Death & Opportunity in Israel and Palestine

Andy Mager

The past month has seen the worst violence in Israel and Palestine since the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 (in which Ariel Sharon also played a pivotal role). Palestinian homes and villages were invaded by Israeli soldiers and tanks. Palestinian infrastructure was bombed by fighter jets and helicopter gunships. Israelis have experienced a series of deadly assaults which have deeply disrupted their lives. Perhaps the greatest tragedy here is that the details of an internationally acceptable peace agreement are already clear:

The end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land conquered in the 1967 war and the creation of an independent Palestinian state in these territories.

Recognition of Israel's right to exist within secure borders (already stated by the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Egypt).

Israeli control over Western portions of Jerusalem and the establishment of East Jerusalem as the capital of independent Palestine, with access to holy sites guaranteed to all.

Recognition of Israel's role in creating the Palestinian refugee crisis and negotiation of a compromise which allows for repatriation of some refugees and compensation for others.

At press time, Israel has withdrawn its troops from most of the Palestinian towns and refugee camps which it had invaded. However, Israel continues to insist on addressing only security arrangements, avoiding any discussion of a political settlement.

US Government Role

In recent weeks the US government has moderated its unbridled support for Israeli policies—criticizing Israel's recent military assaults and supporting a UN resolution supporting a Palestinian state. However, the US government has previously condemned Israeli actions while simultaneously providing overall support for Israel's continued occupation. Israel remains the largest recipient of US foreign assistance—a massive $3 billion annually. In response to Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's request for an additional $800 million this year, the State Department appears ready to grant Israel "only" $200 million. A much clearer message would be sent by cutting Israel's already bloated subsidy.

The pro-Israel lobby is one of the best organized and most powerful non-corporate lobbies in Washington. It effectively pressures Congress and the administration to lay all blame on Yasser Arafat. Countervailing voices are desperately needed.

Revival of Israeli Peace Activism

The Israeli peace movement has been re-energized by the escalating violence. Several demonstrations have drawn tens of thousands of Israelis demanding an end to the occupation and a just peace. One strong statement comes from The Israeli-Palestinian Families Forum for Peace, two groups of close relatives of those killed in the conflict. Their display of over 1,000 mock coffins, draped with Palestinian and Israeli flags, was unveiled in Tel Aviv and brought to the UN in New York City and Washington DC in late March.

Israeli Reservists have also openly refused to serve in an occupying army. As of March 25, 363 reservists had signed the following statement (excerpted):

We, combat officers and soldiers… were issued commands and directives that had nothing to do with the security of our country, and that had the sole purpose of perpetuating our control over the Palestinian people…

We, who sensed how the commands issued to us in the Territories, destroy all the values we had absorbed while growing up in this country.

We, who understand now that the price of Occupation is the loss of Israeli Defense Forces' human character and the corruption of the entire Israeli society…

We hereby declare that we shall not continue to fight this War of the Settlements.

We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people.

We hereby declare that we shall continue serving in the IDF in any mission that serves Israel's defense.

The missions of occupation and oppression do not serve this purpose _ and we shall take no part in them.

(http://seruv.nethost.co.il/defaulteng.asp)

The US government has provided the military and economic support, and the political cover, to allow the Israeli occupation to continue for over 40 years. It is our responsibility as US citizens to work for a just peace—a settlement which provides self-determination for Palestinians and welcomes a non-occupying Israel fully into the international community.

Andy Mager is Co-coordinator of the Peace Council and a longtime participant in Jewish efforts for Israeli-Palestinian peace.