Letter From Israel
by Ran HaCohen
Antiwar.com

February 8, 2002

Peace Now. Now?! Well, Maybe Later
How the Peace Camp 'Vanished'

The last couple of weeks have witnessed a real awakening of the Israeli peace camp. This heterogeneous camp was beaten ideologically by the purported "generous offer" made by former PM Barak, whose belligerent legacy, as we argued earlier, consisted (of hundreds of victims and) of telling the world that "there was no partner for peace".

Following that maneuver, preparing the hearts for the atrocities of the present Intifada, the Israeli nationalistic media especially the quality daily Ha'aretz continued Barak's work by publishing lengthy reports on the purportedly "confused" or even "vanishing" peace camp. The recipe was very simple: take an established mainstream Israeli nationalist with softy and/or lofty manners, portray him as a lifelong peace activist persecuted for decades for his courageous dissent, let him pour his usual anti-Palestinian rhetoric, and publish it under an attractive title like "Amos Oz Regrets" or "Yehoshua's Penitence". After such a front-page story would appear in Ha'aretz's weekly magazine, you can be sure no one would attempt to organise a peace rally for quite a while.

The Israeli peace camp did not dissolve: it was banned by a concerted public campaign, a joint venture of the government and the media. When people are told they have "vanished" or are "confused", they turn their efforts, at best, to convincing themselves and others that they exist; they have little energies for more than that.

THE RESURRECTION OF THE PEACE CAMP

The last weeks have witnessed a change. The single most important factor in it was a petition signed by some 50 reserve soldiers and officers, saying that they refuse to serve in the occupied territories. This initiative became the focus of a heated public debate. The military/political system there is no real separation between the two in Israel's "democracy" did its best to strangle the issue. The director of the public radio even issued a ban on discussing the subject on air till further notice. Counter-petitions of soldiers "proud to serve their country" were published, with direct organisational and probably also financial assistance from the army. The personal file of each of the refusers was checked in an attempt to find some rubbish to throw. Chief-of-Staff Mofaz blamed unnamed "political factors" of being behind the refusal; this turned out to be a mistake, since politicians hastened to ask the highest military commander to keep his hands out of politics.

Several commentators criticised the fact that the discussion focused on the legitimacy of refusal, stirring away from the actual atrocities that moved the refusers to take their radical step. Though this is true, it should not obscure the importance of the debate: whether the speaker opposes refusal or supports it, the very discussion signals to ever more soldiers that refusal is an option. Indeed, the number of signatories is increasing steadily.

A rather unexpected, ambiguous but still extremely influential opinion was voiced by the former head of Israel's Security Services, Ami Ayalon from the very top of Israel's military echelons. Though Ayalon clearly rejected a general refusal to serve in the territories, he said that as far as he was concerned, not too many but rather too few soldiers were refusing blatantly illegal orders, like shooting unarmed youth. "I am very worried by the number of Palestinian children shot in the past year", he added.

WHAT IS THE PEACE CAMP?

There are two Israeli peace camps. One peace camp wants peace with the Palestinians, without occupation and without settlements. The other "peace camp" I'll be using quotes to refer to it wants peace with the settlers, not with the Palestinians. The issue of refusal is the very Shibboleth dividing the two camps.

The hard-core of the "peace camp" has traditionally been Meretz, the left-liberal party whose main function is to stress the nationalistic consensus by marking its dovish end. Under the authoritarian leadership of Yossi Sarid (now entitled "leader of the opposition in the Knesset"), Meretz's business has been to distract its voters' energies from opposition to the occupation to anti-Semitically tinted hatred towards orthodox Jews. With quite a few exceptions, Meretz is against refusal, using such idiotic pretexts as "I cannot support refusal on the Left and oppose it on the Right" (Sarid), hinting at right-wing Rabbis urging soldiers to refuse if ordered to evacuate settlers. An absurd argument, for sure why not support justified refusals and oppose unjustified ones? but politics is not a matter of logic and integrity, certainly not in the "peace camp".

HOW DOES PEACE NOW FIT IN?

Maybe because of its memorable logo, maybe because of good things it may have done when I was a child, Peace Now is still considered, especially in the US, as the incarnation of the Israeli peace camp. Peace Now is a non-parliamentary movement, whose supporters are more-or-less identical with the Meretz constituency. Now it is high time to tell the truth: Peace Now is a marginal mainstream movement, far from any dissent, not part of the Israeli peace camp, but the very essence of the "peace camp". During the last eight years, Peace Now has been virtually absent from the Israeli public sphere. Its only activity worth mentioning is monitoring the expansion of the settlements, a documentation project issuing a communication to the press every few months.

A mass demonstration planned for this Saturday (9 February) can clarify the issue. The rally postponed from last Saturday for technical reasons is organised by an ad hoc "coalition for peace" comprising an unprecedented large number of bodies. Among the initiating organisations are Uri Avneri's Gush Shalom, Women's Coalition for Peace, Ta'ayush (Arab-Jewish Partnership), The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, The Monitoring Committee, which unites the leaders of Israel's Arab citizens, Yesh Gvul, the Jewish-Arab community Neve Shalom, groups of students and lecturers at four Israeli universities, The Association of Arab Students, Kvisa Sh'chora (Gays and Lesbians Against the Occupation), The Druze Initiative Committee and many others.

Several youth movements take part in the coalition, among them the Meretz Youth (who take part though their mother party does not!), the Communist Youth, Hadash Youth and Balad Youth. Never since the beginning of the present Intifada has there been such a wide coalition for peace.

Among the speakers invited in the rally are signatories of the refusal petition and others public figures who support refusal. Though it was invited, Peace Now not only refused to participate, it is now trying to sabotage the rally by publishing big ads in the Israeli dailies announcing a demonstration a week later and signing "coalition for peace", in an obvious attempt to confuse demonstrators and tempt them to believe the rally was postponed once again. If Peace Now's donors wonder where their money goes, here is an answer: to pay for expensive whole-page ads aimed at splitting and breaking the resistance to the Occupation and to Israel's war crimes from within.

A CAREFUL HOPE

The enormous reaction to the refusal petition and its aftermath give some hope in the otherwise hopeless circle of violence. Surprisingly enough, even a very mainstream organisation like the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) declared that since many of Israel's actions in the territories are war crimes, it would grant legal support to soldiers who refuse serving there; this is a great leap forward for a human rights organisation that virtually withdrew from the Territories once Oslo was signed. It is too early to predict whether the refusal petition will bring about a real change or be brought to silence. There is no doubt, however, that the greater danger to this reemerging peace camp does not come from PM Sharon, but rather from Peace Now.

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