The struggle for a true peace

The old Israeli peace camp may be dead; but a new one is being born, writes Yehudith Harel*

This coming weekend, Tel Aviv will stage another vigorous anti-occupation march and rally, called by a newly-born coalition of the Israeli Jewish and Arab anti-war and anti-occupation forces making up the revitalised Israeli Peace Camp. The rally will be hold in protest against the present Israeli incursion of the Palestinian Authority and the alleged War Crimes committed by the Sharon government in Jenin and in other Palestinian towns and villages: the high death toll, massive arrests of more than 4000 Palestinians, massive destruction and acts of blatant vandalism inflicted upon the Palestinian civil Infrastructure, government buildings, public services, cultural and scientific centers, private property, roads, obstruction of health care and other vital services from hundreds of thousands of civilians. The procession will walk silently with black flags in commemoration of the victims, and will demand the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli occupation forces from all Palestinian territories, the dismantlement of all the settlements and acceptance of the Arab League peace proposal based on UN Resolutions 242, 194 and 338. We will say loud and clear that this war is no "War against Terrorism," no "War for the very existence of Israel." This is a war for the sake of the settlements, for continuing the occupation and consequently drowning all of us in an endless cycle of violence and bloodshed. We will say that there is chance for peace and that we have Palestinian and Arab partners for peace - as long as the occupation ends without delay.

The coalition behind the upcoming rally is a loosely-knit network of NGOs, grassroots organisations and political movements united by a more or less common understanding of the roots of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the interpretation of the present crisis and honest solidarity with the plight and just cause of the Palestinians, their human suffering and full commitment to end the occupation and attaining just peace for all - Israelis and Palestinians alike.

This is the third big protest rally staged by this coalition. The first was a mass demonstration that took place in Tel Aviv on 9 February in which more than 10,000 Israeli citizens - Jewish and Palestinian - took part. The 9 February rally was the first mass anti-occupation rally since the beginning of the recent Intifada, and followed by a long period of inactivity and political response by the mainstream Israeli Peace Camp.

What triggered this coalition was the growing frustration and indignation among many peace activists with the dangerously deteriorating situation on one hand and the almost complete paralysis of the Israeli peace camp on the other. There was a sense of growing anger and frustration concerning the absolute failure of the formerly established mainstream peace movements to provide an honest interpretative framework for what is happening: why did this Intifada break out, what went wrong in Camp David2, what is the Sharon Government up to? Why is it that the continuous cycle of violence cannot be brought to an end?

The traditional peace forces have also failed to provide adequate and effective action to widen the popular protest against the Sharon government and its policies and practices, all clearly directed at escalating the conflict until the effective annihilation of the Palestinian political entity. It had become evident that the traditional mainstream peace movement had been paralysed ever since the collapse of the CD2 talks, when the majority of the Israeli public, including these movements, fell into the trap set by Barak's propaganda concerning his so called "generous offers" that were allegedly refused by the Palestinians. Consequently they failed to convince the Israeli public as to the false nature of these allegations. This failure led in turn to the collapse and dismantling of the peace camp - including the electoral basis of the so-called Israeli political Left - the Labour and Meretz parties, which in turn led to the election of Sharon and his rightist government. The collaboration of the Labour party with Sharon and its participation in the Sharon government only intensified these trends, rendering the awakening of wider popular resistance to the Sharon government even more difficult.

Solidarity demonstrations with the Palestinians have grown increasingly common as the pro-peace movement in Israel has gained renewed momentum. The demonstrators pictured above tried to breach the Israeli blockade of the West Bank and bring food supplies to its besieged Palestinian communities

However, since the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000, there started to emerge an alternative peace movement. Many anti-occupation protest and direct solidarity actions with the besieged Palestinians were taken up by a variety of grassroots movements and NGOs, who became most active and outspoken. One should specifically mention groups such as Taayush, an Arab-Jewish Partnership founded after the outbreak of the present Intifada by Israeli Jews and Palestinians engaged in direct actions of solidarity and humanitarian aid to the besieged Palestinian towns and villages. Taayush organised many food and medicine convoys to these villages, trying to break the siege. Hundreds of Israeli men and women -- Jewish and Arab citizens -- took part in these activities as well as in more political and protest-oriented exercises, such as trying to defy the siege and the closure at the military checkpoints and around besieged villages. These activities were mainly organised by Gush Shalom, the Coalition of Women For Just Peace (a group of feminist anti-militarist movements and NGOs), Rabbis for Human Rights and others. The most recent actions of this kind took place three weeks ago at A'Rahm checkpoint, and last week at Jenin, with the participation of thousands of Israelis. We should also mention other active anti- occupation groups such as ICAHD - the Israeli Association against House Demolitions, PHR - Physicians for Human Rights, and the recently-established ICIP - the Israeli Committee for International Protection. These activities were supported also by the Follow-up Committee of the Arab Minority in Israel, in addition to other NGOs with specific human rights and peace-oriented field activism.

All these groups, despite having their unique daily agendas and specified peace-oriented activities, can be conceived as united along an array of important principles. They regard peace between Israel and Palestine as possible if, and only if, it is a just peace, based on full equality between the two peoples. These groups are united in their solidarity with the plight of the Palestinian people and their readiness to accept and assume Israel's major responsibility in the current crisis as being the strong and the occupying party. They are united in regarding the continuous 35-year-old Israeli occupation, which denies the Palestinians their legitimate rights for independence, as the root cause of the present conflict and the motive behind the Palestinian armed struggle. They are united in a unanimous demand that the Israeli government must end the occupation immediately and unconditionally and withdraw to the pre-1967 lines, dismantling all the settlements.

They jointly reject and defy the false Israeli narrative that the current war is a "war against terrorism." Every human being is naturally appalled by some of the Palestinian resistance tactics, such as targeting innocent civilians by suicide bombings, which I find absolutely unacceptable on moral grounds; but at the same time I believe that we as occupiers are in no position to condemn the occupied, the oppressed and the desperate, especially not when our mighty army is conducting against them acts of state terrorism and atrocities of similar immoral magnitude. Therefore we reject the "war against terrorism" concept and reframe it in the context of a colonial war, a war for the sake of the settlements -- intended to destroy the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian political leadership and maybe even the collective existence of the Palestinian people on their own land. Furthermore, our firm responsibility as Israelis is to see to the end of the occupation that will eradicate the motives behind the armed struggle in all its forms. This matter is of extreme urgency, as many of us are very much concerned about a possible Sharonian scheme to escalate further the conflict so as to make it possible to carry out a major ethnic cleansing.

Therefore, these groups are united in their unequivocal support of the objection to cooperate with the occupation in any form, including the support of the rising wave of conscientious objection among reserve soldiers and officers to serve in the occupied territories (there are by now 436 objectors, 41 of them currently imprisoned by the military authorities). These brave and conscientious young men provide the anti-war movement in Israel with a very important moral backing.

One may also say that these groups are also united in a vague, yet not adequately-specified nor openly-agreed upon agenda for a different Israel, a state for all it's citizens, a society based on social justice, equality for all and a true political partnership between equal Israeli citizens - Jews and Palestinians.

There should be no misunderstanding: we are not talking about a revolutionary, unified mass movement in the Israeli society, not at all. Yet one can definitely say that there is a new progressive trend in Israel, larger, more grassroots-based, more radical and ideologically consolidated and more outspoken than ever before. This trend may be encompassing thousands of Israelis - well beyond the many hundreds of committed activists and the 10,000 who show up for demonstrations. This trend can and must be strengthened in order to be translated into a political power that may in the near future play a more decisive role in the struggle for a just peace and the remaking of Israeli society.

* Yehudith Harel is an organisational psychologist, member of Gush Shalom and one of the founders of ICIP, the Israeli Committee for International Protect