Regional Programs > Israel & Palestine > Next Story

 On the one hand . . .
 Gila Svirsky, Israel
 August 6, 2002
 
On the one hand, things have gone from bad to worse: On the Israeli side, we have terrorism that spreads tragedy from house to house, family to family, striking at random and eating away the desire of many to make peace with the Palestinians. And on the Palestinian side, we have a level of persecution that replaces normal life with tanks pointed at doors, preventing innocent people from getting to jobs, schools, doctors, food. A quarter of the Palestinian children in the territories are malnourished, according to figures just released by the US Agency for International Development [see Ha’aretz, August 6, 2002] And if you need dialysis, chemotherapy, a baby delivered by Caesarian, or just treatment of a toothache—curfews and closures make all that impossible.

To add to the bad news, we have the unholy synergy of George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon in simultaneous office, both spinning their brutal deeds as a 'war against terrorism'. Will striking back at the terrorists lead them to set down their arms and apologize? It amazes me that Israelis don't yet see the futility and counter-productivity of our invasions, sieges, and curfews. Fear and revenge draw a veil over our vision.

On the other hand . . .

The Israeli peace movement plods on, knowing full well that we can only chip away at the edges, not get to peace, so long as Sharon remains in office. Here are a few nuggets of news from a busy summer:

* Refusal Movement: Army officers and soldiers continue their refusal to serve in the occupied territories, and pay the price of imprisonment and public censure. The Supreme Court is still weighing the request of David Zonshein (co-founder of the 'Courage to Refuse' movement) for a full court martial, in which he intends to put the occupation on trial to justify his decision not to serve. Meanwhile, a prestigious rabbi in the settlers' movement publicly declared that such refusers are worthy of death, thereby declaring open season on them by any self-appointed implementer of God's will.

* War Crimes: On Sunday, the Israeli army disclosed the fact that letters had been received by several senior army officers, sent by the Gush Shalom peace movement, telling them that some of the military exploits they had bragged about in the media are war crimes and punishable by international law. The army was incensed and the media were vicious. Interviewers called them "informers" and one compared them to those who had turned in fellow Jews during "dark moments in history". Sharon instructed the Attorney General to investigate the legality of threats that seek to deter officers from performing their duty. Bravo, Gush Shalom! If only this does deter some from performing their duty! May these letters instill the fear of prosecution for war crimes into the hearts of Israeli soldiers!

* Settlers—no longer an obstacle to peace: Peace Now has published a very important survey revealing that almost 80% of the settlers moved to the territories for economic reasons, not ideology or religion. Most said, in fact, that they would return to Israel if compensated for their loss of property [see Settler Attitudes towards Withdrawal from the Territories, July 2002]. This survey completely confounds the right-wing threat that evacuating the settlers would lead to civil war in Israel. Only 3% said they would take up arms to avoid leaving. It is crucial to spread this information.

* Women's peace movement: Women peace activists have had a very busy summer, highlighted by the Women Refuse campaign. This subversive movement, launched by New Profile, calls upon women to stop cooperating with militaristic solutions, and to oppose the participation of their loved ones in military actions. "We refuse to be part of the machine that promotes war and sustains occupation . . . We refuse to be enemies." Machsom Watch women are monitoring checkpoints at the crack of dawn, and deterring soldiers from brazen acts of humiliation. And the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace held 2 days of seminars to a packed house, where many political analysts predicted elections next spring, half a year earlier than planned, as the Sharon government flounders on its handling of Israel's economic crisis. Now the object is to create a decent—and electable—alternative.

* Humanitarian aid: Many peace and human rights movements have joined together to rebuild demolished homes, bring water to the Negev Bedouin, refurbish a school in the unrecognized Arab village of Ein Hud, provide support for a summer camp in Jenin, and prevent the passage of some particularly anti-democratic bills in the Knesset. Speaking of humanitarian needs, many Palestinian homes in Hebron have not had water in their faucets for months . . . though the settlers still enjoy their watered lawns and swimming pools nearby.

* Finally, a troubling story from B'Tselem: A fieldworker for 10 months in this prestigious human rights organization was arrested by the Palestinian Authority and charged with collaboration with the Israeli Shin Bet (secret services). After prodigious efforts, B'Tselem managed to meet privately with him in jail, where he admitted the charges. B'Tselem issued a statement saying that if the charges are true, the use of human rights activists by the Shin Bet "is very grave and could endanger both the work of B'Tselem and the lives of its investigators". It also demanded that he be given a full and fair trial by the Palestinian Authority. One wonders: Did the Israeli Shin Bet deliberately seek to harm B'Tselem's good name by recruiting one of its workers? Did the man really collaborate? Or was he persuaded to "confess" as part of a plea bargain, lacking hope that he would get a fair trial? One thing is certain: Once a confession is made, this man is no longer safe, perhaps not for the rest of his life. Mercy on his soul.

Gila Svirsky is an Israeli peace and human rights activist.