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Important work for peace
Gila Svirsky, Israel
October 4, 2002
If your only sources of information about the Middle East conflict are media
reports, you would undoubtedly never hear about the important work for peace
that goes on here.
Despite the discouraging times, Israeli activists continue to struggle on
many fronts. I report here on just a few:
Women in Black continue the vigils throughout Israel—one hour every week,
dressed in black and carrying signs ‘End the Occupation’. It’s hard to
imagine that we have been standing for almost 15 years, but we really have
(my two daughters who vigiled with me as children are now grown women). In
fact, our numbers have increased in recent months, in response to organized
assaults by extreme right-wingers in Jerusalem. In testimony to the import
of this international movement, an Israeli representative of Women in Black
has been invited to address the UN Security Council in a few weeks.
Ta’ayush: Arab-Jewish Partnership organized a major rally last Saturday to
protest the growing racism and discrimination inside Israel against Arab
citizens of the state. This is critical, especially when our Minister of
Education orders all schools to devote one hour of class time to studying
the ‘legacy’‚ of assassinated politician Rehavam Ze’evi —a racist legacy
that advocated the forcible expulsion Israeli Arabs from Israel. It’s no
wonder that activists from both Ta’ayush and the Coalition of Women for
Peace have engaged in artistic midnight forays to counteract a wave of
Gush Shalom brought dozens of Israelis to the courtroom yesterday for the
show trial of Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, demanding that Barghouti
be brought to the negotiating table, not put on trial. This courageous
group continues to be threatened and harassed by Israeli political leaders,
such as Knesset Member Kleiner who called them "anti-Semites who are a
cancer in the heart of the nation".
There is a growing alliance of Palestinians and Israelis for a shared peace.
The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace just received a communication from
the Palestinian Committee for Inter-Communication in Gaza, saying, "We
convey to you our desire for peace and co-existence". And in tomorrow’s
Arabic newspapers in the occupied territories, the Coalition is publishing
an ad that says, "We extend our heartfelt solidarity during this difficult
period. We pledge to continue to educate our children and leaders that the
Occupation and all violence must end, and that a just peace is the key to
the well-being of both nations".
It would not be hard to continue with reports from New Profile, Bat Shalom,
Machsom Watch, Courage to Refuse, Peace Now, and many others, but I will
just add the translation of a report by Yaakov Manor about yesterday’s (3
October) peace action in Kfar Yassuf:
Picking Olives for Peace
In the wake of ongoing attacks by settlers from Tapuah against the residents of the nearby Palestine village of Kfar Yassuf, and following several recent shooting incidents and the theft of olives, we decided to quickly organize
help with the olive harvest.
This action was called by Rabbis for Human Rights and the Israel Committee
Against Home Demolitions, but activists from many organizations joined in . . .
The first thing we saw at the entrance to the village were three mounds of
dirt and boulders blocking the road—preventing vehicles from entering, and
thereby forcing villagers to walk several hundred meters from the road to
their homes, often carrying heavy packages. The next thing was graffiti:
"Death to Arabs", presumably painted by the Kahanist settlers of Tapuah.
At the entrance to the village, hundreds of residents met and welcomed us,
and many more joined as we walked through the village. We quickly went to
the olive orchard near the Tapuah settlement where the olive groves had been
raided by settlers. Palestinian villagers and Israeli peace activists set
to work at once with great energy, out of fear, soon confirmed, that we
would soon be interrupted by settlers and security forces.
At first, about 15 soldiers and police stood on the hill between us and the
settlement, and allowed us to continue the harvest. A short while later,
some 20 settlers gathered above us, some of them armed. The settlers began
to advance toward us shouting and cursing. At that point, the senior
officer approached and requested that we leave the hillside to avoid
clashes. Since we had almost completed the harvest in that location, we
complied. A short while later, the district army commander arrived and
demanded that we entirely evacuate the area on the grounds that it was a
‘closed military zone’. After discussing this with the villagers, we agreed
to leave out of concern for their welfare.
Our request that the security forces disperse the settlers and allow the
villagers to complete their harvest was jeeringly denied: "Let them harvest
their olives when there’s a Palestinian state", said the commander.
Documenting this event were a Canadian TV crew and a reporter from [the
Israeli newspaper] Yediot Aharonot. An Italian TV crew arrived late, but
interviewed the village residents and peace activists. The action was
reported on the radio, and participants were interviewed on [Israel’s
popular] midday radio news magazine.
We subsequently learned that the village has another large orchard to which
they do not have access. We decided to consider holding another action, and
we discussed what to do in the event of attacks by settlers or reactions by
the Israeli army.
We also decided to lobby Knesset members to use their good offices to enable Palestinians to harvest their olives in locations where they are threatened by settlers.
[End of report by Yaakov.]
I think the above report is a perfect example of how a small group of
Israeli peace activists can act effectively to bridge the divide with
Palestinians, and also work to change Israeli public opinion and affect
policymakers. All these groups deserve your support.
Despite these difficult times, more and more people on both sides have come to understand that violence is not a solution. And it is important to keep
the vision in mind: Like every occupation in history, the Israeli
occupation too is doomed to failure, and will come to an end sooner or
later. And at the end of that occupation, two vibrant states —safe,
secure, independent of each other, and cooperative for the benefit of
all—must inevitably emerge.
Shalom /Salaam from Jerusalem.
Gila Svirsky is an Israeli peace and human rights activist.