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 The Other Israel _ Issue No. 97 March 2001

Contents

Hope Became a Scarce Commodity, an Editorial Overview
Incompetence or hidden agenda
Sharon's cosmetics
First confrontation

Revival of Friday Vigils
by Women in Black and Women for a Just Peace

Concerted Action at Year's End

Peace Now Action -short report

No to State Terrorism
Petition in Ha'aretz, January 5
<www.PetitionOnline.com/de13on45/petition.html>

Seven Israeli Women Try to Visit Hebron

The Settler and the Boy
Protests against lenient sentence for settler who killed 10-year-old Palestinian
[Rabbis for Human Rights <info@rhr.Israel.net>]
[Committee Against Torture <pcati@netvision.net.il>]

New Generation of Refusers
Conscientious objectors to military service in the Occupied Territories

The Right of Return by Uri Avnery
The roots of the conflict
Ethnic cleansing
Resolution 194
Apocalypse now
A truth commission
The right of return
Palestinian citizenship
Free choice
Return to Palestine
Return to Israel
When will it happen?
Historic conciliation

Demonstrations Against Closure in the Occupied Territories
Tel Aviv, February 4
Jerusalem-Bethlehem, February 24
[Gila Svirsky ]

Peace Now Protest of Expansion of Har Homa settlement

Health & Justice
Providing medical care in the face of West Bank closures
[Physicians for Human Rights <phr@baraka.org>]

Windows
A small corner of Israeli-Palestinian friendship
and understanding in the middle of war

Israeli Relief Convoys Head into the West Bank
[Gadi Elgazi ]

Dialogue in the Galilee

Improving Jewish-Arab Relations in the Galilee

Call for an International Peace-Keeping Force
Gush Shalom ad in Ha'aretz, March 13

Breaking the Closure, Paving the Road
An effort to undo the Israeli-enforced isolation of a West Bank village

THE OTHER ISRAEL

Issue 97 March 2001

Hope Became a Scarce Commodity - the Editors
March 22, Tel-Aviv

The year is 2001, and Ariel Sharon is Prime Minister of Israel. Who would have thought this is what the new century, the new millennium, held in store for us.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. This string of words became reality precisely eighteen years after a memorable day in February 1983, a day of a collective sigh of relief at the news that Ariel Sharon had been forced to leave the Ministry of Defence.

It was after months of mounting tensions and struggle. The invasion of Lebanon, Sharon's initiative, had claimed thousands of lives already on its first week. The months-long siege and bombing of Beirut culminated in Sharon's allies of the Falange militia massacring hundreds of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila, under the protection of the IDF.

During those months the anti-war movement had mushroomed from a few isolated dozens to hundreds of thousands filling the squares, forcing the government to appoint the Kahan Commission of Inquiry which found Sharon totally unfit to hold a position of responsibility. Even then, he clung to power. Only after an over-zealous Sharon fan murdered Emil Grunzweig, a decorated war hero turned Peace Now activist, did the outpouring of public anger finally force Sharon to quit the Defence Ministry. What we did not know then was that Sharon's war would go on without him for nearly two decades.

These memories were revived among those who marched through the streets of Jerusalem on the night of February 3, 2001 -- with the elections three days ahead and the victory of Sharon already a foregone conclusion. About a thousand people they were, dedicated people, ready to come out into the street on a night of pouring rain, march and hold banners aloft, chanting: 'Emil is not Forgotten! Lebanon is not forgotten! Peace Yes -- Sharon No!' It was the last effort to save a Prime Minister who could not -- who did not deserve to be saved.

The passions of the participants in this annual Emil Grunzweig Memorial of Peace Now were not reflective of the general mood of the country. By and large, Israel did forget. So much had happened since, wars and confrontations and bloodshed, hopes raised and dashed, bloodshed again -- to say nothing of so many more political careers made and lost. A whole new generation grew up for whom the war of 1982 is an uninteresting piece of ancient history. The same for the million new Israelis, who were still Soviet citizens when Sharon rampaged through Lebanon.

Sharon's place as the foremost nationalist demagogue of Israel was long since taken by Binyamin Netanyahu, and for the younger leftists it was Netanyahu who was "The man you love to hate." Sharon was considered a spent force, by his own camp as well as by his opponents. An old man, long past his peak, still nursing pathetic illusions of a come-back, still having a bee in his bonnet about creating and extending settlements, but soon to retire to his Negev farm.

Yet here he is, smiling in the seat of power. The babies born at the time of his downfall are soon going to put on military uniforms and learn at first hand the effect of his political and military policies.

****

To some degree, Sharon's victory is due to his shrewd ability of seizing an opportunity and using it to the full. But mostly he owes it to Ehud Barak, the Prime Minister who so much discredited his own policies, so systematically alienated and splintered his own supporters, that he would have probably been defeated by virtually any contender. Rarely was the old adage more true, that it is the incumbent losing -- rather than the challenger winning -- in elections.

Many causes were cited in explaining Barak's crushing defeat, and certainly all of them contributed: a haughty and arrogant behavior to persons and groups which he later desperately needed; surrounding himself by a coterie of dubious advisers who soon split into mutually-hostile cliques; posing in his elections campaign as a social reformer and completely discarding these pretensions the moment he was elected; raising the idea of "a secular revolution" and then repeatedly "freezing" and "unfreezing" it according to expediency -- with the result that he made the religious parties into his implacable enemies, and still had not the slightest concrete achievement to show to his secularist voters...

Still, the electorate may have been willing to forgive Barak all these, had he fulfilled his basic

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promise -- to make peace with the Palestinians and the Arab World. It was Barak himself, who in countless speeches defined this as his major task, who stated again and again in his down-to-earth military manner: 'It is the result which counts, judge me by the results.' Barak presented himself to the voters after a year and a half of supposed peacemaking, at whose end Israel was embroiled in a brutal conflict and peace had rarely seemed so distant.

True, very different views existed among the voters, but hardly anybody held a high opinion of Barak's record. There were voters who got their information from the liberal Ha'aretz, supplemented by foreign TV stations, material circulating on the internet and some personal contacts with Palestinians. They saw a Prime Minister who offered great verbal concessions but implemented none of them, and who on the ground launched a campaign of brutal repression unprecedented at any time since 1967.

There were also the voters who learned of events mainly through the mass-circulation papers and the two channels of Israeli TV. Relying on such sources, it was very easy to form the image of a softie PM, persisting in a policy of "restraint" in the face of a wave of murderous Arab terrorism and even offering the terrorists ever-new concessions which they flung back in his face.

And then, the Arab citizens of Israel, the community which in 1999 gave Barak 95% of its votes -- more than any other group in Israeli society. They have their own media in which the photos of the 13 Arab Israeli demonstrators killed by the police in October appeared again and again. And the main debate there was whether to cast a blank ballot or to boycott the elections altogether.

Different as they were from each other, none of these groups of voters was impressed with the Barak elections propaganda. Barak's spin doctors decided to concentrate on the war which Sharon conducted two decades ago, and the hypothetical one which Sharon may launch if elected -- but they could find little to say about the clear and present war, daily intruding with news of horror.

A considerable part of the electorate sought in vain for a third candidate to challenge both Barak and Sharon -- and since there was none, campaigned for a blank ballot or just stayed home in disgust; while voters of the other kind flocked to Sharon, who after all solemnly promised that he would be the one to make "a different kind of peace, peace with security." Barak was not totally deserted. He still had the "My Party, right or wrong" Labor faithful, plus those who "took anti-nausea pills" to be able to vote for the only anti-Sharon candidate. But altogether, these amounted only to about a third of the Israeli citizen body. Given the circumstances, one may actually wonder how Barak still got the support of so many.

Incompetence or hidden agenda

Throughout the long stages of Barak's slide into perdition, it had been common wisdom that his political survival depended upon the ability to present the voters with a signed peace agreement. Relying upon the axiom that a politician always takes care of his interests, the Israeli peace camp more or less waited for Barak to produce an agreement, around which it could rally and campaign.

At the time of Camp David, the majority of Israelis was willing, according to all polls, to welcome a peace agreement, however far-reaching the concessions, and vote for it in elections or referendum. The right-wing was certainly very apprehensive that this was what was going to happen.

Even later -- even after the new Intifada broke out, after blood had been shed and distrust sown, there seemed still a chance for Barak to turn the tide. Until the last moment the Meretz Youths were still willing to stand at roadsides, day after day, with the banner: We must not lose the future -- vote Barak!

Clearly we had all made a gross miscalculation. Either that we pinned hope on an incompetent bungler, dragging his own career to ruin and the cause of peace with it; or that we totally missed the point as to what Barak's real aim was.

After all, from the very start his declared wish to do "everything" to achieve peace and "to leave no stone unturned" was accompanied by the easily overlooked addendum "if everything fails, at least the people will go to war in the knowledge that there is no other choice." Could that have been his motivation all along -- as such radicals as Prof. Tanya Reinhart said right from the start, and as more and more of us came to suspect?

Was that why all the rounds of negotiations -- from

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the talks with Syria last April, through Camp David, and up to the last-ditch talks in Taba -- always came "almost" to a successful conclusion, and still always failed? Was that why the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon -- Barak's one and only achievement -- had to leave a bone of contention, the bare mountain ridge known as the Shaba Farms whose continued occupation by Israel ensured the continuation of the guerrilla war?

Without access to Barak's confidential papers -- which future historians will perhaps gain one day -- the question of his true motives cannot be definitely resolved. But in any case it is a secondary issue. Barak was either an incredibly incompetent opportunist or a crypto-warmonger (idealistic enough to sacrifice his own career) and in both cases the peace camp has been following the wrong man. And the results of Barak's year-and-half in power are obvious: the cause of peace has been discredited, enormously.

While part of the peace camp is coming to the conclusion that it's "leader" has been cheating all along, most Israelis believe that Barak really intended peace and was willing to sacrifice everything for it, but the ungrateful Palestinians responded with violence and "with ever new demands."

For their part, the Palestinians tend to believe just as firmly that they had gone very far -- even to accepting the settlement blocs planted on their land -- but that Barak never intended to make peace, which goes to confirm the old suspicion that no Israeli government can be trusted.

All in all: it will take a huge lot of time and immense effort to undo the damage which Barak did. And, now that he has paved Sharon's way to power, this damage will long outlast the end of his own term.

Sharon's cosmetics

Ariel Sharon came out of the elections under quite auspicious circumstances. He is credited with having won by a wide margin, the largest in Israeli history. The fact that the abstention rate had also never been as high was conveniently forgotten.

The Labor Party was not defeated but routed, many of its leadership quick to jump on the bandwagon and scramble for ministerial positions in the winner's cabinet. It did not take Barak long to join the queue and declare his intention of serving as Sharon's Defence Minister -- only that this declaration caused an explosion if public outrage and indignation, not least from that very minority of faithful activists who had worked until the last moment on his behalf.

Before finally bowing out, Barak left to his successor the inestimable boon of declaring null and void all Israeli concessions made at Camp David and Taba, and ramming a resolution to that effect through the rump Labor cabinet, at its last meeting.

Apart from the protests at Barak's perfidy, the formation period of the Sharon cabinet was accompanied by hardly any manifestations of opposition. Internationally, too, Sharon found his path much more smooth than could be expected. The Bush administration accepted without demur the Israeli electorate's choice, though in the time of the senior George Bush Sharon had been a definite persona non grata in Washington.

The new US administration seemed also to go along with Sharon's contention that "negotiations cannot take place under fire" (according to this new rule the Vietnam War would still be raging). Furthermore, while it is not clear what Sharon would offer if talks ever take place, one thing is clear: it will be much less than what was talked about until a month ago. Hardly a strong inducement for the Palestinians to make a huge effort.

The Americans also prevailed upon their European and Arab allies to "give Sharon a chance" and "not hold his past against him."

For all that, Sharon knows that his bloody past -- the Lebanon exploits as well as his earlier record, going all the way back to the 1950s -- have been dug out of the archives and plastered across many of the world's newspapers. With many pairs of eyes watching carefully for any sign of the old Sharon peeping behind the new mask of moderation, Sharon's highest need is for legitimacy and respectability.

For that reason, he had offered Labor the choice portfolios in his cabinet -- even at the cost of leaving old ideological allies, such as the National Religious Party, out in the cold.

Sharon would have liked to have Barak, with his credit as the one who "tried the way of peace", in his cabinet. But when that proved impossible, he made do with Peres. Who could doubt the bona fides of a PM who has a renowned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate at the Foreign Ministry? And as a further embellishment the daughter of Israel's Peace Martyr, Dalya Rabin-Philosoph, was appointed Deputy Minister of Defence.

It doesn't seem likely that a few tame doves can make much of a difference inside Israel's new cabinet. Still, Sharon must realize that Labor's participation in his government cannot be taken for granted, given the considerable opposition inside that party -- led by Yossi Beilin, once Peres' disciple and protege.

An additional constraint upon Sharon manifested itself during Secretary of State Powell's visit to the Middle East, and again at Sharon's maiden visit to the White House. The Bush administration's declared priority in the region is to reestablish the anti-Saddam coalition. While not having any special liking for Arafat, Bush and his advisers are well-aware that any conspicuous Israeli brutality towards the Palestinians could play into the hands of Saddam Hussein by rousing the masses in the Arab World and threatening the stability of the fragile pro-Western regimes.

Sharon was asked, politely but firmly, to desist from giving the hated Iraqi ruler such aid.

First confrontation

On Thursday, March 8, Ariel Sharon presented to the Knesset his oddly assorted "National Unity" cabinet. On the same day, lecturers and students at Bir-Zeit University, the oldest academic institution on the West Bank, alerted their Israeli and international contacts to the fact that Israeli forces had just dug a

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deep trench right through the Bir Zeit -- Ramallah Highway. Students and faculty -- and some 70,000 inhabitants of villages and suburbs north of Ramallah -- were suddenly, without warning, cut off from the main city of the district.

The news roused Israeli peace activists out of their post-electoral lethargy. Protest actions were initiated, and lecturers at Tel-Aviv University started circulating a petition of support for their Palestinian colleagues. Meanwhile, more alarming news came from the ground: the cutting of the road to Bir-Zeit was just a first step; all the roads to Ramallah were cut off, and the city came under a full-scale siege.

This was, in fact, not so much a new policy as an intensification and exacerbation of what the army had already been doing under Barak, since Intifada outbreak: erecting ever-new checkpoints and road-blocks, cutting off Palestinian roads with cubes of concrete and high earthen ramparts, reserving the main highways to settler and military traffic while Palestinian vehicles were shunted off to rutted, unpaved side-roads. As came out in the papers, all this fits into an old contingency plan made by the army long before the Intifada, and aimed at dividing the West Bank into 64 military districts or "cells" to each one of which a military unit will be assigned to control the population. That would in the generals' mind make a fine solution for Israel's "security."

After the news of the Ramallah total-siege, some seventy activists of different groups answered the call of Peace Now to hold an immediate protest outside the Defence Ministry in Tel-Aviv, and rolls of barbed wire were symbolically spread out on the pavement outside the central military compound.

On the following day, there were already four simultaneous protests, by Gush Shalom and the Women's Coalition -- at Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, Haifa and the Northern Valleys. After months of beating against an overwhelmingly strong current, the protests of the peace movement found resonance in the wider Israeli society. The closure policy -- hitherto only disputed by the hardcore left -- suddenly became a controversial issue in the mainstream politics, hotly debated on the airwaves and even in the new cabinet's first meeting.

A change was also evident on the pages of the mass circulation Yediot Aharonot, whose news reporting of the past months had often been war propaganda in all but name; now, the same paper came up with a full-page colour photo of Palestinian parliamentarian (and Bir-Zeit lecturer) Hanan Ashrawi holding a shovel and taking part in filling up that infamous trench, accompanied by a sympathetic interview with a Ramallah resident telling of the hardship experienced by the besieged population.

At the Surda Road-block, half-way between Ramallah and Bir-Zeit, soldiers opened fire on a crowd of hundreds of unarmed students, killing the 28-year old Abed-el-Kader Ibrahim and wounding several others.

The footage was shown repeatedly on international TV channels, and there were protests by various governments and institutions. Also an expression of American displeasure -- not very loud or sharp, but even a whisper from Washington is highly audible in the halls of the government of Israel.

Sharon was quick to take a step back, hastily dissociating himself from the whole move and attributing its origin to "the colonel commanding the Ramallah region", though admitting that the colonel's action had been approved by himself. One day after the shooting at the Surda Road-block, it was opened to Palestinian travelling. There followed an official cabinet decision to ease the closure -- making Palestinian travelling merely difficult instead of virtually impossible.

On the Palestinian side, the whole affair increased the tendency to renew the big demonstrations and protests by unarmed crowds, after months in which the Intifada had been carried on almost exclusively by the armed groups.

On March 16, the extreme-right paper Makor Rishon published an angry editorial:

'This week Ariel Sharon tried to give the army its freedom of action. The attempt failed because of international and internal opposition. Yes, also internal opposition, despite the fact that we have a National Unity Government, and that Shimon Peres stood by the Prime Minister. (...) True, it is not easy to withstand a campaign of international pressure, coordinated with such internal forces as Meretz, Peace Now, Gush Shalom and the Arab parties. But why did the National Camp elect a bulldozer for Prime Minister, if not in order to resist such pressures? If he did not succeed now, what will he do if on a future occasion the pressure will be joined by Peres and the fickle Laborites?'

We should not delude ourselves. This struggle has barely begun, and next time Sharon may be better prepared. Still, the affair of the Ramallah siege gives some hope at a time when hope has become a scarce commodity.

The editors

****

Revival of Friday vigils

The idea of standing vigil in the end of each week, on Fridays at 1.00 PM, had been started in 1988 short after the beginning of the first Intifada in what became known as Women in Black, but the vigils dwindled almost to nothing during the 1990s. Already at some ten different spots throughout the country simultaneous weekly vigils of have been established -- predominantly of women though Yesh Gvul's male reservist refusers take part as well, as do other groups and individuals who feel like. In Haifa there are even two rivalling vigils, one organized by the Hadash Communists, another by the more radical Anti-Apartheid group. And after years of some isolated Be'er Sheva peaceniks feeling far away and cut off, also there a weekly vigil got on its feet.

The mother vigil -- the one of Women in Black at Paris Square in Jerusalem -- is after its revival still the biggest. Between 100 and 150 participants turn up every week; about half of them are new recruits,

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aroused into political activity in the last few months.

On the morning of December 8, a radio news flash told of a woman settler being killed in a Palestinian guerrilla attack outside Hebron. The settler leaders decided for an immediate funeral -- it was a Friday -- and for driving the funeral procession past the Prime Minister's Jerusalem Residence, just around the corner from Paris Square.

At 1.00 PM, as the Women in Black gathered, the funeral procession did not yet get to Jerusalem, but a bunch of Kahanists (followers of the late racist Rabbi Meir Kahane) was already there, many of them in settler outfit, i.e. with revolvers in their belts and rifles over their shoulders. They began by hurling verbal abuse. "She was killed because of you!" -- "YOU have orphaned six children!"

The situation had been foreseen and it had been decided not to respond, just to stand silent and hold out the signs: Dismantle the settlements! -- End the occupation! This the settlers could not abide. Rushing up to the women, they tried to grab and rip up signs, pushing the women off the ledge on which they had been standing. At the time of the assault there were only three police present, and for some time a real fist-fight went on.

Suddenly police reinforcements arrived, and the fighting spilled over onto the streets at this busy intersection, with the violent attackers pushed away from the peace vigil.

With the main settler funeral procession a block away, and the police in front constantly exchanging blows with the rightists, the women made a quick consultation among themselves, deciding that they would not leave, but would lower their signs during the passage of the main settler body. Some of the women disagreed with this quick decision, but there was no opportunity for discussion as the settler cars approached and turned alongside the plaza.

The settler procession moved slowly along the 15 meters pavement of Paris Square, with the women facing, at a distance of no more than three metres, some of the main settler leaders such as the notorious Rabbi Levinger (the one who shot a Palestinian to death in Hebron and spent for it a whole six months behind bars). In some cars were to be seen women and children, weeping. Under other circumstances, it might have been possible to establish some sort of human contact. This was now impossible.

The progress of the motorcade was constantly interrupted by thugs jumping up and coming to blows with the police, who by now formed a solid separating cordon. It was clear that the police were taking the blows that were intended for the peace demonstrators, again and again until the last settler car finally passed out of sight, and even the most radical participants in the vigil felt quite grateful to the police.

These warm feelings were, however, tampered by the news from Acre in the north. It turned out that during the confrontation in Jerusalem, the handful of participants in the Acre Women in Black also were subjected to threats and some physical attacks, with in that case the police pointedly standing aside and offering no protection.

+++ On the following morning some of the same women showed up for another action -- near the A-Ram military check-point at the northern edge of Jerusalem, the point where West Bank Palestinians are stopped by the soldiers and allowed to proceed no further.

It was December 9, anniversary of the earlier Intifada's first day. Through the years Israeli and Palestinian women created a tradition of holding at A-Ram check-point a joint anti-occupation protest. This year the obstacles for such a joint action proved insurmountable, with the new military road-blocks erected further north, the ongoing violent confrontations and the atmosphere of suspicion in the Palestinian society.

It was left to seventy Israeli women from Bat Shalom and New Profile, together with an Italian delegation, to hold the vigil -- with the main slogans calling for international intervention in the face of the daily violence which is wreaking havoc on Palestinian life and society.

It was the first public appearance of the newly created coalition of Women for a Just Peace.
Women's Coalition, pob 8083, Jerusalem 91080

****

Concerted Action at Year's End

On the evening of Wednesday, December 27, some twenty-five Jerusalemites celebrated the traditional Jewish Hanukkah in a special manner. At the call of a new group with the old name Down With The Occupation, they arrived outside the Prime Minister's Residence. On the pavement Hanukkah candles were lighted 'in order to remind that Hanukkah is a holiday instituted to commemorate an ancient Intifada, the time when Jews fought to liberate themselves from Hellenistic domination', as was stated in leaflets passed on to curious passers-by.

It was a time of triple holiday -- the rare conjunction of Jewish Hanukkah, Muslim Id-El-Fitr and Christian Christmas occurring at a low point for all three communities.

Christmas eve in Bethlehem -- a besieged city in which the scars of three months' fighting were conspicuous -- was attended only by a handful of pilgrims. In the neighboring Beit Sahour there had been a fixed tradition of a joint Israeli-Palestinian end of year march, often a rather festive occasion centered on the Christian site of the Shepherds' Fields. But under present conditions, the organizers -- Beit Sahour's Palestinian Center for Rapprochement -- felt that this kind of event was not fitting. Instead, they offered to let their Israeli partners share in a protest about an issue foremost on the townspeople's mind: the Israeli military camp known as "Shdema", located in close proximity to the town's edge.

It had been a base of the Jordanian Army, built on confiscated Beit Sahour land, which was taken over by the Israeli military in 1967. Also after the army redeployed from Beit Sahour in 1995, the camp was retained under full Israeli control.

With the outbreak of the Al Aqsa Intifada, this visible symbol of ongoing occupation became the

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center of repeated, manifestly unequal confrontations. Palestinian stones were answered by the soldiers' gunfire -- and when the Palestinians started to use rifles as well, the IDF responded by launching missiles and cannonades of tank artillery, devastating an entire Beit Sahour neighborhood.

On December 19, a delegation of Jerusalem women visited Beit Sahour, observed briefly the Shdemot camp from the Palestinian side, met with the town's mayor and took part in a press conference calling for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. This was the prelude to a more ambitious plan evolved by the Center for Rapprochement: a strictly non-violent joint protest march of Palestinians and Israelis together, up to the fences of the camp itself.

On the Palestinian side, the campaign was taken up by the Beit Sahour Municipality and the town's Emergency Committee. Adherents on the Israeli side included not only the Rapprochement Group in Jerusalem, veteran partners in Beit Sahour actions, but also Gush Shalom, the Bat Shalom women, and the Rabbis for Human Rights. Moreover, European groups also promised to send sizable delegations, among them the France-Palestine Association, the Italian Women in Black and the CGL Trade Union from the same country.

On the basis of previous experience, the most likely outcome seemed to be that the march would not actually get to the camp gate, but would be blocked by the military at an earlier spot -- especially since no attempt was made to keep the plan secret, and in fact, advance notices were widely distributed to the media. In case of the army indeed blocking their way, it was decided that the mass of marchers would stay put, in a disciplined silent protest, while a delegation would parley with the army.

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A letter was prepared, to be handed to the officer in charge on behalf of all participants -- the Beit Sahourians and their Israeli and international guests. The mutually-agreed text began by setting out general principles:

'A peaceful and just solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should be based on the right of the Palestinian people to establish their state in the areas occupied by Israel during the 1967 war, with East Jerusalem as its capital, as well as on a strong commitment for a decent solution, based on the UN resolutions, to the 52-year old and still ongoing tragedy of the Palestinian refugees.'

This was followed by enumeration of the heavy price Beit Sahour paid for this camp's presence in its vicinity: Three inhabitants -- two mothers and a young man -- killed in shootings and bombings; ten wounded; two hundred homes damaged, including two which were completely burned.

The text concluded with a demand for the camp's evacuation, and a direct appeal:

'Soldiers of the site, you are the first to know that this military base is good for nothing but to escalate the conflict and fill the hearts of people with hatred and anger instead of hope and peace.'

On the morning of Thursday, December 28, some fifty Gush Shalom activists en route to Beit Sahour boarded a chartered bus at the concourse in front of the Arlozorov St. Railway Station in Tel-Aviv. When they were half-way to Jerusalem, a news flash on the radio told that a bomb, presumed to have been planted by Palestinians, had just exploded near the place of their rendezvous. The news increased the nervousness of the bus driver, who quite obviously did not care for his passengers' politics and who had been muttering and grumbling ever since finding out that he was expected to enter the West Bank and drive over roads which had been the scene of shooting in the past months. By the time they arrived at the Jerusalem meeting point, he had made up his mind: "This is as far as I go. I am not paid for risking my life in hare-brained leftist schemes".

The Tel-Avivians, as well as dozens of Jerusalemites who gathered to join them, seemed stranded. Fortunately, somebody knew the phone number of a Palestinian bus company in East Jerusalem, which turned out ready to provide replacement transportation at very short notice, and took the impatient activists to the military checkpoint at the entrance to Beit Jala.

That could have been another sticky point -- since Intifada outbreak, Israelis are forbidden by their own government to go into Palestinian-controlled areas. The checkpoint was, however, completely deserted -- no soldiers to enforce the prohibition. About a hundred Israelis flitted swiftly across the barrier. On the other side, they were greeted by Palestinians who had ready for them still another set of buses -- transportation across Beit Jala and Bethlehem, with the Palestinian guide pointing out the bombed-out houses at the roadside.

At the Shepherds' Field, several hundred demonstrators were already waiting: Beit Sahourians with Palestinian flags and big signs 'Remove the Camp -- End the Occupation', as well as the international contingent sporting banners in Italian and French. The new arrivals joined in, and soon enough the march set out.

Walking in the front rank, Ghassan Andoni of the Rapprochement Center linked arms with Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom and European MP Louisa Morgantini; just behind them could be seen, at the top of a high pole carried by an activist, an enormous circular sign with the crossed flags of Israel and Palestine. The march went along the northward streets of Beit Sahour. As they went, there were more and more houses poked by recent bullet holes, some with the front walls entirely missing, showing blackened and ruined interiors.

Then past the last houses and along a road in an open field -- what had effectively become no-man's-land in the past months. Still no sign of a military road-block. Finally, the high fence, with barbed wire at the top stretching far to the right and left -- but the gate stood wide open and unguarded, the watch-

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towers flanking the gate were empty, and just inside the enclosed space was a sign in Hebrew: 'Welcome to Shdema Camp'...

There was nothing to stop the jubilant crowd -- chanting 'Occupation soldiers, go home!' in a variety of languages -- from going on, deeper into the undefended camp; but the organisers felt that we might be walking into a dangerous trap. Instead, a halt was called some ten metres inside the camp, and only the already-designated delegation went ahead to look for the camp's absent inhabitants. They had to walk several hundred metres before encountering a sign of life: a tractor piling earth on a half-finished rampart, supervised by a bored-looking major, who proved stiffly formal once approached by the delegates -- refusing, "as a military man" to take up "any political document."

Behind him, through gaps in the rampart, could be glimpsed quite a lot of soldiers and what looked like a tank. The letter, which the officer refused to take, was left under a stone. A backward glance showed him picking it up. The well-disciplined crowd accepted without demur the returning organizers' call to turn back.

However, the empty guard tower so near on the right -- with the wide platform at the top and the empty socket obviously intended for a flag -- was too much of a temptation. Suddenly, a young man run up the stairs, stuck a Palestinian flag into the socket and shouted 'Long Live Free Palestine!', to the enormous cheer and clapping of the crowd filing back out through the open gate. (As it later turned out, he was one of the internationals.)

It was this flag-raising ceremony which made it into a prominent place on the Israeli First Channel News. The TV editors, who did not bother to send a reporter of their own, were quick to snap up the footage taken by Rachel Zetland, peace activist and director of Community TV in a Tel-Aviv slum neighborhood. The flying of the flag was shown again and again, with the commentator speaking excitedly of 'a sensational case of military negligence.' The embarrassed IDF Spokesman issued a denial: "No, no Palestinian flag had been flown in a military camp. That is, they did fly a flag on a watch-tower, but this site was already abandoned. The Shdema Camp had been moved to a different location, 250 metres away" (Jerusalem Post, 29.12.00).

The participants in the Beit Sahour event were, in fact, more impressed by what remained unreported: the solidarity visit after the march, to some of the damaged and destroyed Beit Sahour houses facing the Shdema Camp. "In a way the march went too well, left us somehow with a feeling as if it is all a game. I saw a house of which only a burnt-out shell was left. The woman said she had come to show it to us, she and her family now live in a shack on the other side of the town. In fact, they are a new kind of Palestinian refugees," said one of the Tel-Avivians on the way back.
PCR, POB 24, Beit Sahour, West Bank; pcr@p-ol.com
Gush Shalom, pob 3322, Tel-Aviv; info@gush-shalom.org

****
Peace Now Action- short report

+++ On the next morning, December 29, a hundred Peace Now Youth's physically marked the 1967 border ("Green Line", as it is commonly referred to in Israel) near Jenin, in the northern West Bank. The activists, aged 14-18, spread strips of green nylon along about 300m of border between the villages of Zububa and Rumana on the Palestinian side of the border and Kibbutz Givat Oz on the Israeli side. Youngsters held arrow signs pointing to "Israel" on one side and to "Palestine" on the other, and the corresponding flags -- with the proclaimed intention of highlighting public support for a peace agreement based on the June 1967 border.
Peace Now, pob 8159, J'lem; peacenow@actcom.co.il

Women join forces

In Jerusalem at the same morning hour, a major event opened which had been painstakingly prepared for weeks by the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace (now comprising Bat Shalom, New Profile, Women in Black, Democratic Women, WILPF, Women Engendering Peace, Women for Political Prisoners, and former activists of the Four Mothers movement which disbanded after the withdrawal from Lebanon.)

Women came in droves from all over Israel -- Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Druse. And despite the closure that the government had imposed on the Occupied Territories, Palestinian women and men also managed, by means only they know, to cross the Green Line and reach the scene. The day began in the Notre Dame Conference Center located on the border of Jewish and Palestinian Jerusalem. After a morning of discussions between Israelis, Palestinians and internationals, buses moved the entire crowd to Paris Square, the location of Jerusalem's Women in Black weekly vigil.

By 1.00 PM, an estimated 2,000 demonstrators -- mostly women, but joined by quite a few men -- filled the entire plaza and spilled over onto the side streets, for a long distance all around. TV crews from all over the world were there to capture the sights of this silent one-hour vigil. Also the two Israeli TV channels, who nowadays often ignore peace movement events, could not absent themselves from something of that magnitude.

For one day, the city of Jerusalem -- a mostly religious-conservative place -- was dominated by the peace forces; the drivers of cars sporting right-wing bumper stickers reacted with amazement to this sight, rank after rank with the traditional Woman in Black sign, the open palm bearing the words 'No to the Occupation!' in Hebrew, Arabic and English. A small extreme-right group did try to infiltrate the ranks, to provoke and draw attention to themselves -- and ended up exchanging blows with the police, eventually moved behind a barrier, out of sight.

At two o'clock the crowd poured out of the plaza and from every corner and side street. The march began toward East Jerusalem, joined by men and women from other organizations -- Gush Shalom brought its own busload of activists -- holding aloft a great variety of banners and peace signs. Environmentalists, Communists, Anarchists, opponents of

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globalism all made their appearance. A big profusion of leaflets, by almost every group imaginable, were distributed -- some hailing the newly-reopened Israeli-Palestinian talks as 'The very last chance for peace', others condemning them as 'An attempt to push the two peoples back into the imperialist Oslo trap.'

As the streets filled with marchers and voices, Nabila Espanioli of Nazareth grabbed a megaphone and led a responsive chanting: 'Peace?' 'YES!' -- 'Occupation?' 'NO!', doing renditions in Hebrew, Arabic, English. Flying high were signs and banners saying 'Palestine Side by Side With Israel -- On the '67 Borders', 'Jerusalem -- 2 capitals for 2 states', 'The Age of Generals is Over', 'Fund the Poor, Not Settlers.'

Jewish and Arab women, locking arms, held aloft the signs reading in both languages 'We Refuse to be Enemies.' A middle-aged man on a wheel-chair, keeping pace with the march, turned out to be a Palestinian from Hebron, one of the survivors of the 1994 massacre committed by Baruch Goldstein. The man pushing the wheel-chair explained: "He heard of the march and felt he must be here today."

When the whole cavalcade reached the park beside the ancient walls of the Old City, several speakers addressed a concluding rally. No national anthem could be sung at the end of such an event -- instead, everybody joined 'We Shall Overcome', reminiscent of the 1960's Civil Rights Movement in the US, whose words seemed all too appropriate to Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Meanwhile four young women had unobtrusively entered the Old City, climbed to the top of the imposing wall via the tourist stairs, made their way to just above the gathering, and unfurled four banners down the entire height of the wall reading 'Shalom, Salaam, Peace' and 'End the Occupation.'

Only when the crowd roared its approval and the cameras started clicking did the guardians of Law and Order realize what was was happening. Then the Border Guards stationed atop the wall pounced upon the impertinent women, pulled up and confiscated two of the offending banners. The other two were cast loose at the last moment, to be picked up by the activists in the park below and saved for next time.
Women's Coalition <gsvirsky@netvision.net.il>

****

No to state terrorism!

The last victim in the chain of 'liquidations', ordered by the government of Israel, is Dr. Thabet Thabet of Tulkarm, an ally of the Israeli peace camp. This is yet another stage in the deterioration from 'a peace cabinet' to a government actively engaged in state terrorism.
Mr. Prime Minister -- a policy of extra-judicial executions, starvation, closure and destruction is a policy of WAR CRIME!

The above petition, with more than 200 signatures, headed by the one of former Minister Shulamit Aloni, appeared on the front page of Ha'aretz on January 5.

Dr. Thabet, Director-General of the Palestinian Ministry of Health and a prominent organizer of Intifada activities in Tulkarm where he lived, had been shot to death by Israeli army snipers when he went out of his home on the morning of December 31. His was the tenth assassination since Barak authorized the army and security services to embark on this policy. Each killing is accompanied by a massive propaganda campaign portraying the assassinated Palestinian as a terrorist.

The previous victims had been people unknown in Israel. But Dr. Thabet was involved, for more than a decade, in organizing dialogue meetings and joint Israeli-Palestinian actions together with Peace Now, the Physicians for Human Rights and other groups. Some Israelis -- such as Meretz activist Yehudit Har'el and poet Yitzchak La'or -- counted him among their personal friends.

His death caused angry and shocked reactions. In addition to the ad, there was a whole stream of op-ed articles protesting this case in particular and the whole policy in general. The protest even entered the literary supplement of Ha'aretz where in his weekly poem Aharon Shabtai asked the Prime Minister: How would you have arranged murdering Rosa Luxembourg -- through snipers or from a helicopter.

When Dr. Thabet's widow presented an appeal to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, asking for an injunction against further extra-judicial executions, a Peace Now vigil with Gush Shalom participation outside the courthouse received much media attention. Belatedly, after several weeks, Barak's own Foreign Minister/Police Minister Shlomo Ben Ami, spoke out -- stating that "such policies are reminiscent of the most dark of regimes."

Whether due to all this protest, or to the manifestations of displeasure in Washington at the use of American-made Apache helicopters to carry out several of the assassinations, Barak desisted from new ones until the elections.

However, at the time of writing PM Sharon already broadly hinted at his intention of resuming the method of targeting leaders of the Palestinian uprising, and a new protest campaign may soon be needed.
www.PetitionOnline.com/de13on45/petition.html

****
Seven Israeli Women Try to Visit Hebron

Until last October, there were fairly frequent demonstrations by Israeli peace activists in Hebron -- the West Bank city suffering from the presence of a particularly fanatic settler group at a heavily-guarded enclave in its midst.

With the outbreak of the new Intifada, this became far more difficult: the city had become a virtual war zone, with daily exchanges of fire between the soldiers guarding the settler enclave and the Palestinian positions on the nearby hills; the military authorities forbade Israeli citizens to enter Palestinian-held areas; guerrillas shoot at Israeli cars travelling on the roads to Hebron, without inquiring for their passengers political opinions; and while this hazard may be reduced by travelling in Palestinian vehicles, the Palestinian traffic itself is severely hampered due to the tight closures and sieges imposed by the army.

On January 16, seven Israeli women en route from Jerusalem to Hebron had a first-hand experience:

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travelling by rutted side-roads in order to avoid the numerous IDF check posts, making a short distance into an hours-long trip.

Eventually, they alighted at the Palestinian-controlled sector of Hebron, where they were awaited by Kawther Salaam, a Hebronite journalist well-known for her insistence upon covering events where the presence of journalists is not welcome to the army.

Also joining them were several American women pacifists, members of the Hebron-based Christian Peacemakers Team. Black placards shaped like an open palm and bearing the message 'Stop the Occupation' in Hebrew, Arabic and English -- from the weekly Women in Black vigils -- were raised aloft, and the women started marching up the Duboyya Street, the scene of countless violent clashes in the past months. Almost immediately, Israeli soldiers stationed at the Tel Rumeida Checkpoint attempted to halt the marchers -- but the women managed to simply circumvent the road-block and went on marching.

Some 75 metres further on, the military parked a jeep across the street, and a dozen soldiers physically stopped the marchers by linking arms. At a short parley, the officer in charge agreed to let the women continue into the Israeli-occupied sector -- but on condition that they would leave behind the Palestinian participants as well as their placards. The area around the settler enclave was, as usual since the Intifada broke out, under curfew -- an ethnically-selective curfew, in which 20 000 Palestinians are obliged to stay indoors day and night while 400 Israeli settlers, as well as non-Palestinian visitors, are allowed to walk the streets freely.

Rather than conform to these rules, the group chose not to pursue the march, and turned back after about twenty minutes of challenge at the road-block and negotiations with the army. Only one Israeli woman, without placards and with the close escort of eight soldiers, decided to walk the additional 100 metres to the Beit Hadassah settler enclave.

The event got good media coverage -- something which had become, in the past months, the exception rather than the rule for peace activities.

****

The settler and the boy

On the rainy afternoon of Wednesday, Jan. 24, some twenty activists were standing in the drizzle outside the Jerusalem District Court. They had gathered at the call of Rabbis for Human Rights to protest the controversial Korman verdict. The court had shown great leniency in the case of the settler Nahum Korman, found guilty of killing a Palestinian child. As the security officer of the West Bank settlement Betar Ilit he had chased and killed ten-year old Hilmi Shusha, in 1996. Six months' community service was all he got. The verdict was the result of a plea bargain.

"This sentence discriminates between Jewish and Palestinian blood and totally disregards the value of Palestinian life" read the leaflet distributed to the few passers-by on Salah-a-Din Street, as well as to the three policemen, who had to stand it out in the rain, too. On the other side of the street, the court building was silent behind its high metal fences. This court is located since 1967 in the midst of Arab East Jerusalem, an alien Israeli body among an occupied population -- a circumstance maybe not unrelated to the kind of verdicts delivered.

Three weeks later, when the court decided the nature of Korman's Community Service (working in an old people's home) the activists were there again. "How could they let such a man work with old people, a man who was capable of hounding to death a ten-year old child?" wondered a demonstrator who was interviewed on the evening news.

On March 13, PCATI (Committee Against Torture) lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court, asking it to annul the plea bargain which led to the Korman verdict. The appellants pointed out that on the same day that the Korman verdict was delivered, a Palestinian girl named Suad Razal was sentenced to six years. Her crime: stabbing and lightly wounding an Israeli. Though in her case nobody died, and though Razal -- unlike Korman -- was a minor herself at the time the offence was committed, the prosecution in that trial was unwilling even to consider an extenuating plea bargain.
RHR, 2 Y.Elchanan St., J'lem, info@rhr.Israel.net
PCATI, pob 8588, J'lem, pcati@netvision.net.il

New Generation of Refusers

On the morning of Saturday March 10, some fifty members and sympathizers of Yesh Gvul demonstrated outside Military Prison 6, at Atlit on the Tel-Aviv-Haifa Highway. The picket was held in solidarity with 27-year old reserve Sergeant Amit Bar Tzedek -- in civilian life a teacher of theatre from Tel-Aviv -- imprisoned for refusing to take part in operations against the Palestinian population in the Qalqiliya Area of the West Bank.

The demonstrators, among them the undaunted peace veteran Hans Lebrecht (85), climbed all the way up the steep slope of the Carmel Hills overlooking the jail -- until they arrived to a point where they would be clearly visible to the inmates.

On the mountainside they brandished an enormous 'Down with the Occupation' (appearing as a colour photo in the following day's Ha'aretz). Slogans to the same effect were chanted lustily, the rocky hillside helping to echo the sound to the prisoners' ears below. Members of the Bar Tzedek family had the satisfaction of seeing their son waving enthusiastically from the prison courtyard.

Demonstrating on that hillside is a decades-old Yesh Gvul tradition, going back to the time of the Lebanon war and the first Intifada, when several hundred refusers have served (usually short) terms in the Atlit Prison.

In recent years, the military authorities avoided imprisoning soldiers who refuse service in the Occupied Territories, in most cases preferring to give them alternative assignments within the Green Line (pre-'67 border) or quietly discharge the soldier from  [continued p13]
military service altogether. Since the outbreak of the current Intifada in September 2000, at least sixty soldiers are known to have refused to participate in operations against the Palestinians, of whom eight -- three reservists and five conscripts -- have undergone prison terms. The IDF high command seems torn between its desire to quietly get rid of refusers avoiding publicity, and on the other hand its apprehension that letting refusers off scot free would make the phenomenon more widespread.

A case in point was Reserve Lieutenant Noam Livneh, who was imprisoned for refusal in the beginning of January. At first the authorities seemed inclined to be harsh with him, perhaps because he was "an officer setting a bad example to lower ranks." However, when the solidarity campaign launched by Yesh Gvul and New Profile started to gather momentum, and a demonstration on his behalf already announced to the press, Livneh was suddenly released "by personal order of the commanding general."

A more tortuous path was followed by 19-year old conscript Eyal Rosenberg. During two years in a prestigious intelligence unit, Rosenberg developed increasing doubts about the morality of what the army was doing. The brutal oppression after the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada decided him into staying home and sending his commanding officer a letter: 'The state of Israel is doing injustice; I am not prepared to be a cog in a system that suppresses another people.'

The military police's Deserter Catchers came late at night to fetch him, and he spent two weeks in prison. Upon his release, he was sent back to his unit, but went there in civilian clothes. He explained: 'I am a civilian' -- and was promptly sent back to prison. So it went on for months, with the twists and turns of Rosenberg's Odyssey being faithfully reported via
email by his mother Veronica. The army's Conscience Committee was unwilling to accept him as a bona fide CO (they hardly ever do) and sent him back into the treadmill. At last, however, another military committee did the trick.

"Yesterday I had an audience with the "Incompatibility for Service Committee", after four and a half gruesome months. They called me in, confirmed my identity, confirmed the fact I'd seen the Conscience Committee, then told me they were discharging me from the army and sent me back out of the room -- all within 20 seconds. They robbed me of all of the melodrama -- I had the fire-and-brimstone speech all ready...' was how Rosenberg described it on February 19, in a final email message to all those who had supported his struggle.

Still different was the fate of another conscript, Noam Kuzar. He was imprisoned at the beginning of the Intifada, and his case was the focus of an intensive solidarity campaign (see TOI-95, p. 13) and drew some public attention, inside Israel and internationally. Upon his release from prison, he expected to be ordered again to the Territories, and was quite ready to refuse again and be reimprisoned.

Instead, the army kept him at a base camp near Tel-Aviv, and assigned him to a seemingly permanent duty of "fatigues" -- contrived, extremely boring and often evidently unnecessary tasks about the camp. Four months of this life produced the result which the authorities probably expected -- Kuzar failed to report to base after a weekend leave, leading to his being imprisoned as a deserter. At the time of writing he is still incarcerated.
Yesh Gvul, pob 6953, J'lem 91068; ishai@shatil.nif.org.il
New Profile, pob 48005, Tel-Aviv 61480; rel@inter.net.il
Letters to: Noam Kuzar (ID 716478), Company A, Military Prison 4, Military Post 02507, IDF, Israel

Page 10

The Right of Return
Uri Avnery, 14.1.01

We Israelis need a scarecrow to frighten ourselves, one frightening enough to pump adrenalin into our national bloodstream. Otherwise, it seems, we cannot function.

Once it was the Palestinian Charter. Very few Palestinians ever read it, even fewer remembered what it said, but we compelled the Palestinians to abolish its paragraphs in a solemn ceremony. Who remembers it today? But since this scarecrow was laid to rest, there is a need for a replacement.

The new scarecrow is the Right of Return. Not as a practical problem, to be dealt with in rational terms, but as a hair-raising monster: now the Palestinians' sinister design has been revealed! They want to eliminate Israel by this terrible ploy! They want to throw us into the sea!

The "Right of Return" has again widened the abyss, which seemed to have been narrowed to a rift. We are frightened again. The end of our state! The end of the vision of generations! A second Holocaust!

It seems that the abyss is unbridgeable. The Arabs demand that each and every Palestinian refugee return to his home and land in Israel. The Israelis staunchly object to the return of even one single refugee. On both sides, everything or nothing. There goes the peace.

In the following lines I shall try to show that the scarecrow is indeed a scarecrow; that even this painful problem can be resolved; that a fair compromise can even lead to a historic conciliation.

The Roots of the Conflict

The refugee problem arouses such deep emotions because it touches the root of the conflict between the two peoples.

The conflict stems from the historic clash between two great national movements. One of these, Zionism, sought to establish a state for the Jews, so that, for the first time after thousands of years, they could be masters of their own fate. In the furthering of this aim, Zionism completely ignored the population living in the country. It envisioned a homogeneous national state, according to the European model of the late 19th century, without non-Jews, or with at least as few non-Jews as possible.

The Palestinian national movement expressed the struggle of the native Arabs for national freedom and independence. It vehemently opposed the penetration of their homeland by another people. As Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the militant Zionist leader, wrote at the time, any other people would have reacted in the same way.

Without understanding this aspect of the conflict, the events leading to the creation of the refugee problem cannot be understood.

Ethnic Cleansing

In the war of 1948, the historic clash came to a head. On the eve of the war some 1,200,000 Arabs and some 635,000 Jews lived in Palestine. During the course of the war, started by the Arab side to prevent the partition of the country, more than half of the Palestinian people, around 750,000 persons, were uprooted. Some were driven out by the conquering Israeli army, others fled when the battle reached their homes, as civilians do in every war.

The 1948 war was an ethnic struggle, much like the one in Bosnia. In wars of this kind, every side tries to set up an ethnic state by conquering as much territory as it can without the opposing population. In fairness to the historical facts, it should be mentioned that the Arab side behaved in the same way, and in the few territories it conquered (the old city of Jerusalem, the Etzion bloc) no Jews remained in their homes.

Immediately after the war, the new State of Israel declined to allow the refugees to come back to the territories it had conquered. The Ben-Gurion government eradicated about 450 abandoned Arab villages. The new Jewish immigrants -- many from Arab countries -- were put into the abandoned houses in the Arab towns. Thus the refugee problem was created.

Resolution 194

While the war was still going on, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted Resolution 194 of November 11, 1948. It stated that the refugees were entitled to choose between compensation and return to 'their homes.' Israel's refusal to abide by this resolution may have led it to miss the opportunity -- if it existed -- of achieving peace with the Arab world as early as 1949.

In the 1967 war, some events repeated themselves. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven out, by force or intimidation, from areas near the Jordan river (the huge Jericho refugee camps) and near the Green Line (the Tulkarm, Qalqilya and Latrun areas).

According to official UN statistics, the number of refugees is up to 3.7 millions by now, a number that is reasonable in view of the very high rate of natural growth. They are mostly dispersed among the countries bordering Israel, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Apocalypse Now

On the Israeli side, the refugee problem aroused deep-rooted fears, stemming from the first days after the 1948 war. The number of Jews in the new state had not yet reached a million. The idea, that 750 thousand Palestinian would return to Israeli territory and submerge it like a deluge aroused panic.

This apocalyptic vision has become a fixation in the Israeli national psyche. Even today, when the demographic facts are quite different, it hovers over every discussion of this issue. In this respect, there is no difference between the "Left" and the "Right." It is enough to merely mention the refugee problem, for writers like Amos Oz to react like Ariel Sharon, and for a "new historian" like Benny Morris to voice opinions similar to those of an adherent to the very

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same old myths that he himself helped to debunk.

No wonder that raising the issue now is shaking many of the Israeli 'peace camp' to the roots of their soul. "We thought that the problem had gone away", the furious doves exclaim, accusing the Palestinians of fraud, as if they had suddenly sprung earth-shattering demands, whereas until now they had presented only "simple" problems, like the establishment of a Palestinian state, borders and settlements.

This attests to an abysmal lack of understanding. The Right of Return expresses the very core of the Palestinian national ethos. It is anchored in the memories of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948, and the feeling that a historic injustice was committed against the Palestinian people. Ignoring this feeling of injustice makes it impossible to understand the Palestinian struggle, past and present.

Everyone who really tried to bring about peace and conciliation between the two peoples knew all the time that the refugee problem is dormant, like a sleeping lion who can wake up any minute. The hope was that this moment could be postponed until after the other problems could be resolved, and both sides could start healing this wound in a more congenial atmosphere. The hope was that after a good measure of mutual trust could be created, a rational approach would be possible. The Oslo Declaration of Principles of 1993 did not ignore the problem, but postponed it to the "final status" negotiations.

The man who upset the cart was Ehud Barak. He kicked the sleeping lion in the ribs. In a typical mixture of arrogance, ignorance, recklessness and contempt for the Arabs, he was convinced that he could induce the Palestinians to give up the Right of Return. Therefore he demanded that the Palestinians sign a new declaration of principles, in which they would announce the "end of the conflict."

The moment these five words -- "the end of the conflict" -- were uttered in the negotiations, the "Right of Return" landed on the negotiating table with a bang. It should have been foreseen that no Palestinian leader could possibly sign the "end of the conflict" without a solution to the refugee problem.

Now there is no escape from a courageous confrontation with this problem.

A Truth Commission

The refugee problem is multi-layered, some layers are ideological and concerned with basic principles, others are practical. Let's address the ideological first.

Israel must acknowledge its historic responsibility for the creation of the problem. In order to facilitate the healing of the wound, such acknowledgement must be explicit.

It must be acknowledged that the creation of the refugee problem was an outcome of the realization of the Zionist endeavor to achieve a Jewish national renaissance in this country. It must also be acknowledged that at least some of the refugees were driven from their home by force after the battle was already over, and that their return to their homes was denied.

I can imagine a dramatic event: the President or Prime Minister of Israel solemnly apologizes to the Palestinians for the injustice inflicted upon them in the realization of the Zionist aims, at the same time emphasizing that these aims were mainly directed towards national liberation and saving millions from the Jewish tragedy in Europe.

I would go further and propose the setting up of a "truth committee", composed of Israeli, Palestinian and international historians, in order to investigate the events of 1948 and 1967 and submit a comprehensive and agreed report that can become part of both Israeli and Palestinian school curriculum.

The Right of Return

The right of return is a basic human right and cannot be denied in our time. A short time ago, the international community fought a war against Serbia in order to implement the right of the Kossovars to return to their homes. It should be mentioned that Germany gave up the right of evicted Germans to return to their homes in East Prussia, Poland and the Sudetenland, but this was the result of the deeply felt guilt of the German people for the horrible crimes of the Nazis. The often-heard phrase "but the Arabs started the war" is irrelevant in this context.

I propose that the State of Israel recognize the Right of Return in principle, pointing out that the implementation of the principle will come about by way of negotiation and agreement.

Palestinian Citizenship

After the ideological aspect is satisfied, it becomes possible to address the practical aspect of the problem.

The solution of the refugee problem will coincide with the establishment of the State of Palestine. Therefore, the first step can be the granting of Palestinian citizenship to every Palestinian refugee, wherever residing, if the State of Palestine so decides.

For the refugees, this step will be of utmost importance, not only for symbolic, but also for very practical reasons. Many Palestinians, who have no citizenship, are denied the privilege of crossing borders altogether, for all others the crossing of borders entails suffering, humiliation and harassment.

The granting of citizenship will completely change the situation and status of the refugees in places like Lebanon, where refugees are exposed to danger.

Free Choice

A basic element of the Right of Return is the right of every single refugee to choose freely between return and compensation.

This is a personal right. While the recognition in principle is a collective right, its implementation in practice is in the realm of the individual Palestinian. In order to be able to decide the refugee must know all the rights accruing to him or her: what sums will be paid to those choosing not to return and what possibilities are open to those who wish to return.

Every refugee has the right to compensation for properties left behind when he was uprooted, as well as for the loss of opportunities, etc. Without making any comparison between the Holocaust and the

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Nakba, one can learn from the German method of compensating their Jewish victims. This will enable every refugee to decide what is good for him and his family.

The compensations, which undoubtedly will entail great sums, must be paid by an international fund, to which all the wealthier economies must contribute. The Palestinians can rightfully demand this from the member-states of the United Nations who voted for the partition of Palestine in 1947 and did not lift a finger to prevent the tragedy of the refugees.

Israelis must not delude themselves that only others will pay. The Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property holds huge properties -- buildings, lands, movable property -- left behind by the refugees, and it is his duty to register and administer them.

Return to Palestine

The historic compromise between Israel and Palestine is based on the principle of "Two States for Two Peoples." The State of Palestine is designed to embody the national aspirations of the Palestinian-Arab people and the State of Israel is designed to embody the national aspirations of the Israeli-Jewish people, with the Arab citizens of Israel, who constitute a fifth of all Israeli citizens, being full partners in the state.

It is clear that the return of millions of Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel would completely change the character of the state, contrary to the intentions of its founders and most of its citizens. It would abolish the principle of "Two States for Two Peoples", on which the demand for a Palestinian state is based.

All this leads to the conclusion that most of the refugees who opt for return will find their place in the State of Palestine. As Palestinian citizens they will be able to build their life there, subject to the laws and decisions of their government.

To absorb a large number of returnees and provide them with housing and employment, the State of Palestine must receive appropriate compensations from the international fund and Israel. Also, Israel must transfer the settlements intact to the Palestinian government, after the return of the settlers to Israeli territory. When deciding upon the just and equitable division of water and other resources between Israel and Palestine, this large-scale absorption must also be taken into account.

If the border between Palestine and Israel will be open to the free movement of people and goods, according to the principles of peaceful coexistence between good neighbors, the former refugees, as Palestinian citizens, will be able to visit the places where there forefathers lived.

Return to Israel

In order to make the healing of the psychological wounds and a historic conciliation possible, there is no way to avoid the return of an appropriate number of refugees to the State of Israel. The exact number must be decided upon by negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

This part of the plan will arouse the strongest opposition in Israel. As a matter of fact, this issue has not yet been introduced seriously into the public debate by anybody. The extreme opposition exists both on the Right and the Left of the Israeli spectrum.

However, such a limited return is the natural completion of the recognition in principle of the Right of Return and the acceptance of responsibility for the events of the past. As we shall see immediately, the opposition to it is irrational and an expression of old fears that have no basis in reality.

The Barak government was said to have offered to take back a few thousands of refugees (3000 were mentioned) annually in the framework of "family reunification." This reflects a mistaken attitude. Instead, it is the open return, in the framework of the Right of Return, which is necessary as a symbolic act of conciliation. The number mentioned is, of course, ridiculous.

Nobody claims that Israel, which has just successfully absorbed a million new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, is economically unable to absorb a reasonable number of refugees. The argument is clearly ideological and demographic: that the return of any number of refugees will change the national-demographic character of the state.

If the irrationality of the argument needs proof, one need only mention that the extreme Right in Israel demands the annexation of the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and is quite ready to grant Israeli citizenship to the quarter of a million Arabs living there. The Labor Party speaks of the annexation of big "settlement blocs", which include many Arab villages, without being unduly worried by the increase in the number of Arab citizens of Israel.

It is also worthwhile to remember that in 1949 the government of David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett offered to take back 100 thousand refugees. Whatever the motives that inspired that offer, and even if this was merely a diplomatic manoeuvre, the offer is an important precedent. In relation to the Jewish population in Israel at that time, this number equals 800 thousand today. In relation to the number of refugees at that time, the number equals half a million now.

The decisive question is: How many can be brought back? Minimalists may speak about 100 thousand, maximalists about half a million. I myself have proposed an annual quota of 50 thousand for 10 years. But this is a subject for negotiations, which must be conducted in a spirit of good-will with the intent of putting a successful end to this painful issue, always remembering that it concerns the fate of living human beings who deserve rehabilitation after tens of years of suffering.

1.1 million Palestinian-Arab citizens currently live in Israel. An increase of that number to 1.3 or even 1.5 million will not fundamentally change the demographic picture, especially when Israel is absorbing more than 50 thousand new Jewish immigrants every year.

Yet this concept arouses deep fears in Israel. Even

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the historian Benny Morris, who played such an important role in exposing the expulsion of 1948, is ready only for "perhaps a trickle of refugees being allowed to return to Israel -- a few thousand, no more."

I am aware that the offer far from satisfies the Palestinian demands. But I am convinced that the great majority of Palestinians know that it is the price that both sides have to pay in order to leave behind the painful past and prepare for the building of their future in the two states.

When Will It Happen?

If this solution is adopted, in the framework of a comprehensive peace between Israel and Palestine that will bring with it peace between Israel and the entire Arab world, it can be implemented in a few years.

The first stage will be, of course, the achievement of an agreement between the two parties. Hopefully, this will not be a process of bitter haggling, but a negotiation in good faith, with both sides realizing that an agreed resolution will not only put an end to a great human tragedy but will also open the way for real peace.

The second stage will be the process of choosing. An international agency will have to make certain that every refugee family will thoroughly know its rights and the option available to it. The agency must also make sure that every family can choose freely, without pressure. There must also be an orderly process of registering properties and submitting claims.

Nobody can know at this moment how many refugees will choose each of the options. One can assume that many will prefer to remain where they are, especially if they have married locally or have businesses and taken roots. The compensations will change their situation considerably.

Others will prefer to live in the Palestinian state, where they will feel at home within their nation and their culture. Others may wish to return to Israeli territory, where they are close to the homes of their families, even if they cannot return to destroyed homes and non-existent villages. Others again may be disinclined to live in a state with a different national and cultural background, after seeing the reality there with their own eyes. A real choice will be possible only when all the facts are clear, and even then not a few might change their minds repeatedly.

Once the great national issue, the symbol of the Palestinian sense of injustice, becomes a personal issue of hundreds of thousands of individual families, each one of them will reach an individual decision.

At the same time the international agency must come into being. Experience shows that this will not be easy and that countries that promise generous contributions for such an effort do not always fulfill their promises.

The third stage will be the implementation, which will certainly take several years.

Clearly the fear of many Israelis, that a catastrophe on the scale of a natural disaster will suddenly engulf them, is without basis. The solution of the problem will be a prolonged, controlled, reasonable and logical process.

Historic Conciliation

I believe that this plan can achieve a moral, just, practical and agreed-upon solution. Both sides will accept it, in the end, because there is no other. There can be no peace without the solution of the refugee question, and the only solution is one both sides can live with.

Perhaps it will all be to the good. When both sides start on the path to the solution, it may facilitate the conciliation between them. When they sit together to find creative solutions, all kinds of interesting ideas may turn up. For example: why not rebuild two or three Palestinian villages which were destroyed after 1948, and whose sites are still vacant? Many things that seem impossible today may appear on the table once the atmosphere between the parties changes.

Perhaps then the ancient saying of the Psalmist will apply to the refugees: The stone which the builders rejected had become the cornerstone.

****

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Closure Enacted in Tel-Aviv

On the afternoon of February 4, with the Prime Ministerial elections just 48 hours away, several hundred members of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, reinforced by members of Gush Shalom and Hadash, arrived outside the Defence Ministry in Tel-Aviv, in an effort to raise a subject which nearly did not figure in the elections propaganda: the ongoing military closure and siege of the Palestinian towns and villages. The women, dressed in black, donned black sandwich boards bearing the white-painted single word 'CLOSURE!' in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Some of them stayed on the sidewalk opposite the barred gate of the Israeli "Pentagon", while a few distributed to passing motorists abstracts from the B'tselem report on the immense suffering of the Palestinian population as an effect of the closure. After ten minutes, a group of women started to cross the street very slowly, with the effect of slowing traffic through this busy artery. And then, they suddenly sat down on the road in a line clear across the street, completely blocking the road. Within moments, a larger group of women and men thickened the line, and stood with their placards facing the cars -- a solid block of CLOSURE! signs preventing the drivers from advancing.

'It was a small representation of what the Palestinians experience every day -- being blocked and denied entry and exit from their towns and villages' was how organizer Gila Svirsky later described it in her own report.

With some women seated across the road, others standing behind them with arms linked the blockaders started chanting: End closure in the Territories/Get out of their bloodstream/ End closure in the Territories/ Give jobs to the workers/End closure in the territories/Give food to the children.

At first there were only a few police, but the reinforcements were not long in coming. They drove up with shrieking sirens, and didn't waste time asking for cooperation, just plowed in and grabbed, dragging the sit-in strikers to the sides, and wading in for more. Some returned to the road as soon as the police let go of them. Meanwhile car drivers who their cue from the police, and started driving ahead. Realizing that the demonstrators dragged to the sidewalk were coming back again and again, police started to shove them into paddy wagons -- many of them bruised all over from the amount of force used.

Altogether, 12 women and 4 men spent long hours at the Harakevet Street Police Station -- being interrogated and charged with a multitude of felonies: participating in an illegal demonstration, disturbing the peace, blocking traffic, resisting arrest, attacking a police officer, and even "attacking a car." Most of them kept their right to remain silent; others admitted -- proudly -- to participating in civil disobedience.

All the while a group kept vigil outside, and Knesset Member Tamar Gozansky exerted herself on their behalf, as did veteran lawyer Leah Tzemel. The police was quite meticulous about bail procedures: it had to be paid to the police account in the Postal Bank. The only one open at night: at Ben Gurion Airport. Finally, at a late night hour the detainees were out -- rather tired but in good spirits.

Other than by having been there -- or getting the message by email -- there was no way for the Israeli public to know that this action had taken place.

+++ On Feb 24 about 100 Israelis, mostly women but with a growing contingent of men, showed up at the Jerusalem-Bethlehem border-crossing to protest the closure.

It was a sunny day, and people had come from Tel-Aviv and other cities. Soon, both sides of the road were lined with demonstrators. Their presence caused the quick mobilization of a larger contingent of soldiers, who now manned the barrier. At a signal, the protesters stepped off the sidewalk and filled the road, marching quietly toward the checkpoint. Soldiers tried to stop them but only close to the checkpoint; they succeeded by forming a cordon across the road. Facing them the group began chanting the slogans, which rhyme in Hebrew: End the closure in the territories -- Get out of their

Page 15
bloodstream. End the closure in the territories (etc.).

While the chanting continued, journalists from Israel, Europe, and the States had some good photo opportunities. One young man in the group was forcefully shoved to the ground by a soldier, but when the soldier was made to understand that he was on candid camera, he suddenly knew how to behave.

This event was fairly quiet, no one was arrested, but on that Saturday evening, Israelis got to see at least a glimpse of what was announced by the TV commentator as an effort of Israeli women "to force their way through the road-block."
Contact: Gila Svirsky <gsvirsky@netvision.net.il>

[Protest at Har Homa]

+++ At noon on Monday, March 19, a picket line of Peace Now activists stood in front of the Jerusalem Town Hall, with signs 'No to settlement -- Yes to peace!' and 'Har Homa -- dangerous provocation!'

Once again Har Homa is in the headlines, the exclusively-Jewish "Jerusalem neighborhood" -- in fact, a settlement -- which is being built on confiscated Palestinian land at Jebl Abu Ghneim. A plan to more than double Har Homa by constructing 2,800 additional housing units was rushed through the Municipal Planning Committee (apparently a smooth cooperation between Jerusalem Mayor Olmart and champion settlement builder Sharon). Outside the building the peace activists were shouting and hooting, joined by Meretz Knesset Member Mossi Raz and Jerusalem Councillors Meir Margalit and Pepe Allalo, of the same party.

Three days later, the Har Homa extension plan went sailing through a further administrative hurdle, the Jerusalem District Committee of the Ministry of Interior. The distance of only three days between municipal and governmental approval is highly unusual -- normal construction projects have to wait months, sometimes years. The Peace Now activists picketed this building, too, handing to arriving government officials letters urging them to vote against the plan -- to no avail.

Still, while decision makers have the power to let more houses be built (and cut down the last remnants of the green wood on Jebl Abu Ghneim), they encounter quite some difficulty in filling them with tenants.

Of the 2,000 apartments already built at Har Homa, only a bit more than a quarter were sold, and since the outbreak of the new Palestinian uprising the sales of apartments trickled down to nearly nothing, despite the generous government subsidies offered. Abu Ghneim/Har Homa is but a short distance away from the scene of armed confrontations at the edge of Palestinian Beit Sahour (indeed, the confiscation of this land from Beit Sahour residents is one of their major grievances).

'The use of public funds for this political adventurism, when they are sorely needed for poverty stricken areas, can only be classed as gross irresponsibility' said Peace Now leader Moria Shlomot to the journalists outside the Interior Ministry building.
Peace Now, pob 8159, J'lem; peacenow@actcom.co.il

****

.line 7 $H 1 40

Health & Justice

Physicians for Human Rights have been unrelenting in their fight to provide health care regardless of borders. Their effort has extended well beyond the domain of medical science. They are confronting the legal system with persistent demands for justice in the distribution of medicine. They are confronting the military, objecting and petitioning against the inhumane restrictions on the passage of the sick to medical centres and on the passage of medical personnel to the areas where they are needed. And while they investigate, document and submit petitions, they are also out on the roads attempting to provide free medical services to those in need.

A recent PHR report tells of the organization's long history of struggle against the policy of closures. Already in 1996 -- in the wake of the death of twin newborn babies at a road-block when their mother, in labour, was detained by soldiers -- PHR submitted a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice, asking that the army create binding orders to soldiers at road-blocks, to prevent such cases.

The army did publish "Regulations for passage of patients in times of closure" whose text was judged to be quite sound by PHR -- but the existence of the regulations did not prevent two further deaths of patients at road-blocks during a blockade of the city of Hebron in 1999.

PHR returned to the High Court, arguing that the army was not implementing its own regulations, and got reassurances from the military that the orders will be circulated to all units -- which again did not prevent several new cases, reported during the present Intifada with its intensified closure policy.

Moreover, now the army resorts widely to unmanned road-blocks (earthen mounds, concrete cubes or trenches) which make completely impossible any passage of patients, selective or not. In response to a new PHR petition, presented on December 18, the army excused the cases of patients being delayed at road-blocks by "reminding the appellants that the situation was one of escalating violence, and that if regulations were ever overlooked it was only in the heat of the moment." That seemed to be all the explanation given why severely ill people had to die at the road-blocks.

Furthermore, the army claimed to have imposed a "breathing closure" (sic). It was maintained that the blockade did not close all access roads; that there was always either an open or a manned route, enabling selective passage. Also, the court was assured that medical equipment, supplies, and food were "always" being allowed passage.

During the Ramallah siege, implemented by the army shortly after this answer was officially submitted, there was not even a semblance of keeping these rules; all possible access routes to the city were physically cut off by means of trenches -- of which evidence was presented to the court.

Meanwhile the Palestinian Red Crescent, which

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joined the petition on March 13, produced and submitted to the court dozens of additional photographs and eye-witness testimonies relating cases of delayed medical care and their consequences.

A second, parallel appeal, relating to the free passage of medical personnel to and from medical institutions in East Jerusalem, was jointly submitted by PHR and Maqassad Hospital, an East Jerusalem institution serving the Palestinian population in the West Bank. It was argued that the closure, while explained as "a measure against terrorism", in fact constituted a collective punishment severely affecting hundreds of thousands of people. Specifically, it stated the East Jerusalem hospitals are cut off from the community they serve, and that medical personnel living in the West Bank -- who constitute some 60% of hospital staff in East Jerusalem -- are denied access to their place of work.

In addition, the appeal relates to the detrimental impact of the closure on the entire Palestinian health system, and to the fact that the rural population of the West Bank is cut off from access to the towns from which they used to get medical supplies.

****

PHR also regularly organizes groups of volunteer doctors and nurses to provide some medical assistance in places where it is especially needed.

On January 20, a PHR group -- seven volunteer doctors and a nurse -- arrived at the El-Fawwar refugee camp, south of Hebron, where some 6,000 inhabitants are crowded in an area of some 270 dunams. The camp's Education Centre for the Disabled was transformed into a temporary clinic. The Israeli medical professionals was joined by Palestinian doctors and nurses from the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (UPMRC).

In the course of the day, the joint team held consultations in family medicine, pediatrics, dermatology and cardiology. 300 patients, most of them children, were examined. PHR field worker Salah Haj-Yihyeh brought basic pharmaceuticals to replenish supplies at the camp.

Next to be visited was the village of Haja, located at an isolated rural region on the Qalqilya-Nablus road in the northern West Bank -- which is home to 2,000 inhabitants, and is the centre for 12 smaller villages scattered around. The area is isolated from urban centres, has no regular water or electricity supply, and even in normal times is visited by a doctor -- who comes from Qalqilya -- only twice a week. There is no pharmacy. The ongoing closure has made conditions only harder.

On February 3, a group including six doctors and two nurses from Israel, as well as three Palestinian doctors with two nurses, arrived at Haja. After being welcomed by the head of the local council, the doctors received 260 patients, from Haja itself and the dependent 12 villages. Seven patients were referred to follow-up and continuing treatment. Four of these are children in need of surgery, and PHR has undertaken to provide them with the necessary care via volunteer doctors in Israel. Here, too, pharmaceuticals were distributed.

The action was fully coordinated with the Palestinian Authority. After crossing the Israeli army checkpoint at Qalqilya, the Israelis were accompanied to the village by PA security officials, who remained with them throughout the medical day, and accompanied them safely back at the end of the day.

From the beginning of the uprising until February (when the report here quoted was compiled) such one-day clinics were held in six locations throughout the West Bank, treating over 2,000 patients.
PHR, pob 592, Tel-Aviv 61004; phr@baraka.org

****
[Windows]


+++ Before the Intifada, Windows was just the name of a bilingual Hebrew-Arabic paper for children, written by children of both nations. Since the Intifada the closure made meetings between Palestinian and Israeli children impossible, so the paper's frequency is lessened. But the need to hear voices and opinions from the other side is stronger than ever. Ruthie Atzmon, Windows editor, undertook to fill the gap.

The editorial office, situated in a basement in central Tel-Aviv, became a sort of club, with twice-weekly discussions and lectures by Palestinian speakers or Israeli dissidents, mainly on controversial subjects. For example, the Palestinian Right of Return was the subject of five lectures, by Palestinians and Israelis, from various and sometimes opposite points of view.

Apart from discussions there are exhibitions (recently a very interesting one of drawings by children from Hebron), and films. In order to help the Palestinians whose life is strangled by the closure, olive oil is bought from Palestinian villagers who can't get to their normal market, transported to Tel-Aviv and sold to visitors.

The place also functions as focal point for the collection of clothes, blankets and toys. Ways are found to get them through the check-points so as to be handed to Palestinian friends on the other side.
The activities of Windows succeed in creating a small corner of friendship and understanding in the middle of war. [Reported by Hava Cohen.]
Windows, pob 56096, Tel-Aviv; winpeace@netvision.net.il

[Israeli Relief Convoys]


+++ The enormous hardship of the Palestinians under so many closures and blockades caused many Israelis, independently of each other, to try what they could to help. Some of those relief actions were undertaken by organized groups, others by single individuals (and it is a wonder how much the latter can achieve!); some acting out of articulated political convictions and ideologies, others -- out of humanitarian motives or because they have personal contacts in a particular Palestinian village or region.

The following account describes one of the convoys organized by Ta'ayush (Partnership), a newly-founded group of Jewish and Arab Israelis aiming at increasing grassroots contacts between their communities inside Israel, and of together helping the Palestinians in the Territories.

On the morning of February 3, a convoy of trucks and private cars set out from Tel-Aviv, via the Israeli Arab town of Kafr Kassem, and off to the besieged

Page 17
villages of the West Bank. The cargo included some 15 tons of flour, rice, salt, sugar, pasta, conserved tomatoes, peas and second-hand clothes. All these were collected as donations from many individuals. (The room of Dr Gadi Elgazi, at the history department of Tel-Aviv University, had served for days as a collection center and was flooded with packages brought in by students and faculty members.)

The 70 participants were joined, at the last moment, by Jack Hougi of Ma'ariv who decided to come and cover the action -- which gained the group a four-page article in the weekend supplement of a mass-circulation paper.

Another last-minute arrival was Rev. Hidehito Okochi, a Buddhist cleric from Japan who had arrived in the country on a relief mission of his own, and heard by chance of the Israeli group's action.

Some of the participants admitted to feeling trepidation upon entering what is effectively a war zone. As a matter of principle, there was no question of asking for IDF protection, and the organizers were indeed determined to reject such protection, if offered. Preparations were made for the possibility of the army trying to interfere with their passage. To forestall any eventuality of singling out the Arabs for arrest, special care was given to fill each of the cars with both Jews and Arabs.

In the event the precautions proved superfluous. The army was busy elsewhere, and nothing special happened en route. The normal access to Dir Istiya, as to most West Bank villages, had been blocked by huge mounds of earth erected by the army. (The Israelis were told that villagers who tried to remove it had gotten their tractors confiscated). The convoy took advice from the locals and turned to a narrow unpaved track, winding between the stumps of cut-down olive trees.

Villagers at the side waved in friendly greetings. Stopping at a warehouse, Israelis, Palestinians and the single Japanese all took part in unloading the food-stuffs (a scene captured in a full-page colour photo alongside the Ma'ariv article). A kind of rally was held. The Mayor, Dr. Nafez Manzur -- a dentist who in better times had many Israeli patients -- vowed that the people will never yield, however bad it may become, and expressed gratitude for the help in holding on.

The distribution system was explained to the Israelis: 'First priority is given to those who are cut off from workplaces in Israel and who have small children. The second priority are the wounded and the families of martyrs. After them come the farmers whose trees were cut down by the army'...

After unloading half the supplies, the convoy sets off along another narrow track, to the neighboring Kifl Khares. A local Fatah activist acts as guide: "I spent 13 years of my life in an Israeli prison. I was accused of participating in the killing of an Israeli soldier. After Oslo I was released and for five years I became a kind of liaison officer. Daily I was meeting with Israeli officers trying to reduce tensions; sometimes we succeeded to defuse small incidents and prevent them from becoming bigger. But the settlements continued to grow, we lost more and more land. Now I have gone back to being an Intifada activist."
Gadi Elgazi, pob 39040, Tel Aviv; dafnahir@post.tau.ac.il.

****

Dialogue in the Galilee

Jews and Arabs in Israel have few occasions to really meet. Arabic being an official language of the state of Israel, there is an Arab-language school system -- though in other matters it is often forgotten to give Israel's second language the respect due. While for the Jews coming from different nations the army is a sort of melting pot, of the indigenous population only the Druze are singled out for conscription -- and though Druze are to be found in the lower and middle rank even among career soldiers, there is a growing movement in the Druze community to get rid of the "privilege" of being conscripted.

Jews and Arabs generally don't live in the same towns, and in cities where they do, they reside in different neighborhoods. Only some nonconformist Jewish families move into an Arab neighborhood and a few Arab cosmopolitans stay in Tel-Aviv after finishing university studies. Indeed, university is the only place where it is possible, for those who want, to mix in a natural way.

The disastrous results of this segregation were felt in October last year, when in one week 13 Arab protesters were killed during confrontations with police. Had the rioters been Jewish this would never have happened, nor would the police have felt the same ease at shooting live bullets on a joint Jewish-Arab demonstration. In such a situation distrust between Jews and Arabs easily builds up -- but a whole series of initiatives for dialogue also started.

Long before the official Commission of Inquiry started its work, several NGOs and human rights organizations, both Jewish and Arab, opened investigations aiming at uncovering the course of events that had led to these deaths and injuries -- including ACRI (Civil Rights Assoc.), Adalah (legal help organization advocating the legal rights of the Arab minority in Israel), Mossawa El Ahali (representing the families of the casualties) and PHR (Physicians for Human Rights). Reports published by ACRI and Adalah pointed to excessive use of force by the security forces against unarmed civilians. The results of this "shadow investigation" were eventually presented to the official Commission of Inquiry, but also brought directly to the public's attention, for example at well-attended evenings of eye-witness testimonies, organized at Tel-Aviv University by Hakampus Lo Shotek (Students and Lecturers Against Silence).

There also appeared a remarkable new focus of activity in the north, in areas where the government encouraged new Jewish communities to be created in the 1980's and 1990's among the existing Palestinian villages. Administratively, the communities were united into the Misgav Regional Council, from which the neighboring Arab villages were excluded, and to which was granted possession of considerable tracts of land -- "state land" by the official legal definition,

Page 18
but it had been in the effective possession of Arab villagers for generations. The set-up has many resemblances to the situation on the West Bank -- being the creation of the same kind of government officials.

There are, however, a few differences: the Arabs in the region are Israeli citizens, able to vote in elections and exert some influence on the Israeli political system, demanding to be truly equal citizens. Furthermore, the Jews are mainly yuppies, who came from the big cities out of a desire to live in a more rural environment, most of whom support politically the left or left-of-center. Until recently, many of them had friendly but superficial relations with their Arab neighbors whom they met while shopping and eating in restaurants. After the hidden tensions burst out in such a powerful way during the October confrontations, a polarization started with some taking a nationalist anti-Arab line, while others became aware of the need to establish a deeper contact and understanding with their neighbors.

[Improving Relations in Galilee]

+++ Following is a report on a public meeting held Feb. 1 at Misgav Cultural Center. The account by Adrienne Gerber of Avtalion Community shows how painful dialogue is -- and how very much needed.

Jews from several of communities in the Misgav Region and Arabs from different neighboring villages had come to a discussion organized by Kol Aher Ba'Galil (An Alternative voice in Galilee), together with Galilee Women for Equal Rights). The head of the Misgav regional council, Erez Kreisler, sat behind the table, side by side with Mr. Mahmud of Adallah. Hassan Asleh -- father of Aseel, the Seeds of Peace youngster who was shot dead by police last October (see TOI-95, p. 8), should have been among the panelists, but he cancelled his participation at the last moment.

The Palestinian speakers gave a long series of examples of discrimination, humiliation and confiscation. At a certain point the discussion became emotional. The questions and remarks made by Jews from the audience gave the Palestinians the feeling that once more their grievances were not being taken seriously. Kreisler added to the feeling when from behind the table he criticized 'the violence of the demonstrators and their aggression against Jews', referring to the blocking of roads to the communities, the burning of tyres and stone-throwing -- and not including the police brutality in his condemnation.

From what Mr. Mahmoud of Adallah told -- based on testimonies presented before the official Commission of Inquiry -- there should have been no doubt left of the excessive police violence: shooting to the head with live ammunition; the abusing of a minor; the shooting in the neck at point blank. All these hair-raising facts were exposed in front of a far from convinced Jewish audience.

Even though denying these facts seemed impossible, still some of them again and again brought up the stone-throwing, without any empathy for what the Palestinians had gone through. At another point, Erez Kreisler was attacked by Alternative Voice members for having proposed to confiscate land belonging to Sakhnin and Arabe as "a punishment" for the riots. Kreisler, who claims to be a leftist, took back these remarks, even saying that the Misgav Region as a whole should take responsibility and change its policies. The new policy should make Misgav an example of Jewish-Arab regional coexistence.

However, when an inhabitant of the Yuvalim Community suggested that Arab families be integrated in the communities and that the Misgav Council press campaign recruiting new inhabitants should be directed at all Israeli citizens, Kreisler's comment was that the communities were "not yet ripe for it" -- again causing commotion on the Arab side. He also brushed aside a proposal to use some of the considerable vacant space held by the Misgav Council to start a joint Jewish-Arab community for those who want to live together.

One could hear the Arab side complaining that all this was not cooperation, since the decisions were anyhow being taken by the Jews, and that the whole evening merely served to show Kreisler as the great promoter of coexistence. For their part, Jews complained that Adallah, and the Arab population in general didn't condemn the violent behavior of Arabs towards their Jewish neighbors in the region.

Panelist Dov Koller, from the Haharit community, succeeded in touching a string, speaking very emotionally about the death of Aseel. Koller himself lost a brother -- a pilot of the Israeli Air Force lost in action. It was Koller who came up with the proposal to demonstrate together on Land Day and walk with the photographs of the 13 of October.

This idea was generally acclaimed, and the public was silent after an appeal to its emotion. Omar Ayado of Arabe spoke last; his speech was a strong one, with a nuance of criticism towards the Arab leaders. Omar is known as the man who created all by himself a "Rock Garden for Peace." And his peace tent contributed a lot to the idea of peaceful coexistence.

He told of the patrols he had organized and manned with his own family members, to prevent Arabe youths from engaging in stone-throwing. The words of Omar Ayado following after what his friend Dov Koller said, created a meaningful end to the evening. Panelists and audience alike were moved by the openness and warmth of the two. And after all, people went home with the feeling that this kind of contacts should continue and that more people from both sides should get actively involved.

+++ "I have been living since 1985 in the Misgav Region, near Araba and Sakhnin, the sites of popular demonstrations following Sharon's Temple Mount provocation and the police violence that resulted. Once the dead were buried, and the tension subsided a bit, a spontaneous reaction was to set up a "Peace Tent", where people could meet 24 hours a day, and discuss their feelings, angers and fears.

This was necessary, if only for maintaining one's sanity in a time when suddenly racism set the tone all around. But it soon became clear that nice words were no longer enough, and concrete political action was now called for. Out of this basic understanding

Page 19
came the search of concerned citizens for some framework. There were several simultaneous initiatives, one of which -- Alternative Voice in the Galilee, initiated by a small group from the Aviv Community -- caught on especially well and now includes members from the entire region, Jewish and Arab.

Alternative Voice wants to be more than a support group -- to become a framework for political education and preparation for joint political action. A year ago, several months before the big outbreak, citizens of Arabe and Sakhnin held a protest march against the new military base for the sake of which their lands had been confiscated and which was blocking the development of their towns.

This is a clear example of where we should have been -- marching along with them. And it is also clear that our place is alongside our neighbors on the upcoming Land Day on March 30th. What is perhaps most important: to create a new moral consensus within the Jewish population, based on the clear understanding that our presence here -- in Israel in general and in the Galilee in particular -- cannot be built upon oppression of another people, but only upon higher values of equality and justice.

Being Jewish is, above all, a moral imperative. I still remember Rabbi Rosenbaum of my old Philadelphia synagogue telling us -- way back in the 1960s -- how he won't be at the pulpit next Shabbat, as participating in the Civil Rights March on Washington had moral precedence. [Freddy Lubin, from Mara'it.]

+++ At the time of writing near-daily scenes of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, headed by Supreme Court Judge Theodore Orr, appear on television -- often dramatic, sometimes bursting into violence when Arab bereaved families are confronted face to face with the policemen who killed their dear ones. The Misgav Region's local paper became the scene of heated debate regarding the police's conduct and Jewish-Arab relations in general, with opposing petitions and manifestos being published week after week. As it reported, on March 1 no less than ten locally-based groups active in one way or another to promote better relations between Jews and Arabs met and discussed various ideas: Participation at the Land Day Demonstration in Sakhnin, initiating meetings in the Jewish communities to increase awareness, organizing a specific demonstration about the military camp in Sakhnin, or holding a joint Jewish-Arab cultural event at a neutral location. There was no agreement on a joint program, but the different groups set up a system of loose coordination, informing each other of planned actions via email, and together campaigning against the right-wing groups who came out in support of the police actions in October.

+++ This year's March 30 Land Day demonstrations are going to see more Jewish participation than at any previous year -- both from the nearby Misgav communities and from the main Israeli cities. The Haifa initiative was started by veteran activist Iris Bar; Hillel Barak, J'lem announced buses from Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv; the initiative has been taken up also by Ta'ayush.

In this context should also be mentioned the call of a coalition of Galilee groups upon Jews and Arabs of the region to participate together in a demonstration at the time that the Judicial Inquiry will come the Galilee. The demands: Equal Rights for All Citizens; Let Justice Take Its Course in the case of the 13 killed. Marcia Kreizel (nlpa1@netvision.net.il) who initiated the campaign is at the same time engaged in Galilee women's initiatives for dialogue trainings.

+++ Meanwhile, Sikkuy (Equal Chance), a Misgav group organized by local Peace Now supporters, decided not to participate in the demonstrations but concentrate on activities within the Jewish communities themselves. They plan to collect signatures on a petition, to be presented on Israeli Independence Day to the Prime Minister and the Head of the Misgav Council, calling for full recognition of the Arab citizens' right to express their group identity, and for transferring "state lands" from the jurisdiction of the Misgav Council to that of the town of Sakhnin. The group also intends to organize tours of Jews to the disputed areas on the boundary of the present Misgav and Sakhnin jurisdictions, to help them understand better the Arab grievances.

+++" Just before going into print, the startling news came of a meeting between the head of the Misgav council and the Mayor of Sakhnin, at which it was decided that a piece of land originally earmarked for exclusive Jewish use will become a joint industrial zone.
Alternative Voice, c/o Atalya Boimel, Yuvalim 20142, IL

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(Continued from p. 20)

At last, the road was opened -- not exactly a smooth surface, but definitely navigable to cars. There was a short rally in a superb mood, and then the Israelis started walking back towards buses and cars. The four detainees were set free and police even gave back the shovels.

"Of course, we know that the army will come back here -- but so will we, to this and other besieged villages and towns", said Rabbi Arik Asherman at the end thanking the participants.

For a few hours, indeed, the siege had been removed from the village. But already in the late afternoon of the same day the army blocked the road again, this time with cubes of concrete, and for good measure the truck which brought these cubes trampled a nearby Palestinian-owned field. Also, a villager who had the temerity to use the reopened road to go with his car the short drive to the gas station got beaten up by the soldiers and the windows of his car smashed.

A delegation went on the following day to meet with the people in the village, and it turned out that some net improvement had resulted from the action: also after soldiers had dropped the concrete blocks it had now become at least possible for a donkey to pass, though not for cars.
gsvirsky@netvision.net.il; icahd@hotmail.com;
info@rhr.israel.net; info@gush-shalom.org

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Page 20

[Gush Shalom Ad]


We call for the immediate creation of an international peace-keeping force to protect the population of the occupied Palestinian territories from the Sharon-Peres government

Gush Shalom

On March 13, readers of Ha'aretz and the Jerusalem Post could not miss the above text place as a paid ad. A Gush Shalom press release of the same day -- quoted by several European papers but ignored by Israeli journalists -- mentioned that a letter containing the call for intervention had been sent to the Tel-Aviv embassies of the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, as well as to the delegation of the European Union to Israel.

Gush Shalom warned the international community to judge Sharon and Peres not by their words but by the situation on the ground. While the new government professes "concern for the Palestinian population's welfare", its own closures, blockades and sieges are starving that population held virtually imprisoned in their towns and villages.

"In the absence of an immediate intervention by the International Community, the increasingly more brutal policy of collective punishment may lead to escalating resistance by the Palestinians, which in turn would lead to harsher retaliatory measures. The spiraling of violence, if not interrupted, may set the whole region on fire" warns Gush Shalom.
Gush Shalom, pob 3322, Tel-Aviv;

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Breaking the Closure
Paving the Road

Gush Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, ICAHD (Against House Demolitions) and the new Women's Coalition for a Just Peace decided that time had come to go a step further, from protesting to resistance. Upon their joint call activists arrived in buses and private cars from all over the country to the totally cut off West Bank village of Rantis.

Friday morning, March 23. From the local gas station the activists started marching, holding shovels which they brought from home and raising banners in Hebrew and Arabic: 'Together we will break through the closure.' They were joined by CPT, the grassroots peace-keeping force of North American Mennonites in Hebron.

The action had been publicized in advance with no attempt to keep it secret -- and indeed, police and military forces were at the spot. However, even though a jeep was parked across the road, it was not difficult for the two hundred activists to get around them.

A short march with banners flying, with the veteran Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom and Hadash Knesset Member Tamar Gozanski in the van, brought the activists to the scene of what they came to oppose. Two mounds of earth thrown across the Rantis access road, about a hundred metres from each other, and each one flanked by a trench roughly tearing up the asphalt.

Already for months, the 3000 inhabitants of Rantis have no way to travel along this, their connection with the outside world. The blockade already costed a life: Taysir Isma'il Aldhabi, 37-year father of six, died on the roundabout way through the mountains -- on the back of a donkey -- before he could reach hospital.

Shovels were inserted into the ground, and work begun on demolishing the earthen barriers. The police and army had followed the march, without interfering. But after ten minutes of digging the commander of the police detachment made an imperious demand: "You must stop this. The barrier was put up by the army, as authorized under the government's policy of closure."

'That is exactly why we are going to demolish this barrier -- because it represents a brutal and inhuman government policy, a policy verging on war crime' replied Uri Avnery.

The police started to confiscate the shovels. Those holding them resisted passively, clinging to their tools and being dragged together with them into the waiting police van. Four were detained, while the others chanted 'Down with the occupation' and 'Closure is a war crime.' Then they went on working -- with their bare hands.

It turned out that 200 pairs of hands could shift quite a lot of earth in a few hours. The mounds were leveled down, and the trenches filled with stones and earth. There seemed no way for the police and army to stop this, short of arresting everybody. They just hung around, some of them -- especially the conscript soldiers with their blue berets -- not unfriendly.

Some villagers appeared from the other side, offering welcome and drinks. They told that since the siege all bread-winners, 90% of whom used to work in Israel, are now sitting idle; the olive groves, which provide the other economic mainstay, untended and unharvested since the army denies access to them; the village clinic closed, since the doctor cannot arrive; with most teachers unable to arrive, either, the local school is open only a few days per we week, and not for all classes even then.

Some of the kids showed up at the site, enthusiastically joining the filling of the trench with stones. As was decided in advance, adult Palestinians did not join the work. The risk for them is immensely higher; in some West Bank villages, interfering with this kind of barrier had cost lives.

Meanwhile, settlers from the nearby settlement of Ofarim made their appearance, shouting abuse at the "Leftist Arab-lovers" and being answered in kind. "They are coming every day to harass. They erect their own roadblocks, in addition to those of the army" said one of the villagers. (Continued on p. 19)