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And Darkness Covered the Land | The Nation

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And Darkness Covered the Land

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Christine Dugas helped in reporting this article. Research support was provided by the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.

About the Author

Robert I. Friedman
Robert I. Friedman has written extensively about the Middle East. His most recent book is Red Mafiya: How the Russian...

Peace When? The Silence of the Left

 

Although many Israelis still desire peace with the Palestinians, they no longer can expect much from the dysfunctional Israeli left, which imploded soon after the start of the new intifada. The turning point was the horrific TV image, in October 2000, of two young Israeli soldiers being lynched and mutilated by a Palestinian mob in Ramallah. From that point on, the Israeli left was in a bind: How could they push the peace process forward without condoning the intifada? If they condoned it, they would be called traitors. They never figured out a way to explain Palestinian violence and talk about a return to the peace process. "The left turned over every stone and never found an answer," says Lee Perlman, a peace activist who works in the theater department at Tel Aviv University.

In desperation, however, many Israelis on the left and right have turned to a political concept called "separation." It means banning Palestinians from a swath of land next to the Green Line, which divides the occupied territories from the Jewish state. Palestinians who try to cross the buffer zone would be shot. There are said to be at least four variations of the plan floating around the Labor Party. "I hate this word 'separation,'" Yossi Beilin, the justice minister in the Barak government, told me in his Tel Aviv office. "I don't subscribe to it or accept it. But of course we need a border between us and a Palestinian state. A Palestinian state is in our interest."

But many Israeli liberals, fed up with Arafat's inability or unwillingness to stop the terrorism, have moved to the right. Although polls say 55 percent of Israelis still want peace, more than 70 percent approve of Sharon's tough-guy methods. "We've lost our own children to the right," says Janet Aviad, who said that polling data commissioned by the left-wing Meretz Party confirms the trend. "The [peace] train went off the track in a terrible derailment, but people would prefer to get it going again than have this level of violence for generations."

Peace talks are not likely as long as Israel is governed by a coalition headed by Sharon, who is currently being propped up by the centrist Labor Party and Shimon Peres. Labor fractured after Barak's failure at Camp David and his loss to Sharon in the race for prime minister. The party has no appealing young turks. Its most promising rising star, Yossi Beilin, quit Labor after it joined Sharon's government. Beilin said that he was morally opposed to joining a government that included a racist Cabinet minister--Gandhi. He added that he didn't want to provide legitimacy to a Sharon government that is committed to the messianic settlers and the vision of Greater Israel.

Labor dove Colette Avital admits she is torn about Labor's participation in the government. She concedes that Shimon Peres is providing Sharon with international respectability. On the other hand, she says, if the Labor Party wasn't part of the government Sharon would be much more uncontrollable.

Palestinian peace advocates have also been devastated by the lost promise of Camp David. One is Bashar Al Deek, the 27-year-old European desk officer for the Palestinian Legislative Council. I met him in Ramallah at the headquarters of the Palestine National Council. We sat in a large room with leather sofas and drank coffee.

"This intifada is worse than the last one because both of us lost a very important thing," said the soft-spoken, thin young man. "We had put in a big effort to build trust between Israelis and Palestinians, and it was demolished. It's a disaster. It's not just a matter of closures and shootings and shellings. The whole thing started when the Israeli people lost a great leader, Rabin. And after they lost Rabin, they lost the whole peace process. We had another two to three years after his death, but the intifada and end of the process were a natural result of his death.

"We gave up a lot" when we recognized Israel, he continued. "For us it was a big loss. We agreed in order to have at least a place to build a state. It's not a matter of one meter here or there. It's a matter of building an economy and trust between peoples. It takes a lot of courage to sign such an agreement. It's not easy for a Palestinian man to say, 'I won't have anything to do with Haifa and Jaffa and Tel Aviv.'"

For a short moment in time, Al Deek and his comrades in the PA were not feared by Israelis. Grassroots contacts between the two sides were extensive. "Once I traveled to Japan," he said. "I was invited by the foreign affairs ministry. It was 1999. I was part of a group of seven or eight Palestinian young people who met with a group of young Israelis. I felt we could have good relations. And even here in Jerusalem we later had a celebration and exchanged pictures and videos from our trip. We talked about the Tokyo spirit. We could have contacts and e-mails until last summer."

The intifada put an end to those relationships. "It's so hard to be occupied and say, Stop the violence," Al Deek said. "The Israeli people can express themselves. They are free to say what they want. I asked myself, Where are our friends in Israel? Where is the peace camp?

"But if I say 'Stop the violence,' they [the Palestinians] will say I'm a betrayer. I believe in peaceful struggle. If you say that in a loud voice, you'll be hurt and no one will listen. I'm so sad that the Tokyo spirit has gone out with the wind. We need the Tokyo spirit in such a stage. We need a loud voice to say 'Stop the violence.'"

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