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The Other Israel _ March 2002, Issue No. 101/102

The Wounded Lion, an editorial overview
The September 11 factor
Sharon's season
Arafat's acrobatics
Hudna denied
An assassination too far
Downward spiral
Sitting ducks
Peace proposals & broken promises
Cyclone of war
The world awakens
Picking up the pieces

Late-Breaking News Items

Waking Up, by Beate Zilversmidt
Forum Discussion on War Crimes, January 9
Continued violence; protest demonstrations

And the Square Was Full
February 9 rally in Tel Aviv

...And Even Fuller
February 16 rally in Tel Aviv

Five Little Flames
November 27 demonstration in front of Defense Ministry

In Spite Of All, a Jubilant Mood
December 31 Peace Circle in Jerusalem

Marching Through Empty Jerusalem
March 2, 2002

Humanitarian Aid as a Political Act
December 10 relief convoy to Kufr Yasuf

Breaking Through to Mufkara, by Neve Gordon
Another relief convoy, January 12

A Thousand Coffins
The Israeli and Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum

The Occupation Killed My Son
March 19, 2002

A Ray of Sunshine
December 28 demonstration
(sponsored by Coalition of Women for Peace)

Seventh Day & Fifth Mother
More demonstrations by (predominantly) women's groups

Courage to Refuse
January 26 ad by reserve combat soldiers & officers
Background to the ad and its repercussions

Yigal Shohat's speech
At February 9 Forum Discussion on War Crimes

Wrong War, by Uri Avnery
from Ma'ariv, March 12

Not Playing the Game, by Asaf Oron

[THE OTHER ISRAEL is the newsletter of the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, P.O.Box 2542, 58125 Holon, Israel.
Phone/Fax: (03) 5565804; E-mail:
Editor: Adam Keller
Coeditor: Beate Zilversmidt
Our articles may be reprinted, provided they include the address The Other Israel POB 2542, Holon 58125, Israel.


     At the end of a tense cabinet meeting in March 2002, precisely a year after Ariel Sharon took power in the state of Israel, Foreign Minister Peres told the press: 'Had I known things would come to this, I would not have joined the government.' He made this comment in a time of runaway escalation, dozens upon dozens of daily casualties on both sides, and the Israeli army mounting against Palestinians the biggest military operation it had undertaken since 1982 -- plus a tottering economy and steadily increasing unemployment, with the public morale deteriorating just as steadily.

     In fact, there had been no difficulty in predicting that if elected, Sharon would lead Israel in such a direction. Among others, the Labor Party itself made precisely such predictions in its elections propaganda of January 2001  --  though the party leaders seemed to forget them on the very day after the elections, when they rushed to the winner's bandwagon.

     Moreover, the future policy of the Sharon Government was set out clearly and comprehensively as early as November 2000, in a policy paper published by Meir Dagan, a retired brigadier general and confidential adviser to then opposition leader Sharon. Dagan did not keep it secret  --  on the contrary, it was widely circulated to the press, but did not get very much attention at the time.

     Only a year later was the forgotten paper unearthed and published anew in Yediot Aharonot. The analysis appended found considerable correspondence between the policy Dagan had outlined in advance and what was actually implemented by Sharon ever since he came to power.

     Just as the Dagan paper had recommended, Sharon's actual policy was aimed at progressively eroding the structures created by the Oslo Agreements  --  in particular, gaining "a complete freedom of operational movement" for Israeli military forces in the "A" areas in which Oslo gave the Palestinians a semi-sovereign status.

     To succeed, the paper stipulated, this should be done without officially denouncing the Oslo Agreements, while keeping the support of Israeli public opinion and of the Americans, and also without evoking more than verbal protests from either the Europeans or the Arab states.

     Given Sharon's earlier failure in Lebanon, where his 1982 invasion swiftly alienated the entire world as well as large part of the Israeli society and ended with Sharon's own downfall and with the country mired in decades-long guerrilla war, such a plan would have been dismissed as extremely implausible; that, indeed, was the original response when Dagan published his paper. Yet for many months, Sharon as Prime Minister did prove eminently successful in implementing exactly that plan  --  to the mingled wonder and horror of his opponents.

     On his very first day in power, Sharon enacted a "strangling closure" of Ramallah. Faced with international and domestic protests, he announced the cancelling of the measure. Yet within a few weeks the outrageous innovation had become a new routine, all Palestinian towns and villages were enmeshed in tightening closures and sieges, and an ever-increasing number of military checkpoints and roadblocks made travelling on the West Bank roads a prolonged, dangerous and humiliating adventure.

     This was officially justified by the need to block the way of suicide bombers, in which it was not particularly effective; only many months later did high military officers half-admit that the true purpose was "to pressure the population so that they will pressure Arafat to stop the Intifada" (which did not happen, either).

     So it was with the other oppressive measures which by imperceptible steps became daily routine: the bombing of Palestinian cities by helicopter gun ships and later by F-16 fighter planes, carrying heavier bombs; the practice of assassinating Palestinians suspected of terrorism ("Targeted killings" or "Liquidations" or "Extra-judicial executions"); the "incursions" into Palestinian territory, the steadily increasing extent of military force and duration, until they became full-scale invasions and re-occupations of areas evacuated under Oslo.

     Sharon could not have gotten away with so much for so long, but for the pernicious legacy left him by Ehud Barak. Sharon's predecessor had presented himself as leader of the peace camp and aroused enormous hopes  --  only to completely dash them, declare peace to be impossible and place the responsibility squarely upon the Palestinians.

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     That paved the way for Sharon's election victory. In an atmosphere where the option of peace was thoroughly discredited, the peace movement was reduced to a handful, and the Israeli public got into the mind set of using brute force against the Palestinians, it seemed no more than logical to vote Sharon, the personification of such an approach.

     The dispirited and discredited Labor Party leaders were quick to scramble for portfolios in Sharon's cabinet, making it "a government of national unity." Binyamin Ben-Eliezer got the defence portfolio, thus being responsible for the daily conduct of the offensive against the Palestinians. Nobel Peace Laureate Shimon Peres took up the foreign ministry, i.e. he became Sharon's international propagandist, getting in exchange the PM's permission to conduct a variety of diplomatic initiatives  --  none of which had any chance to bear fruit.

     Never during his year in power did Sharon express an outright rejection of a peace plan. And there were many: the creative schemes thought up by Sharon's own Foreign Minister, the Mitchell Commission report which became the new shibboleth of Middle Eastern diplomacy, the Tenet Plan which aimed at implementing Mitchell, the later plans and ideas whose purpose was to implement Tenet, the proposals of the ever-present European envoys, later the far-reaching plan of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.

     To all, Sharon developed a standard response: acceptance in principle while attaching impossible conditions in practice, his favorite ploy being to demand "seven days of total quiet" before negotiations could begin, at the same time conducting an aggressive military policy ensuring that these seven days would never start.

     In this, Sharon had the full cooperation of Army Chief of Staff Mofaz and his deputy Moshe Ya'alon; the generals had been eagerly implementing an ever more aggressive policy, and were actively promoting that policy in frequent direct addresses to the media and political system, which more than once seemed to strain the limits placed upon the role of the military in a democratic state.

     At the very hour when Peres and Arafat were meeting in the Gaza Strip, August 26, to try and work out a cease-fire, Israeli military units killed six Palestinians during an incursion into the town of Rafah, just a few kilometers away  --  provoking a cycle of retaliations and counter-retaliations and ensuring that the cease-fire be stillborn.

     At another point, the effort of CIA Director George Tenet to set up a system of "security cooperation" between Israeli and Palestinian security services was met by Israeli helicopters shooting a very precise missile into a specific Ramallah office, instantly killing Abu-Ali Mustapha, head of the PFLP and member of the PLO Executive Committee  --  in the Palestinian hierarchy, just one rung below Arafat himself. This assassination of a ministerial level Palestinian leader was soon followed by the revenge assassination of the Israeli Minister of Tourism Rehav'am Ze'evi.

     Ze'evi had been the years-long advocate of the concept "transfer" (i.e. wholesale expulsion) of the Palestinians; the shock over the assassination of an Israeli government minister gave Ze'evi's racist ideology a legitimacy it did not have before, as well as providing Sharon with an ideal pretext to launch a prolonged invasion of six West Bank cities, and foreclosing for a considerable time the possibility of "security cooperation" or cease-fire. However, Sharon and his ministers did not approve any further assassinations of ministerial-level Palestinians.

The September 11 factor

     To begin with, Washington was far from happy with Israeli military forces invading the "A" areas, where the Oslo Agreements gave the Palestinians a semi-sovereign status (though no territorial contiguity or free access to the outside world). This status was, obviously, the very bedrock of the Oslo structure -- which was the reason Sharon wanted to undermine it.

     In Sharon's first months, the most which he found the Americans willing to tolerate were limited incursions by Israeli forces into the margins of Palestinian-held territory, which could be explained away as "hot pursuit" and which were terminated within a few hours, without Washington needing to take official notice.
No Copy
     On one occasion, which in retrospect seems highly innocent, Israeli forces penetrated two kilometers into Palestinian-held territory at the north Gaza Strip and took up positions in uninhabited fields outside

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the town of Beit Hanoun; since they were still there by the time of the daily State Department press briefing, awkward questions were asked by several journalists, resulting in Secretary of State Powell phoning and tongue-lashing Sharon, which led to the forces being immediately removed (see TOI-98, p.3).

     For several months, Sharon had to accept the "A" areas as being beyond his reach and content himself with grabbing Orient House, the Palestinian headquarters in East Jerusalem which had enjoyed a de-facto extra-territorial status since 1991 and whose occupation could be claimed to be in the province of the police. The big breakthrough, from the PM's point of view, was provided by the unexpected and cataclysmic events of September 11, throwing America into the frenzy of the "War on Terrorism."

     When Sharon launched the "Ze'evi Invasion", sending tanks to occupy portions of six West Bank cities with considerable loss of Palestinian life and damage to property (particularly in Bethlehem), America itself was already deeply sunk in the mind set of trampling upon civilian lives and international conventions in the cause of the "War against Terror."

     Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld, ruthlessly engaged in the campaign in Afghanistan, revealed himself as Sharon's soul-mate and unreserved supporter.  At the same time, however, Secretary of State Powell was absorbed in efforts to mobilize diplomatic support in the Arab and Muslim World, for which an American gesture towards the long-suffering Palestinians seemed indicated.

     As a result of the conflicting pressures, the administration expressed a lukewarm disapproval of Sharon's occupation of the six cities, asking him to remove his forces but giving him several weeks in which to conduct the operation.

     President Bush rejected proposals by the Arab states to meet with Arafat during the deliberations of the UN General Assembly, but did approve a policy speech by Secretary Powell at Louisville, Kentucky, in which several points seemed designed to appeal to Palestinian sensibilities: condemnation of the Israeli occupation "counterbalancing" condemnation of Palestinian terrorism, a definite American commitment to the creation of an independent Palestinian state (though without defining the exact border), and the appointment of a new American mediator, former Marines General Anthony Zinni.

     Meanwhile, however, the unexpectedly swift collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan had the effect of generating in Washington an euphoria of arrogance, and Powell's efforts to mollify the Arab regimes and public opinion by gestures to the Palestinians suddenly looked redundant. The change in American attitudes was clinched by a highly effective new provocation undertaken by Sharon.

Sharon's season

     On Tuesday, November 27, Envoy Zinni was due to arrive in the region. Four days earlier  --  on Friday, November 23  --  Israeli helicopters shot missiles which hit a Palestinian car near Nablus, instantly killing a man named Mahmud Abu Hunud, a Hamas leader prominent in his organization and highly popular among the Palestinian masses, especially due to his escaping several previous assassination attempts, which gave him a "Scarlet Pimpernel" reputation  --  in short, a man for whose assassination retribution was certain to come.
Our articles may be reprinted, provided they include the address The Other Israel POB 2542, Holon 58125, Israel.
     The implications were set out two days later in a remarkable critical article by security commentator Alex Fishman, published prominently on the front page of Yediot Aharonot, Israel's biggest mass circulation daily, which apparently reflected the opinion of dissident elements within the army and security services.

     "(...) Whoever gave a green light to this act of liquidation knew full well that he is thereby shattering in one blow the gentleman's agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Under that agreement, Hamas was to avoid in the near future suicide bombings inside the Green Line [pre-'67 border], having come to the understanding that it would be better not to play into Israel's hands by mass attacks on its population centres. This understanding was, however, shattered by the assassination the day before yesterday  --  and whoever decided upon the liquidation of Abu knew in advance that that would be the price. The subject had been extensively discussed both by the military and the political echelon, before it was decided to carry out the liquidation" (Yediot Aharonot, 25.11.2002).

     The retribution came on schedule, just as Zinni was making his preliminary diplomatic efforts: on December 1, two Hamas suicide bombers exploded themselves at Jerusalem and Haifa, with a total death toll of 26 random Israeli civilians. In Israel there was an atmosphere of public shock and outrage, with no mention of the warning made a week before by Fishman and others (even Fishman himself made no mention of it in his later articles...).

     It certainly played brilliantly into the hands of Sharon, who bypassed Zinni, went directly to the White House and conducted a visit resembling a triumphal procession. American officials, up to President Bush personally, vied with each other in public denunciations of Arafat and the Palestinians, now castigated as "bad guys" in the cosmic struggle against terrorism. Sharon was given a virtually free hand for military action against the Palestinians, the only exception being "not to kill Arafat or completely dismantle the Palestinian Authority."

     With that kind of backing from the President of the United States, Sharon could afford to adopt an openly contemptuous attitude to his Foreign Minister and ram through the cabinet what amounted to a declaration of war against the "terrorist-supporting" Palestinian Authority, ruling out Arafat as a partner for any future negotiations. As Sharon expected, Peres and the other Labor ministers did not dare resign, contenting themselves with powerless and futile protests.

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     The tanks went back into the Palestinian cities which they had vacated just a few weeks before  --  this time with an official American blessing, dubbing it "an act of self-defence." At the same time, an intensive bombing campaign was launched.


     During the Dec. 2 cabinet session, Peace Now called upon Gush Shalom and others to join in an "instant picket." Several dozen activists spread their signs facing the closed gate of the Prime Minister's Office: There is no military solution  --  Return to negotiations now  --  End the occupation, end the bloodshed. Did Sharon and his ministers hear something of the hour-long chanting 'One, two, three, four, we don't want another war' and 'Assassinations and bombardments breed suiciders'.

     It was the beginning of what became regular weekly Peace Now vigils on Saturday night outside the PM's residence. Attendance rose to hundreds and simultaneous vigils were added in Tel-Aviv and Haifa.
Peace Now, POB 29828, Tel-Aviv


     Installations of the Palestinian police and security services  --  the same police and security services which Arafat was supposed to deploy against terrorism  --  were systematically destroyed. So were symbols of the budding Palestinian sovereignty: Israeli tanks and bulldozers invaded and destroyed the Gaza International Airport, ceremoniously inaugurated three years earlier by President Bill Clinton in person; helicopters and commando units destroyed the antennas and studios of the Voice of Palestine and the Palestinian TV (which, however, managed to continue broadcasting from alternative premises).

     Most heavily targeted was any location having something to with Yasser Arafat personally: the offices kept for his use in various Palestinian cities were destroyed, as were his helicopters and cars, and later his Gaza residence; another bombing raid left Arafat's personal cook dead from a direct hit; and while the American directive was adhered to and all these raids stopped short of the Ramallah office where Arafat actually was, Israeli tanks approached within sight of that office and directed their guns straight at Arafat's window.

     "Arafat is not to leave Ramallah until further notice, first he must prove his determination to fight terrorism by arresting the killers of Minister Ze'evi" announced Sharon. Israeli soldiers at the roadblocks tightly surrounding Ramallah were instructed to thoroughly check Palestinian cars, "lest Arafat try to smuggle himself out of the city", and the military instruction was gloatingly released to the media.

     The siege of Arafat was accompanied by a massive campaign of vilification and demonization. Getting rid of Arafat became a fashionable issue. Respectable commentators, in Israel and abroad, wrote an enormous volume of articles based on the premise that Arafat's career had come to an end and started speculating on the shape of the "post-Arafat period"; such ideas as the imposition of a puppet regime, the breaking up of the Palestinian Authority into isolated "cantons" ruled by suppliant "warlords" or the reimposition of direct Israeli military rule began to circulate as legitimate scenarios on which to base concrete political and military action.

     The anti-Arafat campaign had the notable international success of getting the European Union  --  hitherto the Palestinians' main base of support on the international arena  --  to make tough demands on Arafat to "fight terrorism", accompanied by barely-concealed threats of withdrawing Europe's diplomatic and financial support. This, more than anything else, highlighted the Palestinian plight and severe predicament.

Arafat's acrobatics

     Unlike some well-spread descriptions of his character, Yasser Arafat is a leader quite capable of perceiving hard realities and taking tough decisions in response. In this particular impasse, Arafat decided on December 16 to bite the bullet and make a speech calling upon his people to observe a complete cease fire. It must have been an extremely difficult decision to call a cease-fire under such conditions: with no achievement whatsoever to show his people after more than a year of terrible deprivations and daily casualties, without even any assurance that a cease fire would at least involve removal of the threatening Israeli tanks under Arafat's own window.

     Still, he did it, and it was a turning point  --  visible as such at the time, and even more obvious in retrospect. Palestinians listened to it, in their towns and villages and refugee camps. Israelis listened to it attentively, too, for all the government's talk that Arafat had become "irrelevant." (The speech was broadcast live, with a simultaneous translation, on Israeli radio.) And though government speakers did all they could to belittle it, the hope of an end to the fear and bloodshed could not quite be quenched.

     On the following days, it became obvious that these had not just been empty words. The number of confrontations and incidents reported by the army dropped sharply, and kept dropping day after day. The Palestinian police and security services worked diligently to enforce the truce upon all factions and militias. So did, to the surprise of some observers, the independently-minded Tanzim militia of Arafat's Fatah Party. Whatever their private reservations, the Tanzim leaders in the various towns  --  who had borne a major part in the previous months' fighting  --  took an active role in following their supreme chief's instructions for a cease fire.

     As might have been expected, Hamas was more difficult to convince. There were armed confrontations when the Palestinian Police entered the Hamas strongholds in Gaza, and six Palestinians were killed in internecine struggle. But the Hamas leadership, too, was not insensible of the difficult situation which followed their falling into Sharon's trap, and did not wish to add to it by presenting Sharon with the spectacle of a full-scale Palestinian civil war.

     After two days of confrontations at Gaza, reconciliation talks between the Hamas leadership and the Palestinian Authority resulted in a formal Hamas undertaking to suspend any further suicide bombings.

     In the bloody times which were to follow it

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sometimes seemed incredible to realize that we so recently lived through such a period.

     For nearly a month, in late December and early January, there had been hardly any Israeli casualties, with the notable exception of four hapless soldiers killed in a guerrilla raid on an isolated outpost in the Gaza Strip  --  the one conspicuous cease-fire violation on the Palestinian side. (The Palestinians killed by Israeli fire in various incidents while the cease-fire was in force were more numerous, and got much less media attention.)

     Most important from the average Israeli's point of view, it was a time with no suicide bombings at all, a time when the daily life threat on the streets of every city seemed to recede.

     Sharon could have taken credit for it. He could have claimed to have broken the intifada, to have proven that determined use of military force can and does bring results. It would have been difficult to refute him. But he did nothing of the kind. From day one, the Prime Minister was visibly unhappy with the cease-fire, sneering at it, exaggerating any minor infraction and incident, doing all he could to discredit and eventually destroy it.

     Of course, Sharon had his reasons. For one thing, acknowledging that a cease-fire had indeed taken hold would oblige him to enter seriously upon the path of negotiations. It would mean implementing the Mitchell recommendations, among them the obligation to completely freeze any construction in the settlements  --  which would imply a head-on collision with his coalition partners of the extreme right, and was against the grain of Sharon's own basic ideology and decades-long career. And all that would just be the prelude to more far-reaching concessions, which Sharon evidently was not at all minded to get involved in.

     Beyond all such rational considerations, however, Sharon seems to have entered into a vendetta with Arafat, the hated foe who eluded his grasp in 1982 and whom he was unwilling to let escape again. Having brought the Americans so far, it seemed in December entirely realistic that one more push, one more provocation, would gain for him Washington's permission to land a smashing coup de grace. "At last Arik got Arafat's neck into the guillotine, he will not let him take it out again" was how an unnamed Sharon aide was quoted in Yediot Aharonot.

     And so, Sharon flatly refused to relax the siege upon Arafat in Ramallah, even when a good face-saving formula presented itself  --  Christmas, the time when Arafat is habitually invited by the Christian authorities to be present at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Rejecting calls from the Vatican, the Europeans, the Labor ministers and even President Katzav, Sharon would not let Arafat take the brief trek from Ramallah to Bethlehem. In the event, the TV cameras broadcasting around the globe the solemnities of Mass in Bethlehem concentrated on the empty chair bearing the inscription "Yasser Arafat, President of Palestine."

     Sharon persisted in claiming that besieging Arafat in Ramallah was weakening him. Actually, it enormously increased Arafat's popularity among his own people. Surely, a people suffering daily deprivations from severe restrictions on their freedom of movement can find no better rallying point than a leader whose own freedom of movement is curtailed, and who faces that situation with proud defiance.

'The Palestinian leader was calm, more so than I have seen him for a long time. The trembling of his limbs has disappeared, and so had the tired look. He reminded me of our first meeting in Beirut, July 1982, in the middle of another siege.

     In a jovial mood he led us to the window and pointed out the Israeli tanks stationed a hundred meters away, their cannons on target (...). Even those Palestinians who used to criticize Arafat's style of management admit there is nobody like him in an existential crisis  --  the personification of Palestinian determination to defend their national existence.'

[Avnery on Gush Shalom tour for journalists Ma'ariv Jan.26]

     Arafat's besieged headquarters in Ramallah became the scene of daily mass visits by Palestinians, holding emotive rallies in the hall from whose windows the tanks were visible. The place was also visited by quite a few international delegations, and to Sharon's chagrin, by Israeli peace activists as well.

     On Feb. 2, three hundred peace activists came with the Jewish-Arab Ta'ayush group, successfully circumvented the army roadblocks and arrived in Ramallah. After an hour-long meeting with the Palestinian leader, the large group advanced towards the tanks, shouting (in Hebrew) 'Soldiers, go home!' and were showered with tear gas. "When you are not here, they shoot live bullets" a young Palestinian commented.

Hudna denied

     The cease-fire spirit took hold of a quite unexpected person: Israel's president Moshe Katzav, who until being elevated to his present (purely titular) eminence used to be an average hawkish politician, but who seems to have developed a desire to leave a more significant mark than presiding at banquets.

     Katzav got a chance through a creative initiative of the maverick journalist/businessman/peace activist Eyal Ehrlich. While on a business trip to Jordan, Ehrlich had the chance to observe first-hand the proceedings of a Hudna -- the way of resolving feuds in traditional Islamic societies, in which reconciliation visits by clan elders play a key part.

     Inspired to try and adapt the Hudna format to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ehrlich came to the idea of having the President of Israel address the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah with a conciliatory speech  --  which would lead to a formal proclamation of a year's truce of a kind held sacrosanct in Muslim tradition and which should create an atmosphere conductive to renewed peace negotiations. Ehrlich approached both Katzav and Arafat through various mediators and got a positive response; but as soon as the idea leaked into the media, Sharon was quick to express his total

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opposition. Though formally Israel's Head of State, the President -- like a constitutional monarch  --  is bound by the elected government's policies, and Katzav saw no choice but to yield to the PM's veto.

     Before the controversy over the Katzav Affair had time to die out, a completely different sensation was offered to the public: regular radio and TV broadcasts were disrupted by a special press conference, featuring Prime Minister Sharon surrounded by generals and admirals. A dramatic announcement was made: Israel's Naval Commandos had just intercepted a Palestinian ship in the Red Sea, a ship loaded to the gunwales with munitions. The brave commandos, it was told, had saved their country from grave danger, since the arms could have given the Palestinians "a strategic advantage", and proving the perfidy and treachery of the Palestinians and of Arafat in particular.

     Still, an iconoclastic article by writer David Grossman in Ha'aretz reminded that the pre-'48 Jewish militias resorted to precisely that kind of gun running, and pointed out that a single IDF armory contains far more munitions than that entire ship  --  not to speak of the firepower of an F-16 fighter; and Grossman was followed by quite a few other dissident voices in the media, and some in the political system as well.

     But Sharon did achieve something: after initial reluctance the US Administration did take up the issue, when Israeli intelligence officers were flown into Washington to present evidence that the Palestinian contraband had originated in Iran, part of President Bush's infamous "Axis of Evil." There followed a new wave of American recriminations with and threats upon the Palestinians, and Envoy Zinni's second visit to the region was as dismal a failure as the first one.

     Meanwhile, the army made what became a widely-publicized incursion into the Rafah Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip, destroying some sixty or seventy Palestinian homes in a single night (the exact number remains disputed). The photos of children scrabbling in the rubble of their destroyed homes touched the conscience of Israel as few things did in the past year. The government found itself the target of scathing criticism in the press, including from columnists who had hitherto kept their silence and some who previously supported Sharon. The army's explanations that the destroyed houses had been "uninhabited" and that their destruction had been "an operational necessity" found few takers outside the hard-core right-wing.

     After three days of this, Sharon was forced to issue a vaguely-worded apology and a promise not to do it again. On the same day  --  Monday, January 14  --  he also decisively terminated the cease-fire.

An assassination too far

     In the far gone days of three years ago, when an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord seemed imminent, a meeting was held at a resort north of Tel-Aviv between the younger members of Israel's then-ruling Labor Party and their opposite numbers of the Fatah Party, Yasser Arafat's main base of support. By some accounts, later hotly denied, there was among the Palestinian delegation a young man from Tul Karm named Ra'ed Karmi. At the time, this name had no special significance, and if he had really been there he made no special impression on his Israeli interlocutors.

     In the turbulent times after the Intifada outbreak, repeated "targeted killings" by the Israeli army and security services in Tul Karm created some vacancies at the top of the local leadership. Karmi was revealed to have considerable military talent and charisma, and within a year was the unquestioned leader of the local militia. By then, he also figured prominently on the Israeli army's "most wanted" list, accused of involvement in the killing of nine Israelis, some of them random civilians killed in retribution for assassinations.

     In the last months of 2001, Ra'ed Karmi survived several Israeli assassination attempts, which as in the case of Abu Hunud only added to his reputation. He was well aware of living on borrowed time. An Israeli TV crew which entered Tul Karm under his personal safe-conduct filmed him walking openly through the city's main street, rifle in hand. In an interview shown that night at Israeli living rooms, he said: "I am not afraid of being assassinated. My fate is in God's hands. If I fall, my comrades will take revenge for me, like I avenged those who came before me."

     Palestinian sources say that Ra'ed Karmi fully supported Arafat's decision to declare a cease-fire, and helped implement it in his area of command. Israel's security services say that on the morning of January 14, when he was killed by an Israeli-laid booby trap, Karmi was involved in planning terrorist operations  --  the same claim as was made in earlier assassinations, and as in the other cases accompanied by no proof.

     Certainly, Ra'ed Karmi was much less of an innocent victim than many of the other 1400 Palestinians and Israelis killed in a year and half of bloody confrontations. Just as certainly, there could have been no doubt that killing him would immediately shatter the cease-fire and unleash a whirlwind of revenge and bloodshed.

     It was a repetition of the Abu-Hunud assassination and its consequences, but with some significant differences. For one, the outburst of Palestinian retribution started not after a week, but literally within hours of the assassination. And this time it was not the militants of Hamas who were at the forefront of the attacks, but the Tanzim militiamen, Arafat's own followers.

     Most important, the gambit had been used one time too many, and this time it stood fully exposed to the public gaze. 'Assassinations breed suicide bombers' chanted the Peace Now youths in emergency vigils outside the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv and the Prime Ministry's residence in Jerusalem. The same message was repeated in official statements by all sections of the peace movements  --   no longer only in the ads of Gush Shalom. It came up in Knesset speeches and media appearances of Yossi Sarid, official head of the opposition; in numerous press

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articles and media commentaries; and even (though in a less explicit form) in the utterances of Foreign Minister Peres.

     It made a great deal of difference. Unlike the previous cycles of violence, Israeli society entered this one without the conviction that blame was to be attached to the Palestinians and to the Palestinians alone. In October 2000, Israelis were told  --  and nearly all believed  --  that Barak had made generous offers to the Palestinians and that they responded with rejection and violence; now, many of the same people could plainly see that Arafat had made a cease-fire and that it was Sharon who broke it.

     It was at this time that the peace movement finally began to break out of the the marginalization which it suffered since the Intifada outbreak. Vigils and rallies became bigger and bigger, and new peace groups mushroomed. The refusal of soldiers and officers to serve the occupation took center stage. So did the previously taboo idea that "our" soldiers may actually be involved in war crimes, that practices daily undertaken by the army of occupation might constitute grave violations of International Law.

     And radical ideas got the sympathy of substantial minorities, as evident in the 25% expressing support for the refusers. Sharon's hitherto unshakable popularity was fast eroding, as clearly visible in all opinion polls. The atmosphere of "national unity" which prevailed throughout 2001 was fast dissipating, to be replaced by dissent and often acrimonious debate  --  which also included, on the opposite side of the spectrum, an upsurge of the extreme right, calling for total reconquest of the Palestinian cities and openly advocating ethnic cleansing ("population transfer").

     In the Labor Party, the minority calling for the party to leave the Sharon Government became increasingly active and vocal, and its campaign influenced also the party's more opportunistic elements.

     Defence Minister Ben Eliezer, recently elected party leader in hotly contested internal elections held among Laborites throughout the country, started an effort to appear slightly more dovish  --  at least in nuances, such as the duration of military offensives against the Palestinians and the amount of military forces used in them. He had been advised he would stand little chance of winning an election as "a carbon copy of Sharon."

     For his part, Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, Ben Eliezer's great rival  --  a man who started his political career as a Peace Now activist, but who later considerably mellowed his tone  --  now took an outspoken line of condemning "the corrupting occupation" and stating that the solution would be "exchanging the complete territory for a complete peace."

     Burg also took up where President Katzav left off, declaring his intention to address the Palestinian Parliament in Ramallah and announcing that  --  unlike the president  --  he was determined to go there even against the opposition of the Prime Minister. Burg aroused great anger in the parliamentary right wing, where an unsuccessful effort was mounted to unseat him from his position as Speaker, and correspondingly won considerable kudos in his own constituency. Up to the time of writing, however, he did not actually go to Ramallah.

Downward spiral

     The dissatisfaction with the functioning of Sharon as Prime Minister was also influenced by the deteriorating economic situation. Unemployment reached new records, with more and more factories and enterprises closing down, and economists predicted little or no economic growth in 2002.

     The weeks of cease-fire allowed public attention to focus, for some time, on socioeconomic issues. In the absence of shooting incidents, the headlines were captured by workers bitterly protesting the loss of their jobs. A militant struggle by the disabled got much public sympathy, as in their wheelchairs they held a months-long sit-in strike in front of the finance ministry, demanding an increase in their allowances.

     The government budget for 2002 was approved far behind schedule, in February rather then December. Its passage required considerable wrangling and sometimes sordid deals between Sharon and his numerous coalition partners.

     The budget finally cobbled together held no glimmer of hope for the poorer Israelis who are the main electoral base of Sharon's Likud Party.

     In many ways, the economic crisis could be traced to the ongoing conflict.   Since the Intifada outbreak, tourism  --  one of the Israeli economy's mainstays  --  has been all but completely ruined. Israel has become far less attractive to foreign investors, many of whom nowadays hesitate even to come for a short visit  --  much less, to put their money into such a dangerous country. Apprehension of suicide bombings drove many Israelis to avoid the city centers, leading to the collapse of shops, cafes and restaurants particularly in downtown Jerusalem.

     Also the terrible blow dealt by Israel to the Palestinian economy, virtually shattered by the Israeli army's imposition of closures, sieges and travel restrictions, recoiled back upon Israel itself. With the general impoverishment of the Palestinian population and its severe loss of purchasing power, the Israeli firms dependent upon exports to the Palestinian market started to suffer, some of them to the point of collapse.

     Altogether, government economists estimate the losses, as direct and indirect result of the ongoing confrontation with the Palestinians, at five billion dollars. In January, opinion polls started showing the public massively losing confidence in Sharon's ability to conduct the economy, while still having faith in him as a military leader. A few weeks later, with the mutual Israeli-Palestinian carnage growing worse and worse and Sharon plainly having no solution, and with the economy simultaneously sliding further down, the public started to doubt Sharon's credentials in all spheres.

     An attempt by the Prime Minister to hold a televised "address to the nation"  --  with his main theme being "The security and economic situation

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are both bad, the struggle to improve them will be long, but we must be patient and steadfast and united and in the end we will win"  --  was greeted with derision and a further slide in his popularity ratings.

Sitting ducks

     Immediately upon the assassination of Ra'ed Karmi, a Palestinian gunman crossed into the Israeli town of Hadera, and in an indiscriminate shooting spree at a family celebration killed six random Israeli civilians. In the weeks which followed, however, the leadership of the Fatah-Tanzim militia seemed to have taken a decision to concentrate upon guerrilla attacks against soldiers and settlers in the Occupied Territories themselves. The other Palestinian organizations mostly followed suit.

     It did make a difference for the public atmosphere in Israel. Israelis certainly mourned the soldiers killed in the territories, but such Palestinian actions did not carry the same moral repugnance and aversion aroused by attacks on Israel's population centers. Indeed, in some cases Israeli military officers expressed a grudging admiration for the "professionalism and courage" of the guerrillas they were facing.

     Palestinian fighters evidently imbibed the classical guerrilla maxim  --  avoid your enemy where he is strong and alert, strike unexpectedly at his weak spots  --  and in particular, the lessons and methods of the Hizbullah's campaign against the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon.

     In the Gaza Strip, guerrillas minutely observed the path daily taken by Israeli convoys to the settlement of Netzarim, an armed enclave directly south of Gaza City itself. A well-laid explosive charge destroyed an Israeli tank which headed the convoy, a "Merkava" type which until that day had the reputation of being "the world's best protected tank."

     Alarmed commanders promised to make a thorough reexamination and change the routines which made such a fatal result possible. But the continuing maintenance of a nationalist-religious Israeli settler group in the heart of Gaza is at the core of this government's policy, not open to question by the military echelon; the isolated settlement remained in place and precisely a month later, the guerrillas made a second attack, again at a convoy passing the same route and almost on the same spot, destroying a second Merkava tank.

     In the West Bank, the guerrillas found the numerous roadblocks and checkpoints to be the IDF's weakest point  --  as well as being the aspect of the occupation most resented by the general Palestinian population. Located so as to control Palestinian traffic, these roadblocks involved small military detachments placed in isolated positions, occasionally located at the bottom of canyons (where the roads run) and  --  in contradiction with elementary military principles  --  without securing the commanding heights on the flanks.

     Moreover, with the regular army stretched out to its very limits, the roadblocks were often manned by rear-echelon troops with little combat training.

     The results were fatal  --  17 soldiers killed within two weeks, in a series of guerrilla attacks on roadblocks.

     In the most deadly incident a single Palestinian sniper, armed with an old but still serviceable WW II carbine, went on shooting for half an hour, killed seven soldiers and three of the settlers these were supposed to be protecting, and calmly walked away before reinforcements could arrive. (The place where this happened is known in Arabic as Wadi Haramiya, the Canyon of the Robbers, a name reminiscent of earlier practitioners of such tactics in Ottoman times.) 'You have abandoned us, we have been made into sitting ducks!' reacted surviving soldiers when senior officers arrived on the spot a few hours later for what was supposed to be a morale-raising visit. Media reports spread the story further, telling that the Harmiya Checkpoint had been established due to the pressure of settlers from nearby settlements.

     'If the settlers want to risk their own lives, that is their affair  --  but why did my son have to die?' said the mother of David Demlin, one of the ten killed soldiers, who told the press that her son had seriously considered signing the refusers' letter.

Peace proposals & broken promises

     Concurrently with his plummeting domestic popularity, Sharon could feel the climate in Washington starting to change.

     True, the Americans continued to give public backing to Sharon's ongoing campaign of bombings and invasions of Palestinian cities, which were called "self-defence" in official US communiques. However, the administration politely but firmly rejected Sharon's proposals about ousting Arafat and seeking some elusive "alternative Palestinian leadership." Since he had already tried almost everything else, without breaking the Palestinian resolve, the continuing American backing to his military actions was of little avail to Sharon.

     Adding to his predicament was the sudden peace initiative offered by the Saudi Crown Prince, publicized through the mediation of the renowned Tom Friedman of the New York Times. On public offer was full peace between Israel and the entire Arab World, in return for full withdrawal to the 1967 borders.

     A clarification, delivered through Henry Siegman of the American Jewish Congress, indicated the Saudis willing to accept Israeli retention of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, in line with some proposals made at the last stage of negotiations under Barak.

     The proposal made quite an impression on the war-weary Israeli society. The past year and half made Israelis highly suspicious of the Palestinians, and doubtful of any promise made or agreement signed by a Palestinian leader (a feeling amply reciprocated on the Palestinian side).

     An agreement backed by the entire Arab World and brokered by one of its most prestigious and powerful states, a state which hitherto stayed on the sidelines,

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seemed to offer a more solid assurance for the future; opinion polls indicated about half of the Israeli public (48% in one poll, 54% in another) willing to accept the Saudi proposal. Past experience indicates that, should the government accept the proposal, this could quickly mount to a big, solid majority.

     Sharon, however, had no intention of accepting the 1967 borders or anything like them, regardless of what was offered in return. He did not, of course, reject the initiative outright. Rather, he tried to hedge, proposing to meet the Saudis. Such a meeting would in itself constitute a major act of normalization without obliging Sharon on the territorial issue. To nobody's surprise, the Saudis declined this generous offer.

     Saudi efforts were concentrated on gathering the support of key Arab states for their initiative, with a view to officially presenting it for approval at the Arab Summit, due to meet in Beirut at the end of March. This, they made clear, would only take place with Arafat present there, at the side of the other Arab leaders; without Arafat, the summit would end with a routine resolution to support the Palestinian struggle against Israel.

     Thus, the issue of the continuing siege of Arafat's Ramallah headquarters was placed squarely and urgently on the Israeli agenda. And it became even more urgent when Palestinian police did arrest  --  as demanded by Sharon  --  those responsible for the assassination of Minister Ze'evi.

     As a result, a meeting of Israeli and Palestinian security officials was convened with a view to achieving a cease-fire. Defence Minister Ben Eliezer proposed to the inner cabinet setting Arafat free, but the extreme right ministers threatened to immediately resign.

     The Defence Minister warned of dire results from failing to keep Israel's part of the bargain. What resulted was a "compromise": the tanks withdrew a few hundred metres from the immediate vicinity of Arafat's headquarters, and the cabinet announced that Arafat is "free to move within Ramallah, but must ask Sharon's permission for going anywhere else."

     The resolution was taken by the Palestinians as the deliberate insult it was, and on the following day there was a new series of deadly Palestinian attacks. "I told you so" unofficial leaks quoted Ben-Eliezer as saying. The minister's spokesman quickly denied that his boss ever said such words, but the incident further revealed the growing cracks in Sharon's national unity government.

Cyclone of war

     For some time the settler leaders and their political representatives had been pushing their own proposal for "solving" the conflict: reoccupying all the Palestinian cities, conducting house-to-house searches for munitions, shooting down any Palestinian found in possession of arms, arresting, killing or deporting all "terrorists", and then "negotiating" with the cowed remnant on limited autonomy under complete Israeli sovereignty.

     The plan seems to have some relation to contingency plans made by the army, with some of whose generals the settlers enjoy a close symbiosis. In late February, Sharon decided to authorize the implementation of an operation more limited in scope than the settlers asked for, but using many of the techniques they advocated. The plan called for a direct attack on the Palestinian refugee camps, which had been the focal points of both the first intifada and the present one and which the army had always avoided entering.

     A general mobilization of the reserves, which is what the hardliners demanded, would have been tantamount to war; also, a significant number of reservists might have been found refusing to obey the call-up order. Instead, the operation was planned based on the manpower available in the regular army alone.

     Even with training stopped and all available units pressed into the operation, there were not enough to attack all camps at once. Instead, a sweep was planned, going roughly north to south, with the units continually leapfrogging from one refugee camp to the next. In between, the air force was to carry out massive bombings in the places not invaded at that moment, with the navy to take part by shelling targets on the Gazan shore. So commenced what proved the most terrible days (so far) in the ongoing cyclone of violence.

      Before the Intifada broke out, the army estimated that invading the Palestinian areas in general and the refugee camps in particular would involve a prohibitive number of Israeli casualties, dozens or even hundreds. Since October 2000, however, the army's best minds were drafted to develop specific tactics and strategies which would keep casualties to the most bare minimum.

     Under the new doctrine, an invasion would always be carried out under cover of darkness; the soldiers would come in overwhelming strength  --  battalions in the early invasions, later increased to brigades; infantry would always be accompanied by numerous tanks and helicopter gun ships, ready to use their firepower to crush all opposition; movement through the streets of a conquered city would take place almost always inside armored vehicles; infantry soldiers would swiftly seize strategically located buildings and transform them into military positions, with Palestinian inhabitants either expelled or restricted to one room; withdrawal from the city carried out again at night and in armored vehicles.

     For operations at refugee camps, with their narrow alleys and closely-packed huts, the soldiers would break the walls and thus move from one house to another without going into the street and exposing themselves to sniper fire. ("Yes, the inhabitants would later have to repair their homes  --  such are the fortunes of war" remarked a commander on Israeli radio.)

     The army's plan was carried out, more or less on schedule. No less than 20,000 soldiers were assigned to the operation. The conquest of the refugee camps was accomplished at the cost to the Israeli side of more or less one dead Israeli soldier per camp  --  truly

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minimal losses, to everybody but the particular soldier's family.

     Palestinian losses were staggering, more than 200 in one week, nearly fifty of them on a single day  --  March 8, 'Red Friday'.

     TV screens were filled with the images of hundreds of Palestinian men taken captive, their hands tied behind their backs with plastic handcuffs and their eyes covered with rags, led through the streets of conquered refugee camps.
     On the night of March 15, Israel's Second Channel TV showed on prime time the footage taken by its correspondent who followed the fighting forces in Ramallah: the soldiers approaching the door of a Palestinian house, knocking and at getting no response blowing up the door; a girl crying near the body of her mother, severely wounded in the explosion; the Palestinian family huddled in their living room, closely guarded by armed soldiers; a bespectacled soldier, sitting on the Palestinians' sofa, saying to the camera: 'What are we doing here? I have no idea. A Hebrew boy so far from the Homeland...' (His name, as Ma'ariv found out, Uri Yaniv.)

     The following day, Defence Minister Ben Eliezer announced a ban on any further coverage of military operations by journalists.
     The practice of writing numbers on the prisoners' wrists aroused a storm of protests, even from middle-of-the-road Knesset Members, who were reminded of the Nazi treatment of concentration camp inmates.

     Meanwhile, it soon turned out that most of the "heavy terrorists" which the army wanted were not among these captives. Rather than stay and fight to the death against impossible odds, they slipped away to deliver heavy blows in less well-guarded spots, and come back unscathed once the army vacated their homes and went on to another camp.

     Paratrooper Colonel Aviv Kochavi, in command of conquering Balata Refugee camp in Nablus, gloated on Israeli radio: 'We were told there were tigers here, but we found only kittens.' Within a few hours he had to eat his words, as some of the "kittens" launched both a lethal suicide bombing in Jerusalem and a withering attack on an army checkpoint.

     In the heat of the struggle, the distinctions between different Palestinian groups blurred, militants of the Tanzim, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Marxist factions fighting together. The idea of restricting the struggle to guerrilla attacks targeting soldiers was lost in the popular anger at the killings and destruction and the clamor for instant retribution. No longer were suicide bombers restricted to the Islamic organizations alone; an increasing part of them came from the ranks of Fatah.

     It was a confusing time for Israelis. The hundreds of Palestinian casualties provided no consolation for the dozens of Israeli ones. Every morning the radio announced the conquest of yet another Palestinian town or refugee camp; every afternoon came news of yet another deadly Palestinian raid into an Israeli town. And in addition, an attack left six Israelis dead in the Lebanese border zone, an area which had been quiet since the withdrawal from Lebanon two years ago. It was generally attributed to infiltrators from across the northern border, though Hizbullah declined to take official responsibility.

The world awakens

     Belatedly, President Bush realized that the fire which he had let Sharon set was endangering his own agenda. Specifically, the escalation between Israel and the Palestinians threatened to completely derail Vice President Cheney's long-planned visit to the region and foil the effort to create an anti-Saddam front, to which the administration decided to give its first priority.

     In a dramatic press conference, the president announced that he was sending Zinni back to the region within a week's time, and called upon the sides "to reach a cease fire by themselves, even ahead of Zinni's arrival." Bush's reasons for this week-long hiatus are still unclear. In the event, they left time for the worst carnage still to unfold.

     Immediately upon the Bush pronouncement, Sharon made a seemingly conciliatory gesture  --  announcing that he was giving up his demand of "seven days of complete quiet" as a precondition for negotiations. This was, however, coupled with intensification of the military campaign of "increasing the number of Palestinian casualties"  --  the aim quite openly defined the Prime Minister a few days earlier.

     In another move of the simultaneous game Sharon passed through the cabinet a decision to allow Arafat movement from Ramallah to other locations in Palestinian territory, but not abroad. The decision outraged Sharon's extreme-right allies and made them keep their threat to bolt the government.

     Arafat himself was not overjoyed. He refrained from immediately leaving Ramallah, at a time that large-scale Israeli forces were visibly converging on the city. Arafat had good reasons to suspect that, after three months of keeping him bottled up in Ramallah, Sharon suddenly wanted him out of the way in order to smooth the way of an invasion.

     Meanwhile, tens of thousands of settlers and their supporters were bussed into Tel-Aviv where they held a turbulent rally in the Rabin Square, their speakers calling upon Sharon "to finish off the evil Palestinian Authority, once and for all." Just as they boarded the bullet-proof buses back to their settlements, massive military forces started moving into Ramallah.

     It was the biggest Israeli military operation since 1982. A full infantry division accompanied by hundreds of tanks, a large fraction of the Israeli army's total fighting strength, was deployed in order to conquer a single Palestinian city defended by lightly-armed militiamen. "Resistance was scattered, the operation was carried out on schedule" announced the army spokesman, belittling the killing of a dozen young Palestinians which the smooth operation took.

     "The army swung a mighty fist, and landed it on the air" remarked the well-informed Nahum Barn'ea of Yediot Aharonot. The operation was hampered by the

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continuing presence of Arafat in Ramallah. The sector around the Palestinian leader's headquarters remained sacrosanct, the military plans having been revised at the last moment, and most of the "wanted" Palestinians thus found a refuge.

     An attempt by Sharon to order the tanks into that area caused an open row with Ben Eliezer, and according to eye-witnesses developed into "the most stormy cabinet meeting since the formation of the Sharon government."

     Meanwhile, Israeli embassies around the world started sounding the alarm, warning the government of "a PR disaster." Footage of tanks crushing Palestinian ambulances, of the long rows of blindfolded prisoners under guard, but also of Israeli soldiers invading living rooms of Palestinian families and throwing clothes out of the cupboards, were more and more eroding whatever goodwill towards Israel was left.

     With the army's entry into Ramallah, the army found itself under the close observation of the many international media representatives located there. Such were the circumstances when the popular Italian journalist Raffaele Ciriello was shot to death. (The army claimed he had directed his camera at soldiers from the same direction that Palestinians were shooting.)

      Geraldo Rivera, commentator of Fox Television, told his listeners: 'All my life I have been a Zionist. But after what I saw in Ramallah, I have become a Palestinian. Using tanks and F-16 fighter planes against a city population, that is not 'fighting terrorism.' It is terrorism.' (Retranslated from Yediot Aharonot, March 17.)


From the Gush Shalom ad in Ha'aretz, March 16

Balance Of Terror

This week the Sharon Government reached new peaks of state terrorism. It bombarded Palestinian institutions, shot at Palestinian ambulances and doctors. More than 200 Palestinians got killed, houses were destroyed, water supplies and electricity cut, a whole population intimidated and humiliated.

This week the Palestinians undertook guerrilla and terror actions, killing more than 20 Israelis, soldiers and civilians, sowing fear in the towns and on the roads, even reaching remote areas of the Galilee.

The occupation army and the occupied people have reached a balance of terror.

Everybody's security has gone down the drain.

Gush Shalom, POB 2233, Tel-Aviv,


     Three days after the army moved into Ramallah, President Bush made another dramatic TV address, accusing Sharon of being "far from helpful to the success of Zinni's mission" and ordering him in no uncertain words to terminate the operation forthwith.

     On the following morning, the weekend polls in the Israeli press indicated a a new record low for Sharon. "Sharon hoped to please the left by releasing Arafat and the right by sending the army into Ramallah. In the event he alienated both. He is also losing the mass of the center voters, simply because he promised to put an end to the terrorist attacks and is plainly unable to deliver on that promise." wrote Chemi Shalev in Ma'ariv.

Picking up the pieces

     Last December, Sharon was in a position to dictate a cease-fire to Arafat, literally at gunpoint. That is no longer the case. The Palestinians can now ask a price for going along. First they asked  --  and got  --  the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from the "A" areas, as a precondition for starting any cease-fire negotiations. Having gained that, the sticking point in the negotiations  --  taking place under Envoy Zinni's auspices at the very time of writing  --  are the closures and sieges which in the past year and half made daily life into hell for the Palestinians.

     The general assumption at Zinni's arrival that a cease-fire would soon be signed, was eroded by the continuation of suicide bombings. And, if a truce is signed, commentators are doubtful about how far it would be respected and how long it will survive.

     The Palestinian police and security services have hardly any premises or prisons left in which to put terrorists, even if the decision was taken to arrest them; the Israeli bombardments were all too thorough. More important than the destruction of physical assets, the campaign of the past months clearly changed the internal balance of forces in the Palestinian society, weakening the Palestinian Authority and its apparatus, greatly enhancing the prestige and support enjoyed by the various militias and militant groups.

     For Palestinian militants to be convinced of the need to suspend their armed struggle and establish a lasting cease-fire, they would need a clear sign that the end of the occupation can be achieved by political and diplomatic means.

     Sharon, though at the moment in desperate need of a cease-fire for his political survival, is not likely to end the occupation or dismantle the settlements which he himself established throughout his career. And the Bush Administration still persists in regarding the Israeli-Palestinian problem as essentially a side show, to be calmed down and gotten out of the way in preparation for what they really care about  --  their impending operation against Saddam Hussein.

     Bush did accept the principle of two states, Israel and Palestine, and even got it enshrined in a new Security Council Resolution  --  but without referring to the all-important issue of borders. (In theory, Sharon too is willing to accept a Palestinian state  --  a "state" composed of disconnected enclaves.)

     As yet, there is little reason to assume that Bush is ready to take up the active mediating role which consumed so much of his predecessor's time and energy, and in which Clinton so dismally failed.

     The Palestinians have undergone all that the most powerful army in the Middle East could come up with, and emerged unbroken. For the time being, a configuration of local and international public

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opinion and super-power interests has forced Sharon to stop. But a Sharon who has nothing to lose might just be biding his time to launch yet another, even more destructive attack  --  as a gambler who can't take his losses. History may well remember Ariel Sharon as the leader who conclusively proved to Israelis that the way of force does not work, simply by trying it so often and only making things worse.

     If there still are grounds for cautious hope, they lie exactly where until a few months ago we almost gave up looking: in the depth of Israeli society, which shows many signs of having had enough of the occupation and the toll it takes.

The editors


     Even when the soldiers (...) aimed their rifles at every woman and child who dared go into the alley, the camp residents agreed: The soldiers are afraid.

     That doesn't mean the people in the camp were not afraid. They were very afraid when the helicopters above fired down into the alleys and within a few hours dozens of unarmed people were wounded; they were afraid when their armed sons were killed after standing in the alleys; they were afraid when the soldiers, from positions on the hill opposite the camp, used machine guns to fire into the bedrooms and kitchens and hit the electrical transformer, plunging the camp into darkness.(...)

     In Balata Refugee Camp, they reached the conclusion that without the tanks and helicopters, the Israeli soldiers sent to the checkpoints and the refugee camps would be stripped of their power - and their courage. (...) Maybe, someone said hopefully, the fear shows the soldiers don't know what they are doing in Balata.

     Our children, said someone, unlike the Israeli children, can't dream of being pilots or tank commanders when they grow up. (...) They watch TV and are pleased to see in the reports about the terror attacks that they are not the only ones who are afraid, that in the cities where the soldiers come from, people are afraid, too. That's why all that is left to them is to dream of putting on an explosives belt and detonating it in Tel Aviv. Because the game is now who is more afraid, and who is less afraid of dying.
[Amira Hass, Ha'aretz, March 6.]
+++  On the morning of March 9, hundreds answered the call of Yesh Gvul to demonstrate at the Athlit Military Prison and express solidarity with the imprisoned refusers. Then, news arrived of terrible killing and destruction going on at the Palestinian town of Tul Karm, occupied by large military forces two days before. Several dozen participants, mostly of Ta'ayush and Gush Shalom, went on to hold a second protest at the army roadblock on the entrance to Tul-Karm and were joined by a large group of inhabitants of the nearby Israeli Arab town of Taibeh, where many have relatives living in Tul Karm.

+++  During those days, Israeli human rights organizations made desperate efforts to get wounded Palestinians evacuated from the invaded cities and refugee camps. (Gideon Levy wrote in Ha'aretz about a young field worker who burst into tears upon receiving the message from beleaguered Jenin that the wounded for whose sake she had made frantic phone calls to the army had already bled to death.)

     By then, it was obvious that ambulances and medical crews were intentionally targeted. It happened too often and in different places, under the responsibility of different IDF units. In a few days, several medics and doctors got killed and many wounded. Even when higher commanders promised a safe-conduct, it did not always get to the soldiers. Dr. Ahmad No'man of Bethlehem's Yamama Hospital was shot down on his way to get urgently needed medical supplies, in spite of a promise to the Red Cross that he would be allowed to pass.

     The army claimed that Palestinian ambulances were being used to transport fighters and munitions. This claim, for which no evidence was produced, was repeated on radio and TV, encouraging soldiers to regard ambulances as legitimate targets.

+++  At noon on March 12, Palestinian medical crews demonstrated in their uniforms at a military roadblock outside Jerusalem, and in Tel-Aviv's Museum Square a bullet-riddled Red Crescent ambulance was displayed, transported (with considerable difficulty) from Tul Karm by the Physicians for Human Rights. Also at the same time, Norwegian medical teams drove in a protest convoy of ambulances through the streets of Oslo, concluding with a protest outside the Israeli embassy.

     By then, the army had moved over to Ramallah, and from there too started coming news of shooting at ambulances and denial of medical treatment. On the morning of March 14, the Supreme Court heard PHR's petition against attacks on ambulances, while dozens of activists demonstrated outside. (The court asked for further specific evidence on each of the known cases, and demanded that the state give detailed answers for each of these  --  both to come back in ten days' time.)

     Later that day, some 200 people took part in a march organized by a whole lot of human rights organizations (B'tselem, Ta'ayush, ACRI, ICAHD, Kav La'Oved, RHR, Adalah and PHR) from al-Ram Checkpoint north of Jerusalem to Qalandia Checkpoint at the very entrance to Ramallah  --  the closest they could get to the occupied city. Several trucks, with food and medical supplies, to find their way into the city and deliver their contents to the Palestinian Red Crescent and the Medical Relief Committee.
PHR, 30 Levanda St., Tel Aviv,


Waking up
by Beate Zilversmidt

     When the idea came up in a Gush Shalom planning session to organize a Forum Discussion on War Crimes, we still didn't have the faintest idea that the atmosphere was about to change. For more than a year, the increasingly brutal oppression of the Palestinian uprising against the 35-year old occupation had encountered inside Israel only the protest of "the lunatic fringe."

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     Some two hundred fifty filled the Tzavta Hall in Tel-Aviv on Wednesday evening, Jan. 9. No less than six speakers sat crowded behind the table: a retired air force colonel, an ex-minister, a professor in philosophy, a former brigadier general turned social scientist, an expert in international law and a representative of the PLO. And then there was still a seventh, Haim Hanegbi the moderator who spoke a few words on behalf of Gush Shalom and at fitting moments came up with a shocking newspaper clipping.

     Yigal Shochat, the air force man, spoke first. Apparently unused to public appearances, he read the whole speech from paper. The idea to invite him was because somebody remembered that in the past months he had written a letter to the editor calling upon combat pilots to refuse orders to bomb population centers (see TOI-98, p.24). It had not at all been easy to get him here. The text which he read and in which he passionately explained his turnabout made an enormous impression (see excerpt on p.26).

     Second was the jurist Eyal Gross, who told that soldiers who refuse orders such as to mount bulldozers and demolish Palestinian houses have more options than just go to prison for reasons of conscience. If they would let their case come to a court, their lawyer might base a plea on the Geneva Conventions which have been signed by Israel  --  and the case could be won.

     With every next speaker there was the expectation that this one would perhaps criticize what had been said before  --  but it didn't happen. Not even when it was the turn of Dov Tamari, the social scientist with military background and no particular reputation for radicalism. He explained that military theory is stuck with the ideas of the 19h Century when war was still something between two armies. But during wars of independence it is a totally different story. "It is a big mistake to define everything which doesn't fit into the outdated military theory as terrorism."

The declaration by the Human Rights Committee of the Israeli Bar Association stating that 'Extra judicial execution of Palestinians constitutes a war crime' startled the general public. Adv. Yossi Arnon, head of the committee, stood firm against enormous pressures from within the Bar: 'We have merely stated what international law says. Nothing more.'

     Michael Tarazi of the PLO told that during the years of the Oslo process, the Palestinians had the shocking experience of finding themselves at the mercy of a negotiating partner who does not consider himself bound by international law. A straightforward Israeli officer once said it explicitly to his Palestinian interlocutors: "We will adhere to the Geneva Convention only when we are forced to." But there was nobody to enforce it.

     Professor Adi Ophir showed in the 10 to 15 minutes which he got that philosophers can sometimes be utterly action-oriented. It was he who called for the peace movement to start collecting evidence which could be used by a future international war crimes court. "It will deepen our isolation in the Israeli society" he said (which was what all of us still thought then), "but we have to ask ourselves whether not the time has come for such an approach, and pay the price."

     Shulamit Aloni spoke last  --  the Grand Old Lady of Meretz and of the human rights movement, who had been member of the Rabin government. "We will have to do most of the job ourselves" she emphasized. "Don't expect too much of the international community. Many people there are too afraid to be considered anti Semites. It us up to us to go public with the facts."

The Hebrew and English transcripts of the war crime discussion are to be found on the Gush Shalom website:
If you don't have access to the internet you may order it from The Other Israel, pob 2542, Holon 58125 Israel. Please, add $5 (cash only!) for expenses.
     As it happened, later on the same night in which this discussion took place, the army decided to take revenge for an earlier guerrilla attack against an isolated outpost in which four Israeli soldiers had fallen. The reprisal was to demolish some sixty or seventy houses (the exact number was hotly disputed) at the Palestinian refugee camp in Rafah, at the southern edge of the Gaza Strip.

     Shulamit Aloni, who happened to be visiting the besieged Arafat in Ramallah  on the following day, didn't hesitate and declared the demolition of houses to be a war crime when interviewed on Palestinian TV. Cross-examined about it still  the same day on Israeli TV (2nd Channel) she confirmed that she had called it "war crime", and explained: 'I have said exactly the same yesterday in Tel-Aviv, in Tzavta.' The mass reprisal which made hundreds of innocent refugees homeless again, with footage on international TV networks of children searching the rubble for their toys, did provoke shocked protests worldwide. Even President Bush could not keep silent, and some criticism was voiced from the White House.

     Much of this may have been predicted by Sharon and the army leadership. What they probably didn't foresee: that this time the protest inside Israel would not be limited to "the handful who refuse to understand that their views are out of fashion."

     The 150 demonstrators who turned up at very short notice outside the Ministry of Defence in Tel-Aviv were just the beginning. There followed a wave of critical articles and editorials in the press and sharp protests by prominent academics. The possibility that the action of the bulldozer drivers could be considered a war crime, and the idea that every soldier was answerable for participating in such acts, suddenly became a public issue.

     Gush Shalom got a totally unexpected full week in the limelight because of having started a very modest public discussion. In fact, there had been no TV cameras present at the discussion itself, only a single radio reporter who recorded some of the speeches. Hearing those broadcast, Minister of Justice Sheetrit declared that 'it is not our soldiers who should be brought to justice, but those who make such accusations against them.' But the minister's assurances did not prevent that soon reports entered the press of career
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officers asking for judicial advice out of worry about the possibility of being arrested on their travels abroad and being put on trial on war crime charges.

     It was in this atmosphere that activists of different groups (ICAHD, Gush Shalom, Coalition of Women for Peace, the Jewish-Arab Ta'ayush etc.) came together to see what could be done apart from collecting blankets for the victims of the demolitions. Had it happened on the West Bank, it would have been possible to organize a march by hundreds of activists demonstratively delivering blankets  --  but the Gaza Strip is hermetically closed for Israelis (other than settlers and soldiers) and the collected blankets could only be sent to Rafah indirectly. Moreover, because of the government's promise to refrain in the future from further house demolitions, the specific issue of the Rafah houses was already on its way out of the news.

     The promise to cease destruction of Palestinian houses lasted for about a month. Following the guerrilla attack on a settler convoy, Feb. 18, the army ordered the immediate demolition of 20 Palestinian houses which supposedly 'provided cover to the attackers.'

     After five of the houses were destroyed, the demolition was halted by a Supreme Court injunction, in an appeal lodged by the inhabitants and Hadash Knesset Member Muhammad Barake.

     Several weeks later, the judges ruled that the army must give Palestinians whose houses are slated for demolition 48 hours to appeal, 'except in cases of immediate operational need.' The appellants' lawyer Andre Rosenthal criticized the court for not forbidding demolitions. Gaza Strip settlers started a campaign against 'the judges who preserve the terrorists' cover.'

     Since then, the army destroys two or three houses in the immediate aftermath of a guerrilla attack, calling it 'operational need', rather than order larger-scale demolitions. Meager as it may seem, it is an improvement.

     It was felt to be high time for a clearly visible protest against the occupation as such. The only fitting action in the circumstances would be a mass Saturday night rally in Tel-Aviv. But that was considered to be beyond the capacity of the smaller groups, something which only Peace Now may be able to do. When approached, Peace Now did not reject the idea out of hand but was opposed to taking up the concept war crime. Meanwhile, the cycle of violence continued, with many Israeli casualties, and after a week Peace Now backtracked.

     On Jan. 23, I was personally involved in the sending of an email to thousands of addresses in Israel and thousands more worldwide, with the header: "BIG DEMO  --  help make it possible! (If not Feb 2, when?)."

     The decision had been taken to try, even without Peace Now participation, a "Peace Now-style demo"  --  with a podium, sound equipment, and ads in the paper. The money would be collected from the participating groups but also from individuals.

     The whole thing nearly collapsed when it turned out we had to postpone one week, because of being late with asking for a police permit. Momentarily, the organizers were thrown into confusion and renewed doubts. That we got through this was because an unexpectedly strong current of grassroots support was already manifesting itself.

     A continuous stream of pledges for funds  --  and then, of actual checks  --  started filling the mailboxes. Among the contributions were some unusually big ones  --  of Israelis who wanted such a rally desperately and also from sympathizers abroad who were dying to see it reported on their media. Also very encouraging was the round sum which was guaranteed by the Dutch group Een Ander Joods Geluid (A Different Jewish Voice), even before they had collected it from their own members.

     In this way we could pretty soon guarantee that money was not going to be an obstacle. And this was more than solving our financial problem; it was an incentive to go ahead.

     But there was more: on January 25 there appeared in the paper a declaration of 56 reserve officers and soldiers, all of them from combat units, announcing that they were no longer willing to serve in the Occupied Territories.

     Through the years, there had been a constant trickle of reservists who joined the politically outspoken Yesh Gvul. This refuser group had come into existence twenty years ago, when a group of reservists together announced their refusal to serve the Lebanon War then raging. In the past months, Yesh Gvul had been very actively informing soldiers that they had the right not to obey 'manifestly illegal orders.' But there had been no further cases of a big number of hitherto obedient reservists or conscripts declaring refusal as a group.

     With the sudden wave of refusers the war crime discussion acquired a new dimension.

     The military authorities showed signs of panic with the rebellion from within the nucleus of the army and threatened harsh punishment. The political establishment, including even several Meretz Knesset members spoke out against the refusers. But opinion polls showed that 25% to 30% of the population identified with them. And within a few weeks the number of new signatories of the controversial combat soldiers' letter (constantly reported in the media) rose beyond 350.

     The effect of the refusers' appearance on the demonstration was to definitely rule out participation of Peace Now  --  with which negotiations had restarted. Though many rank-and-file Peace Now activists sympathized with the refusers, the movement's leaders as a whole would not hear about sharing a platform with them  --  whereas the initial organizers felt that the refusers deserved a central role.

     For its part Peace Now, alarmed and/or encouraged by the determination of "the radical groups" (altogether, 28 bigger and smaller organizations eventually joined the Feb. 9 event) decided upon a separate campaign.   The net result was that, after all, two mass demonstrations were held within eight days of each other.

     On February 9, the demonstration with the slogan 'The Occupation Kills All Of Us' counted among the

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speakers apart from public figures such as Shulamit Aloni and Uri Avnery also several Arab personalities. Women and Orientals were also better represented than ever, but centerpiece were the three representatives of refusers organizations.

     And the square of the Tel-Aviv Art Museum filled up above expectation on Saturday night the 9th of February. Fourteen busses brought demonstrators from all over the country and the Tel-Avivians completed it to about ten thousand. For the first time such a number was achieved with the clear message that the occupation is the cause of all the trouble  --  and that in a period that there were near daily instances of counter-violence (see following report on the rallies).

     When a week later Peace Now succeeded to get in the same place one and a half time that number of demonstrators one thing had become clear to everybody: the peace camp has woken up.


And the square was full

The following account was compiled from several email reports, sent out by ourselves for Gush Shalom and from Gila Svirsky for the Women's Peace Coalition.

     The rally was a good one, and the square was full.

     As the thousands started pouring into Museum Plaza  --  a colorful medley of printed and hand-made flags and signs and banners in Hebrew and Arabic and English  --  the immense support for the refusers was what struck the eye first. And there were prolonged cheers whenever a speaker mentioned the refusers, and even more so when a refuser mounted the improvised podium set up on the steps of the Tel-Aviv Public Library.

     There were three of them among the twelve featured speakers: Yishai Rosen-Tzvi, fresh from a term in military prison; Yishai Menuchin, a veteran refuser who was already imprisoned during the Lebanon War twenty years ago; and Noa Levy, one of a group of high school kids who are determined to follow in these two's footsteps upon reaching conscription age.

     It was a large and heterogeneous crowd  --  outspoken gays and lesbians from cosmopolitan Tel-Aviv, side by side with villagers from rather conservative Arab communities. The home-made signs of people who had not attended a demonstration for years reflected the new thinking  --  'Stop Sharon before he kills us all: More conscientious objectors!', and all permutations of 'Share Jerusalem', 'Dismantle Settlements', and 'Bring our soldiers home.'

     The opening words were those of veteran peace activist Yehudit Harel, in fluent Hebrew and Arabic:

     'We, Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs, standing together, will no longer abide the crimes that the government is perpetrating. There is only one flag held aloft here today: the black flag, the black flag of pain, mourning, death, bereavement. The black flag of the manifestly illegal orders which are given to soldiers in the occupied Territories.'

     At her words, hundreds of black flags were aloft in the crowd, during a prolonged moment of silence.

Following ad appeared in Ha'aretz on Feb. 8.

The occupation is killing us all!

     The Sharon government is perpetrating terrible acts, acts on which the black flag of illegality flies. Continuation of the occupation is drowning us in rivers of blood  --  Israelis and Palestinians alike.

     Continuation of the occupation leads to loss of hope, to despair on both sides.

     Stop the 'liquidations' which lead to suicide bombings! Stop the killing and bereavement! Stop the closures and siege! Stop the uprooting of olive trees and orchards!

Stop the occupation!

     Stop the silence! For those who keep silent at such a time are accomplices. Those who do not raise their voice in protest bear part of the responsibility for the mutual destruction!

Protest rally tomorrow, Saturday night, February 9, 2002, at 7.00 PM, Museum Plaza, Tel-Aviv.

Association of Arab University Students * Baladna * Banki * Bat Shalom * Coalition of Women for a Just Peace * Druse Initiative Committee * Du Siach * Gush Shalom * HaCampus Lo Shotek, Tel-Aviv University * Hadash Youth * Committee Against House Demolitions * Kol Aher BaGalil * Kvisa Sh'hora: Lesbians and Gay Men Against the Occupation * Left Forum, Haifa University * MachsomWatch * Meretz Youth * Monitoring Committee of the Arab Population * Neled * Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salaam * New Profile * Noga * Tandi * Ta'ayush: Arab-Jewish Partnership * Tajamu Youth * Wilpf * Women and Mothers for Peace * Women in Black * Yesh Gvul.

     Except for that moment, there was a continuous chanting, sometimes rising to drown out the speaker 'Fuad, Fuad Sar Habitachon  --  Kama Yeladim Haragta Ad Hayom?'(Fuad [Ben Eliezer], Minister of Defence, how many children did you kill unto this day?).

     Catcalls and whistles greeted any mention of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, once the darling of dovish crowds; Uri Avnery thundered 'Once we thought that there are war crimes perpetrated in the occupation  --  now we see that the occupation is a war crime!' Shulamit Aloni recited Nathan Alterman's poem denouncing the killing of civilians by the army in 1948  --  a classic of modern Hebrew poetry  --  adding 'If Alterman had written it today, Army Chief of Staff Mofaz would have started investigating him as a leftist agitator.' Then came Yasser Arafat's greeting, sent out of besieged Ramallah: 'Only the peace of the brave will ensure our children and yours a future without violence and bloodshed'; writer Sami Michael's observation: 'We must all free ourselves of the occupation, the Palestinians from occupation by the army, we from occupation by the angel of death'; Abed Anabtawi of the Arab Monitoring Committee: 'The occupation does not distinguish between Jewish Blood and Arab blood; we all stand to be its victims, we all must fight it  --  together!'; writer Ronit Matalon: 'Sharon's train is taking us to total war and total

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destruction. We must derail it  --  and the refusers' letter is a good start'; Jamal Zahalka: 'A specter is haunting this country's political and military leadership  --  the specter of soldiers' refusal, a specter which refuses to be exorcised however much they try'; Yehuda Shenhav: 'The occupation is financed by our tax money. The tanks, the helicopter gun ships, the bulldozers, the war crimes are all financed by out tax money. This money should go elsewhere  --  to the poor, to the disabled, to the creation of a just society!' Cheering and wild clapping punctuated each and every daring remark.

     Interspersed between speakers, famed singer Ahinoam Nini (known as "Noa" in the US) took the risk of alienating her right-wing fans, and sang to the crowd a Hebrew, Arabic, and English version of "Imagine" by the Beatles: 'You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one; I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will be as one.'

     Then followed a Haifa duo with an interesting transformation of the popular Hebrew song 'Ein Li Eretz Aheret.' Reciting this song in two languages, Hebrew and Arabic  --  alternating languages, line by line  --  suddenly infused it with new meaning: 'I have no other country. Even when the land burns under my feet, this is my home.' For the Arabs in the crowd, what has always been a Zionist song suddenly became theirs, too.

     None of the speakers had been officially designated keynote speaker. The one who may have come closest to that description was Yishai Rosen-Tzvi  --  not just because of rhetoric skill, but especially due to the intense experience which was still fresh on his mind.

     'I want to tell of how people come to take this act of refusal.

     A soldier gets to the Territories and is confronted with a terrible situation: thousands upon thousands of people sunk in deep misery, poverty, humiliation. And then you get your orders and find out what your job is. Your job is to push these people deeper into misery and poverty and humiliation, to keep them caged in towns and villages, not to let them get out, not to let them earn a living, not to let them live a normal life.

     And then two things happen. First you look around in disbelief, you take your head into your hands and ask: God, can this be true, is this really what I am supposed to do, how did I get here, how did I come to get such orders, to be asked to do such things?

     And the second thing which happens is that you cry out 'I've been cheated!' All the propaganda arguments collapse  --  that we are a peace-loving people, that the war was imposed on us, that we do what we must in order to fight terrorism. Everything collapses, all these specious arguments, collapse like a house of cards.

     And then you are faced with the reality, the cruel reality. Fighting terrorism  --  what a joke! They are maintaining a hothouse of misery and poverty and hopelessness, our army does, a hothouse where the plants of terrorism have the ideal conditions for growth. It is the government policy which is keeping the terrorism hothouse going and flourishing.

     And the conclusion is very simple. There are things which a decent person just does not do. A decent person does not starve people, and does not humiliate people, and does not treat people as if they were dirt. A decent person JUST DOES NOT DO THAT. Not under any circumstance. And there are more decent people in this country then we thought. And every day more people discover that they are decent, and start behaving as decent people should. And when there are enough of them, then the occupation will just come to an end.'


..and even fuller

     One week later  --  the evening of Feb. 16.

     Peace Now, while on the path of recovery from the crisis and major loss of grassroots support which it suffered at the Intifada outbreak, is still not up to holding a rally at its traditional stamping ground of the Rabin Square, where something on the order of 50,000 is a minimum requirement for a rally not to look small and desolate. The Peace Now organizers hope to gather that much support by an ongoing campaign laid out for several months. For the evening of Feb. 16, Rabin Square was to be no more than the starting off point for a torchlight march, with the rally at its conclusion held again at the Museum Plaza.

     The rally was preceded by delicate negotiations between organizers of the Feb. 9 rally and the more mainstream Peace Coalition comprising Peace Now, the Meretz Party, the Kibbutz Movement, the group of Labor Party doves headed by ex-minister Yossi Beilin and several smaller groups. As agreed in advance, "the radicals" had their own distinctive contingent, with participants wearing black in the decades-long tradition of the Women in Black and carrying signs with slogans upon which the Peace Now organizers could still agree, such as 'The occupation turns us all into war criminals.'

     Meanwhile, in the main body of the demonstration there were hundreds of printed red-black signs with various variations on the main Peace Now slogan: 'Get Out of the Territories  --  Get Back to Ourselves'; 'Get out of the Territories  --  Get Back to the Negotiations"; 'Get out of the Territories  --  Revive the Economy.'

     Among the hand-painted signs there were many emphasizing the connection between peace and social justice, and pointing to the occupation as the main obstacle to both; on the previous day, official statistics showed a sharp increase in unemployment figures. Other personal placards were imaginative and sometimes mischievous, like 'Looking for an Israeli cell mate  --  signed, Slobodan Milosevic.'

     Half an hour's marching, with torches flickering along the broad Ibn Gvirol Street, brought the demonstrators to the Museum Plaza. The same space used by last week's demo was this evening more congested, with a crowd estimated at 15,000 to 20,000 as compared with 10,000 on the earlier occasion.

     While the first ranks were streaming into the plaza and approaching the podium, the Israeli airwaves started quivering with news from the Karney Shomron, one of the largest Israeli settlements on the West Bank: a Palestinian suicide bomber had just succeeded in eluding the military and security guards at the

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settlement's perimeter, entering its commercial center and blowing himself up at a pizzeria, killing two settler teenage kids and wounding many others.

     When word came to the rally organizers they immediately called for a minute of silence. 'We have come here to struggle for a political solution that will break this terrible cycle of violence' said the first speaker, Yossi Sarid of Meretz, whose face filled enormous closed-circuit TV screens set up throughout the plaza.

     'Sharon has now brought Lebanon, the mud and blood of the Lebanon War, into the heart of Israel. That's all the man knows. We, here at this plaza, we are the other Israel. Not the Israel of Sharon, Ben-Eliezer and Mofaz. The Israel of democracy, not of a false national consensus. The Israel which wants to get out of the occupation, out of the Territories, to return to negotiations, return to sanity. And to begin with, the Labor Party must get out of this terrible government.'

     This was directed partially at the other Yossi  --  Yossi Beilin, leader of the Labor doves and Sarid's rival for leadership of the mainstream peace camp.

     Beilin's own speech was punctuated by heckling and calls ('Leave Labor!', 'What are you still doing there!')

     'As you know, I was opposed to Labor's entry into this government, and I am all the more opposed to its staying there. I think there is a real chance to eventually pull the party out and create a far stronger opposition bloc.

     I don't accept the common wisdom that Sharon's successor, when he falls, will be Netanyahu. Israeli society is divided down the middle into two big camps. Sharon and Netanyahu vie for the leadership of one camp, but neither of them has any real solution to offer. Our camp does. With a proper leadership and a clear program, our camp can and will gain power and implement what we in this plaza dream of.'

     More attentively than to any speech by an Israeli speaker, the audience was listening to the specially-arrived Palestinian speaker  --  Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, Professor of Philosophy at Bir Zeit University and recently appointed by Arafat as PA Representative for Jerusalem Affairs. He gently apologized in English for his bad Hebrew, and then proceeded in the language of his listeners.

     The problems, he said, are no longer objective. They have become subjective.  'There is no real doubt on either side about what the solution is, only about the will and determination to implement it. The solution is two peoples, two states side by side, Jerusalem as the capital of both states, the Green Line as the border with maybe some minor and mutual modifications.

     The path to peace is through the return of the refugees to the State of Palestine and the return of the settlers to the State of Israel. Israel has a partner for peace. Only one partner, only one person empowered to speak for the Palestinian people, the legitimate, elected leader, President Yasser Arafat' (applause).

     Nusseibeh and his bodyguards left early and received warm greetings when they made their way through the crowd.

     One speaker, KM Roman Bronfman, was really a revelation. Representing a dovish splinter Russian immigrant party, "Democratic Choice", he tackled the prejudice that immigrants from the former Soviet Union are uniformly nationalistic and rightward-leaning.

     And he proved his point in a way definitely not foreseen by the organizers and also greatly surprising the audience. 'There is very much talking recently about the refusers, the soldiers who can't stand it any more. I would not presume to call upon soldiers to refuse, but I say that these people, these refusers, they deserve support, they are the moving force of the growing anti- occupation movement.' The overwhelming ovation which he got showed that also many of the "more moderate tribe" are impressed and moved by the upsurge of refusal.

     A few weeks later, KM Bronfman was shown to be an astute observer of grassroots tendencies in his constituency. A poll conducted by Novosty Nidelly, one of the several Russian-language daily papers currently published in Israel (and by no means a dovish publication), showed 21% of the Russian immigrants supporting refusal to serve in the Occupied Territories, and a further 23% "opposed to refusal but considering it a legitimate means of protest" (quoted in Ha'aretz, March 8).


The following three accounts by the TOI-staff were sent out over the Gush Shalom email network, a few hours after the events described.

Five little flames

Tel-Aviv, Nov.27, 2001

     An early evening hour at the drab parking lot opposite the Defence Ministry.

     A simple piece of carton, on which five photos of children were pasted, photocopied and enlarged from the previous day's Yediot Aharonot. Mourning candles lighted with difficulty against the prevailing strong wind. Five hand-written first names: Sultan  --  Muhammad  --  Anis  --  Amer  --  Akram. They all had the same family name, El-Astal, five boys whose fathers are brothers, all killed in a single minute. Five children from Khan Yunes Refugee Camp blown up by an explosive device which Israeli army sappers had set up at night. A booby-trap set up on a path which is used by Palestinian fighters but also by children on their way to school.

     As we were setting up the little makeshift shrine on the pavement, a security officer came out of the huge compound across the street, the place where that fatal placing of explosive charges was reportedly discussed and apprved along with dozens of other raids and stratagems. He was a young man, polite and courteous. "Of course it is your right to register a protest. We just ask that you don't disturb public order or block traffic on the road."

     Were we wrong to give such assurances? Would it have been a more fitting response to the gruesome event in Khan Yunes if some of us did block the traffic and got hauled off to a night in police detention  --  as activists did on the same spot a year ago, when news of killings and horrors had not yet become such a terrible daily routine?

Page 18
     The hundred people who had answered the call of Gush Shalom stood silently in a long line behind the photos and flickering candles. 'Shame!' said the signs, and 'Five children dead  --  who is responsible?' and 'Impartial investigation Now!' and 'The Occupation kills Israeli and Palestinian children.' Some people held aloft bigger candles, torches actually, lighting the fast darkening street. We were lucky with the weather  --  the pouring rain of the early afternoon did not come back.

     'Why don't you mourn the Jewish children?' asked a passing motorist out of the open car window. How can you answer that, while sounding neither angry and exasperated nor apologetic and defensive? How to reiterate calmly and insistently, again and again, that a child is a child?
Gush Shalom, pb 3322, Tel-Aviv;


In spite of all, a jubilant mood

Dec. 31, 2001

     While waiting in the yard of the Fr`res School near to the Old City's New Gate, Palestinians, foreigners and Israelis were developing vivid mutual conversations. It was one of those pleasant, sunny December days. The waiting was for the group from Bethlehem.

     Already on the way from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem we had heard on the radio that the army was preventing thousands of Palestinians from passing the roadblock on the way from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.

     Gush Shalom had chartered a bus for the Tel-Avivians, and called upon the Jerusalemites, to attend the 'Peace Circle'  --  an action carefully planned by a Palestinian coalition including high-ranking Muslim and Christian clerics and Members of the Palestinian Parliament, and to which Israeli peace activists were specifically invited.

     As we had known from the start, it wasn't very likely that the army would let thousands of demonstrators walk from Bethlehem through the checkpoint, to join us in Jerusalem and hold hands together in a Peace Circle around the Old City walls.

     A joint action of this kind had not taken place for months. The months of violence and counter-violence, revenge and revenge-upon-revenge, had created a new distance between the two peoples. With the army not only barring Palestinians' way at roadblocks but also prohibiting Israelis from paying them solidarity visits, almost the only ones still going between were the foreigners, of whom hundreds came especially, in the month of December, to act as 'international monitors from below.'

     In frantic mobile phone consultations it became clear that only the internationals and a delegation of Palestinian VIP's would be able to pass the Bethlehem roadblock to join us. Two thousand Palestinians whose way was blocked had started their midday prayers near the roadblock  --  a form of protest and also a wise way to diffuse tensions...

     So, when we started marching through the many colourful alleys winding through the Old City we were not thousands but hundreds, carrying the slogans 'Open Jerusalem' and 'Stop Occupation.' A French cohort started chanting 'Free, Free, Free Palestine!' / 'Free, Free, Free Palestine!' and 'Stop, Stop, Stop Occupation!' Our 'Shalom Ken, Kibush Lo'  --  rather downtrodden for Israeli ears  --  was immediately integrated. (What does it mean? 'Peace Yes  --  Occupation No!').

     The merchants came out of their shops to look at this unusual parade. We went through the Via Dolorosa, an unusual pilgrimage of believers and seculars from  many nationalities. In the front row Sari Nusseibeh, Father William Shomali and Uri Avnery linked hands.

     Then we entered the beautiful open space behind St. Anne's Church and all the time more people continued to stream in, among them the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabagh, Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan and Anglican Bishop Riah Abu el-Asal, as well as Louisa Morgantini, the devoted member of the European Parliament who brought with her 160 Italian voluntary peace keepers. (Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland, who should have been there too, had decided to stay in Bethlehem as an act of solidarity with those who were not allowed through the roadblock.)

     For all who were present, the ceremony which ensued in that oasis, in the middle of this most contested place the Old City of Jerusalem, was a unique experience.

     The two-thousand year old Sermon on the Mount, which was read in Arabic and English, turned out to be well applicable to the present situation. Then the very moving 'Prayer against bitterness' written ten years ago by the late Faysal Al-Husseini was read in Arabic by Sari Nusseibeh, in a voice deep with restrained emotion, and in English by Fadwa Husseini  --  Faysal's daughter (see p.19).

     Michel Sabagh, the Latin Patriarch called for recognizing that occupation is the root cause of hatred and bloodshed:

     'There can be no peace and security for Israelis without peace and security for Palestinians; there can be no peace on destroyed homes; there can be no peace with assassinations. But, we Palestinians will also not have peace if we take retribution of the same kind. As Mahatma Gandhi said, surrendering to evil is losing one's humanity  --  but resisting evil with evil methods is even worse.'

     Then came Uri Avnery:

     'You Palestinians are undergoing terrible times of increasing oppression. We think of you and feel with you day and night. In these times of bloodshed it is easy to despair, but we must not lose hope. Peace is not made by politicians. Peace is not made by the men of war, but by the people who seek it. We have come here as the true Israeli patriots, carriers of the Jewish tradition which says: 'Justice, justice shalt thou pursue', and 'Seek peace and pursue it.' In the end the two peoples shall win, the two peoples shall live together in peace. There is no other way. The day will come, and may come sooner than you think, when we gather again at this church which will then be in East Jerusalem, capital of Palestine.'

     After these words the music started  --  interrupted

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for a few words in Arabic  delivered by the Iraqi-born Meretz activist Latif Dori, as well as the Jewish  Saturday prayer 'Shalom Aleichem Malachey Hashalom' (Peace unto you, Angels of Peace) whose melody was perfectly captured by Reuven Moskovitz on his mouth organ.

     Then again the church orchestra, and everybody had gotten into such a jubilant mood of reconciliation that people started spontaneously dancing in big circles, men and women, clerics and activists, young and old. And it was no shame to dance and be united in love and happiness. For a moment we had overcome reality. We went home as stronger people.

Translation of the prayer of Faysal Al-Husseini as distributed during the Peace Circle event:

Oh God, the chest is replete with bitterness... do not turn that into spite.
Oh God, the heart is replete with pain... do not turn that into vengeance.
Oh God, the spirit is replete with fear... do not turn that into hatred.
Oh God, my body is weak... do not turn my weakness into despair.
Oh God, I your servant am holding the embers... so help me maintain my steadfastness.
Oh God, faith is love...
Oh God, faith is forgiveness...
Oh God, faith is conviction...
Oh God, do not put of the flame of faith from my chest.
Oh God, we wanted for the Intifada to be a white one, so please protect it.
Oh God, we wanted freedom for our people, we did not want slavery to others.
Oh God, we wanted a homeland for our people to gather them, we did not want to destroy states of others, nor demolish their homes.
Oh God, our people are stripped of all things, except their belief in their right.
Oh God, our people are weak except in their faith in their victory.
Oh God, grant us conviction, mercy and tolerance in our ranks, and not make us war against ourselves.
Oh God, turn the blood that was shed into light that will guide us and strengthen our arms, do not let it turn into fuel of hatred and vengeance.
Oh God, help us over our enemy so that we can help him deal with himself.
Oh God, this is my prayer to you... my invocation, so listen to it and grant us our supplication and guide us to the right path.


Marching through empty Jerusalem

Jerusalem, March 2

     As it happened, we heard tonight's explosion. It happened just as a crowd was gathering at Tzion Square in downtown Jerusalem, in preparation for the protest march called by Peace Now. From a distance of some two kilometres it seemed no more than a dull thud, this fatal moment in which nine lives were snuffed out  --  but the immediate appearance of ambulances and police cars in high gear, with sirens blazing, told that something serious had happened.

     The police tried to pressure the Peace Now organizers to call off the march.

     After some initial hesitation it was, however, decided to go ahead with it. If anything, the message had only become more meaningful.

     By 7.45, we were all picking up memorial candles and prepared black-bordered signs reading :'We mourn the death of 1114 Israelis and Palestinians, Sharon's idea of peace and security.' It seemed entirely appropriate, even if the number had just become obsolete.

     And so, there were thousands marching through the nearly-empty streets of central Jerusalem, past the sites of recent suicide bombings, past shops and restaurants closed down for lack of customers, up the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall and to the left on King George Street. Then, we came to the Prime Minister's residence, in front of which the whole street was blocked off to traffic.

     There, a moment of silence was observed, and several speeches made from the podium, in which blame for the cycle of bloodshed was placed squarely where it belongs  --  upon the ongoing occupation and upon the government which insists upon perpetuating that occupation.

     At the end of the rally, more than a hundred participants chose to board buses chartered by Ta'ayush and go  --  not home but to Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem, to donate blood for the Palestinians in the refugee camps under attack by the army.

     It had been arranged in advance. The hospital was expecting us  --  though, as turned out, they were not really prepared for such a number. While standing in line and seeing our friends already connected to the tubes, our thoughts went to the other hospitals in the western part of the same city, where there would now be long lines of blood donors as well.
Peace Now, POB 8159 J'lem,
Ta'ayush, pb 59380, Tel-Aviv;


Humanitarian aid as political act

     This year's month of Ramadan started when life in Palestinian villages on the West Bank was already very much under pressure, the military practically cutting them off from the outside world and many families being on the verge of hunger. Though this is a month of daylight fasting, food does play an important role in it and the meal which is served after sunset should not be frugal.

     Different Israeli individuals and groups undertook to collect donations and distribute food parcels to villages where they had contacts  --  helping the families who needed it as well as alerting the Israeli public to the  humanitarian tragedy right on Israel's doorstep.

     Dec. 10, Peace Now Ra'anana organized its own relief convoy. Mary Schweitzer gave TOI the following account.

     From our rendezvous near the pre-'67 border the cars set out for Kufr Yasuf, decked with signs in Hebrew,

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Arabic, and English. Many highways in the occupied Palestinian territories are nowadays closed to Arab drivers, among them the route we traversed from the settlement of Ariel to Tapuach Junction.

     Also, many of the settlers to whose use the route is reserved are observant Jews who do not drive on Sabbath, so the road was almost without human activity except for our convoy and the occasional taxi or army vehicle.

     Local leaders, long-standing friends of activists in the Peace Now dialogue group, met us at the entrance to the village. We were unable to enter with our cars because of two meter-high dirt and rubble barriers erected by the army, about 20 meters apart from each other. The barriers symbolize the stupidity and arrogance of the closure policy: they would never stop a terrorist, but they do send a message that the Israeli army can (and does) make very difficult life's most mundane activities: going to school, visiting friends, going to work, getting emergency help at a hospital.

     To overcome the obstacle, a human chain of activists and local residents unloaded the truck, transferred the packages over the barriers and onto the cars waiting on the other side. Meanwhile, all around us villagers were coming and going on their daily business: climbing over one barrier, walking down the road, then climbing over the next barrier. Mothers struggled to keep their balance as they held infants in their arms, young men helped the elderly, workmen carried marble slabs, the schoolchildren were as playful as children everywhere. In spite of everything, life goes on, quietly and with heartbreaking dignity.

     The food having been delivered, we exchanged warm words and friendly handshakes, promising to meet again soon, Inshallah. The event seemed over with no special incident. But on our way back, just before we could regain the main highway, we found two IDF jeeps waiting, parked straight across our route.

     There were six soldiers altogether. Their headgear and the tzizzis hanging out of the khaki shirts of all of them proclaimed them to be religious, and they made no effort to hide their dislike of the Peace Now message. The first three cars, with Jewish passengers, were gruffly waived through the roadblock. Then, however, Ahmed's truck was stopped and his identity card taken for "checking"  --  which had not been done to any of the Jewish volunteers.

     Ahmed, an Israeli citizen with an I.D. perfectly in order, should have gotten his card back in a couple of seconds. Twenty minutes later, it was still in the hands of the soldiers. We became uneasy, and so did they. In fact, they tried to get the rest of us to move on and leave Achmed in the lurch. Nothing doing.

     The impasse was broken when one of the soldiers approached a volunteer with a camera and knocked him to the ground. The volunteer was not injured, the camera fared less well. Perhaps sensing the stupidity, not to mention illegality, of his behavior, the soldier returned to his vehicle and sped off. [The military rabbinate provides a special dispensation for religious soldiers to travel on the Sabbath while on operational duty.]  Thereupon, the ID was swiftly returned and we proceeded to the local police station  --  to file a complaint.
Manor, 44 Arlozorov, Kfar Saba;

Breaking through to Mufkara

Neve Gordon provided this report of a remarkable operation.

     On January 12, some 250 people  --  Jewish and Arab Israelis from Tel Aviv, Kafr Qasim, Haifa, Jerusalem, Ein Nakuba and other cities and towns across the country  --  traveled to a junction near Be'ersheba, bound on a convoy of solidarity with the long-suffering Palestinian inhabitants of the south Hebron hills, now threatened again with expulsion.

     It was organized by Ta'ayush (Arab-Jewish Partnership) and joined by some of the Rabbis for Human Rights and by activists of several other groups. After a short briefing, 57 private cars set out towards the hamlet of Mufkara.

     There was also a small truck carrying blankets and plastic coverings for tents  --  vital assets for people whose houses and dwelling-caves had been destroyed, and who were left to face a cold and rainy winter in the mountains.

     A few kilometres before the convoy's destination, there was an army roadblock. The officer in charge presented a decree proclaiming the area "a closed military zone." Convoy organizers disputed the order, taking out a large-scale map and pointing out that Mufkara was outside the area to which the closure order referred, and that anyway providing blankets to a very destitute local population in no way constituted "a threat to security and public order" which was the reason given for proclaiming the area closed. After some negotiations, the convoy was allowed to proceed. Shortly ahead, however, their way was barred again  --  this time by settlers from the nearby nationalist-religious settlement of Susya.

     It is the settlers who had been egging on the army to harass and expel the inhabitants of Mufkara and other Palestinian hamlets, and they were angry at the "leftists" coming to offer solidarity to the same. Armed settlers parked their cars all across the road, and stood facing the oncoming convoy, shouting curses and imprecations. Thereupon, the police interposed themselves in between. A senior officer asked the peace activists to wait "half an hour" until the police move the settlers and their cars off the road; then, he promised, the convoy would be allowed through. The organizers decided to give the police a chance, even though it meant arriving in Mufkara late and missing the opportunity for the planned joint Muslim-Jewish praying for peace.

     Actually, more than an hour passed with no visible change. Then, suddenly, the settlers entered their cars and drove away -- but, as it soon turned out, only after the police promised them that the convoy would be blocked, breaking the earlier promise to the Ta'ayush organizers. To justify that decision, a new "closed military zone order" was presented. The convoy organizers pointed out that it had been fabricated on the spot and signed by a low-ranking

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officer, who is not legally authorized to sign such orders. The police nevertheless made clear their final decision: to keep the road blocked until the Ta'ayush cars turn back.

     The undaunted activists decided to go on by foot, each participant taking a blanket from the truck. Some 250 people walked forward through the muddy field beside the road, a very heterogeneous group  --  ranging in age from 20 to 70, and including Jews, Muslims and Christians, Israeli citizens and international volunteers.

     The police immediately arrested two of the organizers  --  Dr. Gadi Algazi and Shmulik Sheintoch. While held by the police, the two shouted to the others: 'Keep moving! Keep moving! Don't worry about us!' Other activists took the lead, and the group marched, in rows of about fifteen with their arms hooked together.

     Scores of policemen and policewomen violently shoved and kicked them. People were kneed in the groin, grabbed out of line and put in a neck lock, hit over the head, and choked. Soon it became clear that the police were systematically singling out the Arabs among the group and hitting them more brutally.

     Throughout, the activists stuck together, defending each other and continuing to march forward, breaking again and again through the police line while chanting 'Down with the occupation! Down with the occupation!' The activists' march had the effect of closing the road to settlers, who were in a hurry to reach the Susya settlement before the Sabbath. The settlers honked and yelled at the marchers. One of them actually tried to run over some of the activists, but swerved and mistakenly hit a policeman.

     Realizing their inability to stop such a big number of determined Israelis (which, different from Palestinians, the police are not allowed to shoot), they offered to release the two detainees and allow the convoy to continue on foot. The condition was that the activists refrain from blocking the road and walk in the hills at its side until they passed the Susya settlement.

     The group began the five-kilometre trek up the mountain, slowly trudging through the deep mud. Half an hour later, they passed the settlement of Susya and began heading back towards the road to continue the march on easier terrain. A few settlers, mostly teenagers, were still bound on confronting the marchers, shouting "Traitors!" and "You are all Arabs!"

     The military and police were holding them back and preventing a confrontation. Suddenly, however, one of the police themselves jumped at Yasser Akawi, an Arab Ta'ayush activist, and began to beat him severely, accusing Akawi of having "assaulted" him. Other policemen joined in, while activists were trying to pull Yasser away. The police choked and kicked activists and pulled their hair, while beating Yasser as they shoved him into their jeep.

     Activist Salomka Dunievsky ran to the jeep where Yasser was still being hit and forcibly pushed her way through into the vehicle, in order to defend him. In the meantime, the majority of the group kept on marching towards Mufkara, while some 25 activists surrounded the military jeep and blocked the road, both preventing the soldiers from driving off with Yasser and in general blocking the way of the settler cars. Word was also passed to the larger group, further ahead, who stopped walking and blocked the road where they were.

     This proved an effective tactic; it was about an hour and half before the Sabbath and settlers who wished to pass through to reach their homes were honking and screaming. Again the organizers negotiated with the police, who finally agreed to release Yasser.

     The group which had stayed behind marched fast and joined the rest of the marchers as they were turning from the main road in order to climb a large hill, on top of which Mufkara is located. As the mountain air was turning extremely cold, they at last made their junction with the harassed villagers, to whom use of the roads had been denied since the outbreak of the Intifada.

     The supplies were loaded on the small old Palestinian tractors. They drove slowly up the muddy path, offering a ride to the most tired of the activists, while the rest continued by foot. On both sides, soldiers were also making the ascent, in order to "guard" the Israelis, who repeatedly informed them "We are among friends, we don't need you to guard us"  --  which the soldiers ignored.

     By the time the Ta'ayush group reached the hamlet it was dusk. Among the four tents and the few caves where the local residents reside were about 40 Palestinians waiting their arrival, men, women and children. Many more people had been there earlier during the day, but after waiting for hours had to return to their homes before dark. The hosts welcomed the activists with hot tea and told the group how much this act of solidarity meant to them. 'We know how difficult it was for you to get here. They do it to us every day' one of them said.
Ta'ayush, pb 59380, Tel-Aviv;


A thousand coffins

     During October and November 2001, billboards suddenly appeared at the sides of Israeli highways, conspicuously bearing the slogan 'Better the pains of peace than the agonies of war' in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Large ads in the main papers bore the same text. The initiative had been taken by the Bereaved Families' Forum, an organization comprising some 190 Israeli and 140 Palestinian families who all lost loved ones in the ongoing conflict.

     Back during the heyday of the Oslo peace process, a budget of no less than a million dollars had been set aside by a European institution for the express purpose of "funding regional peace campaigns in the Middle East." In the past year little use was made of it, until the Families' Forum energetic director Yitzchak Frankenthal succeeded in persuading the custodians that funding the aforementioned billboards and ads would best fit their terms of reference.

     Frankenthal, who had dedicated himself to the cause of stopping the bloodshed ever since his own soldier son was kidnapped and killed in 1994, also got

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Arafat's approval for placing a set of similar billboards at public locations across the Palestinian territories. The saying Better the pains of peace than the agonies of war has been attributed to the late Yitzchak Rabin, who was in turn quoting his predecessor Menachem Begin. Both PM's had said it while engaged in making concessions for the sake of peace, and both are still remembered fondly by sections of the Israeli public wider than the peace camp's habitual constituency.

     The Families also located a recording of Rabin saying these words, and got it broadcast, as a paid ad, on the Israeli radio. After several days, however, it was taken off the air, under the Israeli Broadcasting Authority's guidelines which forbid "politically controversial ads" (sic!).

     During the failed Camp David Conference of August 2000, Israeli and Palestinian bereaved families had held a moving joint vigil at Tel-Aviv's Rabin Square. Since the outbreak of the cycle of violence two months later, and with the army both forbidding Palestinians from entering Israeli territory and banning Israelis from crossing to the Palestinian side, contact between them had been been mostly restricted to communicating by phone. For a rare face-to-face meeting, a few of their representatives had to go all the way to Europe.

     The army's travel restrictions became manifest also when ten of the Israeli parents set out on December 21, attempting the short but difficult trek from Jerusalem to besieged Ramallah, where they had an appointment to meet with Yasser Arafat. At the time, the Palestinian leader was engaged on considerable efforts to bolster the cease-fire he had proclaimed a few days earlier  --  efforts which, the parents felt, deserved to be encouraged.

     As Arafat's personal guests, the parents had been assured of getting a Palestinian Police escort from the moment of entering into Palestinian-controlled territory. However, the Israeli military authorities would not hear of their going, and the delegation was blocked at the Kalandia Checkpoint, "for their own safety."

     Barred from proceeding, ten bereaved parents stood at the roadside in the rain and mud, unfurled a large banner with their by now familiar slogan, and proceeded to hold an improvised press conference for the journalists and TV crews who followed them.

     'Sharon is scared of peace. Even if he wanted to sit down and talk seriously with the Palestinians, he can't. As soon as he tries, his government, which is held together with chewing gum, will disintegrate', said Benny Gefen, whose son Eliav fell in Lebanon in 1975 and whose activity is greatly motivated by concern for three grandsons now undergoing terms of military service. 'We should place ourselves in the Palestinians' shoes and think what we would have done in their place. When I was in the Palmah [pre-state Jewish militia] we were told we must always try to understand the point of view of the other.'

     Meanwhile, the Families' Forum received considerable media coverage for what turned out to be another highly controversial act: the positioning of hundreds of symbolic coffins in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, representing the Palestinians and Israelis killed in the latest cycle of violence. 'Behind every coffin there is a person, a human being' said Frankenthal, who initiated the action.

     The original plan had been to have coffins to the exact number of those killed until the day of the action. Out of consideration for the feelings of bereaved families who don't identify with the action's message (among them some of the afflicted settler families), it was finally decided to have a somewhat  lower number. What gave the action its sharp meaning was the organizers' decision to drape each of the symbolic coffins with Israeli and Palestinian flags  --  about 200 and 700 respectively, in accordance with the grim statistics.

     Tel Aviv police vetoed the display of the Palestinian flags, claiming that it would "disturb public order" and that the police "would not be able to protect the display" against disruption by violent nationalists and hooligans. In October and early November, the display was held without flags, getting considerable public and media attention even so.

     Afterwards, an appeal was made to the Supreme Court for the right to hold it again, with flags added. After long proceedings, the court settled on a compromise solution  --  a single symbolic coffin draped with a Palestinian flag and a single Israeli one would be permitted and police-protected, while the rest would remain flagless.

     On March 13, a time of escalation and bloodshed unprecedented in the previous year and half, the display was brought out again, in accordance with the court's new dispensation. The tragic events of the intervening months made it necessary to add hundreds of new coffins to the ones displayed last year. The inauguration ceremony was addressed by Frankenthal and the Egyptian charge d'affaires, Dr. Ihab al-Sharif. (Several members of the racist Kach movement, who tried to disrupt it, were removed.)

     It remained a day and a night on the Museum Plaza, and was subsequently flown to New York and reassembled at the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in front of the UN Headquarters  --  all coffins draped again with Israeli or Palestinian flags.

     At the New York ceremony, messages of support were read from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but most attention went to the speakers from the Middle East  --  Yitzchak Frankenthal, side by side with Khaled Abdel Khadir, whose son was killed by Israeli soldiers on February 23, this year. (The veteran war resister David McReynolds of New York told he had been moved to tears.)

     At the time of writing, a display in Washington planned, with a special personal appeal to President Bush after which it would go to Boston.
Parents, 1 Hayasmin St., Ramat Efal;

+++  Taking advantage of the Supreme Court ruling achieved by the parents, Peace Now also displayed at its weekly protest vigils two symbolic coffins draped with an Israeli and a Palestinian flag. Since March 10, the movement also maintains an ongoing daily vigil

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outside the Prime Minister's residence, with the number of Israeli and of Palestinian casualties being constantly updated.

'The occupation killed my son.'

     'The occupation killed my son. There was no need for him to die, as there is no justification for the death of the other youngsters every day in the territories. It would make it more easy for me to live with what happened if I could believe that he died for his country. But I just can't believe that.'

     Malka Tzemach of Kibbutz Hulda is a founding member of the Women in Black. Since 1987, every Friday noon she and her friends have been standing together at Nachshon Junction, wearing black and holding signs reading 'Stop the Occupation.' At 5.00 AM on the morning of March 19, an army officer knocked on her door, announcing the death of her son, Lieutenant Tal Tzemach, killed in a guerrilla ambush at Hamam El Maliah on the West Bank.

     "I and my husband have always opposed the occupation, but we did not stand in his way when he chose to go into an elite military unit. My husband had been a paratrooper himself, and I suppose he took that as an example" she said. "He was a good officer, very devoted to the soldiers under his command. Only on his last home leave a week ago, I gave him a newspaper clipping, an article with strong arguments about the occupation. Just last week...

     I think it is we, the mothers, who have to wake up. If we refuse to give our children to the army, something will get done faster to solve the problem." (Channel 10 TV News, March 19; Yediot Aharonot, Jerusalem Post, March 20).

A ray of sunshine

     In the end-of-year holiday period, on Dec. 28, women and men from all over the world responded to the call of the Coalition of Women for Peace. Israelis, Palestinians, Europeans, Americans gathered in Jerusalem's Paris (Hagar) Square  --  site of the Women in Black Friday vigil. From there, they started walking in procession towards the Old City. The idea was a silent march with a funereal cadence sounded by two women drummers.

     At the front, a huge banner read 'The Occupation is Killing Us All', followed by hundreds of "black hand" signs with white lettering 'Stop the Occupation', and scores of signs calling for peace, for a state of Palestine beside the state of Israel, and for sharing Jerusalem. It was an unseasonably sunny winter morning, and the activists started to feel more hopeful and powerful marching together. At the Jaffa Gate the marchers, joined by others, filled in their thousands the new plaza just outside the historic gate.

     Seven Knesset Members took part: Muhammed Barake, Naomi Chazan, Zehava Galon, Tamar Gozansky, Anat Maor, Issam Makhoul, and Mossi Raz  --  as well as delegations from Belgium, Canada, England, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and the U.S.

     Shulamit Aloni, comparing the struggle to end the occupation with the struggles led by Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King 'There is no doubt that a great many others will join your cause. You will break through the silence because yours is a vision of freedom, justice, and peace.' Marcia Freedman, former Israeli MK and long-standing Woman in Black, read the list of 118 locations around the world where solidarity events were taking place the same day. Among the other speakers were Nurit Peled Elhanan, just back from Strasbourg where she was awarded the Sakharov Peace Prize at the European Parliament; Zahira Kamal, courageous Palestinian activist for peace as well as rights of women and workers, who found a way to outwit the closure in order to reach Jerusalem; Luisa Morgantini, irrepressible Italian member of the European Parliament and devoted supporter of the women's peace movement in the Middle East.

      The speakers were followed by a "peace happening" of Palestinian and Israeli performers. It opened with the Elisheva Trio  --  3 Black Jewish women from Dimona, singing peace songs in soul and rock arrangements.

     There were readings of poetry and plays, a performance piece, and an amazing duo of young Palestinian rappers from Lydda/Lod doing Arabic and Hebrew political lyrics. In the end many in the crowd were holding hands, swaying, and singing together.

     (The Israeli TV was at that time not yet ripe to show such a display of hope for peace, but the event was among the catalysts of the peace movement's revival in the following weeks and months, visible among other things in the reappearance & strengthening of a variety of Friday vigils all over the country.)
CWP pob 8083, J'lem;

+++  Many of the participants afterwards went into the Old City where, just around the corner the founding ceremony of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Coalition was held. This forum gave a formal structure to the alternative diplomacy of Labor ex-minister Yossi Beilin, now joined by Meretz leader Yossi Sarid on the Israeli side, and by Sari Nusseibeh and other prominent Palestinians.

     The Israeli foreign ministry does not like this "thorn in its side" with its constant preparation of diplomatic papers and meetings with visiting foreign ministers.

s In the afternoon of Friday, Jan. 25, some 150 people came at the call of Gush Shalom to hold a protest outside the home of Foreign Minister Peres, in North Tel-Aviv. Large banners were unfurled with the slogans: 'Peres, don't be an accomplice to war crimes!', 'Peres, leave the government of bloodshed!' and 'Peres  --  from Oslo to the Hague?' A leaflet distributed to passers-by pointed out that as long as Peres is a minister he takes part in the responsibility for all provocations and human rights violations which the Sharon government perpetrates  --  whether he agrees with them or not.

     Attendance was beyond expectation  --  there were new faces, young and old, women with babies, man in sportswear, among them lecturers and students from the nearby Tel-Aviv University  --  and on the spot

Page 24
rose the idea to repeat the vigil on the following Friday. Altogether, the Gush Shalom supporters returned to the spot for six consecutive times, on some occasions distributing leaflets at the post boxes of Peres' neighbors in the eight-storey apartment building.

     On none of these occasions was there any glimpse of Peres himself, nor did he make any official acknowledgment of the vigil. However, newspaper reports told of him bursting out at the extreme-right minister Avigdor Lieberman during a cabinet meeting: 'You will get us straight to the International Court in the Hague!'

Gush Shalom, pb 3322 Tel-Aviv;

Seventh day fifth mother

     For more than a year former activists of Four Mothers, the grassroots movement which got the Israeli army out of Lebanon, tried in vain to build up anything comparable regarding the occupied territories. But the recent upsurge of peace activism and growing dissatisfaction among the general public  --  plus the development of guerrilla warfare in the Occupied Territories, compared by the press and the army itself with the Lebanon War  --  created conditions increasingly similar to those under which the original Four Mothers emerged.

     Former members of that group started to meet more and more frequently and discuss ways and means. News of several parallel initiatives spread fast, with the initiators (mostly, but not only, women) soon flooded with enthusiastic responses. In the beginning of March, several groups made their public appearance in rapid succession.

     The first one to go public was The Seventh Day (referring to the Six-Day War of June '67). Their founding conference, held at Tel-Aviv's Tzavta Hall was attended by some three hundred people. The program which was designed to win over broad sections of the Israeli society aroused quite some vocal opposition from participants. The Seventh Day would work to create a groundswell of public support for Israeli withdrawal from all or most of the Occupied Territories, involving the dismantling of settlements. This, not with the expectation that it would bring peace (though peace would be a nice bonus), nor primarily out of empathy with the Palestinians, but in order to preserve the Jewish character of Israel, threatened by continued forcible rule over millions of non-Jews. The hottest debate arose over the issue of the refusers, whom the organizers strongly oppose. Some fifty participants walked out in protest. Some others stayed in spite of reservations, hoping that the formula would really bring over "the masses." 'The Seventh Day as a movement is opposed to refusal, but we know that some of our central activists personally support it' organizer Danny Reshef told TOI.

     A second group is known as The Fifth Mother. They call upon the government to enter negotiations without preconditions, and declare that war is not an option. Many of its activists are veterans of groups like Women in Black or members of human rights organizations. Michal Eshel-Grossman explains: 'The worst nightmare of my life  --  Sharon as Prime Minister, my son in the army and escalating Intifada. For months I felt I must cry out but I was paralyzed. Now my younger son is also to be conscripted. That is too much. I just can't go on being silent.'(Yediot Aharonot, March 15).

     Meanwhile, there appeared the group known as Re'ot ("Friends"), made up of wives and girlfriends of refusers. This forum started almost simultaneously with the refusers' letter itself, having its own constantly growing department in the refusers' website. They are a support group in the double sense of the word: supporting the men, and supporting each other. The struggle of the refusers is also affecting very much the lives of their family members. Re'ot had kept a thriving existence via email and internet for nearly two months before its existence came to the attention of the media.

     That happened when the women took part en masse in the March 9 solidarity demonstration at Athlit Military Prison, at whose conclusion journalist Neri Livneh of Ha'aretz cornered some ten of them for an extensive interview, published in the weekend edition a week later. (Ha'aretz, 15/3  --  full text in English, under the title "Lysistrata 2002" on the Ha'aretz website).

     The final (so far) group to make it on the scene is Eight Grandmothers, founded by eight Jerusalemite women out of growing concern and apprehension about the future which their children and grandchildren could expect. 'The situation has to change' said Alisa Poskanzer, a veteran of the Haganah (pre-state Jewish militia). 'We can't allow the government to go on putting the mothers and the children on the front lines. The time has come for us, the grandmothers, to say ENOUGH. We are tired and scared, we can no longer play this war game.' The founding document, to which the grandmothers hope to gain many more signatures, calls for an immediate cessation of violence, a face-to-face meeting of the leaders and eventual evacuation of the territories (Ha'aretz 18.3).

     Even before they had time to actually do very much, these organizations already got enormous attention in the media. And the settler groups which organized a rally in Tel-Aviv on Feb. 11 gave them a nice compliment as well, exhorting their followers on the settler pirate radio: "Come to the rally, help to confront the Four Mothers with a Patriotic Front!"

     In this militarized society relying on conscription, mothers of soldiers have a powerful position. A few years ago they succeeded in using their moral power to change the political agenda. They became the rallying point of a wide alliance which managed to get a Prime Minister elected (Barak) who promised to implement their program  --  and this promise he kept. There is no assurance that it would happen again. Still, the knowledge that it was done once is in itself having a considerable influence and effect on the present political developments.
Seventh Day c/o Reshef, 15 Moshav Hosen;
Fifth Mother, c/o Shadmi, 7 Hazait St., Mevasseret Zion
2' 3

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Courage to Refuse
     Following is the text of the ad published in Ha'aretz, on January 25, with 56 signatures of reserve combat soldiers and officers.

* We, reserve combat officers and soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, who were raised upon the principles of Zionism, sacrifice and giving to the people of Israel and to the State of Israel, who have always served in the front lines, and who were the first to carry out any mission, light or heavy, in order to protect the State of Israel and strengthen it.
* We, combat officers and soldiers who have served the State of Israel for long weeks every year, in spite of the dear cost to our personal lives, have been on reserve duty all over the Occupied Territories, and were issued commands and directives that had nothing to do with the security of our country, and that had the sole purpose of perpetuating our control over the Palestinian people.
* We, whose eyes have seen the bloody toll this Occupation exacts from both sides.
* We, who sensed how the commands issued to us in the Territories destroy all the values we had absorbed while growing up in this country.
* We, who understand now that the price of Occupation is the loss of IDF's human character and the corruption of the entire Israeli society.
* We, who know that the Territories are not Israel, and that all settlements are bound to be evacuated in the end.
* We hereby declare that we shall not continue to fight this War of the Settlements.
* We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people.
* We hereby declare that we shall continue serving in the Israel Defense Forces in any mission that serves Israel's defense.
* The missions of occupation and oppression do not serve this purpose  --  and we shall take no part in them.

     The refusal of Israeli soldiers to take part in occupation and oppression is not a new phenomenon. Courageous individuals did it already in the 1970's, and an organised refuser movement exists since the Lebanon War. The tradition of climbing 'Freedom Mount' overlooking the Athlit Military Prison and shouting encouragement to imprisoned refusers already existed before the younger refusers nowadays held at this prison were born.

     Refusal had been on the upsurge since the beginning of the present cycle of bloodshed in October 2000. Throughout 2001 Yesh Gvul, the long-standing refusers' support group, got on its hot line hundreds of calls from soldiers who could not stand the occupation duty to which they were ordered. There was also an unprecedented increase of youngsters refusing military service altogether, with their cases getting the support of New Profile, founded in the 1990s. And in June 2001, there was the Refusal Letter signed by 62 high school pupils facing conscription.

     Altogether, in the past year and half more than a thousand soldiers have signed various personal or collective declarations of refusal, and several dozen have undergone terms of imprisonment. Yet, until January 2002, the phenomenon of refusal got only marginal attention from the media and from Israeli society at large. The exceptions were usually refusers whose personal circumstances the papers found piquant. For example, the journalists came to interview young Yonathan Ben Artzi, not so much because of his remarkably cohesive and well-reasoned pacifist views as because of his having an uncle named Binyamin Netanyahu.

     All this changed abruptly on a single weekend, when Ha'aretz published a large ad with a petition signed by 56 reserve officers and NCO's. An extensive interview with several of them was published in the weekend edition of the mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot and a televised version broadcast on the Second Channel News.

     The issue of refusal entered, literally overnight, the very center of the Israeli discourse. There was a flood of pro and con articles, followed by new revelations and painful testimonies by new adherents to the refusers' cause and by soldiers who had not yet decided but exposed their painful dilemmas.

     Even after the original novelty wore off  --  two months later  --  scarcely a day passes without the refusers being mentioned positively and negatively, discussed at length, attacked furiously and defended passionately.

     In many ways the new refusers are indeed a new phenomenon, which was not seen before: more close to the mainstream, declaring themselves patriots and Zionists in a way that their predecessors didn't  --  but turning these concepts inside out; rather quixotically refusing to talk with the foreign press, so as 'not to wash the dirty laundry outside.'

     They are all combat soldiers, speaking with the authority of having come directly from the field, with fresh and painful and highly-disturbing stories of what they had gone through  --  and what they had made Palestinian civilians go through. In particular, they brought home to a large Israeli public the actual implications of what the checkpoints and roadblocks in the Territories mean.

     Many of them are officers, lieutenants and captains and majors. More officers and of a higher rank than in any previous wave of refusal; the kind of officers who form the backbone of the army's reserve battalions and regiments; and among them some officers personally known to commanding generals and appreciated by them for previous well-performed service. In short, people whose loss or insubordination the army just cannot afford to view with equanimity  --  especially when public opinion polls show that the insubordination gets the support of 25% to 30% of the population, which necessarily means the support of many more reservists who had not (yet?) taken the step of refusal themselves.

     Indeed, the army did not view it with equanimity.

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For the first two weeks, Army Chief of Staff Mofaz spoke of it every day, at every one of his numerous public appearances, and so did several other senior generals  --  until somebody woke up to the realisation that their constant thundering so powerfully against the refusers was only adding to their campaign.

     But also PM Sharon made them centerpiece in his flop of an Address to the Nation, appealing to 'remain united and not listen to discordant voices like the refusers who encourage terrorism.'

     And Education Minister Limor Livnat forbade school principals to let refusers speak at their schools, only to find out that such gagging orders increased the refusers' popularity in pupils referendums held at some schools.

     But the refusers also found highly respected supporters. Admiral (ret.) Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shabak Security Service, said that 'many soldiers in the Occupied Territories are committing manifestly illegal acts under orders and I wish more of them would disobey.'

     Former Attorney-General Michael Ben Ya'ir startled everybody by giving the refusers his clear and unequivocal support:

     '(...) An occupation regime undermines the principles of moral justice and prevents the attainment of peace. Thus, that regime endangers Israel's existence.(...) It is against this background that one must view the refusal of IDF reservist officers and soldiers to serve in the territories. In their eyes, the occupation regime is evil and military service in the occupied territories is evil. In their eyes, military service in the occupied territories, which places soldiers in situations forcing them to commit immoral acts, is evil, and, according to their conscience, they cannot be party to such acts. Thus, their refusal to serve is an act of conscience that is justified and recognized in every democratic regime. History's verdict will be that their refusal was the act that restored our moral backbone' (Ha'aretz, 3.3).

     Such an outright statement from a person who until recently was a central pillar of the establishment proved a deep embarrassment for Meretz leader Yossi Sarid. In the past, Sarid liked to present himself as 'The dove who is friendly to the army', an attitude which was manifested among other things in Sarid's firm opposition to refusal during the Lebanon War and the first Intifada.

     But times have changed, the army has changed, and so did Sarid's own constituency. Several Meretz KMs support the refusers  --  a minority in the Knesset Faction, but possibly a majority in the party organs to which grassroots activists have access. Sarid apparently prefers not to test the mood there by putting the question to a vote. 'On the issue of refusal, we as a party must take a line of constructive vagueness' said Sarid.

     At the time of writing, no less than nine refusers are simultaneously in prison. The army persists in using only the mechanism of 'disciplinary proceedings' where soldiers are sent to a 28-day term in an 'instant trial' lasting five minutes or less. It is the refusers who now demand to be brought before a court-martial, even though such a court is empowered to hand down far heavier sentences and it is the army which persists in denying it to them, because a court martial would be open to the public eye, and its proceedings take days and weeks, and involve lawyers and witnesses...

     And so it goes on and on. Friday, March 22, there were 200 people at the gates of Athlit Prison, to give a tumultuous hero's welcome to the first of the new refusers to complete his term.

     And meanwhile, the existence of this refusers' movement, and the chance of its spreading, are already influencing the issue of how far the army can rely on its reserves, and whether they can be called up en masse  --  which has direct bearings on what the state of Israel can and cannot do against the Palestinians, and on the grand strategy of the generals and the politicians. Not bad for a movement only founded two months ago.


Yigal Shohat's speech

     The following are the main points from a speech delivered on Feb. 9 at the Gush Shalom Panel Discussion on War Crimes (see p. 13). Dr. Yigal Shohat is a former air force colonel turned surgeon. The text, published in Ha'aretz on Feb. 18, is considered one of the landmarks for the resurgent refusers' movement.

     I can't say whether all the military actions I participated in as an active combat pilot were legal or moral. I assume not. Friends from that period, who bombed targets along with me, accuse me that I made the decision to become morally sensitive too late. That it is no big deal to talk about conscientious objection when it no longer has anything to do with me. They say I kept my silence as long as I was still concerned about promotion on the ranks of the IDF, but now that I have nothing to lose, I suddenly become a hero. And I have to admit, it is indeed true that I attained political and moral maturity very late.

     (...) I am not naive. I know that any pilot who refuses once or twice to bomb Nablus or Ramallah will soon end his career  --  and it is a career indeed.

     Flying is a way of life and a profession. (...) Still, in my opinion, pilots must carefully examine the orders they receive. They should ask many questions about the objective and refuse to undertake any order that appears illegal to them. (...) We have seen in the past few months what "smart bombs" can do, both here and in Afghanistan. I don't think the objective is important enough for us to pay such a price, especially as we are not confronting an army but, rather, civilians.

     Especially when our cause is unjust. Very unjust. In my view, the main objective of this fight is not legitimate. The occupation is not legitimate. (...) Pilots are not the only ones involved in war crimes. Possibly, I think, the pilots are ultimately less involved than others. Every bulldozer driver should refuse an order to demolish houses so as to create "a clear field of fire" for the IDF. I think that the destruction of civilian homes, just because they obstruct the sharpshooters' field of vision, is an immoral action by definition.

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     I am not a lawyer and I don't know what is legal and what isn't, but I should imagine that it is also illegal. (...) Even standing at a checkpoint in the Occupied Territories and selecting which person will get to the hospital and who not, which woman will get to the maternity ward and which one will be delayed and give birth right there at the checkpoint, is a manifestly illegal job.

     Therefore, I think that anyone called to serve at these checkpoints should refuse, even at the price of being prosecuted. It would be good if the issue of this "selection" at the checkpoints would be examined by a court. (...) Refusal to serve in the Occupied Territories carries a sharp political and moral message. It states that you are willing to protect your country and fight for it, but are not willing to oppress another nation over an extended period of time. (...)

     This week I read the interview [in Ha'aretz] with Brigadier General Dov Zadka, head of the military government's civil administration. I read about the authorizations he gives for the destruction of Palestinian plantations and orchards and his complaints about how the officers on the ground become hyperactive and uproot twice the authorized number of trees. But what authority does he have to authorize anything of the kind, on whatever scale? I am amazed every time I think of a person who gets up in the morning to do a day's job of this kind. We are not speaking of a boy just conscripted, but of a general with many years' experience and training. What does he say to himself at the end of each day? Today I authorized the destruction of 50 acres of strawberry fields?  For what purpose? For the security of the State? I see that General Zadka is nowadays concerned that he might eventually get to the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague. Well he might!

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Wrong War
by Uri Avnery

     After the invasion of the Balata refugee camp by a regular brigade of the IDF, the brigade commander appeared on television and said that he had expected the Palestinians to fight like tigers, but that they behaved like pussycats.

     This is a frightening sentence, because it discloses a startling fact: the Brigade commander does not understand in what kind of campaign he is engaged. He has to be told, with all due respect: "Sir, you are fighting the wrong war!"

     Clearly, he believes that he is engaged in a conventional war between armies. The enemy is supposed to stand up and fight like men, assault rifles against tanks and fighter planes.

     The commander and all his colleagues, including the Chief-of-Staff and his deputy, would be well advised to read a good book about guerrilla warfare, such as Mao Tse-Tung's treatise, which tells the guerrilla fighter: Never confront the regular army. When the army attacks, you disappear. When the army is not ready, you attack.

     For example. The army surrounds Arafat in Ramallah  --  Destroy a Merkava tank in Gush Katif. A whole brigade invades Balata  --  Get out and send a single fighter to kill the soldiers of a checkpoint near Ofrah. A brigade attacks Jenin  --  Get out of their sight and infiltrate Atzmona settlement.

     The statement by the brigade commander indicates that the IDF is fighting on a front that does not exist, and is not prepared for fighting on the front that is there. It's like a general setting out to conquer Syria and holding a map of the Sudan in his hands.

     Since Chief-of-Staff Mofaz and his senior officers don't even understand the nature of this struggle, they are failing. Out of frustration and anger they shoot in all directions and commit a small massacre every day, without any purpose or chance of success. Since they were not trained for this kind of struggle and do not understand it, they are condemned to commit every possible mistake. One after another, they use all the methods that have already failed in Algeria, Kenya, South Africa, Vietnam and a dozen of other countries.

     They try to starve the inhabitants into submission ("closure"), and inadvertently turn them into potential suicide-bombers with nothing to lose. They assassinate the chiefs of the fighting groups ("targeted prevention"), and clear the way for younger, more efficient and more energetic commanders. They kill massively ("you have to strike them") and turn the relatives of the victims into avengers.

     If this is the way of the generals, the "political echelon", composed of pensioned generals, is worse. They imprison Arafat in Ramallah in order to prove that he is "irrelevant", and turn him into the most relevant person in the entire Middle East. As a result, all internal criticism of Arafat has ceased. Practically all Palestinians admire their President, who is taking part in their lot, suffers like them and is risking his life like them.

     And beyond that: tens of millions of Arabs, who see rousing reports from beleaguered Palestine every hour on al-Jazira TV, compare the courageous Palestinian leader to their own rulers, who are now very worried indeed. In response they sounded the alarm in Washington and have compelled President Bush to do something.

     The Israeli government cannot win this struggle. After paying a terrible price  --  slaughter and destruction  --  this will become clear to the public, the government will fall and we shall make peace according to the Saudi Crown Prince's excellent proposal. (Ma'ariv, March 12.)


Not playing the game
by Asaf Oron

     Asaf Oron, a Sergeant Major in the Giv'ati Brigade, is one of the original 56 Israeli soldiers who signed the Jan. 25 "Fighters' Letter" declaring that from now on they will refuse to serve in the Occupied territories. The following is the first part of his 'testimony.' Full text (in Hebrew and English) on the website

     On February 5, 1985, I got up, left my home, went to the Compulsory Service Center on Rashi Street in Jerusalem, said good-bye to my parents, boarded the rickety old bus going to the Military Absorption Station and turned into a soldier.

     Exactly seventeen years later, I find myself in a head to head confrontation with the army, while the public at large is jeering and mocking me from the sidelines. Right wingers see me as a traitor who is dodging the holy war that's just around the corner. The political center shakes a finger at me self-righteously and lectures me about undermining democracy and politicizing the army.

     And the left? The square, establishment, "moderate" left that only yesterday was courting my vote now turns its back on me as well. Everyone blabbers about what is and what is not legitimate, exposing in the process the depth of their ignorance of political theory and their inability to distinguish a real democracy from a third world regime in the style of Juan Peron.

     Almost no one asks the main question: why would a regular guy get up one morning in the middle of life, work, the kids and decide he's not playing the game anymore? And how come he is not alone but there are fifty... I beg your pardon, a hundred... beg your pardon again, now almost two hundred regular, run of the mill guys like him who've done the same thing?

     Our parents' generation lets out a sigh: we've embarrassed them yet again. But isn't it all your fault? What did you raise us on? Universal ethics and universal justice, on the one hand: peace, liberty and equality to all. And on the other hand: "the Arabs want to throw us into the sea," "They are all crafty and primitive. You can't trust them."

     On the one hand, the songs of John Lennon, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Bob Marely, Pink Floyd. Songs of peace and love and against militarism and war. On the other hand, songs about a sweetheart riding the tank after sunset in the field: "The tank is yours and you are ours." I was raised on two value systems: one was the ethical code and the other the tribal code, and I naively believed that the two could coexist.

     This is the way I was when I was drafted. Not enthusiastic, but as if embarking on a sacred mission of courage and sacrifice for the benefit of society. But when, instead of a sacred mission, a 19 year old finds himself performing the sacrilege of violating human beings' dignity and freedom, he doesn't dare ask  --  even himself  --  if it's OK or not. He simply acts like everyone else and tries to blend in. As it is, he's got enough problems, and boy is the weekend far off.

     You get used to it in a hurry, and many even learn to like it. Where else can you go out on patrol  --  that is, walk the streets like a king, harass and humiliate pedestrians to your heart's content, and get into mischief with your buddies  --  and at the same time feel like a big hero defending your country? The Gaza Exploits became heroic tales, a source of pride for Giv'ati, then a relatively new brigade suffering from low self esteem.

     For a long time, I could not relate to the whole "heroism" thing. But when, as a sergeant, I found myself in charge, something cracked inside me. Without thinking, I turned into the perfect occupation enforcer. I settled accounts with "upstarts" who didn't show enough respect. I tore up the personal documents of men my father's age. I hit, harassed, served as a bad example  --  all in the city of Kalkilia, barely three miles from grandma and grandpa's home-sweet-home. No. I was no "aberration." I was exactly the norm.

     Having completed my compulsory service, I was discharged, and then the first Intifada began (how many more await us?) Ofer, a comrade in arms who remained in the service has become a hero: the hero of the second Giv'ati trial. He commanded a company that dragged a detained Palestinian demonstrator into a dark orange grove and beat him to death.

     As the verdict stated, Ofer was found to have been the leader in charge of the whole business. He spent two months in jail and was demoted  --  I think that was the most severe sentence given an Israeli soldier through the entire first Intifada, in which about a thousand Palestinians were killed. Ofer's battalion commander testified that there was an order from the higher echelons to use beatings as a legitimate method of punishment, thereby implicating himself.

     On the other hand, Efi Itam, the brigade commander, who had been seen beating Arabs on numerous occasions, denied that he ever gave such an order and consequently was never indicted. Today he lectures us on moral conduct on his way to a new life in politics. (In the current Intifada, incidentally, the vast majority of incidents involving Palestinian deaths are not even investigated. No one even bothers.)

     And in the meantime, I was becoming more of a civilian. A copy of David Grossman's The Yellow Wind crossed my path. I read it, and suddenly it hit me. I finally understood what I had done over there. What I had been over there.

     I began to see that they had cheated me: They raised me to believe there was someone up there taking care of things. Someone who knows stuff that is beyond me, the little guy. And that even if sometimes politicians let us down, the "military echelon" is always on guard, day and night, keeping us safe, each and every one of their decisions the result of sacred necessity.

     Yes, they cheated us, the soldiers of the Intifadas, exactly as they had cheated the generation that was beaten to pulp in the War of Attrition and in the Yom Kippur War, exactly as they had cheated the generation that sank deep into the Lebanese mud during the Lebanon invasions. And our parents' generation continues to be silent.