Sharon seems to be our worst nightmare come true, but he’s not nearly finished. Since this Intifada erupted, over 1,700 Palestinians and over 400 Israelis have been killed, with some 35,000 Palestinians and 4,000 Israelis wounded. So far. The terrorist attacks in Israel are horrible, but they have been used by Sharon to carry out deeds far in excess of “destroying the terrorist infrastructure”. The Israeli army deliberately trashed the inside of every Palestinian institution that it did not entirely destroy—schools, charities, health organizations, banks, radio and TV stations, even a puppet theater…in addition to all the records of every government ministry. In a few locations, Israeli tanks even rolled over mosques and cemeteries. How many new terrorists did the army create as it “destroyed their infrastructure”?
The damage to Israeli society is another part of the nightmare: the unapologetic racism (expelling Palestinians—the avowed plan of several cabinet members), the heightened militarization of our children (encouraged by schools to write thank-you letters and send packages to our soldiers), the deliberate lies in the media (humanitarian aid given to the refugees, when it wasn’t), the clampdown on criticism (an evening in honor of a famous, older singer cancelled because she supported the refuseniks), and the ongoing portrayal of foreign protest against Israel as anti-Semitic. And these are but single examples when many more could be given.
While all wars are violent and brutal, this war—compared with the others through which I have lived in Israel (Six Day, Yom Kippur, Lebanon) and the ‘first’ Intifada—has seen more brutal attacks on civilian targets, more flouting of international law, more looting by soldiers, more destruction of non-military property and goods, more humiliation of the other, and more deliberate cover-up—denial of access to journalists, human rights workers, and relief organizations; and opposition to the UN investigative commission—than any other.
It worries me terribly. And Sharon has not said ‘no’ to the question of whether or not Gaza is next on his hit list. And now, the quarter glass that is full:
The peace march was called for 7 p.m. last night, and only a few hundred people had shown up by that hour. It didn’t surprise me: In the morning, a large peace demonstration had been held in Nazareth, and in the afternoon refuseniks had held a vigil opposite Prison #6 to support those brave men who were inside for having refused to serve in the army of occupation. Who would have the energy for yet another big march and rally in the evening?
10,000 people, apparently, had the energy. The slow march through Tel-Aviv streets was impressive, led by big banners proclaiming “The Occupation is Killing us All”. Many loud contingents marched, and the presence of many Palestinian citizens of Israel could be heard in the mix of Hebrew and Arabic slogans. The crowd filled the Museum Plaza, and speaker after speaker—Jewish, Palestinian, women, men—gave impassioned pleas for ending the occupation and negotiating a just peace. A particularly dramatic moment came to hear the voice of Dr. Moustafa Barghouti, president of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (UPMRC), who spoke from Ramallah by cell-phone pressed up against the mike. He received an ovation when he said emotionally, “Sharon has destroyed our homes, our schools, our shops, our hospitals, but he has not succeeded in destroying our unrelenting hope for a just peace, the state of Palestine side by side with the state of Israel.” Rela Mazali struck a chord by declaring that women also refuse—to raise our children to fight in war, to live in a military-state, to support our partners or children who serve in the army. In a country where the army is sacred, these blasphemous thoughts are a breath of fresh air. Refusenik Idan Landau reported that 45 men are sitting in prison right now—an unparalleled number in this country—for refusing to serve in the occupation, with hundreds waiting to fill up more jails if necessary. Idan said that the Israeli media do not tell the full story, and that if we ever saw the reality of what the army has done, “we would not have one moment of serenity”.
It was a moment of respite from the endless chainsaw of anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian, anti-European propaganda that grinds out at us all day long, not just from politicians, but from hairdressers, teachers, talk-show hosts and callers, taxi-drivers (I’m off buses for the duration), neighbors, and ... well, even some of my best friends.
So, it’s back to our separate peace actions tomorrow: vigils, aid convoys, checkpoint monitoring, guarding homes about to be demolished (until they are demolished), relief work, leafleting, petitions, newspaper ads, and our many individual acts of refusal—refusal to serve in the army, refusal to support violence as a way to solve problems, refusal to be enemies. And if all we accomplished tonight was to remind each other that we are not alone, that too was important.
And a word of deep gratitude for all the hard work for peace that you do from outside the region. We know that it comes from a place of caring. Together, we shall overcome.
In June, we mark 35 years to the Israeli occupation of “the territories” - the West Bank, Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.
Volumes and volumes have already been written about the price paid by Palestinians under occupation - the death of loved ones, lifelong injuries, irreplaceable property loss, traumatized youngsters, and so much heartache that will not be expunged for generations after the occupation (inevitably) comes to an end.
But the occupation has been destructive to Israeli society as well, and not only in terms of the tragedy of lives lost through terrorism or military service. “Occupation corrupts”, we say in Israel, with reference to the moral deterioration of our society as a result of being the oppressor of others. But there are additional ways that the occupation has taken its toll in Israel:
* The troubled economy: Israel is currently in a grave economic crisis - deep recession, severe unemployment (currently 10%), increasing poverty, widening socio-economic gaps;
* Under-funded social and environmental programs: Cutbacks in the education of our children, healthcare, the special needs of the elderly and disabled, rational planning for water use, development of public transportation;
* Threats to democratic norms and values: The abrogation of freedom of speech, media censorship and self-censorship, open expressions of racism against Arabs, dehumanization of the other; and
* The spillover of violence into Israeli society - the high rate of violence among schoolchildren, increased crimes of violence, and violence directed against women.
This list could easily be expanded: What about the unbearable ease of pulling a trigger? Last week, a security guard at the door to a Tel-Aviv disco who discerned a car being driven erratically toward him pulled his revolver and shot the driver dead before he could plow into the club with a cargo of explosive devices. Clearly the guard is a hero. But what if that driver had simply been drunk?
The next day, a soldier shot (but fortunately did not kill) a retarded man (Israeli) who looked like he may have been wearing an explosive belt under his unseasonably heavy coat and did not understand the demand to undo the buttons. And a mother and her 12-year old daughter (Palestinian) were shot dead last week because they were running away from an exploding device, and therefore assumed (incorrectly) to have placed it.
In the coming weeks, Israeli peace and human rights organizations will be marking this sad anniversary - 35 years to occupation - with a plethora of protest and demonstration. Some will raise their voices about the social and economic burdens of occupation resulting from the massive hemorrhage of Israeli resources and energy. Others will count the thousands dead, the tens of thousands maimed, the hundreds of thousands with hearts frozen by trauma and hatred.
Join us in the coming days as we call upon you for solidarity. The many prices of occupation are unbearable, and increasingly so. Anyone who cherishes Israel or Palestine, or the innocent children who are growing up here, will do their utmost to bring this tragedy to an end.
Shalom, Salaam from Jerusalem,