Daily life in the West Bank and Gaza: homes bulldozed, civilians bombed, people unable to get to the hospital because the borders have been closed, children shot with high-powered US rifles. Everyday life in Israel: the inevitable counterattacks, suicide bombers, children killed. Seven years after Oslo, it could break your heart. Despite the pusillanimity of the US press, the Internet has made it impossible to keep some of the Israeli human rights violations quiet (e.g., www.nimn.org). Appalled by the situation, 180 activists from five countries, most representing grassroots Jewish groups against the occupation, met at a “Junity” conference in Chicago May 4-6 to create a national network of Jewish Unity for a Just Peace.
Most participants see re-igniting discussion of the occupation among American Jews as a strategic question because of the central role played by mainstream Jewish organizations in funding Israel, lobbying the US government, suppressing criticism of Israeli policies and manipulating Jewish guilt and fear with constant invocations of the Holocaust and portrayals of Israel, a regional superpower, as a pitiful victim. This disinformation campaign has left American Jews in ignorance of the real reason for the breakdown of the Oslo peace accords.
For that all you have to do is look at a map, and one was prepared for the Junity conference by Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. Despite government claims that Israel was willing to give up 95 percent of the occupied territories, the map reveals Israeli settler villages planted like bunkers all over what was supposed to be Palestine, “strategic hamlets” connected by “bypass roads” wider than three football fields put together. These roads are controlled by settler militias and the Israeli army. The Palestinians thought they were going to get a viable, independent state. But to be defensible, land must be contiguous; it cannot be cut through by a grid controlled by an occupying power. As Halper said in his keynote speech, making an analogy to a prison, the issue is not square footage but “the matrix of control.” On a map of a prison, it might look like the inmates control 95 percent of the turf: cells, yard, cafeteria. But they don’t control the walls, the communications system or the guards.
Halper’s organization is one of a handful of Israeli peace groups that have kept on doing cross-borders work throughout the second intifada, during the long silence of Peace Now. This silence was finally broken on May 10 by a statement demanding a freeze on settlements, resumption of negotiations and acceptance of the report of the international committee headed by former US Senator George Mitchell. The report recommends that Israel lift closure of Palestinian areas, cease home demolitions and use only nonlethal force against unarmed demonstrators, and that the Palestinians jail guerrillas and stop gunmen from firing from civilian areas.
More visionary demands have been developed by the left wing of the Israeli peace movement, in which feminists like the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace have played a leading role. One of the purposes of the Junity network is to act in solidarity with this peace movement and publicize its vision, which, as put forward by the women’s coalition, entails:
§ an end to the occupation;
§ the full involvement of women in peace negotiations;
§ a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders (this means evacuating the settlements);
§ recognition of Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states;
§ a just solution for the Palestinian refugees and Israel’s recognition of its share of responsibility for their situation;
§ equality, inclusion and justice for Palestinian citizens of Israel;
§ opposition to the militarism that permeates Israeli society, including recognition of conscientious objector status;
§ development of a civil society that gives equal civil, social and economic rights to all its citizens, including women and minorities;
§ Israel’s cultural, economic and social integration into the region.
Solidarity activities being planned by the Junity network include witness trips to Israel and the occupied territories, vigils in many countries on June 8 in response to a call by Women in Black, events during the High Holy Days and a national education campaign. Go to www.junity.org and sign up. This is one of those moments in history when Jews who believe in justice may have to be resigned to being unpopular at family gatherings for a while, by saying, “Not in my name.”