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The Other Israel _ September-October 1996, Issue No. 74-75

Contents

*Limitations of Power
Editorial Overview, by the Editors

**Warning of Things to Come
Statement by Gush Shalom

**Stop the House Demolitions!
Ad by Bat Shalom, Gush Shalom, Peace Now, & Meretz

'Bibi Go Home!'

**The Mothers' Letter

**The Hebron Madness
Statement by Gush Shalom

**The Officers' Letter

The Inherited Martyr

News of Peace Activities

**For the Sake of the Children
Open letter by Religious Women for Peace

On the Way to Jahalin, by Beate Zilversmidt
***The New Refusers

Vanunu's Sad Anniversary

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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
Editor: Adam Keller
Coeditor: Beate Zilversmidt

For subscription information and a free copy of this issue, please send your name and postal address to AICIPP via Peacenet e-mail (AICIPP@igc.apc.org) or to AICIPP@mcimail.com

THE OTHER ISRAEL
September-October 1996, Issue No. 74-75

LIMITATIONS OF POWER

Tel-Aviv, October 17, 1996

It was not really a surprise -- or at least, it should not have been. For months, all of us ended practically every article, leaflet and statement with the warning that continued blocking of the peace process would lead to explosion. And not just us: mainstream politicians said it; respectable commentators mentioned it; even the Security Services reiterated, in their 'confidential reports' to the Prime Minister, that frustration and anger among Palestinians were reaching a dangerous level.

Yet when it did happen, everybody was stunned by the dimensions of the popular upsurge and the swiftness with which the conflagration spread...

Government of contradictions

Binyamin Netanyahu has built himself up as the exponent of two ideologies: Radical Jewish Nationalism, and neo-Liberalism. His extensive international contacts are with individuals, groups (and funders!) supporting either of these ideologies. Unfortunately, for Netanyahu, these two ideologies -- though both are right-wing and conservative -- turn out to be inherently incompatible in the Israeli context. A neo-Liberal program of privatization and de-regulation could only be carried out in the context of a developing peace process, increasing opening of international borders to a flow of goods and labor, and attraction of foreign investors. It is not for nothing that the Israeli business community -- who should know about such things -- has overwhelmingly been on the side of Shimon Peres, and endorsed Peres' vision of "The New Middle East." A nationalist policy, holding on to occupied territory against Arab resistance, would entail the precise opposite -- erection of walls between Israel and the rest of the Middle East, driving away foreign investors who dislike such risky regions, high government involvement in the economy to mobilize it for war and direct a national drive of settlement on Arab lands...

A nationalist policy should logically aim at strengthening the armed forces. Yet the Netanyahu government's neo-Liberal economic policies included the slashing by more than half the meagre grants given to conscripts at the end of their three years' service, with the angry reactions of soldiers stationed in Lebanon ("We risk our lives, and get a slap in the face!") filling the press. An attempt to cut also the salaries of higher echelons was put off after an unprecedented bickering between army generals and finance ministry officials on the pages of the mainstream daily papers. Thus, while Netanyahu's policies on the political level steadily increased tensions and brought closer the danger of all-out war, his economic policies caused frustration and anger at both ends of the military hierarchy.

The growing realization of this inherent contradiction and of the agonizing need to choose between such polar alternatives might account, to a great degree, for the often jumpy and incoherent behaviour of Netanyahu since being elected.

****



The Netanyahu government was inaugurated in mid-June with a row between the new P.M. and his Foreign Minister David Levy, conducted in front of the TV cameras. Following this inauspicious start, the Netanyahu government went on lurching from one crisis to another, wracked by deepening conflicts and internal contradictions.

Many factors contributed to the government's chronic instability. In part, it was Israel's new hybrid electoral system, in which the Prime Minister is directly elected but still needs a parliamentory majority.

Overestimating his powers under the new dispensation, Netanyahu sought to staff his cabinet with "non-party experts", and establish an "Israeli White House" complete with institutions as a Council of Economic Advisers, an Office of Budget Management and a National Security Council.

These plans were nipped in the bud by the entrenched bureaucracy of the finance and defence ministries, jealously guarding their privileges and power. Netanyahu's rivals in the Likud, whom he tried to keep out of the cabinet, proved powerful enough to elbow their way in. The only "expert minister" Netanyahu did get in was the shrewd but shady lawyer Ya'akov Ne'eman -- who lasted a single, stormy month as Minister of Justice before being hauled off to police investigation, on charges of


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having suborned a witness in a political corruption trial.

In the elections, the religious community -- though divided into numerous parties and sects -- gave Netanyahu its overwhelming, almost unanimous support. In return, the religious parties expected the new government to enact measures enforcing a more religious tone in public affairs -- a design opposed, however, by secularists inside the Likud such as Finance Minister Meridor. The issue came to center on a Jerusalem throughfare whose closure on the Sabbath was demanded by the ultra-Orthodox inhabitants. This was followed by demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, widespread rioting and clashes with the police.

A governmental order to close the controversial road was blocked by the Supreme Court -- leading extreme Orthodox groups to issue anonymous threats on the life of Justice Aharon Barak. Respectable rabbis openly called for "non recognition of the ungodly court." Netanyahu drew fire by declaring himself in favor of "limiting the Supreme Court's authority"...

On still another front, the Netanyahu government found itself involved in a controversy immediately upon inception, with the new Prime Minister introducing extensive cuts in the welfare budgets modeled upon the program of the U.S. Republicans with whom Netanyahu feels a close ideological affinity. However, the program encountered considerable opposition inside the Likud -- a party with a populist tradition, whose voters are mostly drawn from the poorer half of Israeli society. Many Likud rank-and-file activists joined in the one-day general strike, proclaimed in protest by the Histadrut Trade Union Federation. Netanyahu backtracked, promising to modify some of the draconian welfare cuts which he originally planned.

In other times and places such controversies would have been enough to occupy a government's full attention and energy; but under the conditions prevailing in Israel, they were soon pushed aside by the deepening crisis in Israel's relations with the Palestinians and the entire Arab World.

Pragmatists and hardliners

Binyamin Netanyahu's policies on this vital issue were formulated under the impact of the 1992 elections, in which Yitzchak Shamir -- Netanyahu's patron during his early career -- went down to defeat. As Prime Minister and party leader, Shamir had been unflexible and unbending. A staunch adherent of the Greater Israel ideology, Shamir pursued settlement construction on the West Bank to the point of direct confrontation with the U.S., placing in jeopardy Israel's lifeline of American financial support. He also rejected out of hand the idea, raised by some Likud leaders, to declare a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. In Shamir's view, Gaza -- overcrowded refugee camps and all -- was part of sacrosanct Eretz Yisrael, ancestral heritage of the Jewish people. Giving it up was too high a price for winning the elections.

Shamir's inflexibility had alienated traditional Likud voters at the political center, who went over to Rabin. Binyamin Netanyahu, the young and ambitious politician who after the defeat took over the broken and decrepit Likud Party drew a clear lesson from Shamir's failure. During his three years as opposition leader, Netanyahu repeatedly shifted between different constituencies and issues. He made speeches of dire demagogy on the sites of terrorist attacks, and in seeking to destabilize the Rabin government allied himslef with wild and violent settlers. Yet in the aftermath of the Rabin murder, opposition leader Netanyahu chose to pose as "the respectable statesman."

A few months before the elections, he announced his acceptance of "the accomplished facts of Oslo", and made rather ambiguous promises to continue the peace process, if elected. To further butress a "peacemaker" image, Netanyahu held a highly-publicized visit to Jordan where he met with Crown Prince Hasan.

All in all, Netanyahu's efforts were successful in regaining the stratum of voters which Shamir had alienated four years earlier -- people in whom the desire for peace and a deep distrust of Arabs were mixed. In the aftermath of the Hamas suicide bombings, followed by Peres' disastrous Lebanese adventure, Netanyahu's slogan -- "a secure peace" -- turned out to strike a chord among this section of the Israeli electorate.

For the settlers and the extreme right, who mobilized massively on behalf of Netanyahu, the "secure peace" slogan was little more than lip service, a convenient weapon with which to topple the Labor government. A few of the most honest among them


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admitted as much. In effect, Netanyahu succeeded in putting together an electoral alliance containing two essentially incompatible elements -- those who wanted to move ahead with the Oslo process, albeit "slowly" and "cautiously" -- and others who sought to roll back the same process, or at least totally freeze it at the point the Labor government left off.

This division between "pragmatists" and "hardliners" was apparent at all levels of the Likud Party, from voters and grassroots activists to the top leadership. One of Netanyahu's main achievements in the electoral campaign was to keep his various followers together, without the discrepancies becoming obvious until elections day. This was possible mainly because the hardliners were willing to restrain themselves until victory was achieved.

But once Netanyahu attained to power the question immediately posed itself: would the new government be able and willing to go beyond recognizing the facts created by its Labor predecessor, and take itself further along the Oslo road?

All through the first months of his term, Netanyahu made enormous efforts to avoid a clear answer to that question, again and again declaring himself bound by the previous government's international treaty obligations, yet always coming up with ever new excuses to delay active implementation of any of them.

Again and again he sought to delay decisions, fending off conflicting pressures and keeping friends and opponents alike guessing about to which camp he himself belonged. But such tactics can be maintained only for a limited time, and gradually it became apparent that virtually all of Netanyahu's moderate gestures were verbal or symbolic, while his government's policy on the ground was increasingly aggressive and provocative.

Of the many issues outstanding between Israelis and Palestinians soon came to the foreground -- Hebron, the only major Palestinian city still under direct Israeli occupation, and with some 450 armed, fanatic settlers in a well-fortified enclave in the midst of its 160,000 Palestinian inhabitants.

Under the provisions of the Oslo-2 Agreement, redeployment of Israeli forces from most parts of Hebron was due to take place in March. The Peres government had failed to carry out this redeployment -- due, to a large degree, to the campaign waged by Netanyahu, then leader of the right-wing opposition.

Netanyahu and his settler allies had managed to gain the support of key religious leaders; Peres put off the Hebron redeployment in the vain hope of winning at least some points among the rabbis -- and their flocks. After his electoral defeat, Peres seemed to enjoy some vindictive glee at handing to Netanyahu the Hebron hot potato...

For the settlers, Hebron seemed the rallying point from where the Oslo tide could be stemmed, with its Biblical holy graves holding a powerful emotional attraction to the nationalist-religious camp. At the same time, the evacuation of Hebron -- where occupation lingered on in its most brutal form -- became also the priority target for the Palestinians, and for the entire Israeli peace camp. And all the numerous international mediators and intermediaries -- American, European and Arab -- found Hebron on the top of their agenda, the litmus test of Netanyahu's adherence, in practice, to Oslo.

Promises and provocations

Prime Minister Netanyahu started upon his career with a far from negligible reservoir of goodwill, both inside Israel and internationally. In his elections victory speech, he went out of his way to appear a generous victor, calm down and conciliate the defeated parties -- with considerable initial success. Similar efforts were directed at the Europeans, the Americans, the Palestinians and the Arab states.

At the June Cairo Summit, where Arab leaders gathered in alarm at the new Israeli government's rejectionist "guidelines", Netanyahu had one clear friend: King Hussein of Jordan, smug at having been the only one to notice and cultivate the new Israeli leader before he won the elections. The summit host, President Mubarak of Egypt, fended off Syrian proposals for an immediate boycott of Netanyahu's Israel -- preferring to give the new government, in spite of its declared extremism, a period of grace.

At his first visit to Washington, Netanyahu gained a standing ovation on Capitol Hill -- especially from Republicans, whose catchphrases of "privatization", "deregulation" and "cutting down government" Netanyahu repeated in his impeccable American English. Netanyahu's hosts were also enthusiastic at his declared willingness "to begin the process" of phasing off American aid to Israel. (The Ministry of Finance in Jerusalem, which was not consulted in advance, was not so eager for the idea, and the Prime Minister had to beat a hasty retreat.)

During his White House visit things proceeded a little bit less rosy, especially when the issue of settlement extension came up. However, both Netanyahu and Clinton had an interest in smoothing over their differences, and the new PM did make a clear promise "not to behave like Shamir" and "not to surprise the U.S." with such actions as settlement construction.


Note to the readers


As this issue was held up a few weeks by fiery circumstances we have decided to make it a double one, and cover the multitude of recent developments.

Within a single week at the end of July, the Netanyahu government embarked on a whole series of goodwill gestures. Foreign Minister Levy held a cordial meeting with Yasser Arafat in Gaza -- the first ministerial-level Likud-PLO contact; a Netanyahu-Arafat meeting was declared to be due "soon." Meanwhile, Netanyahu met with Egypt's President Mubarak, informing him that "the Palestinian women prisoners would be released" (a clause in Oslo-2 which the old and the new Israeli government alike simply fail to keep in spite of repeated promises on the highest levels). After being closeted with Netanyahu for an hour Mubarak emerged, smiling broadly, and told the numerous Israeli journalists:


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"You know, your new Prime Minister is not such a bad guy as was told of him. After what I heard now, I have good reason to feel that things will start moving soon." Jordan's King Hussein was also upbeat after meeting with Netanyahu, a few days later.

On the following days, the papers were full of "unofficial but reliable" reports, according to which Defence Minister Mordechai had formulated a plan for the Hebron redeployment, requiring only "cosmetic changes" in the Oslo-2 format; Mordechai reportedly was due to meet with Arafat and present that plan.

The impression that things were moving was reinforced by the conclusion of two long-drawn out M.I.A. tragedies, which had haunted the Israeli public for years. Due to the help of the imprisoned Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the Israeli army was able to locate and recover the body of Ilan Sa'adun, a soldier kidnapped and killed by a Hamas squad nearly a decade earlier. The Security Services made no secret of their opinion that the seriously ill Sheikh Yassin should be released -- both for the positive effect his humane views could have over other Hamas leaders, and because his death in prison may trigger riots, if not terrorist attacks.

Meanwhile, on the Lebanese front an exchange was effected between Israel and Hizbullah -- with German mediation. The Lebanese militia gave back the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, as well a releasing dozens of Lebanese mercenaries who had fought on the Israeli side; Israel gave in exchange living Hizbullah fighters and the bodies of dead ones. The deal occupied for days the front pages, and there were many speculations that it may be the first move in a bold Netanyahu plan to end the perennial guerrilla war in South Lebanon.

****



Within a few weeks, all the hopes aroused at the end of July were dashed. No Palestinian prisoners were released -- neither the women, nor Sheikh Yassin or anybody else; the public mood of the Egyptian president and his officials clearly indicated that Netanyahu's more confidential promises were not honoured, either. The Mordechai plan for Hebron encountered strong opposition from arch-hardliner Ariel Sharon and the ministers of the National Religious Party and was not presented to the Palestinians. Neither Netanyahu nor Mordechai followed Levy's lead in meeting Arafat; for his part, Levy complained in public of being shut out of the negotiations process and threatened to resign.

Meanwhile, the settlers put strong pressure on Netanyahu. to honour the promises he made to them before the elections. After weeks of avoiding them, Netanyahu did meet with the assembled settler leaders. At the end the settlers' speaker, Pinhas Wallerstein, told the press: "This is a great day in the history of Jewish settlement in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. At last we have a Prime Minister who is one of us, in the full sense of the word."

A few days later, the cabinet formally repealed "the settlement freeze" which had been decreed -- but not strictly observed -- by the Rabin government.

The "settlement de-freeze" resolution reverberated throughout the world, drawing numerous angry protests. Inside the country, Peace Now published data collected by its Settlement Watch Team on what the intended settlement extension would cost and engaged in vitriolic, highly-publicized media debates with settlers.

In an effort to appease the Americans, the Europeans and the Arabs, Netanyahu sent them special messages, pointing out a rider to the "de-freeze" resolution: though settlement extension was now permitted in principle, every concrete construction plan needed the personal approval of the Defence Minister.

As it turned out in the following month, this system failed to keep the pressure off Netanyahu: after every extension plan vetoed by Minister Yitzchak Mordechai the settlers became more disgruntled, losing their enthusiasm for the government they had helped to power; at the same time, any ministerial approval for a settlement extension made headlines and aroused a fresh wave of condemnation inside the country and internationally.

By the second half of August, the Netanyahu government was in the process of increasingly alienating its international and Arab contacts -- as well as both sides of the Israeli political spectrum.

Mounting frustrations

For the Palestinians, the election of Netanyahu came in the midst of what was, even before, an extremely difficult period. Ever since the Hamas bombings in late February, the Palestinian Territories experienced extremely harsh Israeli retaliations -- in particular, the imposition by Prime Minister Peres of a total, prolonged closure depriving tens of thousands of Palestinian workers of their jobs in Israel, completely dislocating the Palestinian economy.

Arafat had been counting on Peres' promise that after the elections -- which he was confident of winning -- he would remove the closure, withdraw the army from Hebron and release the prisoners. The shock of Peres' defeat left Arafat out on a limb, desperate to regain his balance and establish contact with the new Israeli regime. To start with, such contact was meager: Netanyahu adviser Dore Gold repeatedly appeared at Arafat's headquarters, bearing peremptory messages from his master but having no mandate to discuss any substantial issue. The visit of Foreign Minister Levy, though more cordial, failed to bring any practical result either.

At the time, senior members of the Likud, as well as astute settler leaders, played with the idea of Israel proclaiming unilaterally and dramatically a lifting of the closure -- while putting a complete break on any implememtation of Oslo, such as the Hebron redeployment. They argue that the mass of impoverished Palestinian workers cared for their jobs more than for anything else, and that such a move might undercut Arafat's base of support.

After all, lifting the closure and allowing free circulation between Israel and the Palestinian Territories accorded well with the formal Likud ideology, by which both are supposed to be part of the


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same (Jewish-dominated) entity. Netanyahu, however, cared little for such abstract considerations: he decided against a dramatic lifting of the closure, because of the possibility that it could be followed by a terrorist attack for which he would then be blamed (just as he had been blaming the Labor government in the past).

The best he would allow, following the security chief's advice, was a gradual and partial easing of the closure, giving the Palestinians from time to time a few thousands more work permits as a "reward for good behavior." Tragically, many Palestinians who got such a niggardly handed out work permit found their jobs already taken by the workers from the Third World and Eastern Europe, who had been brought to Israel in their tens of thousands during the past years.*

Nothing whatsoever was done to address other aspects of the closure, such as strict security checks of Palestinian trucks, slowing to a trickle the flow of Palestinian goods from the Territories into Israel, or also between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which hitherto sold much of their produce to each other. These checks -- which the Palestinians claim are intended to protect not only security but also the interests of Israeli competitors -- caused the bankruptcy of many Palestinian enterprizes, and drove away most of the foreign investors who had considered investing in the Palestinian Territories.

At all points where Palestinian daily life is touched by Israeli bureaucracy, conditions became more harsh: passage through roadblocks entailed more humiliations by soldiers; permits to go abroad, either by land or via Ben Gurion Airport, became more difficult to obtain; human rights groups received more and more complaints of Palestinians beaten up by Israeli police or soldiers; the military authorities embarked on a systematic campaign of demolishing houses in "Area C" (70% of the West Bank) which is still under direct Israeli rule -- with dozens of homes in a single village receiving demolition orders while at the same time plans are announced to extend a nearby Israeli settlement. It is not clear whether all these developments occurred under instructions from above, or resulted from elements in the low and middle ranks of the hierarchy feeling that now was the time to follow their inclinations -- nor does it really matter.

* Some 100,000 workers, from such diverse countries as Rumania, Thailand, Nigeria, the Phillipines and many others work legally in Israel, under conditions of extreme exploitation. A further number -- variously estimated at between 100,000 and 300,000 -- are staying illegally in Israel, already forming the majority of the population in some Tel-Aviv slumneighborhoods. Since the formation of the Netanyahu government, an informal coalition -- of which some members purport to be concerned for the Palestinians, while others openly voice racist views -- has been agitating for "firm steps" against the migrant workers. A plan to "streamline" deportation procedures and set up a detention center near Ben Gurion Airport was bogged down due to opposition from employers and human rights organizations.

English-language information from:
Workers' Hotline, POB 2319, Tel-Aviv 61022.


Warning of things to come


The following Gush Shalom statement was published in Ma'ariv on August 12.

Netanyahu, unlike Abraham Lincoln, believes that you can fool all the people all the time. He proposes to start a new round of negotiations on Hebron, casting aside the agreement which was achieved after long and arduous negotiations. He flagrantly breaks the explicit obligation of Israel to release all Palestinian women prisoners and detainees. He allows Sharon to start the creation of new settlement enclaves all over the Territories. Since he is in power, the humiliating searches at the checkpoints have been extended even to elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. And at the same time, Netanyahu accuses the Palestinians of breaking the agreements.

How long can you cheat the Palestinians, the Israelis, the Americans and the whole world? How long, until it will all blow up -- a week, a month, three months? The Intifada in 1987 seemed to break out suddenly. In fact, it was like a dam behind which the water was rising steadily. Now it is happening again. An enormous load of anger and frustration is accumulating day after day. Nobody could predict exactly when the next Intifada will break out, and what form it will take: major terrorist attacks, killing of settlers, mass uprising, or war between the Palestinian armed forces and the Israeli army... Whatever it will be, Binyamin Netanyahu will not be able to claim innocence.

Gush Shalom, POB 3322, Tel Aviv 61033; fax: 972-3-5271108

Initially, much of the Palestinian anger and frustration were directed at Yasser Arafat -- and at the Palestinian Authority, its police and its administration in general. Arafat was accused of having become a collaborator. Opposition members of the newly-elected Palestinian parliament became increasingly bold in exposing cases of corruption by senior officials and of human rights violations. When the news spread of a young Palestinian's death while being interrogated by Palestinian police in Nablus, large-scale riots by thousands of Nablus inhabitants broke out; at Tulkarm, the local Palestinian police station was stormed and dozens of political prisoners set free.

The deteriorating situation aroused increasing concerns in Israel -- not only in the media and opposition parties, but also among Netanyahu's own security advisers. More and more the Prime Minister was urged to hold his long-delayed personal meeting with Arafat and give the Palestinian leader some concrete gains to show his people. Netanyahu, however, stuck to his concept of "reciprocity", by which dialogue with Arafat and any discussion of substantial issues was dependent upon Palestinian rectification of their "violations of Oslo."

In his first days as Prime Minister, Netanyahu's advisers prepared for him a list of some thirty alleged Palestinian violations. (Following its publication, the Palestinians promptly published a similar number of Israeli violations.) After some consideration Netanyahu decided to focus on the Palestinian presence in East Jerusalem -- an issue which had figured prominently and successfully in his election campaign.


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During that campaign, Netanyahu promised his voters to close down the "Orient House" -- the Palestinian headquarters in East Jerusalem, whose de-facto extra-territorial status made it a favorite target of right-wing agitation. Once in office, Netanyahu realized that the cost of closing Orient House -- a place officially recognized and regularly visited by the European Foreign Ministers -- would be prohibitive. Lowering his sights, Netanyahu settled upon three less-known Palestinian offices located in East Jerusalem, involved with such issues as statistics, cartography and vocational training.

Numerous messages, transmitted to Arafat via several intermediaries, made clear that closing the three offices -- deemed to be official extensions of the Palestinian Authority, whose presence in Jerusalem is forbidden -- to be a precondition for a Netanyahu-Arafat meeting, and for any substantial discussion of Hebron or any other issue whatsoever.

Against the opinion of his advisers, Arafat decided to accept these terms, and ordered that the East Jerusalem offices be closed -- which they were, after much grumbling by those involved. Had Netanyahu then set a time for meeting Arafat, he could have come there as a victor. Instead, he greeted the news with marked indifference, and on the same day authorized Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmart to demolish a large Palestinian building in the Old City of Jerusalem.


Stop the house demolitions!


The following ad, signed jointly by Bat Shalom, Gush Shalom, Peace Now and Meretz appeared in Kol Ha'ir on September 6.

Recently, the demolition of Palestinian houses in the West bank and East Jerusalem has reached the proportions of a systematic campaign. This is justified by the claim that the houses were built without a permit - but it is the state which denied such permits to Palestinians in the first place. We believe that this policy is motivated by political considerations: the desire to take over Arab lands and in the case of East Jerusalem - to force Palestinians to leave so as to strengthen Jewish control over the city.

House demolitions are a grave and inhuman act, both a contravention of human dignity and a slap in the face of the peace process.

The house demolitions must cease forthwith, building permits should be issued in a fair way, and an end must be put to tha campaign of humiliations against the Palestinian population in the Territories.

Contact: Meir c/o Meretz, 10 Hahistdrut St., Jerusalem.

The building in question -- a recreation center for youths and handicapped -- had been built over the past two years, financed with grants from the French and Canadian governments. The officials at the Jerusalem municipality's planning department proclaimed the project part of "a Palestinian conspiracy to take over the Old City" and refused to grant a building permit; the Palestinians had gone on nevertheless, which gave the municipality a legal right to issue a demolition order.

After Netanyahu okayed the demolition order, it was carried out at once in a military-like operation, with hundreds of police surrounding the site and cranes lifting bulldozers over the Old City Wall (since the heavy machines could not enter through the narrow Medieval gates). On the same day, the Israeli authorities also declared their intention to evict the Jahalin Bedouins, whose land was deemed necessary for extending the Israeli settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, ten kilometres east of Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Parliament met in Ramallah, in a unanimous mood of anger, with speaker after speaker delivering militant speeches. Arafat -- who came especially from Gaza and whose helicopter was held up in the air for half an hour by Israeli air controllers -- called upon all Palestinians to hold "a prayer to save Jerusalem" at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem, and for their Christian compatriots -- to do the same at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Arafat proclamation at once changed the atmosphere, creating a mood of enormous tension and expectation, during the forty-eight hours countdown to the Friday Muslim prayers. The government, rejecting out of hand proposals to let the prayer be held, declared its determination to enforce the closure, by which West Bank Palestinians are barred from entering East Jerusalem.

Thousands of police were mobilized, from all over the country, to seal off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. Outwardly, they were successful; attendance at the Jerusalem Mosque was even lower than usual. But this success was bought at the price of having the major international TV networks show Israeli police block the way of worshippers to prayer. Thus was exposed the reality long known to Palestinians, but of which the wider world was hitherto largely ignorant: despite the claim of all Israeli governments to preserve freedom of worship in Jerusalem, the closure is denying that freedom to millions of Muslim and Christian Palestinians.

The false dawn

One of the effects of the confrontation was an enormous increase in the pressure upon Netanyahu to hold at last his promised meeting with Arafat. Labor leader and former Prime Minister Peres held a much-publicized meeting of his own with the Palestinian leader. A few days later, Israeli President Ezer Weitzman, whose official role is purely titular, delivered an unprecedented ultimatum to the Prime Minister: if Netanyahu would not meet with Arafat, the President would do so instead. Finally, President Clinton made clear that he would not see Netanyahu, on the latter's forthcoming visit to the U.S., unless he first meet with Arafat.

By an ironical turning of the tables, by now it was Netanyahu who was eager to let the meeting with Arafat take place, while the Palestinian leader was reluctant. In complicated secret negotiations, in which Netanyahu had to resort to the same Norwegian diplomats who mediated the original Oslo Agreements in 1993, the modalities of the Netanyahu-Arafat meeting were agreed upon.

Three years after Rabin and Arafat had their first


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meeting on the White House Lawn, Israeli papers once more featured whole-page colour photos of "the Prime Minister shaking hands with Yasser Arafat" -- the news being that now, at last, the Likud's taboo was also broken. For two brief days, Netanyahu enjoyed the support of the opposition and the peace movement, while the hardliners in his own party were furious. In an effort to appease them, Netanyahu declared his total and absolute opposition to a Palestinian state, making abbundant use of rejectionist-style demagoguery.

It soon turned out that the long-awaited meeting had produced no tangible result other than photographs, and that Netanyahu had never intended it to be otherwise. In fact, he started using the fact of having met with Arafat as an alibi for not having made any political progress. On Netanyahu's second visit to the U.S., noticably cooler than the first, the televised meeting was Netanyahu's only evidence of "progress on the Palestinian track." Clinton, however, confronted him with another increasingly tense front -- the Syrian one.

The north heats up

Unlike the situation with the Palestinians, the Labor government had not reached any official agreement with the Syrians, which would have been binding upon its successor. The four years of negotiations, broken off in March 1996 in the wake of the Hamas bombings, had produced only an unofficial agreement ("non-paper" in diplomatic jargon) stating the two sides' acceptance of the principle of Land for Peace -- in this case, return of the occupied Golan Heights in exchange for full peace between Israel and Syria.

In what turned out to be a colossal mistake, Syrian President Assad had refused to already transform this "non-paper" into an officially binding agreement without waiting for a detailed agreement on all the complicated subordinate issues -- the exact delineation of the border, the demilitarized zones and security arrangements, the water sources...

Netanyahu the Prime Minister made no secret of his intention to ditch the "non-paper" and restart negotiating with an Israeli claim to the whole of the Golan, and Syria was, of all Arab states, the one to greet Netanyahu's election victory with the strongest and most unmitigated hostility -- which was amply reciprocated. Netanyahu's first design was to open a major propaganda campaign depicting Syria as "a terrorist state", with the aim of instigating international sanctions and pushing Syria to the status of "a pariah state" like Iran and Irak -- with removal of the sanctions dependant upon on Syria accepting Israeli possession of the Golan.

On Netanyahu's first visit to Washington, he took with him a fat dossier on terrorist organizations based in Damascus and on Syria's long-standing alliance with Iran -- but he made no use of it. In talking with President Clinton and other decision-makers in Washington, Netanyahu got a clear message: the U.S., which in 1990 invested great efforts to get Syrian troops to fight at its side against Iraq, was not about to throw away that achievement; and having trouble enough in maintaining the "double containment" of Iran and Iraq, there was not the slightest desire to transform it into a triple one.

This tack being blocked, Netanyahu took up another approach which became known as "Lebanon first." He offered the Syrians to withdraw Israeli forces from South Lebanon, in return for a Syrian tacit agreement to defer discussion of the Golan to an indefinite future date. Such a move would have been very popular among Israelis who are increasingly fed up with the futile bloodletting in South Lebanon; it would have gotten the support of the Labor and left opposition and not been seriously opposed even from the annexationist right. But unfortunately for Netanyahu, there was no reason for the Syrians to accept the proposal and let Israel extricate itself from the Lebanese predicament, Syria's main lever for applying pressure upon Israel. The "Lebanon first" proposal was rejected out of hand by the Syrian and Lebanese governments, which insisted that South Lebanon and the Golan are two interlinked and inseparable issues.

In theory, Netanyahu had the option of pulling Israeli forces out of Lebanon unilaterally, without any agreement. In that case, however, he would have risked Katyusha rocket attacks on northern Israel out of the evacuated area (though, had that come after an Israeli withdrawal, he could have hoped for wide international acceptance of an Israeli retaliatory action). Also, a unilateral withdrawal would have meant abandoning members of the Israel-backed "South Lebanon Army" at the mercy of the Syrian and Lebanese governments -- which, to say the least, would have deterred other Arabs from future acts of collaboration with Israel.

In the event, Netanyahu chose to shelve the "Lebanon first" idea and let the Guerilla War meander on along its bloody course. With no more brilliant designs towards Syria, Netanyahu fell back upon an official call for "renewing the peace talks with no preconditions" -- at the same time promising to the Golan settlers new government investments, with the aim of expanding the settler population. The Syrians indignantly responded that they would only resume negotiations from the point the Labor government broke them off in March.

Thereupon Israelis and Syrians started to trade accusations and insults on a daily basis, gradually decending into threats. A Syrian military redeployment in Lebanon became the subject of speculation and apprehension. Troops which had garrisoned Beirut in the past decade were moved eastwards -- officially because the internal situation in Lebanon had stabilized -- and stationed in a location where they could block an Israeli outflanking attack on Damascus via East Lebanon. And, as Israeli experts were quick to point out: the new Syrian positions could also serve as a springboard for a surprise attack on the strategic Mount Hermon -- highest point in the Golan, and the scene of savage battles during the 1973 war.

The verbal exhibition of mutual hostility reached a crescendo as Israeli Minister of Agriculture Rafael Eitan -- a former chief-of-staff of Lebanon War


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notoriety -- declared: "If war comes, we will just wipe Syria off the map."

Meanwhile international TV crews were invited to the Golan, to take footage of galloping tank squadrons; tongue in cheek, Israeli generals reiterated that these were "no more than routine manoeuvres."

The nose incident

The deterioration in Israeli-Syrian relations was matched in the relations with Egypt -- the first of Israel's neighbors to have signed a peace treaty. The Palestinian and Syrian grievances were loudly and clearly endorsed by Cairo. The Egyptian press started to use vitriolic language, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Amer Musa declared that without significant moves in the peace process Egypt might reconsider holding the November Middle East Economic Conference. Netanyahu's reaction to this threat caused a diplomatic incident. Stating that the Egyptians themselves need that conference very much, he added the soundbite: "Musa is cutting his nose to spite his face!"

Given Netanyahu's record of the past months, Israeli diplomats had a hard job trying to convince the furious Egyptians that this "was a quite common English expression" whose translation into Arabic made it sound more insulting. In the Egyptian press appeared cartoons suggesting "modifications" to Netanyahu's anatomy; the Egyptian army carried out "routine manoeuvers" in which journalists could notice that several Egyptian divisions were practicing the rapid crossing of a canal -- which would be the first step in any military confrontation with Israel.

A great American effort was needed to slightly calm things down. The Egyptians were induced to give the economic conference another chance. For the Syrians, Clinton got Netanyahu's agreement to the formula that Israeli-Syrian negotiations would reopen with the new Israeli government "acknowledging" the positions of its predecessor but not committing itself to them. Though the Syrians rejected this as insufficient, nevertheless the tone from Damascus became a bit less belligerent, with Assad reportedly agreeing to wait until after the U.S. presidential elections.

****


While the spotlight was turned upon Syria, the Palestinian situation continued to deteriorate. An inconclusive meeting between Defence Minister Mordechai and Arafat was followed by the demolition of several Palestinian homes in Jerusalem and other houses being taken over by settlers. South of Jerusalem the first "Jews-only" road was opened, with soldiers at the junction ordered to turn away all Palestinians -- including those at the expense of whose fields and orchards the road had been built.

Diggers

Ever since the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, Israelis are apprehensive with the annual approach of the most holy Jewish Holiday, a day of fast and silence, on which there is no traffic nor any radio or TV broadcasts. They remember how that was the day on which the Egyptians and Syrians launched their surprise attack on Israel. In other years this fear had seemed rather irrational. Still, in spite of the existing tensions, the fast of 1996 passed quietly enough. It was Netanyahu who, in the night afterwards, committed in Jerusalem his supreme provocation, setting alight the Palestinian powder keg.

No spot among the many disputed between Israelis and Palestinians is as sensitive and emotionally loaded as the Old City of Jerusalem; the place known to Jews as Har Habait (The Temple Mount) and to Muslims as Haram-a-Sharif (The Noble Shrine) is its very storm center. For Jews, it is the site of two successive Jewish temples, both destroyed in war -- to whose memory persecuted Jews had looked back with longing, as the symbols of a lost Golden Age. The 1,300-year old Mosques which now stand upon the site are Islam's third holiest place, right after the shrines of Mecca and Medina. In Muslim tradition, it is the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven.

During the Twentieth Century, the place already steeped in religious symbolism assumed a potent nationalist significance as well. The emotional appeal of the former Jerusalem Temple was a recurrent theme of the Zionist movement from Herzl on -- and the Mosques have become a powerful symbol of the Palestinian national identity, with their pictures found at nearly every Palestinian home (including those of Christians).



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Fortunately, for the sake of keeping some stability on this sensitive spot, far-seeing Jewish sages many hundreds of years ago stricktly forbade Jews to make any effort to rebuild the Temple, or even to set foot on that mountain, until the coming of the Messiah. Instead, Jewish tradition sanctified the Wailing Wall -- outer wall of Temple Mount/Haram a-Sharif Compound, and the only existent relic of the original Jewish Temple. The age-old Jewish tradition fitted well with the Israeli governmental policies, established in 1967 by then Defence Minister Moshe Dayan and retained essentially unchanged up to the present. Dayan had established firm Israeli control over the Wailing Wall and its environs -- even to the extent of razing a whole Palestinian neighborhood in order to provide a wide plaza for Jewish worshippers at the Wall. On the other hand he took great care to leave control of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to the Muslim authorities, ordering immediately the removal from the Mosques of the Israeli flag which had been raised there by the first conquering soldiers.

This policy was repeatedly challenged by Messianic-Nationalist groups, waging violent provocations with the aim of destroying the Mosques; the most serious of these, in 1990, provoked riots in which Israeli police shot down 18 Muslim worshippers.

While such organizations operate openly and conspicuously, the spirit of Messianism gradually seeped also into more respectable religious associations operating at the Wailing Wall, under auspices of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Not able to approach


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the Temple Mount Compound directly, these associations have since the 1970s hit on the idea of excavating the ancient tunnels running under the Old City.

From the start, such operations were given a double justification -- a mundane, pragamtic explanation involving archeological research and tourism, and a highly ideological religious-nationalist reasoning of "the need to recover Ancestral Jewish Jerusalem." Over the years, the Israeli penetration into the tunnels aroused suspicion and anger on the Palestinian side. In the 1980s, the Palestinians started digging and excavating for their own reasons, and there ensued a real subterranean battle between rival digging crews, using fists and sticks.

Following this incident a brick underground wall was erected dividing the disputed tunnel, and the Israeli side promised to do no more tunneling directly under the Mosque Compound. The "diggers" then tried another tack -- to extend the tunnel northward, under the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City. In the same years, Messianic settlers were moving and taking over Palestinian houses in the same quarters with the proclaimed aim of "Judaizing the Old City." Already in the late 1980s, the northern tunnel was ready -- but for an opening on the far side which would allow Israelis to emerge in the Arab inhabited part of the Old City. However, an attempt to make such an opening in 1988 sparked widespread riots in Jerusalem and all over the West Bank, fanning the fire of the Intifada. Then Prime Minister Shamir -- for all his inflexibility on other issues -- ordered the opening closed.

The nationalist-religious "diggers" did not give up, mustering a formidable political lobby -- in particular, the Nationalist Religious Party. Their power increased with the 1993 election of Ehud Olmert as Mayor of Jerusalem, in whose municipal administration the "diggers" have many political friends. The Labor Prime Ministers, Rabin and Peres, had to deal with the issue during various discreet meetings -- assenting in principle to opening the tunnel, but with the rider that "the timing must be carefully chosen." During Netanyahu's first months in office, he seemed to accept the same position; during a confidential meeting, Admiral Ami Ayalon -- head of the Shabak Security Services -- advised that the tunnel be opened at the time of the redeployment in Hebron, when the satisfied Palestinians could be expected to make no more than verbal protest.

It is still an open question what exactly motivated Netanyahu to ignore this advice and advance with the tunnel in a period of mounting tensions. In taking this decision -- the only bold, clear and unambiguous step so far in his term as Prime minister -- Netanyahu acted alone. The security services and the army were only informed at the last moment; the same is true for the Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs. Though on the eve of Yom Kippur Netanyahu adviser Dore Gold flew to Amman especially in order to brief King Hussein, he did not mention the plans for the tunnel, and apparently knew nothing of them himself. And despite Netanyahu's promise not to "surprise" the Americans, Clinton found out only after the tunnel affair had become TV news.

One thing on which commentators and investigative journalists in Israel agree is that Netanyahu, while in opposition, had established extensive contacts with extremist groups such as the "diggers." This included at least one source of financing -- the American Jewish fundamentalist and millionnaire Erwin Moskovitz of Florida, who had been investing enormous sums in settlement activities in East Jerusalem and who also contributed generously to Netanyahu's campaigns, both in the Likud primaries and in the general elections. Moskovitz, who happened to be in Jerusalem for the Jewish Holidays, was one of the few informed in advance, figuring as guest of honour at the opening of the tunnel.

It is also known that a year before the elections Netanyahu had promised the Messianists that once elected he would permit Jewish prayer on Temple Mount -- a promise which he found utterly impossible to fullfill. Moreover, the fanatics were furious about the Muslim authorities fitting out as a new Mosque the subterranean space known as "Solomon's Stables" (actually built by King Herod about 1,000 years after Solomon's time). The extreme groups had tried to prevent the opening of the new Mosque by an appeal to the Supreme Court -- and the Shabak warned Netanyahu that they might use explosives as well.

From all this it seems that Netanyahu's motive was to appease these groups, and the extreme right in general; he might even have hoped that the reaction to this provocation would weaken them a bit. But though he probably anticipated Palestinian protests, it is not likely that he fully realized how much the Palestinian position would be strengthened by his precipitate action.

Into the fire

Late on the night of September 23, hundreds of police occupied a certain site at the Via Dolorosa, where according to Christian tradition Jesus has walked carrying his cross. A little bit below them, under the ground, a small group was gathered, with a single TV crew to commemorate the scene. The visiting millionnaire was present, as was Mayor Ehud Olmert, another of his beneficiaries. Olmert personally took the chisel to strike the last few blows. When the sun rose over Jerusalem, the new exit of the tunnel was already a fait accompli.

Having lit the fuse, Netanyahu departed on a previously-scheduled tour of Britain, France and Germany. The communique published by the Prime Minister's Bureau stated that the visit was aimed at "consolidating the friendly and cordial relations" between Israel and the European countries...

Already during the night, Palestinian inhabitants, alarmed at the sudden police invasion of their neighborhood, were roughly pushed aside. The Muslim authorities on the Mount were alerted, and in turn alerted Arafat in Gaza. In the morning, several hundred Palestinian youths gathered for a demonstration on the site, and were promptly and violently


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dispersed. An hour later, another demonstration broke out in the sacred compound around the Mosques, and stones were thrown at Jewish worshippers near the Wailing Wall -- which led to another violent confrontation with police.

In the afternoon, Arafat called for a general strike throughout the Palestinian Territories to be held on the following day, and for mass demonstrations in every town, village and refugee camp. The call was enthusiastically endorsed by all shades of the Palestinian politicial spectrum, Arafat supporters and opposition groups alike. In the morning hours of Wednesday, September 25, the Palestinian protest seemed relatively quiet, with most processions moving through the Self-Governing Palestinian cities where no Israeli forces are present. Gradually, reports arrived of confrontations spreading along the West Bank's roads where stone-throwing at military and settler cars had become rare since the end of the Intifada.

There were sizeable demonstrations in East Jerusalem -- broken up by police, only to re-appear at a different location -- and at Hebron, where the army slapped a curfew over the entire city, which was to last for the next ten days.

At noon, some 1,500 students of Bir Zeit University, the West Bank institution which had a crucial role in earlier stages of the Palestinian struggle, set out in procession towards the Israeli military checkpoint at the southern exit of Ramallah, a checkpoint which according to the letter of the Oslo text should no longer have been in place. The Palestinian Police was supposed to block the students' way before they approached the Israeli soldiers; apparently, the police did not try very hard. The furious students succeeded to get near the handful of soldiers in the outpost; the soldiers shot, first rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, then switching to live bullets. Several students fell down, dead or wounded. So far, it was the classical Intifada script, enacted thousands of times on this and other spots between 1987 and 1993. But different from the Intifada times, now a large armed, trained Palestinian force was present.

The tunnel war

Many hotly contested versions exist of how the Palestinian Police were drawn in, and whether anybody planned it in advance. Whatever the circumstances, the relations between Israelis and Palestinians were about to change qualitatively, in a way having profound effects for the future. For the first time since 1948 an armed confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians developed on anything like equal terms (due of course to political circumstances preventing Israel from using more than a fraction from its available strength). For the first time, armed Palestinians confronting Israel were perceived by Israelis not as "terrorists" who are illegitimate by definition, but as soldiers who are inherently equals. Sadly, many lives were to be lost in order to bring this elementary lesson home.

By mid-afternoon a full-scale infantry battle was going on, at the approaches to Ramallah, and both sides were hastily bringing in reinforcements. At the end of the day, during the six o'clock news, the Israeli radio commentator declared: This is no longer Intifada -- this is war! On the TV news Israelis were treated to detailed footage of the fighting including close-ups from both sides of the Ramallah battlefield.

In the late hours of that day, Israeli and Palestinian senior commanders, who had established friendly contacts during the past year, managed to contact each other by radio and arrange a truce. Israeli and Palestinian soldiers at the Ramallah approach retreated behind makeshift barriers; between them, what had been one of the few prosperous middle class areas in the Palestinian Territories had been turned into a ruined and desolate no-man's-land.

Early on the following morning, Palestinian crowds approached Kfar Darom, one of the Israeli armed settlement enclaves straddling the main North-South artery of the Gaza Strip. The previous day's sequence repeated itself, except that here it was the settlers who opened fire on the Palestinians against the orders of the soldiers guarding them.

News of the battle raging around Kfar Darom spread swiftly, and dozens of similar conflagrations broke out throughout the densily-populated Gaza Strip, all around the settlement enclaves -- where a third of the Gaza Strip's land (and half of its water!) are reserved for a total of 5,000 Israelis.

In northern Gaza, thousands stormed the Erez checkpoint -- potent symbol of the closure, the place where Palestinians encounter either a barred gate or a long and humiliating search on the way to a hard day's work in Israel. Here, as elsewhere, the demonstrationg and stone-throwing soon gave place to a battle, conducted throughout the day with machine guns as well as rifles.

In the other side of the Gaza Strip, at Rafah, the Palestinians broke through the Israeli-held zone separating the Gaza Strip from Egypt, cut the border fence and were fraternizing with the Egyptian border guards when Israeli forces arrived at the spot. In the ensuing battle, Egyptian soldiers were involved on the Palestinian side -- the first case since 1974 that Israelis and Egyptians shot on each other. (Later, the Israeli and Egyptian authorities -- aware of the danger to their already strained relations -- officially denied that this occurred, though it had been attested by reliable witnesses.)

Meanwhile, the West Bank also flared up again. At the outskirts of Ramallah, the battle resumed -- and similar ones broke out near other cities. In Nablus, the small Israeli garrison in the Medieval building known as Joseph's Tomb came under siege by thousands of Palestinians. A relieving force was decimated by heavy Palestinian fire from the rooftops, and the survivors -- together with the original garrison -- surrendered; the Palestinian Police protected them from the furious crowd, and Palestinian medics treated the wounded. On hearing the reports from Nablus, Defence Minister Mordechai ordered the evacuation of Joseph's Tomb -- militarily the only sensible option. The Israeli commanders opened negotiations with their Palestinian counterparts


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'Bibi go home!'


Upon the outbreak of violence, there was an enormous wave of anti-government protests and demonstrations by the Israeli peace movement. This time, no trace of the usual caution which hitherto characterised most of the initial reactions to the outbreak of hostilities.

On the very first day, former Prime Minister Shimon Peres -- now leader of the opposition -- pointed the way to anyone who may have hesitated by appearing on CNN and placing the full responsibility for the bloodshed upon Netananyahu.

Meretz leader Yossi Sarid traveled to the Gaza Strip, declaring: 'I am putting myself at Arafat's disposal to help resolve the crisis.'

In these hectic days, the statements published by the various groups, parties and movements were almost invariably short and blunt -- nobody had the leisure or quiet of mind to draft long, detailed analyses.

The Prime Minister is a disaster, the government policy -- a national danger. This government must be toppled, and new elections called -- now!
(Gush Shalom ad in Ha'aretz of Friday Sept. 27.)

A right wing government with two left hands. Netanyahu and Olmart -- two wild elephants rampaging through the Jerusalem china shop. (Meretz leaflet.)

Peace with security? The Intifada came back to Ramallah and Bethlehem. The Syrian border heats up, the peace with Egypt cools down. Netanyahu is a danger to Israel! (Labor Youth leaflet.)

We demand that the government immediately renew the peace process, that it withdraw immmediately and unconditionally from Hebron, lift the closure which is starving the Palestinian people, close the tunnel in Jerusalem and remove the settler provocateurs from Hebron and Nablus. (Hadash Communists leaflet.)

Hi Bibi! How are things in Paris? We heard the nights in London are a bit cold. Here everything is all right, we dig, demonstrate, shoot, get killed, get buried. What did you say? A secure peace?
(Ad in Ha'aretz of Friday Sept. 27, signed:
Citizens who want to live in peace.)

Could it really end like this -- not with a whimper but in a big bang? Is this the end of all our hopes? Why then were we ever given such hopes? An animal which once tasted freedom could never again endure the bars of its cage!
(Yair Lapid's article from Ma'ariv of Sept. 27, copied and distributed as an unsigned leaflet.)

A year ago we buried Yitzchak Rabin, murdered because he wanted peace. Now, Netanyahu is burying peace itself. In his hundred days in power, Netanyahu ruined what was patiently built in years. Now, we have no peace and no security, and the winds of war are blowing. We will not let Netanyahu bury our hopes!
(Peace Now ad in all papers on Monday, Sept. 30.)

on evacuation of the trapped soldiers. However, the settlers getting wind of these alerted the ministers of the National Religious Party, who put heavy pressure to prevent "abandonment of the holy grave." At a late night hour, after the Israeli commanders threatened an invasion of Nablus by tanks, the Palestinians agreed to let the wounded and shell-shocked soldiers be replaced by a fresh squad -- which would evidently become hostages in case of renewed hostilities.

By that time, an unofficial ceasefire was in force in most places. Netanyahu, who at first exhibited a cool disdain towards "the riots", had to cut short his European tour and hasten home, making frantic phone calls to Arafat and alternating between desperate pleading and dire threats.

In the morning of Friday 27th, it seemed that the focus of events was already shifting to the field of politics, and that a relative calm could be preserved. But still, there was to be one more burst of lethal violence. The Israeli police determined upon a "firm attitude" at the Jerusalem Mosques, with the aim of "preventing riots", and with the result that at the end of the noon prayers three Palestinian worshippers were shot to death. The news sparked off, scattered new confrontations and battles, especially at sites untouched on the previous day, such as Jericho and Tulkarm.*

In the three days, sixteen Israelis perished, all of them soldiers, and seventy Palestinians -- including both soldiers and civilians, many of them children. Of wounded, there were dozens on the Israeli side and more than thousand among Palestinians, many suffering from head wounds, shot from the Israeli helicopter gunships used in the later stages of the fighting.

Of the Israeli casualties, nearly half were sustained at the Joseph's Tomb affair; seven fresh graves were dug in the interest of holding on to the ancient one.

* Tensions were also exacerbated among Israel's Arab citizens, who were holding a general solidarity strike; the main street of Nazareth, biggest Arab city in Israel, erupted into hours of rioting and stone-throwing; and when the news from Jerusalem came to Umm-el-Fahm, youths burst out shouting 'Death to the Jews!'

Winners and losers

During the fighting, the army imposed a total closure on the Palestinian Territories, cutting them off from Israel; this was followed by a siege imposed on the Palestinian cities of the West Bank, cutting them off also from each other; tanks were brought in their dozens, their cannon directed at the cities. Physically, the situation returned to what it was in March, following the Hamas bombings. Yet, then the Palestinians had been cowed and on the defensive -- now, they were confident and assertive: international public opinion and the diplomatic world were overwhelmingly on the Palestinian side; inside Israel an enormous wave of criticism and opposition resulted in daily protest demonstrations, numbering in their thousands or tens of thousands; and in addition to the political opposition, Netanyahu was increasingly alienated from the military high command


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and the security chiefs who accused him of having precipitated the crisis. Israeli commentators declared Arafat -- and the Palestinians in general -- as having emerged victorious out of the confrontation; the same conclusion was reached in the official report of the military intelligence, leaked to the daily Ha'aretz.

****



For his part, Netanyahu dug in his heels. Using the podium of a Christian Fundamentalist Conference held in Jerusalem* -- about the only international forum where he could still expect to be received warmly -- to declare: "The tunnel is open, and will remain open forever! We do not yield to violence!"

* The organization in question -- the so-called "International Christian Embassy", with a center in Jerusalem and numerous branches in different countries, gives its total, enthusiastic support to the Israeli extreme right. According to this organization's Messianic ideology, the destruction of the Muslim Mosques and the erection of a Jewish Temple in their places would bring about Armageddon, to be followed by the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Intransigence games

International mediation efforts centered upon attempts to bring Netanyahu and Arafat together, to stabilize the still shaky situation and restart the Oslo process. Netanyahu firmly vetoed the idea of holding the meeting in Cairo, under auspices of President Mubarak. Instead, U.S. President Clinton -- who conspicuously failed to veto a U.N. resolution condemning the tunnel-opening -- hastily convened a Middle East Summit in the White House, including Netanyahu and Arafat, as well as King Hussein of Jordan. President Mubarak, also invited, refused to come -- correctly surmizing that Netanyahu would make no concession.

At Washington, Netanyahu refused to budge on the tunnel, nor did he agree to set up a target date for the evacuation of Hebron. Netanyahu tried to make up for not making concessions by going out of his way to show himself "warm" to Arafat -- repeatedly and demonstratively shaking his hand, exchanging reminiscences from the battle of Karame in 1968 where Arafat and the young Netanyahu had come close to shooting each other, and even proclaiming Arafat to be "my friend and ally" and "quite charming, indeed." Israeli journalists joked about "Netanyahu in love", but to judge from Arafat's expression of face during the televised ceremony these kind of frivolities were lost on him.

****



At Washington, Netanyahu won no more than a respite -- and not a very long one -- at the heavy price of offending and alienating both the President of the United States and the King of Jordan. At no previous conference in living memory did the U.S. tend to favor the Palestinians over the Israelis. Hitherto it would have been inconceivable especially so close to the U.S. elections, always the most auspicious time for Israeli Prime Ministers.

Netanyahu sent his negotiating team to meet with Arafat's, at a new round of negotiations held at Erez checkpoint -- the very same place which had been a


The Mothers' Letter


The following petition is circulating and due to be published as a full-page ad in Yediot Aharonot. Organiser Hili Kaufmann told TOI: 'It was started by a few women in Tel-Aviv, but it is spreading like a brushfire. Day and night we are flooded with phone calls of mothers who heard about it from friends and want to join.'

Mr. Binyamin Netanyahu -- you hold the fate of our children in your hands!

We, mothers from all over the country, call upon you: don't destroy our hopes. Don't let our children be killed for the defence of Holy Graves, or on behalf of a handful of settlers in Hebron or elsewhere.

You and your government are now leading Israel to an unnecessary war. Don't turn us into the bereaved mothers of tomorrow. Give us a chance to strengthen our children's motivation to join the army, in the belief that you are doing all you can to prevent bloodshed.

We demand the full implementation of the Oslo Agreements, signed by the Government of Israel, and continuation of the process until a true and just peace is achieved -- for both peoples.
Don't murder peace -- let our children live.
Contact: Hili Kaufmann -- fax 972-3-5256301

battlefield ten days earlier. The Israeli negotiators presented a list of eleven demands with regard to Hebron -- each and every one in contradiction to the clear text of the Oslo Agreement.* The Americans mediators had great difficulty preventing the Palestinians from walking out right away.

Meanwhile the European Community declared its support for the Palestinian demands; foreign investors canceled or suspended plans to invest in Israel, putting in doubt Netanyahu's ambitious privatization program; and the Emirate of Qatar suspended the very recent "normalization of relations" with Israel -- much to the discontent of the Israeli business community which at last expected to gain a foothold in the fabulous markets of the Gulf...

Hard upon this, King Hussein of Jordan -- the only Arab leader who is really popular among Israelis -- spoke out with unusual frankness: "The present Israeli Prime Minister has nothing of the vision of peace of the late Yitzchak Rabin. (...) We now stand but one step from the edge of the abyss. Netanyahu may soon need again the gas mask he used during the Gulf War."

* Among other things they insisted that in Hebron the Palestinian Police be armed with pistols only, as "they have shown they could not be trusted with guns." At the border crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip a similar debate had been going on for days, preventing the entry of food into Gaza, until the General of the Southern Command agreed on October 1 to overcome the problems of mutual distrust on the basis of reciprocity: both the Israeli Border Guards and the Palestinian Police were only carrying pistols. However, this decision was afterwards heavily criticized by the Israeli government.

****



Though the closure was gradually eased, along the winding and confused "confrontation lines" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip Israeli and Palestinian troops continued to lay sandbags and improve


Page 13
fortifications. Israeli tanks were withdrawn a short distance, out of sight of the Palestinians -- but military sources emphasized they could be brought up again in short order, should the need arise. Rumors that the Palestinians had obtained anti-tank missiles were denied.

On the Golan border, both Israel and Syria prepared for yet another series of military exercizes, which both states once again took care to call "routine." Meanwhile, the Syrians started to establish a series of strategic roads, designed to facilitate fast transportation of troops between Syria and Lebanon.

On the other hand, it seems that without an official announcement, the government halted -- at least for the time being -- further settlement extension; President Weitzman hosted Arafat in his residence in Caesarea and received invitations from King Hussein and President Mubarak -- setting up what amounts to a parallel foreign policy; the idea of bringing the Labor Party into the goverment is mooted again and again through the venerable Rabbi Ovadyah Yosef, whose Shas Party controls ten Knesset seats; and this same Oriental Jewish leader Rabbi Ovadyah Yosef is suddenly seen to also take a direct hand in contacts with the Palestinians...

Hebron and after

Under active American mediation, Israel-Palestinian negotiations on Hebron proceeded despite numerous crises. Netanyahu had to give up some of his extravagant demands, which would have implied effective continuation of Israeli control in all parts of Hebron. At the time of writing, the signing of an agreement seems but days away.

Indeed, by all common logic Netanyahu should soon implement the Hebron redeployment. The internal and external pressures on him are otherwise bound to increase intolerably, especially after the U.S. elections, and if -- as now seems very likely -- Clinton is re-elected. Moreover, the Hebron redeployment, though it had been made into such a major issue, is hardly a decisive one. (It is not even decisive for the future of the city of Hebron itself, since the settlers would still be there after the redeployment.)

It is most likely that Netanyahu -- after some more haggling and struggling -- will at last disgorge Hebron. He would then certainly bask for months in the glory of that achievement and tout himself as bona fide peacemaker. Meanwhile he would strive to win time and avoid compliance of the further unfulfilled obligations of Oslo -- the prisoner release, the creation of a "safe passage" for Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the further redeployment. As part of the "further redeployment" Israel is supposed to evacuate until September 1997 the West Bank Palestinian villages still under its control. Doing so would let the present scattered Palestinian enclaves coalesce into a single continous territory embracing most of the West Bank -- excepting only the settlements and Israeli military camps.

Netanyahu clearly does not intend to carry out any of these. His brilliant idea seems to be to skip all these intermediate negotiations and start immediately negotiations on the definite solution. Since under the Oslo timetable these negotiations are only supposed to be concluded in May 1999, Netanyahu would be supposedly able to twiddle his thumbs for most of his four-year term.

The Palestinians are not likely to cooperate in that game. In fact, they already declared their intention to insist upon strict adherence to all stages of the Oslo process, repeatedly flinging Netanyahu's codeword "reciprocity" back in his face. Under the present circumstances, the coming year is likely to be occupied by that controversy -- occasionally punctuated by the Syrians chiming in with their insistance upon the Golan. A crisis of some kind -- on the Palestinian, Syrian and/or Lebanese fronts -- would be likely sometime in the coming year.


The Hebron madness


The following Gush Shalom statement appeared as a paid ad in Ha'aretz, October 18.

A whole country is being forced to bow before a handful of settler fanatics, followers of the racist rabbis Kahane and Levinger, admirers of the mass murderer Baruch Goldstein. For the sake of these fanatics, the state of Israel is jeopardising its basic security, its international standing, its future.

The Labor Government felt apprehensive of a direct confrontation with them. Therefore, it forced upon the Palestinians an agreement which would leave these provocateurs in the heart of Hebron and thus create an impossible situation. Netanyahu breaks even that agreement, making new demands which could not but further aggravate the situation.

The only problem in Hebron is the presence of an extremist sect in the middle of an Arab city. There can be only one solution to this problem: to remove them.

No other solution will hold for long. The continued presence of the settlers in Hebron -- armed to the teeth and (what makes it worse) fanatic and bitter -- ensures that there will be new flareups, that more Israeli soldiers will be required to kill and be killed on behalf of a settlers enclave.

Before it is too late, they must be removed.
All of them. Now.

Gush Shalom, POB 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033.

With the intensifying of external crisis the idea of a "National Unity Government" is gaining momentum. For Netanyahu, the presence of Shimon Peres in his cabinet would lend it much greater respectability, fend off internal and external pressures, and possibly make it easier for the Prime Minister to wage a very unpopular war. Netanyahu relies on the fact that his vision of the future -- a non-independent Palestinian entity, greatly circumscribed both in its authority and in its territorial extent -- is essentially shared by some prominent Laborites such as Ehud Barak, Peres' self-proclaimed heir apparent.

Curiously, despite this ideological affinity, Barak prefers to keep Labor in opposition for the next four years, and as its leader contest with Netanyahu the elections of 2000. It is Shimon Peres -- loser of the last elections who seeks to gain entry into the Netanyahu cabinet. It seems that Peres believes only such a move could save the peace process and free Netanyahu of


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the veto power presently exercised by Likud hardliners and the National Religious Party.

Options blocked and opened

The three days of "The Tunnel War" and its aftermath could give some useful insight into the attitudes of the Israeli population.

The killing of 16 Israeli soldiers by Arafat's armed forces could hardly have endeared the Palestinians to the general Israeli public, or made for a greater feeling of trust. The extreme right's battle cry "Who gave them guns?" did strike emotional chords among Israelis. Nevertheless, at no armed conflict in the past -- not even in the highly controversial Lebanon War -- did so many Israelis put all or most of the blame on their own government; never before did so many show an understanding of the grievances which led the other side to shoot; never before did Israelis show so little inclination to fight a war -- with low morale and motivation, unashamed shirking and conscious political refusal all reaching peak levels among conscripts and reservists alike. The result is to greatly restrict in practice Netanyahu's military options.


The Officers' Letter


The following open letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, signed by 33 reserve soldiers and officers from the Israeli army's most prestigious elite units, was extensively reported and debated by the Israeli press and electronic media, after its publication on October 13.

We the undersigned, reserve combat soldiers and officers, have shared in carrying the burden of Israel's defence. We never shirked our duty, never complained of the difficulties and the length of the annual service period. We were willing to fight and make any neccesary sacrifice -- as long as we knew that the government of Israel was doing all in its power to prevent war.

Unfortumately, since you have entered office, we get the clear impression that you go out of your way to drag the country into an unjust war and destroy all hope for peace. Moreover, it seems that under your administration, decisions affecting life and death are taken lightly, without due consideration of the possible results. As we said, our ability to fight and make sacrifices is dependent on the knowledge that the government did everything possible to prevent war. Lacking that knowledge, we cannot see how we would be able to fight in the war which is coming.

In the numerous interviews and debates which followed, the officers were ambiguous on the question whether -- should war really come -- they would refuse to go, or whether they would 'serve under protest'; the issue seemed to be in debate among the signatories.

While in principle it should be possible for Israel to reconquer the towns given over to the Palestinian Authority, it would be a major operation, against a fully mobilized, armed and determined Palestinian population. It could cost many hundreds of Israeli lives -- definitely more than were needed to conquer the same towns in 1967. Politically, the cost would be prohibitive to any sane government.

Following "The Tunnel War", it becomes clear that the cost of trying to freeze the present situation -- which is what Netanyahu would like best -- is also prohibitive. Locking up the Palestinians in isolated enclaves -- with long, winding and completely irrational boundaries and with numerous intenable enclaves thrown in -- is not a long-term option.

Israel holds an overwhelming military and economic superiority over the Palestinians -- but they have the advantage in motivation. The West Bank and Gaza Strip -- pitiful 18% which are all that is left of historical Palestine -- are vitally important to the Palestinians: vital enough to die for; vital enough to endure a life of untold misery, day after day and year afer year (which is in many ways more difficult than a single act of self-sacrifice).

For the Israelis, who already have a quite prosperous state, these territories -- despite their Biblical connotations and their connection with early Jewish history -- are not vital. They are a luxury, and a dubious one, for which only a dwindling minority of fanatics are willing to pay a real price.

Eventually, the Palestinians will have their state. It will come about either through an orderly negotiations process, or -- a possibility which now seems more likely -- through a unilateral declaration of independence, a declaration which most of the world will recognize, which the Israeli people will have no desire to crush by force, and which Netanyahu or any other Prime Minister will eventually have to recognize.

Eventually, the Palestinians will have their state, and the Israelis will have peace. Eventually. But until then, both peoples will still have to pass through years of pain and of struggle.

The editors

****


The inherited martyr

by Adam Keller

In the past, a right-wing election victory used to be followed by months of despair and inaction in the peace movement, until activists regrouped for new campaigns. But since the murder of Rabin, a new phenomenon exists in the peace movement, and a new generation has enlisted, all the young people who became politicized by the murder. Among the new "recruits", the election results had a different effect. They vehemently refused to accept that the great hope of peace had been wiped out by such a narrow margin of votes. Now, even more than in the immediate aftermath of the murder, the figure of Yitzchak Rabin loomed large in the young activists' consciousness -- the great martyred peacemaker, embodiment of the struggle for peace. (Old activists still find it sometimes difficult to reconcile this image with their earlier memories of Rabin, but few hold out against the enthusiasm of the young.)

The election results were felt to have been "the second Rabin murder". After all, had Netanyahu not been inciting and thus contributed to the atmosphere for murder? And was it not true that the election results allowed Netanyahu to benefit from the murder and take Rabin's place as Prime Minister -- from where "the usurper" could destroy Rabin's lifework, the peace process?

This strong emotion imparted an enormous drive


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and determination -- a kind of radicalism -- to people whose basic opinions are often not more radical than those of mainstream Laborites.

One initiative, known as We Shall Not Forget! was to confront Netanyahu and his religious allies with a series of advertisements containing carefully-chosen Biblical quotations, such as "Shall thou murder, and inherit too? " (Kings I, 21, 19) or "The blood of your brother cries out from the earth!" (Genesis 4,11). The ads aroused considerable public debate, also in the peace movement where not everybody was enthusiastic.

Leadership of "the Rabin Orphans" soon passed to another group, known as Mishmarot Shalom (The Peace Vigils), which crystalized out of activists regularly gathering at the site of the murder, behind the Tel-Aviv Town Hall in the (recently renamed) Rabin Square. This spot -- where people spontaneously gathered on elections night to share their shock and dismay at the results -- became the site of weekly vigils: partially demonstrations with placards held towards the passing cars on this, one of Tel-Aviv's main throughfares, it became also a social event on the Friday afternoon for hundreds of youths who gather, sit on the sidewalk softly singing the songs familiar from the first days after the murder. Leah Rabin and other members of her family often come and are greeted as guests of honor. On the Gedalyahu Fast -- commemorating in Jewish tradition a traumatic political assasination of 2,500 years ago -- members of the religious peace groups Netivot Shalom and Memad held a public prayer on the spot, giving the old ritual an actual meaning.

From the Rabin Square, groups set out at short notice to demonstrate in other parts of the country, for example to the town of Kiryat Gat, where -- Israeli TV had disclosed -- a group of extreme-right teenagers had formed a "fan club" for Rabin's murderer Yigal Amir. Another expedition was to the Presidential Mansion in Jerusalem, to congratulate the maverick President Weitzman upon his decision to meet with Arafat.

When Netanyahu finally had his first handshake with Arafat, dozens of activists spent a sleepless night at the monument, in a feeling compounded of anger and exhilaration at what seemed a posthumous vindication of Rabin's policy by the man who so much vilified him in his lifetime. And a few weeks later, when this handshake seemed to have been nothing but a cynical deception leading to bloodshed, the monument was the site of a highly charged demonstration, with the shouts Bibi go home! ringing out across the street.

In the week of protest demonstrations following the confrontation with the Palestinians, Rabin posters were frequently seen -- some newly printed, others well-preserved relics of the 1992 elections campaign.

As the anniversary of the murder draws near, Meretz launched a parliamentary initiative and a signature campaign to have the day of Rabin's murder declared by the Knesset an official National Day of Mourning. The right wingers claimed, plausibly enough, that such an official commemoration must not contain "controversial and divisive" elements. In effect the peace movement was asked, in return for gaining official recognition of the Rabin murder, to give up mentioning such disturbing issues as the right-wing incitement which preceded the murder. For many, this was too high a price.

Thus, two seperate sets of events are being planned to commemorate the Rabin murder: On the one hand, a special session of the Knesset, special discussion groups in all Israeli schools, special broadcassts on all Israeli Radio and TV channels; on the other hand, numerous politically-explicit demonstrations and rallies by the old Peace Now, and the new Dor Shalom (Peace Generation) and others. The division is expressed even in different dates: the official events are planned for the anniversary according to the Hebrew calender, which this year falls on October 23; but the red-letter day burned into the consciousness of the mostly-secular supporters of the peace movement is the Fourth of November. The growing controversy over how Rabin should be commemorated extends even to the text over the enormous stone monument to be erected on the spot of the murder. Originally, it was intended to write " Yitzchak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, 1922-1995 -- Peace will avenge his blood". After considerable pressures upon the Tel-Aviv municipality, this was softened (with the Rabin family's consent) to "Peace is his testament"...
Contact: Mishmarot Shalom c/o Haim Rosenblat, 7 Bilu St. Kfar Sava, Israel.

+++ Short before and after the elections various old and new peace groups started an extensive street activity. To the more continuous activities of movements such as Gush Shalom, Yesh Gvul and Women in Black were added a host of new initiatives, some existing very briefly while others seem to have become well-established. In the first months of the Netanyahu Government, the demonstrations were rather small, involving only dozens or hundreds -- but there were very many of them, nearly every day and also in weeks when nothing particularly sensational was happening on the political scene. Two groups are the biggest and most resourceful: the reactivated Peace Now, with its well-established reputation and its extensive contacts in the media and the political system -- and the recently-founded Dor Shalom (Peace Generation), with its youthful enthusiasm and strong grasroots organization which give it an unmatched ability to mobilise supporters by word of mouth, without recourse to newspaper ads.

There are no serious differences of political program between them -- though Dor Shalom made some efforts to appear "more centrist and mainstream than Peace Now." For some time, however, they engaged in a strong competition, leading each movement to greater efforts and attempts to outdo the other, and cooperation developing only gradually. Thus, after Peace Now instituted regular weekly demonstrations during the cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Dor Shalom took to dogging the Prime Minister's steps outside the capital, for example appearing at Ben-Gurion Airport during the Netanyahu's numerous departures to and return from trips


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abroad, with conspicious huge banners reading: Bibi, remember -- you promised peace!

With the increasing tensions action intensified. Both Dor Shalom and Peace Now scheduled major events for the night of Saturday, September 7 -- respectively, a rally at Rabin Square in Tel-Aviv and a torchlight march in central Jerusalem, both calling upon Netanyahu to renew the peace process and carry out the obligations of Oslo. Two days before the scheduled date, the Prime Minister upstaged the organisers -- at long last holding his dramatic but inconsequential first meeting with Arafat. Nevertheless, the two demonstrations took place on schedule, with several thousand participants in each, speakers calling for Netanyahu to prove his words by deeds on the ground, and photos of torch-holding demonstrators forming the letters of the word "Shalom" against the background of the dark plaza.
Contact: Peace Now, POB 8159, Jerusalem 91081.

Dor Shalom, POB 23090, Tel Aviv 61231.

News of Peace Activities

+++ On the fateful afternoon of September 25, activists gathered in the Tel-Aviv office of Peace Now for a previously scheduled meeting. Hearing on the radio of the battle which broke out in the outskirts of Ramallah, they decided on the spot to organise a vigil at the Defence Ministry, a kilometer away. Two hours and intensive telephoning later, some fifty -- mostly young -- people were standing at the Defence Ministry parking lot, shouting at the top of their voices: One, two, three, four -- we don't want another war! (which sounds fine also in Hebrew).

+++ On the following day -- the day of the hardest fighting in the Palestinian territories -- various groups and parties independently converged upon the Defence Ministry with their distinctive placards and banners: Meretz, Gush Shalom, Hadash Communists, Labor Youths (carrying Israeli national flags draped with black ribbons), Women for Political Prisoners, Women in Black...

Usually, demonstrations at this spot end after an hour -- but this was not a usual day. The demonstrators stood their ground for many hours, with a constant stream of newcomers more than compensating for those who had to leave. Later in the evening, a large number of well-known artists arrived, organised by the popular singer and TV personality Gidi Gov; among them were quite a few who had never before taken a public stand on a controversial issue. In turn, the artists' presence -- mentioned on the radio and TV news -- drew a considerable number of additional concerned citizens to the spot (also a handful of right wing counter-demonstrators, who being vastly outnumbered behaved quite civilized for once).

At (morning and evening) vigils held outside the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, violent confrontations with rightists did take place. In Haifa, a large crowd gathered at the Wadi Nisnas Neighborhood; there, as elsewhere, old-timers noticed many new faces among the anti-war demonstrators.

Day and night, the offices of all peace groups were flooded with calls of people eager for action and more action. Veteran Peace Now organiser Jeannette Aviad told the press: "It is many years since we experienced such an upsurge. The only compareable time I can think of is 1982, after Sabra and Shatila" (Zman Tel-Aviv, Oct.4).

+++ Early on the following morning Friday the 27th, dozens of Tel-Avivians boarded a special Jerusalem-bound bus -- so as to be in time to join Jerusalemite Peace Nowers at the Prime Minister's office, where the weekly cabinet meeting opened.

Visibly worried police and ministerial bodyguards kept the demonstration far away from the building, within a completely sealed enclosure -- making it impossible even to see the arriving ministers, let alone shout at them or wave placards at their cars. Demonstrators kept busy trading insults with a handful of right-wingers, similarly enclosed on the other side of the road, and giving interviews -- in English, French, German, Italian and Dutch -- to the numerous international TV crews waiting for the cabinet to end its meeting.

After two hours, the Jerusalemites went off to the demonstration on Paris Square in the city center where some seven hundred people turned up, a record number for a mid-day demo in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the morning's visitors boarded their bus back to Tel-Aviv -- in time for the Peace Now rally held on the Museum Plaza.

Five thousand people gathered there: a big crowd, not particularly violent even when infiltrated by a handful of government supporters, but still far more tense and angry than ever before. The mood was well captured by the keynote speaker, former Meretz minister Shulamit Aloni -- whose retirement from the party leadership detracted nothing from her power of speech. After singing the National Anthem and the Peace Song, a large part of the crowd walked silently through the city streets to join still another demonstration, at the site where Rabin was murdered.

+++ September 27 was also the day of general strike called by the Arab Monitoring Committee and observed throughout the Arab towns, villages and neighborhoods in Israel. The numerous processions and rallies held by the Arabs mostly ended quietly, except for Nazareth. The amount of cooperation with Jewish peace activists varied greatly, due to local conditions. In some places the mood was indiscriminatingly angry and hostile and did not leave place for such cooperation; in other places -- especially demonstrations organised by the Hadash Communists -- Jews did take part and speakers called for a united Jewish-Arab struggle against the government.

A week later, members of several peace movements as well as of the Labor and Meretz parties held a meeting with the Arab Monitoring Committee, for the first time formally resolving to hold joint Jewish-Arab protest actions and demonstrations -- though the agreement in principle did not include resolution upon a specific action.

+++ On the night of September 28, the biggest protest action since Netnyahu took power was held: some 30,000 people answered the call of Dor Shalom to attend a rally at Ha'Medinah Square in Tel-Aviv.


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The vast square was mostly dark, with only a single spotlight illuminating the podium. Speeches reverberated from the high apartment buildings all around. The audience was very active, booing whenever Netanyahu's name was mentioned and clapping widely when former Tel-Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat called for the creation of an independent Palestinian state -- "a natural and inevitable development, which is good for Israel" -- and also when writer Gadi Taub called for winning over those who had voted for Netanyahu -- "They were cheated. They voted for a secure peace, not for the war he is bringing them. We should get them here, with us, in the next rally!"

The most controversial passage, as it turned out, was Lahat's assertion in his speech that "the sixteen soldiers killed this week have died in vain." For this, he was attacked in several newspaper articles, and received numerous anonymous threats -- but refused to budge. At a television interview he reiterated: "I am sorry if my words have hurt any soldier's family. That certainly was the very last thing I desired. But it is my view that these soldiers' death could have been avoided by a different government policy, and that their death did not serve any valid Israeli interest."

+++ In the past, a big peace rally was usually followed by a period of exhaustion and lowered activity. Not so this time. On the following day, September 29, there was a Peace Now march in Jerusalem on a symbolic route -- from Rabin's grave in Mount Herzl to Netanyhu's residence some two kilometres away. The march, drawing several thousands, was quite well-behaved. Participants good-naturedly obeyed police orders along the complicated route -- which did not prevent police from later briefly detaining two of the organisers, on charges of "having departed from the conditions set out in the permit."

+++ The last day of September saw peace vigils along roadsides -- especially, though not only, along the route Netanyhu travelled to the Ben Gurion airport en route to the Washington Summit. On the following day, Peace Now set out to do something never before attempted in Israel -- to call a second major rally just three days after the first one. The gamble succeeded -- Ha'medina Square filled again, in more or less the same number as in the Dor Shalom rally. Like the roadside vigils of the day before, the rally was aimed explicitly at the Washington Summit -- aiming to send an overseas message to the Prime Minister. It seems, however, that the message fell on deaf ears...

Two days later, a few hundred Meretz youngsters lined the road between Ben-Gurion Airport and Jerusalem, their sharply-worded banners expressing anger at Netanyahu's intransigent position in Washington. Facing them were Likud members with placards supporting Netanyahu. (As was later revealed in Ha'aretz, the PM himself had phoned from the White House, ordering his party to organise support demonstrations for the day of his return.)

+++ On October 3, several hundred women participated in a demonstration at Megiddo Junction in Northern Israel. The spot was chosen for being easily accessible from both Jewish and Arab towns and villages in this region. After an hour standing at the roadside with signs calling for the resignation of Netanyahu, a large part of the women remained for the rest of the day in a "Peace Tabernacle" erected at the roadside -- where passing motorists were invited to have a cool drink and a peace brochure. At a meeting held in the Tabernacle, it was decided to resume the regular Women in Black vigils in the north, discontinued several years ago.

On the same day, Bat-Shalom published an advertisement listing the names of all Israelis and Palestinians killed in the recent fighting, in alphabetical order and without distinctions.

+++ On the morning of October 5, a group of fifty Israeli well-known writers and poets organised by Peace Now, set out for the city of Hebron, at the moment under a week-long curfew (imposed solely on the Palestinian inhabitants, and with the settlers and their political friends free to roam the empty streets).

At the Etzion military checkpoint, some fifteen kilometres north of Hebron, they were stopped by soldiers who claimed that Hebron had been declared "a closed military zone." From the soldiers' manner and appearance, it soon turned out that they were not ordinary reservists but settlers, organised by the army into so-called "home guard" units. Also, their military decree declaring the "closed zone" turned out, on close examination, to have invalidating irregularities. Thereupon, the writers -- who greatly outnumbered the soldiers -- overturned the military roadblock, enough to permit pedestrian passage, and set out on foot for Hebron, leaving their bus behind.

Within a quarter of an hour, an army colonel appeared on the scene in a jeep, imploring the writers "not to risk their lives by walking through Palestinian-inhabited areas." After short negotiations, it was agreed that the writers could proceed in their bus, provided that they visit only the Hebron Town Hall and no other spot in the besieged city.

At the Town Hall, the Israelis were very warmly received by Hebron Mayor Mustafa Natshe, his councilors and other notables. Israelis and Palestinians joined in a call for immediate removal of the curfew (it was indeed lifted a few days later) and for implementation of the long-delayed redeployment -- so that the Israeli army will no longer be in a position to impose curfews on Hebron.

+++ At the evening of the same day, a peace rally took place at Zion Square in central Jerusalem -- traditional site of right-wing demonstrations, where the peace movement rarely ventures.

The reason for the exception this time was the wish of the organisers -- Laborites and members of the Rabin family -- to remind the public of the right-wing rally which took place on the same spot exactly a year earlier, on October 5, 1995. At that earlier rally, in which Binyamin Netanyahu had been the chief speaker, the shout "Rabin -- traitor!" was repeatedly heard, and a poster was diplayed showing Rabin wearing a Nazi uniform; the murder happened less than a month later.


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The 1996 rally on the spot was held after a long struggle with the police, which was apprehensive of right-wing violence. In fact, nothing of the kind happened. Nearly the only right-winger around was a very repentant one, who took the podium to apologise for having taken part in the incitement against Rabin, and who shook hands with Yuval Rabin -- the dead PM's son -- to the sound of loud cheering.

+++ On the same evening, in another part of Jerusalem, Rabbi Yisachar Dov Rokach -- spiritual leader of the influential Belser Hassidim -- openly broke with nationalist-leaning fellow Orthodox rabbis. Speaking to a large gathering of his followers, he issued a sharp attack on the Netanyahu govenment: "A stupid, inexperienced and wrong-headed government was elected. Very quickly it caused bloodshed and started a confrontation with the Arab World and the whole world. They have forgotten that 'by your sword shall you live' was not said of our ancestor Jacob, but of his evil brother Esau." The Rabbi called upon the government to prevent further bloodshed, and asked his followers to pray feverently for peace. He also denounced the Hebron settlers, stating "Hebron is a very holy place -- but settling there now, in the midst of a hostile crowd, is like provoking the devil."

Observers of the Orthdox scene noted that, though Rabbi Rokach was always known to be a dovish dissident, his speaking out so openly and sharply might indicate a changing atmosphere within the religious community.


For the sake of the children

The following is an open letter to the Prime Minister, signed by 220 religious women, and referring to 'Rachel's Tomb' in Bethlehem -- the scene of recent fierce fighting between Israeli and Palestinian troops.

Sarah, Rebeccah, Leah and Rachel, the Matriarchs, are for us a symbol of motherhood, of devotion and of the sanctity of life. They mean a lot to us, much more than the stones placed on their graves. We prefer to revere them from afar, rather then light candles on the tombstones of soldiers who fell for the sake of maintaining possession of old gravesites.

Mr. Prime Minister: May we remind you of the words of the great sage Maimonides: The Torah was only given in order to make peace in the world. Please don't let the State of Israel go down in history as one more incident in a chain of Zealot wars. For us, the past is a continuity which carries a deep historical and religious meaning, but our dedication is to the future. Please carry on the peace process, for the sake of our children -- and yours. (Yediot Aharonot, Oct. 10).


Religious Women for Peace, POB 8081, Jerusalem.


+++ On October 6, dozens of Yesh Gvul members arrived at the exit of the tunnel in East Jerusalem, whose opening had triggered the previous week's bloody confrontations, and raised placards reading: Close the Tunnel -- Open the Closure! and Jerusalem -- Two Capitals for Two Peoples. Large and aggressive police forces were on the spot within minutes; the demonstrators staged a sit-in strike, blocking the entrance to the tunnel, and were dragged off one by one, chanting Down with the Occupation! Four were briefly detained. The demonstrators' lawyer Daphna Bar'am presented charges against the police's "Special Patrol Unit", for having wounded two participants in the completely non-violent protest.

+++ On October 7, the Knesset returned from recess -- and directly became the scene of a stormy debate, as the opposition pressed a motion of no confidence in the government "for its incompetent and irresponsible conduct of the relations with the Palestinians". In the garden outside the parliamentary hall, several hundred demonstrators gathered at the call of Peace Now to lend their extra-parliamentary support.

The hill reserved for demonstrators opposite the Knesset is enclosed on all sides and cut off from the street level -- where in any case there are few bypassers -- and the Knesset Hall itself is far away, across hundreds of empty metres. The atmosphere was quite languid -- until a group of Meretz youths started a lusty and enthusiastic shouting: Israel and Palestine -- Two States for Two Peoples! -- soon joined by the Jewish and Arab members of Democratic Women, who had come in strength. The enthusiastic boys and girls were probably too young to remember the time when this slogan was taboo in Peace Now...
Contact: Peace Now, POB 8159, Jerusalem 91081
Democratic Women, POB 29501, Tel-Aviv 61294

+++ After more than two weeks of intensive mobilization, and with the disappointing results of the Washington Summit, a reaction started to set in. A meeting of mainstream peace organizations with Labor Party General Secretary Nissim Zvily was called with the aim of organizing a mass rally in Rabin Square, but organisers became apprehensive that it may prove a failure.

Meanwhile, Ha'aretz published a set of proposals by Meretz Knesset Member Dedi Zucker, to move on to such acts as school and university strikes, stopping private cars on a single moment along inter-city routes, and having thousands stage sit-in strikes for 24 hours or longer. When attacked -- both by the right-wing and by many of his own political friends -- Zucker backtracked, denying that his proposals constituted civil disobedience, that there was anything illegal in them or that they were similar to the methods used by the settlers against the Rabin Government. It is unlikely that any of Zucker's proposals will be implemented in the near future -- but another form of civil disobedience -- refusal of military service -- seems to gain increasing popularity.

****


On the way to Jahalin

The following was written down by Beate Zilversmidt.

Waiting for the bus to the settlement Ma'aleh Adumim. Most of the others, settlers who live there. We, a group of Tel-Avivian Gush Shalom activists on our way to the threatened Jahalin tent encampment.

In the framework of the settlement extension policy the Jahalin Bedouins are once more to be chased away from their corner in the desert -- forty years after losing their original homes in the Negev.

Throughout the years we had from time to time come all the way from Tel-Aviv, to demonstrate for


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the right of the Jahalin to stay where they are, and not to make place for yet another Jewish-only neighborhood of the Ma'aleh Adumim settlement, which should not have been built there, in the first place.

For the Jahalin it was actually not such a setback that Netanyahu had defeated Peres. On the contrary: their plight, which did not start yesterday, suddenly got the full attention and support of the Palestinian Authority for whom the Jahalin happened to be a ready-made test case of the new government's hardline policy. Now, Meretz Knesset Members -- no longer bound by government loyalty -- also show up to defend the encampment.

Does that imply that it is better to have a right-wing government? For the Jahalin, who are among the most forgotten of the West Bank Palestinians, it seems so. But in a similar case, also a Bedouin struggle, but inside the Green Line -- in Ramiya, near Carmiel in the Galilee -- it turned out the other way. Since the Labor Government needed their votes, Israeli Arabs could exert some power during the last four years. But after the Ramyans seemed already to have won their case, things started to become problematic again with the new government.

In fact, peace walker Boudewijn Wegerif -- who on his way from Sweden to South Africa decided to stay with the Jahalin and start an international solidarity camp -- had come at a crucial time, helping to bring the Jahalin's cause into the spotlight.

Remarkably, even some individuals living in the Ma'aleh Adumim settlement came to the encampment to express support. Meira Kofman came with her two kids and said: "Apart from politics, and from ideology about whose is this land, I care for the Jahalin who are my neighbors. I don't see why Ma'aleh Adumim has to extend precisely in this direction." According to her, most people in the settlement hardly know anything about the Bedouins' problem. What she said was confirmed by the experience of Maryläne Schultz, another "international activist" who spends her life working with Palestinian orphans in nearby Azzariya. Schultz told about many friendly reactions from Jewish settlers when she handed out leaflets about the Jahalin's plight in Ma'aleh Adumim's shopping mall.

That had been a week ago, when we all had come to the Jahalin Camp on the ultimate date of the eviction order which the Jahalin families got. At the last moment, Advocate Lynda Breyer had intervened with yet another appeal to the Supreme Court, the appeal had been rejected and now, one week later on Wednesday September 4, the Israelis and Palestinians for Non-Violence had called for a demonstration at the site -- to start at 6.00 P.M. However, the funeral of a certain famous rabbi caused an enormous traffic jam all over Jerusalem -- preventing settlers and peace activists alike from reaching Ma'aleh Adumim. Thus it could happen that a rather unusual mixture of bus passengers, settlers and peace activists, stuck together in a Jerusalem bottleneck, listened side by side to the radio reportage... of the meeting which at last took place between Netanyahu and Arafat.

P.S. Many things happened in the weeks since the above was written. The cause of the Jahalin got again to the back pages, if reported at all. Legally, the Israeli authorities can now deport the Jahalin at any day. However, though the 'Tunnel War' directed attention away from them, it had also the effect of making the authorities more cautious, at least for the time being.
Contact: Israelis and Palestinians for Non-Violence, c/o Amos Gvirtz, Kibbutz Shfaim;
St. Yves, Legal Aid Society, POB 20531, Jerusalem.

+++ On October 11, a busload of Meretz and Rapprochement activists entered Bethlehem, passing the Israeli and Palestinian roadblocks at the former battleground and being received with great jubilation by a Palestinian crowd, including the Mayor and members of the Palestinian Parliament. Together they marched through the city center, with big banners bearing the two flags and the words Two Peoples, Two States, One Future. Press photos showed Knesset Members Dedi Zucker and Naomi Hazan at the head of the march, linking arms with Colonel Hamdan Saliba of the Palestinian police -- all three broadly smiling.

+++ A week later, on October 18, a similar scene was enacted at Ramallah -- except that in the intervening week the army changed its policy and soldiers at the roadblock forbade the Israelis to enter "for their own safety." However, a friendly Palestinian peasant pointed out a side-road unguarded by the army, and within a quarter of an hour the peace demonstrators arrived at the rendezvous opposite the Ramallah Town Hall.
Contact: Meretz, 4 Itamar Ben Avi St., Tel-Aviv
Rapprochement c/o Bardin, 19 Kfar Etzion St., Jerusalem.

+++ At the hermetically closed entrance to the Gaza Strip the army had an easier job, on Oct. 19, in preventing a third such action -- organised by Peace Now and the youngsters of Mishmarot Shalom. Arriving from Tel-Aviv and Haifa in two convoys, their cars draped with banners, the Israeli peace seekers were forbidden to enter the Strip and meet with their Palestinian partners. Thereupon, the Israelis decided to hold a protest rally in front of the barred gates.

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The New Refusers

The following Yesh Gvul petition, signed by 150 reserve soldiers and officers, was published as an ad in Ha'aretz (Oct. 6). The most wide attention, which made it a front-page news, was given to the identity of two signatories: Shaul Olmart, son of Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmart who had such a central role in opening the infamous tunnel -- and Prof. Matanya Ben-Artzy, brother-in-law of Prime Minister Netanyahu (Sarah's brother). Hundreds of additional signatures have been collected since then.

Fifteen Israeli soldiers and sixty-nine Palestinians were killed. More than sixty Israelis were wounded -- and more than a thousand Palestinians. This is Netanyahu's 'Secure Peace.'

There is a limit! The occupation goes on and on -- but nearly thirty years of occupation and oppression have not stopped the Palestinian struggle for national liberation. The government of Israel has turned back from implementing the peace agreements; military rule over civilian population continues; the settlers commit acts of terrorism and oppression; the robbery of Palestinian lands for settlemnt extension goes on. It is manifestly clear that a terrible price is being paid daily for the continuation of the occupation, and for the absence of a political solution acceptable to both peoples.

We, reservists of the Israeli Defence Forces, declare that we cannot share in the burden of responsibility for this political and moral degeneration. In other words, we will take no part whatsoever in oppressing the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories, nor in protecting the settlements which are the instruments of that oppression.
Yesh Gvul, POB 6953, Jerusalem; ph: 972-2-6250271.

+++ As in earlier "refusal debates", prominent politicians of the mainstream left -- such as Meretz leader Yossi Sarid -- came out against refusal of military orders, for the same old arguments (the need to obey the law, the need to preserve unity of the army, etc.).

On the grassroots level, however, the idea gained many new adherents. Thus, veteran Ha'aretz journalist and reserve officer Dan Sagir wrote: "I served in the Lebanon War though I opposed it, and the same in operations against the Intifada. But now we have a second Intifada, and it seems my sons will have to fight in the third or fourth. I owe it to them to do whatever I can to stop this madness. Yesterday I got a call-up order. I hereby give notice to the military authorities: prepare a prison cell for me."

+++ For years, the military authorities tried to deny the steady decline in Israeli soldiers' motivation, and downplay the instances of this which came to public knowledge. This policy came to an abrupt end in August 1996, during the traditional "annual Defence Minister's pep talk to new recruits." In front of TV cameras, several of the youngsters talked back to the minister, revealing their dissastifaction with having been forced to become soldiers and their determination to find "soft jobs" in the army, as far as possible from where the shooting takes place.
[continued]
Thus, the issue was at last open to a frank discussion -- which flooded the newspaper pages for weeks. Four youngsters told Ma'ariv how they obtained a psychiatric discharge -- though there was nothing wrong with their minds. The head of the the army manpower division told the press: "When so many fathers are openly avoiding military service, what can we expect of their sons?"

+++ In the beginning of October, a reserve unit in the Nablus area -- where much of the fighting had taken place -- needed 45 reservists. To be sure of getting them, 340 call-up orders were sent, but only sixty reservists showed up. Of them, half produced medical certificates and had to be discharged. All in all, the unit needed to "borrow" fifteen soldiers from another unit, to make up its quota... (The story appeared on the front page of Ma'ariv, Oct. 11.)

Vanunu's sad anniversary


Former nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu has spent the last ten years incarcerated in a totally isolated prison cell, for having revealed to the world Israel's possession of nuclear bombs. To mark this sad anniversary, an impressive array of international guests attended a two-day conference held in Tel-Aviv (Oct. 14-15) under the chairmanship of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Joseph Rotblat. The brotherhood of "whistle blowers" was there in force, to proclaim Vanunu as a honoured member; Dr. Daniel Ellsberg of the famous "Pentagon Papers" was there, as was Dr. Vil Mirzeyanov -- the Russian scientist who had been imprisoned for telling the world the secrets of his country's chemical weapons research.

The conference succeeded in penetrating the Israeli media's wall of indifference to Vanunu, and forced upon the general public the awareness that many people in the wider world -- including quite a few VIP's -- think very highly indeed of Israel's "Nuclear Traitor." But there was no immediate headway made on getting Vanunu free, nor on ameliorating his prison conditions; President Weitzman, with whom Prof. Rotblat met at the conclusion of the conference, quite firmly rejected any possibility of presidential clemency.

It is, indeed, not easy to ask clemency for a proud man who refuses to bend down. The authorities implacably demand from Vanunu an absolute vow of silence. Mordechai Vanunu, not willing to give up the principle for which he already suffered so long, continues to say openly that he will speak out also in the future. The relatively liberal David Libai, Minister of Justice in the Labor Government, reportedly emerged last year quite shocked from a visit to Vanunu's cell. At the conference, Dr. Daniel Ellsberg spoke with great admiration: "The prophetic tradition is not dead in Israel. Vanunu is a real prophet who sticks to his vision at all costs, stiff-necked as a proper prophet should be."

Is Vanunu's message, paid for by such a terrible price, getting through? Most of the articles on the conference in the Israeli press were quite sympathetic, and some of the Israeli peace activists drawn to the proceedings have not previously been involved in the nuclear issue. Starting to be emancipated from the belief in security through territorial aggrandisement, will Israelis learn to distrust also the illusion of nuclear monopoly?
Contact: Vanunu Campaign, POB 7323, Jerusalem;
or: 2206 Fox Ave., Madison, WI 53711, USA;
or: 89 Borough High St., London SE1, UK;
or: N. Juels Gt., 28a, Oslo, Norway.