aimed at addressing the paradox of a situation where "peace negotiations have started, yet the occupation continues and Palestinian rights are still trampled on."

As many of the participants noted, the ongoing conflict and militarization of society create specific problems for women which are not addressed in the official negotiations -- carried out by almost exclusively male negotiators on all sides. The big exception has been, for some time, the Palestinian Delegation's spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi, one of the conference's speakers. Among the Israeli speakers were Knesset Members Naomi Hazan and Anat Maor from Meretz and KM Tamar Gozanski of the Hadash Communists.

The original conference schedule was altered because of the fast-developing struggle over the settler land-grabbing at El-Khader. The women boarded together the Peace Now buses which were stopped by army and police at the southern exit from Jerusalem. The Israeli, Palestinian and foreign women proved the most militant contingent, leading the other demonstrators in blocking the road for several hours.

At the conference a special award was given to the Women in Black from Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia who have adapted the Israeli example of weekly vigils by women dressed in black to their own very difficult anti-war struggle. Also women in Germany, Italy and India took up the model in their specific struggles.

Yet in Jerusalem, where it all started, the Friday Women in Black vigils have ceased since Oslo -- though in Tel-Aviv a small but tenacious group continues. The conference gave the impetus to the Jerusalem women for a new form of activity: Not any more weekly vigils by Jewish women addressing the Israeli public in the center of West-Jerusalem but regular vigils by Israeli and Palestinian women together, at spots easily accessible for both. The new vigils would be coordinated by Jerusalem Link with its two autonomous women's peace centers: Bat Shalom in West Jerusalem, and Al-Nisa in the city's Eastern part.

+++ The first vigil organised by Jerusalem Link was on January 6 at the A-Ram Military Checkpoint north of Jerusalem -- a place significant to Palestinians since it marks the separation of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. Among the dozens of women were KM Naomi Hazan and Leila Shaheed -- Palestinian representative in France , visiting her homeland for the first time in decades.

The vigil was followed by a meeting of Israeli and Palestinian women (activists, academics and politicians) at a hall of the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem. The meeting, also initiated by the Jerusalem Link, received extensive media coverage, centering around the (quite friendly) debate between Hanan Ashrawi and Shulamit Aloni, who is Minister of Culture in the Rabin government.

Inside the conference hall Aloni expressed her optimism about the chances of the Oslo process, against Ashrawi who was more sceptical -- as was most of the audience. Meanwhile, outside the hall an incident was developing. The Israeli governmental bodyguards accompanying Aloni suspected Ashrawi's driver of being a terrorist, and were already in the process of arresting him. Just in time the two women, who had been alerted, came running. An embarrassed Minister Aloni apologised personally and shook hands with Ashrawi's driver.

+++ At noon on February 3, dozens of Israeli and Palestinian women demonstrated outside the Western Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, holding signs reading Closure is not the solution! and Settlements -- obstacles to peace!

At the end of the vigil, the women decided to repeat it after two weeks, on Feb. 17.
Contact: Bat Shalom, 43 Emek Refa'im St., Jerusalem.

+++ On January 15, a bus brought Palestinian women to the gate of Hasharon Prison. Soon, the Palestinians were joined by a group of Tel-Avivians, mobilized by Women for Political Prisoners. Together, they marched along the prison walls to position themselves opposite the block of cells housing the Palestinian women prisoners, holding banners towards the passing drivers: Peace begins with the release of prisoners!

The line was led by Meretz KM Anat Maor, Zuhira Kamal of the Palestinian Fida Party and the prisoners' mothers, carrying their daughters' pictures. The group was greeted by the waving of linen from the prison windows.

P. 14
The mood was optimistic. The issue of the women prisoners, and of the Palestinian prisoners in general, was known to be high on the agenda of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Only days before, Israel's Justice Minister Liba'i had talked business with senior adviser Nabil Shaat from the Palestinian side, and strong rumours circulated in the Israeli media that the release of at least ten of the women prisoners was a question of days -- to be followed by a more extensive release of male and female prisoners.

It was not to be. Before anybody had a chance to be released, the suicide bombers carried out the assault at the Beit Lid Junction -- a scant few kilometres from Hasharon Prison. All plans for a prisoner release were thrown into a deep freeze. The closure imposed on the Occupied Territories deprived the prisoners' families even of the possibility of visits and once more the women of WOFPP concluded that the struggle is not yet over...
English-language info: WOFPP POB 31811 Tel-Aviv.

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Struggling for individuals


Dr. Lotte Salzberger, one of the most well-known figures on the Jerusalem scene, died on December 11, 1994. She was born in 1923 at Frankfurt, Germany -- from where her family fled to Holland after Hitler's rise to power. Despite efforts of neighbors to save them, she and her family were taken in 1942 to concentration camps.

In 1949 she came to live in the newly-founded state of Israel and was among the founders of the Hebrew University School of Social Work, which she headed for several years. She was also involved in numerous organizations, and also was a frequent participant in peace demonstrations -- usually accompanied by her two dogs. Between 1985 and 1989 she was Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem -- a position from which she resigned after the municipality rejected all her proposals to improve the conditions of the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem.

She then founded Hamoked (Center for the Rights of the Individual) whose main purpose is to help individual Palestinians caught in the coils of Israeli occupation bureaucracy. Salzberger continued her Hamoked work even in her last day, taking care of various cases by telephoning from her hospital bed. Hamoked will continue without her. Following is a description of Hamoked's recent activities exerpted from its latest brochure.

Paradoxically, since Oslo Hamoked registered a great increase in the number of complaints. Most are from West Bank Palestinians still living under Israeli occupation. The cases of families of detained Palestinians who were not notified of their relatives' whereabouts rose by even more than 100 %. Furthermore, a rise is evident in complaints by Palestinians whom the frequent closures imposed on the Territories cut off from family, work, studies and medical treatment. Such complaints come also from inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, since in that respect the partial withdrawal of the Israeli army made no difference whatsoever.

Another issue high on the Hamoked agenda is family reunification. Until a year ago, non-resident spouses of Palestinians were not granted residency in the Occupied Territories, and were often deported when their visas expired. In August 1993, a Supreme Court verdict forced the government to announce that from now on marriage will be considered a sufficient criterion for granting family reunification requests. However, it soon turned out that the military bureaucracy is reluctant to carry out the new policy. Hamoked is still flooded with complaints about violations of the new rule, and exhausting struggles were needed to obtain in practice what was already promised in principle.

Moreover, the new policy does not cover the Palestinians of East Jerusalem, who -- because the city was annexed to Israel -- have to deal with the Ministry of Interior rather than the military government. The unwritten policy of the Interior Ministry is to refuse family reunification for non-resident husbands of East Jerusalem women.

Such couples usually continue to live together in Jerusalem -- but without legal status. Therefore, quite often the children of such couples are not registered. This implies being excluded from health care, as well as being refused access to schools or having to pay astronomical fees. Last year, Hamoked won an appeal lodged on behalf of nine such children: the Supreme Court ordered the Jerusalem Municipality to supply school facilities for the children and charge normal fees.

While most Hamoked work consists of defending people against the authorities, on at least one issue it recently went on the offensive. The Military Accountability Project includes a systematic reviewing of past cases where Palestinians were the target of manifestly unjustified violence by soldiers. The army is sued for monetary compensation, also in cases where only a small amount could be claimed, and which would not have been taken on by private lawyers.

The authorities seem apprehensive, and in many cases immediately agreed to settle out of court. Thus, after the passage of many years, compensation was given to a Kalanda Refugee Camp inhabitant beaten by soldiers while on his way to the local grocery; to a Hebron family whose house was ransacked by soldiers in the middle of night; to a farmer from Uja, for trees uprooted and an irrigation canal destroyed by soldiers. Similar results are likely in many other pending cases.

English-language brochure from:
Hamoked, 4 Abu Obeidah St., East Jerusalem

This is an apology to our readers for this issue being late -- a result mainly of our staff's incurable tendency to get deeply involved in the things we report on. We tried to compensate you by having more pages -- which also gave us more space to write about the hectic and tragic developments of the past months.

P. 15
Dissent inside the army

+++ Throughout 1994, private Kfir Ohana, a conscript from Tel-Aviv, has been stationed in Hebron on the West Bank. The strain of military routine in this unhappy city, where violence seems about to break out at any moment, was too much for the young soldier; he felt a growing anxiety and depression, which did not cease even in the seemingly safe camp. Ohana had several meetings with the unit's "mental health officer," who diagnosed "a childish personality" -- but found no reason to transfer Ohana to another unit. Ohana took the only course remaining: escaping. After several days in Tel-Aviv, he was caught by the deserter-catchers. These did not guard him well, and he seized an opportunity to escape again -- only to be caught again, this time by the civilian police. He had now against him the charge of "escape from legal custody" as well as of desertion.

When his father visited him in prison, Ohana seemed completely broken. The father who seriously feared that his son was on the verge of suicide, got the help of KM Dedi Zucker. The affair also gained the attention of Vered Levy, correspondent of Tel-Aviv, who weekly informed her readers on his condition.

The intervention succeeded in getting Ohana's term reduced from 49 to 28 days. Later, he was visited anew by a "mental health officer," with the result of Ohana being discharged as being altogether "unfit for military service."

+++ Soon after his immigration from the United States in 1992, Nathan Krystall became involved in the Israeli peace movement, in particular in the Hebron Solidarity Committee, which he helped to found. And during solidarity actions in Hebron over the past year and half, he more than once found himself in the midst of Palestinian demonstrators forcibly dispersed by the army.

In January 1995, the 30-year old immigrant received the customary call-up order for a four-month term of "late conscription". He stated his refusal in a letter to Prime Minister/Defence Minister Rabin: The IDF is instrumental in building Jewish-only settlements and roads. The IDF protects rampaging settlers, routinely assassinates Palestinian activists and stands guard over thousands more in Israeli prisons. And it also is the IDF which created millions of Palestinian refugees, in 1948 and in 1967. I am unwilling to be part of the IDF."

On February 7, Krystall was sentenced to a 14-day term. The military authorities seem likely to repeat his imprisonment again and again, should he persist in his refusal to enlist.
Contact: HSC, POB 31417, Jerusalem.

+++ Over the past two and a half year, the colourful free-lance teacher/shop owner Ohad Kamin (41) has been conducting a rebellion against the authorities. In 1992 Kamin, a practitioner of Ayn Rand's radical individualistic philosophy, informed the Israeli government that he is no longer "their slave". He was already imprisoned for his refusal to pay taxes, but the live-and-let-live ideologist made headlines only after he was arrested -- on 30.1.95 -- for being "absent-without-leave from his reserve military unit". (A two-page article in Shtey Arim (Feb.3) was entitled: Philosopher Behind Bars.)

Kamin's followers maintained a week-long full-time vigil at the entrance to the giant Trzifin military complex. Their signs Compulsary Military Service is Slavery! could not be missed by the thousands of soldiers who pass there every morning. After a week -- in which military police had begged them to go away -- Ohad Kamin was released.
Boaz Erder -- Mind Products, POB 25156, Tel-Aviv

+++ On January 9, the army "deserter catchers" once again paid an early-morning, uninvited visit to the Be'er-Sheba house of Sergey Sandler. The young pacifist immigrant from the Ukraine was taken off to military prison, where he repeated his experience of the previous year (TOI-64, p.11): a month of incarceration, of which 16 days were spent in a protest hunger strike -- subsisting on nothing but water.

Upon his release, the undaunted Sandler wrote for the umpteenth time to all the twelve military institutions involved in granting exemptions, setting out his complete refusal to bear arms. So far, however, the military bureaucracy seems unable to find a face-saving formula by which it could relax its claim upon this manifestly unwilling recruit; two sessions of the military "incompatibility committee" failed to find him incompatible. Backed by the two organizations of which he is himself a member -- Amnesty International and War Resisters International -- Sandler is awaiting the army's next move.

+++ At another Be'er Sheba home, the 18-year old Maxim Sh'klyar -- also a pacifist immigrant from the former Soviet Union -- is likewise awaiting the arrival of the deserter-catchers, having failed to report for military service in December 1994.

+++ Artyom Kalimulin of Netanya, who was severely beaten up by a guard during a previous imprisonment, has lived as a virtual fugitive for the past half year, with the deserter-catchers regularly conducting night-raids upon his parents' home. Following the joint efforts of WRI and human rights lawyer Linda Breyer, the army summoned him to psychological tests, and the results apparently convinced them of his being "unfit for military service."

A more complicated case is that of of Yevgeny Davidov, who refuses military service on the grounds of being a Tolstoyan Christian Pacifist. Davidov was imprisoned on charges of desertion, between December 8 and January 16; on the later date, he was brought before the Central Command court-martial in Jaffa. As part of a plea bargain he was sentenced to a term equivalent to that he already spent behind bars, and released from prison -- but not from the army. Adv.Breyer lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court. The case was made that the Christian Divadov is being discriminated against, since the army regularly grants exemptions to Orthodox Jews who wish to devote their lives to holy studies.
Contact: WRI Israel, POB 28058, Tel-Aviv 61280
Lynda Breyer, c/o St.Yves Society, POB 20531, J'lem.

P. 16

Requiem to Oslo?

by Major General (Ret.) Matti Peled


Two days before the surprise announcement of the four-way summit in Cairo, held on February 2, an article in the daily Davar was published under the above caption. It reflected the general feeling that the Oslo Agreement had indeed, for all practical purposes, died. Then, with the announcement of the Cairo Summit, a hope that perhaps the agreement could still be resuscitated was born -- only to be crushed with the improvised press annoucement read by Egypt's Foreign Minister, who admitted that in fact the last-minute attempt to salvage Oslo came to naught.

The failure was due, quite clearly, to Rabin's refusal to live up to the main undertaking by Israel to redeploy its forces on the West Bank and allow general elections to be held in the Occupied Territories.

These two measures, the most important in the "Gaza-Jericho First" plan, prove to be the major stumbling block on the way to peace. Israel's argument is that security considerations underlie its resentment towards implementing these two cardinal measures. But this is merely a repetition of an old argument, which is being mercilessly overworked in spite of its obvious falsehood.

The real cause for Israel's position is that the results of general elections confirming Arafat as the unchallenged leader of the Palestinian people, and heading a body or group of likewise elected leaders, would place the Palestinian side in an unprecedented position both internally and internationally -- a position which would be the closest that they ever came to statehood status. This would be the step last but one towards admitting that a Palestinian state is becoming a reality. But in order to achieve that status, the elections must appear as completely free of outside interference.

Therefore, Arafat's insistence upon both of these measures makes so much sense -- just as Rabin's opposition is so inevitable. The whole future of the peace process now depends on who will gain the upper hand in this tug of war between Rabin and Arafat.

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Sharp Drop in Soldiers' Morale in Territories

On February 5, the Israeli radio reported a new case of "collective desertion" -- by a group of six soldiers, stationed at Ramallah on the West Bank. The conscripts had been showing signs of growing discontent when home on leave. According to several of the parents, their sons were suffering from extreme fatigue and complaining of harsh behavior by the new commanding officer. They became altogether disenchanted with their combat unit -- to which they had originally volunteered with great enthusiasm.

Following the Palestinian suicide bombing at Beit Lid, on January 22, the unit was ordered on intensive night patrols and searches for suspected Muslim militants; the soldiers got little or no sleep for four consecutive nights. On the fifth night, they were ordered to mount guard on a grounded helicopter. One soldier refused outright, and was backed by his fellows in the ensuing altercation with the commanding officer.

As a result, the entire company was restricted to camp and deprived of their weekend leave. At midnight on Friday, February 3, six soldiers left the camp. Stealing through Palestinian villages and refugee camps, they covered the ten kilometres distance to Jerusalem. From there, they phoned the unit and told the duty officer that they had deserted "in protest against the harsh conditions."

The affair which figured prominently on the radio news of Feb. 5, with the soldiers' parents being interviewed extensively, had disappeared from the news with no references made already on the following day. Like in similar cases, the parents' mediation may have succeeded in preventing a court-martialg, and the soldiers probably got off with light punishments.

Remarkably, a week later the Army Ombudsman informed a Knesset committee that depriving soldiers of sleep is a grave problem in many units, and that commanders find "ingenious ways" of circumventing army regulations on this matter.

+++ According to commanders of army units, up to half the reservists who receive a call-up order find ways of avoiding service, for example by presenting false medical certificates. In anticipation, the units send call-up orders to twice as many as they really need. The problem is particularly severe at units charged with guarding settlements in the Ocupied Territories (Ma'ariv, 23.11.94).

On December 21, a group of nearly hundred reservists -- from combat units which constitute the IDF backbone -- came with their complaints to a somewhat embarrassed Knesset committee. The burden of reserve military service, they complained, is avoided by half of those eligible, while 30% bear 80 % of the total burden, being called away from their families and jobs up to three times a year. Ofer Har-Gil, head of the Reserve Equalization Association told: " My friends consider me a sucker for not trying to shirk."

+++ Under the title "Sharp Drop in Soldiers' Morale in Territories," Ma'ariv (17.11.94) told of an official poll, conducted by army psychologists and presented to a Knesset committee. Out of a sample of soldiers serving in the West Bank, 75.4% were found to have low morale in May 1994, as compared with about 60% in November 1993.

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At the last moment we got the shocking news of Arna Mer's death. The story of her struggle on behalf of the Palestinian children will be told in our next issue.