Archive of _The Other Israel _ Newsletter of the Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace
THE OTHER ISRAEL _ May 2000, Issue No. 93
Fencing & Skirmishing, an Editorial Overview
Negotiations with Syria
The unavoidable Palestinians
Feet in the Lake, by Uri Avnery
a wry comment on negotiations with Syria
Let 50,000 return each year!
Uri Avnery at UN Refugee Conference in Paris
"If I forget thee..." by Adam Keller
Original sin, by Beate Zilversmidt
A Palestinian message to the Israeli and Jewish public
A response from the Israeli Peace Camp
Reprisals and counter-reprisals in Lebanon
The cave dwellers' triumph
Joint action against the odds
The vicissitudes of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue
An Israeli woman's impressions from a tour of Gaza
Another Slice, by Uri Avnery
the inexorable creep of land annexation
an Israeli music group takes a stand for peace
THE OTHER ISRAEL
May 2000, Issue No. 93
FENCING & SKIRMISHING
Our articles may be reprinted, provided they include the address The Other Israel POB 2542, Holon 58125, Israel.
Leaving the SLA behind with its arms could entail the immediate eruption of fighting between it and the Lebanese government forces and/or Hizbullah, which could draw Israel right back in. On the other hand, disarming the SLA before the withdrawal would not only expose Barak to the accusation of "abandoning allies" but also entails the real risk of the SLA resisting by force and turning its arms against Israel which provided them. The only smooth solution -- general amnesty to the bulk of the SLA militiamen so as to let them be reassimilated in the mainstream of Lebanese society -- requires an agreement with the Lebanese government, and hence also with the Syrians.
Having no such agreement and at present no prospect of one, Barak -- at the advice of Yossi Beilin, his Justice Minister and a leading cabinet dove -- took up an unexpected alternative route: vigorous courting of the United Nations, an organization which Israel had long viewed with suspicion and hostility, systematically flouting nearly all resolutions relating to itself. Thus, Barak officially informed the UN of Israel's willingness to fully comply with Security Council Resolution 425, which as long ago as 1978 mandated a full and unconditional removal of all Israeli military personnel from Lebanese soil. Furthermore, Barak asked for the existing UN force in South Lebanon to be strengthened, extended and stationed on the Israeli-Lebanese border.
Secretary-General Kofi Anan accepted the invitation for the UN to step in, without making any comment on Israel's tardiness in complying with that resolution, but on condition that Israeli forces withdraw to the precise line of the International Border -- no keeping of slices, here -- and that the Israeli Air Force and Navy cease their decades-long habit of violating Lebanon's airspace and territorial waters. Similar conditions were posed by France, whose participation in the UN force had been Barak's explicit wish.
Barak accepted all of these conditions without demur. It took him a whole month of struggle with the flabbergasted generals, who reluctantly accepted the direct order to locate new fortifications according to the letter of the 1923 border maps.
It is long since an Israeli Prime Minister exhibited such exemplary regard for international legality. Government speakers make no secret of the fact that the main purpose of this scrupulous observance of Security Council resolutions and international borders was to win international acceptance of those future retaliatory attacks on Lebanon which Israel may decide to launch should any attack come out of Lebanon after the withdrawal.
The Air Force is known to have prepared detailed plans for a prolonged series of bombings and systematic destruction of Lebanese infrastructure -- of which several air raids in the past year, mostly targeting Lebanese power stations, were "a mere sample." Some scenarios published in the press envisaged such attacks escalating into an all-out war with Syria.
Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh, himself a former military governor of South Lebanon, was quite blunt about it: "Military conflict with Syria after Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon is almost inevitable. The Syrians will continue to heat the border and Israel will be dragged into a direct reaction against them. (...) In fact, Israel will only gain from the blaze. Its military superiority over Syria will be publicly demonstrated, the regional balance of power will be redrawn, and the diplomatic negotiations will be resumed on new terms, more advantageous for the Israeli side." (Aluf Ben, Ha'aretz 18.4.)
Even at the beginning of the year, when Israeli-Syrian negotiations were at their optimistic peak, radical commentator Ran Hacohen claimed that it was all a smoke screen and that Barak's real intention was to start war with Syria. But even assuming that Barak preferred and still prefers a negotiated solution, the PM is certainly engaging in highly risky brinkmanship.
Though peace activists now feel disenchanted with the way withdrawal is actually taking place, that will hardly protect them -- Four Mothers in particular -- from becoming convenient scapegoats if things go seriously wrong. There are already angry reactions from inhabitants of the northern border communities, who had hoped for a period of peace with their Lebanese neighbours and now feel -- and rightly so -- that, instead, the front line is coming to their very doorsteps.
On May 9, Israeli Memorial Day, newspaper headlines bore the updated statistics on the number of soldiers killed in Israel's wars: 19,109. And what will the figure be by next year's Memorial Day?
Among the customary Memorial Day interviews with bereaved families on state radio was the one with Pnina Asayag -- whose father Uri, a Coast Guard, was killed in 1953 on the north-eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee:
'If by letting the Golan become Syrian again we will have a peaceful life on both sides of the border, if no more children will have to grow up hearing of a heroic father they have never seen, than perhaps my father's death will not have been in vain.'
The unavoidable Palestinians
(Cont. from p.3)
May 13 was the date on which, as agreed between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, a "Framework Agreement" was supposed to be signed outlining the basic principles for a definite peace treaty. Instead, the day was characterized by a whole series of violent confrontations between Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers, all along the many awkward confrontation lines where soldiers are stationed to guard settlement enclaves in the midst of Palestinian cities and towns.
The riots had broken out over the issue of the Palestinian prisoners, thousands of whom are still incarcerated in Israeli jails seven years after Oslo, and who had started an open-ended hunger strike. (Even the Israeli Security Services recommended releasing all prisoners belonging to Arafat's own Fatah Faction -- but Barak balked at releasing "prisoners with Jewish blood on their hands.")
Indirectly, the prisoner issue had come to symbolize a general feeling of frustration among the Palestinian public, where few still have confidence in the peace process -- or even use that term with any amount of conviction. Precisely a year after Ehud Barak's election victory, which brought tens of thousands of jubilant youths to the Rabin Square in Tel-Aviv and aroused quite a bit of hope among the Palestinians as well, there is little to show.
The only real step forward which Barak did so far was to implement the pending Wye River Accord, which Netanyahu signed back in 1998 and which Barak renegotiated into the Sharm-Al-Sheikh Agreement. And though that belated implementation did involve transfer of an additional 13% of the West Bank to Palestinian control, the move failed to arouse any real enthusiasm among the Palestinians.
So as not to upset the right-wing too much, Barak had chosen to give the Palestinians isolated patches on the periphery of the West Bank, which did not change the basic situation of isolated Palestinian enclaves, surrounded by soldiers and by ever-encroaching settlements. The enclaves remained enclaves, just a bit bigger.
Anyway, all of that took place while the spotlight was directed at negotiations with Syria, and the Palestinian track was treated as a side show. Following the Geneva debacle, Barak seemed to shift his priorities a bit, under the pressure of both the Americans and the cabinet doves. In the "framework agreement" negotiations, Barak's main demand had been to get official Palestinian acceptance of the principle that "settlement blocks", would be annexed to Israel. In return, Barak was offering Israeli recognition for an independent Palestinian state to be established in the resultant "Swiss cheese."
For the Palestinians, this was completely unappealing. The concession required of them was very substantial: giving up the 1967 borders, a fundamental Palestinian and all-Arab demand of the past three decades. And on the other hand, a state they could declare, with or without Israeli consent, and get world-wide recognition. And anyway, Barak -- and for that matter, even the Israeli right wing -- all but officially conceded the principle of a Palestinian state, the question being its territorial extent.
In fact, the Palestinians would not have minded dismissing the whole "framework agreement" which was Barak's pet concept to start with. Far more important for them was implementation of a long-delayed section of the original Oslo Agreement, put off again and again: the Third Redeployment, at whose conclusion Israeli troops are supposed to evacuate all parts of the West Bank except for settlements and "specified military locations."
A reasonable survey of the West Bank, taking in the built-up area of all settlements and some perimeters around that, and the same for military camps, would come up with around 10% and require the army to evacuate the remaining 90% -- very far indeed from what Barak has in mind.
Netanyahu, in his time, had intended to fob off the Palestinians with 1% (one percent) of the West Bank, and call it "implementing the Third Redeployment." Barak was not that crude; he came up with the idea of offering three or four percent, which would be considered an "advance" or "down payment", with the rest of the Third Redeployment put off to some undetermined date. And to make it more attractive to Palestinians, the territory offered was to include the town -- or, as some would say, the Jerusalem neighbourhood -- of Abu Dis.
The prominence which is given in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to the village of Abu Dis is derived from its being and, at the same time, not being part of Jerusalem. In 1967, when the government of Israel arbitrarily annexed many other Palestinian towns and villages and declared them to be "part of United Jerusalem, Eternal Capital of Israel" (and as such supposedly non-negotiable), Abu Dis escaped this fate.
Abu Dis had been under the West Bank military government until 1995, when it was handed over to Palestinian civil control ("Area B") as part of the Oslo-2 Agreement. From this point of view Abu Dis is not "Jerusalem"; it is a Palestinian town of the West Bank, the authority over which may be legitimately transmitted without violating a main taboo of mainstream Israeli politics.
Yet, Abu Dis is part of a single built-up area, inhabited by Palestinians, which continues without visible break through the neighbourhoods which Israel did annex in 1967, and extends clear to the walls of the Old City, the most sensitive part of Jerusalem; the mosques of Haram a Sharif/Temple Mount, Islam's third holiest site and the emotive heart of the Palestinian national identity, are clearly visible from Abu Dis and can easily be reached by foot.
From this point of view, Abu Dis is very much a neighbourhood of Jerusalem. Senior Labour dove Yossi Beilin was the first to realize the usefulness of this ambiguity, coming up in the early 1990's with the idea of making Abu Dis into a "surrogate capital" for the Palestinian state. The Palestinians never accepted
that idea, holding out for "the real" East Jerusalem as their capital; still, they were attracted to Abu Dis as an important stepping stone.
After 1995, the Palestinian Governor of the Jerusalem District established his headquarters in Abu Dis; later, an edifice was erected in the town, rumoured -- though never officially proclaimed -- to be the future Palestinian Parliament. Though the Israeli Army and Security Services retain the right to operate in Abu Dis, they had hardly been using it -- Israeli presence being, in practice, confined to a few token patrols.
Giving up these patrols -- which is what Barak's Abu Dis proposal amounts to in practical terms -- would not change the daily reality in Abu Dis. It would, however, be a symbolic step: allowing Palestinian sovereignty to approach so close to the heart of Jerusalem.
It was this aspect which made it attractive to Arafat -- and which raised the Israeli right-wing up in arms. Buoyed by the success of the Golan Campaign, the settlers and their allies decided to replicate it with regard to Abu Dis. A two-pronged campaign: street action, in which Nationalist-Religious stalwarts from the West Bank settlements would be used as shock troops; and intensive lobbying, aimed especially at the weak links in Barak's coalition, namely the parties which, before the last elections, had been in the Netanyahu Government.
Of these, the National Religious Party proved the most amenable, declaring unequivocally that it would leave the Barak Government immediately upon Abu Dis being handed to the Palestinians. Nathan Sharansky of the Russian Immigrants' Party, too, was firmly against the Abu Dis plan -- to the extent of personally speaking at the settlers' rally against it. But as in many previous crises, the Abu Dis affair proved the Shas Party to be the undisputed arbiter of Israeli politics.
Rabbi Ovadya Yosef, the venerated spiritual leader of seventeen Knesset Members and of an enormous mass following, has outspokenly ruled that the sanctity of human life has priority over that of Biblically-hallowed soil -- yet his party's main constituency consist of the impoverished Oriental Jews who had previously voted Likud.
More important than either of these two observations, Shas has different priorities, the highest of them being undoubtedly securing government funding for its religious educational system. Since the Barak Government was formed, having both Shas and Meretz among its constituents, the two parties had been locked in a running battle which greatly affected the government's functioning. The basic reason for this have been the efforts of Education Ministry Yossi Sarid, the Meretz leader, to deprive Shas of what he considers to be excessive funding.
Thus, Barak's plans for Abu Dis have fallen hostage to a particularly convoluted and prolonged cabinet crisis. Shas made its support for the measure dependent upon getting the school funds, "cash in hand"; Sarid did not bend; and the settlers gathered an array of rejectionist rabbis and kabbalist to pressure Rabbi Yosef on his own turf...
When a group of hawkish ministers and Knesset Members made a demonstrative tour to strengthen Israeli hold over Abu Dis they were chased out of town by a crowd of stone-throwing Palestinian youths. (On the following day a Peace Now delegation was warmly welcomed at the same place.)
Barak decided, in principle, to give Shas the money they wanted, even at the cost of Meretz leaving -- as that party could be expected to continue supporting peace policies from outside the cabinet. But he hesitated to go through with it, dragging the decision one week after another -- until the political system started buzzing with rumours of the government falling and speculations of impending new elections. In Jerusalem, the settlers already called for a giant rally, in which several dissident members of the government coalition were to be featured speakers. And then, suddenly grasping the nettle, Barak called an extraordinary cabinet meeting -- determined to ram through the Abu Dis proposal.
And so, another memorable day. A dramatic cabinet meeting with half of the parties of Barak's coalition threatening to bolt, followed by a stormy Knesset session, with settlers rampaging in the streets of Jerusalem.
At the same time, young Palestinians marked this day -- May 15 -- with wild demonstrations and riots, determined to remind the world that the creation of Israel 52 years ago was a terrible tragedy for their people. Reports in the morning of a mutiny at Megiddo Prison oppressed with great violence are adding fuel. And the day turns into a new tragedy: Israeli soldiers open fire at stone throwing Palestinian youngsters; Palestinian police are drawn into what becomes an exchange of fire between Israeli and Palestinian troops, the heaviest confrontation in four years. By the end of the day four Palestinians lie dead and hundreds of wounded flood the hospitals.
In the midst of all this an issue of The Other Israel goes into print.
For several weeks it seemed increasingly doubtful whether Ehud Barak was capable of handing over Abu Dis. It now seems that he will achieve this but at the price of a major cabinet crisis requiring the Prime Minister to exert all his might to prevent the collapse of his coalition.
With so much difficulty in giving up Abu Dis, which is officially "not Jerusalem", can Barak truly contemplate -- as the French Le Monde claims he does -- to give the Palestinian control of the Muslim holy places in the very heart of Jerusalem, plus a corridor linking them to Abu Dis? Can he -- even if he wants to -- dismantle even the smallest settlement? Can he go beyond the abstract acceptance of a Palestinian state, to disgorging the territory without which such a state can never be a viable one?
And yet, the Abu Dis crisis also proved something else: the intense struggle between party leaders and politicians did not reflect any real turmoil among
ordinary Israelis. With the exception of the religious nationalists -- a distinct minority community -- Israelis seemed unmoved by the nationalist demagoguery. In fact, an opinion poll conducted by none other than the settler leaders themselves (though it was not them who initiated its publication) showed a steady increase in the number of Israelis willing to compromise, even on sacrosanct "United Jerusalem."
Exactly four months are left until September 13, when the Final Status agreement between Israelis and Palestinians is due to be signed. Few, on either side, believe that it can really be achieved. At the most, a new interim agreement will be signed, giving the Palestinians some more land but leaving the fundamental issues unresolved; or even that will not come about.
A Unilateral Declaration of Palestinian Independence may lead to enormous clashes, as masses of Palestinians seek to assert their new sovereignty and "defend the borders of their state, the 1967 borders" -- a scenario called up by such a usually calm and moderate Palestinian leader as Feisal Husseini.
Young Palestinians look north to Lebanon: the meticulous withdrawal to the Israeli-Lebanese International Border in contrast with the wild land- grabbing going on daily all over the West Bank. The unavoidable conclusion: Hizbullah's way, the way of the relentless guerrilla, is the right one.
Even before September, the unfinished Syrian/Lebanese business may burst into flame. And the flying embers may ignite the Palestinian powder keg as well.
It happened before, in world history and also in the short span of Israel's own history. A war whose coming was plain to see, long in advance, and which still was not prevented. In 1973, thousands of young Egyptians and Israelis and Syrians set out to kill and maim each other; it was the shock of that bloodletting which broke through nationalist cliches and demagoguery, and eventually made Menachem Begin sign at Camp David what Golda Meir had firmly refused to sign before the war.
If Barak fails to emerge stronger -- and wiser -- out of the present crisis, we seem bound to another round of the same scenario.
The Palestinian Refugee Question
Let 50,000 return each year
Uri Avnery at UN Refugee Conference
Paris, April 2000
As negotiations for the "Permanent Status" of Palestine near (as many hope) the decisive stage, the problem of the refugees comes to the fore. For decades, this issue has been banned from Israeli consciousness. Now, for the first time, some debate about it is starting to take place.
At the end of April, the United Nations "Division for the Unalienable Rights of the Palestinian People" convened a conference in Paris about this issue, followed by an UN-sponsored meeting of Non-Governmental Organizations. Both took place in the UNESCO building. Unexpectedly, Yasser Arafat himself attended the opening session, together with the PLO Minister for Refugee Affairs. The main spokesman for the refugees was Salman Abu Sitta, a refugee from the Negev and now a successful international building contractor operating from Kuwait.
Palestinian speakers insisted on the literal fulfillment of UN resolution 194 from 1948, which gives each refugee the right to return to his or her former home and/or receive compensation.
Uri Avnery, invited by the UN to take part as an "expert", was given the opportunity to speak at length in the first session. According to the Gush Shalom program, he proposed that Israel acknowledge its responsibility and accept the Right of Return in principle. Most of the refugees opting for repatriation should be settled in the State of Palestine, which must include all the territory of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, while those opting instead for compensation must receive generous payments for their lost property, as well as for loss of opportunity and education.
However, Avnery also proposed a limited return of refugees to Israel proper, as part of the healing and reconciliation process. He suggested as a possible model that 50 thousand refugees should be allowed to return every year in an open-ended process.
Avnery explained that the dream of the Palestinians is a nightmare for Israelis. A viable solution must be accepted by the majority of the refugees and the majority of Israelis, which may seem impossible at present. However, a process of debate, dialogue and practical discussions may lead to the de-mystification of the problem and elimination of the myths and irrational fears that block any solution now. In particular, Avnery proposed that a commission of inquiry, composed of Palestinian and Israeli historians, should be set up at once to study the historical facts and come up with a report on the events of 1948 that will be acceptable to both sides.
The only other Israeli who took part, Knesset-Member Yossi Katz (Labor), proposed the return of 100 thousand refugees to Israel as the final settlement. At first glance this may seem a daring position for a member of the ruling party, but soon it will be heard no longer from him -- Katz has been nominated as Israel's Ambassador to Germany, and he made clear that he had committed himself in that future role to faithfully express government positions.
'If I forget thee...'
It is time for Israelis to face at last what has been avoided for decades: the question of the refugees -- the plight of the people whose suffering is the direct result of the creation of the state.
The past year has seen an increasing turmoil among the refugees, in their dispersed camps. With growing confidence and self-assertion they create international networks, using the internet to link camp to camp and taking in also the intellectuals of the Palestinian Diaspora in the West.
And it all comes back to the Right of Return.
Second- and third-generation refugees cherish the
memory of a lemon tree which they have never seen with their own eyes, walking at every camp in processions waving the rusty key to a home which was bulldozed many years ago, or which had been the abode of others for the last fifty-two years.
In theory, who should better understand them than a people who base their entire claim to the land on centuries of steadfast longing, a people who in their schools and nurseries teach the verse 'If I forget thee, O Jerusalem...'
In theory. In practice, Israelis -- even most of those willing to compromise on all other issues -- regard the possibility of the Palestinian Right of Return as utter menace.
Perhaps it would have been possible to convince the Palestinians to accept that the Right of Return be interpreted as return to the soil of Palestine, and not precisely to that particular dearly-cherished village, had the state of Israel been willing to offer, at this juncture, a Palestinian state embracing the whole of the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- i.e. evacuating the settlements, thereby providing immediate housing to some hundred thousand refugees; evacuating the Jordan Valley, the West Bank's only considerable open land area where new towns and villages could conceivably be constructed on a large scale. Even then, it would have been a bitter pill to swallow; for many refugees the idea of resettlement anywhere but in their original homes is a sacrilege and intolerable insult. Still, they might eventually have accepted it.
But an Israel whose democratically-elected government can offer the Palestinians no more than isolated and already overcrowded enclaves will definitely live to face the Right of Return in all its unmitigated fierceness. [AK]
The painful discussion with A. -- a Diaspora Palestinian -- ended well enough to allow the possibility of future cooperation on issues where we do see a role for ourselves. It disappointed him very much that we wouldn't sign the Right of Return petition, which insists upon the right of return of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their homes. He didn't understand why. He wasn't satisfied with our answer that we could not successfully work for peace inside the Israeli society and simultaneously advocate full justice to the Palestinians. Why can we not do our utmost to have basic wrongs corrected, those done by our society to the Palestinian people. The fact that we entirely agreed about what had happened in 1947 and 1948 made it only more incomprehensible to him that we resisted demanding the reversal of the injustice.
Yes -- regardless of whether the Palestinian refugees were all expelled, or that many just fled the war -- there remains the original sin around which the State of Israel has shaped itself: not allowing the Palestinian refugees to come home after the war was over. We are part of the society which was built on the ashes.
Even those who had fled to a neighboring village but after war's end fell under Israeli sovereignty had their homes destroyed and their lands confiscated. That is how it could happen that at the 52th Independence Day -- May 10 -- Palestinian Israelis from the Galilee organized the Internally Displaced Palestinians' Return March to al-Damoun, a village in the Karmel Mountain destroyed in 1948. Never before has the 'Naqba' (The Disaster) been so openly brought to public attention in Israel as this year.
While these lines are being written Palestinian prisoners, held for years in Israeli prisons, have embarked upon a hunger strike. So far their struggle has been totally ignored by the Israeli media, but it gets a passionate response from the prisoners' families, their friends and everybody else. The result: many new clashes with Israeli soldiers which do enter the media -- and a lot of wounded.
Women for Political Prisoners sent out a call to join their solidarity vigil at the Defence Ministry, in Tel-Aviv (15.5). It is the least one can do and perhaps such action by Israelis will help a few good hearted journalists to convince their editor that the subject is an item. That will again not solve the problem, but still, something has to be done.
Even in the one case of our Palestinian friend N. whose troubles have everything to do with the Palestinian plight we can only alleviate the pain a bit, not really change things.
N. who is now 45, has been working in Israel since his teens. He likes to write letters to the editor in Israeli papers. He is a firm advocate of Oslo, despite the fact that it offered him so little until now. Before Oslo, it was in fact easier for him to enter Israel and get a work permit. The situation worsened already a year earlier, during the Gulf War, but the closures remained and became associated paradoxically with the peace process.
Sadly, the Green Line border exists as an obstacle for Palestinians who have no choice but to search for work in Israel, but it doesn't stop the settlers, nor hinder the Israeli army in being the master on both sides.
Today we got a call that N. was caught and detained by the police "for being in Tel-Aviv illegally." He will probably be sent home within a few days. But will he be able to enter again and hold his job? That is what probably worries him and his wife most. They have six children to feed, to dress, and don't forget the school fees... [BZ]
Dialogue of petitions
In recent months the Palestinian email networks have been buzzing with rivalling petitions, concerned with the Right of Return, with other aspects of the ongoing negotiations and with criticism of various aspects of Arafat's rule.
One of the texts, signed by a considerable number of Palestinian public figures of different political persuasions, was addressed to the Israeli Peace Camp.
March 2000. We, the undersigned Palestinian intellectuals, address to the Israeli and Jewish public this message clarifying our point of view on the current
peace process. We are concerned that what is being contrived is not peace, but the seeds of future wars. The majority of Palestinians, including the undersigned, believed that the time was ripe for concluding with the Israelis a historic agreement that would allow us to live together finally in peace in one land, despite the injustice, suffering and dispossession inflicted on us over the decades by the Israeli side.
The majority of Palestinians believed that peace would be based on two principles: justice and the requirements of a common future. What we are witnessing in reality is far from these principles. One side believes the present balance of power to be in its favour, and that it can impose a humiliating agreement on the other side, forcing it to accept virtually anything it chooses to enforce. The historic settlement is becoming a settlement between Israelis themselves, not a settlement with the Palestinians.
It is a settlement that suffocates the Palestinians humanly, territorially, security-wise and politically: humanly, because it does not recognize their human and historical rights; territorially, because it isolates them within confined areas in towns and villages while progressively confiscating their land; security-wise because it places Israeli security in principle over and above Palestinian rights, existence and security; politically, because it prevents Palestinians from determining their future and controlling their borders.
We believe we express the deepest convictions of our people when we openly confront you with these realities. You will have to choose between a settlement that is imposed by a balance of forces overwhelmingly favouring your government and your military, and one that is just, which will favour both Israelis and Palestinians, and which will provide the basis for long-term coexistence on the same land. We are placing the choice in your hands.
We state, in all clarity, that we see only two solutions for a just settlement of the Palestine question. The first solution is based on the establishment of a Palestinian state, with complete sovereignty over the lands occupied by Israel in 1967 and Jerusalem as its capital, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and the recognition by Israel of the historic injustice inflicted on the Palestinian people. The Palestinian state will be established on the principles of democracy and human values adopted by the Palestinian Declaration of Independence in 1988.
The second solution is the establishment of one democratic bi-national state for the two peoples on the historic land of Palestine.
It is clear that the Palestinian negotiator, whose hands are tied by the overwhelming balance of power working against him, may be coerced into accepting a humiliating and degrading settlement that will lead to neither of these two solutions. History abounds with examples of nations that were coerced into settlements they did not support and which ended in catastrophe for all parties.
We address this message, first and foremost, to those Israelis who believe in the values of justice and equity, and to all those who aspire for peace the world over. We want to tell them that the settlement the Israeli leadership is seeking to impose on the Palestinian negotiator could not be a settlement with the Palestinian people. It will be a fragile settlement bearing within it the seeds of its own destruction. We will neither support nor accept it.
We extend our hand to you to make a real and just peace, not the militarist peace of coercion, the generals' peace.
Two Israeli petitions were organized in response, each eventually published in a Ha'aretz ad with a total of 200 signatures (a few appearing on both).
The first, initiated by the Alternative Information Center, simply endorsed the Palestinian petition and its positions.
The second, whose text follows, had among its signatories supporters of Hadash, of Gush Shalom and of various other peace groups. It was also signed by Shulamit Aloni, former Meretz leader who still enjoys great prestige in the Israeli peace camp. When asked by a Ha'aretz reporter she made clear that her support for the Right of Return refers to return to the Palestinian state, rather than to the individual refugees' former homes in Israel proper. In the subsequent discussion, Uri Avnery -- who had been among the initiators of the "Israeli answer" -- came up with the concept of an annual return quota (see article on p.6).
We, Israeli citizens, Jews and Arabs, greet the Palestinian intellectuals who recently appealed to Israeli public opinion and express our support for a historical compromise, which will make the end of the conflict between the two peoples in the country possible and initiate a new period of partnership and neighbourly relations.
Together with them, we see fit to warn against the attempt by the Israeli government to impose on the Palestinian side an unjust, unbalanced and degrading settlement, by exploiting its relative weakness. This attempt is extremely dangerous to the future and to the security of both peoples, since a settlement imposed by force, and unacceptable to the Palestinian people, will not endure.
Political rape cannot give birth to a historical compromise. A justified longing for peace, shared by the majority of Israelis today, should not blind us from seeing that in order to achieve an enduring Israeli-Palestinian peace accord which can serve as a basis for reconciliation between the peoples, this accord must include elements of justice, rectification of wrongdoing, good will, reconciliation and even-handedness.
We know that we and the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people long for peace. For the Palestinians, peace must be based on the realization of their national and social rights; on the redress, if only partial, of the injustices which they suffered; and on a genuine prospect for independent economic development that can secure their future.
In the present historical circumstances, this means: the establishment of an independent Palestinian
state alongside Israel, in the territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip conquered in 1967, including Jerusalem, evacuation of the settlements, recognition of the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, recognition of the injustices perpetrated against the Palestinians as well as mutual recognition as partners and neighbors in this land.
An unjust settlement which will not respond to the basic needs and rights of the Palestinian people will be unacceptable to it, including those Palestinians who support peace and compromise, as well as to Israelis who support a just peace.
We have a historical opportunity to end the bloody conflict and to open a new chapter of just peace, mutual respect, partnership and neighbourly relations. Therefore, we call on the Israeli peace camp to act in order to change the dangerous government policy which pretends to lead to peace, but which might continue indefinitely and even exacerbate the reality of historical injustice, robbery, inequality and dependence, and conclusively prevent peace and reconciliation between the two peoples.
List of signatories from:
Efraim Davidi, pb 33078, Tel-Aviv; email@example.com
AIC (Sergio), pb 31417, J'lem; firstname.lastname@example.org
A retaliation for a retaliation
May 4: All news broadcasts are full of politicians, economists, government officials and trade unionists fiercely arguing the long-awaited tax reform proposal, presented that morning in a live broadcast from the Finance Ministry. Not an unimportant subject at all -- but still, rather outside the direct brief of a peace activist. A day to enjoy the luxury of not listening to the news every hour, of going deep into an intricate piece of writing which is rather overdue.
Should have known better. In the evening the thundering voice of the news announcer breaks in from the neighbor's TV: "(...) The interview with the Finance Minister has been cancelled -- the minister is right now attending an emergency meeting of the cabinet. And now to our correspondent on the Lebanese border (...).
The screen was filled with images of burning cars and wounded civilians in the streets of Kiryat Shmona, which had just been subjected to a barrage of Katyusha rockets from Lebanon.
The commentator did mention that this was a Hizbullah retaliation for the killing of two Lebanese women in a "mistaken" barrage on their village. It was mentioned -- but just in passing, and with no photos. It was drowned out by the shrill demand for the government to "do something", to "bomb Lebanon to hell" as one of the Kiryat Shmona townspeople put it -- followed by politicians, from the government coalition and the right-wing opposition alike, who said more or less the same.
Another report -- from the Defence Ministry in Tel-Aviv -- the ministers' cars arriving for the cabinet meeting. Behind the reporter's back the familiar parking lot could be seen where we held countless protests and vigils. If we could have gotten there right now, with picket signs calling upon the government to show restraint, the whole country would have seen them...
As it was, there was little to do during the evening beyond faxing a Gush Shalom press release -- quickly, to make the papers' deadline. A phone call from the Voice of Palestine -- could we translate the Hebrew text. Sure we could: "The Gush Shalom movement calls upon the government to resist the combined pressure of Hizbullah and of warmongers inside Israel, and to refrain from military adventures."
10.30 PM -- The cabinet meeting is over. No details published, but clearly some punitive action had been decided upon. The people of the north border communities had been told to stay in the air raid shelters until further notice. And how the tensions must rise over in Lebanon. Any sane Lebanese must already have learned at an hour like this to stay away from electricity pylons...
By 1.00 there is still no news. A night of tense sleep. The morning radio news: "Air force bombers destroyed electricity transformers, plunging East Beirut and Tripoli into darkness, and hit the Beirut-Damascus Highway, gouging a deep crater. All planes returned safely to base."
Three dovish ministers had opposed the decision. "Whatever my personal reservations, I share the responsibility for the cabinet's decision" says the voice of Police Minister Ben Ami.
Then, the email from the Khiam Prison Solidarity Group: Tel-Aviv's regular Friday noon vigil of Women in Black and Yesh Gvul will today be a rallying point for protest about the bombardments. Not much time left for all that is needed: forward the message to the Gush Shalom activist list, call some by phone, compose and send out a new press release, prepare picket signs with Withdrawal Yes -- Bombardments No! Stop Escalation in the North and No to the Hundred Metres' War!
Meanwhile, the radio tells of a new Hizbullah salvo hitting Kiryat Shmona -- retaliation for a retaliation for a retaliation. How many more cycles? Knesset Member Mossi Raz is broadcast condemning the bombing and reiterating that the escalation started from "a grave Israeli mistake." It seems that having a parliamentary seat did not yet calm down this former head of Peace Now.
Noon at the Tnuva Junction. A triangular "island" covered by a park, where several of Tel-Aviv's busiest highways meet, and at whose sharp angle demonstrators can be sure of being seen by thousands of motorists; the Friday vigils had been going on here, week after week, ever since the outbreak of the Intifada in 1988. The regulars are joined by those others who got the call in time, one coming especially all the way from Haifa. The signs are distributed, some bigger banners are hung between trees and electricity pylons, and ragged lines are formed, facing the two streams of traffic.
Some of the motorists are hostile: "Why don't you do this over in the north? Do you think of the people there?" "We are doing it also for them!" the lights turn green before the exchange could develop
further. But quite a lot of them are on our side, eagerly taking up the proffered bumper stickers with the slogan Peace with Lebanon and Syria -- leftovers of the campaign against the Golan lobby.
An over-eager sticker distributor is chided by the other activists: "Getting one more driver to put it up is not worth risking your life!" Altogether, the results of this rough-and-ready "opinion poll" are quite encouraging. Despite all the jingoistic talk in the media, Tel-Avivians do not seem eager for the escalation to go further.
The vigil disperses. Further actions are discussed. "We can publish a petition. It will not be difficult to get several hundred signatures quickly, we can use the email lists." But in the afternoon hours, things seem to calm down. Barak apparently decided not to launch another attack on Lebanon, so as not to risk losing the diplomatic kudos he got for his willingness to withdraw from Lebanon. In the evening, it it clear. One more round of conflict is over. Now for the next.
Updates on Land Confiscation
The cave dwellers' triumph.
On November 16, 1999, when the army expelled Palestinian cave-dwellers from their poor homes on the southern edge of the West Bank, the event got nearly no mention in the media (see TOI-92, p.12-15). It took months of sustained effort by a coalition of peace and human rights activists before the public became aware of what happened -- and even longer for the true magnitude of what happened to become known. The original military communique spoke of "a few Bedouin families, removed from a military training zone for their own safety"; activists and journalists who went to see for themselves discovered no less than 300 dispossessed people taken in for the winter by already overcrowded nearby cave communities.
But there were more: in January, B'tselem field workers conducted a systematic survey, collecting testimonies and affidavits which were later published in a special brochure; they found many more of the displaced cave people living in all kinds of makeshift shelters further afield, some of them as far as the Jordan River Region.
Altogether, it turned out that during a single day of military rampage 730 men, women and children, constituting six entire pastoral communities, had been turned out of the caves where they and their ancestors had lived for many generations -- "the good caves where it is warm in winter and cool in the summer." No less important, their flocks of sheep and goats, source of their livelihood, were deprived of their customary pastures. All, it seemed, in order to "counterbalance" the removal of a single small "settlement outpost" from the same vicinity -- one of the dozens of illegal outposts put up by fanatic settlers on seized Palestinian land all over the West Bank...
By January, the issue had already become the subject of vigils, demonstrations, news items, controversial press articles and protest petitions bearing long lists of famous names. Once the facts were known, a lot of people in Israel were shocked and appalled by what "their" government, the Prime Minister which they had helped bring to power, has done. But this seemed to avail nothing in changing the situation.
The press reported of Yossi Sarid Minister of Education and leader of the dovish Meretz Party, feeling frustrated with PM Barak's attitude: 'Sarid has taken up the cave dwellers' issue in the cabinet plenum, in personal meetings with the Prime Minister himself and also with his aides. He got nowhere. Can't Barak understand that these professors and artists who signed the petition look to Meretz to represent them in the government?' (Yediot Aharonot, 25.2).
When the well-known writer David Grossman and several other engaged artists and intellectuals obtained an interview with General Moshe Ya'alon, Officer in Charge of the West Bank, they got more than a glimpse of hidden agendas. With the air of making them privy to state secrets, the general spread large-scale maps on his desk: The cave-dwellers had happened to inhabit a "strategic area", i.e. an area needed in order to secure "territorial continuity" with a clump of settlements further to the north... However, his guests were not moved by the appeal to their patriotism, and immediately publicized what they had been asked to keep confidential.
Meanwhile, a large group of the expelled Palestinians took matters into their own hands and went back to their caves -- quite openly, with the move rather sympathetically covered on prime time TV. The army let them be for a week. But on February 28, an overwhelming military force descended upon the site for another brutal eviction, with the Palestinians' meagre possessions thrown in a heap on trucks and the owners forced to follow. This time, however, several Israeli activists were there with cameras, documenting every phase of the "military operation."
Some of these photos, arranged into a chilling exhibition, were the first view of the event for a crowd of hundreds pouring into the lobby of the Tzavta Club in Tel-Aviv on the evening of March 19. In the packed hall, the whole spectrum of peace and human rights groups was present, B'tselem and ACRI and the Workers' Hotline; Gush Shalom and Hamoked; Physicians for Human Rights and Rabbis for Human Rights; the Committee Against Home Demolitions and the Committee Against Torture.
Among the speakers were Knesset Members Muhammad Barake and Mossi Raz, and Shulamit Aloni, Grand Old Lady of the Israeli left. The politicians were followed by a host of journalists, columnists, lawyers and artists. Grossman announced proudly the latest achievement of his lobbying campaign: "The day after tomorrow, Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg is coming with me to meet the cave dwellers."
There were many fiery speeches; a well-made documentary film, made at the caves, was screened; and the longest and loudest applause was reserved for Mahmud Hamdada, representative of the Cave Dwellers, who made (in Hebrew) a simple and unemotional -- yet highly moving -- speech. Still, among many of the gathered activists there was a persistent
feeling of frustration. "Will any of this really help?" was an often-repeated question.
It came to the surface when Haim Oron, Minister of Agriculture for the Meretz Party, mounted the podium. He made a sharp enough speech: "These people did not 'illegally enter' a military training area; it was the army which entered the area where they had lived generations before the state of Israel and its armed forces came into existence. Israel does not need this area, the whole idea of creating territorial continuity to the settlements is completely wrong. This is the brutality of occupation. Since Oslo we have been deluding ourselves that the occupation is over -- it is not." Yet the more radical his speech, the more numerous and loud the hecklings and cat-calls which punctuated him: "Why then are you still in this government?" "What is your party doing about it?" "Opportunist!" "Career-seeker!" Oron's protestations and his assurances of "working from the inside" failed to calm the audience.
With Prime Minister Ehud Barak apparently an immovable rock, activists came to pin their hopes on another Barak -- Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, who in the past half year already handed down several dramatic verdicts. Two appeals had been lodged on behalf of Cave Dweller families -- one by 82 families, represented by the veteran human rights lawyer Shlomo Leker, and another by Adv. Netta Amar of ACRI (Civil Rights Association) representing four more families.
On the morning of March 29, the great hall at the Supreme Court building was too small: Israeli activists and journalists, Palestinian dignitaries and -- of course -- many of the expelled Cave Dwellers themselves, conspicuous in their traditional garb. The settlers, too, had sent a few representatives -- sitting apart at a corner, furiously scribbling.
It all turned on one factual question: had the Cave Dwellers been there before the army declared the area a firing range, or did they come later? The state had somewhat moderated its position, no longer claiming that all the 730 were without exception "interlopers" and "squatters." Some of them may have really have been legitimate inhabitants; an impartial arbiter should be appointed, to rule on their claims; those whose claims were approved would be allowed back.
Advocates Leker and Amar were quick to object and point out the deportees' severe plight at their present scattered places of exile. Judge Dalia Dorner, who sat at the left of the bench, seemed impressed by the argument. 'Can they not come back for the time being? After all, the state already admitted that military use of the range is in fact not very intensive', she inquired.
Indeed -- after proceedings lasting less than two hours, much shorter than expected -- the three judges rendered a unanimous verdict: all the appellants were free to go back to their caves, effective immediately, pending the arbiter's decision. Moreover, the identity of said arbiter was to be defined by agreement between the parties. There was much jubilation when the crowd spilled out into the lobby, handshaking and backslapping and intensive interviews to one TV camera after another. The two lawyers were congratulated, as were other central participants in the campaign: Amos Gvirtz of Kibbutz Shefai'm, who when the affair started worked almost single-handedly to mobilize fellow activists; Gideon Levy of Ha'aretz newspaper, the first journalist to write about it; the irrepressible David Grossman...
In the following day's Yediot Aharonot, some of the Cave Dwellers appeared in a full-page photo, smiling broadly under the caption "Returning home."
The military authorities were not yet ready to give up. Interpreting the Supreme Court's decision narrowly, as applying only to the 86 families represented by the two lawyers, soldiers started appearing at the caves and handing eviction notices to other families who also returned. However, when the lawyers threatened a renewed appeal, the new eviction orders were immediately "frozen" and the return of all 730 to their homes was recognized as an accomplished fact.
And still, on April 9, carloads of Israeli invited to participate in the Cave Dwellers' "Homecoming Party" found the direct roads blocked by soldiers, wielding "closed military zone" orders. The buses had to take rutted, winding dirt roads, before reaching the huge tent where many Palestinian guests, including senior Authority officials, were already seated.
There were many speeches, ranging between congratulations for the victory and gloomy references to the more general situation: In September we will either get Independence and our rights, or it will be Sabra and Shatila.
Meanwhile, the hosts had prepared a "hafla" feast of huge, steaming platters. In the traditional Arab manner, forty sheep had been slaughtered -- a bit of an embarrassment, with quite a few of the Israeli activists being confirmed vegetarians, but they could at least eat the excellently-cooked rice...
Joint action against the odds
Saturday, March 11 - Tel-Aviv. The weekend silence of the concourse in front of the Arlozorov Street Railway Station is disturbed by the arrival of a special bus. A knot of people who had been waiting on the sidewalk, several carrying folded placards, get aboard, most of them wearing the distinctive T-shirts of the Gush Shalom movement with the entwined Israeli and Palestinian flags.
The bus heads northeast; half an hour's drive through almost empty highways brings it to a junction where another group waits, wearing shirts with the Peace Now logo. The bus proceeds to cross into the West Bank.
The rendezvous with the Palestinians was scheduled for the village of Esla. The Israelis alighting from the bus are welcomed by a crowd of several hundreds - villagers, dignitaries, Palestinian Authority officials, activists of various parties and factions who have gathered from all over the Qalqiliya District. Across the fields of the village, on top of the hill a few
kilometres away, a glimpse of what had brought the Israeli and Palestinian protesters to this spot could already be seen: a cluster of villas with red slate roofs, constituting the settlement of Alfey Menashe.
It is the same depressing story all over the West Bank. The creation years ago of the Alfey Menashe settlement - which is, in fact, a middle class suburb whose inhabitants daily commute to work in the Tel-Aviv area - had already deprived the villagers of much of their land. On February 2000, a building contractor commissioned by the settlers began the work of laying out a new road and a new water pipe, aimed at extending the settlement to the opposite hill - in the process cutting straight through Palestinian fields and olive groves, as if these did not exist.
'A one-time chance to become part of Alfey Menashe' read the full-page ad in the Israeli papers. 'The most beautiful community around, where your children will have unmatched educational facilities and access to a Country Club with two excellent swimming pools. Now you can get the house of your dreams in Alfey Menashe, all at the price of 241,000 Shekels (about 60,000 Dollars).' The Palestinian farmers, towards whom the enticing offers were of course not directed and whose modest wish is to continue cultivating their lands, had asked us to come and share in their protest.
The procession starts moving. Israelis and Palestinians mingle, placards and banners held aloft, Palestinian flags fluttering in the wind, and also some red flags brought by members of the Palestinian People's Party. The Iraqi-born Meretz oldtimer Latif Dori translates the Hebrew and Arabic slogans to those who don't understand the respective language: We are here, this is our land -- No peace with settlements -- We did not elect Barak to continue Netanyahu's policy.
The army seems to have been caught a bit unprepared. We get quite close to the settlement, close enough to see a settler mowing his lawn, before soldiers appear running and form a ragged line to block our further movement. It is the tense moment which is inevitable in such actions; trying to get nearer could lead within minutes to tear gas, or worse. But today, the Palestinian organizers make a clear decision: Gush Shalom's giant green banner, six metres long, is planted at the front, establishing a fence; it bears the words The Green Line -- Border of Peace in Hebrew, Arabic and English. The megaphone is taken out of a carrying bag: the rally begins.
"This is not a struggle between Palestinians and Israelis, it is a struggle of those on both sides who want to achieve peace against those who try to block the way to peace", says Gush Shalom's Uri Avnery. He has been saying it for years -- especially in joint Palestinian-Israeli actions -- but it never wears out.
Yehudit Har'el of Peace Now provides an impressive surprise by demonstrating her ability to make a speech in Arabic: "We shall live together in this land, two states for two peoples, and both will have their capital in Jerusalem."
Adnan Rashash, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, reiterates: "For us, peace is a strategy and not tactics. We want peace for our children and yours, a future of peace and security for both peoples. But that means no more settlements, no more taking of our land, no more uprooting of our olive trees. With these things going on, we are not going towards peace but towards explosion." Latif Dori translates it in full, for those among the Israeli demonstrators who don't understand Arabic. The soldiers could hear it, and maybe also the settlers. What did they make of it?
"See you in independent Palestine" calls a young villager in Hebrew, when we pile back into the bus. For the Gush Shalom contingent, this is not yet the end of this day's activity. We travel to Kochav Ya'ir, where Ehud Barak has his private home, which he is known to prefer to the official residence in Jerusalem. That's where you could expect him to be on a Saturday noon.
The small street leading to the Barak Home is blocked by Security Service bodyguards, but they make no objection to a vigil on the main street. We unfurl the banners and placards again and the text of a letter to Barak is read out:
Mr. Prime Minister!
We have come to demonstrate against the confiscation of Palestinian land, the uprooting of Palestinian olive trees, the plan of creating a new settlement neighborhood -- or rather, a whole new settlement -- on newly-seized Palestinian land. This, like many other creations of 'faits accomplis' all over the West Bank, is a provocation against peace, against any possibility of reconciliation with the Palestinian people. We have voted for you, as did a large majority of the people in Israel, to give you a clear mandate for peace. You can still do it, if you exhibit leadership and free yourself of outworn nationalist cliches.
Within less than ten minutes, a man comes towards us walking briskly, a face known from the TV news: Roni Bondy, the PM's confidential aide. He takes the letter and disappears into the Barak home. After a quarter of an hour he is reappears, smiling and beaming and effusive. Yes, Yes, of course. The Prime Minister will look into the Alfey Menashe situation. He is most sincerely committed to peace. He has the highest regard for Gush Shalom. We are the kind of voters on whose support he counts. -- "Let there be no mistake: the support of these people cannot be taken for granted" replies Avnery .
s On April 11, the "Judea and Samaria Council" started extension work at the large settlement of Efrat, in the Bethlehem District, in open defiance of government policy. "We did not get all the permits, but we go ahead anyway" said the settler leaders to the TV crew present, as the bulldozers took yet another bite from the lands of the Palestinian El-Khader Village. Though the act was manifestly illegal, even under the military government's directives, the police and soldiers present did nothing to stop it.
Upon hearing the news, Peace Now scheduled a protest demonstration at the spot for the following day, organizing an emergency mobilization by phone and email, and inviting members of Gush Shalom to join. On the following morning, while a bus full of
activists was halfway to Efrat, the news came of a second settler operation -- this time at the settlement of Har Gilo, just south of Jerusalem -- and the bus was redirected there.
Upon emerging from the bus, the demonstrators quickly reached the digging machine working at the top of the hill, and placed themselves around the vibrating blade, covering the body of the machine with placards reading This construction is destructive!
After they had immobilized the digger for a quarter of an hour, police arrived and asked them to "step back, for their own safety." A heated exchange: 'Don't move us, stop the settlers -- they are the ones breaking the law!' 'I don't know about that. I did not get any orders to stop them.' The organizers asked participants to avoid confrontation -- but just as they moved back, another settler machine arrived, and everybody moved to surround it -- and the scene repeated itself.
At about this time, too, a group of settlers arrived to hold a counter-demonstration, glaring at the peace activists across the police cordon. "Dear Jewish brothers of Peace Now, let us unite to build the land of our ancestors!" appealed one of their signs, while another had "You are traitors, collaborating with our worst enemies!" 'Can't you make up your mind?' called one of the peace demonstrators.
A few days later, the Peace Now youths picketed the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, calling for A just peace with the Palestinians, and handing leaflets to bypassers: Giving crumbs and building settlements is not the way to peace.
Except for Peace Now speakers, there were KM Muhammad Barake of Hadash and Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom.
Gush Shalom, pb 3322, Tel-Aviv; email@example.com
Peace Now, pb 8159, Jerusalem; firstname.lastname@example.org.
A new generation
On March 8, the Supreme Court in Jerusalem finally ruled in the long-standing case of Adel and Iman Ke'adan. This young couple from Umm-El-Fahm had made an attempt to buy a house in the nearby new community of Katzir, but had been turned down on the grounds (as they were told quite openly and officially) that they were Arabs, that Katzir was a community for Jews only, and that this was right and proper since the creation of such ethnically pure communities was at the core of Zionism.
It was not easy for Justice Aharon Barak, President of the Supreme Court (no relation to the PM) to rule on the legitimacy of Israel's state ideology and its compatibility with basic democratic norms. But when he had to decide, he did accept the arguments of the Association for Civil Rights who represented the Ke'adans. The hitherto very common practice of leasing state lands to the supposedly "voluntary" Jewish Agency (actually a semi-state bureaucracy) and letting that agency use them to establish ethnically-pure communities was ruled to be completely illegal.
It was a sensational verdict, which made headlines day after day, fueling an intensive controversy. The Supreme Court has started writing the new constitution of post-Zionist Israel, wrote senior columnist Nahum Barn'ea approvingly in Yediot Aharonot; the settler paper Makor Rishon bore the headline: Supreme Court a mortal danger to our National Values
On the other hand, more than one Arab activist pointed out that the verdict did not address the most pressing aspects of the daily discrimination felt by Israel's Arab citizens -- if only because most of them can't afford hundreds of thousands of dollars, the cost of a house in a new yuppie neighborhood. Arab communities are becoming overcrowded. Most of their lands have been taken from them in the 1950's -- to the point that the Arab municipalities, in which 20% of Israel's citizens live, have jurisdiction over no more than 2% of Israel's territory. Moreover, government subsidies encourage entrepreneurs to locate in Jewish towns, leaving most Arab citizens to seek employment outside their own home towns.
These grievances were at the center of the Land Day general strike and rallies, held on March 30th by Israel's Arab citizens for the 24th consecutive time.
In what seemed an effort to defuse tensions, the government just before Land Day restored to the Arab town of Kafr Qasem some of the lands taken in the 1950's. The lands which had been allotted to the nearby Jewish town of Rosh Ha'ayin constituted Kafr Qasem's only potential to establish an industrial zone. The Rosh Ha'ayin mayor expressed strong opposition and tried to stir up an anti-Arab campaign; on the other hand, local Meretz activists, accompanied by Knesset Member Mossi Raz, held a vigil to support the move which they termed "a partial correction of an old injustice."
Meanwhile, new injustice raised its head. Construction of the controversial "Trans-Israel Highway" would, among other things, deprive many Arab villages of their last remaining agricultural land. The villagers were unwilling to accept the government's contention that so much Arab land was confiscated "just because the best route happens to pass through Arab villages." Inhabitants of Kafr Bara, to the north of Kafr Quasem, made common cause with environmental activists who have been waging their own intensive campaign of civil disobedience against "Trans-Israel". (Green Action complains that the planned highway would destroy the last remaining unspoiled land areas in central Israel, and that the money had better be spent on renovating Israel's grossly undeveloped railway system).
When work was due to start on Kafr Bara lands, a large crowd of villagers and Greens blocked the bulldozers; the Trans- Israel Company chose to halt work on this part of the highway, and to open negotiations with the village authorities.
Further north, at Sakhnin in the Galilee, the Land Day demo turned into a violent confrontation with the police. The people of Sakhnin -- where three demonstrators had been shot to death by soldiers during the original Land Day in 1976, but where the annual demonstrations had been uneventful for many years -- were highly agitated over a military camp newly established in the town's vicinity and
blocking its growth; a government promise to grant Sakhnin some new lands as compensation has not been honored. When some of the participants in the March 30 procession approached the fences of the camp, police started shooting heavy clouds of tear gas, and forcibly dispersed them. During the confrontation, a 72-year old woman demonstrator inhaled an "overdose" of tear gas and went into coma. The news of her death, a few days later, sparked new demonstrations in the town; Arab students at Haifa University also demonstrated on campus.
According to the Haifa University bylaws, political events on campus are allowed only upon eight days' prior notice, ruling out any possibility of immediate response to current events. The rule is rigidly enforced where Arab students are concerned. The demonstrating Arab students (joined by a few left-wing Jews) were set upon by university security guards and police -- as well as by right-wing students -- and were violently dispersed. But they were back the next day and the next, now adding the demand for Freedom of Speech on campus; and Arab students in other universities held solidarity protests on their own campuses, with women students often taking the lead in organizing them.
In Jerusalem the police were even more violent than in Haifa, charging and hitting Arab students and even Arab Knesset Members -- for no other reason that that they had dared to hold Palestinian flags...
The week of student demonstrations was big news -- much bigger, in fact than the original Land Day event. For the first time the Israeli Jewish public was confronted, on the TV screens in their living rooms, with the new generation of their fellow Arab citizens: militant, proud of their Palestinian identity but still asserting their right to equality as citizens of Israel, speaking good Hebrew. Some of them, on principle, insist on speaking Arabic when interviewed (Why should I always be the one to speak your language, and never the other way around? And Arabic is an official language in Israel, isn't it?).
The evident militancy and defiance of the Arab students affected their own wider constituency, as well. It came to a head on one of the most sensitive times of the year -- Israeli Independence Day.
It has long been evident that Israel's Arab citizens do not share in the jubilation of this day -- but never before was it spoken out loud so explicitly, never before did the Arab leadership in Israel call for a boycott of Independence Day ceremonies and declare it a Day of Mourning.
Interior Minister Nathan Sharansky did try to organize an Independence Day reception at the Arab town of Shefar'amer in the Galilee -- but only five Arab mayors showed up, out of more than a hundred invited, and the street outside was the scene of wild demonstrations, clouds of tear gas and police charging on horses.
But somebody was wise enough not to interfere when a few days later the Nakba -- the Palestinian Disaster of 1948 -- was commemorated in a mass march to the ruins of Damoun Village, an event that passed without incident.
Alik Ron, commander of the Galilee Police, would have liked it to be different; in an inflammatory speech, he called for "immediate steps against Arab extremism" and darkly warned of "secret arms caches" being prepared in the Arab villages; he then went on to practice what he preached, personally chasing, shooting and wounding a traffic violator who just happened to be an Arab.
For their part, ministers and mainstream Knesset Members were careful to balance understanding "justified grievances" and promising "affirmative action to correct decades of discrimination" with "firm and unequivocal rejection of sedition and separatism." Editorials of the main Hebrew papers spoke in more or less the same vein.
'We are Palestinians. We are proud of it. We can't be and don't want to be anything else. We mourn what happened to our people in 1948, and we don't hide that. Does that mean we want to undermine the state of Israel? No, we are citizens of Israel, and we want to be treated as citizens are treated in a democratic country -- as equals' said Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi.
Dialogue -- ups and downs
The Netanyahu years, followed by the Barak disillusionment, led a growing number of Palestinians to start opposing contacts with Israelis. More than before planned joint activities had to be cancelled, to the great regret of the Israeli and Palestinian organizers. The Palestinian mood has also been affected by tendencies in the Arab World, where 'normalization' has become a dirty word, reflecting acquiescence in Israeli oppressive and expansionist policies - and as such, repeatedly condemned by intellectuals and professional associations.
When the Cairo-based General Union of Arab Lawyers, which seeks to unite the lawyers of the entire Arab World, firmly rejected "any type of normalization with the Israeli Bar Association", the veteran lawyers of LAW, a Palestinian human rights organization based in East Jerusalem, were forced to walk a thin line. They declared their adherence to the GUAL policies, as far as the Israeli Bar Association as an institution was concerned - yet maintained their close working relations with individual Israeli lawyers and with Israeli peace and human rights organizations.
Still, there are Israelis and Palestinians who try to keep the flame of dialogue going: the gathering of youths from both sides in the Palestinian town of Tul-Karm, under the auspices of the Peres Center for Peace; the presentation of 'The Last Enemy', by American playwright Jim Marion, casting a mixed group of Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian actors; an especially interesting documentary, filmed during the rehearsals of the same play, frankly revealing the emotions which threatened to terminate the entire initiative several times; Israeli families of the religious-dovish Netivot-Shalom movement hosting Palestinian families from Nablus on an unpretentious visit to the Jerusalem Zoo; the Palestinian-Israeli band White
Flag, with its blend of Arabic and Western music, continues to attract young audiences; and in Holon are exhibited photos taken by 30 Israeli and Palestinian youths, who attended a joint photography course sponsored by the International Center for Peace.
Last but not least: inhabitants of the Jerusalem neighborhoods Armon Ha'natziv (Israeli) and Jabl Mukaber (Palestinian), physically close -- yet separated by a gulf of suspicion, distrust and occasional violent outbreaks -- started their first cautious contacts.
Aerobics in Gaza
At the end of 1999 Hagit Ra'anan, a private citizen from a Tel-Aviv suburb with no affiliations and few resources, took the initiative of organizing Israeli groups to spend touristic weekends in the Gaza Strip. She succeeded to overcome suspicion on both sides, and get a first group together. After the first visit turned out a success it soon became evident that such weekend visits appeal to Israelis who wouldn't board a bus to a demonstration; the initiative is totally self-supporting, without donations.
The following is excerpted from the account of Alice Holly Zawell who participated in a Gaza tour at the end of April.
"On Friday morning, after arranging for a babysitter for Lucy our dog, we packed an overnight bag, packed up our daughter, and the car, and headed to Palestine for the weekend. On the Israeli side of Erez Checkpoint we handed over our identity papers, which were duly checked, and held until our return from Palestine. We then came out the other side of the building, where we were met by a bus. (...) Our hotel was a new one, right on the beach. It is part of a concerted effort by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to build up the tourist trade, and reap the financial benefits of that trade. Next week they were to host a big conference of products from all over the Arab World.
The beaches are lovely in the Gaza Strip, relatively virgin compared to Israel. Sheli had been such a good sport all day, especially considering that she hadn't napped, and I took her for a walk along the beach. We played in the sand, watched the fishermen's boats bob up and down on the sea.
(...) I had never before seen the terrible overcrowding, and poverty of life in the refugee camps of Gaza, where in houses of 25 or 30 square meters sometimes live up to 10 people or more, the narrow little alleyways where children taunted our soldiers, with cursing and throwing rocks; where the soldiers chased these children, engendering only hate, fright and sometimes death. And now here I was looking at this not too distant history from the comfort of my air conditioned bus (...).
Israel demands that her Jewish citizens who travel in Gaza be accompanied by security. There is no way to be 'let free' to wander. The six Palestinian soldiers who were our shadows for 30 hours were in general polite, friendly, and talkative. I found myself contemplating that it wasn't too long ago that they were the enemy and wouldn't have hesitated to use their weapons (then illegal) on us. (...) We met with Dr. Abuleish and his extended family and friends, at Jabalieh Refugee Camp. When they introduced themselves, each of the refugees made sure to mention the village or city in Israel that they or their family came from.(...) This young man, our host, had pulled himself out of the gutter to become a recognized gynecologist, member of the staff at the Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheba. But he never forgot his roots and still lives in the squalour of the camp, waiting for hours every day to pass through the checkpoint to his workplace.
(...) At the Rehabilitation Center in Khan Yunis, we looked in on a women's aerobics class. I found it particularly interesting to note that aerobics is aerobics the world over, and the only difference was they were exercising to Arabic music.
Gaza Visits, pob 39, Kiryat Ono 55100;
+++ Tzvi Rish had spent nine years in the ranks of the Shabak Security Service, until he started insisting on the right of Shabak employees to form a trade union -- whereupon he was thrown out. Thus started his career as a one-man campaign confronting the civil and military establishment, a lawyer taking cases no one else would touch. Rish became the lawyer of the 21 Lebanese kidnapped from their homes by the Israeli army and held so as to serve as "bargaining counters" to be eventually exchanged for Israeli soldiers missing in action and presumably held by some Lebanese faction.
For more than eight years he waged his struggle, lodging appeal after appeal and also speaking out in the media, quietly and eloquently: 'Some of these people were teenagers when they were brought to Israel, and they are held more than ten years. Whoever holds the MIA's has shown not the slightest interest in their fate. A state does not have the right to hold hostages -- that is exactly the difference between a state and a terrorist organization.'
In April, the struggle was finally vindicated. A Special Bench of nine Supreme Court judges overturned a previous verdict, and accepted Rish's main legal argument: that the Emergency Regulations which Israel inherited from the British allow to keeping a person detained only if he is deemed a danger to security -- not in order to have a bargaining counter.
There were angry protests at the verdict; the family of missing pilot Ron Arad, who has become a national symbol, mobilised their immense moral standing in an attempt to reverse the decision Their cry of "Ron was betrayed!" appeared in banner headlines. Politicians of different hues were quick to join in. Prime Minister Barak himself was reportedly angry at the verdict and was pressing for presenting to the Knesset "an instant law" to legalize the holding of "human bargaining counters." In the end, the government opted for a compromise of sorts: it will fight to hang on to two detainees, known to have held senior positions in Lebanese Shiite organizations, and let the others go.
Adv, Rish pledged to continue fighting for these two, until they also go free.
The settlers love this country. They say so every day. They settle everywhere. But their love is like that of a cannibal.
This thought came to my mind a couple of days ago, when I was standing on a hill north of Ramallah, near the village of Dura al-Kareh. Before me there stretched a beauty spot I did not know before, hidden from the Jerusalem-Nablus highway.
A charming, flat valley between two ridges of steep hills is divided into small plots on which vegetables grow organically. The water of local springs flows in small canals which, the locals say, date back to Roman times. The water is divided between seven hamulahs (extended families) according to unchanging quotas worked out 400 years ago. On the Ramallah market, these well- known vegetables fetch prices considerably higher than others.
All this beauty is now threatened with extinction. All in the name of love for the country. The slogan is "by-pass road", two innocuous words that hide a cruel reality.
On the face of it, what's wrong with a road? It helps the flow of traffic. A narrow strip of asphalt can't bother anybody. That's what people think when they hear about yet another by-pass road.
The reality is quite different. Let's take, for example, this particular road. It is designed to connect two settlements - Beit-El and Ofrah. Length: 5.9 km. Breadth: 220 (Two hundred and twenty!) meters. The road itself will be 60 meters wide, with a security margin of 80 meters on each side. 370 dunams will be expropriated outright, another 950 dunams will be rendered useless.
But the hidden is more important than the visible. The road will separate three villages from a great part of their lands. In practice, these will be added to the settlements.
Some explanations may be in order:
Before the elections, Ehud Barak visited Beth-El and Ofrah and promised publicly that they will stay there forever. That was rather odd, because the recurring theme in his propaganda was "separation" ("We shall be here and they will be there"), meaning that only big "settlement blocs" would be annexed to Israel, while the settlers in isolated spots would be evacuated or become residents of Palestine.
Beth-El and Ofrah are both isolated in the middle of the Palestinian population, far from the green line. But the leaders of the settler movement live there, and Barak wants to mollify them. How? Simple: These isolated settlements will be turned into a new "settlement bloc", to be annexed to Israel.
The "by-pass road" serves this purpose. From a transportation point of view it is superfluous: These two settlements are already connected by existing roads. The new road will not save the settlers more than five minutes driving time; moreover even if a new road has to be built, it can be much shorter. The planned road is unnecessarily long and winding.
So what's the real purpose? Well, the road is, of course, to be annexed to Israel. It follows automatically that all the land between the road and the settlements will be annexed too. The road is a knife cutting off a big slice of territory from the future State of Palestine.
The same happens now all over the West Bank. This case is special only because of the beauty of the landscape. While Barak chatters endlessly about "framework" and "permanent status" and while negotiators continue to meet, behind the scenes a resolute campaign is conducted to enlarge the "settlement blocs." The roads serve this purpose.
In this campaign of creating "facts on the ground", not only are new injustices added to old ones, but also irreparable damage is being done to the landscape of this country. It's a new crime: the murder of the land. Let's call it "terracide" (Ma'ariv, May 16).
+++ On May 10 -- Independence Day -- some 60 activists of ICAHD, Gush Shalom and Green Action arrived at the pastoral village of Dura al-Kareh, where they were welcomed by a procession of children from the local school. They traversed the whole area of the intended by-pass road, talked with landowners, activists and dignitaries and spent some time erasing racist graffiti which settlers had daubed on rocks.
May 21, when the Military Appeals Committee is due to rule on the villagers' appeal against the confiscation of their land, the Peace/Environmental Coalition intends to demonstrate outside the West Bank Military Headquarters.
Ping Pong for Peace
Israelis are very fond of being among the participants in the Eurovision Song Contest, and proud of having won twice. This year the Ping Pong group, with its song Be Happy, didn't do well in Stockholm -- but it succeeded in creating quite a scandal inside Israel.
The song contained the words 'I have a boyfriend in Damascus.' When getting to these words all four singers pulled out of their pockets, and waved, Israeli and Syrian flags.
The group was sharply reprimanded by politicians and government officials, and it was threatened that the state would sue them for all expenses since "they put Israel to shame with their provocation." 'We are proud to be peace-seeking Israelis, who delivered a simple message of brotherhood. We hope that some day this idea of peace between Israel and Syria will be taken for granted, and we call upon the leaders on both sides to make greater efforts to end the conflict' responded the undaunted young singers.
They also visited in Stockholm the Centre of the Syrian Community and sang their song in Arabic.