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 Important work for peace
 Gila Svirsky, Israel
 October 4, 2002
 
Friends,

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 racist graffiti.

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.