Anonymous on Sat Apr 21 00:06:53 2001

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Again, as yesterday, there responses are surprisingly mild. Not many
pass here on foot, but the traffic on the narrow Kaplan Street is heavy
and congested. Civilian and military drivers pass slowly and get a full
sight of our ranked slogans, especially of the giant banners prepared by
Gush Shalom and Hadash; they could hear the full-throated chanting
"Peace - Yes! Occupation - No!" and "How many children did you kill
today?". Yet the amount of heckling, the number of reactions of any
kind, seems no greater than in vigils held here on normal days. At the
very end, just as we are about to pack up, a lone TV crew at last
appears. We discover, however, that it is of the Japanese Television.
For the mainstream Israeli media, our protest is still non-existent. 

A phone call from Jerusalem: some 170 people, mostly youths, had turned
up for the simultaneous demo outside the Prime Minister's residence.
That event had a quite complicated history. It was originally called by
Peace Now; this movement seems, however, in crisis - many of its leaders
shying away from any criticism of Barak, the Labour Prime Minister which
practically all of us supported in last year's elections. The Peace Now
manifesto published today in Ha'aretz apportioned blame for the violent
outbreak between Sharon and the Palestinians, effectively clearing Barak
of share. A few hours before it was to take place, Peace Now called off
the action, apprehensive lest "radicals" like ourselves would appear
with their own slogans and turn the protest in "unwanted" directions,
Still, a dissident faction, mainly from the more militant youths,
decided to hold the demonstration anyway, though not under the Peace Now
name - and did it quite well, with help from Meretz youths as well as
the Jerusalem activists of Hadash, the Bat Shalom women and Gush Shalom.

Another phone call - from Lili Traubman, Bat Shalom activist at Kibbutz
Meggido in the north. They had their own women's vigil - right there,
very near the storm center of the riots inside Israel. The Arab women
who planned to join could not arrive - roads blocked by police - but
expressed support on the phone and told of shootings and police
brutality at their doorstep. Ten Bat Shalom women stood at the highway,
with signs reading "Peace will win" and "Jewish-Arab parnership". They
did get many reactions - no indifference at that part of the country.
Some positive reactions, many hostile. In a sad harmony, some Jews and
some Arabs had the same reaction: "Peace? What peace? There can never be
peace with THEM!"

 And so, it is late evening - another evening after a long day of
escalation and violence and bloodshed which we could not stop. And how
many hale young people, living and breathing at this very moment, will
be in their graves by tomorrow night?  

***  How did we come to be in this miserable situation - two months
after the high hopes of Camp David, less than a week after Barak and
Arafat met for what was described as a "highly cordial meeting" in the
living room of the Israeli PM's private home? Obviously, the fuse was
lit by the notorious Ariel Sharon, leader of the opposition Likud Party,
in a calculated provocation - designed, at least in part, to bolster his
position in the right-wing against the intended comeback of former PM
Netanyahu. There was no need of the accumulated wisdom of the US State
Department pundits to guess what would result from the trumpeted "visit"
of a man whose entire military and political career consisted of
fighting Palestinians and killing them. A visit to the sensitive Temple
Mount/Haram A-Sharif Compound, made even more sensitive since the
failure of Camp David. (To add insult to injury, it took place precisely
on the anniversary of the 1982 massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee
camps in Beirut, a massacre carried out by the armed militias which
Sharon as Defence Minister had let into these camps.) 

But it is far too easy to put the entire blame on Sharon - as the
Americans and some Israelis do. The conflagration would not have
started, if not for the decision of Prime Minister Barak to let Sharon
trample into this sensitive spot, exactly at the moment when an a web of
delicate international diplomatic formulas was being woven to find a
mutually-acceptable arrangement for the holy place's future. In fact
Barak - and the PM's second in command, Prof. Shlomo Ben-Ami, the
prominent "dove" who holds a unique combination of the Foreign Affairs
and Police portfolios - did more than let Sharon into the Mount. They
provided the Likud leader with an escort of more than a thousand police
and semi-military "Border Guards", effectively reconquering Temple Mount
(actually, it was a far bigger Israeli force than that which originally
conquered the place in 1967). Add to this the well- known fact that
Israeli police in general, and its "Border Guards" in particular, tend
to regard Arabs as dangerous enemies - and the result was inevitable. 

Even that does not fully explain the extent and fast spread of the
conflagration: forty Palestinians and four Israeli soldiers dead within
a single weekend, with the number steadily rising by the hour; hundreds
of wounded, many of them maimed for life; widespread riots all over the
Palestinian Territories, often escalating into full-scale battles
involving not only handguns but also anti-tank misslies, machine guns
and helicopter gunships; the angery outburst spilling over to the Arab
citizens of Israel itself, with large riots at practically all Arab
population centers and the blocking of main highways. 

By this evening, at least seven Arab citizens of Israel have been shot
to death by "their" police force... 

 Such conflagrations do not result from a single provocation, gross and
insulting as it may be. There had been quite a lot of fuel building up,
mounting anger and frustration among the Palestinians. The normal
routine of occupation, which rarely gets into the media: another row of
olive trees uprooted by order of the Israeli miltary governor; another
settlement extending itself over a parcel of land which a Palestinian
family had cultivated for generations; another rough search by Israeli
soldiers at a roadblock; another late-night raid on a Palestinian home
by Israeli "special units" - all made the more unenduarable when peace
negotiations are supposed to be going on with the declared aim of
putting a definite end to the conflict, and when Barak has managed to
convince much of international opinion that "Palestinian intransigence"
is to blame... 

At Camp David, and ever since its failure, Barak has striven to block
off the Palestinians' option of declaring independence unilaterally;
using the particular conditions of the US elections year, Barak got the
administration and Congress to take an openly biased position,
condemning "a unilateral Palestinian step" while turning a blind eye to
the ongoing settlement extention and other unilateral Israeli steps;
also the United States' European and Japanese allies effectively
withdrew their pledge to recognize the independence of Palestine. Barak
had been striving to dictate rather then negotiate, repeatedly
proclaiming that "the ball is in Arafat's court" and demanding that the
Palestinians accept terms that - while more generous, on some issues,
than offered by previous Israeli PM's - still fall short of the minimal
Palestinian aspirations, especially with regard to Jerusalem and the
Palestinian refugees. Altogether, there was very much reason for all
Palestinians - grassroots and leadership, Arafat's followers as well as
those of the opposition factions - to feel frustrated and dissatisfied;
Sharon's provoaction united them as nothing else could have.

Israel's Arab citizens had their own load of long-standing grieveances -
decades-long discrimination in all spheres of life; an unemloyment rate
double or more that in the Jewish sector; a government bureaucracy which
treats them not much better than their brethern under occupation. And
just recently, they have been stirred into anger by a series of
inflammatory racist remarks uttered by Alik Ron, commander of the
Gallilee Police. It might be more than a coincidence that Ron is rumored
to be seeking a political career that he is known to have recently held
a series of meetings with Sharon...

"The New Intifada", as Palestinians now call it, has changed the focus
of public opinion, both in Israel and internatioanally. From the debate
on diplomatic formulas it returned to the harsh reality on the ground -
the reality of occupation, once again flooding the international TV
screens. Particularly poignant episodes were seen in living rooms across
the globe, such as the 12-year old boy Muhammad Al-Dura - caught with
his father in a cross-fire outside Gaza City, desperately seeking
shelter behind a small barrrel, and shot to death by the relentless fire
of Israeli soldiers. (The soldiers claim they did not know it was a

For Israelis, a public debate was opened (or rather, reopened) by the
death of two soldiers in defence of settlement enclaves, inhabited by
religious- nationalist fanatics and located in the midst of Palestinian
territory. "He sacrificed himself for Netzarim, for this settlement
which is perhaps not at all necesasary" said on TV the cousin of David
Biri, the soldier killed in a Palestinian ambush while on settler convoy
duty. This kind of sentiment could, in time, develop into a mass
movement which may sway government policies - as happened with regard to
Lebanon - but it would take quite a bit of time and far too much

Is there still a chance of a more immediate solution, of a revival and
successful conclusion of the negotiations which seemed moribund even
before the present outbreak? Paradoxical and cynical as it may seem,
earlier episodes in our region's history have shown vilolent outbreaks
and confrontations serving as a catalyst to deadlocked diplomatic
processes. The "Tunnel War", as the armed confrontations of September
1996 came to be known, bore much similarity to the present outbreak,
both having an Israeli provocation around Temple Mount starting the
immediate conflagration throughout the Palestinian territories - and in
1996 it ended with Netanyahu signing an agreement with Arafat and
agreeing to withdraw from Hebron (most of Hebron, anyway). Earlier, it
was the Yom Kippur war which broke a logjam in Israeli-Egyptian
relations and eventually led to peace between the two countries and
Israel's withdrawal from the whole of Sinai. But on more than one
occasion, conflicts and violent confrontations have also been known to
spiral uncontrolled, beyond what anybody planned or intended... 

With all the carnage, both sides so far avoided anything irrevocable;
the Israeli tanks placed around Palestinian cities have not been sent in
- not even to relieve the sorely-pressed garrison at Joseph's Tomb, in
the heart of Palestinian Nablus; and though Hamas fighters are
reportedly taking active part in the fighting, there have been so far
none of the spectacular terrorist attacks which can rouse the people of
Israel's main population centers to fear and anger. Clearly, room is
still left for renewed negotiations. Indeed the basic maxim of recent
Israeli politics - that an agreement with the Palestinians is vital to
Barak's political survival - is, if anything, reinforced by recent
events. And the alternative ploy occasionally mooted by Barak aides -
getting Sharon into a "National Unity Government" - has just become far
more illegitimate, inside and outside Israel.

It is a tragic feature of what is going on now that at Camp David, Barak
in principle agreed to give up many of the positions which are at
present being ferociously fought over (for example, the settlement
enclaves in the Gaza Strip). He agreed to give them up - but only at a
stiff price of Palestinian retrocessions, some of them very unpalatable
and others completely unacceptable to the Palestinian side. Will he now
soften these positions, at least to some degree? Having gone already so
far at Camp David, can he not simply get out of the occupied

One can only hope and do what can be done, to protest and pressure. At
the initiative of Gush Shalom, a venerable peace sticker, first
published in 1982 with the slogan "Bring the Soldiers Back from Lebanon"
and subsequently published again and again, was given a new lease of
life. Now bearing the caption "Bring Them Back from the Territories", it
should soon become a frequent sight in the streets of Tel-Aviv.  

Adam Keller 
Beate Zilversmidt

P.S. We pass on the request for instant financial help to the Makassad
Hospital in East Jerusalem where the wounded have been streaming in.
Because the situation is so desperate, and the need so immediate, please
send donations by wire transfer (USD preferably) directly into their
bank account. The account is at the Mercantile Discount Bank Ltd.,
Jerusalem, Salah al-Din Branch. The Swift Code is BARDiLit The Branch
number is 638. Their account number is 400335. 

Alternatively, you can send cash donations by mail to: Makassed Hospital
P.O. Box 19482 Jerusalem

Or, if you, or anyone you know, is in a position to send surgical or
pharmaceutical supplies, please contact the hospital directly at
telephone number +972 2 627-0222. Ask to speak to Dr. Khalid, Director
of the hospital.

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