LETTERS FROM PALESTINE
Israelis want Peace . . .
Palestinians favor Non-violence
16 December 2004
More positive news!
Americans aren't the only ones being duped into thinking their country is more aggressive and conservative than it really is . . .
Israelis, Americans, and Palestinians are good people, it turns out. It's just their governments that are nutballs.
In surveys taken even at the height of the Second Intifada, a majority of Palestinians AND Jewish Israelis favored peace and justice (i.e. unilateral Israeli withdrawal from most or all of the West Bank and Gaza, and dismantling of most or all settlements, as prerequisites for fair negotiations toward a peaceful two-state solution). The numbers can only have gone up since then:
SPREADING THE SECRET
by Gila Svirsky
04 Jul 2002
One of the best kept secrets in Israel is that most Israelis are fed up with the occupation, and just want to get out.
According to June's findings by Mina Zemach, Israel's foremost pollster, 63% of Israelis are in favor of "unilateral withdrawal". In fact, 69% call for the evacuation of "all" or "most of" the settlements.
Mina's numbers are corroborated by everybody else: The Peace Index of Tel-Aviv University's Tami Steinmitz Center found that 65% of Israelis "are prepared to evacuate the settlements under a unilateral separation program".
A poll commissioned by Peace Now a month earlier revealed that 59% of Israelis support immediate evacuation of most settlements, followed by a unilateral withdrawal of the army from the occupied territories.
Here's another "secret" revealed by Mina Zemach: 60% of Israelis believe that Israel should agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of a peace agreement.
Is this too much good news all at once? To temper it, here are a few more findings by Mina Zemach: 74% of Israelis say that Sharon is doing a good job and 60% believe that the Israeli army should be allowed to attack the refugee camps in Gaza.
To quote Mina Zemach's closing remarks (at a lecture I heard her give in Tel Aviv yesterday, sponsored by the New Israel Fund), "Similar trends appear on the Palestinian side in surveys conducted by my Palestinian colleagues. Both sides want their leaders to be very aggressive, but most are willing to have a peaceful, two-state solution."
Mis-perceptions and Manipulations
The findings alone are impressively pro-peace, but there are two more amazing aspects, in my opinion. The first is that most Israelis are not aware that the majority want the occupation to go away.
To illustrate, I report an informal experiment conducted by peace activist Ron HaCohen in his Tel-Aviv University class. When asked what opinion the students believed was most common among Israelis, they guessed "dismantle most" or "dismantle only a few" of the settlements. Little did they suspect that the category "dismantle ALL the settlements" was the one most commonly chosen.
Ron's students guessed that the Israeli public was much more pro-settlement than it actually is. Most people, I believe, feel this way.
The second amazing aspect relates to the fact that the government can get away with ignoring this information. To quote columnist Hannah Kim in yesterday's Ha'aretz, "This has been and still is one of the great mysteries: How is it that there is no political expression of the fact that most of the Israeli public is in favor of evacuating the settlements?" For months, I have been asking people their thoughts about this. The following answers seem to sum up the views I heard:
(1) First, Mark Mellman, one of the top political consultants in Washington, was not surprised. He said that it's not unusual for policymakers to ignore majority views, and that it's our job to get them to sit up and notice.
To all the above, I would add the determination of the Sharon government to play deaf to this view. When asked about abandoning even remote, isolated settlements, Sharon sidesteps the question. When pressed, he recently responded that Netzarim - the Gaza settlement that everyone loves to hate - is as dear to his heart as Tel Aviv. In other words, not a single settlement is negotiable.
(2) Ron HaCohen said, "Our main source of information about what people think, feel or believe is the mass media. The media portray the Israeli people as much more pro-settlements than they really are."
(3) Hanna Kim suggests that the power of the settlements is a combination of their integration into the Israeli economy [Boycott settler goods! - GS] and the effectiveness of their Knesset lobby. This fits into what is generally known about the power of small, but determined lobbies... on many issues and in many countries.
I was privileged to hear a great panel discussion this evening, sponsored by Bat Shalom, on the subject of the "fence" that Israel has begun to erect between Israel and Palestine. All the panelists (five Israeli and Palestinian women professors who are also peace activists) felt that the fence would conceal the real issue - the Palestinian suffering on the other side as a result of the occupation - and would replace a negotiated peace agreement.
Galia Golan also pointed out that the fence was being used to grab more land, as it was not being built on the Green Line, and that it ultimately would provide little protection, as mortars and rockets could go right over it. Other speakers were Rima Hamami, Inas Haj, Naomi Chazan, and Tanya Reinhart.
The most impassioned plea of the evening came from Tanya, who begged the audience to listen to the polls and trust that people mean what they are saying. "Now is the time to call for leaving the territories immediately, unilaterally," said Tanya, "just as we did in Lebanon."
I think she's right.
From THE VOICELESS MAJORITY
by Tanya Reinhart
21 May 2002
In an interview with Le Monde Diplomatique [Ami Ayalon, who comes from the heart of the security system, as former head of the Israeli General Security Services] said: "I favor unconditional withdrawal from the Territories. What needs to be done, urgently, is to withdraw from the Territories. And a true withdrawal, which gives the Palestinians territorial continuity in a Transjordan [West Bank] linked to Gaza, open to Egypt and Jordan." (December 22, 2001).
In February, Ayalon was joined by one of the most mainstream bodies in Israel: "After four months of intense discussion, the Council for Peace and Security, a group of 1,000 top level reserve generals, colonels, Shin Bet and Mossad officials, are to mount a public campaign for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from all of Gaza and much of the West Bank. About 80 percent of the full membership has signed on to the campaign... The council's plan involves evacuating some 40 50 settlements..." (Ha'aretz, February 18, 2002, Lily Galili).
Underlying this plan is the understanding that the route of eternal negotiations, as Israel stays in the territories, has failed. The solution should go the other way: first an immediate unilateral withdrawal, as in Lebanon, and then real negotiations would start. The evacuation will include all of Gaza, and 90-95% of the West Bank, excluding the Jerusalem and central settlement blocks, whose 150,000 settlers cannot be evacuated over night.
I add from what I wrote in this page (of Yediot Aharonot) in July 8, 2001. "This withdrawal will leave under debate the large settlement blocks, as well as the problems of Jerusalem and the interpretation of the right of return. For these, negotiations will be needed. However, during the negotiations, the Palestinian society will be able to begin to recover, [re-]settle in the lands that will be evacuated, construct democratic institutions, and develop its economy based on free contacts with whomever they want. Under these circumstances, it should be possible to carry the negotiations out in mutual respect, and to also reach the core issue: What is the right way for two peoples which share the same land to build, jointly, their future?"
I believe that if we follow this plan, no fences will be needed. In other 'unilateral separation' plans, such as that which Barak's circles have been promoting, a fence will be built around the Palestinian enclaves to 'separate' them from their neighboring Israeli settlements, and from each other, following the model of what Israel has done already in the Gaza strip.
According to this plan, indeed, massive fences will be needed, as well as reserve services forever. But an unconditional (unilateral) evacuation, immediately, is a route towards peace.
An amazing and encouraging fact is that, contrary to the prevailing impression in Israel, support for just peace and reconciliation is still strong in the Palestinian society. A survey by the Development Studies Program at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, which was conducted in February 2002, found out that "77% believe that both Palestinians and Israelis have the right to live in peace and security. 73% find it necessary for Palestinians and Israelis to work together to achieve peaceful coexistence once a Palestinian state is established"(2). This poll was conducted before the destruction and hatred we sowed there in the last invasion, but the conclusion is that we should get out immediately, before we destroy even more.
Although the majority in the Israeli polls supports the immediate withdrawal solution, this majority does not yet have a voice. Instead of calling for immediate withdrawal ("latzet myiad mehashtachim"), the spokesmen of the 'peace camp' are talking about separation and fences.
"I do not like the word separation, it reminds me of South Africa." - said Ami Ayalon in the interview mentioned above. Why didn't they let Ayalon speak in the mass demonstration of the peace coalition?
The political side of the Israeli 'peace camp' has, on its record, years of experience in diverting the majority of the opponents of the settlements to the route of preserving the situation as is. Barak's people are pushing towards separation and fences; Peres and Beilin's people are pushing to "resume negotiations" while continuing to remain in the territories. (Amos Oz spoke in that demonstration about resuming the dead end of Camp-David and Taba.) "Peace now" is dragging behind them.
If the majority does not stay on guard, [the Wall-builders and people who favor mendacious and untenable negotiations while at the same time keeping the Palestinian public in a constant state of imbalance and emergency] will succeed again.
[By the way, it may look like Sharon's "disengagement plan" from Gaza is a response to the call for unilateral withdrawal. But nothing could be further from the truth. Stay tuned, I'll tell you why.]
THE THIRD INTIFADA
By Ran HaCohen
Letter From Israel, Antiwar.com
December 11, 2004
'Yes to Peace, No to the Wall.'
To appreciate the breathtaking magnanimity expressed by this short slogan, one needs to remember its context.
Imagine: a foreign army occupies your village for decades, reduces you to subjects without any rights, arrests you arbitrarily, savagely tortures the arrested, and, on top of it all, sends mighty bulldozers to erect a gigantic wall on your land, locking you up as in a cage.
And your reaction? Peaceful demonstrations, shouting "No to the Wall" but "Yes to Peace." To peace with your very oppressor and dispossessor.
Budrus, where this slogan was coined, is a small village of some 1,200 Palestinians in the northern part of West Bank, just across the Green Line. Few Israelis have ever heard of it; but some may remember neighboring Kibia, just a mile to the east, where, on Oct. 14, 1953, an Israeli army unit led by a young officer called Ariel Sharon ravaged the village (then still under Jordanian rule), destroying 40 houses and killing more than 50 people, an atrocity that caused international outrage and was strongly condemned by the UN Security Council.
Half a century after that massacre, PM Ariel Sharon sent his bulldozers to the same rural area. Many imagine the Wall as a kind of border separating Israel from the Palestinian territories.
The facts are different: the Wall twists like a snake entirely inside the Palestinian territory, and in combination with other physical barriers, most notoriously Israeli-only roads it creates numerous small enclaves, in which Palestinian villages and towns sometimes just a few hundred people, less than in any average prison are locked up, unable to leave their unsafe haven except by mercy of an Israeli soldier at the gate, when equipped with proper permits issued (or rather [usually] not issued) by the Israeli army. The contiguous territory in-between the enclaves is designated for the Israeli settlements.
Living in a Cage
A'ed Murar from Budrus counts three levels on which the Wall is destructive to Palestinian life. First the immediate level: the Wall takes the agricultural lands and water wells of the village, either because it is constructed on them, or because they are left outside the Wall, inaccessible to the farmers. The section of the population that depends on agriculture thus loses most of its means of survival.
The second level is imprisonment: there are no clinics or hospitals, no higher schools or universities, nor any other social and economic infrastructure inside the enclave; moreover, about 80% of Budrus' population works outside the village: they, too, lose their means of survival as their access to the outside world is dependent on Israeli army caprices.
The third level is that of nation and vision: by locking up the Palestinians and taking the land in-between the enclaves, Israel robs them of their future, of a contiguous territory for the Palestinian State promised in President's Bush roadmap.
The Palestinians are thus left with no way to earn their living, with no infrastructure to run their present life, and with no hope for the future.
A Short History of the Wall
Historian and Ta'ayush activist Gadi Algazi distinguishes several periods in the construction of the Wall. From April 2002-May 2003, the Wall was built with incredible speed 300-500 bulldozers working simultaneously hardly attracting any public attention at all, neither in Israel nor abroad, thus enabling the Israeli government to quietly and irreversibly change the geography of the land for decades. The Israeli public had the illusion that the Wall was being built along the Green Line a good reason for naοve peaceniks to support it and that at worst it was perhaps conflicting with property rights of some Palestinian landowners along its route.
Even the Palestinians could hardly grasp the full impact of the project, both because of its indeed incredible dimensions, and because Israel refused to publish any maps at the time, so that information was scarce in a West Bank hardly recovering from the massive Israeli aggression of "Operation Defensive Shield." Some resistance to the Wall was led by small groups of Israelis, international activists, and Palestinians, like in the Mas'ha camp.
May 2003 signaled a change: since then, the Wall has become the focus of media attention, and turned into a political issue in Israel and abroad. Demonstrations, many of them by Israelis and international activists, and their violent dispersion by the army increased public awareness and reduced the pace of construction.
The clear decision of the International Court of Justice against the Wall, as well as the critical position taken by the Israeli Supreme Court regarding its route, mark a peak in the public struggle against the Wall; consequently, in the summer of 2004, the construction was virtually stopped, and the Israeli establishment started looking for new tactics.
It is in this period, in places like Budrus, that people like Mr. Murar who had participated in the first Intifada and had been jailed and brutally tortured by Israel reached the conclusions that resistance to the Wall should be led and organized first of all by Palestinians themselves; that waiting quietly for courts and verdicts was not enough; and, above all, that nonviolent demonstrations were the best weapon of the weaker side.
He believes this for moral reasons, but also because nothing could harm the Palestinian interest more than violence, immediately exploited by Israel to distract public attention from the Palestinian plight and to accelerate the construction project behind the thick screen of "fighting off terrorism."
A'ed Murar calls it the Third Intifada: the Intifada against the Wall.
Since the Palestinian Authority offered no real strategy or help in the villagers' struggle, they had only themselves to rely on aided by Israeli and international supporters, like Ta'ayush, International Solidarity Movement, or Anarchists against the Wall.
The Third Intifada is a popular uprising: in villages like Budrus, party affiliation and other differences are put aside, and the whole village marches together time after time to demonstrate against the Israeli bulldozers.
Footage taken in several such demonstration shows the utter embarrassment of the Israeli soldiers, armed to the teeth against unarmed men, women, and children, who can stand for hours just a few meters away from them singing and shouting without any violence at all.
If at last a single stone is thrown, the soldiers seem to be truly relieved: they immediately employ their heavy truncheons, shoot tear-gas and rubber-covered bullets at the crowd, and make violent arrests.
But the resistance is not in vain: when a whole village stands together day after day, even the cruelest army must have second thoughts. So far, the demonstrations in Budrus managed to save the biggest plantation of the village from Israel's bulldozers.
The construction of the Wall, says Algazi, seems to have reached a crucial period. Following the verdicts from The Hague and Jerusalem, the Israeli establishment made a pause and took some time to reorganize and elaborate a new route and new strategies; these are now ready, and the construction of the Wall is about to resume in full speed. Signals and threats conveyed to inhabitants in Budrus make it clear that Israel is not going to give up easily on their land and water.
The number of soldiers sent to demonstrations in villages like Budrus has been reduced, to increase the soldiers' insecurity and ease their finger on the trigger. Villagers are warned that if they do not capitulate this time, live ammunition may be used.
This nonviolent popular struggle is hardly reported in mainstream press. One needs to refer to alternative media to read about it. The idea of nonviolent Palestinian resistance sharply contradicts the stereotype of Palestinians as a "nation of suicide-bombers"; reporting peaceful Palestinian demonstrations is highly undesirable in official Israel's eyes.
For all those reasons, this is a struggle very worthy of both public interest and support: The future of Israel/Palestine will be decided here, on the ground, rather than in press conferences in Washington or coalition intrigues in Jerusalem.
ISRAEL'S WALL HEMS IN LIVELIHOODS - AND DREAMS
By Sharif Omar (Abu Azzam)
17 December 2004
JAYYOUS, West Bank - When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon describes the wall Israel is building, he makes it sound harmless. But President Bush deftly cut through that faηade when he noted that "the fence . . . kind of meanders around the West Bank, which makes it awfully hard to develop a contiguous state."
So did Secretary of State Colin Powell when he recently told the Israeli newspaper, Maariv, that he fears "the fence is developing in a way that will make it very difficult to reach the next stage of the road map."
In Jayyous, the Palestinian village on the West Bank that is my home, we began living with this problem last September, when a shepherd found a paper hanging from an olive tree. It was a military order instructing us to meet an Israeli army officer to tour the "separation" wall's path.
Hundreds of area Palestinians turned out. Most farmers expected the wall would be near the Green Line, Israel's pre-1967 border with the West Bank. But we learned that the wall would be built almost four miles east of the Green Line, as close as 90 feet from Jayyous' homes, separating our residential area from our farmland.
People burst into tears. Some fainted. With the wall, Israel is taking 75% of Jayyous' most fertile land, including all our irrigated farmland, seven wells and 12,000 olive trees. Jayyous' 3,000 residents depend almost entirely on agricultural income. So this means a loss of our livelihoods, dreams, hopes, future and heritage.
Cut off from land
Jayyous is just one example. The wall is cutting through Palestinian villages all across our fertile Qalqilya region, and causing destruction in dozens of West Bank villages. Thousands of farmers can't reach their land. Gates are supposed to provide access to land, but instead they've become places for Israeli soldiers to harass farmers. Thousands of citrus trees have died from lack of water. Many farmers are simply leaving their crops in the fields because the transportation costs would make them unprofitable to market.
Israeli officials have justified the wall's construction as necessary for security. However, if it were for security, it would follow the Green Line. Building it four miles inside the Green Line means only one thing: The Israelis are confiscating more Palestinian land and water.
The truth is, many Israelis want the land without the people. The wall is an unwritten order for emigration from Palestine, because people who have no income will have no choice but to leave.
To avoid this, I and many other farmers began building sheds and tents so we can live on our farmland. I've planted 150 citrus trees since they started building the wall, to show other farmers we don't have to yield.
Farmers vs. bulldozers
Jayyous farmers, with the assistance of international and Israeli activists, have held many peaceful protests, during which they face the bulldozers destroying their fields as well as armed Israeli soldiers and guards. During one peaceful march, an Israeli military officer explained to me that Sarah, the wife of our common ancestor Abraham, was their mother but not ours, and that because Sarah went to heaven, Jews were entitled to the land. After his lecture, he used tear gas and rubber-coated bullets to break up our protest.
I've chosen peaceful resistance to the wall because, as a father, I feel pain when my children are hurt. I have the same feeling for Israelis. I don't want to cause them pain. Peaceful resistance also avoids giving the Israeli military justifications to kill more Palestinians. I hope peaceful protests will leave a positive impact on Israeli soldiers and strengthen our partnership with Israeli peace groups.
The majority of Palestinians are now completely convinced that non-violent resistance is the best choice. The whole idea of the wall is wrong. It will never lead to a just and real peace.
I don't even want them to build the wall on the Green Line, because it will truly be an ''apartheid wall,'' preventing the development of understanding between our cultures. It's so important for us to find one language -- for peace.
From Jayyous, we call on people from around the world -- Americans, Israelis, Arabs and all others -- to help us stop this unjust wall.
Sharif Omar, a farmer and community leader, is a member of the Land Defense Committee for the region of Qalqilya.