Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2002, pages 84-88
Israeli Peace Movement “Alive and Well”
Israeli pacifist Aliyah Strauss told her audience at the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine in Washington, DC on Oct. 9 that, despite the renewed bloodshed in Israel and Palestine, the Israeli peace movement survives. “We don’t get much press,” Strauss said, “but we’re alive and well and active.”
Strauss, head of the Israeli section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, is on a speaking tour of the United States to promote peace in the region. Public support for the Israeli peace movement may seem to be declining, but, Strauss reassured her audience, not all Israelis support the aggressive actions of their government.
A native of the U.S., Strauss developed ties to Israel at an early age. After graduating from a Cleveland high school she visited Israel with several members of the Zionist movement. In her early 20s she moved to a kibbutz to raise a family, and now lives in Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv, where she teaches English.
Strauss discussed the peace movement from 1987, before the first intifada began. In this early phase, Israeli Jews did not fully appreciate the extent of the hardships that Palestinians faced. “The Jewish majority and the Palestinian minority [in Israel] were like two parallel lines that never met,” she said. “Of course we knew of their existence but we never met in any social capacity.”
Israeli Jews recognized that the occupation was not good, Strauss contended, but most thought, “Palestinians are picking oranges, washing dishes in restaurants, cleaning the streets. They’re making a living, so it must be OK.
“But,” she said, “it was not OK.”
The peace movement picked up steam with the onset of the first intifada, and, with the 1993 Oslo peace accords, “we felt we were going forward,” Strauss said. Beneath the surface, however, she noted, “the settlement process continued, undermining the peace process.” Over the past decade, Strauss pointed out, the number of settlements in the occupied territories has doubled.
Those who sought peace were disillusioned by the continued failure of peace agreements. After Camp David 2000, where Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was offered an unacceptable proposal and Prime Minister Ehud Barak then cut off negotiations, Strauss described members of the peace movement as feeling that “this is no peace process. We had been cheated, and the Palestinians had been cheated.”
Since the beginning of the second intifada, she explained, despite media assertions that the peace movement has disappeared, “the peace movement never backed off.”
In spite of the recent escalation in violence, Israeli peace activists refuse to give up hope. They seek to attract the vast moderate sector of the Israeli public, believing that many fellow Israelis share their desire for peace and a just solution. Strauss noted that 80 percent of Israelis believe in the inevitability of a Palestinian state, and 65 percent say the settlements must be dismantled. “It is the Israeli government that doesn’t want peace or negotiations,” she argued. “We must elect a different government.”
The just solution envisioned by most in the peace movement involves separate states. “With the level of violence and fear and mutual animosity between the two groups,” Strauss said, “I believe that the only way to get a just solution is to push for two states.”
Following the establishment of a Palestinian state, she added, if the two countries decide to become one—“beautiful.” Strauss maintains, however, that at present the majority of Jews and Palestinians alike would only agree to a two-state solution. Israelis, she said, want their own separate country, and Palestinians do not want Israeli domination.
Strauss called on Americans to force Washington to criticize the Israeli government and not be deterred by accusations of anti-Semitism. “That’s ridiculous,” she exclaimed. Criticism of the Israeli government in this case is “pro-Israel. It’s pro-Palestinian. It’s pro-humanity.”
Anti-War Protest Draws Thousands in DC
After a weekend of mass arrests of International Monetary Fund protesters, Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC), the DC Anti-War Network (DAWN), the International Socialist Organization (ISO), Organized COUP, Veterans for Peace, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and Peace Action, among others, still managed to garner some 5,000 supporters to rally Sept. 29 in Washington, DC’s Dupont Circle before marching up Massachusetts Ave. to protest a war on Iraq. Surrounded by police in full riot gear, the crowd practiced peace even as they demanded it.
The diverse crowd heard from Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange, Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, Damu Smith of Black Voices for Peace, and Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice before proceeding up “Embassy Row,” where the employees of numerous embassies came out in solidarity with the anti-war protesters. At the British Embassy, demonstration organizers turned over a letter protesting Prime Minister Tony Blair’s support for a U.S. war against Iraq, just days after subjects of the UK had protested in the hundreds of thousands. The rally concluded with more speeches and music, successfully kicking off a month of protests leading up to an international anti-war demonstration Oct. 26. The people of the world are making it clear that they do not support a war against Iraq.
Anti-War Demonstration at U.S. Capitol
Several hundred demonstrators gathered in Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill Oct. 9, and again Oct. 10, to protest the U.S. drive toward a war on Iraq. Called by a broad coalition including Peace Action, Global Exchange, Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC), Black Voices for Peace (BVFP), the American Friends Service Committee, the Washington Peace Center, Nonviolence International, the DC Anti-War Network (DAWN), Code Pink, and the National Network to End the War Against Iraq, the crowd beat on pots and pans to create a din and attract the attention of rush-hour drivers as well as congressmembers inside the Capitol.
About a dozen people of conscience practiced civil disobedience, sitting down to block the gate outside the Capitol. Police arrested those participating in the sit-in and forced all others away from the site and across Constitution Ave. Protesters made their point both days, however, and many Washingtonians heard their message. A significant percentage of them honked in solidarity as they drove home.
Driving home on the 9th, this reporter passed another anti-war demonstration, this one in Freedom Plaza—yet another of the many demonstrations around the country as people mobilize to stop a war against Iraq before it starts.
Black Voices for Peace Calls War on Iraq Unjust
Representing a segment of American society that has felt the brunt of racism and learned the lessons of political action, Black Voices for Peace issued a call for “at least 100 witnesses for justice and peace” to “take a stand against the march toward more war abroad and the assault on civil liberties and human needs at home.” In a month filled with anti-war demonstrations, BVFP drew 1,000 people of all ages and ethnicities to the White House Oct. 12 to join founder Damu Smith in demanding that taxpayers’ money be spent on social services and reparations rather than on war. Smith also demanded a repeal of the PATRIOT Act and the cessation of attacks on civil liberties. He also called for the lifting of a decade of lethal sanctions on Iraq, and an end to U.S. military, financial, and political support for Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine. Finally he asked that the U.S. bring development aid and trade to Africa.
Due to a post-9/11 ban on protests in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, by more than 25 people, marchers were confined to picketing on 17th St., next to the Old Executive Office Building. Prayer vigils are not protests, however, so BVFP negotiated a permit for a prayer vigil in Lafayette Park. Accordingly, following the rally a group of about 150 filed into the park, 20 at a time, to form a circle and hear the Rev. Graylan Hagler deliver a sermon and pray for the oppressed people who would feel the brunt of U.S. war spending and war making. Once again, thanks to BVFP, Americans were able to deliver their message to the White House. As anti-war demonstrations continue, the White House may be forced to heed that message.
ANERA Launches 35th Anniversary Campaign at Annual Dinner
American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) held its annual fund-raising dinner Sept. 20 at Washington, DC’s Omni-Shoreham Hotel. Founded in 1968 to relieve suffering in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon and Jordan in the wake of the 1967 war, ANERA expanded its goals in the mid-1970s to providing long-term, sustainable economic development in the area.
Les Janka, chairman of ANERA’s board of directors, told banquet attendees that ANERA receives financial support from private individuals, U.S. corporations, religious and civic groups, as well as grants from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.N. Soon after the current Middle East crisis began, he noted, the U.S. government closed many of the charities that financed emergency and development projects. Thousands of American donors turned to ANERA at this critical time and sent more than $8 million in emergency medical aid and food supplies to the West Bank and Gaza.
Janka recognized this years’ honorees: Exxon Mobil Corporation, which has supported educational programs for women and children; U.S. Organization for Medical and Educational Needs (U.S. OMEN), a founding member of ANERA, which provides medical, dental and educational assistance to the sick and poor; American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, which has sent over $20 million in medical supplies, including an ambulance, to Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem; and Islamic Relief, which provides financial support to 3,700 orphans, and runs health, nutrition, water sanitation, education and income-generating projects in the occupied territories, as well as in Bangladesh, Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo and India. One innovative program provides psychological therapy for traumatized children in Palestine.
Curtis Brand described ANERA’s 35th anniversary campaign to raise $15 million for several important programs, including the Gaza Women’s Loan Fund and other community-building projects.
ANERA president Peter Gubser talked about needs on the ground that grants from the U.S. government and the U.N. cannot begin to address without private donations.
More than 50 percent of Palestinians living in the occupied territories are unemployed, according to ANERA’s Middle East representative Tom Neu, and 51 percent of Palestinians are now living below the poverty line. ANERA delivers food, tanks of water and medical shipments. Neu described the demeaning difficulties ANERA employees face attempting to get to work.
Jamal Al-Aref gave a Palestinian view on the ground, and described community and rural aid programs that sanitize neighborhoods, protect the environment, clean water, and help get agricultural products to market, as well as public health projects and sports and computer clubs for children. He also noted the challenges caused by closures and the many permits required by Israel.
Geraldine Shawa, executive director of Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children, said that after 30 years in Gaza, she’d thought she’d seen it all. “Today people have lost hope that the dawn will come,” the Chicago-born Shawa said. “We are barely existing, not living. Times are very hard for the people of Palestine, especially for little children who are burdened by big people’s nightmares.
“These are very serious little children,” she said. “I wish they could just be kids.”
Shawa asked donors, American voters and policymakers to “give Palestinian children the chance to hope. They’re the future. Show children that someone cares and knows they’re suffering. Fill their empty stomachs and help their education.”
Shawa said that until her school opened 13 years ago there were no services in Gaza for the hearing impaired. Using chairs from the local YMCA, and $2,500 a month from ANERA, five women opened the doors of the school for 27 children “on the happiest day of my life.” Atfaluna now has 132 employees (40 percent of whom are deaf) and provides occupational training, audiology services and speech therapy for 265 students, serving 3,000 hearing-impaired Gazans annually. A deaf father of a deaf child recently told Shawa, “Before we had schooling, the deaf only existed. Now we live.”
ANERA’s financial assistance to enterprises like the Atfaluna school give a bit of hope to people in the worst situations. For additional information contact ANERA at 1522 K St. NW, Suite 202, Washington, DC 20005, (202) 347-2558; e-mail: ; Web site: .
—Delinda C. Hanley
Iowa Film Festival on “Boundaries: The Holy Land”
Well over 200 Iowans came together in Des Moines in mid-September for “Boundaries: The Holy Land,” a film festival unlike any other ever organized in Iowa. Controversial by virtue of its subject matter—Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands—the event was successful due to organizers’ determined efforts to present a range of films chosen to appeal to a wide audience and air all points of view, including those typically excluded from the public discussion.
Ames activist, editor and writer Betsy Mayfield and Sana Akili, an instructor in the Iowa State University (ISU) College of Business, co-chaired The Need to Know Film Consortium, found sponsors, and successfully organized surprisingly broad community support for the film festival.
About 80 people attended a showing of “Exodus,” Otto Preminger’s epic 1960 film based on the novel of the same name by Leon Uris, which opened the festival on Friday, Sept. 13, at the Fleur Cinema and Café. A panel discussion moderated by Darrell Yeaney, of Iowa Friends of Sabeel and the Middle East Forum, followed. Panelists included Robert Baum, ISU professor of religious studies; Des Moines-based producer and writer Wajih Halawa; Liat Weingart, national coordinator, Tikkun Community; and special guest Brigid Maher, writer, filmmaker, and artist-in-residence at Columbia College in Chicago.
Prior to the opening, festival organizers sponsored a Sept. 8 lunch and lecture by film critic and Middle East activist James Wall, known for his work with The National Council of Churches and The Christian Century Magazine. Wall’s lecture on “The Myth of Balance” explored the ways in which movies have shaped American views of the Middle East and the conflict in the Holy Land. The audience watched exerpts from several Hollywood films about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
“There has been not even a remote semblance of ”˜balance’ in the movie industry’s treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” according to Wall. “What we have experienced, instead, is the total domination of one passion, one perspective, one point of view, over all others. What ”˜Boundaries: The Holy Land’ offers is another kind of balance, films that provide a different perspective,” said Wall.
On Saturday, more than 100 people viewed a screening of “The Women Next Door,” a 1992 film by Israeli filmmaker Michael Aviad, noted for its objective exploration of family life fragmented by the intifada. The next film, “Adrift in the Heartland,” was directed by the festival’s featured filmmaker, Brigid Maher, in 2001 and documents a chance encounter between a young African-American social worker and a newly-married Palestinian Muslim woman struggling to adjust to life in America.
“Children’s Perspective” was Sunday’s theme, and festivalgoers were treated to a 1994 Palestinian classic, “Tale of the Three Jewels,” by Palestinian filmmaker Michel Khleifi, and “Promises,” released in 2000 by Israeli-American filmmaker B.Z. Goldberg.
Mayfield and Akili plan similar projects in the future and expressed a desire to network with other community leaders who are interested in exploring film festivals as a means of invigorating interfaith dialogue.
Freedom Summer Volunteers Share Stories of Occupied Palestine
The Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine in Washington, DC held a Sept. 18 briefing entitled “Freedom Summer Report: Personal Accounts from Occupied Palestine,” in which five International Solidarity Movement (ISM) volunteers answered questions and shared their experiences. After Israel and the United States repeatedly prevented the implementation of an international observer force in the occupied territories, private citizens from around the world took it upon themselves to fill the role. To that end, ISM organized a volunteer protection force whose members spent part of this past summer in the occupied territories.
ISM founder Huwaida Arraf opened the briefing with a discussion of the history and aim of the movement. Created by Palestinians, ISM provides a nonviolent alternative to armed resistance and reminds Palestinians that the international community is behind them. In addition, ISM volunteers provide documentation of Israeli treatment of Palestinians and attempt to draw international media attention to conditions in the occupied territories.The mere presence of international monitors is helpful, Arraf noted, because it forces the Israeli army to move cautiously in hope of avoiding a public relations blunder.
ISM volunteer Crystal Silvia recounted her two-week stay in a Palestinian refugee camp, where she lived with families of suicide bombers. Those families face collective punishment as a result of Israel’s policy of demolishing the family homes of suicide bombers as well as deporting family members to Gaza.
In addition to direct action such as removing roadblocks that close off villages, Silvia spent time drinking tea and coffee with the refugees and listening to their stories. “Why do they [Americans] hate us?” some asked her.
Volunteer Jenka Soderberg lived in Qalqilia, a village on the West Bank near Israel, where the Israeli army is building a 20-foot wall around the town.
The population had been under curfew for more than four months when Soderberg arrived. ”Everyone in Palestine is under collective punishment 24 hours a day,” she said. “Every Palestinian and Israeli wants peace,” she emphasized, but added that “Palestinians aren’t interested in peace with oppression. Peace comes about after we destroy occupation.”
John Everhart stayed in the farming community of Bet Omar, north of Hebron. “Fear is the fuel for the occupation,” he said. “Hope is the fuel for Palestinian resistance. Unfortunately, there is more fear than hope” among West Bank residents. Israeli soldiers evoke fear, Everhart explained, through the arbitrariness of their actions. At any moment they may suddenly invade a town. They call curfews randomly and shoot indiscriminately, he said, “at windows, at rooftops, at people.”
Everhart recalled a Palestinian boy’s response when asked why he throws stones at tanks. “I can die at any moment,” the boy answered. “I could be sitting on my rooftop smoking. The friends I know who have been shot died doing nothing. We know rocks aren’t going to do anything, but this is the only way we have to tell the soldiers this isn’t alright.”
Everhart described a sense of hopelessness among the Palestinian people. Like all the ISM volunteers who spoke that night, his words conveyed a feeling of desperation about the present situation. He said that one Palestinian had told him, “I wish they would just drop a nuclear bomb on Palestine because death would be better than what we’re living right now.”
Despite such pessimism, however, people are living, he said hopefully: “I think people living and surviving is a form of resistance.”
Everhart also shared his impressions of Israeli sentiment. The Israeli government, he noted, distances its citizens from the Palestinians to “keep fear of the other alive.” He added, “Israelis know that the occupation is wrong, but fear stops them from doing anything” to end it.
One of the most effective ways the government pacifies Israelis is through media censorship. Volunteer Adam Shapiro discussed the lack of media coverage given the international observers. “The Israeli media calls us ”˜agitators’ and calls our actions ”˜clashes,’” he pointed out. The Arabic channels, he continued, have difficulty entering Palestine because of Israeli restrictions, and the mainstream American media simply do not cover ISM actions.
The movement has gained some international attention, however. As their name recognition increases, ISM members have resorted to tactical maneuvers to get around the Israeli government’s attempts to block their entry into the region. “Israel has a policy of turning back anyone suspected of being a Palestinian sympathizer,” Arraf remarked, forcing ISM volunteers to travel in small groups, claim to be tourists and, in some cases, change their names and obtain new passports upon returning to their native countries.
Although the volunteers are all foreigners, the movement focuses on empowering Palestinians. According to Arraf, all actions are locally led. “Everything is under the direction of Palestinians and locally coordinated with what people think needs to be done,” she said. Solidarity with the Palestinians involves working closely with them. “If Palestinians are on the front line, I don’t want to wave my passport and say I’m not afraid,” Arraf said. “I want to stand next to them.”
NCR Warns Iran Developing Deadly Ballistic Missiles
The Iranian regime completed “Shahab-4” missile tests in May and August 2002, Soona Samsami, the U.S. representative of the National Council of Resistance (NCR), told reporters gathered for an Oct. 16 press conference at the Willard Hotelin Washington, DC. The Shahab-4 missile, a modified version of the SS-4 (Sandal) ballistic missile, has a range of nearly 1,250 miles and a 1.5-ton warhead. Every capital in the Middle East, as well as areas in Europe and North Africa, are now within missile range of Iran, Samsami warned. The successful tests were carried out at a missile firing range 50 miles south of Semnan in the presence of a number of army and air force commanders.
According to Samsami, when, following the tests, Iran’s Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani was asked about the Shahab-4, he referred to an earlier test of the Shahab-3 in order to deceive the international community. In July 2000, former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen had warned against the development of long-range missiles by the Iranian regime. Iran had assured Cohen that the Shahab--4 missile would only be used to launch satellites into orbit.
Meanwhile the Shahab-3 has failed some tests, causing some civilian casualties, but passed others. The NCR warns that this missile could be used to deliver chemical and biological warheads. The mullahs’ regime also has 250 to 300 Shahab-1 missiles (the same as Scud B) and 150 Shahab-2 missiles (Scud Cs). Secret NCR sources warn that the Iranian regime is now in the planning stages of developing Shahab-5, with a range of 2,500 miles (4,000 km), and Shahab-6, also known as “kowsar,” which is an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Iran has stockpiled weapons of mass destruction and is working hard to develop missile programs, Samsami charged. Enemies of Iran must know that if they invade their forces will be destroyed. While Iran’s armed forces stand no chance in a conventional confrontation, she said, with the help of ultra-modern ballistic missiles and other weapons, they can defend themselves.
Iran has used Scud missiles to attack Iranian Resistance camps in the Iraq-Iran border region. Days after the attack, Brig. Gen. Ali Larijani said during Friday prayers in Tehran, “The [missile attack on Mojahedin camps] was a warning to small states in the region not to step on the lion’s tail.”
—Delinda C. Hanley
Thousands Rally for Peace in San Francisco
On Sept. 28, the second anniversary of the al-Aqsa intifada, more than 4,000 activists walked from San Francisco’s Dolores Park to the Civic Center to show support for the Palestinians and to protest President Bush’s proposed war against Iraq. An additional 1,000 Palestinian supporters and anti-war protesters, waving Palestinian flags and carrying anti-war placards, greeted the marchers when they reached the front lawn of City Hall.
“The battle of Palestine is the battle of freedom, and we have to win it,” warned Michel Shehadeh, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.Alexander Cockburn, columnist for The Nation, addressed the subject of failed U.S. foreign policy. Other speakers included activists Ramie Rafeedie, Dena Adeeb and Snehal Shingavi.The rally was sponsored by Justice in Palestine Coalition and International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism.