Friday, December 6

MCC Palestine Update #67

MCC Palestine Update #67

December 6, 2002

This fall saw the release of a remarkable collection of essays, edited by Roane Carey and Jonathan Shainin, entitled The Other Israel (New York: The New Press, 2002). The volume brings together essays by over 20 Israeli journalists, academics and peace activists who collectively make up a portrait of an "Other Israel," one which believes that peace and Israeli security will be built upon foundations of justice instead of imposed by tanks, bulldozers and machine guns.

Some of Mennonite Central Committee's partners, such as the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between Peoples, the Wi'am Center for Conflict Resolution, and the Badil Resource Center for Refugee and Residency Rights, work on specific projects (olive harvesting, conflict resolution workshops, a Hebrew-language packet on the rights of Palestinian refugees) with some of these "Other Israelis." Part of the job description of MCC's peace development worker-when he isn't living under curfew in Bethlehem-is to cultivate contacts with this "Other Israel."

Below you will find links to the websites of some of the Israeli peace groups who make up the "Other Israel," along with short descriptions of the groups, most of which are taken from their websites. Together, these organizations provide a timely reminder that there are not simply "two sides," Israelis and Palestinians, but that there are Israelis who join with Palestinians in working for a future of reconciliation and peace built on a foundation of justice.

Rabbis for Human Rights: "RHR was founded in 1998, in response to serious abuses by the Israeli military authorities in the suppression of the intifada. The indifference of much of the country religious leadership and religiously identified citizenry to the suffering of innocent people seen as the enemy was a cause of concern to RHR's organizers."

Gush Shalom: Gush Shalom calls for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and for Jerusalem to be the shared capital of the State of Israel and a future Palestinian state.

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions: "ICAHD is a non-violent, direct-action group originally established to oppose and resist Israeli demolition of Palestinian houses in the Occupied Territories. As our activists gained direct knowledge of the brutalities of the Occupation, we expanded our resistance activities to other areas - land expropriation, settlement expansion, by-pass road construction, policies of "closure" and "separation," the wholesale uprooting of fruit and olive trees and more. The fierce repression of Palestinian efforts to "shake off" the Occupation following the latest Intifada has only added urgency to our efforts. As a direct-action group, ICAHD is comprised of members of many Israeli peace and human rights organizations. All of our work in the Occupied Territories is closely co-ordinated with local Palestinian organizations."

Yesh Gvul: Yesh Gvul (Hebrew for "There is a Limit!") "is an Israeli peace group that has shouldered the task of supporting soldiers who refuse assignments of a repressive or aggressive nature. The brutal role of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) in subjugating the Palestinian population places numerous servicemen in a grave moral and political dilemma, as they are required to enforce policies they deem illegal and immoral. The army demands compliance, but many soldiers, whether conscripts or reservists, find that they cannot in good conscience obey the orders of their superiors."

New Profile: We, Israeli women - Jewish and Palestinian - oppose the occupation of the Palestinian people and refuse to take part in any of its destructive aspects. We refuse to live as enemies We refuse to fulfil the roles that women are expected to fulfil during wartime We refuse to pay the economic and social price of the occupation We refuse to be ignorant and to succumb to terrorizing and silencing We refuse to raise children to war, poverty and opression We refuse to remain silent A collective refusal of women can change reality. A feminine refusal means an alternative voice and a language opposed to the language of power.

Ta'ayush: Ta'ayush means "coexistence" in Arabic. The Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli members of Ta'ayush live out coexistence as they join to help Palestinian farmers harassed by Israeli settlers harvest their olives or make solidarity and relief visits to Palestinian Bedouin in the Hebron hills threatened with eviction by Israeli settlers and the military.

Bat Shalom: "Bat Shalom is a feminist peace organization of Israeli women. We work toward a just peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors that includes recognition of a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel and Jerusalem as the capital of both. Within Israel, Bat Shalom works toward a more just and democratic society shaped equally by men and women."

The Alternative Information Center: "The AIC is a Palestinian-Israeli organization which disseminates information, research and political analysis on Palestinian and Israeli societies as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while promoting cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis based on the values of social justice, solidarity and community involvement."

Below you will find two pieces. The first, by Ha'aretz journalist Amira Hass, looks at life at one of the scores of military checkpoints in the occupied territories, including the role played by Israeli peace activists who volunteer their time for Makhsom Watch, a group which monitors soldiers' actions at checkpoints. The second, by Tanya Reinhart of Tel Aviv University, analyzes the prospects for a just peace coming out of the upcoming Israeli elections.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. A checkpoint for life
Amira Hass
Ha'aretz, November 27, 2002

Shabbat. 7 A.M. At the checkpoint at the northern entrance to Ramallah. Four soldiers are checking cars. It's a checkpoint used only by diplomats, Palestinian VIPs, ambulances, UN vehicles and various international humanitarian organizations. Passage is forbidden to "ordinary" pedestrians from neighboring villages heading to Ramallah and back. Not even people who live around the corner are allowed through. Two young women are standing on the northern side of the checkpoint, before the entrance to Ramallah. They are waiting.

On the southern side of the checkpoint, an elderly woman is sitting in a wheelchair. Near her is a bewildered young woman. From a short conversation with her, it becomes apparent that the woman in the wheelchair receives dialysis treatment in a Ramallah hospital. One of the young women waiting on the other side of the checkpoint is her daughter. The young woman beside the daughter is a kidney patient, also a regular at the Ramallah hospital. The young bewildered woman is the sister of the elderly woman in the wheelchair.

"The soldiers don't understand Arabic," she explains. The four come from the same village. It's only by chance that the healthy sister pushed her elderly sister's wheelchair to the checkpoint, so the soldiers allowed her through while preventing the other two young women from passing. "We can't let the entire village through," said one of the soldiers. They were surprised to hear that there's another ailing woman. They said such "ordinary pedestrians" aren't allowed through. The young women said they go through the checkpoint on foot, with the elderly woman, once every two days, equipped with letters from the hospital. An ambulance driver finally shows up and confirms he picks up the women every other day. He negotiates with the soldiers and finally, they allow the daughter of the woman in the wheelchair and the kidney patient through. But they prevent the healthy sister from passing through.

A 10-year-old boy arrives on the scene from the direction of Ramallah, carrying a large pack on his back. His school, he said, is north of the checkpoint, in Kafr Bitin. The ambulance driver's lobbying doesn't help. The soldiers won't let the boy through and, frightened, he backs away.

If the women from Makhsom Watch (Checkpoint Watch), a voluntary group that sends monitors to observe and take notes at checkpoints, were present, would they have succeeded in persuading the soldiers to let the boy and the healthy sister through? They don't usually go to this checkpoint. Sometimes, at other checkpoints they manage to bring some measure of human judgment into the frequently changing rules and interpretations of the rules. Sometimes their mere presence stops the soldiers from delaying dozens of people and cars for long hours for no operational reason. Frequently, they see how dozens of people manage to "steal" through the checkpoints. Usually these are young and agile, but desperate adults, and daring children also try.

Last week, just a telephone call from the Makhsom Watch activists to a Jerusalem hospital made the soldiers allow a couple to pass through a checkpoint to reach Jerusalem, where they were to visit their daughter in hospital. Sometimes an appeal by the activists to the duty officer helps. He instructs the soldiers to hand back the ID cards to the dozens of people whom the soldiers have been delaying for no reason.

Many of the activists in Makhsom Watch emphasize their purpose is not to make the occupation more bearable, but to make Israelis aware of it and of the fact that the checkpoints and blockades don't prevent the suicide bombers from reaching Jerusalem, but do increase the sense of outrage and disgust against Israelis in the general Palestinian population. But often their presence, and sometimes their intervention, moderate the brutal scenes and shorten the hours of humiliation.

Apparently more than they manage to reach the Israeli public, they enable Palestinians to find out that there are "other Israelis." In that sense, their contribution to a future of sane relations between nations is greater than their immediate contribution to the debate inside Israel about the occupation and its dangers.

As one Palestinian school principal from a nearby village, who goes through humiliation and harassment at the checkpoint on a daily basis, said, "Knowing there are Israelis experiencing what we experience, if only for a few hours, eases my suffering and gives me some hope for a different future."

2. The Israeli Elections
Tanya Reinhart
Yediot Aharonot, November 26, 2002

This is an expanded version of a column in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, November 26, 2002.

For quite some time, public opinion polls in Israel appear to be contradictory. On the one hand, t here is a majority of 60-70% for Sharon and an "iron-fist" policy in the occupied territories, and on the other a majority of 60% for immediate unilateral evacuation of most of the territories and most of the settlements.

In fact, it is simple to reconcile this contradiction. Since at least the nineties, a division to three thirds can be observed in Israeli society: The ideological third on the left opposes the occupation on moral and principled ground. The ideological right supports Israel's policy of expansion and the settlers. The middle, non-ideological, third are people who just want quiet and a normal life. They don't care about the Palestinians, but also not about the settlers.

The polls reflect the confusion and despair of this middle third. It is impossible to conclude from these polls that Sharon's victory in the coming elections is guaranteed, as so commonly argued. The winner of the elections will be the candidate drawing more of the votes of the middle third.

A prevailing mistake is to call this middle third 'center'. The word 'center' has ideological content. It is associated with moderate stands, at the heart of the consensus. The ideological center is afraid of absolute positions, like getting out of the territories immediately, but it also does no t like the idea of transfer (-mass expulsion). However, this ideological center exists only in the political discourse. In real life, the middle third consists of scared citizens whose life has turned to hell - people who watch the collapsing economy and wait anxiously for the next terror attack or for the days of gas masks and sealed rooms. It is reasonable to assume that their instinct will be to vote for whoever offers a clear rescue path.

The "iron fist" platform of the right right-wing is indeed sharp and clear. But its drawback, for the middle third, is that it has been tried for two years already, and nothing has changed for the better. The question for them is what the left has to offer.

Up until now, the left left-wing offered only verbal solutions: Let's sit down and talk and discus s and negotiate - has been their message for years. That's how the Oslo model was born - a model of eternal negotiations, while Israel continues to expand settlements and appropriates more Palestinian lands. By now, everyone in Israel knows where this road leads, and it is impossible to win the elections with this message.

But Mitzna has something new to offer - a plan that started, at least, as a clear determination to act, rather than just talk. Its roots are in the resolutions of the Council for Peace and Security of February this year. As reported in Ha'aretz, "after four months of intense discussions, the Council for Peace and Security, a group of 1000 top-level reserve generals, colonels, and Shin Bet and Mossad officials are [sic] to mount a public campaign for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from all of Gaza and much of the West Bank. Unlike some of the other unilateral withdrawal plans, like 'Life Fence', for example, the council's plan involves evacuating some 40-50 settlements" (Lili Galili ,Ha'aretz, February 18, 2002).

The Council for Peace and security is definitely a mainstream body, and its plan is heavily backed by business and corporate circles in Israel. They are not necessarily motivated by moral considerations of what Israel is doing to the Palestinians, but by concerns regarding the dangerous implications of this policy to the future of Israel. Although I do not share their world-view, I believe that implementing their plan is a huge step forward. The conception underlying this plan is that the real disagreement between mainstream Israel and the Palestinians is confined to three matters: The Right of Return, Jerusalem, and the fate of the big settlement blocks in the center of the West Bank.

These center settlements are built on land confiscated from the Palestinians, but the sad reality is that there are already 150.000 Israeli s living in these blocks, who cannot be evacuated over night. However, in territorial terms, the areas under dispute are no more than 10% of the West Bank (1), and there is no reason to occupy the rest of the territories because of this dispute. The 90 percent that are agreed upon can and should be evacuated immediately, and the 40-50 isolated settlements scattered in these areas should be dismantled.

Immediately after the evacuation, negotiations should start regarding the three difficult problems under dispute. Until these problems are solved, there will be no end of conflict, and no one can promise a complete end of terror. However, when in 90% of the West Bank (and the whole of Gaza) people have reason to wake up in the morning, the danger that they will opt for suicide over the Right of Return is much smaller.

If Mitzna sticks to this plan, which offers a real alternative and hope, there is a good chance that he will be the next Israeli prime minister. But there are many dangers lurking on his way. From the right-wing pole, pressure is exerted on him to "appeal to the center" and, thus, become vague a nd meaningless.

But the bigger danger is from the pole labeled left, in his own Labor party. Beilin and the other masterminds of Oslo are working against the idea of immediate evacuation: -Why evacuate immediately - they say - when we can simply resume the road of negotiations. Let's sit down with the Palestinians; let's talk and discuss. In the meanwhile, the IDF (Israeli army) will continue to maintain order in the occupied territories. Perhaps the Palestinians will give up eventually, and allow us to implement the Beilin Abu-Mazen plan, which does not require the dismantling of a single settlement.

Mitzna is showing signs of surrender. At the eve of the Labor primaries, he spoke only about immediate evacuation from Gaza. For the West Bank he proposed a year of negotiations, which in practice means negotiations under the supervision of the Israeli army. In other words, he proposed another year of the present lunacy, but with some negotiations in the background. If, at in the end, what Mitzna offers to the middle third would turn out to be an Oslo B plan, the middle will vote Sharon. ========= (1) This is the figure in the maximalist approach of Barak, who demanded to annex these ten percent in Camp David. The actual land that the settlements sit on is much smaller. However, Barak demanded to maintain territorial continuity between the annexed settlements.

In the Taba talks the Israeli side set the figure on 8% - "6 percent annexation and additional 2 two percent under lease agreement" (Ambassador Miguel Moratinos report, Ha'aretz, February 15, 2002). The Palestinian side acknowledged "3.1 percent annexation [to Israel] in the context of a land swap", (there). For more details on the land percentage and the Taba negotiations see my Israel/Palestine: How to end the war of 1948, Seven Stories, 2002.

(2) Here is how Beilin himself described the Beilin Abu-Mazen plan (which was completed in October 1995) in an interview in March 1996: "As an outcome of my negotiations, I can say with certainty that we can reach a permanent agreement not under the overt conditions presented by the Palestinians, but under a significant compromise [on their side]...

I discovered on their side a substantial gap between their slogans and their actual understanding of reality--a much bigger gap than on our side. They are willing to accept an agreement which gives up much land, without the dismantling of settlements, with no return to the '67 border, and with an arrangement in Jerusalem which is less than municipality level." (Interview by Lili Galili, "I Want to Entangle the Likud with as Much Peace a s Possible," Ha'aretz, March 3, 1996).

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