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The Other Israel  _   August 2002, Issue No. 103/104

Inside the Maelstrom, an Editorial Overview
    War without a battlefield
    Two sieges
    Behind the rumors
    Hell in Jenin
    Sundered perceptions
    A time of isolation
    Growing intolerance
    The wobbling Bush
    The new occupation
    The hopeful interlude
    Diplomatic games
    Explosions and fences
    Re-occupation completed
    Largest prison on earth
    Jefferson in Ramallah
    Another smashed hope
    Back into the maelstrom
    Lutta continua

Action Diary: March 30-August 10
[Details on big rallies in the streets of Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem; humanitarian convoys which sometimes encounter extreme police brutality: and actions of the few, penetrating into the cities under curfew.]

Convoy to Salfit

Campaign to Rebuild Demolished Palestinian Homes
    Israeli Committee Agaist House demolitions

Refusal Update
    Israeli soldiers refusing to serve in the West Bank & Gaza

The International Solidarity Movement

Indict the Murderers of Oslo!!, by Uri Avnery

Gush Shalom Targeted: the war crimes scandal


[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.


   In early March, US mediator Zinni had failed for the umpteenth time to achieve a cease-fire.

   The Palestinians were ready on condition that the Israeli army would stop blocking the entrances to their towns and cities, a condition which Sharon could afford not to meet.

   The weeks of intensive diplomatic activity followed the end of what seemed then a major operation but in retrospect looks like a dress rehearsal -- Israeli forces entering for several days all West Bank cities one after the other, including house to house searches and arrests.

   The failed US mediation also scuttled the idea of Yasser Arafat being invited to meet with US Vice President Cheney, on the latter's visit to the region -- which, as it turned out, was Arafat's last chance to gain acceptance from the present US administration. (Cheney, a leading administration hard-liner, had raised the possibility of such a meeting as a sop to the Arab leaders whose support was deemed necessary for a US attack on Iraq.)

   In an obvious effort to spoil yet another mediation effort, Sharon denied Arafat permission to attend the Arab Summit in Beirut -- or rather, the PM would have been overjoyed to see Arafat going there, provided that he would not come back.

   On the morning of March 27, banner headlines carried a warning from the Defence Minister, who had been outvoted in the cabinet -- 'Ben Eliezer: Forbidding Arafat travel a mistake, will lead to escalation.' But -- as was to repeat itself again and again -- Ben Eliezer was to forget his own predictions and warnings the moment they came true.

   March 27 was the time set by the Arab Heads of State for their summit in Beirut, the venue chosen by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah for presenting a peace plan which offered to Israel full peace with the entire Arab World in return for full withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.

   On the evening of that day-it was the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover -- prime time evening news on all channels focused on the Beirut summit, to the virtual exclusion of all other news. Commentators analysed the power struggles evident among the Arab leaders, and screened Crown Prince Abdullah's carefully-phrased address to the Israeli people, calling upon them to take the Arab hand offered in peace and forego the path of brute force. There were some speculations on how Sharon would react, and predictions of a possible fierce debate polarizing the Israeli society and possibly bringing down the Sharon government; in several opinion polls, a persistent half of the public showed itself in favor of the Saudi proposal.

   An hour later, the broadcasts were interrupted for emergency bulletins: a Hamas suicide bomber had just blown himself up at the resort of Netanyah, in a hall where mostly elderly Israelis had gathered to celebrate Passover. The detonation of a large amount of explosives inside a constricted space led to 29 people being killed -- the largest number of fatalities in any single suicide bombing. As far as the Israeli media was concerned, the Beirut Summit ceased to exist at that moment, replaced by photos of horror from the scene in Netanyah, and the rising tide of calls for revenge by politicians from nearly the entire spectrum.

   During that terrible night, hasty consultations among activists of Gush Shalom, resulted in a statement being drawn up in an effort to make some sense of the calamity. Throughout the night it was sent out, in Hebrew and English, by fax and e-mail, to journalists, activists, anybody who might possibly be expected to listen: 'On one and the same evening Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia offered Israel a full peace with the entire Arab World in exchange for ending the occupation and withdrawing to the 1967 borders. One hour later, the suicide bomber who arrived in Netanyah made on behalf of Hamas a counteroffer -- an offer of eternal war and indiscriminate mutual killing. By all indications, it seems that the Sharon Government is about to reject the first and accept the latter (...).'

   There arrived some positive responses from abroad and from fellow peace activists. But it did not reach the Israeli society. Not a single Israeli paper published the press release. In fact, we had not even expected it.

   A genuine popular anger was being massively manipulated, and channeled in a specific direction by the political system and the state-controlled media. There was little one could do other than

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watch helplessly, as a trapped traveler in the mountains at the gathering of an avalanche.

War without a battlefield

   By many standards, the entire 54-year history of Israel can be considered a single unbroken war. Still, Israelis in general perceive specific parts of their history as "wars" -- 1948, 1956, 1967 and so on -- while the periods in between were, if not actually "peace", at least a time of "relative calm." The distinction is not entirely watertight. A "War" is a time when reserves are called up to supplement the regular army, large military forces are visibly moving about, and generals expect to achieve "a strategic change in the status quo." .

   A "war" also has a clear political dimension -- it is a time when politicians call for "national unity" and manifestations of dissent, tolerated in ordinary times, are frowned upon as "unpatriotic."

   A considerable effort was made to give "Operation Defensive Shield", proclaimed at the end of an all-night cabinet meeting on March 29, 2002, seem a bona fide "war."

   Still, an objective observer might have noted that it was a very one-sided affair, in which swarms of Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships, together with whole divisions of infantry, ruthlessly smashed their way into city after city, opposed by nothing more than lightly-armed, badly organized militias.

   In fact, the 40,000-strong Palestinian Police, a body whose "threat" was for years magnified in scare propaganda of the Israeli extreme right, were reportedly forbidden by Arafat to attempt a hopeless resistance which would have magnified the scale of the bloodshed and destruction. The main obstacles on the invading forces' way were political rather than military -- but even so, there were bloodshed and destruction in plenty.

Two sieges

   Sharon would have liked nothing better than to instruct the army to "expel Arafat" -- which would have likely ended with Arafat's death, since the Palestinian leader carried his pistol always, and had no intention of being captured alive. But on this point the Americans had been quite specific; the phone call from Secretary Powell to Sharon, during the crucial cabinet meeting, gave Sharon the go-ahead to do anything but physically harm Arafat.

   Thus started the siege of Arafat's headquarters, which was to capture the world media's full attention for the next month. The Palestinian leader, his bodyguards and some of his advisers were squeezed into part of a single building, with elite Israeli commandos establishing their headquarters "just across the wall from Arafat's bedroom" as a boasting article in Yediot Aharonot put it.

   According to the cabinet's resolution, Arafat was to be completely isolated and all access to him denied by the surrounding Israeli forces. That proved difficult, however: the tight siege enhanced Arafat's popularity among Palestinians and in the entire Arab World; the footage showing him being interviewed by candlelight, talking on a small mobile phone, flashed on TV screens around the globe.

   To add to the army's embarrassment, dozens of international peace activists -- Americans, French, Danish and also Israeli -- managed to elude the supposedly hermetic military closure of Arafat's headquarters, get in and stay in as "human shields" for the full duration of the siege.


   The following is excerpted from e-mail messages sent out by the TOI staff.
April 1. (...) This evening we got a call from our fellow-activist Neta Golan, who yesterday succeeded in entering Yasser Arafat's besieged headquarters among the international group. It was only a short conversation, since the call broke off and could not be resumed.

   Neta told that the mood in the compound is good though the supply of food and water is running low and in spite of the army's loudspeakers making constant threats. Also, from time to time the soldiers lob 'shock grenades' which cause loud explosions but little physical harm. (...)
April 22. (...) What we heard from Neta: 'The sanitary conditions are intolerable. There is not enough water to drink, let alone bathe. We all stink and everyone loses weight. There is not enough food allowed in. But there is love and generosity, everybody offers to share whatever food they have (...).
May 2 (...) Golan left the compound early Thursday after Israeli forces withdrew. She helped carry a wounded Palestinian to a waiting ambulance after caring for him during her stay inside the building. Then she took a shower and went to sleep in a Ramallah apartment.


   Soon there was added another problematic siege -- at the site of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, into which more than two hundred Palestinians fled

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for refuge when the Israeli tanks rolled into the city. Some of them were leading militants wanted by the Israeli security services and expecting to be shot on sight or be taken off for painful interrogation followed by decades-long imprisonment. Others were ordinary civilians, including dozens of boys, obeying the natural instinct to seek a place of safety when faced by a hostile invading army. All of them were to endure a prolonged ordeal.

   Two years almost to the day after it was ceremoniously visited by the pope, a bit more than three years after the festive visit of Bill and Hilary Clinton, the Church of the Nativity and Bethlehem's Manger Square around it have become a war zone.

   Tourist guides describe The Church of The Nativity -- erected in Byzantine times -- as "fortress-like": thick walls, narrow windows, a single, very narrow, front door. Not by chance: in its many centuries of existence, the Church of the Nativity had seen many turbulent periods when its people sought to find refuge from unruly invaders behind its walls.

   Against medieval weapons, the church is almost impregnable. Modern heavy arms could have breached its walls without too much trouble, but it was unthinkable to do anything of the kind on the site which Christian tradition considers the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

   In fact, even with the idea of breaking into the church by force ruled out, the Bethlehem siege earned Sharon widespread condemnation throughout the Christian world, including from such unlikely quarters as Ulster Unionists and even the Christian Phalange of Lebanon -- the very allies of Sharon in 1982.

   Rather than break in, the army settled in the medieval surroundings for a medieval form of warfare, namely trying to starve out the besieged. The amount of food allowed into the church was only sufficient for a few dozen priests and monks trapped inside; for the extra two hundred hungry mouths not a scrap of food was provided. And the grim siege went on...

Behind the rumors

   The two sieges drew the world's attention, partly because in the first days most other places in the Palestinian cities were not accessible to the Israeli or international press. As overwhelming forces entered city after city, enforcing a total curfew by shooting at anybody found in the streets and taking over private houses to make them into military positions, an almost complete media blackout fell over cities located just a few kilometers from the heart of Jerusalem.

   The hostility towards the media was the army's lesson from earlier invasions, when unflattering images filled the world's TV screens and occasionally there were heard dissident views even from soldiers in the invading force itself.

   This time, also Israeli journalists with a long record of loyally reporting verbatim the army's version were excluded from accompanying the forces, and the army made considerable efforts to locate and expel the journalists already on the scene. In a widely-publicized scene, tear gas grenades were lobbed at a CNN camera crew; several less lucky journalists actually were shot to death while covering the invasion.

   As a result, for more than a week there was no reliable information coming out of the conquered cities. Usually, the first thing which peace and human rights activists heard upon telephoning to Palestinian contacts were panicking reports of wild shooting in the streets and soldiers' savagery. Palestinian residents could often tell facts only of what happened in their own street, otherwise depending on rumors which were magnified in the telling.

   What was reported from all cities, and soon substantiated beyond all doubt, was the widespread habit of tanks to deliberately roll over and crush civilian cars. Soldiers' vandalism tolerated by commanding officers or a deliberate policy to further cow and demoralize the population? Reports of widespread looting and wanton destruction of Palestinian property also turned out, when the area became more accessible, to be all too true. Some blatant cases were later admitted by the military authorities and the culprits prosecuted.

   In the first days, there were also darker rumors, of extra-judicial killings of Palestinian police officers by Israeli soldiers in Ramallah. At least one case seemed confirmed through examinations of several bodies found shot in the lobby of an office building, showing they did not die "in battle" as the Israeli authorities claimed. But other reported cases turned out, also according to Palestinian sources, to be baseless rumors.

   Still, though the first impression of widespread executions turned out to be fortunately wrong, what did occur in Ramallah -- and repeated in the other cities, one by one -- was grim enough: a systematic sweep for weapons, explosives and "wanted terrorists", with the army declaring its intention to search "every single house." In practice, more than half of the houses in such big cities as Ramallah and Nablus have gotten a "visit."

   There seems to have been considerable individual differences in the behavior of soldiers, even in the same street or house: Palestinians reported one squad behaving with wanton destructiveness while the squad searching the neighboring house was acting polite and respectful to the tenants.

   Still, the total number of cases of looting and destruction of property during such searches seems to have been enormous. Never before, in all the 35 years of Israeli rule, had so many Palestinians experienced the occupation in such a threatening and rude way, leaving behind a new legacy of anger and hatred whose effects might be felt for years to come.

   In areas considered by the Israeli security services to be "sensitive", in particular at refugee camps, the systematic house-to-house searches were often accompanied by mass arrests of the entire male population. These detainees were held for several days at improvised detention centers, often under very difficult conditions -- with most of the random

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prisoners set free after a few days, to get home by foot in the dangerous conditions of a city under curfew. Some were taken off to prolonged terms of "administrative detention" at the reopened Detention Center in the Negev -- Ketziot (Ansar-3), notorious during the first intifada, the closing of which had been one of the hopeful signs in the early days of Oslo...


Our articles may be reprinted, provided they include the address The Other Israel POB 2542, Holon 58125, Israel.

   Out of the Ofer Camp outside Ramallah, where many of these random detainees were held and "sorted out" by Israeli interrogators, rumors filtered of systematic torture of prisoners to make them confess and implicate others.

   Human rights organizations tried to appeal to the Supreme Court about the Ofer Camp tortures. The Supreme Court had forbidden the use of torture at Shabak interrogations, but that was at a different time with a different public atmosphere.

   Nowadays, the judges just refused to acknowledge that their earlier verdict was being systematically flouted, saying they could not refer to the matter without an affidavit of a witness to the torture.

   Such an affidavit could not be produced. The human rights organizations had gotten the tip from a soldier, who had taken the risk of leaking classified information but asked to stay anonymous. The detainees subjected to torture could have signed an affidavit if they had been able to meet their lawyers -- but such meetings were forbidden by the army, and the Supreme Court upheld that prohibition "in view of the exceptional circumstances." The torture at Ofer continued, undisturbed by the law.

Hell in Jenin

   There was one place where the army predicted strong military resistance from the Palestinians: the Casbah (Old City) of Nablus, with its narrow winding alleys where Israeli soldiers had been chasing Palestinian stone-throwers already before the first intifada.

   The army earmarked several of its best infantry brigades for the long-prepared Battle of the Casbah. The bulldozers were also prepared in advance, making way for the tanks by destroying many of the beautiful old structures, and leaving civilians buried under the ruins. The consideration shown to the Church of the Nativity was not extended to a thousand-year old mosque which UNESCO had been about to declare part of the cultural heritage of humanity; the mosque happened to be in the tanks' and bulldozers' way, and that was that.

   Altogether, the army conquered the Casbah in a short one-sided battle, with the death toll standing at more than a hundred dead Palestinians to one Israeli. (As is often the experience in this kind of warfare, the army high command was to find a few months later that the Nablus Casbah needed to be conquered all over again...).

   Where the generals obviously miscalculated was with regard to Jenin -- a name which the entire world would soon get to know, but which any expert should have recognized as a center of defiant Palestinian nationalism dating all the way back to the Palestinian uprising against the British in the 1930's.

   Sharon's own propaganda machine had long before emphasized the disproportionate number of Palestinian suicide bombers originating in the Jenin Refugee Camp -- which should have given somebody in the army the idea that the inhabitants might be very persistent in the defence of their own homes.

   Back in February, the IDF already made two incursions into the Jenin Refugee Camp, during which local militants had a chance to closely observe the army's tactics, in particular the soldiers' way of breaking down the walls of closely-packed refugee huts and moving from one house into the next. The army then withdrew, leaving the militants some two months in which to prepare for its return. The time was well used.

   When the soldiers did come back, in the first week of April, they found large portions of the camp booby-trapped, and had to struggle for every inch.

   Altogether, twenty-three Israeli soldiers were killed in the conquest of Jenin, thirteen of them in a single explosion of a set of interlinked bombs which left little chance of survival for the soldiers who entered a particular innocent-seeming courtyard between refugee huts.

   With amazing persistence, no more than about eighty lightly armed militiamen -- though they did have the sympathy of, and some logistical support from, their 15,000 fellow refugees -- were able to hold off for nine days several Israeli brigades with their accompanying tanks and helicopter gunships. 'It is the Palestinian Massada' a soldier told Ma'ariv, referring to the stronghold where Jewish rebels held out against Roman rule in 70 A.D. -- a story known to anyone who went through the Israeli school system. Another soldier remarked simply: 'Jenin was hell.'

   It was hell indeed, for the soldiers, for the militants and for the hapless inhabitants of the refugee camp.

   Loudspeakers called upon the inhabitants to leave their homes and clear the way for the army -- but many of the refugees failed to heed, having literally nowhere to go and with a deep memory of homes lost in 1948. The bulldozers came then, on a wider scale than in Nablus, clearing the way for the tanks by indiscriminately destroying everything in their way.

   Some weeks later, one of the bulldozer drivers -- an unemployed football fan from Jerusalem -- embarrassed the government propagandists by giving Yediot Aharonot a full, unrepentant account of his doings: "I sat day and night in the driver's seat, drinking whiskey, destroying and destroying. I didn't care if there were people in these buildings. I would have liked to destroy the whole camp" (full translation at

   Some inhabitants were able to scramble out of their collapsing homes at the last moment, but others -- especially the aged and handicapped -- were left trapped under the ruins. Some lay dying for days, with the Palestinian red Crescent and international volunteers not allowed to come near. Nor did the

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army bring in its own famed rescue teams, which the government is in the habit of dispatching (with TV cameras in attendance) to the scene of earthquakes around the world.

   At the time, rumors coming out of the camp apparently exaggerated the death toll, putting it in many hundreds. The number finally established was 52, about half of them civilians -- which makes the number of civilians killed in Jenin alone equivalent to that of the Israelis killed in the Netanyah suicide bombing, which had officially been declared "a massacre" and which had triggered the launching of the entire invasion.

   For a time, the whole world seemed to be watching Jenin, and the demand for an international investigation seemed unstoppable, to the point that even Sharon initially tended to give his assent to the UN Secretary-General sending a "fact-finding mission." But Sharon's generals, apprehensive that soldiers or officers find themselves prosecuted for war crimes, put up enormous pressure.

   The government first tried to define the composition of the UN team and its terms of reference. Then followed a stormy cabinet session -- with ministers complaining that Chief of Staff Mofaz seemed to dictate terms to the government rather than putting himself under its orders -- ending with the government flatly refusing the UN team entry into Israeli (or Israeli occupied) territory.

   Another country might have paid a high price for brazenly defying the UN Security Council -- but with the United States exerting its full influence, Sharon did not have to worry.

Sundered perceptions

   In April, most of the Israeli public opinion passed over in silence -- or with active approval -- the action of army bulldozers destroying refugee dwellings with the inhabitants still inside. A sad irony, considering the enormous public outcry just a three months earlier, when refugee dwellings in Rafah had been demolished with the inhabitants at least given a chance to escape alive.

   The difference can be attributed to the unprecedented number of suicide bombings in the intervening period, to the very genuine fear and loathing which they aroused in the general Israeli population and to the successful manipulation of that fear and loathing by Sharon -- altogether leading to much of the Israeli public becoming insensitive to Palestinian suffering.

   At least one of the Israeli reservists killed in Jenin is known to have been a firm supporter of withdrawal from the occupied territories and dismantling of the settlements. And still -- as his father told, who shares the same views and who spoke with him on the phone two hours before his death -- he fought at Jenin with the full belief that this war was just, that invading the Jenin Refugee Camp and destroying large parts of it was an act necessary in order to stop suicide bombings emanating from that camp.

   Most likely, he was not the only one among the 29 soldiers killed in "Operation Defensive Shield." And there is no doubt that a considerable number of Israeli citizens who in principle believe that Israel should quit the Palestinian territories, nevertheless supported the invasion as "a temporary emergency measure", whose duration was left to the discretion of Sharon and his generals.

   The Netanyah bombing (or "The Passover Massacre" as official propaganda called it, though the term never really caught on in daily conversations), coming in the wake of a whole month of constant Palestinian assaults all over the country, unified the great majority of Jewish Israelis, including many which would in other circumstances have opposed Sharon.

   For most of the world, the images of destruction broadcast from Jenin, when the TV cameras were finally allowed in, were evidence of a terrible juggernaut crushing down a helpless civilian population. Not so among mainstream Israelis.

   Indeed, quite a few Israelis argued that the army had been "too humane" (sic!) and that the Jenin Refugee Camp should have been subjected to carpet bombing by F-16's in order to avoid Israeli casualties.

   Moreover, the undeniable fact that the number of suicide bombings sharply decreased once the army took over all the West Bank cities seemed to prove Sharon's main point: "Force does work, if you use enough of it."

   Sharon, whose rating in the polls had started to plummet in early March, regained a strong position in the Israeli public opinion, leaving all rivals far behind. Even though some clear-eyed commentators and a few of the army's own generals warned that the respite was only temporary, the warning did not sink into the public consciousness until it came true.

   For all the gung-ho triumphalism pumped on the airwaves by the hour, however, there was a very low attendance at the Independence day celebrations held in the flag-bedecked main streets. The presence of the army, holding down the Palestinian cities by main force, was not enough to convince ordinary Israelis that the threat of suicide bombers was over -- as indeed it was not. Ordinary people still preferred to play safe and avoid public gatherings, and shops in the city centers continued to wither.

A time of isolation

   For peace activists a time of isolation had arrived.

   A time of turning in disgust from daily newspapers which became little more than war propaganda rags and seeking a moment of relative sanity by watching the BBC and CNN news or diving into the internet; a time of feeling terribly alienated from our country, walking in streets where a profusion of national flags fluttered from balconies and the bonnets of cars and where patriotic signs and bumper stickers sprouted on all sides: "United we march forward"; "Raise our flag, Blue and White"; "I am a Patriot, I love Israel"; "From the depth of the heart, thanks to the IDF"; "Give donations for the victims of terrorism." (Many of the blue and white signs bore the logos of big corporations, which apparently decided that a show of patriotism was good for business.)

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   On April 17, a Gush Shalom activist traveling on a major highway in the Tel-Aviv area noticed an enormous billboard bearing the Microsoft logo under the text 'From the depth of our heart -- thanks to The Israeli Defence Forces' on the background of the Israeli national flag. On the following day, an e-mail was sent calling upon supporters inside and outside the country to send messages to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, suggesting that 'A major worldwide and world-famous corporation, whose activities overstep national boundaries and whose web site declares it to be "committed to global community and cultural interaction" could be expected to make better use of its resources than at disseminating crude nationalistic and militaristic propaganda.' It turned out that independently but simultaneously Sam Bahour, a Palestinian from Ramallah had also called upon international activists to protest.

   Hundreds of people wrote to Gates as well as to various Microsoft regional offices. None of them got any direct answer, but a few days later it wasn't possible any more to photograph the thing: the Tel-Aviv billboard had disappeared. A report from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia told of a Microsoft representative coming under sharp criticism when appearing at a trade fair there, while Microsoft Israel claimed that 'from the start the billboard had been scheduled to stay for one week only.'

 --------- -    -           -        -     -------

   Yet in the midst of all this, dissenters still managed to hold sizable protest actions. Some two thousand Israelis came to the A-Ram Checkpoint north of Jerusalem, attempting to accompany the supply convoy which tried to make its way to occupied Ramallah, and were dispersed by the police's tear gas canisters; also thousands came to accompany the Jenin convoy, which did get through; there were the two marches and rallies in Tel-Aviv, drawing between 5,000 and 10,000 participants, and quite a few smaller protest and vigils.

   Some Israelis even managed to slip into Ramallah and hold protest vigils in its curfew-bound streets, and there were those who joined the band of dedicated international peaceniks active in the occupied cities, who used their privileged status as holders of Western passports to avoid the curfew and help maintain at least the rudiments of essential medical service for the besieged Palestinian population.

Growing intolerance

   In the first days, when the media created the image of a total, glorious "victory over terrorism", the protests and dissenting voices were mostly ignored by the media, not reported at all or reported tersely with a sneering comment. Even an emergency recess session of the Knesset, called by 25 Members, including Speaker Burg himself -- and in which the wisdom of the West Bank invasion was repeatedly questioned -- went nearly unreported.

   Meanwhile, the country was confronted with sharp international criticism, especially in Europe; with the de-facto embargo on military supplies to Israel by countries such as Britain and Germany; and with the intense pressure for international investigation of what happened in Jenin.

   The widespread response was to blame it all on anti-semitism and evoke the memory of the Holocaust. Incidents of a synagogue attacked or a Jewish cemetery vandalized helped pave the way for such an interpretation. It was all lumped together with reports of mass pro-Palestinian demonstrations in the European capitals, and presented as being one and the same. The role of Jewish dissidents in more than one of these protests got hardly any mention.

   One of the first to be personally targeted was Terje Larsen, Norwegian representative of the UN in the Middle East -- a man devoted to the achievement of peace between the two peoples. After visiting the ruins of Jenin Refugee Camp and expressing his shock at what he saw there, Larsen was castigated as "an antisemite" in fiery editorials and commentaries, with the "recanted leftist" demagogue Saul Tzadka going as far as reading out Larsen's private phone number on prime time TV and calling upon the public to harass him.

   This was followed by a McCarthyist campaign whose like none of us can remember in the past decades, aimed at delegitimizing all dissent. In the state-controlled radio and TV, journalists were told in no uncertain terms to avoid any "unpatriotic" questioning of the army's aims and its announced successes, and some directives specified for news readers the list of patriotic terms to be used and that of non-patriotic ones to be avoided.

   In the privately-owned Ma'ariv newspaper, the newly-appointed editor Amnon Dankner -- another "reborn former leftist" -- shifted the paper's editorial policy sharply to the right, starting a campaign of purges and intimidation against reporters and commentators who did not recant. Ma'ariv also launched a crude campaign against its liberal rival Ha'aretz, castigating it as "unpatriotic" for being the one paper which does give its readers a (limited) amount of news on the situation in the Palestinian territories from the occupied population's point of view.

   There were some ugly incidents in the universities as well. In the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, right-wing students held a demonstration calling for the expulsion of 56 lecturers who declared their support for soldiers' refusal to serve in the occupied territories; their call was endorsed by Education Minister Limor Livnat, who asked the Attorney-General to prosecute the 56 lecturers (he did not); the Minister also started to compile "dossiers" on lecturers in different universities who make "unpatriotic" remarks during their lectures; In the Be'er She'eba University, it was nationalist lecturers who tried to prevent a lecture by the prominent Labor dove Yossi Beilin, arguing that "Beilin's responsibility for the crime (sic) of Oslo" made him illegitimate.

   The epitome of the campaign was the concentrated abuse poured upon the 76-year old singer Yaffa Yarkoni -- whose whole career had been built around her going to the front during all the wars, and singing to the soldiers.

   Asked by the Army Radio whether she would sing for the soldiers in Jenin she burst out: 'I can't bear to see the soldiers driving the handcuffed and blindfolded

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Palestinians before them and writing numbers on their arms. We are a people that lived through the Holocaust. How can we do such things? The refusers are right. We should go out of these territories. Let the Palestinians have their state.'

   After a career of more than 50 years at the warm center of the national consensus, Yaffa Yarkoni found herself banished to the margins -- thousands of hate mails, hostility from passersby in the street, and performances cancelled. A long-planned granting of a lifetime award by the Israeli Artists' Association was cancelled as well, a gala performance at which fellow-artists were scheduled to perform in her honor -- many of whom were quick to dissociate once she became controversial.

   Most of these affairs ended well. Yossi Beilin did after all have his lecture at Be'er Sheba University, in spite of the right-wingers; none of the 56 pro-refusenik professors was prosecuted or harmed in tenure, and in fact some 200 additional professors from other universities joined their outspoken position; and in the end even Yaffa Yarkoni found many fans and fellow artists still loyal, had a smashing success at an alternative gala evening, and two months later her new production "All the doves" was well-received in the hits parade, despite a boycott call from the nationalists.

   A far more vulnerable target are Israel's Arab citizens and their political leadership, a group which has been under constant attack since the intifada outbreak in October 2000.

   A piece of legislation, introduced by the right wing and passing by a considerable majority and without the appropriate public outcry makes it possible to deny participation in future Knesset elections to "a candidate or list of candidates (...) who support armed struggle against Israel."

   Since virtually all Arab Knesset Members and conspicuous Arab public figures support the Palestinian struggle for independence -- though not necessarily all acts undertaken as part of that struggle -- this new law could be in principle utilized to forbid all Arab parties and candidates and effectively disenfranchise the Arab citizens -- which would definitely establish Israel as an apartheid state with an "ethnically cleansed" parliament which will be dominated by a built-in right-wing majority.

   In a related move, Interior Minister Yishai made use of a never-implemented law and started procedures to strip Israeli citizenship from two Arabs charged (not yet tried!) with having been accessories to a terrorist act.

The wobbling Bush

   When Sharon launched his invasion, it was obvious that he had the full backing of President Bush for taking whatever "measures of self defence" he chose (with the single, above-mentioned proviso that Arafat not be physically harmed).

   Three days later, there was an impression of a shift in the American position, when the US joined with all other members of the UN Security Council in calling upon Israel to withdraw its forces from "Palestinian cities including Ramallah." The impression was misleading. The Americans took care that the resolution did not include a specification of time for the Israeli withdrawal, which was interpreted as giving Sharon "a few more days."

   In fact, Israel's PM used these days to invade Jenin, followed by Nablus, starting the most bloody and destructive days of the whole campaign.

   For their part, the generals announced that they would need "four to eight weeks" in order to "finish the task of uprooting the terrorist infrastructure" (a timeline whose public announcement caused slight embarrassment in Washington).

   Then the council convened again, and adopted a new text which still omitted putting "immediate" before "withdrawal" and thus still permitted the US some complicated interpretation, though the acrobatics needed of US officials became more and more arduous.

   After a week, the protest from America's European allies became shrill; the SOS calls increased from the pro-American Arab regimes, faced with growing ferment among their own population at the footage broadcast day and night over the popular Al-Jazeera TV; the cross-border shooting by Hizbullah over the Israeli-Lebanese border became bolder by the day; altogether, Bush was faced with a daily more concrete specter of a regional war, of the collapse of regimes, of the rise of oil prices, and last but not least: the disruption of chances to topple Saddam Hussein.

   So the US finally joined with the rest of the world in passing a resolution containing the "I" word. Moreover, President Bush emphasized it be repeated TV appearances, wagging his finger and declaring 'When I say immediate, I do mean immediate!'

   It should have been clear enough, but somehow it wasn't. Bush's envoy, Secretary of State Powell, did not carry a real authorization to enforce what looked at face value like an ultimatum from the world's sole remaining superpower.

   Powell dawdled on his way, with Sharon pointedly ignoring that demand for withdrawal. Meanwhile, in Washington the ultraconservatives in the Republican Party made a concerted show of force, berating the president for having strayed from the straight and narrow course of the "war on terror."

   To top it all, Powell's arrival in Jerusalem was accompanied by a suicide bombing in the city. So, the government propagandists had something to show to the many journalists who came in Powell's train...

   In a brief visit to Syria Powell did achieve a calming down of the Israeli-Lebanese border, for the time being pushing away the danger of a second front opening the gates of regional war -- which may have been the Americans' paramount concern. He also reportedly nipped in the bud a full-scale invasion of Gaza for which the operational plans were already complete.

   The army did at last leave Jenin, whose isolation from the outside world encouraged rumours exaggerating an all-too-terrible reality; international relief crews arrived, days too late for most of the

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wounded who could have been saved. And Nablus was evacuated, where many more got killed than in Jenin though it got much less attention.

   For the rest, Sharon was allowed to maintain his forces indefinitely in Ramallah and Bethlehem (and keep its population under curfew) for several weeks more, pending "a nonviolent solution" to the respective sieges. Many smaller towns and villages, whose names are not known to most Israelis and certainly not to the Americans and their president, remained under occupation and curfew for weeks upon weeks, their invasion and continued occupation going unnoticed by the world. The city of Hebron to the south, ignored in the first stages of the reoccupation, was actually reinvaded after Powell left the region.

   The US had tacitly accepted Israel's "right" to reenter any evacuated town, in accordance with "security needs" -- a strategic change whose full implications became clear in the following months.

   Was the President of the United States of America defeated in a direct showdown with the Prime Minister of a small country totally dependent on the US, but possessing a disproportionate influence on internal American affairs? Or was the confrontation a sham to begin with? In either case, the result is the same: Sharon achieved nullification of the main plank of Oslo, the creation of Palestinian semi-sovereign areas from which the Israeli army is excluded.

The new occupation

   The Ramallah and Bethlehem sieges dragged on for weeks and weeks, with the conditions inside the two besieged structures getting worse, and tens of thousands of inhabitants in both cities kept under continuing curfew, virtual hostages. To finally end the siege of his own headquarters, Arafat had to agree to the detention -- in a Palestinian prison at Jericho, but under close supervision of British prison guards -- of six people whom he had been sheltering, and who were implicated in the assassination last year of the Israeli minister Rehava'am Ze'evi. Sharon had been demanding the extradition of the six to Israel.

   The deal aroused quite a bit of criticism among Palestinians, especially since among the six detainees was Ahmed Sa'adat, Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- a senior political leader. (Ze'evi had been assassinated in retaliation for the assassination by Israel of Sa'adat's predecessor, Abu Ali Mustapha).

   As it turned out, however, a Palestinian prison with British guards was the only location where the six were more or less safe from capture or assassination by the Israeli forces.

   There was still left the grim siege of Bethlehem's Church of Nativity. Careful not to damage the venerable stones of Jesus Christ's birthplace, the besieging forces contented themselves with slowly starving the 200 Palestinians trapped inside (a practice ruled legal by Israel's Supreme Court), and IDF snipers stationed on the high buildings around Manger Square were instructed to shoot at the besieged Palestinians, whenever it could be done without damaging the building itself.

   Fully twenty-one of the Palestinians who sought to gain refuge at the Church of the Nativity found there their eternal rest -- several of them in the unheroic attempt to get to the toilet across an open courtyard.

   Conditions for ending the siege were stiff: twenty-six of the besieged militants had to leave their native city and move to Gaza for an indefinite time; thirteen others had to leave altogether the soil of Palestine and go into exile in different European countries (there was prolonged wrangling among the EU members about which country should receive how many of them). With the trauma of 1948, an expulsion -- even if of only thirteen -- condoned by the national leadership was a bitter pill to swallow for the Palestinians.

   The Palestinian leadership's agreement to such terms was partly motivated by concern for the inhabitants of Bethlehem, kept under curfew as long as the siege continued. But as events were soon to show, their relief at the departure of Israeli troops was to be very short-lived.

   At all events, the way in which the two sieges ended considerably eroded the popularity which Arafat accumulated in the earlier parts of the affair. True, the emergence of Arafat from yet another siege, alive and more or less well, could be counted a victory; Sharon would certainly have wished it otherwise, and the Israeli soldiers who raised the siege also reluctantly admitted Arafat to be the victor ("At least in this round" one of them said on TV).

   Yet there were no celebrations on the Palestinian side, and no reason for such. Arafat's tour of the evacuated Nablus, Jenin and Bethlehem did not generate much enthusiasm. The cities were all war-scarred, and the Palestinian Authority heavily crippled.

   During its weeks of occupation, the Israeli army had gone through the Palestinian ministries, systematically confiscating or destroying the computers and archives on which any governmental structure depends: records of teachers' salaries and matriculation examinations at the Ministry of Education, accounts of vaccinations at the Ministry of Health, the details or car registration at the Ministry of Transportation were all gone. So were the computers of private corporations, NGO's and human rights associations and private radio stations -- all taken away to the Israeli Security Service headquarters.

   "The terrorist infrastructure" for whose destruction Israel supposedly went to war turned out to have a wide meaning indeed. Civil organizations, working openly from public offices and premises, suffered the most. So did the Palestinian Police whose barracks and camps were never concealed; it was from its armories -- established formally and officially under the Oslo Agreement -- that the army obtained most of the "captured terrorist guns" which were later displayed to credulous visiting US Senators.

   Also, most of the thousands of militiamen, taken off to incarceration under harsh conditions in the Negev Desert, were members of Arafat's own Tanzim

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militia. Of all parts of Palestinian spectrum it was Hamas, already much more adapted to working clandestinely, which was the least damaged by Sharon's "antiterrorist sweep"; quite a few of its militants managed to avoid capture, and upon the army's departure set to work to renew the suicide bombing campaign.

   Meanwhile, in Ramallah and Nablus Palestinians set out feverishly and defiantly to repair the damage, all the while making cynical jokes of the coming new invasion.

   Just beyond the edge of the cities, the tanks were waiting.

The hopeful interlude

   At the concluding stages of "Operation Defensive Shield", Defence Minister Ben-Eliezer remarked that "our achievements are strictly temporary" and that "in the absence of a serious diplomatic initiative, terrorism will go back to its former high levels" -- yet another of the correct predictions which he made and from which he was to take no practical conclusion.

   Many of those who fought in the West Bank invasion conceived of their role as "winning time for the political echelon to make a diplomatic deal." So did many ordinary Israelis who had supported the invasion. Quite a few of them took part in the Peace Now rally of May 11, with a participation variously estimated at between 60,000 and 100,000, which was certainly the biggest the peace action since the intifada outbreak in 2000.

   The organizers, indeed, made an effort to appeal to those who had supported the just-ended invasion as well as to those who had opposed it. The ads placed in the papers included the phrase :"Military action, by itself, cannot bring a solution" and the stickes and huge signs with the slogan "Get out of the the Territories -- for the sake of Israel!" were colored in patriotic Blue and White, rather than in Peace Now's customary red and black.

   For a few weeks, there was a different kind of public atmosphere, with the paranoid kind of patriotism receding a bit to the background. Following the May 7 suicide bombing at Rishon Lezion, an attempt was made to whip up public enthusiasm for a new assault, this time upon the Gaza Strip. The reserves were duly mobilized, but noticeably lacked the enthusiasm of a month before; the generals, too, were divided; and there was the aforementioned rally, with the Meretz leader denouncing from the podium the Gaza invasion plans and getting an enormous cheer. Finally General Mofaz, the outgoing army chief, had to shelve the Order of the Day which he had already drafted and accept that he would retire without having the conquest of Gaza to his credit.

   Could something positive have come of these weeks, and the bloodshed and suffering and escalation of the past three months avoided? The potential was there, there would have been a lot of support for a serious peace initiative if somebody in authority started it. But there was nobody to start it, with Sharon holding power in Israel, Bush in America and the world, and the Israeli Labor Party slavishly following both; and a single rally was not enough to create a popular movement strong enough to force from below a peace initiative upon a reluctant establishment.

   True, shortly after the grand rally, the Labor Party duly convened its council and adopted the most dovish program it ever had, calling for a Palestinian State, the dismantling of many settlements, even the partition of Jerusalem. It was intended as a gesture to what has shown itself as a still-vibrant peace constituency -- but few people in Israel, including in Labor itself, expect this party to take power at any time soon and be in a position to implement its program.

   Moreover, the Labor leaders have come to share Sharon's dictum that "Arafat is no partner" which effectively delays any implementation of the plan to a hazy future when "a new Palestinian leadership" will be able and willing to reach an agreement. In the meantime, Labor leaders Ben-Eliezer and Peres go on fulfilling their jobs in Defence and Foreign Affairs of this anti-peace government.

   Not to be outdone, the PM had his own demonstration of mock dovishness. The occasion arose when the Likud council, convened at the initiative of Sharon's rival Binyamin Netanyahu in alliance with extreme-right elements who have been steadily infiltrating the party in the past year, voted overwhelmingly for a resolution ruling out any possibility of a Palestinian state being established. Sharon had tried to prevent the resolution from being adopted.

   When he was defeated, the PM left the hall in a huff, declaring "Let this body decide what it will, I will act as I feel the country's needs dictate!" and got himself showered with praise by the liberal commentators who hailed him as "a decisive leader" and defined him as "a centrist" in contrast with "the extremist Netanyahu."

   In fact, Sharon's offer to the Palestinian remains confined to some 42% of the West Bank, which they would get at some distant time, as a "reward for good behavior" and which they may as well call "a state."

Diplomatic games

   On May 7, another suicide bomber -- this time at the town of Rishon Lezion, taking 15 random Israelis with him. This, the first major assault after the West Bank invasion, was apparently timed to coincide with the meeting held that evening between Sharon and Bush in the White House. The bombing and its aftermath -- the projected invasion of Gaza, plus a concrete threat to Arafat -- drew attention away from the meeting itself. Still, that meeting had a lasting importance.

   It was at the press conference after the meeting that Bush and Sharon were, for the first time, heard discussing an issue which since then became the new staple of Middle East diplomacy: democratic reforms in the Palestinian Authority.

   At one stroke Sharon established a new principle: the composition and functioning of Palestinian political and economic institutions -- hitherto an internal matter, to be discussed primarily among

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Palestinians -- has suddenly become a proper subject for discussion between the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the United States, who felt no need to invite any Palestinian to share their deliberations on the subject.

   Even more important from Sharon's point of view -- he had a perfect new pretext for delaying any negotiations on the substantive issues of the occupation: first, the Palestinians must complete their democratic reforms.

   True, at that time "reform" had not yet become the end-all and be-all of US diplomacy in the region. Other ideas competed with it, such as the project of holding a "regional peace conference" (an idea, in fact, which Sharon himself floated in April, but which he was quick to abandon once it developed a life of its own...).

   Also, the Saudis were still waiting to get a hearing for their peace initiative, which had now gotten the approval of the entire Arab World but which got no serious attention from either Israel or the US. Also, at that time Bush did not yet declare outright -- as Sharon wished -- that "reform" is shorthand for "Arafat must go."

   The Bush Administration was feeling a dim need to do "something" about the Middle East situation. But determining what the "something" should be was a bit difficult, considering the widely conflicting views among its officials. The State Department was in favor of giving the Palestinians something concrete to make them quiet, while the Pentagon frankly advocated leaving them to Sharon's tender mercies. Other parts of the administration were wavering, but more inclined in the anti-Palestinian direction, especially with the approach of the November mid-term elections in which Sharon's American supporters -- Jewish and fundamentalist Christian -- would wield considerable power.

   Finally, Bush decided upon a prolonged process of "consultations with Middle East leaders." The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan all came and went at the White House. Sharon came back several times, eager to keep hold of the president's ear. Some lower-level Palestinian delegates were also invited; not, of course, Arafat -- at this stage not yet officially boycotted but already held in great disfavor. And the internal struggle inside the administration continued, with no less than 28 drafts of the president's projected policy speech being prepared and discarded.

   Altogether, the Bush Administration took about two months to make up its mind -- two months in which, as Ben-Eliezer had predicted, the absence of a serious diplomatic initiative would lead to a full-scale resumption of the suicide bombings...


   During much of May, Israeli headlines were occupied by a sudden crisis in Sharon's governing coalition. In a crucial economic vote in the Knesset, the four ministers of the Shas Party voted against the new economic austerity plan, and were promptly fired by Sharon -- which he had the legal right to do, but previous PM's seldom used that right.

   The Shas leaders claimed that their action was motivated by protest at the burden of Israel's growing economic crisis being placed mainly on the poor -- which was quite true in itself. However, Shas failed to get credibility in its role as defender of the downtrodden; rather, large parts of the Israeli public conceive of it -- and with reason -- as a special interests group, concerned mainly with obtaining huge government budgets for its particular institutions and especially for its educational system.

   Shas is especially resented for its habit of promoting ultra-nationalist policies against the Palestinians while at the same time jealously preserving the exemption from military services for the students in its Yeshivas (religious seminaries). The Shas rabbis' claim that "The students' holy studies and prayers are vital for the army's success in the field" doesn't make impression on the non-religious public -- from which the peace movement draws its main support...


   The following was reported by Neta Golan, participating among the international activists in a solidarity action during a "minor" invasion of the Balata Refugee Camp (Nablus) - June 1.

   The soldiers were systematically breaking down the walls between one house and another, throughout a very long row of refugee houses. 'Why are you breaking the walls? The door is open.' I asked. 'Go away, you are disturbing our work' one of them said. His mate was a bit more friendly: 'We have to do this. We need a passage safe from snipers.' Actually, there were no snipers at all, and in order to stop us he went without hesitation into the open street.

   We went into the next house, and asked the soldiers to give the two women there time to move away their meagre possessions, which might have been smashed. In the end the soldiers agreed, grumbling a bit. The mother offered us tea, then suddenly offered it to the soldiers as well. They rejected the tea, shooing her away, obviously embarrassed. When they got to the opposite side of this house and started breaking the wall to its neighbor, the officer glanced at us and then made them carefully move aside the glass vases ranged along the wall. 'These people are making us into softies' I heard one soldier whisper.


   For weeks, liberal commentators engaged in Shas-bashing and cheered the PM on his efforts to bring the prodigal party to heel. And many in the social milieu from which Peace Now draws its support felt a triumphal glee when the Shas leaders were finally forced to unconditionally surrender -- supporting the welfare cuts they originally opposed, in order to regain their ministries and the lucrative budgets for their institutes. Sharon emerged from the affair with his popularity ratings at a new peak, with any momentum created by the May 11 rally lost and the signs of a gathering new storm ignored.

   It was also in these weeks that Sharon made a delightful discovery -- the world had lost interest in events on the West Bank. Once the Ramallah and Bethlehem sieges were over, the world's media spotlight moved to other trouble spots around the

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globe. CNN and other international networks no longer considered it a significant news item that pretty soon the Israeli army began moving back into the evacuated cities -- one city at a time being re-re-occupied, placed under curfew for a few days, having inhabitants rounded up, sometimes shot, and then seeing the troops move on to the the next town.

   Nor did these piecemeal reoccupations evoke diplomatic protests from the Europeans or even the Arab states. American backing could, of course, be taken for granted.

   To demonstrate the extent of that support, Sharon timed a reoccupation of Ramallah on the very eve of a new visit to the White House, with the correct assumption that he would encounter no disapproving word in Washington. The new Palestinian cabinet -- appointed in conformity with the demands for "reform" and containing a new Interior Minister to take charge of the Palestinian security forces and a new Finance Minister to create a "transparent" financial system -- was unable to convene for its first meeting.

   For several days the Palestinian ministers, like the rest of Ramallah's inhabitants, were confined to their homes by the soldiers patrolling the streets and shooting at anyone who emerged.

   The situation could not have been made more graphically clear: Palestinian sovereignty on the West Bank was no more. The Israeli army could go anywhere, arrest anybody at any time including high officials of the PA, and seize any building including the PA premises.

   The battered Palestinian Authority could make no plans for the following week, let alone for a longer range. Its Education Ministry was driven to such expedients as instructing school principals in towns which the army just "visited" to hurry up the examination dates in order to have them finished before the soldiers return; examination papers were transported on the backs of donkeys to bypass Israeli roadblocks on the highways. Similar expedients were needed for the Health Ministry to keep the medical system barely running.

   Meanwhile, clandestine militias were reconstructing the "Terrorist Infrastructure" of whose destruction the Israeli general boasted. The militants killed or captured were replaced by new ones, motivated to prove that the invasion had failed to destroy or subdue their organization. New suicide bombers were easy to recruit from among unemployed youths, suspended between boredom and deprivation, no hope in sight and with what their families went through, often having personal scores to settle.

Explosions and fences

   On the morning of June 5 -- anniversary of the 1967 occupation -- a 17-year old from the battered Jenin Refugee Camp made his way into Israel, driving a car into which many kilograms of explosives were packed. At Megiddo, known in the Christian tradition as Armageddon, and known also as the location of a detention center where many Palestinians are held, the youngster exploded his car and thereby destroyed an Israeli bus traveling just ahead on the road.

   Though there had been several suicide bombings in May, it was this case -- given an especially wide and grim coverage on the media -- which drove home to the Israeli public the fact that the celebrated "Operation Defensive Shield" had failed in its declared purpose of putting an end to terrorism. It was at this time that Defence Minister Ben Eliezer made his one serious attempt at influencing government policy and the public agenda, by pushing the idea of erecting a border fence between Israel and the West Bank.

   The idea itself is not new. The clamor for such a border fence has been heard whenever Israel had been the target of serious Palestinian assaults, and cabinet resolutions to build a fence were adopted several times since the Rabin period -- but never implemented. This was mainly due to the settlers.

   A West Bank border fence, the settlers felt, would be the first step towards a border between two sovereign states -- a border which would leave them stranded on the Palestinian side.

   Even the example of the Gaza Strip, which had been surrounded by a fence long ago and inside which settlement enclaves still prosper under tight military protection, failed to calm down the West Bank settlers. Whenever the subject came up, the settlers used their political clout -- which is enormous -- to prevent the practical steps, from the drawing up of concrete plans up to budgets being allocated.

   Thus, paradoxically, the activity of the settler lobby benefited Palestinian workers seeking to work illegally in Israel, but also the suicide bombers making their way to Israel's main population centers -- which does not add to the settlers' popularity in the general public.

   The idea of a border fence appeals especially to the so-called "pragmatic doves" -- the hardheaded ones who do not believe in coexistence and who regard withdrawal from the Occupied Territories as "divorce rather than marriage" -- an attitude which became especially widespread in the past two years, with the intifada increasing distrust of Palestinians among Israelis at large.

   Haim Ramon, Ben-Eliezer's main rival for the Labor Party leadership, has long made the creation of a border fence -- as a first step towards "unilateral separation from the Palestinians" -- the main plank of his political program. In the past, Ben-Eliezer was not particularly enthusiastic -- but at this juncture, stealing his opponent's thunder seemed an ideal way of scuttling the Ramon campaign in the internal Labor Party elections and appealing both to the doves who threaten to bolt the party and to large sections of the general public feeling threatened by the bombings.

   On the morning of June 16, the Defence Minister presided at a heavily-televised inauguration ceremony, where the cornerstone of the new fence was laid northeast of Jenin, and the bulldozers started working immediately (or at least, so it was announced).

   Among the settlers there was a furious scrambling, with some declaring all-out opposition and even

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threatening to bring down the Sharon Government over the issue, while others -- those whose settlements are located close to the border -- were exerting their strength to obtain "minor modifications" by which they will stay on the Israeli side of the fence.

   For his part, Prime Minister Sharon was not too eager to have a fence, but avoided open opposition to what seemed at the moment a particularly popular idea. The PM was actually more keen on listening to the signals from Washington that President Bush's long-awaited policy speech was about to be delivered -- while it wasn't clear yet which of several divergent drafts the president was about to use.

   And then, the suicide bombers struck again.

Re-occupation completed

   On June 18, a suicide bomber exploded himself inside a bus in south Jerusalem, killing 16 Israelis -- many of them teenagers. Prime Minister Sharon hurried to the spot, making an emotional speech: "I am an old soldier, but never in my life did I see such carnage. Things can't go on like this, something must be done." On the following day, there was another attack in Jerusalem, claiming seven more lives.

   President Bush gave Sharon the usual authorization to take "self defensive measures" and put off delivering his speech, which had been scheduled for the day of the second attack. The president's aides set about reviewing and revising it yet again -- much to the Palestinians' detriment, as soon turned out.

   Meanwhile, in Israel the public atmosphere quickly shifted. Interest in the border fence waned, as people realized that it would take months or years to build. The cabinet meeting, with only a perfunctory resistance from the Labor ministers, adopted a resolution authorizing the army to occupy all the Palestinian cities and hold them for an indefinite period.

   Avi Dichter, head of the Shabak Security Service, recommended that the cities remain occupied "until the fence is finished", which would mean for a year at least -- or maybe for indefinite time. There was to be quite a media stir a month and a half later, when it turned out that virtually nothing had been built after that spectacular inauguration ceremony.

   And so it came about, "not with a bang but with a whimper." The reoccupation of the entire West Bank did not evoke an international outcry, was the subject of no urgent debate in the UN Security Council, and did not figure prominently on the international news.

   Inside israel, there was much less of the gung-ho patriotism prevalent two months earlier, and pronouncements that the new "Operation Determined Path" will at last provide the long-awaited solution to terrorism were met with understandable skepticism. Still, there was unquestionably a solid though not enthusiastic public support for the measure, and the peace movement was unable to mount any significant protest.

   Partly, the disinterest of the international news organizations was due to the fact that the new operation seemed not just a replay of the April events, but a particularly drab and colorless one. No spectacular battles or sieges this time, indeed very little armed Palestinian resistance.

   In Bethlehem Israeli special forces sealed in advance the Church of the Nativity, to prevent anybody taking refuge there; Arafat's compound was surrounded again, but it was a far more careless and negligent siege than two months earlier -- more just a matter of occupying the rest of Ramallah and leaving this small enclave unoccupied.

   Only in one place was there something resembling a battle -- in Hebron, where Israeli forces besieged the Governorate building, one of the few PA institutions left intact in the whole West Bank. Earlier, it had been spared because of a local cease-fire agreement in the Hebron area, under which the local Palestinian Police made considerable efforts to stop Hamas activity in the city. This time, it was attacked because somebody on the Israeli side decided for some reason that such agreements were no longer worth keeping.

   Soon after being surrounded, the Palestinian Police in the building gave themselves up, and some of them were led away handcuffed. The Army insisted, however, that there were at least fifteen militants hiding out in the building, and continued shooting and calling upon them to surrender.

   A member of the Palestinian Legislative council entered the building with Israeli permission and returned telling that it was empty. The army commanders on the spot refused to believe him, continued their shooting and calls for surrender, and finally blew up and destroyed the entire five-storey building. But there were no bodies to be found under the ruins.

Largest prison on earth

   Though the outside world did not seem to fully realize it, in the week between June 19 and June 26 the state of Israel effectively transformed the West Bank into the largest prison on earth, housing between one and two millions inmates (dependent on whether or not the outlying villages are included).

   In city after city of the West Bank, total curfew was imposed. City streets became a forbidden territory, and anyone venturing into them was liable to be hit by a tear gas canister in the best case, a shell from a tank in the worst.

   Every few days, inhabitants were allowed on the streets for a few hours -- as prisoners are occasionally allowed out of their cells into the prison courtyard. But ordinary prisoners at least get fed by the prison administration, while West Bankers under curfew are expected to buy food with their own money. Soon, many of them had little or none; in an economy totally paralyzed by the curfew, it is not possible to work or earn money -- and the Palestinian economy had already been in such a very bad shape before.

   Israel did not offer to take any responsibility. While its army took control of every city and of every aspect of daily life, the Palestinian Authority was not abolished, nor were Israeli military governors appointed. In theory, the governors appointed by Arafat were still in charge -- though they were imprisoned in their homes like everybody else.

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   Obviously, the PA was in no condition to help its own citizens. In default of that, Sharon proposed to let international relief organizations support the population -- though in many cases also their work was hampered by the curfews and roadblocks. The donor countries -- those which in the past tried to develop the Palestinian infrastructure and saw much of their investment destroyed by Israeli airplanes and tanks -- were more or less expected to keep the population from bare starvation. Meanwhile, the extensive Hamas network of relief and charity organizations became the last resort for many Palestinians, increasing the Islamic group's grassroots support the longer the curfew lasts.

   If official pronouncements are to be believed, the curfew with all its hardships is nothing but a byproduct of the need to stop the suicide bombings -- and most Israelis tend to accept it as such. Commentator Aluf Ben in Ha'aretz, recounting the strategic thinking of the new Army Chief-of-Staff Moshe Ya'alon, was more honest in stating:

   The economic pressure applied upon the Palestinian population, via closures and curfews, is the main weapon through which Israel can win the present war of attrition with the Palestinians (Ha'aretz, Aug.1).

Jefferson in Ramallah

   While trying to adjust to the hardships of living under the curfew of indefinite duration, Palestinians received another blow -- seeing on the TV screens the long-awaited policy speech of President Bush, and finding that the text emerging from the administration's internal wrangling was the best that Sharon could hope for.

   While repeating his formal commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state "within three years" (but without specifying its borders), the president devoted the bulk of his speech to placing the onus upon the Palestinians. The present Palestinian leadership was explicitly disqualified from being a fit builder of the future state of Palestine, and the alternative leadership -- whoever that would turn out to be -- was charged with establishing a full-blown Jeffersonian democracy, complete with a constitutional separation between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. Rather a tall order for people needing the Israeli army's permission to cross from their home to the neighboring house. (The word "curfew", or any other reference to the Palestinians' present plight was entirely absent from Bush's speech).

   A far cry from his demand for "immediate withdrawal, and I do mean immediate" of two and half months previously, the president now made Israeli withdrawal from the conquered towns dependent upon a vaguely defined "improvement in the security situation." And Bush did not omit preaching that the future Palestine be based upon "free market principles" -- and that, to a people who are right now denied the free market even in the most elementary sense of the word, i.e. the possibility of peasants to bring their produce to market in the nearest town...

   There are, indeed, quite a few Palestinians who grumble about Arafat's style of leadership (and who express such grumblings far more openly than other Arabs can express criticism of their countries' respective leaders); an even greater number of Palestinians complain of corruption in the PA's institutions; and democratic reforms have been the slogan of many Palestinian intellectuals already back at the time when George W. Bush was the Governor of Texas with little interest in and knowledge of international affairs.

   Still, few Palestinians cared to have such reforms and changes of leadership rammed down their throat by a US President in which they had little reason to place any trust. Israeli government experts noted that the immediate reaction to the Bush speech was a new increase in Arafat's popularity among the Palestinian population.

   And yet, Palestinian diplomats could do no other than trying to work within the very unfavorable terms of reference set out.

   The one relatively positive element to be found in the speech was the presidential commitment to holding Palestinian elections "by the end of the year." Though Bush did not say so explicitly, it is internationally accepted that elections cannot be held under conditions of military occupation -- certainly not of perpetual curfew. Also, it is a common practice to have international observers present in such elections. There is, indeed, a clear precedent -- the Palestinian elections of January 1996 were held after the Israeli army withdrew from the Palestinian cities, and with international observers headed by former US President Jimmy Carter.

   The present situation is, of course, quite different -- the main complication being Bush and Sharon's determination to have a "non-Arafat leadership" emerge from the elections, whatever the opinion of the Palestinian voters may be in the matter. And since elections could not take place without a pullout of Israeli forces, Sharon is in possession of an effective veto power...

   Meanwhile, after three weeks in which occupation and curfew in the Palestinian cities seemed to "do the job" of stopping Palestinian assaults, it turned out that the Palestinian militants adjusted to the harsh new conditions -- and located the army's weak point.


'Don't come to see me after he is dead.'

   'Tomorrow, my soldier son will be sent to defend a settlement. The army classified him as a non-combat soldier, gave him only a superficial training in the use of weapons, and told him he will serve at a computer screen. Yet now, without further training, without being able to defend his own life, he is sent to defend the settlements with his own body (...)
Yona Rochlin of Kfar Saba created quite a stir with her open letter, sent to the press on June 28.

   With limited manpower, sending the best fighting units into the cities meant thinning considerably the forces available to defend the settlements and the roads leading to them. It was there that a long series of lethal ambushes began, culminating with an attack on a settler bus outside the settlement of Immanuel,

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on July 17, leaving eight dead. "The blanket is too short, we just don't have the manpower for all the tasks" complained an unnamed senior officer in Yediot Aharonot.

   One way out of the predicament would have been a large call-up of reserves. That would, however, have serious consequences for Israel's ailing economy -- not only burdening the government budget's with paying reservist salaries, which are far higher than those of conscripts, but also regularly taking out of economic circulation many of the country's most skilled and productive workers.

   To top it all, a suicide bombing in the slums of south Tel-Aviv left five people dead and many other wounded, giving a conclusive proof that Palestinians can do it even under conditions of total occupation and curfew.

   Most of the randomly chosen victims happened to be migrant workers from Third World countries, a group at the very same time targeted by PM Sharon. ('I have instructed the police to deport 50,000 illegal foreign workers this year, to make place for unemployed Israelis. The deportations will be conducted in the style of a military operation.') Many of the migrant workers wounded in the Tel-Aviv blast refused medical treatment, fearing to be arrested at the hospital and deported.

Another smashed hope

   Palestinians under the ongoing curfew found different ways of expressing their discontent: shouting abuse at the military vehicles, making a din with beating upon pots and pans, flying out of their yards and off their roofs kites with the Palestinian national colors. The idea of mass direct defiance of the curfew, while often contemplated, was tried only on a small scale -- especially in places where the presence of international volunteers gave some kind of protection from army violence.

   Nevertheless, with the rapid deterioration of the Palestinian population's situation, the army became haunted by the specter of food riots, tens of thousands of starving and desperate Palestinians breaking out of their homes in an unstoppable tide. For fear of the political and military implications of such a scenario, the generals began pressing the government for a slight easing in the noose around the Palestinians' neck. So did the Americans, who widely published a USAID report on the alarming rise of malnutrition symptoms among Palestinian children.

   Thus, towards the end of July there was a marked increase in the number of hours per day and days per week in which the curfew over the Palestinian cities was removed. In particular Ramallah, the de-facto Palestinian capital, had ten consecutive days with the curfew lifted during the day, giving the inhabitants some semblance of ordinary life. Even in Nablus -- the town singled out for the most harsh treatment, since the security services declared it to be "the capital of terrorism" -- the army was for several days less strict in enforcing the curfew.

   Meanwhile, rumors proliferated of negotiations on the issue of the Palestinian reforms and elections, with the formula offered that Arafat would stay "a titular president" and appoint "an interim executive prime minister", and that in the January elections a prime minister, rather then a president, would be elected. Some sources quoted Arafat as firmly rejecting that offer, others claimed that he would accept it under certain conditions and even speculated over the possible candidates for Palestinian PM.

   Moreover, a far-reaching effort was being made under EU auspices to obtain a formal cease-fire agreement which would pave the way to Israeli withdrawal from the cities. Conducted with Arafat's knowledge, the initiative centered on the grassroots activists of his Tanzim movement -- those best placed to either initiate or prevent assaults against Israelis.

   Precisely after having proven that they could strike painfully at Israeli targets, even under the conditions of curfew, the militia heads seemed willing to de-escalate the situation. Moreover, the Hamas leaders were contacted and seemed ready to consider joining the cease-fire initiative.

   Things came to a head on July 22, as the well-informed Alex Fishman of Yediot Aharonot was to describe vividly two days later. In the afternoon the Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin gave an interview to Al-Jazeera TV, raising as a positive possibility a cease-fire with Israel. At about ten in the evening the leaders of Tanzim who met in Jenin agreed on the text of a cease-fire declaration, to be published on the following day in both the Palestinian and the Israeli media, as well as in the Washington Post.

   As Fishman noted, the Israeli government was well-aware of what was afoot, both from being formally briefed by the European sponsors of the cease-fire initiative and from the information of its own security services. Still, a few minutes after midnight -- less than two hours after the cease-fire document was agreed -- an Israeli F-16 fighter flew over Gaza and dropped a one-ton bomb on a specifically designated three-storey building, completely destroying it and severely damaging several neighboring houses. Seventeen people perished in the bombing: Salah Shehadeh, a senior Hamas leader who was the official target of this "liquidation"; Shehadeh's aide; his wife and teenage daughter; and thirteen of his neighbors, nine of them children.

   An official statement by the government of Israel claimed that Shehadeh had to be killed, since he was in the process of preparing a "mega suicide bombing" in which "hundreds of Israelis would have perished." No proof was offered, as none ever is in the claims to justify "liquidation", and whose veracity is taken for granted by the Israeli media and most of the public. The communique went on to deny that any cease-fire had been contemplated on the Palestinian side or that the government was aware of any such Palestinian initiative.

   There was also an expression of regret at the death of innocent civilians, as the government normally issues in such cases, and which is usually received with a cynical shrug on the Palestinian side (much as the Palestinian Authority's condemnations of suicide

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bombings are received by Israelis). Once again -- as with the assassination of Ra'ed Karmi which ended the December cease-fire -- Sharon has shown his hand rather crudely. Many commentators -- including some not usually inclined to the views of the peace movement -- strongly condemned his act. Ari Shavit of Ha'aretz went so far as to explicitly call the Gaza bombing "a terrorist attack initiated by Sharon." And the often-cautious Meretz leader Yossi Sarid called it "state terrorism" on prime-time TV.

   Still, Sharon's deed of blood was done and could not be undone. Once again, peace seekers could only watch helplessly the avalanche and wait for Hamas' inevitable revenge and for the escalation to follow.

Back into the maelstrom

   On the Palestinian side, the Gaza bombing produced an emotional reaction reminiscent of what happened in Israel after the Natanya bombing in March. Not only was the footage of blood and gore shown on TV, but there was on the Palestinian side a strong sense of hurt and insult, the feeling of a hand extended in peace which was met by gratuitous violence. Many Palestinians hitherto sunk in war weariness and ready to embrace any halfway decent compromise were aroused into fiery calls for revenge. Thousands of demonstrators in the streets of Gaza gave the Hamas leaders an effective mandate.

   It took a week before the first revenge attack was perpetrated, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem -- for once, not a suicide bombing but an explosive charge hidden under a cafeteria table; not that it made much difference to the seven victims. It was followed a few days later by the blowing up of a bus in northern Israel, and the boastful Hamas promise of yet more to come.

   By the Israeli army there had been a new tightening of the curfew; and a new invasion of the Nablus Casbah, destroying much of what survived the fighting in April; and the destruction of fifteen houses of the families of suicide bombers, for the sole reason that they are their family members -- the demolitions approved by the Supreme Court; and deportation orders -- from Nablus to Gaza -- issued against three such family members (human rights lawyers still fight this one out); and the ongoing series of "liquidations"; and the phrase "shot while trying to escape" appearing in official communiques; and...

   And so, this account gets to the present. It has been written under difficult conditions, with the writers -- in their capacity as Gush Shalom activists -- feeling the results of PM Sharon publicly denouncing their movement as "traitorous", and getting obscene and threatening phone calls in plenty.

   This morning, the radio told of the Palestinian cabinet in Ramallah "accepting in principle" an Israeli proposal for "phased withdrawal" from some of the occupied cities. Hearing such news would have been more hopeful had the Prime Minister of Israel been somebody else than Sharon -- but one can never know.

   As it is, the coming months are more likely to be influenced by the grim threat by Police Minister Uzi Landau: "If we suffer a mega terrorist attack, there will be a mega retaliation cubed, a complete changing of the rules in our relations with the Palestinians."

Lutta continua

   It is the darkest time we can recall. A time of waking up into -- rather than from -- a nightmare; a time of turning on the news in dread of hearing bad news, more than in expectation of something good. Much that would have been considered unthinkable a year ago has already become our daily reality -- and there is no assurance at all that we have already seen the worst.

   Ariel Sharon has had phenomenally favorable conditions, which he used cleverly and ruthlessly. He knew how to provoke suicide bombings and how to utilize them to the full -- and on some occasions, Hamas seems to have provided them gratis, precisely in time for Sharon's need. And of course, the PM had the enormous help of Osama Bin-Laden in driving the United States to the mindset most conductive to an all-out Israeli assault upon the Palestinians.

   For all that, Sharon is neither invincible nor infallible, and his project of reconquest -- now several months old -- has already run into considerable difficulties and built-in contradictions. His popularity rating is steadily falling. The last time this happened, in March, he escaped by reconquering the West Bank. What new recourse has he now?

   Quite possibly, it will be the economy which will undo Sharon: the Israeli economy hit by a sharp recession, registering a mounting unemployment and the first year of negative growth since the early 1960's -- and with the economists and leaders of the business community virtually unanimous in ruling that the economic crisis is a direct result of war with the Palestinians, and that there can be no economic recovery without peace.

   In many countries, a Prime Minister who presides over an economic debacle is likely to end his career. But for that to happen to the Sharon government the perpetual motion of killings and counter-killings, which keeps his constituency captive, must first be interrupted.
The editors
Tel-Aviv, August 10

   July 24. After a F-16, sent by Sharon, ended the chances for a cease-fire as well as the lives of 15 civilians Gush Shalom decided to break through the feelings of shock and paralysis and call a protest opposite the Defence Ministry in Tel-Aviv.

   A clump of activists are already there before the appointed hour. By 6.00 more and more are arriving, the usual faces but also quite a lot from other groups - altogether about 150. Banners are unfurled and handmade signs held aloft: Killing follows Killing / Assassination causes Terror / The killing of Palestinian children is terror, too / A targeted killing of peace / There is no military solution / Enough with war crimes / The economy is collapsing under the burden of the occupation. A big, black-bordered banner reads We mourn the Israeli and Palestinian children. At its side the combined flags of Israel and Palestine and the

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Gush Shalom motto: Two Peoples, Two States, One Future. While dispersing, more than one of us contemplated the likely future occasions when we would have to come here again in the coming months -- the suicide bombings which are the likely result of the Gaza bombings, and the new acts of repression to which these bombings will provide a pretext, etc.

Action diary

   The past months had seen quite a few protest actions in which different groups cooperated -- for all that we often felt them to be inadequate to the grave situation. Following are some of the most significant.
The defence ministry has long been a focus point for spontaneous protests in Tel-Aviv. On March 30, about 500 people turned up there, desperate and furious about the army's war against the Palestinian people and feeling sick with anger at the cynicism of those in power doing everything to escalate and further escalate the situation.

   The news which could be heard on the transistor radios which some had brought increased the tension: in Ramallah -- the most worldly of Palestinian cities -- all men between 15 and 45 being ordered to turn themselves in; contradictory rumors on the siege of Arafat's headquarters, with no journalists allowed to come near.

   'The occupation is killing us all' placards, originally printed for the February 9 rally, had only become more true. There were also huge newly-made ones Withdraw the tanks / International Intervention Now! and a lot of handwritten signs produced at the spot: Get out of Ramallah Now -- Stop the Madness -- Tanks against civilians breed suicide bombers. The people had been mobilized in less than twenty-four hours, through phoning and e-mailing only.

   The initiators, veteran activists Yehudith Har'el and Lev Grinberg, were the same who two weeks earlier organized the petition calling for UN forces to be stationed in the Occupied Territories. It was joined by Gush Shalom, Ta'ayush, the Women's Coalition and Hadash, whose group was led by Knesset Members Muhammad Barake and Issam Makhoul.

   Some of the internationals from France and Italy, who just arrived in the country in order to act as human shields in the Territories, also joined in.
For part of the participants it was the second or even third demo they attended this day; a whole busload had arrived directly from the Land Day rally in the Negev.

   Halfway through the hours-long demonstration, hundreds of activists suddenly poured from the sidewalk into the street, blocking the traffic and chanting angrily: Fascism is in Power / A Government of War Criminals / Occupation is Terror, the Refuser is a Hero / We will neither kill, nor die in the war of the settlements.

   "At such a time, we can't just behave nicely and correctly" said a young activist. Near him, the white hair and beard of Uri Avnery were conspicuous among the crowd advancing towards the Defence Ministry gate, on the other side of the street.

   "This is an illegal demonstration. You are ordered to disperse immediately" announced an authoritative voice over the police car's loudspeaker. It was answered with jeers. "Are you going to bring some tanks from Ramallah, to crush us?" shouted one. A few minutes later, police started trying to drag demonstrators off the street. There were only a few of them, and they were not making much of a headway -- but the demonstrators on the edge were receiving heavy blows from police sticks and from mobile radios, made of tough metal and wielded as weapons.

   Some were resisting, and suddenly there was visible a policeman bleeding from a gash in his head. "This is enough! We made our point, don't escalate the situation here any further" called organizers on the megaphone.

   The crowd, surprisingly disciplined, turned back to the sidewalk. There was a further hour of chanting. The police who were involved in the scuffle were standing just in front, some of them actually chatting with demonstrators and seeming quite friendly. Then, however, a new police car pulled up, a bigger one with a lot of room at the back. The reinforcements seemed bellicose and looking for a fight. Suddenly they picked on one demonstrator -- quite randomly, it seemed, except for the fact that he was obviously an Arab. His identity card was taken away, and he was told to show up at the police station and undergo interrogation.

   At about 9.00, a large group of activists were preparing to go to the police station and hold a solidarity vigil outside, and on the mobile phone came the message that the parallel Peace Now action outside the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem had gone well (and more orderly), also attended by about five hundred.

   Then suddenly a convoy of no less than nine ambulances, sirens wailing, tore across the street. In the Israel of March 2002, this could mean only one thing. Sure enough, opening the radio we just caught the message "...interrupting this program to bring you a special bulletin. A large explosion just happened at a cafe on Allenby Street..."

   From an e-mail message circulated April 2.

   Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations initiate food and aid consignment -- request for contributions.

   The curfew and the siege on the Palestinian cities in the West Bank have left thousands of women, men and children confined to their homes without food, drinking water, medicines and medical aid.

   During the past few days we are getting more calls then ever before -- people are asking us to help them move dead family members out of the living room, to insure medical care which the army prevents them from getting, or to fight the ongoing hunger and thirst.

   In addition to our ongoing work, we decided to organize a shipment of food and aid to the inhabitants of these cities. In order to do that, we need your donation.

   Financial contributions and basic food products (durable milk, baby food, flour, rice etc.) can be

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brought to the B'Tselem offices, 8 HaTasiya street, 4th floor, Talpiyot, West-Jerusalem.

March to A-Ram
 The following announcement came from the Women's Coalition.

   "On Wednesday, April 3, at 11.30 am we will march from A-Ram Checkpoint in north Jerusalem to Kalandia at the edge of occupied Ramallah. We will march in white (as a symbol of peace and nonviolence). Trucks of food and medical supplies destined for the Palestinian Union of Medical Relief and women's organizations will accompany the march.

   We will march to protest Sharon's War, to express our worry and dismay at what the army is perpetrating in our name.

   What exactly is happening behind the Kalandia checkpoint? Nobody knows for sure. Journalists are not allowed in, and those who are already there are being expelled or muzzled. Palestinian friends report that in addition to the senseless killing, the widespread destruction, and the siege on President Arafat's compound, the Ramallah Government Hospital as well as other clinics are in desperate need of medical supplies.

   Palestinian women's groups related that there is a huge shortage of basic foods. Later came horrific reports of the killing of prisoners by IDF soldiers, as well as widespread looting of supermarkets and banks. (...)

   The following groups decided to take part in this action (alphabetical): Bat-Shalom, Committee of Arab Students, Gush Shalom, Hakampus Lo Shotek, New Profile, Peace Now, The Fifth Mother, Ta'ayush, Women's Coalition for a Just Peace, Women Refuse.

   Yehudit Har'el reported immediately afterwards:

   "I just got back home from the checkpoint march. There was a big crowd of determined peace activists -- more than 50 buses + private cars. Circa 3000 people -- Jews and Arabs, men and women from all over the country, representing the Anti War Coalition of all the peace movements and organizations.

   We were determined to come there despite the heavy rain, to express our solidarity with the Palestinian plight and protest against the crimes of the Israeli occupation.

   The women who initiated this protest march were leading it -- chanting slogans against the occupation, demanding to end the war, end the onslaught against the Palestinian people. We were calling for Two Sates, for a peaceful solution and coexistence between the two peoples based on equality for all.

   But while waiting for the trucks to arrive, and doing in the meantime nothing illegal or especially confronting, we were suddenly and without warning under a heavy barrage of tear gas canisters from the border police or whoever those uniform-wearing hooligans were. They went on shooting into the middle of the crowd, again and again. The fumes spread quickly in a heavy and concentrated form and people were choking. Me too. I couldn't breath at all.

   People started to run -- some fell into the mud. I found refuge in one of the neighboring Palestinian homes. The people there took care of me, soothed me and provided me with onion -- an antidote for tear gas, as Palestinians learned in the first Intifada.

   After a while we gathered again and kept on standing and waiting and chanting slogans. About the time the trucks arrived the police started shooting again -- once again, without any provocation that I could witness, and I was standing in the first row, close to the checkpoint.

   This time the police came out and started chasing the fleeing crowd, pushing people brutally, making some of them stumble and fall into the mud and hitting them with sticks. The crowd started to distance itself from the checkpoint but they came after us, shooting new waves of tear gas. I saw a woman faint and others were slightly injured. MK Ahmad Barake's head was badly injured and Noa's hand was broken.

   KM Dr Ahmed Tibi was hospitalized with a concussion, later appearing on television with his neck sustained. A few activists were arrested but they were released after a short interrogation.

   The authorities' claim that this was a violent and provocative action is an absolute lie. There was no violence whatsoever and no stones were thrown at the police. Obviously, after being attacked we defied our attackers by such shouted slogans as 'This is a Police State' , 'Fascism will not win' 'Shame on you' 'You are a shame to the Jewish people' etc. Some activists shouted to them: 'You behave like Nazis', which made them ever more angry and vicious.

   We do not know for sure what happened to the trucks of food and medication. We heard that the police let the convoy get through but we don't know for sure. (...)

   [Only on the following day did the Ta'ayush activists who organized the convoy get final confirmation that, though the march was violently dispersed, the supply trucks did make it to Ramallah. As it turned out, the two truck drivers, Palestinians from East Jerusalem, had to go through a harrowing odyssey of their own, being shunted between different roadblocks at the conflicting whims of various military commanders, and taking more than nine hours to get from A-Ram to the Ramallah Government Hospital and there unload their precious cargo (in ordinary times, a quarter of an hour would have been more than enough to cover the distance).

   On Israeli TV, the action in which also a contingent of internationals participated was presented as a violent one, with the presentation focusing on the Arab activists. But the international networks, who all showed it, have presented it as what it was: a peaceful Jewish-Arab demonstration & humanitarian action which was treated violently by the police.]
Women's Coalition, pob 8083, Jerusalem
Ta'ayush pob 59380, Tel-Aviv


Get Out Of The Territories

   +++ The following report was written by the TOI staff immediately after the Peace Now protest march of April 6. The march began at the Rabin Square in Tel-Aviv to the Defence Ministry -- ending in a rally.

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   In the bus, on the way to the rally, the radio news told of thirty Palestinians killed today at the Jenin fighting. The commentator prefaced this piece of news with "The Palestinians allege that...." In fact, some Palestinian contacts with whom we spoke today gave much higher figures. With the army declaring the whole of Jenin "a closed military zone" and no journalists or impartial observers of any kind, it is impossible to know. What is clear is that at the Jenin Refugee Camp the army encountered an exceptionally stiff resistance from the local Palestinians -- and reacted by exceptionally brutal measures designed to break that resistance before international pressures force a withdrawal. The army's armoured bulldozers are known to be destroying houses by the dozen -- and by some accounts, this time they are doing it while the inhabitants are still inside.

   As the crowds started to gather at the Rabin Square, in preparation for the march, a group of youngsters was visible at a corner, hastily preparing placards with Stop the war crimes in Jenin!, which were added to the more general Stop the war / Stop the bloodshed / Get out of the Territories provided by the organizers. Soon, torches were lighted, despite the drizzling summer rain, signs and banners were picked up, and the march set off along the wide Ibn Gvirol Street -- row after row, supporters of Peace Now which organized the event and contingents of the more radical groups such as Gush Shalom and Ta'ayush, and a significant presence of Arabs which is not the norm in Peace Now actions.

   Outside the Defence Ministry, where the march ended, a rally took place at a rather irregularly-shaped parking lot. At the edge of the crowd, where the undersigned were distributing the popular Gush Shalom Bring back the soldiers! stickers, only snatches of the speeches could be heard. 'The black flag of manifest illegality and flagrant immorality flies over the Sharon government and its policy.' 'They send the soldiers over there, to die in vain, in vain, in vain!' 'It is not a war against terror, it is a war of occupation and reoccupation.' 'Occupation and terrorism are bound up with each other, you can't end terrorism without ending occupation, and you can't end occupation without ending terrorism.'

   As the national anthem was sung and the crowd filed out, a white-haired man continued standing, still and straight, and hold a handmade sign 'I served in the Palmach [pre-state militia]. I fought in the War of Independence and in the paratroopers afterwards. I lost my son, killed in vain in Lebanon. I salute the courageous men of conscience, who refuse to take part in Sharon's Lebanon War II.'

   Israeli press reports estimated the turnout at 7,000. Not as many as there should have been, considering the magnitude of what is happening. On the other hand, not negligible, considering the past week's series of lethal suicide bombings.


Convoy to Jenin

   This is from the invitation Ta'ayush sent out to fellow peace groups -- to join its 'March to Jenin'.

   Fragmentary news coming out of Jenin Refugee camp tells of widespread destruction and extreme hardship to the civilian population. This coming Saturday, April 13th, at 11:00 AM, we shall march in protest from the Megiddo Junction to the Salem Checkpoint on the road to Jenin. The trucks accompanying us will carry much needed emergency supplies for the homeless, the destitute and the expelled of Jenin.

   There is a severe water shortage in the camp, and using water tanks turned out to be impractical in the circumstances. We therefore ask activists to bring 1 1/2 L bottles of water (it is fine to refill bottles with tap water), preferably packed in cardboard boxes. These will be loaded on a truck and delivered into the Jenin Refugee Camp.

   Other needed equipment is: clothing (decent condition only! Let's not insult the recipients and embarrass ourselves), blankets and basic kitchen equipment (...)

   This account by Natalie Rothman, appeared on the Indymedia Israel web site

   We arrived at Megiddo Junction around 11 am. There were already about forty trucks waiting, loaded in advance with humanitarian supplies gathered in the past week. On five additional trucks participants loaded food, blankets, clothes, and lots of bottled water which they brought from home. There were thousands of people, Jewish and Arabs with also the participation of some internationals, an impressive long line stretching along the road under the blazing sun. The march took about an hour and a half, with marchers walking along, raising banners, singing, and chanting slogans. Slogans expressed Arab-Jewish solidarity with the besieged people of Jenin and calls for an immediate cease-fire, withdrawal of Israeli forces and an end to war crimes. The march was explicitly nonviolent, a token of organizers' and participants' conviction that violence can be resisted nonviolently.

   We were stopped by the army at the military checkpoint on the West Bank border. For more than an hour, the participants were standing or sitting down on the sparse grass, while organisers negotiated with the army. At a certain moment, a military armored car passed clattering by, its machine gun pointed directly at the crowd - an intentional threat or just the carelessness of soldiers. In the end it was agreed that the supply trucks will be allowed to go through a different checkpoint, the one at Jalameh. The crowd dispersed while a group of human rights activists remained on the spot to monitor implementation - a justified caution, as it turned out, since only the first five trucks were allowed into Jenin, the others being held up at the city's outskirts. It took several more days of pressures, getting international humanitarian organizations involved and appealing to the Americans and the EU, before the word finally came through from the Jenin Red Crescent that all the consignment had finally been allowed through after a very thorough security check.

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The following "urgent press release" was sent out by the TOI staff during the night of April 5.

   'The Tarik al Mahabe radio station at the reoccupied city of Nablus on the West Bank is at this moment (3.00 am local time) under attack by the invading IDF forces, who shell the building where its offices and studios are located. The army claims that there are 'armed men' in the building. However, the station's director Amer Abdel Hadi told us on the phone that there is nobody in the building but two of his staff, unarmed journalists. He is urgently asking anybody who can to help.

   Two Knesset Members (Mossi Raz and Avshalom Vilan) as well as former Education Minister Shulamit Aloni could be reached in spite of the nightly hour and immediately called the army. After a quarter of an hour came the good news that military forces surrounding the building were indeed informed that the people in that office were unarmed journalists and the firing stopped.

Raising our heads again
   Beate Zilversmidt's report written on 'the night after.'

   "Revenge and death, destruction and revenge: that is Sharon's political program. Its main stages: starvation and humiliation, systematic destruction, civilian killings, and war crimes. Its purpose: to create a "no choice" situation, to defeat the Palestinian people so as to be able to stand over smoking ruins and proclaim: there is no one to talk to -- these were the opening sentences of the ad calling for a march and rally in Tel-Aviv, on April 27, by the Jewish-Arab Coalition to End the Occupation. It continued:

   There is a way out of this blood cycle:
 -- Respond to the Arab Summit's peace initiative: full peace for full territory!
 -- Establish an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders!
 -- Dismantle the settlements!
 -- Resolve the refugee problem justly, through mutual consent!

   The most impressive part of tonight's big demonstration was undoubtedly the march. To walk with many thousands through the streets of central Tel-Aviv chanting slogans in a powerful rhythm. It was raising our heads again after the weeks of the rolling war machine and the "Blue and White" patriotic propaganda which not only thundered from TV and radio, but also penetrated the schools and filled the commercial billboards.

   The message (to the passersby as well as to ourselves): we Jews and Arabs, men and women, young and old, we will go on until the bloody madness stops.

   Signs spoke of Occupation is terrorism -- The refusers are the heroes -- The Crime in Jenin will not be forgotten -- Arafat is our partner. The two-flag signs of Gush Shalom -- which the police tried in vain to banish -- were very popular especially among a group of Arab youngsters who would have preferred to walk with Palestinian flags, but the organizers had decided to make it a "no flags" event, to avoid a competition whose flags would prevail. Most impressive: the Kvisa Sh'hora gay and lesbian youngsters who went blindfolded and their hands connected through a rope into a long line -- evoking the pictures of Palestinians during the mass arrests.

   The spirit continued after arrival on the Museum Square. The audience was extremely willing to clap whenever a speaker put determination and anger in a sentence. After a short opening by actress Salwa Nakara (moderator): bereaved mother Nurit Peled-Elhanan fulminating against the system which educates our children into becoming thugs; Hulud Badawi, the charismatic woman student leader, attacking the minister of education for attempting to gag "non-patriotic students and lecturers"; author Salman Natur with his biting sarcasm ('that the soldiers killed and robbed we understand, but why did they have to destroy computers?'); reservist Idan Landau ('nowadays the most respectable place to be is in prison'); Rela Mazali who spoke about raising children to follow their conscience and not military dictates; Knesset Member Roman Bronfman -- the last in the row -- 'It is not the peace camp which is confused; the confusion is in the center; it is the extremists on both sides who are to blame; stop terrorism, stop war, stop occupation.'

   And the voice from the other side, from the Palestinians right now suffering from harsh military repression was there too: the voice of the physician and human rights activist Dr Mustapha Barghouti live on the phone was sent through the loudspeakers ('we appreciate what you are doing very much; let's together make an end to massacres and oppression') and drowned in applause.


We, bodyguards

   Wednesday, May 8: five Gush Shalom activists who had been able to come at very short notice were on their way towards Arafat's Headquarters in Ramallah -- a destination made urgent by repeated news broadcasts mentioning Prime Minister Sharon as "seriously contemplating" the deportation of Arafat in retaliation for the previous night's suicide bombing at Rishon Lezion perpetrated by Hamas.

   The PM, en route back from meeting President Bush in Washington, had summoned the members of his cabinet to meet him at the airport immediately upon his landing, evidently impatient to get immediate approval -- and immediate implementation -- for whatever he had in mind. As the PM's plane flew over the Atlantic, the activists were finding their way in the maze of tracks and side paths between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

   The following is excerpted from Adam Keller's diary.
(...) In Ramallah we met our friend Neta Golan, the young Israeli woman who had withstood the entire siege at Arafat's headquarters. Many of Neta's international friends were there too, having coming rushing back at the new threat.

   The buildings which so often appeared on the world's TV screens in the past month were battle-scarred and with blackened spots. Still, cars were stopping, Palestinian officials and foreign diplomats

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walked about -- much the kind of scene you could see at a government building anywhere.

   Now that we had slipped past the military roadblocks there was no reason to keep our presence secret, and in fact every reason to advertise it.

   Some representatives of the international media were already present on the spot, and we called up others. At 7.00 in the evening there was an improvised press conference on the outside steps of the headquarters building. Uri Avnery reiterated that we were there not only for the sake of Arafat and of the Palestinians, but also and especially for the sake of our own country; that we had come in an effort to prevent our government from committing a terrible mistake which would blight Israel's future for years to come:

   "Despite the massive campaign of lies conducted by the government of Israel, Arafat remains the leader of the Palestinian people, elected in internationally-supervised elections and recognized as their president by Palestinians of all factions.

   (...) Let there be no doubt: it is killing Arafat, not deporting him, which is our Prime Minister's true purpose. The killing of Arafat may unleash a cycle of bloodshed on a horrific scale, far beyond what we have already witnessed. What little we can do to prevent this terrible outcome is to let Sharon hereby know that there will be Israeli citizens staying tonight in this headquarters building, standing unarmed in the path of our country's troops if these come invading. So will our friends, the peace activists from France, the US, Italy, Denmark and other countries."

   One of Arafat's aides came telling us that the president wanted to see us as soon as his meeting with the EU mediator Moratinos was over. We sat in a big anteroom, chatting with the Palestinian troops guarding Arafat -- friendly young men, most of them speaking good Hebrew acquired either in prison or while working as manual laborers in Israel. Then we, Israelis and internationals, were ushered into the meeting room.

   Arafat sat at the head of the table: "This is the second time that they help Sharon. The bombing in Netanyah during the Beirut Conference gave Sharon the pretext to attack us all over the West Bank" said Arafat. "The enemies of peace on both sides, Hamas on the one hand and Sharon on the other, are cooperating very well with each other", remarked Avnery. "Maybe Israeli and Palestinian seekers of peace should learn from them."

   By the time the meeting ended it was about 10, which meant that Sharon had just landed and was convening his generals and ministers. A friend in Tel-Aviv called to let us know that our presence here had been mentioned on the Second Channel TV News, with reporter Yoram Binur remarking that an attack on Arafat's headquarters could result in harm to Israelis.

   About midnight, the squeaky little radio told of the cabinet meeting's results. "The deportation of Arafat was discussed but not put to a vote". Was that enough of a reassurance? And "operational plans presented by the army were approved, and the cabinet authorized the Prime Minister and Defence Minister to decide on the timing and manner of their execution". Exactly what did that mean?

   Nobody showed his anxiety, neither the guests nor the bodyguards. We continued talking about unimportant things.

   When it was already very late we lay down on the mattresses spread along the big hall's floor. We wrapped ourselves in excellent thick blankets and settled to an uneasy sleep, again and again being startled awake by what seemed to be distant gunshots. Only the first light breaking through the sandbagged windows gave an easier feeling. Commandos prefer the dark.
Gush Shalom, pb 3322, Tel-Aviv;


'The tent'

   During the second week of May, a group of young people maintained an 'Anti-Occupation Tent' at the plaza outside the Tel-Aviv Cinematheque. Ido, one of the organizers, told TOI: "Our intention was to protest against the occupation policy and call for withdrawal from the territories. But we wanted as much as possible to conduct a dialogue rather than have a confrontation, to convince people that it is not worthwhile to be an occupying country.

   Actually, we started every morning with standing near the Azrielly Towers holding signs such as: The occupation is killing us, Get out of the territories, No occupation -- no suicide bombings. There is very much traffic passing there on the highway, especially on the morning rush hours.

   Then, we moved over to the Cinematheque, and there we tried to get the attention of the passersby and draw them into a discussion. The signs which we had there were a bit less explicit, more with a general humanistic message.

   We called it "The Tent" in our leaflets, but in fact what it was was just a big piece of the sidewalk enclosed in a half-circle made of big pieces of cloth, but open to the passersby. We tried to make it look inviting, arousing curiosity so that people would come in just to see what is going on.

   We had all kinds of things going on, lectures, discussions, also screening of films. Every evening, we had an audience of between 120 to 150, of which roughly half were people who came especially and were more or less on our side to start with, and the other half people who just passed by and became curious.

   We were ready for some people to have violent reactions, but except for one small incident on the first evening this just did not happen. As we expected, quite a few of the passersby were in disagreement with us, but in general they expressed it in a civilized way and were willing to listen.

   We had fruitful discussions. Every evening there was a speaker: Knesset Member Tamar Gozansky, the radical economist Levi Morav, Dr. Moshe Zuckerman of Tel-Aviv University who specializes in modern German History -- a very sensitive political subject, especially the way he presents it.

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   We also had Orna Shimoni, the former activist of Four Mothers [late 1990's movement for withdrawal from Lebanon] who is nowadays a leader of "The Seventh Day" and calls for "separation" from the Palestinians. Not all of us agree with her approach, but it is a fact that it can reach people who can't be convinced of the moral need to end the occupation and who feel an utter distrust of the Palestinians; and she is a good speaker who talks very clearly of the need to leave the territories and dismantle settlements.

   The Cinematheque people were very helpful. They let us use their toilets and they received messages for us on their fax machine, and one evening when our megaphone broke down they lent us some of their equipment until we could repair it.

The day will come

   May 11. It was Peace Now's great evening, towards which they had been patiently building over the past half year, in week after week of holding the Saturday night peace vigils.

   At last the Rabin Square was full of peace demonstrators -- the square (then it had a different name) where Peace Now started back in the late 1970's; where it held its major protests during the Lebanon War and the first Intifada; and which has been lying empty and unattainable since the present outbreak in October 2000, a visible symbol of the peace movement's weakness. Now at last it was full -- 60,000 at the police's estimate, 100,000 at the organisers' -- not the biggest peace rally ever held on this spot but certainly bigger than anything taking place in the past two years.

   As it turned out, the event coincided with the army's highly publicized preparations for an invasion of Gaza. Meretz Leader Yossi Sarid opened the rally by declaring: 'Mr. Prime Minister, to send the army into Gaza you need our authorisation. You do not have it. You will find out that it is even more important than a green light from Bush!'

   In fact the Gaza invasion plans had been officially cancelled the day before. One would like to think that the scheduled and highly-publicized rally had at least something to do with it.

   Possibly the most dramatic content of the rally was its head-on confronting of the new Israeli McCarthyism. It was represented by two women, a famous singer and a speaker whose name few of us had heard before but whose speech stuck out among those of the obligatory Yossi Sarid, Yossi Beilin and writer Amos Oz. Dr. Ala Tenskaya, biologist and member of KM Bronfman's Democratic Choice Party started with an apology for her strong Russian accent but within moments quite captivated the audience, giving expression to the concern on everybody's mind.

   "Some days ago a small group of women stood in the street in my town with placards reading 'stop the occupation -- get out of the territories'. They were standing quietly, not disturbing the public order. There was nothing illegal in the content of their placards. Yet somebody called the police. And the police duly came and forced them off the street despite their protests.

   This is just one sample of what has been happening in this country -- a concentrated effort, coordinated from the very top, to silence and intimidate journalists and artists and university lecturers and everybody who dares to speak out.

   There are signs and placards in the streets reading 'Let's march forward together'. Together? Together towards what? Together towards dictatorship? Falling together into the abyss? I remember this kind of thing, this kind of atmosphere from the country where I was born. This kind of false patriotism, this Stalinism and McCarthyism. We here, our camp, this big crowd in this square, will not let ourselves be silenced and intimidated. No, never!"

   It was a natural transition that this speech was followed by the performance of singer Yaffa Yarkoni, one of the primary targets of that campaign of intimidation -- the singer who became an outspoken dissident after a lifelong career as a consensual non-controversial "national icon."

   Yarkoni had decided to come to this evening's rally despite anonymous threats on her life, threats which the organizers took seriously enough to provide bodyguards. Her appearance was greeted with enormous applause; the two songs which she chose out of her well-known repertoire: 'Ha'amini yom yavo' (Believe it the day will come) and 'Hen Efshar' (Surely it is possible) both written in the immediate aftermath of 1948...
Peace Now, pb 8159, J'lem;


Rave against the occupation

   May 23. The veteran peace activists who arrived this evening at the Tel-Aviv Museum Plaza felt rather bewildered. Instead of political speeches, there was the never-stopping, very earsplitting music of a style which not all people born before the 1980's can appreciate.

   Still, it was a political event, at least judging by the video sequences on the enormous twin screens behind the band: photos, cartoons, TV footage, old newsreels, fast-changing war scenes from the past and the present, tanks, bulldozers, fleeing refugees, victory celebrations of 1967, Moshe Dayan, Sharon in past and present situations, the destruction in Ramallah, suddenly a drawing of Napoleon in Waterloo -- all flickering and melting into each other in exact synchronization with the music. And the D.J.'s voice was repeating again and again, every few minutes: Rave against the occupation! Break the occupation! Smash the occupation! The occupation is killing us!

   The event was not primarily intended for old fogies. In fact, it was initiated by a very informal group of younger people who felt a bit alienated in the recent peace rallies. "I agreed with what they said from the podium, but why have ten people to give long speeches which say more or less the same? I knew that I could never convince my friends to come to such a thing" said one of the initiators.

   On the other hand, at least 4,000 young people were attracted by Rave Against the Occupation where

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they did not have to listen to speeches at all. They danced and danced and danced energetically, until the music stopped at 11.00 PM -- a very early ending time for this kind of event, which was forced upon the organizers by the police.

   "Of course, we are aware there is something problematic about the connection between dance and the reason we are dancing -- the death and destruction which is going on in the Territories and in Israel" organizer Shai Rapaport said to Ha'aretz. "People enjoy some parts of the event, as people enjoy the artistic performances of Aviv Geffen or Yaffa Yarkoni at the more conventional kind of peace demonstrations.

   In my view, rave is a direct continuation of events like Woodstock. Once, it was rock, now it's electronic music, simply because it better represents our generation. The only difference is that today we're less naive. Rave, as a phenomenon, taps a wide array of emotions. Anyone who has been to a rave knows that it mixes anger and rage, satisfaction and joy. We are simply loading those emotions on a political plane. We are trying to find a way in which our outlook, that of the young generation of the 'dance nation,' can be heard."

   Shai Rapaport is the youthful founder and director of a small high-tech firm in Kfar Sava.
Contact: 972-51-751366,


Occupation and social justice

   The Women's Peace Coalition, marking 35 years of occupation focused, not so much on the bloodshed or the rights of the Palestinians -- though these points were also made -- but on the price paid inside Israel for a costly and internally destructive military occupation.

   The Coalition events began with a conference in early May, examining the link between occupation and social justice issues, followed by an ad campaign in local as well as national newspapers, so as to get to marginalized towns not easily accessible to the peace movement:

   The occupation is hurting us all, draining billions of shekels from us, forcing cutbacks in social and educational programs.

   What's more, said these ads (and flyers and posters distributed in the thousands), the occupation inculcates the belief that violence is the only way to solve problems, and allows militarism to run rampant in our lives.

   The June 8 action itself began with buses and cars decorated with signs End the Occupation and The Occupation is Hurting Us All starting out in four locations throughout Israel, and slowly wending their way to Jerusalem, with frequent stops and activists going out to distribute leaflets and make contact with people in crowded points along the way.

   Altogether, there were some 1,500 people crowding the street in front of the Prime Minister's residence. The speakers were an unusually broad spectrum of peace activists from Israel and abroad (an Algerian activist, whose arrival in Israel involved considerable difficulties, was especially cheered); people working in various ways for social justice ('We have had 35 years of occupation, but 54 years of neglecting the social issues within Israel' said Vered Madar, a young feminist-Mizrahi activist); and representatives of various groups which feel discriminated against in one way or another -- such as Russian immigrants ('We came out of a a totalitarian society, only to fall into the arms of a militaristic society' said Yanna Zifferblatt, a Haifa University student, as well as Gays and Lesbians (many of the colourful posters held aloft in the crowd were left overs from Jerusalem's first Gay Pride Day, held the day before). There were quite a few Arab speakers, who concentrated more than the others on what could be called "traditional issues" -- at least for a peace demonstration.

   It would have been unrealistic to expect the audience to be predominantly of the impoverished slum dwellers, of whom so much was spoken from the podium. In fact, they were mostly the same kind of middle class people who usually come to peace actions.

   A far more long and patient work would be needed to get slum dwellers to become involved in any significant numbers, and the rally was aimed mainly at making the existing peace movement aware of the acute need to take up this task. A start was made shortly afterwards when activists of the newly-formed 'Women Refuse' set up a tent on the Tel-Aviv seashore, where for a whole week they conducted an intensive dialogue with passersby on the country's ills and the way to solve them.
CWJP, pb 8083, J'lem;


Surrealism in Ibn-Gvirol street

   June 7. On the newspaper front pages: the results of the army's latest raid upon Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah: piles of ruins; gaping holes in structures.

   At noon, Gush Shalom activists gathered at the monument behind the Tel-Aviv town hall, the place where Prime Minister Rabin was shot to death seven years ago.

   Spreading out from the monument to the nearby traffic light they stood in line, holding out the signs: Arafat is the partner / An end to the occupation = an end to suicide bombings / Yes to the Saudi peace plan / Thirty-five years of occupation - Enough!

   The first half hour passed quietly, except for some fierce debates and a barrage of eggs thrown from the roof of the opposite building...

   Then, artist Yuval Kaspi unrolled a huge sheet which was attached to a nearby wall, and made a life-size drawing of Rabin and Arafat shaking hands, while the demonstrators' picket line divided in two, to allow passersby and motorists on the busy Ibn Gvirol a chance to see the artistic proceedings. It took another half hour to complete, with the colours of the Israeli and Palestinian flags drawn in around the two leaders.

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Convoy to Salfit
   by Azmi Bader

   On Saturday, July 6, a convoy of Ta'ayush, a Jewish-Arab movement in which I am active, headed to the Occupied Territories: the first act of solidarity and protest in the Occupied Territories since the IDF launched "Operation Determined Path" -- the largest invasion of the West Bank to date, the most widespread and prolonged curfew of a whole population.

   The destination of the convoy is the town of Salfit, located in "Area A" -- one of the parts of the West Bank which is supposed to be controlled by the Palestinian Authority. We bring with us essential medical equipment to the small local hospital, built from donations of the local population. Its creation was vital, since the closure and the siege effectively prevent thousands of patients from reaching the main hospitals in cities such as Nablus or Ramallah.

   In extensive meetings with our friends in the Salfit Region, we had discussed different scenarios. Will the army try to prevent us from delivering this vital equipment, as they did to previous convoys? Will we be able to enter Salfit in Area A, where Israelis are forbidden entry "for their own safety"? How to circumvent the roadblocks?

   On July 2, a few days before the date of the convoy, local activists in Salfit informed us that the IDF had entered the town and placed it under curfew. This placed our entire action in doubt, but after some deliberations we decided to go ahead and test the contingency plans made for exactly this eventuality.

   On the morning of Saturday, July 6, about 350 participants turned up at the rendezvous in Kufr Qassem -- far more than we expected. The convoy embarked on its way to besieged, occupied Salfit: seven buses full with activists. We cross the border into the West Bank and enter the road which is usually reserved to settlers, and denied to local Palestinians on whose confiscated land it was built.

   On the phone we hear that in the morning, the Salfit curfew was lifted for a few hours, so as to enable the local high school pupils to attend the matriculation exams.

   The complicated maneuvers which we carefully planned turn out to be unnecessary. The police commander which we meet at the roadblock is surprisingly accommodating. We are allowed to pass through the outskirts of the large Israeli settlement of Ariel, a surreal experience, go on unhindered into the Salfit road which had been closed to traffic for many months, and enter the town.

   Apparently the Israeli authorities -- aware of our numbers and determination -- decided to avoid a confrontation, which would have exacted a physical price from us but a political price from them, as our previous convoys had proven. The army was forced to refute its own official excuse for barring the entry of Israeli citizens to Area A and admit that there was no threat to our safety.

   We did not enter as soldiers, as occupiers or as settlers. We came as friends and were received with open arms. I was filled with joy when embracing Nawaf Souf in Salfit. In fact, I meet Nawaf almost every week, but this time our encounter had a different flavor. Never did I feel so happy, not at any of the many previous occasions I have been to Salfit. Perhaps it was our little victory over the separation, the closure and the curfew, if only for a few hours.

   Joy and sadness were mingled in our encounter with the local population. At the hospital we unloaded the equipment: the ultrasound, the photo-spectrometer, the computers, the boxes and bags full of medicines donated by pharmacies in the Tel Aviv area and the Arab villages of the Triangle area. Then we walked in a procession through the streets of Salfit, where the tanks left their marks, holding up a few signs and calling Down with the Occupation in Arabic and Hebrew. Men, women and children waved to us from windows and balconies.

   At the end of this demonstration we entered a hall where representatives of the local community were waiting. As appropriate to such occasions, speeches were made on both sides. Speaking frankly, this is the part of such actions which appeals to me least.

   After the speeches, while we were still inside the hall, a 12 year-old boy named Mustafa approached me. Mustafa Fattouni. A vivacious boy, resolute and sharp-witted, his eyes shining. He begged my pardon and asked if I had a minute for him.

   As he told, his year-and-half old niece, Lin Muhammad Fattouni, was born with a serious defect in her intestines, and had undergone one operation at a hospital in Ramallah and another one in Jordan. The rest of her treatment she had received in the Jenin Hospital. Afterwards she was supposed to go often to the hospital in Jenin, to replace the tube in her abdomen and prevent infections.

   "Operation Defensive Shield" foiled these plans, and the child's condition deteriorated. Now she needed to undergo surgery again. This time advanced equipment was required, available only in Israel. This was explained to me later by her uncle, who was also recruited by Mustafa to take care of Lin. I exchanged phone numbers with the uncle and promised to help as soon as I arrived home.

   But Mustafa wasn't satisfied. I saw him running towards another Ta'ayush activist. He was intuitively looking for someone who could help, found another person to translate and went on. The boy's devotion touched me. The whole event, which gave me such satisfaction before, seemed insignificant compared to his rushing around between the people for the sake of the baby.

   On the way back, before we got back on the buses, Mustafa approached me again. This time he said a sentence that remained engraved in my memory: 'If only you could see Lin. She is in great pain.' Perhaps to urge me, perhaps to make the most of the momentary freedom granted him in order to help Lin. Other people also urged us to stay: "As long as you are here, the army does not enter and the curfew does not return." But we could not stay. We left the town.

   On the way out, the police and soldiers counted us

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and searched our belongings. "So, how was it? Did they not throw stones at you?" Behind us, the curfew returned and engulfed Salfit.

   Next day we received Lin's medical records from her father and put the family in contact with Physicians for Human Rights. That group began working on the case immediately, and with great devotion. Within a few days, they would probably have broken through the bureaucratic barriers and obtained all the necessary permits and gotten the child through to the hospital. They did in many other cases.

   But on Monday night, Lin Muhammad Fattouni passed away. She was not killed by a stray bullet or in a bombardment. She was killed by the curfew, by the indifference of a huge military machine. -

   The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) , together with partner Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, is resuming its campaign of rebuilding Palestinian homes demolished by the Israeli military and civil authorities. In early August, Israeli, Palestinian and international volunteers already started work on reconstructing two houses in the Jerusalem area. This is the harbinger of an ambitious plan to simultaneously rebuild 20-30 destroyed Palestinian houses throughout the Occupied Territories -- the funding for which ICAHD hopes to raise via a thousand public gatherings or house parties, to be held worldwide over the next couple of months. These will also serve to increase public awareness about the occupation in general, and in particular on the grim plans behind the latest military steps.
Jeff Halper 972-50-651425;

 At the end of the day, the hundreds of activists who had joined the Ta'ayush march on Saturday, August 10, toward Bethlehem came back home exhausted and in clothes wet from police spraying. Though they didn't reach the Palestinian city they had made a tangible effort to reach out to its inhabitants -- and this was felt and appreciated. And with the footage of excessive police violence preventing the Israelis from getting to the Palestinians waiting for them in the Church of the Nativity, actually the message of Israelis and Palestinians wanting to demonstrate for peace together got an airing on prime time news in Israel, in Palestine, and in many countries worldwide.

   The distance between Jerusalem and Bethlehem is very small, but barriers of all kinds are being erected. On the place where the group tried to cross, the highway is bisected by a heavily built-up military checkpoint. On either side are open fields, where the army plans to build a high fence and make the separation between the two cities complete. Since the fence is not yet in place, and since there had been no attempt to keep the planned demonstration secret, there was a very heavy police and army presence, aimed at making the crossing impossible already now.

   There were about 500 activists from Israel, Jewish and Arab in roughly equal numbers, plus a handful of internationals. The organizers from Ta'ayush (Arab-Jewish Partnership) carefully briefed everyone about the importance of maintaining nonviolence, even in the face of provocations -- which was soon seen to be a highly relevant instruction.

   As soon as the first ranks came near to the police cordon, the Border Guards (i.e. riot police) became very rough, hurling activists back by main force. Suddenly the water truck, which had been positioned in advance, opened up and drenched most of the group.

   Still, many of the activists continued to advance -- and the police decided to use its ultimate weapon for such occasions, the cavalry charge. Suddenly, helmeted riders were plunging directly into the crowd and flailing at demonstrators with their whips. The horses kicked people and just stepped on others who were lying on the ground. Several medics and one doctor who were present among the crowd got busy and one woman had to be taken to the hospital emergency room.

   Fortunately, none of the wounds were very serious. Still, the force used by the police against peaceful demonstrators, whose whole wish was to join with Palestinians in a peaceful rally, was of a kind never used towards rampaging, violent settlers. -


Refusal update

   When the Courage to Refuse movement appeared on the scene, back in February (see TOI-101, p.25) the IDF high command considered it in the category of "a strategic threat." As we now know, the army had already formulated detailed plans for the reconquest of all West Bank cities, which required far more manpower than the regular army has and whose implementation therefore depended upon mobilizing tens of thousands of reservists. The generals were haunted by the specter of widespread reservists' refusal playing havoc with their plans.

   In other circumstances, it may have happened. As it was, the unprecedented wave of suicide bombings in March so traumatized Israeli society that most reservists -- as most Israelis in general -- were ready to buy Sharon's simple-minded maxim: "The terrorists come from there, so we have to go in there after them". In the first weeks of April, the media was full of orchestrated reports of reservists cheerfully showing up for duty, some actually volunteering for extra service.

   Still, though failing to thwart the massive mobilization, the movement of soldiers' refusal reached unprecedented proportions. Virtually each of the reserve brigades and battalions had its own "pet refuser" going to prison as his fellows went off into the Palestinian territories. During April and May, there were more than forty conscripts and reservists simultaneously imprisoned for refusal to take part in the attack on the Palestinians, far more than at any time in the Lebanon War or the First Intifada. Altogether, some 110 conscripts and reservists had undergone imprisonment for refusal between January and July this year, and a total of more than a thousand

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signed the various refusal petitions circulated by several groups (Courage to Refuse, Yesh Gvul, New Profile, The Highschool Group).

   Aside from mere numbers, several reported cases represent a clear first: Four soldiers of a single unit refusing to be guards over Palestinian prisoners and preferring to be prisoners themselves (hitherto, there were few cases even of two refusers in the same unit); a Lieutenant-Colonel startling the gathered soldiers and officers of his battalion by declaring that he is determined not to lead in an upcoming attack into the Palestinian territories; the pilot of a helicopter gunship during the invasion of Dura on the West Bank refusing a direct order to shoot a missile at a house, for apprehension that there might be civilians inside (which, as later turned out, was quite true.) And there were cases of reservists going to the territories as ordered, but after discharge demonstrating -- in uniform -- outside the Prime Minister's Residence.

   For its part the high command -- while reassured in the short term -- continues to deal gingerly with the reservist units. In early May, reservists called up for the planned invasion of Gaza were restive, some of them telling the press that "This is one step too far". (The Gaza Strip, while geographically smaller than the West Bank, has far bigger, poorer and more crowded refugee camps where fighting can be very fierce; and on the other hand, there is no clear proof that any suicide bombing in Israel originated in Gaza). The reservists' discontent was certainly a major reason for the cancellation of the invasion.

   In June, reservists were called up for the second West Bank invasion -- but in less numbers than in April; and they turned up, but more reluctantly. When their month's term was over, they were sent home and no new reservists called up to replace them -- despite the West Bank commanders' bitter complaints of manpower problems. Well-informed military commentators mentioned apprehensions of a long-drawn out war of attrition, in which soldiers' morale would be eroded.

   Pending that time, the refusnik movement was faced with the task of getting its message across in an increasingly censored and self-censored media. In April, a directive was published by Moti Sklar, News Director of the Second Channel TV and himself a West Bank settler, stating that "since the refusers have been proven (sic) to be a marginal phenomenon, so should be the news coverage of them". Similar directives, explicit or implicit, seem to have been issued in most of the other printed and electronic media. At best, the imprisoned refusers got a terse mention in the back pages, and often -- not even that.

   Only once did Ha'aretz write about the impact on military prison of having so many refusers at once ("Among the imprisoned refusers are several university lecturers and postgraduate students, who started to give regular lectures to fellow-prisoners; the prison authorities, though suspicious of the phenomenon, decided not to interfere").

   David Zonshine, a reserve officer and one of the movement's initiators, decided on bold gamble. When called up for a term in the territories, he did not play by the army's rules -- being subjected to "disciplinary proceedings", i.e. an "instant trial" held in camera by his commanding officer, lasting five minutes and ending with 28 days in prison.

   Instead, he demanded his right, as set out in the military code, to be judged by a full court-martial. At a court martial the accused can have a lawyer and summon witnesses, and the proceedings are open to the public; on the other hand, a court-martial, unlike disciplinary proceedings, can end with up to three years' imprisonment for a disobedient soldier. When the army refused to let him have a court-martial (ironically, citing an article in the military code stating that "routine and trivial" offenses need not take the time of busy court-martial judges), Zonshine appealed to the Supreme Court.

   The daring of a man deliberately aiming for a course which could land him in years-long imprisonment re-aroused some media interest in the refusers and their cause.

   (...) The soldiers and officers who do go there are not monsters. They are fine people -- I know them, I was one of them for many years. But they are in an impossible situation. It is naive to think you can change the occupation from the inside. You can't change such an enormous, fundamentally wrong situation from the inside. No example in history where such a thing was done, not by the finest of moralists or the most wise of philosophers. (...) When we started the refusal movement, I sat down with [former Admiral] Ami Ayalon who is a fine man, and he said: You don't have to refuse to go there, you can go there and just refuse the manifestly illegal orders. I asked him -- is the order to destroy everything a 100 metres on each side of the roads in the Gaza Strip manifestly illegal? Houses, fields, orchards -- everything? He said -- sure, that is manifestly illegal. I asked him -- but if you get an order to maintain isolated settlements in the heart of the Gaza Strip, and to control the roads leading to them, and the people in the Gaza Strip don't want the settlements and you to be there, and they are shooting from cover all the time, and your orders are to keep the roads open day by day and week by week -- what do you do then, as a military man? He thought about it, went through it step by step, and in the end he had to agree that if you go there as a soldier and take up this mission, then in the end you have to do it, to destroy everything." David Zonshine, Yediot Aharonot, 19.7.

   Weeks in advance, the Yesh Gvul movement prepared for the Solidarity Concert, scheduled for July 12. Numerous well-known artists agreed to give a free performance, with all revenues going to the Yesh Gvul Fund, supporting the families of imprisoned refusers. Suddenly, less than 24 hours before the event, a large part of the artists announced their cancellation. It seems that there had been a right-wing campaign threatening boycott, which especially intimidated the impresarios. Less well-known artists volunteered to take the place of the defectors, and the concert took place as scheduled. A bit more than a thousand people bought tickets -- less than hoped for, but still significant under the circumstances. Singer Aviv Gefen came under strong criticism from some of his fans for

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having abandoned Yesh Gvul. Two weeks later he announced his continuing support for the refusers.
Yesh Gvul, pb 4620, J'lem;

The International Solidarity Movement

   With the increasingly tight reoccupation of the West Bank, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) has assumed an immense importance. A few dozen unarmed volunteers from different countries, with extremely limited resources, have taken up the burden which -- but for the American veto in UN Security Council -- should have been taken by the international community via the sending of an official, fully equipped and empowered, observer force. Having no official status whatsoever, nothing but daring and dedication, the ISM volunteers nevertheless manage to help the harassed Palestinian population in numerous ways: maintaining the basics of medical service in the curfew-bound cities; bringing supplies to families whose houses were taken over as military positions and who are trapped in a single room; acting as human shields in threatened places such as houses slated for demolition; participating in Palestinian demonstrations which -- but for their presence -- could meet with gunfire...

   The government of Israel treats them with open hostility, its declared policy being to deny them entry into the country and deport those already in (at the time of writing, nine internationals face deportation, for having participated in a peaceful Palestinian demonstration at Hawara Village near Nablus.) And still, most of the volunteers go on with their activities, and a stream of new ones manages to get in to replace those deported. A considerable part, by the way, are people of Jewish origin from different countries, feeling shocked at what the government of Israel perpetrates in the name of Judaism and Jewishness For the Israeli peace movement, contact with the ISM is vitally important. These volunteers can go where Israelis find it difficult to enter -- both because the army places many obstacles on the way of Israelis entering "Area A", and because Palestinians in many places are so embittered as to object to the presence of Israelis -- even peace-seeking Israelis.
Huwaida 972-52-642709
George 972-52-299310

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Indict the murderers of Oslo!!
   Uri Avnery

   When I hear right-wing Israelis shout "Indict the Oslo Criminals!" I shudder. Not because of the inherent falsification, but because of the sound of the words.

   This slogan is a virtual (and perhaps conscious) copy of the slogan used by the Nazis in their successful campaign to undermine the Weimar republic. Their throats were hoarse from shouting "Indict the November Criminals!"

   The "November Criminals" were the German statesmen who, in November 1918, signed the armistice that ended World War I. After four years of valiant fighting, the German army was exhausted. The Kaiser had fled. The vaunted General Staff was in despair. The generals begged the statesmen to sign the capitulation, in order to save what could be saved.

   But according to Nazi legend, the very opposite had happened. The statesmen who had signed the armistice were traitors. They had stuck a knife into the back of the victorious army. The Nazi propaganda wizard, Joseph Goebbels, taught his pupils that by constant repetition one can turn a lie into truth, and the bigger the lie, the easier it is to get it accepted.

   The incitement against the "Novemberverbrecher" (November criminals) succeeded. They were murdered, and the Nazis became a democratically elected government.

   The campaign against the "Oslo Criminals" was successful, too. Rabin was murdered and the incitement assumes ever-growing dimensions. By this means, the extreme right wing and the settlers hope to take over the state. According to the well-known recipe, they repeat the historic lie endlessly, so that by now it is widely accepted as gospel truth. The media repeat it as a self-evident fact. The "left", or what is left of the "left", looks on as if hypnotized, unable to respond.

   The historic truth is, of course, that it's not the creators of the Oslo agreement who have caused a historic disaster, but its murderers. If there are "Oslo criminals"' they are the people who have undermined the agreement from its inception, prevented its implementation and, by a stubborn sabotage campaign, succeeded in derailing it.

   As a basis for peace, the Oslo agreement was not a good agreement. It could not be good, because the objective circumstances were bad. The balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians was something like 1000:1. According to all criteria -- political, military, economic, technological and what not -- Israel enjoyed an immense superiority. The success of the first intifada did somewhat redress the imbalance and make a compromise easier, but the situation was still far from a reasonable balance. Arafat was not so wrong when he told his people that this was "the best agreement possible in the worst circumstances."

   Considering this, the Oslo agreement was better than it might have been. It enabled an enormous achievement: the recognition of the State of Israel by the Palestinian people, and the recognition of the Palestinian people and its liberation organization by the State of Israel. Until then, each side had denied the very existence of the other. This mutual recognition is an irreversible historical fact.

   There is no need to enumerate the faults of the agreement, headed by the default to define its final aim. It outlined a set of interim stages without stipulating where they would lead. It set a timetable that was much too long. The commitments of the two sides were formulated vaguely. These faults were not the result of carelessness, as many (especially Palestinians) believe, but were put into the agreement quite intentionally, especially by the Israeli army officers who, by request of Rabin, changed many paragraphs at the last moment.

   In the Israeli peace camp, many saw the faults clearly, but after a heated internal debate, most of us decided to support the agreement in spite of them. Our main argument was that after the historic mutual recognition, an irreversible peace dynamic would drive the process forward.

   I am convinced even today that if things had been pushed forward rapidly, the Oslo agreement would have led to peace. At the time, we asked Rabin to heed the warning of former British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George who had said (about the Irish problem) that one cannot cross an abyss in two jumps. Rabin, a decent but hesitant person, was afraid to rush things. He himself drove the first nail into the coffin of Oslo by declaring that "there are no sacred dates". By doing so he justified the first violations of the agreement and allowed the antagonistic forces in Israel time to regroup for the counterattack.

   Among the Palestinians, the agreement caused immense euphoria. I was an eyewitness to the explosion of joy on the day of signing. Attacks in Israel stopped for a long time. The Palestinians were convinced that in return for their major concessions (in Oslo, the Palestinians officially gave up 78% of mandatory Palestine) the Palestinian state would soon come into being in all the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem.

   It did not happen. One after another, successive Israeli governments refused to carry out their obligations, arguing that the other side, too, had violated the agreement. Israel has still not implemented the third withdrawal, which should have liberated almost all the West Bank (Area C) three years ago. Until today, the four promised "safe passages" between Gaza and the West Bank have not been opened. Settlement activity has continued on an ever-increasing scale. The economic and human situation in the territories got worse daily. (For example: before Oslo, every Palestinian could travel freely in Israel proper and between Gaza and the West Bank, including Jerusalem. Oslo put an end to that.)

   On the Palestinian side, disappointment has created a dangerous situation. On the Israeli side, opposition turned aggressive and violent. The murder of Rabin, the deed of an individual expressing the will of a large camp, was the beginning of the murder of Oslo. The enemies of Oslo have come to power in Israel, and they are still running our state.

   All the Oslo processes have been turned on their head, and no other solution has taken their place. The bloody cycle of attack-retaliation-suicide-assassination has started again.

   When the logic of peace gave way to the logic of war, all the achievements of Oslo assumed an opposite character. For example: the 40 thousand armed Palestinians, who were allowed to enter the Palestinian territories in order to serve as a solid foundation for the Palestinian state and safeguard peace and security, turned into an arm of the uprising against the continuing occupation. The Palestinian Authority, which was meant to be the nucleus of the state-in-the-making, became the center of the intifada.

   All this would have been avoided, and peace between the two states would have become a reality long ago, had we moved forward quickly and resolutely on the Oslo road. The murderers of Oslo have prevented this -- and they are mostly on the Israeli side, because we are the stronger party.

   The slogan "Indict the Oslo Criminals" should be turned against them.

Gush Shalom targeted:
   the war crimes scandal

   As this issue was in the last stage ofm being prepared for print, Prime Minister Sharon has ordered the Attorney General to probe the possibility of opening legal proceedings against Gush Shalom.

   The reason: Gush Shalom sent letters to military officers warning them that some of their acts might constitute violations of international law.

   The letters which had been sent more than half a year ago were now taken up. This may indicate a decision to look for left-wing scapegoats for the governments failure to "root out terrorism". As is more and more mentioned in the media: never before in Israel's history have there been so many terrorist attacks as in the period of the Sharon government.

   In the course of the military operations against the Palestinian population commanders of the units involved regularly gave extensive interviews to the media, in which they admitted - indeed, often boasted of their acts which seemed not always to be legal.

   "We have entered Tamoun in order to catch terrorists. The terrorists managed to escape before our arrival, but we are going to give the townspeople hell, to teach them not to harbour terrorists" said a colonel on Israeli radio on the morning of February 10. Gush Shalom sent him a letter, pointing out that collective punishment is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, and citing reports that twenty inhabitants of Tamoun (a town northeast of Nablus) had been wounded by soldiers under his command, among them the 70-year old imam of the local mosque. The colonel was warned that the evidence might in the future be presented to an Israeli or international court empowered to deal with war crimes and violations of international law.

   Other cases followed, involving officers who had arrested the brothers of "wanted terrorists" in order to make the fugitives give themselves up, which amounts to taking hostages, and to those involved in the demolition of Palestinian homes. Of all letters, copies were sent to the military prosecution and the army high command, as well as to the press -- which at the time showed very little interest. The officers addressed never answered directly -- but suddenly the army issued a new directive, forbidding soldiers and officers to give their full names when interviewed by the media. The reason explicitly given was "to prevent the possibility of their being prosecuted at the Hague War Crimes Tribunal."

   Press reports told of senior officers feeling apprehensive about going abroad.

   Suddenly, on the morning of August 4, Ha'aretz published prominently on its front page an article written by its military correspondent Amos Har'el, with the title "Gush Shalom sent letters to officers, threatens to give information to international court". The article also quoted Adam Keller, in his role as Gush Shalom Spokesperson -- but much of the terminology and presentation were slanted so as to create hostility, for example using the term "threatening letters." It was, also, a particularly violent and bloody day, with a major suicide bombing in the morning and several additional lethal attacks by Palestinians later in the day.

   At that day's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Sharon fulminated at length against Gush Shalom and instructed Attorney-General Rubinstein to look into ways of prosecuting the movement's activists. Several other ministers who spoke used the explicit word "treason", and so did nationalist Knesset Members and columnists who soon joined the choir.

   Even Meretz Knesset Members, and the editorial writers of the liberal Ha'aretz, felt the need to condemn and distance themselves -- though KM Mossi Raz did add "I think Gush Shalom is wrong about this, but I see nothing illegal in what they did." Meanwhile, dozens of obscene and threatening phone calls started arriving at the Gush Shalom office and private phones of several well-known activists -- but there were also many moving calls of people expressing support and appreciation. Messages of solidarity came in from inside and outside the country, from individuals and from fellow peace groups -- Yesh Gvul, The Public Committee Against Torture, Machsom Watch, Women's Peace Coalition, The Committee Against House Demolitions, and the American Jewish Not in My Name; hundreds of you, the TOI readers, sent messages of protest to the PM and the Attorney-General.

   Others took their own initiatives: Haim and Rivka Gordon, lecturers at Be'er Shaba University, sent a letter to the new Army Chief Of Staff Ya'alon, warning that they would monitor his activities and pass the information to the Hague Court.

   Meanwhile, there were a lot of calls from Israeli and foreign journalists seeking interviews, and the producers of radio and TV talks shows asking for the participation of a Gush Shalom representative. An unusual experience: in the past year, peace groups found it increasingly difficult to get any airing for their views and reports on their activity into the Israeli media.

   Though in most cases the interviewers were quite hostile and also in talk shows the Gush Shalom representative was sometimes confronted with outright hostility it gives Gush Shalom also an opportunity to convey it's message to a much larger audience.

 -- 'How dare you criticize our brave soldiers and officers? Don't you realize they are the only thing standing between you and the terrorist threat?'
 -- 'When they break international law and trample on human rights, they increase terrorism, not stop it. Look at the bombing in Gaza, the dead children, and what horrors it brought upon us.'
 -- 'And would you really inform upon a fellow Israeli, a fellow Jew, to a foreign court? Are you that depraved?'
 -- 'I would much rather prefer an Israeli court to deal with these cases, but it is not always possible. Look how the Supreme Court approved the destruction of houses, which is against the Geneva Convention.'
 -- 'So if our courts don't fit you, you really would set foreign judges upon a brother Jew? That is disgusting!
 -- 'If your brother was about to murder somebody, would you call the police? And if by threatening to go to the police you could prevent him from doing it?

   According to press reports, the Attorney-General already months ago got the Gush Shalom letters from the army, and reportedly "greatly disliked them, but found nothing illegal." Justice Ministry officials were quoted as doubting that the special probe ordered by Sharon will yield any different result. It may be that the purpose was mainly a public smear campaign, but still, Gush Shalom has to be prepared also for the possibility of a fierce legal battle.

   For that, it can use all the support it can get -- and not in the last place contributions to help defray expenses.
Letters of protest to: PM Ariel Sharon, PM's Office,
Kiryat Ben-Gurion, J'lem;
fax: 972-2-5664838 / 972-2-6705415.
or: via Israeli Embassy in your own country
Listed protest letters:
Letters of support/checks to:
Gush Shalom, pob 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033 Israel.

+++ Two incidents seem to be directly related to the outburst of publicity.

   Unknown persons sprayed on the private cars of three Air Force pilots the words "war criminal". In another incident, a 65-year old man from Herzliya was briefly detained by the police for hanging near the homes of cabinet ministers and generals signs with the slogan 'Every minister and every general is an accessory to war crimes.' He was arrested near the home of General Amos Gi'ad, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (i.e., chief military governor). Ma'ariv, which reported it on Aug. 8, did not give the man's name; he does not appear to be a member of any specific group.