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The Other Israel _ April/May 1998, Issue No. 83/84


Crumbs -- Editorial Overview, January-April 1998

The False War

The Open-Secret Plan (for additional Israeli redeployments)

Controlled Violence

Food -- not Bombs (the Gulf crisis)

[The Gulf Committee]

Selective Indignation

Comment by Ari Shama'i in Z'MAN Tel-Aviv

Visiting the Families (after the Tarkumiya Checkpoint killings)

[Gush Shalom]

Wholesome Tactlessness (concerning Robin Cook)

Comment by Haim Bar'am in KOL HA'IR

Peace Movements to Clinton and Blair:

"Israel to Blame for Peace Process Deadlock"
[April 8 statement by: Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), Dor
Shalom, Gush Shalom (The Israeli Peace Bloc), Bat Shalom
(Women's Joint Venture for Peace), Tandi (Movement of
Democratic Women), Rabbis for Human Rights, Physicians
for Human Rights, The East for Peace, Ossim Shalom
(Social Workers for Peace and Social Welfare)]

Land Robbery Confronted
Salfit and Kadum
[Committee against House Demolitions (CAHD), Peace Now,
Gush Shalom]
Reports of Demolition of Palestinian Houses
[Peace Now, Be'tselem, Bat Shalom]

One Courageous Family's Story: the Al-Atrash Family of Hebron
[Christian Peacemakers Team, CAHD, Gush Shalom, Rabbis
for Human Rights]

Thou Shalt not Destroy" Petition [CAHD]

Jahalin Struggle Not Over Yet
[Rabbis for Human Rights, Bat Shalom, Physicians for
Human Rights, Defence of Children International]

From the Ground to the Court -- and Back
The Ka'adan Family and Katzir
Transfer of State Lands to Jewish Agency
[ACRI (Civil Rights Association)]

Shefa'amr 1998

The Officers' Letter Revisited
Officers' Letter to the Prime Minister, March 8, 1998

Mothers and Ministers -- Israeli Withdrawal from Lebanon?
by Adam Keller

First Step Towards Freedom
[The Israeli Vanunu Commitee]

Do-it-Yourself Inspection, by Charles Lenchner
(Citizen inspection of Israeli nuclear facilities)
More News of Peace Activities and Organizations
[Gush Shalom, Peace Now, Bat Shalom, Open Doors]
*Protests Against Start of Israel's 50th Anniversary Celebrations
in Settler Enclave in Hebron
[Peace Movements Coordination Committee]

It is Netanyahu Who Violates Oslo!"
[Gush Shalom report]

A Terrible Secret, by Uri Avnery

Facts Which Won't Go Away, by Beate Zilversmidt



Articles from THE OTHER ISRAEL may be reprinted, provided they

include the address: The Other Israel, POB 2542, Holon 58125,Israel.

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

April/May 1998, Issue No. 83/84


On January 4, Labor youths were handing out stickers in the streets of Tel-Aviv: 1998 -- Barak for PM. Enormous newspaper headlines told of all parties preparing for early elections.

Just one day earlier, Foreign Minister David Levy had at long last tendered his resignation. In a fiery speech he had lashed out against the Prime Minister accusing him of both the deadlock in the peace process and the government's "anti-social economic policies." The just presented state budget had been the last straw. Without Levy and his Gesher faction, the government's parliamentary majority was reduced to a bare 61 out of 120, leaving the government hanging on a thread.

Labor leader Barak, who had a constant lead in the opinion polls and who reportedly made some kind of deal with Levy, was confident that the terminal defection from the government camp was only a question of time. With its seven mutually-hostile coalition partners and the fierce faction fighting riddling Netanyahu's own Likud party, the government had barely survived a whole series of fiascoes and unsavoury scandals. On top of that, the country was sliding into economic recession hurting especially the government's own electoral base -- low-paid workers, small shopkeepers, etc... Indeed, the last months of 1997 had seen an enormous upsurge in oppositional activity, including both the largest rally in Israeli history and an unprecedented week-long general strike by the unions.

But Netanyhau still had a winning card which already saved him at several past crises: the new electoral law, mandating that the government's fall would automatically entail the dissolution of the Knesset and the holding of parliamentary elections. In a dramatic all-night 'pep talk session', Netanyahu confronted his coalition partners with the choice of toeing the line or facing immediate new elections. Since many Knesset Members had doubts about being reelected, they chose to pass the budget through its final vote, giving Netanyahu a breathing spell on the internal front.

Thus the Prime Minister narrowly escaped the need to wage two major fights at once -- since immediately ahead on his agenda loomed a crucial appointment in Washington. President Clinton expected to hear at last a clear answer on the issue of the already long-delayed military redeployment on the West Bank.

Rather than bringing down the government, as Levy had expected, the Foreign Minister's resignation had the result of isolating the other leading cabinet dove, Defence Minister Mordechai. The cabinet resolution setting out guidelines for talks with the US President was drawn up by the sinister Ariel Sharon, increasingly assuming a dominant role in the Netanyahu Government.

Couched in terms of 'preserving vital national and security interests' the resolution boiled down to staking an absolute Israeli claim over some 65% of the West Bank; since about 27% have already been handed over to full or partial Palestinian control, no more than eight or nine percent were left to give to the Palestinians. As Tourism Minister Katzav put it openly: 'We have only a few last crumbs to give, no more.' And for these few crumbs, the Palestinians were expected to pay dearly, by strict adherence to a long list of Israeli demands, some of them very humiliating.

As Netanyahu prepared to set out for Washington, it was generally assumed that the U.S. President would pressure him to soften his position. Clinton and Albright resorted to 'snub diplomacy', expressing their displeasure with Netanyahu by administering small calculated insults -- which were immediately reported in banner headlines on the Israeli press. As reported at the time, Clinton's plan was to host Netanyahu for two days of intensive talks, followed by a similar two days with Arafat -- after which the president would deliver judgment in a public speech and set out the way forward for the Middle East Peace Process. There is no knowing if the US President seriously intended to follow this course; the question became moot when, even while Netanyahu and Clinton were closeted in the Oval Office, the Lewinski sex scandal burst out.

In the next weeks, President Clinton had no time or energy to spare for peace in the Middle East, nor was he in a position to put pressure on anybody; and the Lewinski Affair was immediately followed by the prolonged confrontation with Iraq, which meant a further delay of months.

It is hardly surprising that newspapers throughout

Page 2
the Arab World regarded the entire Lewinski Affair as being deliberately engineered by Netanyahu -- particularly since the Republicans on Capitol Hill, who pushed the investigation of Clinton's alleged sex scandals, were also Netanyahu's main allies in America.

'Food -- not bombs'

As the wider peace movement had come to pin on Clinton their last hope against Netanyahu, it was not easy to shift gears in the face of the new Gulf Crisis. Like in 1991, the initiative for protest came from groups such as the Hadash Communists and the Hebron Solidarity Committee. Yet the weekly vigils at the US Embassy in Tel-Aviv got surprisingly friendly reactions from by-passers, nor were there hostile reactions to the mostly-Arab Ibna El-Balad vigil with some sharp formulated slogans.
-- On February 19, at the height of the tension, a Ha'aretz ad featured 234 signatures -- among them well-known artists and academics -- on a petition calling for a diplomatic solution for the crisis and for liquidation of all weapons of mass destruction throughout the Middle East. The signatories included also several public figures from the Palestinian Territories, such as the respected Dr. Haidar Abd-el-Shafi.
-- Human rights organizations lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court against the exclusion of foreign workers and Palestinians under Israeli rule from the distribution of gas masks, and peace activists organised to give back their own masks in protest -- both actions cut short by the news of Kofi Annan's successful mission to Baghdad.

Gulf Committee, POB 33076, Tel-Aviv 61330.

It is also hardly surprising that Netanyahu's victorious return from Washington, having budged not the slightest from his tough positions and being none the worse for it, won to his side the elusive 'center' of the Israeli electorate. Barak's edge in the polls was wiped out overnight -- mainly because a great chunk of the former 'undecided' swung over to the side of Netanyahu -- with the added result that internal opposition inside the government camp became almost completely silent. The Prime Minister's already existent reputation as 'a magician', capable of overcoming any crisis, was greatly enhanced.

Meanwhile, Ehud Barak -- never a profound thinker or an astute statesman, but rather an ex-general chosen to head Labor solely on the strength of his supposed electability -- came to be regarded more and more as a loser. In the peace movement, as throughout the opposition camp, the upbeat mood generated by last year's giant rally was replaced by growing despair, reflected in and intensified by a series of bleak articles published by columnists identified with the peace camp. The feeling of gloom was completed by growing apprehension over the looming Iraqi crisis.

The false war

Throughout the months of growing tension between the United States and Iraq, all commentators agreed that -- unlike in 1991 -- Saddam Hussein had little interest in shooting missiles at Israel, even if he still had some in operational condition. Doing so would have proven the falsity of the Iraqis' claims to have destroyed all their missiles, and would have thus played into the American hands and helped prolong the crippling economic sanctions against Iraq. It was still less likely that, in Iraq's weakened condition, Saddam would fire non-conventional weapons -- as he had not dared to do in 1991. Yet in the minds of the general Israeli public, all these considerations failed to outweigh a single utterance by Richard Butler, American head of the UN inspection team in Iraq, who aired in public his estimate that Saddam Hussein was in possession of 'enough anthrax to destroy Tel-Aviv.'

The Israeli public, rather indifferent to the developing crisis until then, was thrown by Butler's pronouncement into a state of continuing panic which lasted until the very moment Secretary-General Kofi Annan finally defused the crisis. One by one, various measures were suggested to the public by the government, 'despite the low probability that they would be needed': obtaining vaccine against anthrax; renewing the outworn gas masks distributed to the public in 1990; buying adhesive tapes and nylon sheets to make rooms supposedly gas-proof... And despite the 'low probability,' each pronouncement produced a mad rush to get the required item.

Netanyahu may have had an interest in promoting that panic: not only did it further distract attention from the unresolved issues with the Palestinians, but it also helped to create the feeling that Israelis

Page 3
are living in 'a dangerous environment, full of dangerous predators,' a far cry from Shimon Peres' vision of the peaceful 'New Middle East.' On the other hand, the shouting disorderly crowds at the Gas Mask Distribution Centers made manifest the fragility of the Israeli home front -- hardly an encouraging message to a Prime Minister whose policy towards the Palestinians seemed destined to lead to an armed confrontation, with the certainty that such a confrontation would be unpopular with large parts of the population...

Moreover, the crisis with Iraq made clear to the Clinton Administration decision-makers the extent to which Netanyahu's intransigence constituted a threat to American vital interests in the Middle East. Saddam had been able to get out of the crisis on relatively favorable terms -- due, among other factors, to the United States' failure in its efforts to reconstitute the anti-Iraq coalition of 1991, failure to gain the support even of staunch allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In turn, this manifest lack of Arab support could be traced, at least in part, to the Arab World's prevalent grievance concerning an American double standard -- administering a severe punishment to Iraq for its defiance of UN resolutions, and turning a blind eye to similar behaviour on the part of Israel. Thus, even while the confrontation with Iraq was going on, State Department officials were becoming more and more convinced of the urgent need to tackle Netanyahu immediately afterwards.

Selective indignation

(...) Mr. Olmart has sharply condemned the Palestinians for demonstrating in support of Saddam Hussein. Mr. Olmart is very often present at football matches of the Betar Jerusalem team. Of course he comes there -- he needs the fans of this team for his mayoral reelection campaign. I never heard him comment on these fans' habit of shouting 'Death to the Arabs!' whenever they get excited. He must have heard them. Anybody who is not totally deaf could hear it, even a long distance from the stadium...

Living in the midst of the area which Saddam's missiles targeted in '91, I can hardly feel any sympathy for this aggressive dictator. But I can understand the Palestinians who demonstrate in his support. If I had been trodden on for thirty years by a foreign occupier who deprived me of nearly everything, I too might have been tempted to cheer anyone who stood up to my oppressor.

(Ari Shama'i in Z'man Tel-Aviv, 20.2)

Nowhere was the feeling of 'an American double standard' stronger than among the Palestinians, suffering daily from land confiscation and settlement expansion -- activities in contravention of countless UN resolutions, which Netanyahu nevertheless felt free to pursue with impunity. Throughout the Palestinian territories demonstrations broke out with Iraqi flags held aloft, while those of Israel and the US were burned. Many of the demonstrations ended at clashes with Israeli soldiers at the accustomed 'hot spots,' such as armed settlement enclaves in the midst of Arab cities.

These demonstrations were featured prominently on Israeli TV, an unpleasant sight for Israeli eyes when demonstrators carried Scud missiles (made of carton) and chanted slogans urging Saddam to attack Tel-Aviv. Yet Netanyahu did not gain as many propaganda points over this as he had hoped, nor did the pro-Iraqi demonstrations open an abyss between Israeli peace activists and the Palestinians, as had happened in 1990. The dominant reaction in the peace camp was that this kind of reprehensible demonstration was an expression of the deep Palestinian frustrations (see box).

For its part, the Palestinian Authority, pressed by the Americans, issued a decree forbidding the pro-Iraq demonstrations and even closing down private TV stations which gave them a sympathetic coverage. Yet the demonstrations persisted; Arafat could not have completely repressed them without a severe clash -- not only with a big part of his own people but even with central activists of his own political party, Fatah, who took a central part in organizing the demonstrations. The Gulf Crisis brought about an open cleavage between two structures, both having Yasser Arafat at the top of their respective hierarchies: on the one hand the Palestinian Authority with its police and armed forces, and on the other -- the Fatah Movement, now acting in a more and more independent and militant way.

The open-secret plan

Already during the confrontation with Iraq, a detailed plan had been formulated at the State Department, with the aim of bridging over the differences and achieving at last the long-delayed Second Redeployment (combined with the even longer-delayed First). Though not officially published, its details were soon available on the pages of the Israeli press, and especially the central element: an evacuation of about 13% of the West Bank, compared with Netanyahu's offer of 9%. Further, the Americans offered to divide this redeployment -- itself originally intended as a single stage in an ongoing process -- into several sub-stages, spread over three months, and linked to Palestinian fulfillment of many of the Israeli cabinet's demands. However, the Americans were to be the final arbiters in the verification of Palestinian compliance -- under the reasonable assumption that, were the final judgment to rest with Netanyahu, he would never declare himself satisfied with the Palestinian performance.

By any objective standard, the US proposal was far closer to Netanyahu's positions than to Arafat's; yet it soon became clear that the Israeli Government was going to fight it tooth and nail, while Arafat seemed grudgingly willing to accept it -- less for what it concretely offered him, and more for the sake of creating the precedent of a united American-Palestinian diplomatic front. Such a precedent could prove of enormous significance for the next, more crucial parts of the process -- particularly for the increasingly concrete option of a unilateral Palestinian Declaration of Independence.

Netanyahu, too, was aware of the ominous implica

Page 4
tions of the American plan being accepted by the Palestinians and rejected by Israel, for all the world to see. To forestall that possibility, he bent all his efforts to mobilizing a counter-pressure inside the US -- so as to prevent the administration from officially publishing the already well-known plan, and saving Netanyahu from the need to say an official 'No'. As always, the two main agencies of Netanyahu's attack upon Clinton and Albright were the US congress and the organized US Jewish Community -- to which were added pressures through Vice President Al Gore, whose hopes to win the 2000 presidential race seem bound up with contributions from Netanyahu-supporting Americans.

Of these, the US Jews proved less than completely apt to Netanyahu's hand. Divisions within their official leadership, the Conference of Presidents, more and more often found their way into the press. At least some of the Jewish leaders seemed influenced by Secretary of State Albright, who spoke to them of her anxiety at the imminent collapse of the peace process. Also, Israeli Labor Party KM Ephraim Sneh warned the US Jewish leaders of the grave responsibility they would assume by blocking President Clinton's peace efforts (Ha'aretz, 13.3).

For their part, Clinton and Albright resorted to close coordination with the Europeans, a significant departure after many years in which the US actively discouraged European involvement in the Middle East peace process; the new policy was facilitated by the coincidence of the European Union Presidency being held by Britain, Washington's single faithful ally against Iraq. With tacit US backing, British Foreign Secretary Cook undertook his visit to Jerusalem, which ended in a major diplomatic incident over Cook's insistence upon visiting the Har Homa/Jebl Abu Ghneim settlement site and his outspoken support for Jerusalem being the capital of two states.

Some commentators remarked that the Cook visit ended the possibility of Europe being accepted as the mediator between Israelis and Palestinians. But Netanyahu had long since made clear his total objection to giving Europe such a role, however suave and tactful its diplomatic representatives may be. Rather, Cook seemed to have played his part in a 'good cop/bad cop' division of labor decided upon between Clinton and Blair.

By mid-March, the Americans seemed determined to publish officially their plan. Netanyahu first reacted by getting his cabinet to express a unanimous opposition (without a formal resolution); then he held transatlantic phone calls with the angry Clinton, in which he sounded conciliatory and offered a compromise redeployment of 11%; and finally, after several days of talks with US Special Envoy Dennis Ross, he reverted to his total insistence upon 9% and send Ross away empty handed -- due to pressure from Sharon and the settlers which many suspected Netanyahu of having organized himself.

And meanwhile, Netanyahu's emissaries in Washington succeeded, despite reservations in the Jewish community, in mobilizing the AIPAC lobby -- which stretched its powerful muscles and obtained for Netanyahu's the public support of no less than 81 US Senators.

Controlled violence

While all these diplomatic maneuvers and feints went on, tensions steadily increased in the territories under discussion. On March 10, they boiled over into violence after soldiers shot and killed three Palestinian labourers at the Tarkumiya Checkpoint, west of Hebron. In an effort to appease the Palestinians, the government ordered the soldiers arrested; and in an effort to appease the army command, the soldiers were released on the same day. (The Palestinian Authority, in its 'revolving door policy' much condemned by Netanyahu, usually takes a bit longer between the detaining of Hamas members and their release.) The official convoluted version of the incident was that the killed Palestinians had been completely innocent, yet the soldiers were blameless too, since they thought the Palestinians were about to attack them.

The general Palestinian population had little interest in such sophisms; from the moment the news broke out, there were several days of rioting and clashes with settlers and soldiers -- particularly in the Hebron area, where the three victims had lived, and where the life of a fourth one -- a 10-year old child -- was claimed by an Israeli 'rubber bullet.' Once again, the Fatah movement was conspicuous in organizing the demonstrations and confrontations.

Visiting the families

On March 13, three days after the Tarkumiya Checkpoint killings, a group of twenty Gush Shalom members set out to visit the families of the victims -- a rather risky enterprise, since the area was in turmoil, with enraged Palestinian youths throwing stones at cars with Israeli license plates. The Palestinian Police helped, providing an escort in the area under its control. As they alighted at Dura, hometown of the dead workers, the Israelis found their path lined on both sides with thousands of townspeople, and many welcomes (in Hebrew) were heard. Uri Avnery was invited to speak on behalf of the Israelis -- not just to the families, but to virtually the whole town gathered in the central plaza. 'In fact, Netanyahu should have been addressing you from this podium' he said. 'The Prime Minister of Israel should have come to face you and offer apology for what the soldiers of his army had done -- as king Hussein did last year, when the victims were Israeli. He is not here, but we have come to share with you this difficult time -- on behalf of the people in Israel, if not of the government.'

Gush Shalom, POB 3322, Tel-Aviv; ph: 972-3-5221732

Despite many apprehensions, the Tarkumiya killings did not touch off a general conflagration; things calmed down -- only to be soon stirred up again by a new stimulus, the death in a mysterious Ramallah explosion of Muhai A-Din Sharif, a Hamas military leader and explosives expert. At first, the killing was blamed on Israel -- which in the past assassinated several other Hamas leaders in similar circumstances. Demonstrations, confrontations and clashes broke

Page 5

Wholesome tactlessness

(...) Since Robin Cook swept this country by tornado last week, political debate in our mainstream seemed a throwback to the Golda Meir period, consisting mainly of an effort to confront a hostile world and of trying to push away hard realities. Cook has succeeded in bringing home to our bipartisan establishment the unpalatable fact of a worldwide consensus against Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. It was exactly Cook's tactlessness and Scottish Calvinism which helped to make his message crystal clear.(...)
It is a pity that Robin Cook is not standing as a candidate for the Knesset. My vote, at least, he could have counted on.

(Haim Bar'am in Kol Ha'ir, 27.3)

out -- more prolonged, widespread and violent than on the previous occasion. And in the meantime, Hamas threatened to renew its campaign of suicide attacks inside Israel, in revenge for Sharif -- no idle threat, to judge from past experience, and one which could have provided Netanyahu with the perfect excuse to wriggle out of the whole tiresome negotiations. But it is a fact that Netanyahu issued vehement denials, stating that Israel had 'absolutely no part' in the killing of Sharif, thereby implicitly conveying that the assassination method -- used by Israel over decades -- was no longer considered legitimate.

In an astounding development, the Palestinian Authority blamed Sharif's death upon other Hamas members -- with the killing allegedly being part of a power struggle within the Islamic organization -- and precipitated a confrontation with the Hamas...


It is still a matter of conjecture whether or not the Americans would, after all, succeed in cobbling together some kind of temporary compromise and achieve the withdrawal of Israeli troops from some portion of the West Bank. In a slightly longer range, that is hardly significant. The maximum which the Netanyahu Government is capable of giving is so much below the most bare minimum of Palestinian aspirations that, as long as this government remains in power in Israel, an eventual widespread armed clash between Israelis and Palestinians seems inevitable.

Arafat would clearly like to delay this eventuality as much as possible, and to reach May 1999 -- the end of the Oslo Interim Period, during which both sides are obliged to avoid unilateral steps -- with the largest possible territorial base. These would be the most auspicious conditions for a unilateral Palestinian Declaration of Independence, an event whose coming is more and more taken for granted on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides -- since Netanyahu is highly unlikely to reach, within the remaining year and a month, a definite agreement with the Palestinians.

In the meantime, the Palestinian leadership would like to prevent a total collapse, to gain what still could be gained by diplomatic means, and to contain violent outbreaks and keep them 'within limits'. But events could well get beyond anybody's control, hastening the moment of the Big Clash.

During the Kibbutz Movement Conference in March, Knesset Member Hagai Merom of the mainstream Labor Party made an interesting statement:

"If the Palestinians declare independence unilaterally, I will support their step and urge the whole Labor Party to do the same. It is their right, and it will be also good for us when they have at last their state" (Israel Radio, 5.3).

Though getting surprisingly little attention, that may have been the most important political statement recently made in Israel.

The editors

Peace Movements to Clinton and Blair:

+++ Yediot Aharonot, Israel's biggest mass-circulation newspaper, bore a sensational main headline on April 8, Peace Movements to Clinton: Israel to blame for peace process deadlock. The full-page story of an unprecedented letter by Israeli peace movements to the American and European leaders, asking them to take a firm stand towards the Netanyahu Government, reverberated throughout the political system: a stormy session of the Knesset; endless acrimonious debates on all radio and TV channels; and a stream of furious editorials, commentaries and counter-commentaries.

The two senior peace activists who initiated the whole thing did not dream of such a wide impact. The original idea for the letter came up following the controversial visit of British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and his head-on confrontation with the Netanyahu Government. The Israeli peace camp felt that Cook had been completely right, in visiting the settlement site at Har Homa/Jebl Abu Ghneim and also in escaping from his official Israeli escort and shaking hands -- on that symbolic site -- with a senior Palestinian representative.

Therefore, a draft letter addressed to Cook was produced. In the course of getting the widest spectrum of signatories and roughing out a commonly-agreed text, the idea changed into a more general letter sent to both President Clinton and prime Minister Blair. The final text gained support throughout the spectrum of the peace movement -- a rare display of unanimity between radicals and moderates.

Prime Minister Tony Blair
President of the Council of Ministers of the European Union


We are writing to you, as Israeli Peace and Human Rights Organizations and Activists in support of increased European and United States involvement in advancing the Middle East Peace Process.

We are committed to a strong and democratic Israel in which Jews -- as well as all its other citizens -- can live in freedom and safety. Yet living in constant warfare with our neighbors is not true safety, and oppressing another people is not true freedom.

Sadly we must note that the current impasse results from the policies of the Netanyahu government -- which prefers continued colonization of the occupied territories to advancement of the peace process begun by Messrs. Rabin, Arafat and Peres.

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We see a reversal in Jewish-Arab roles concerning peaceful partition, from 1947 when the Jewish leadership accepted partition but the Palestinian leadership rejected it, to the current situation wherein the Palestinian leadership is calling for compromise and the Government of Israel in fact rejects it.*

Mr. Netanyahu calls for allowing the two parties to settle the problem by themselves, but this really means allowing the stronger of the two to force its own solution on the weaker. Israel, which has consistently ignored United Nations resolutions opposing Jewish settlement of occupied lands and seeking to safeguard Palestinian rights, can hardly be expected to serve as the protector of the rights of the Palestinians. Only firm action -- by the United States, the Europeans and the United Nations -- can lead to a just solution.

Cognizant as we are of our country's security needs, we believe that Israel is strong enough to allow a viable Palestinian state to replace the occupation. We applaud your efforts to help us achieve these ends.


Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), Dor Shalom, Gush Shalom (The Israeli Peace Bloc), Bat Shalom (Women's joint venture for Peace), Tandi (Movement of Democratic Women), Rabbis for Human Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, The East for Peace, Ossim Shalom (Social Workers for Peace and Social Welfare)

Contact: Hillel Bardin, 19 Kfar Etzion St., Arnona, Jerusalem, Israel 93392, ph/fax: 972-2-6732936

* In the otherwise similar letter to President Bill Clinton were inserted the following two sentences:

We can well understand Secretary Albright's frustration at the ongoing disintegration of the Peace Process. But for the U.S. to pull out now would be to abandon the Palestinians to hopelessness, with all the dangers that that entails.


Land robbery confronted

Inhabitants of Salfit -- a sizeable Palestinian town in the northern part of the West Bank -- contacted the Committee Against House Demolitions (CAHD) after a new military decree had greatly extended at their expense the area included in the municipal boundaries of the Israeli settlement Ariel. Past experience had taught the Palestinians that the next step would be extension of the settlement perimeter fence to include the new part -- whereupon the Palestinians would be denied access to their land inside the new fence 'for security reasons.'

To forestall that possibility, the villagers started planting olive saplings on their threatened plots; though Palestinian ownership of those lands was not disputed, several of the plantings led to confrontations with the army and confiscation of the saplings (in one case, a Palestinian tractor was confiscated as well). CAHD was asked to participate in a new planting -- and the initiative was joined by the Ra'anana Peace Now group which interested activists from other northern Tel-Aviv suburbs, to come as well.

On the morning of February 21, some sixty people -- most of them from Peace Now, together with a few CAHD kibbutzniks and Gush Shalom activists -- arrived at Salfit. After an extremely cordial reception by the mayor and councillors at the town hall, the Israelis were conducted by local activists in a long car convoy, through the winding hill tracks to the threatened land. Splitting into teams each numbering about five Israelis and five Palestinians, holding saplings and agricultural tools, they spread out among the terraces. To the Israelis -- most of them city people with little agricultural experience -- the scene of planting trees with hand tools was incongruously reminiscent of old photos from the time of the early Zionist pioneers...

In most of the spots, the planting proceeded without incident, Israelis and Palestinians smiling amicably at each other and communicating even where they didn't have a common language. But in the two sites nearest the settlement houses, military and police forces soon arrived on the scene. Initially, the lieutenant-colonel in command of this force seemed reasonable; a quarter of an hour of negotiations produced a compromise, whereby the military authorised plantings on one of the hills where it was scheduled, but forbade it on the other.

The planting was almost over when the settler mayor Ron Nachman arrived on the spot, surrounded by his security men, and began upbraiding the colonel: 'Throw out the trespassers! At once! Blood will flow here, blood!' In a striking demonstration of the true chain of command prevailing on the West Bank, the soldiers immediately and roughly began pushing back the tree planters, and for good measure detained the 60-year old Palestinian owner of the plot where the planting had taken place.

Some of the Israeli demonstrators followed the arrested Palestinian, to make sure that he would not be harmed (he was released a few hours later). The others boarded their cars and bus, setting off for a Gush Shalom action in Kadum, several kilometres to the north. On their way there, they could already hear at the top of the Israeli radio news a sensational account of "a violent confrontation of leftists and Arabs with settlers."
CAHD c/o Amos Gvirtz, Kibbutz Sh'fayim
Peace Now, POB 29828, Tel Aviv 61297

+++ Since more than half of the West Bank lands have never been officially registered, Palestinian peasants usually find it impossible to provide the Military Land Commissions with proof of their ownership -- even when the land in question had been in possession of their families from time immemorial.

The village of Kadum experienced a rare exception to this rule in early 1997. After the village lands at the Jebl Muhammad area had been declared "state lands" they were given by the army to the nearby Israeli settlement of K'dumim. The Da'as family, however, appealed the decision -- and succeeded in providing proof of its ownership which the Israeli officers on the Military Land Commission could not ignore. In July 1997, the military authorities officially recognized the family's ownership of the land in question and the Defence Minister's assistant promised on Israeli TV that the settlers would vacate the land 'within two weeks.' But the settlers, with

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their powerful lobby in the Netanyahu Government, were not impressed; instead of vacating the land, they erected on it six mobile homes.

Several months later, when members of the Da'as family with fellow-villagers attempted to enter the land of which they had been declared owners, soldiers (charged with protecting settlers wherever they are) opened fire -- wounding six of the Palestinians. And in January 1998, the military suddenly produced 'a new map' which purported to prove that, after all, the takeover by the settlers had been legally in order. At this stage an Israeli friend of the Da'as family advised to approach Gush Shalom.

During a visit of a Gush Shalom delegation it was decided to start a media campaign and Feb. 21 was fixed as the date for a joint Israel-Palestinian protest demonstration. Soon, Gush Shalom and CAHD became aware of each other's plans for the same Saturday; thus the timetables were coordinated so as to enable activists to participate in both.

On the day itself, it turned out that the army also made the link and closed off the road from Salfit to Kadum, creating an enormous traffic jam along one of the West Bank's main thoroughfares. But the two Gush Shalom buses from Tel-Aviv, taking bypass roads, arrived on schedule at the central plaza of Kadum Village and the hundred Israelis joined the crowd of Kadum inhabitants and neighboring villages who had gathered there. A rally was held, addressed by the Palestinian Authority's regional governor ('the struggle for peace and against the land robbers is common to both peoples'), Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom ('Netanyahu is raising an artificial panic about Iraq, and takes over lands') and Adli Da'as for the land owners ('Ten thousand dunams were already taken, this month the army took another thousand').

From the plaza, Israelis and Palestinians marched together in the direction of the settler-occupied land, chanting Peace -- Yes, Settlements -- No! in alternating languages. At the head of the march was carried a giant replica of the Biblical Tables of the Covenant, painstakingly prepared by the Gush Shalom youths, with a single quotation:

'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's field!'

It was not possible to get anywhere near Jebl Muhammad itself; large military and police forces barred the way. For half an hour there was an increasingly tense stand-off; village youths edged closer and closer to the soldiers, shouting 'with our lives will we defend our land!' and also hurling Hebrew insults, learned while working in Israel. When a violent confrontation seemed about to burst out, Da'as family members picked up megaphones and called for the crowd to turn back. The demonstrators showed discipline and turned away with no more than some waving of fists back at the soldiers.

There was a banquet for the Israeli guests, back at the Da'as family home, and a lot of handshaking and warm greetings. And on that evening's TV news the action was featured prominently, with the gleaming white 'Tables of the Covenant' -- and their clear message -- getting a good prime time exposure.

Contact: Gush Shalom, POB 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033

s The latest Peace Now report on house demolitions (quoted on Ma'ariv, 26.3) gave the grim statistics of 154 Palestinian homes and a schoolhouse demolished in 1997, as well as ten graves dug up -- all this not counting the numerous expulsions of Bedouins who lived in tents; in the first three months of 1998, the number of demolished houses reached 35.

A more extensive report, published as a brochure by Be'tselem, gave a thorough analysis of the bureaucratic and quasi-legal mechanisms by which the same Military Planning Commissions which facilitate settlement expansion make it next to impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits, forcing them to build illegally. In conclusion Be'tselem pointed out that according to article 27 of the Oslo Agreement Israel should have dismantled these commissions and handed over their powers to the Palestinian Authority; their continued existence is in itself a violation of Israel's international obligations.
Contact: Peace Now, POB 29828, Tel-Aviv 61297,; Be'tselem, 43 Emek Refaim St., J'lem 93141,

+++ On Dec. 29, 1997, Yediot Aharonot reported the formation of a special police unit, numbering several dozen specially-trained officers with the specific purpose of 'protecting municipal workers engaged in the demolition of illegal Arab houses in East Jerusalem' and patrolling 'to deter Arabs from constructing new such houses'. The new unit was to become fully operational at the end of January. To the question of Meretz councillor Anat Hoffman, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmart confirmed that such a unit had indeed been formed, since 'it is necessary to enforce the law.' The news followed earlier press reports in which Olmart was mentioned as planning a 'demolitions festival,' to include dozens of demolitions within a few days, and which was to be carried out as 'a semi-military operation' (Ha'aretz, 17.7.97).

On the evening of Jan. 27, several dozen activists of the Committee Against House Demolitions (CAHD) and the Jerusalem Meretz branch entered the giant meeting hall of the Jerusalem Municipal Council taking up all of the public spectator benches. As soon as Olmart banged the gavel to declare the meeting open, they rose and unfurled banners which had been hidden in their clothing: Build peace -- don't destroy homes! Veteran peace activist Ya'akov Manor read out a prepared statement: "We are here to protest against a municipality which destroys homes in East Jerusalem. People are forced to build without permits because you don't give them permits. Destroying homes is a crime against humanity!" Olmart had been caught by surprise, only at the end of the speech bursting out with an order to the municipal marshals: "Throw these ruffians out of here!"

There were, however, no more than four marshals present in the hall, and the police which was called was very slow in arriving. The protesters did not offer resistance and allowed themselves to be dragged by twos and threes along the length of the hall, calling out "Racist! Oppressor!" when they passed Olmart' place at the head of the council table, but it took a

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very long while before the mayor finally got rid of 'the disturbance'...

A few days later, many of the same demonstrators together with the Bat Shalom women came to disturb Olmart a second time, when he delivered at the Van Leer institute a lecture on the subject 'How I encourage tolerance' (sic!).

Whether due to these acts of protest or to pressure from other quarters, Olmart's new police unit had not yet seen the major action planned for it; speaking with obvious frustration the mayor, in a newspaper interview, admitted that 'in the first quarter of 1998, thirty-six demolition orders had been issued against houses in East Jerusalem, but only two were actually implemented' (Ha'aretz, 9.4).
CAHD c/o Amos Gvirtz, Kibbutz Sh'fayim
Bat Shalom, POB 8083, Jerusalem 91080.

One courageous family's story

Most cases of West Bank Palestinians losing their homes to Israeli army demolition crews receive no more than a terse note in the newspaper back pages, the families involved remaining completely anonymous to the Israeli public -- but the story of the Al-Atrash family of Hebron did find its way to the forefront.

For many years, the family had no permanent home, moving from one rented apartment to another. They did possess a small plot of land, 26 dunams, on the southern outskirts of Hebron -- but it lay outside the area where Palestinian construction is permitted. Several requests for a permit to build on the land were of no avail. In 1988, Yusuf al-Atrash nevertheless started building a house for his family; he received a demolition order, an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court was rejected, and in 1992 the house was destroyed. In the meantime, a new settlement (Beit Hagai) was established on the nearby hill -- making all Arab houses in the vicinity into 'a security risk,' to be dealt with by the military.

The signing of the Oslo Agreements, with the promise of imminent Israeli withdrawal, encouraged the family to rebuild their house in 1995. They saved penny to penny, crowded in the homes of the extended family, till they finished building for the second time. However, the line demarking the area of Hebron handed over to Palestinian rule was placed 300 metres north of the Al-Atrash home, leaving them still under full Israeli military control with its building restrictions. And the Beit-Hagai settlers started pressing the military to destroy 'the illegal Arab houses' -- those of the Al-Atrash family and of six other Palestinian families in their vicinity.

At noon on March 3, while the men of the family were at work, the soldiers arrived. They broke down the door and ordered Zuhoor Al-Atrash and her ten children out, giving them only a single hour to vacate the house. Thereupon, it was torn down, burying toys, clothes and furniture under the ruins. But the family, undeterred, started reconstruction at once, meanwhile living on the site in tents provided by the Red Cross.

The family's struggle got the attention of the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT), a group of American volunteers based in Hebron, who started coming to the site and helping in the reconstruction of the house. Through CPT, contact was made with Israeli peace groups. On Friday, March 20, some twenty Israelis arrived on the site and worked for several hours together with family members on rebuilding the house. On the following day, the Palestinian Jerusalem daily Al-Quds published the unusual photograph of a Rabbi climbing a ladder in the half-built house, bearing a load of stones.

This joint action itself passed without incident -- but two days later, in the afternoon of March 22, a large convoy of military and police vehicles arrived to halt the construction and confiscate the cement mixer used by the family. Family members resisted and were kicked and beaten up by the soldiers; the mother, father and their two eldest children, the 18-year old son Ra'ed and the 16-year old daughter Manar, were taken off to detention. Ha'aretz journalist Gideon Levy, who was there, described it as 'one of the most brutal scenes I have ever seen' (27.3).

Usually, in such confrontations there are no outside witnesses. In this case there were plenty: aside from Levy, there were the Palestinian human rights activist Bassam Eid, and -- most important of all -- an international TV crew. That evening, the scene of the soldiers dragging the bound Zuhoor Al-Atrash over the ground was exposed to an Israeli and worldwide TV audience.

A few hours later, during the night, the women were released from custody and transferred to a Hebron hospital. The daughter Manal, who had been kicked in the belly by soldiers, started coughing blood, and lost consciousness on the way to hospital -- apparently suffering from internal injuries.

Yusuf Al-Atrash and his son remained in custody, having refused an offer to be released in exchange for a promise to stop rebuilding the home.

Thou shalt not destroy

The following petition, with 300 signatures, was published as an ad in Ha'aretz, on Feb. 22.

Thousands of families live in constant fear. More than a thousand families got demolition orders. About 11,000 men, women and children lost their homes in the past ten years. It is for many years already that the state of Israel is freezing by administrative means the possibility of Palestinians to build legally in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, leaving many Palestinians with no choice but to build homes on their own land, but without a permit. All of these houses are threatened with destruction.

We, the undersigned, do not regard the demolition of such houses as legitimate law enforcement, but as implementation of a clearly immoral and discriminatory policy, which must be abolished forthwith.

CAHD c/o Amos Gvirtz, Kibbutz Sh'fayim

Meanwhile, Gideon Levy published extensive articles on the affair in Ha'aretz, and members of CAHD and Gush Shalom held a vigil outside the Jerusalem Larom Hotel during the lecture there of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. (Uri Avnery,

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who was among those privileged to get an invitation to the lecture, succeeded in raising the issue directly to the Secretary General). And on the morning of March 27, CAHD and Rabbis for Human Rights activists once again arrived to work on the Al-Atrash home -- where rebuilding had proceeded intensively during the past week by friends, neighbors and CPT volunteers. They were joined by some fifty Peace Now members, coming straight from the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, where they had demonstrated during the cabinet meeting in favor of a speedy military redeployment on the West Bank.

While working they heard that on the previous day, Yusuf Al-Atrash and his son Ra'ed had been subjected to an 'instant trial' at a military court, which sentenced them to a fine of 3000 Shekels -- about 900 Dollars. Since that sum is three times Yusuf's monthly salary at his job in a Hebron shoe factory, the two were unable to pay the fine and remained in custody. On the spot, Gush Shalom activist Oren Medicks started collecting contributions; and an appeal for financial support to help free the Al-Atrash prisoners was also placed on the Gush Shalom internet website.

Within days the full sum was collected; Gideon Levy and Bassam Eid immediately went to fetch the two from the Adorayim Military Prison. Upon their release Yusuf and Ra'ed warmly shook the hand of a soldier named Dudu -- who, they told Levy, had treated them with great decency and eased the time of their incarceration (Ha'aretz, 3.4).

At the time of writing, several rooms of the Al-Artash family home are complete, and work is proceeding, slowly but steadily, on the rest of the house. A Jerusalem lawyer was found to present, on behalf of the family, a new request for a building permit. Meanwhile, members of CPT keep a constant presence at the house -- armed with a video camera, to record any future confrontation.

For the time being, the military authorities seem to leave this now-famous house alone. However, the Palestinian Land Defence Committee alerted the American and Israeli activists to eviction orders issued against a hundred Palestinian inhabitants at Yata, south of Hebron -- opening a new chapter in the never ending struggle.
Contact: Gush Shalom, POB 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033,
CPT, Box 326, Bethlehem, West Bank 972-50-397506
Rabbis for Human Rights 972-2-6799006

Jahalin struggle not over yet

On the evening of February 5, a mixed crowd of veteran peace activists and well-to-do yuppies gathered at 'Habustan' -- a fashionable Jerusalem Gallery/Restaurant. They came to participate in an auction of no less than forty-five works, some of them by the biggest names in the world of Israeli art -- the proceeds to be used for the benefit of the Jahalin Bedouins, expelled from their West Bank homes in the previous year to make place for expansion of Israeli settlement-city Ma'aleh Adumim (see TOI-77, p 18). Since their expulsion, the Bedouins had been living in makeshift housing, on a windswept hill near the Jerusalem garbage dump -- the site which was designated for them by the military authorities.

The initiative for the auction had come from Racheli Shahar, a Jerusalem art student and peace activist, who had spent months getting artists and gallery owners to donate their works (nearly all who were approached did so without hesitation). Anne-Marie Friedlander, owner of 'Habustan,' donated the use of her premises, and auctioneer Phillippe Loudmer gave free his professional services -- which greatly helped the success of the auction. Altogether, the sum of 37,000 Shekels was collected -- enough for setting up a kindergarten and a children's playground at the Jahalin site.

+++ On February 16, large police and military forces raided further encampments of the Jahalin tribe, not included in the 1997 expulsion, destroyed more than fifty huts, and forcibly transported some 140 persons to the already overcrowded site where victims of the earlier expulsions live. The raid was instigated by the settler leaders, who -- having gotten rid in 1997 of the Bedouins living near the settlement houses -- pressured the army into also expelling those living on more distant plots earmarked for future extension of the giant Ma'aleh Adumim settlement.

Faced with overwhelming odds, the Jahalin had not resisted the expulsion -- but in the night they came back. They lived in tents donated by UNRWA and the Red Cross -- and when the tents were confiscated in a new military raid, they steadfastly remained on the spot under the open sky, lighting fires against the cold desert nights.
The Rabbis for Human Rights succeeded in getting them a considerable amount of donations (blankets, clothes and food) by handing out leaflets (It is cold in the desert...) at different synagogues, Orthodox and non-Orthodox. They were especially successful at the more affluent congregations of immigrants from the West.

The plight of the Jahalin got considerable attention on the pages of Ha'aretz and Kol Ha'Ir. There was a constant stream of solidarity delegations, coordinated from the Jerusalem offices of Bat Shalom; when the Jahalin got new tents, there were Israeli activists staying with them at night to prevent these from being confiscated as well. The Physicians for Human Rights came to conduct free medical checks and published a report; members of Defence of Children International were photographed playing with the Jahalin children (Jerusalem Post, 25.3). There were also high-ranking visitors from the Palestinian Authority, who brought 25,000 Dollars given on the personal instructions of Arafat, and from Palestinian NGO's and human rights organizations.

On Friday, Feb. 27, a support rally by several hundred Israelis and Palestinians took place on the spot, addressed by several Knesset Members and by the Palestinian Minister of Agriculture, and followed by Jewish and Muslim prayers.

Two days later, the Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction maintaining the status-quo: the authorities were forbidden to remove the Jahalin tents, but the Bedouins were to erect any permanent

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structures or even add more tents. The court proposed that 'the sides appoint a mutually-agreed arbiter, to rule on the definite disposition of the case.' The military authorities refused, instead appointing a former general as 'special investigator' to check the Jahalin grievances. And thus the situation remains at the moment, in which the Jahalin can just barely hold on with the help of their supporters.
Rabbis for Human Rights, 2 Yitz. Elhanan St., J'lem 92141, fax 972-2-5663865, e-mail;
Bat Shalom, POB 8083, J'lem 91080; Physicians, POB 592, Tel-Aviv 61004; Defence of Children, POB 8028, J'lem 91080


From the ground to the court

It all began with a couple of Israeli citizens, Adel and Eeman Ka'adan, inhabitants of Baka'h-el-Garbiya, who wanted to buy a house at the new middle-class suburb Katzir being built a few kilometres from their present home. But the two happened to be Arabs, and the Katzir Building Association replied -- quite openly, no vague excuses -- that Katzir is to be a Jewish-only town. In itself, there was nothing new in the case; such policies had been implemented in Israel since its creation; but the Ka'adans seem to be the first Arabs who went to court over it.

ACRI (Civil Rights Association), acting on behalf of the couple, asked the Supreme Court to rule the discriminatory practice illegal -- as it certainly would be considered in any country of the Democratic West of which Israel claims to be a part. The state, to the contrary, defended the decades-old bureaucratic mechanism involved: state lands are transferred to the Jewish Agency, which is in theory 'just a voluntary association,' and which is therefore regarded as free to lease the lands on a purely ethnic basis. This, the state affirmed in its affidavit, is needed for 'implementing the values of Zionism.' Thus, in effect, the Supreme Court was asked to choose between Zionism and democracy.

Supreme Court President Aharon Barak -- normally assertive and even aggressive in his judicial rulings -- was very reluctant to rule on this case. 'This is one of the hardest decisions of my life. Israel is not yet ripe for such a decision' he said, and pleaded with the sides to reach a compromise out of court (Yediot, 18/2).
Contact: ACRI, 12 Bialik St., Tel-Aviv.

...and back

While the Supreme Court continued to dither, journalist Gidon Eshet revealed the wider dimensions of the same issue in an extensive expose of a hitherto secret plan hatched between Ariel Sharon, Minister of National Infrastructure, and Avraham Burg, Head of the Jewish Agency -- under which millions of dunams of state lands in the Galilee and the Negev would be transferred to the Jewish Agency, for the purpose of making sure that they would be leased to Jews and to Jews only (Yediot Aharonot 3.3).

Following the publication, Arab supporters of Ibna el Balad picketed on March 11 the Jewish Agency headquarters in Tel-Aviv, together with local Jewish activists (Apartheid is alive and well -- in Israel!); on March 24, more than seventy Jewish and Arab volunteer associations published a joint condemnation of the Sharon-Burg Plan, at the initiative of Shatil; on March 29, the Ha'aretz editorial sharply condemned the 'ethnic discrimination plan', as did former minister Shulamit Aloni and the respected Labor MK Shevach Weiss...

Jewish Agency Head Burg was highly vulnerable to criticism from that quarter. He had started his career as a Peace Now activist, and despite his present job still likes to be considered a part of the peace and human rights community -- as was expressed in his furious and confused rejoinder (Jewish Agency Ad, Ha'aretz, 27.3.98). So far, the controversial deal has not been actually implemented.

The debate was overshadowed by the approach of Land Day, March 30, annually marked by Israel's Arab citizens. News of the Burg-Sharon Plan caused the Monitoring Committee (Arab leadership body) to declare this year a general strike throughout the Arab sector in Israel -- after several years in which Land Day was marked in more mild ways. And this year's demonstrations in the Arab towns and villages were the biggest and most numerous since the 1980's. Yet the violent outbreaks predicted in the press failed to materialize -- on that day.

Shefa'amr 1998
The following eyewitness report TOI got from Haifa peace activist Iris Bar.

At Thursday, April 1, huge police forces attacked the small non-recognized village of Um-el-Sahaly, destroying three out of its seven houses. The houses, like another 16,000 homes in the Arab sector, were built without permit. In a lot of Arab towns and villages it is extremely difficult to acquire building permits -- and in the 'unrecognized villages,' it is just not possible at all. Since 1948, development maps don't include Arab development, and lots of lands, owned by private Arab citizens, were included in Jewish towns and communal units. (It is important to note that this situation exists not just in the occupied territories but also inside the '67 borders of the state of Israel.)

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

The houses of Um-el-Sahali were build in 1959. The families, all of them with at least four children, tried in the last years to get registered as either part of the nearby Arab town Shefa'amr, or failing that -- of the (Jewish) communal unit Adi, but the authorities were not willing to give in this way any kind of recognition to their existence on the spot.

Instead, there came bulldozers -- just three days after the annual Land Day marked by the Arabs in Israel as a day of strikes and demonstrations about the lands question, which this year were big and powerful; bulldozers which came to erase houses which had been there for almost 40 years, and which the inhabitants expected to be there always...

Unfortunately, destroying houses in unrecognized villages has been for decades a normal event. The

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special thing, in this case, was that neighbours came and immediately began to help rebuild the houses. The Committee of the Unrecognized Villages organized a donation of building blocks, sand, cement and tools; a demonstration was scheduled for the following Saturday.

It became much larger than expected, almost a thousand people turned up, and spirits were not quenched by the pouring rain. Mostly Arabs, though with the usual adhesion of some Jewish activists, most of them from Haifa, they walked up to the nearby Adi, with its government-subsidized villas, and in unmistakable language shouted No to Judaization! No to our expulsion! We will never leave our lands! The leaders of all the Arab parties and movements, as well as the Communist Party, made speeches promising not to leave Um-el-Sahali alone. And when we got back to the village, we found the houses almost completely rebuilt, some young men were already fixing the roofs...

On the evening of the same day, at about ten o'clock, more than five hundred police and Border Guards with helicopters, guns and tear gas canisters staged a raid on the village, trying once more to destroy the houses. This time, the people got out to fight and push the police out of their village, meanwhile calling for help on their mobile phones. Activists from the nearby Shefa'amr left their homes and came, phoning more friends in other towns and villages.

From ten o'clock until the early morning there were riots going on. After midnight when the police was more or less pushed out of Um-el-Sahali, confrontations went on for another two hours on the main road which was totally blocked for traffic and in the streets of Shefa'amr. People from all over the Galilee took part -- as far afield as Haifa and Nazareth.

The police used tear gas, plastic bullets and fire. Dozens of people were wounded, including one Jewish journalist. More than twenty people were arrested, all of them being beaten up upon detention; most of the wounded avoided going to hospital for fear of being arrested as well. Eighteen policeman were wounded too....

At three in the morning, when the police forces withdrew it was clear that the masses had won this battle... 'They came as if they wanted to occupy the village' -- a friend told me -- 'but this time they didn't succeed...'
Postscript: On March 6, a general strike was again proclaimed among the Arabs in Israel, 'a Second Land Day.' A long procession marched from Shefa'amr to Um-el-Sahaly -- this time without any confrontation with the police. There was an enormous profusion of flags of all kinds -- black flags of mourning, red flags of the Communists, green flags of the Islamists, Palestinian flags -- and in the big crowd, supporters of all factions melted together as happens only in times of strong feeling. There were also Jewish participants, some who came especially all the way from Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, and some from the nearby communal units who felt that their Arab neighbors 'had really been treated badly' -- as one of them said on the radio.

Representatives of the state establishment, apparently surprised and shaken by the outbreak, seemed anxious to avoid further confrontations and took a conciliatory attitude -- especially exemplified in a visit by President Weitzman to Um-el-Sahaly, interpreted by friend and foe as giving ultimate legitimacy to the three rebuilt houses.


The officers' letter revisited

The impetus for creation of the Peace Now movement in early 1978 grew out of a letter, sent to then Prime Minister Menachem Begin and signed by several hundred IDF reservists. (It came to be known as 'The Officers Letter,' though in fact not all signatories were officers.) The letter reflected a widespread anxiety at the fate of the Middle East peace process -- started just a few months earlier with the historic visit of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem, and already threatened by a wave of settlement creation.

Precisely twenty years later, the idea arose among veterans of the struggle of collecting new signatures on the historic text -- which upon examination turned out to be all too relevant and applicable to the reality of 1998. A month of intensive lobbying by phone, letter and newspaper ads produced a total of 1554 signatories -- far beyond the organizers' initial target of getting a thousand, and including Tzvi Tzur, former Commander-in-Chief of the Israeli armed forces, and no less than sixty-nine other reserve generals and brigadiers.

Following is the text of the 1998 Officers' Letter, published as a full-page ad in Yediot Aharonot on March 8, and financed solely from the signatories' own contributions. Two amendments introduced to the original text are marked.

To the Prime Minister


This letter is sent to you by citizens who serve as reserve soldiers and officers in the Israeli Defence Forces.

It is not lightly that we took the decision to write you the following words. Once again [org: 'For the first time'], new horizons are opening for the state of Israel, possibilities for life of peace and coexistence in our region.

At such a time, we regard it as our duty to call upon you to avoid taking steps which future generations of our people would rue.

We write to you out of a feeling of deep anxiety.

A government preferring to maintain the 'Greater Israel' borders rather than pursuing the possibility of a peaceful Israel living in good neighborliness would cause us to feel severe doubts.

A government preferring the existence of settlements beyond the Green Line to the ending of the historical conflict and the creation of normal relations in our region would cause us to doubt the justice of our way. A governmental policy leading to continued rule over two and a half

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million Palestinians [org. 'a million Arabs'] could damage the Jewish-Democratic character of the state and make it difficult for us to identify with the way of the state of Israel.

We are aware of Israel's security needs and of the difficulties on the way to peace, but we know that only peace can give true security.

The strength of the IDF comes from the soldiers' identification with the way of the state of Israel.

We call upon you to choose for the path of peace and strengthen our identification with the justice of our way.


Mothers and Ministers

Adam Keller

So, now Netanyahu wants to withdraw from Lebanon. It is now the official government policy. It is the Prime Minister's fondest dream and wish -- if you believe what Netanyahu says, which is a big if.

What, then, should peace activists think about it -- those who for years stood in forlorn small vigils at street corners and held up the signs 'Get out of Lebanon!' and 'Insecurity Zone'?.

Should we cheer and line up behind our wonderful peacemaking Prime Minister? Or dismiss the whole thing as a rather transparent attempt to distract attention from the open wound of the West Bank, a cheap way of being dovish with a territory over which even the most rabid nationalist would not make a Biblical claim? Or should we, rather, regard the change in Netanyahu's stance as an example that pressure from below is beginning to be felt at the top -- but only beginning?

In fact, it had all happened before. During the years of the invasion deep into Lebanon we had Parents Against Silence, a movement of soldiers' parents (mostly soldiers' mothers). Soldiers' parents who as such had an enormous moral authority and knew how to use it effectively, whose demonstrations had a political impact no government could ignore -- and who disbanded themselves in complete satisfaction on June 1985, when the newspaper headlines read 'Lebanon Withdrawal Completed Today.'

It took years for the wider Israeli society -- even for most of the peace movement -- to realize how we have been cheated. Instead of a complete withdrawal from Lebanon -- which some ministers and some generals did advocate -- The 'National Unity' cabinet decided to keep the Lebanese adventure going on a modest scale. Just a 'Security Zone,' a strip of Lebanese territory immediately north of the border. And we would not need to keep too many of our own soldiers there. We would have our own pet Lebanese militia, 'The South Lebanon Army,' with just a few Israeli military advisers; after all, all of Lebanon was just a patchwork of militia enclaves, so why not have our own -- just a small security zone to protect the communities of the north?

And so we have nearly forgotten Lebanon. After 1987, we had the Intifada to demand our full attention and more, and we talked of 'The Lebanon War' as being an event of the past. Israeli casualties in Lebanon were few, and about SLA casualties Israelis did not care. Even when some obscure group tried to raise the subject of Lebanon, very few listened.

And while Israel was looking elsewhere, the Syrians were very busy in Lebanon: patching up an agreement between the factions, disarming the militias, getting an effective central government set up which embarked on reconstruction and economic recovery... and most Lebanese accepted Syrian domination as the lesser evil, compared with civil war and carnage. The same could not be said of Israeli rule in South Lebanon -- which was now the only part with an active war front.

The pro-Iranian Hizbullah -- the only militia which escaped disarming, due to its recognized role in opposing the Israeli occupation -- embarked seriously on a guerrilla campaign. It was, in fact, 'a war by proxy' between Israel and Syria -- but with a clear advantage to the Syrians, who had no need to involve their own soldiers. The Hizbullah could do very well on their own, as long as Damascus did not interfere with the flow of munitions from Iran -- while the SLA could not cope without a massive presence of Israeli soldiers, which meant Israeli casualties.

Thus we again began to receive painful reminders of the unfinished Lebanese muddle. And thus the establishment started to get it through its collective thick head that the brilliant gambit had backfired, that the 'Security Zone' had become a liability, a major Syrian lever with which to pressure Israel about another forgotten issue -- the occupied Golan Heights.

That still did not bring the establishment to opt for withdrawal. Rather the contrary, in fact: the Labor government (perhaps needing a cheap proof of hawkishness to compensate for Oslo) attempted to break out of the Lebanese deadlock by main force. Not a ground invasion (the memory of 1982 was too traumatic) but massive use of the total Israeli superiority in airplanes and artillery. But the two massive bombing offensives (1993 and 1996) failed to bring the Lebanese to their knees, and drew upon the communities of northern Israel the very retaliation which Israeli presence in Lebanon was supposed to prevent. And 'Operation Grapes of Wrath' in 1996 ended in a bloody fiasco, when a single Israeli artillery shell killed more than a hundred Lebanese civilians -- and greatly contributed to Shimon Peres' electoral defeat a few months later.

The nationalist Binyamin Netanyahu, who came to power, inherited a decades-old guerrilla war in which the options of a military solution were practically exhausted.

(...) All military means have been exhausted. In the past three decades, the state of Israel tried everything in Lebanon: small-scale attacks and large-scale ones, retaliatory raids and raids in depth, the Litany Operation [1978], The Lebanon War, Operation Accountability [1993], Operation Grapes of Wrath [1996]. The terrorists were hit, the Lebanese suffered, and Israel paid a heavy price in blood.(...) (Avi Bnayahu, Defence Ministry Spokesperson, in Yediot Aharonot, 26.9.97).

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Thus, the circle had come a full turn, and the time was ripe for a new Lebanon protest movement to burst out. First, the Women in Black local groups in the Galilee started holding vigils at Rosh Hanikra Border Crossing on the international border between Israel and Lebanon, with leaflets expressing 'protest against the continuing war which claims lives on both sides, an endless, futile war which could be ended only by withdrawal to the international border.' These little trickles of protest grew to a sudden flood after a tragic event in February 1997: two helicopters, carrying seventy-three soldiers en route to a tour of duty in a south Lebanon outpost, collided in mid-air and crashed. There were no survivors.

The government talked of 'national unity in mourning' and tried to disconnect the disaster from the army's presence in Lebanon ('accidents can happen everywhere'). But they could not hide that the soldiers had been transported by air because guerrilla activities had made ground convoys in Lebanon too dangerous; that the helicopters had to travel at night with their lights extinguished due to the danger of Hizbullah anti-aircraft missiles; and that this flying in the dark was the direct cause of the fatal collision.

It was the Helicopter Disaster which pushed four women -- all of them mothers of soldiers serving in Lebanon, and all living at communities along the north border for whose sake the army was supposedly fighting in Lebanon -- to write to Knesset Members and urge them to get the army out of Lebanon. Without intending it, the four -- none of whom had been politically active previously -- found themselves at the head of a new grassroots movement, which took up where Parents Against Silence left off eleven years previously.

Their first newspaper interview, in a kibbutz movement weekly, was entitled Four Mothers -- a name reminiscent of the Four Matriarchs of Jewish tradition. That soon became the new movement's official name -- a name made familiar in newspaper headlines and extensive TV prime time coverage, and retained also when the new movement became a general organization aimed at all female and male supporters of quitting Lebanon (see TOI-79/80, p.18). Tens of thousands signed their petitions, and among the participants in their demonstrations appeared many of the bereaved parents left by two decades of fighting in Lebanon -- people who had never before been in a peace demonstration.
Politicians throughout the spectrum soon came to treat the new movement as a substantial political force -- and to regard withdrawal from Lebanon as a powerful new popular cause. In particular, Labor's Yossi Beilin soon made himself identified with that cause, setting up a parallel movement known as Leaving Lebanon in Peace which published detailed military and diplomatic blueprints for the withdrawal, arranged a public 'withdrawal simulation game' and engaged in 'alternative diplomacy' of numerous meetings with high ranking foreign diplomats (reportedly including Lebanese ones). For their part, the Mothers agreed to cooperate with Beilin -- yet took care not to be taken over by him.

The Mothers certainly also had to cope with opposition -- ranging from crude insults hurled at them as they stood in roadside vigils, to long newspaper articles full of inflammatory arguments ('Woe betide the day when the army lets the feelings of mothers dictate operational decisions!' -- Defence Ministry official reaction, Yediot Aharonot, 26/9/97). The army arranged extensive press interviews with soldiers in Lebanon who all declared themselves utterly convinced of the need 'to get on with our job, fight the terrorists and protect the communities of the north.' A short-lived counter-movement was formed by a group of fathers who supported continued military presence in Lebanon and claimed to represent the voice of 'rational fathers who oppose the emotional mothers' (in fact, many soldiers' fathers joined the Four Mothers movement).

Four Mothers succeeded in gaining support even in such places as Kiryat Shmona -- a traditionally Likud-supporting town on the Lebanese border, which had long been a nationalist symbol for having endured innumerable rocket attacks from Lebanon. Initial hostile reactions in the streets of the town were gradually replaced by support, and at the end of 1997 the newly-installed mayor of Kiryat Shmona declared himself in favor of withdrawal from Lebanon -- in marked contrast to his predecessor (Ha'aretz, 14.12.97).

In general, public opinion shifted more and more strongly towards withdrawal from Lebanon -- particularly after two more fatal incidents: the wiping out in a Hizbullah ambush of an entire squad of the elite Naval Commandos, and the death of four soldiers in a fire started by the Israeli artillery's own incendiary shells (see TOI-81, p.7).

Almost overnight, withdrawal from Lebanon had turned into a declared desirable goal shared by practically the entire Israeli political spectrum -- at least verbally. But this apparent unanimity masked a deep division, between the advocates of 'a negotiated withdrawal' and those of a 'unilateral' one.


For a negotiated withdrawal, giving an assurance that the evacuated territory would not become a base for attacks on northern Israel, some kind of agreement with the Lebanese government is necessary. An agreement is also necessary in order to provide some kind of guarantee to the SLA soldiers after an Israeli withdrawal -- failing which, Israel may find itself compelled to give refuge to them and their families, about 20,000 people in all. But given the Syrian domination of Lebanon, an agreement with Beirut would never be signed without at least the tacit consent of Damascus -- and such consent would not be forthcoming without an Israeli move with regard to the Golan Heights.

In the negotiations between Israel and Syria carried out at Washington between 1992 and 1996, the Labor government apparently gave an unofficial undertaking to withdraw from the Golan Heights in return for peace -- though substantial differences over the exact demarcation of the border and the details of future peaceful relations between the two states prevented an agreement up to the 1996 elections. The talks have

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been deadlocked ever since the change of government in Israel, over Netanyahu's refusal to resume negotiations on the same basis.

Failing an agreement with the Syrians and Lebanese, an alternative possibility is a unilateral withdrawal, carried out without any agreement, and coupled (by many of the proposers) with dire threats of retaliation for any post-withdrawal attack from Lebanon.

The debate cut across the normal divisions of Israeli politics, creating odd bedfellows. Supporters of unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon included hawks seeking to entrench Israeli rule over the annexed Golan -- but also genuine peace seekers apprehensive that a linkage between Lebanon and Golan can only end in perpetuating the Lebanese carnage for many more years. Conversely, among those holding out for a negotiated withdrawal could be found those wanting peace with both Syria and Lebanon -- and those just seeking an excuse to maintain the status quo on both fronts.

In the media, The Four Mothers movement was from its inception identified with the unilateral withdrawal option -- yet they carefully avoided saying so explicitly, and instead made clear that they just expect to see from the government a concrete result -- an actual withdrawal, by whatever way, rather than talk about withdrawal.


By the last months of 1997, the pious wish for withdrawal from Lebanon had already become a cliche of Israeli politics, repeated ad nauseam by everybody -- without the slightest difference felt at the Lebanese guerrilla front itself. A long-delayed meeting between the Mothers and Defence Minister Mordechai ended in confrontation -- with the minister agreeing that no military options were left for Israel and that only a political solution was possible, but giving only the most vague hints as to when such a solution may be achieved.

In the end of November, a leak from a senior officers' meeting caught the headlines: General Amiram Levin, commanding Israeli forces in Lebanon, reportedly expressed himself in favor of unilateral withdrawal. On the following day, the army flatly denied the report. However, a month later Levin's wife Rachel officially joined the protest movement. (The article in Yediot Aharonot of Jan. 8 was entitled Four Mothers and a General's Wife.)

On the same day, a TV crew accompanied the Defence Minister on his routine meeting with soldiers at the Bint Jbeil Base in South Lebanon. As was his habit at such meetings, the minister asked: 'Does any of you support unilateral withdrawal?' A junior lieutenant -- the 20-year old Sagi Dagan of Kibbutz Sha'ar Ha'amakim -- got up and answered: 'I do, sir. It is my considered opinion as a combat officer that we can defend the northern communities from inside the boundaries of Israel.'

It was at the time of this embarrassment that the minister authorised intensified operation of the army's specially-trained 'anti-guerrilla unit,' which was supposed to 'meet the guerrillas on their own terrain.' This last-ditch military effort did succeed in reducing the number of Hizbullah ambushes of Israeli convoys -- but it could not prevent all casualties, and the Israeli public was no longer willing to tolerate any more killing of soldiers in Lebanon.

The anniversary of the Helicopter Disaster, February 4, was the occasion of a strong demonstration by the Four Mothers at the Defence Ministry gates, with huge banners reading Remember the Dead -- Save the Living! The same demonstrators returned to the same place three weeks later, with the news of three more killed in Lebanon...


And thus we have come to that cabinet meeting, adopting an official resolution purporting to mandate withdrawal from Lebanon as a government policy. (The press photographers, waiting for the ministers to come out, took photos of Kazamel Sharaban from the Druze village of Beit Jann, who carried the picture of her son killed in the helicopter disaster, and a sign reading: Netanyahu, take us out of the Lebanese swamp!)

The ministers chose for a variant of the 'negotiated withdrawal' option. (Sharon's proposal -- a rather shady version of the 'unilateral' option which many suspected of just providing an excuse to reenter Lebanon soon after leaving -- was for the time being rejected.) The main new element is an official Israeli acceptance of UN Resolution 425, a resolution which as long ago as 1978 called for Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and whose implementation Lebanon had demanded -- and Israel had refused -- over the past twenty years.

But as with previous UN resolutions such as the well-known 242 and 338, the acceptance of 425 by the Government of Israel carries a sting. As adopted by the Security Council on March 19, 1978 -- in the wake of Israel's first big military incursion into Lebanon -- the text of the resolution calls upon Israel to 'withdraw forthwith its forces from all Lebanese territory.' This seems straightforward enough, even after the passage of twenty years. Grounds for a different interpretation were found, however, in the further section where the resolution mandates a United Nations Interim Force to enter the evacuated territory, with one of its aims being 'to restore international peace and security.' This, under Netanyhau's new-found interpretation, means that Lebanon should negotiate with Israel the terms for implementation of the resolution, and that the Israeli army will stay in place pending a successful conclusion of such talks.

The interpretation was promptly rejected by the Lebanese -- according to whom, the plain text of 425 requires unconditional Israeli withdrawal, after which Lebanon will settle its own affairs with the UN force stationed on its territory at its own request.

Had that been the real problem, a face-saving formula could have been worked out -- for example, having the negotiations take place, officially, between Lebanon and the UN. (Secretary-General Kofi Annan, fresh from his success in Iraq, seemed ready enough to have an active role in Lebanon; at the Ben Gurion Airport, he was greeted by enthusiastic Four Mothers demonstrators, with the sign Make a miracle

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for us, too!) However, the real problem which official acceptance of 425 does not address is continued Israeli refusal to withdraw from the Golan, and continued Syrian refusal to give up the linkage between Lebanon and the Golan. Thus, while the move gives Netanyahu some propaganda points at home and internationally, it does not seem to herald a near end to the agony of south Lebanon -- at best, it may turn out to be the beginning of a long and tortuous process, in the course of which much violence and bloodshed could still occur.

The Four Mothers are not deceived. Following the new Cabinet resolution, their representatives met with Deputy Defence Minister Silvan Shalom, afterwards telling the press that -- while satisfied with the government's declared commitment to withdrawal from Lebanon -- they still expected deeds and not just words.

In earnest of their determination to struggle on until the soldiers actually come back from Lebanon, a mass rally in Tel-Aviv is already scheduled for June 6, anniversary of the Lebanon War.
Contact: Four Mothers, POB 23630, Tel-Aviv 61231


First step towards freedom

For more than eleven years, nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu had been incarcerated in total isolation. Israeli and international activists struggling to end this cruel treatment often felt themselves up against the impenetrable stone wall of the political and security establishment. Yet as it turns out, the wall was after all not completely impenetrable...

The decisive breakthrough came when Labor Knesset Member Yossi Katz took up Vanunu's case. But the adhesion of Katz -- a politician from a mainstream party who fully expects to get his party's nomination in the next elections, too -- is itself an indication of how far Vanunu's case had progressed.

Katz undertook to mediate between Vanunu and the shadowy man known only as 'R', Commissioner of Security Department at the Defence Ministry -- the man who, it seems, was for eleven years the source of the most intransigent opposition to ameliorating Vanunu's conditions of imprisonment. In talking with Katz, 'R' at long last agreed to drop what had been the main stumbling block: the demand that, if allowed to consort with others, Vanunu undertake to keep silent about anything connected with the Dimona Nuclear Pile and about the circumstances of his kidnapping by Mossad agents in Italy. Instead, the specific stipulation was made that he not reveal the names of Dimona Pile employees; this Vanunu readily agreed to, saying he respected the privacy of his former colleagues.

Nevertheless, there was more than a month of uncertainty between the announcement of Vanunu's impending release from isolation and its actual implementation. During this period there arrived in Israel Mary and Nicholas Eoloff of St.Paul, Minnesota -- Catholic American anti-nuclear activists who had long corresponded with the imprisoned Vanunu and decided to adopt him, as is possible under Minnesota law. The Israeli authorities did not officially recognize the two as the prisoner's adoptive parents -- but to their surprise, they were permitted to visit him, the first visitors he got in eleven years, other than his brothers, his lawyer and often hostile government officials. Meeting Vanunu face to face, after so many years, was for them an intensely moving experience, as they later told in an extensive interview to the Yerushalayim weekly: 'He looks physically well, but much older than 43. His hair is white and he looks tired, but his commitment to his mission is firm. When he is released we want to take him to the Center for Torture Victims in Minneapolis. Over there they could help him recover' (20.1).

The visit, again bringing home to the authorities the width of international support for Vanunu, may have have given the last push for actually ending his isolation (especially in a period where the government needs to score some international points!).

'It was very exciting. Finally I saw that there were other people in the prison. I spoke with them and I had a certain sense of freedom' -- so was Vanunu quoted on Yediot Aharonot on March 15. A prison guard who was with him during his first steps in the general prison courtyard added: 'He looked like a child on the street for the first time: excited and curious as he approached the people.' A few days later the brother Asher Vanunu told the same paper: 'For the first time in twelve years I could meet him without bars between us, to embrace him and give him the human touch. He has now been walking around the jail for several days, speaking with other prisoners, and the sky didn't fall. Nothing happened to the security of the state' (Yediot, 18/3).

Vanunu is, however, still a prisoner with six full years of his term still to run, albeit in less inhuman conditions; reports filtering out of Ashkelon Prison show that his initial elation did not last long. The hurdle to be crossed now is getting him altogether free.

President Weitzman has announced that, to mark Israel's fiftieth year, more clemency will be shown to prisoners than in other years; but the president had also vehemently rejected the idea of pardoning 'the traitor Vanunu' (see TOI-74/75, p.20). An alternate route open to Vanunu, having completed on April 24 twelve out of the eighteen years of his term, is to ask for remittance of the last third for good behaviour. In that case, the decision will officially rest with a Prison Authority commission -- and as things now stand, his chances there seem to be a bit better.

A major campaign is presently building up for Vanunu's release. An Israeli petition with hundreds of signatures appeared in Ha'aretz; Dr. Gadi Elgazi of Tel-Aviv University, who collected signatures among his colleagues, told TOI: 'People were eager to sign in support of Vanunu. Times have changed. After the Gulf Crisis, the panic about non-conventional weapons in Iraq, the hints in the press that Netanyhau was going to use The Bomb if war breaks out -- it all made the issue real in a way it had not been before.'

Meanwhile the Australian Senate has passed a resolution, proposed by Senator Margaret Reynolds, and urging the government of Israel to consider

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Vanunu's early release on humanitarian grounds. And two senior members of the British Parliament are due to arrive in Israel and present to President Weitzman an international petition including among its signatories Bishop Desmond Tutu, Hiroshima Mayor Takashi Hiraoka, Playwright Harold Pinter and numerous other VIP's from all over the world -- artists, scientists, Nobel Prize laureates, and parliamentarians.

As this goes into print, members of the Israeli Vanunu Committee prepare to celebrate outside the walls of Ashkelon Prison the Passover Holiday -- the holiday marking the release of the ancient Hebrews from slavery, and the release of all unjustly held prisoners.
Contact: Israeli Vanunu Committee, POB 956, Tel-Aviv 61008, ph. 972-3-6882587; Israeli Nuclear Whistleblowers, c/o Blueweiss, Zofit 44925, ph. 972-9-7486728; UK Vanunu Campaign, 89 Borough High St., London SE1 1Nl, ph.44-171-3789324; US Vanunu Campaign, 2206 Fox Av., Madison, WI 53711, ph. 1-608-2574764 (contact addresses available for many other countries).

Do-it-yourself inspection

Charles Lenchner

In the recent Gulf Crisis, the United States was prepared to bomb Iraq in order to enforce the right of UN verification teams to inspect sites suspected of harboring weapons of mass destruction; and during the same crisis, the government of Israel reportedly considered -- more concretely than ever before -- the option of using Israel's nuclear arsenal, should war break out. Shortly after the crisis ended and the inspection teams resumed their work in Iraq, a group of Israeli peace, anti-nuclear, and environmental activists formed themselves into the Israeli Citizens' Verification Team.

The group informed police in advance about its intended inspection. In widely-distributed press releases the ICVT declared that development, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons is not only a violation of international law but also a direct threat to human life and the environment -- which made it incumbent upon team members to investigate reports of such activity in Israel. Therefore, the group intended to inspect the site where, according to several publications in the foreign press the Israeli air force keeps nuclear armed missiles -- in the Ela Valley west of Jerusalem.

On the afternoon of April 4, we set out from Jerusalem -- a number of private cars filled with members of the Vanunu Committee, Nuclear Whistleblowers, Young Communist League as well as some unattached individuals. Some distance from the base, three police cars were parked, conspicuous in the sleepy weekend afternoon of the countryside -- but made no move to block our way.

We arrived unimpeded at the locked gate of the base -- a spot left blank on even the most detailed maps published in Israel, in between the small communities of Revadim, Kfar Menachem, and Zachariya. The main entrance is located at the end of a short access road -- which also leads to a nature preserve where tourists may stop for a picnic. Unlike the normal practice in Israeli military bases, the gate has no welcoming sign with the name of the base -- but to judge from a casual conversation with our taxi driver, the name 'Egozi Air Force Base' is quite well known to local people.

One member of the team had brought a Geiger counter to check radiation levels in the vicinity. While the readings varied (17.00 -- 70.00), it was obvious that they were more than 100 times the levels recorded in Jerusalem (.17). I and Smadar, who held the Geiger counter, approached the gate to speak to the guard. We showed the soldier, who told us he was a reservist, the radiation levels we were reading. He was surprised and interested. We asked to see the commanding officer and present our request for the team to go inside and investigate the rumors of nuclear at this location.

When the guard asked what we would do if allowed inside I told him we would take notes for the UN and other international bodies, just as the inspection teams were doing in Iraq. I also explained why we felt it necessary for Israel to give up nuclear weapons and avert the risk of a nuclear war devastating the entire region. The other members of the team lined up opposite the gate, effectively blocking it to traffic -- not that there was much at this time. They held up signs and banners calling for nuclear disarmament, for public debate on Israel's nuclear policy, and for the release of Mordechai Vanunu.

The duty officer arrived and asked what we wanted. I told him that nuclear weapons kill indiscriminately, destroying all life within a particular radius while permanently damaging the environment -- and that, should the weapons whose existence in the base we suspected ever be used, he personally may be charged with war crimes. I reminded him that 'just following orders' was not considered a legitimate defense in international humanitarian law. Finally, I remarked that even if the weapons are never used on purpose, an accident in this base may pose a grave risk to the area, to the soldiers serving there as well as to the inhabitants of the local communities who were never consulted or informed by the government. His main reaction was 'You have no idea what is going on here, and it is none of your business!'

He refused to accept our letter, entitled 'A warning to those who hold nuclear death in their hands,' and informed us that the police had been called. They were not in a hurry, however. Though we had seen them waiting just behind the corner, it took them an hour to arrive on the scene -- and even then, only one of the police vehicles. And the two police officers in it clearly did not have have instructions to arrest any of us. Local men, they were quite interested and a bit concerned when we pointed to them our findings with the Geiger counter.

The base duty officer was clearly frustrated at the police's lack of aggressiveness. He accused one of us -- an American tourist who had joined at the last minute -- of photographing the base. The police were on the point of 'doing their duty' and detaining him -- but our friendly taxi driver, who had been watching from the side suddenly intervened, expostulating with the

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police and convincing them that it would be enough to write down the tourist's personal details. (In fact, the duty officer made a mistaken identification -- the photos had been taken by another member of our group.)

The authorities' main move against us was made far from the actual spot: as we heard from friendly journalists, the military censorship sent in advance a clear warning to the Israeli printed and electronic media, not to publish anything about our action. Of course, the censorship cannot prevent the Israeli papers from quoting the foreign press, when it reports about our actions and our findings -- but in the short term, no news of our action reached the Israeli public.

The next move indicated is to alert the inhabitants of the nearby communities to the abnormal radiation levels, and try to get some of them to come with us on our next inspection visit to the site.


+++ On Feb. 23 a hundred people attended the monthly Gush Shalom meeting at the Tzavta Club in Tel-Aviv and got a rare glimpse behind the scenes of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Guest speakers were the senior Palestinian negotiator Sa'eb Arekat, and retired Israeli general Oren Shahor -- who had been Arekat's negotiating partner under the Labor government, as well as in the early part of Netanyhau's reign.

The audience was surprised at the warmth of Arekat and Shahor's greeting. Arekat explained: 'Shahor is a hard bargainer. He and I had sometimes very big confrontations across the negotiations table, whole tense nights -- but when we finally made a deal it was a deal. I would back it to Arafat, and he -- to Rabin, and we would both convince our bosses that this was the best we could get on the particular issue. With Netanyahu this is impossible. We can't rely on him to keep anything agreed upon. When it is just us and the Israelis, he would renege on what was agreed, and the Congress in Washington would always take his word against ours. So now we must insist that in every negotiation and every discussion there will be American representatives taking notes. Under Netanyahu, the bilateral negotiations are dead.'

Gush Shalom, ph 3322 Tel-Aviv, fax: 972-3-5271108

+++ On February 4, in the midst of the Iraq panic, the Peace Now Settlement Watch discovered that the Jerusalem Municipality secretly granted the settler group established at the Arab neighborhood Ras-el-Amud in East Jerusalem a permit to build a whole apartment block -- completely counter to the compromise reached in September 1997 (see TOI-81, p.8) under which the number of settlers at Ras-el-Amud is restricted to ten bachelors at a single fortified house. Peace Now got several dozen demonstrators to the spot within hours of the discovery which made headline news. There was, however, no confrontation and the furor died out when it became clear that for the time being the government would not let the settlers implement their new permit. On the following day, Peace Now got unexpected tribute from the settler group's spokesperson Matti Dan: 'Were it not for Peace Now and their demonstrations, we would now be in the midst of construction.'
Peace Now, POB 29828, Tel-Aviv;

+++ On Friday, March 6, Jerusalem's France Square was filled with women dressed in black and holding up signs reading The Occupation still goes on -- enough! It was the tenth anniversary of Women in Black. In those ten years, the Women have gone through many vicissitudes: phenomenal fast growth during the Intifada, and becoming a recognized feature of the Israeli scene; inspiring similar women's groups in other countries -- especially in the broken pieces of the former Yugoslavia; a sharp decline after Oslo, when many felt it was no longer needed; gradual renewal and rebuilding of what turned out to be a still very needed framework... At present, women's peace vigils are once again taking place every Friday at nearly fifty road junctions around the country. Now, however, only a minority of them are in the name and with the original format of Women in Black -- others being held under a variety of names and partially overlapping groupings: Mothers and Women for Peace, Bat Shalom (the best set up logistically, with an office and paid workers), Women in White, Religious Women for the Sanctity of Life, and in some places a cooperating male organization Fathers against Son-Sacrifice (actually, in many of the vigils men and women both participate). According to Ya'alah Cohen of Bat Shalom, two distinct 'generations' of activists can be distinguished -- those influenced by the Intifada, who focus on the occupation and the injustice to the Palestinians, and those politicized during the Netanyahu Government's term -- who are concerned with the distortion of Israeli society and the unnecessary sacrifice of soldiers.
Contact: Bat Shalom POB 8083, J'lem 91080

+++ Back on Jan. 7, Defence Minister Mordechai -- striving to maintain his reputation as a the leading Dove of the Netanyahu Cabinet -- made a rather rash public pledge. When asked on Second Channel TV: 'If redeployment [on the West Bank] does not take place in three months, would you resign?', the minister answered simply 'Yes'. Starting on March 4, Peace Now acted to remind Mordechai of his pledge; a tent was erected outside the Defence Ministry gates, bearing the banner: Redeployment or Resignation. Another sign, changed daily, gave the number of days left until Mordechai's April 7 deadline. In the tents a constant day and night presence was maintained; on Tuesday every week, dozens of mostly-youthful demonstrators gathered, advancing towards the ministry gates and chanting: Mordechai, make your choice: redeployment or resignation!. The weekly demonstrations also referred to other issues -- for example, the settler rampage at Hebron in the end of March.

To nobody's surprise, on April 7 Mordechai did not resign, though negotiations on the redeployment seemed bogged down. At the concluding rally of the month-long action, Meretz KM Yossi Sarid addressed the minister via megaphone: 'Mr. Defence Minister, we are generous. We are not insisting that you keep your

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pledge exactly on time. You can take another week or two, even another three months. Eventually you will see that this government, under this Prime Minister, cannot and does not want to make peace.'

+++ Ra'ash is the Hebrew acronym of 'Want Peace? Make Peace!', but it also means 'Noise.' The student group using this name started as a conspicuous minority group at the mostly religious-nationalist Bar Ilan University, which organised a 'Drumming for Peace' event on Campus. Another original idea was the April 8 vigil outside the Knesset, where Ra'ash members wore doctors' clothing and held up a giant paper dove bound with bandages and a sign reading We must resuscitate the dove (Ma'ariv, 9.4).

+++ The government's decision to start Israel's 50th anniversary celebrations in the settler enclave at Hebron angered many people and robbed the anniversary ceremonies of any remaining claim to be 'a unifying national event.' On the morning of April 12, in preparation for the settler festivities, large military forces entered the Hebron enclave to intimidate the Palestinian population; government-chartered buses, transporting settlers and their supporters, started converging on the city. But police on the Jerusalem-Hebron Highway noticed a different kind of convoy: eleven buses, each bearing an enormous banner: Stop the infamy! Settlers out of Hebron -- Now! and the well-known Black-and-Red logo of Peace Now; behind the buses came dozens of private cars covered with a profusion of similar slogans.

At a junction halfway to Hebron, the peace convoy was blocked; the police explained that the road to Hebron was now 'a closed military zone,' and invited Peace Now to hold their demonstration at a nearby parking lot. They may have accepted the generous offer -- except that the settler buses continued moving towards Hebron, completely uninterrupted. As it was, dozens of youths -- shouting 'We don't pass -- they don't pass!' run down into the road and blocked it, holding aloft their signs. The stalled settlers reacted furiously, shouting 'leftist traitors!' from their windows and being answered with 'fascist pigs!' -- but the main confrontation was with the police. Riot police and Border Guards, wielding their batons, picked up the struggling peace demonstrators one by one and carried them off; but new demonstrators took their place, lying down on asphalt with linked arms, and some of the youths managed to open the doors of the police cars and free those who had been detained. With every new assault, the police became more violent; Meretz Knesset Member Dedi Zucker was dragged dozens of metres, despite his parliamentary immunity.

The road remained blocked for two hours, thirty-two demonstrators were detained, four demonstrators and two police were wounded -- all of them scores unprecedented in Israeli peace demonstrations. And even while the mayhem was going on, the Peace Now organizers negotiated with the police, which first offered to let 200 of the demonstrators go to Hebron and finally gave in and let all of them pass; at Hebron, however, they were directed to a forsaken corner outside the settler perimeter wall, holding their rally far from the settler festivities. Later, several dozen activists picketed the Etzion Police Station, where the detainees were held. By the evening, they were all released except for Efri Shirman -- friend of the TOI-staff whom we supported during his refusal to serve in the army and who was improbably accused of... having beaten a policeman with a stick. But after an unpleasant night in detention, he too was set free with the help of the Peace Now lawyer.

+++ Meanwhile, the newly-founded Peace Movements Coordination Committee lodged a Supreme Court appeal -- stating that since the governmental '50 Years Committee' found it fitting to finance the settlers' political event out of the public purse, it must for the sake of equality finance also the peace movements' Peace and Independence Festival, scheduled for Independence Day on April 30. Other initiatives of the Coordinating Committee include a Motorcycle Peace Cavalcade from the Rabin Square in Tel-Aviv to the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem; a Peace Caravan of Negev inhabitants from Be'er Sheba to David Ben Gurion's grave at Sdeh Boker, emphasizing the dovish positions which Israel's Founding Father took in his last years; and coordinating 'peace stalls' -- at five central locations throughout the country.

Peace Mov. Coord. C-tee, POB 3509, Mevaseret Tzion

+++ The issue of Administrative Detentions, in which the prisoner is not informed of the charges and evidence against him, and which can be renewed every half a year indefinitely, is gaining more and more critical attention -- in particular since September 1997, when the Open Doors association was founded, mostly by Tel-Aviv academics, to deal with that particular subject. There were numerous vigils at the Defence Ministry and outside prison gates, a well-attended exhibition in Tel-Aviv which opened on the International Human Rights Day, and a petition signed by twelve of Israel's most respected jurists (Ha'aretz, 5\2). Open Doors decided to 'adopt' eleven detainees -- those who had been held for more than three years, with each activist corresponding with one the prisoners, taking up his case with the authorities and meeting with his family members. Special attention was given to Ahmed Qatamesh -- with five years behind bars, the longest-serving detainee; Open Doors started publishing daily small ads in Ha'aretz, giving the exact updated number of years, months and days he had been imprisoned without charge. Also, since Qatamesh's prison writings turned out to have a considerable literary merit, a full page in Ha'aretz Literary Supplement was devoted to them (30.1).

Surveying the past half year, a definite softening of the official attitude to administrative detentions is noticeable: of Open Doors' original eleven 'adoptees', only five remain behind bars; and the general number, more than three hundred half a year ago, has gone below two hundred.

Open Doors, c/o Dr. Anat Biletzky, Tel-Aviv University

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It is Netanyahu who violates Oslo

In February, Gush Shalom published a research paper showing in detail -- citing article after article of the various Oslo Agreements, as compared with the actual situation -- that it was Prime Minister Netanyahu who was responsible for grave and fundamental breaches of Oslo, a blame his propaganda tried to place on the Palestinians.
The document -- originally published as a giant ad in Ha'aretz - was extensively quoted in and outside the country, and even got the doubtful honor of an official 'refutation' issued by the Prime Minister's bureau and published in the right-wing paper Makor Rishon.
Available from: Gush Shalom POB 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033
(Could you include a check?)

+++ For quite a long time, the Supreme Court found ways to avoid dealing with the Shabak interrogation methods. Now, at last, the court -- having the recalcitrant problem thrust on it again and again by the diligent lawyers of PCATI (Committee Against Torture) -- had to pass it to a special nine-judge bench. The court will have to decide for example whether covering a prisoner's head for days on end is a form of torture or just 'a legitimate method of preventing him from seeing other prisoners,' and whether forcing him meanwhile to hear blaring music is torture, or 'preventing him from hearing other prisoners.' Not an easy choice for the judges: legitimizing what all the world calls torture, or becoming scapegoats for the next terrorist attack because of 'having tied the hands of the interrogators.'
PCATI, POB 8588, J'lem 91083, fax: 972-2-5630073

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A terrible secret

Uri Avnery

Two boys opened fire, killing four girls and a teacher. It was a carefully planned crime whose victims were selected ahead of time. The grandfather of the main perpetrator keeps nine fire arms in his home. He had taught his grandson to target-shoot in his own backyard.

But even after this heinous crime, the American public has failed to stand up and demand a prohibition on firearms. An antiquated paragraph in the Constitution, from the days of the early pioneers, states that every American has the right to bear arms. Aside from the Jewish lobby, the gun lobby is the most powerful interest group in the United States. Like the Jewish lobby it buys members of Congress and terrorizes the President.

On what kind of spiritual nourishment has this young criminal been raised? It is impossible to channel-surf on American TV (or Israeli TV, for that matter) without seeing people blow each other's heads off, on all channels, at all hours. What is amazing is that such a crime -- a boy opening fire -- happens in America only once every several months, rather than every day.

The power of violence on American TV is a sick phenomenon. A society that nurtures such phenomena while its crime rate rockets is seriously ill.

Many books and articles have been written about the roots of this derangement, penned by scholars and scientists. Who am I to compare with them? And yet, I have a theory.

Not long ago I was present when the writer Savion Liebrecht recounted her childhood, in a home of holocaust survivors. The parents never spoke of their time in the concentration camp. The child knew that the family kept a terrible secret which could not be discussed. The mysterious secret terrified the girl and filled her childhood with fear.

The entire United States resembles such a household. It is keeping a terrible secret: it has been founded on genocide. Millions of Native Americans were exterminated in order to make room for a democratic society which serves as an example to the entire world. Some of the natives were wiped out by the cavalry in carefully orchestrated murderous operation, some were abandoned to starvation and illness, and the rest died from repeated forced death-marches.

This is a subject hardly ever spoken of in America. Everything is repressed into the national subconscious. there is a semi-awareness. And to justify the annihilation, the myth of "the Wild West" was born. In it, the wild and evil Indians always slaughter the innocent whites. This central myth of the American culture is founded entirely on violence. Books and movies idolize the violent man, the fastest draw, the one who solves all problems with his six-shooter Colt.

Those unconscious and unresolved feelings of guilt are the source of the society's derangement, the very society which has contributed so many positive values to the rest of the world. There is only one means of healing: Let the terrible secret be dredged up from the depths of the nation's collective memory and exposed to the light of day. One cannot right past wrongs, but one can acknowledge and confront them.

The truth has to be sounded: "The American Way" was born out of a process where the beautiful and the ugly were intertwined, where there was much light but also much darkness, with acts of supreme bravery of pioneers along with heinous crimes against the "natives." In short, the myths must be smashed and the truth must be exposed.

The Zionist experience has a lot in common with the American experience, hence the deep affinity of the American public for Israel.

We have not exterminated a people, nor have we engaged in mass-slaughter; nevertheless our magnificent creation is, in large measure, founded on the tragedy -- at our hands -- of another people, half of whom have become wretched refugees and the other half of whom live under conditions of occupation, suppression and deprivation. Our national myth paints the Palestinians as blood-thirsty savages, gangs of murderers, incorrigible terrorists who threatened the pure pioneers. As in America, ours is the absolute truth, the truth of the pure and the beautiful, which stands firm against the absolute evil of the "natives", whose sole aim was to push us into the sea. We had no choice but to expel them, to confiscate their lands and to oppress them.

The brutalization of Israeli society, the insane fanaticism, the monstrous perversion of the Jewish religion in Israel -- all stem from the oppression of historical truth.

As in America, there is no other way to bring back the beautiful values except by confronting our past with honesty, by seeing both the light and the darkness, by destroying the myths and revealing the truth.

The TV series "T'kuma" (Resurrection) has begun this task (see next article). Not surprisingly, it has been viciously attacked. Breaking down myths and revealing the truth is always a painful process. But the terrible secret must be expunged from the house.

(Translated from Ma'ariv, 30.3)


Facts which won't go away

The governmental campaign to make the 50th anniversary of the State into something magnificent failed to make a deep impression among Israeli citizens. With the growing fury over social issues and the evaporating hope for peace, people do not seem especially in the mood for grand celebrations. And the ongoing quarrels in the Jubilee Committee -- with twice a change of chairperson -- are only adding to the feeling that 'it's just a waste of money.'

Unlike the government, Israel's TV makers seemed 
aware of this reality, understanding that under the circumstances they couldn't treat the public to a round of void propaganda.

During the months preceding the state's 50th, a weekly series 'Tekuma' (Resurrection) was started, altogether 22 broadcasts of an hour each, which include the well-known heroic pictures of Israel's history -- accompanied by the obligatory sentimental tones -- but mixes them with critical comments and interviews showing every now and then the other (the Palestinian) side. Thus are integrated into Israel's Proud Resurrection Story moments of second thought, of bad conscience, as are the sad memories of Palestinians, some of them Israeli citizens, others living under occupation or in exile. They tell what happened to them, how they had to flee, how whole villages were destroyed and about the instances of civilians being killed brutally (Deir Yasin, Qafr Qasem). Everything which was shown, had been known in some way or another. Already for some years we hear from time to time about the 'new historians' who got hold of long-classified material and confront with it certain national myths. So far it had been a dispute among intellectuals. Through 'Tekuma,' however, the general Israeli public is confronted with versions of history which it had always been taught to deny.

From the first 'Tekuma' broadcast there started a debate. But only after March 10, when the weekly Tekuma was solely devoted to the period of military rule over the 'Israeli Arabs' (1948-1966) did debate turn into storm.

Israel's Minister of Communication, the sharp-tongued Limor Livnat from the Likud, pushed for stopping the series 'because it is unjust to present as wrong what was right then.' Yehoram Gaon, the popular singer who had opened every broadcast with a fitting anecdote from his personal life, decided to quit. But there were also opposite reactions and not only from the circles of 'post-zionist intellectuals.' 'We are by now strong enough to face those facts which don't go away just by us denying them' said Likud MK Re'uven Rivlin who is in general not to be counted among the doves. Labor Party leader and former army chief Ehud Barak even went as far, during one of the many heated debates, as to state that he himself, if he would have grown up a Palestinian, would most probably have joined a terrorist organization -- which failed to bring the temperature down. But Yair Stern, the First Channel director, continued to back the program: 'A lot of troubles had to be overcome in order to produce this program, and ratings are fine' (Yediot Aharonot, 20.3).

On Sunday, April 6, practically a whole nation was watching TV, expecting to be shocked again: 'The Path of Terrorism: Biladi, biladi' ('my country, my country', in Arabic). It was a bloody history, with attack and counter-attack, shown again -- not only from the viewpoint of Israel's innocent victims, but with some understanding for the 'terrorist side.' 'The terrorists' were shown to be people fighting for their own national cause, very shocking indeed but... anticipated, and there did not follow another scandal.

Meanwhile, the press is in general dealing more than before with versions of history. Ha'aretz (3.3) tackled the absurd phenomenon of the obligatory Zionist version of history which also has to be taught in Arab schools. Later that month (29.3) appeared an extensive critic of the way history in general is taught in Israeli schools. A cautiously critical three-page article in the April 3, Jerusalem Post Friday supplement dug into 'The Ghosts of Deir Yassin.'

At the time of writing the 50th Independence Day draws near. This National Holiday was never in the past half century a popular one among Israel's Arab citizens. In Tekuma we saw a few weeks ago, how in the past fifty years Arab schoolchildren were compelled to sing and dance Zionist songs and dances on that day... Shortly after, the Coordinating Committee of Israeli Arabs decided officially that they don't intend to participate in this year's Independence Day festivities planned for April 30 and May 1 (the anniversary according to the Jewish calendar). On May 15 however, they intend to commemorate 'Naqba' ('disaster' in Arabic). 'The expression of what the defeated side, now integrated as a minority in the State of Israel, feels on this date must be possible without the state feeling threatened' they stated. It seems that, after 50 years, Israeli society is, in spite of all the still existing barriers, definitely involved in a process of change [BZ].