by Gila Svirsky
July 26, 2003
This was a good way to begin yesterday's Women in Black vigil in Jerusalem. A group of young, Orthodox Jews walked by and handed out flyers headlined, "Get down from the hills -- return to the people!", addressed to the settlers.
I had read about this movement, founded just a few months ago, but seeing them on the street made it come to life. The short flyer establishes the identity of its writers -- all graduates of Israeli religious schools and movements, and committed to Zionism -- and then implores the religious settlers to return to the basic values of Judaism and ... leave the occupied territories.
They call their movement "Realistic Religious Zionism", and their website (www.tzionut.org) gives details. The gist in the English version is: "The fact that the State of Israel is ruling over approximately three million people against their will, while denying them their basic rights, arouses severe moral problems...We hereby call upon the Religious Zionist public to recognize the necessity of relinquishing our rule over the Territories and turn its efforts to dealing with the urgent problems affecting Israeli society in general, and the religious public in particular." May the movement be fruitful and multiply (see their website for how to support them).
Last Wednesday's Ha'aretz (July 23rd) carried a second encouraging poll of the opinions of settlers (conducted on behalf of Peace Now). This year, again, the conclusion is that settler political views are "far more moderate than usually perceived", and that settlers, therefore, are not an obstacle to peace.
For years, settler leadership has been threatening that "Uprooting settlements will lead to civil war" (a poster visible throughout Israel). This is a scare tactic they have adopted to prevent moderate folk from supporting settlement evacuation. Well, it turns out that 90% of the settlers say they "would not break the law" to oppose evacuation and only 1% (compared to 2% last year) would use violence to prevent being evacuated. Oh, and about that leadership: only 12% say that the official settler leadership (the "Yesha Council of Settlements") actually represents their views. Full poll results in Hebrew on
About the Ceasefire (Hudna)
Although both the Palestinians and Israelis have mostly kept the ceasefire (with some exceptions), the situation in the territories remains unchanged: poverty, unemployment, and the same old obstacles about moving from one place to another. Israel has not eased the closure or checkpoints even one little bit, and that continues to place a crushing weight on daily life -- jobs, schooling, health, etc.
No, we are not talking about security here. If security were the only consideration, most of these checkpoints would be dismantled. There is no security need for Israeli soldiers to search Palestinians who are entering their own towns or villages. There is no security reason to prevent Palestinians from crossing their own fields to get to the next village. Traveling with a B'Tselem fieldworker last week, I saw settlers whiz through the checkpoints as if they didn't exist, while Palestinians waited in the burning sun for hours as the soldiers looked through their documents and packages. Palestinians are also barred from traveling on many of the roads. Short trips turn into hours-long sagas. This isn't about the safety of Israelis. This is about showing Palestinians who's boss.
I was relieved to hear George W. Bush call it a 'separation wall' and condemn it. The Israeli government calls it a 'security fence', trying to tone down its immense size and ascribe to it powers of 'security' that it does not have. This wall commits two cardinal sins, as I see it: First, it is being constructed inside Palestinian territory, and not on the original border between Israel and Palestine. This means that Israel is grabbing more land, destroying more homes, and cutting off more Palestinians from their property and land. B'Tselem estimates that the wall will directly harm at least 210,000 Palestinians. (Several Palestinian towns will actually be surrounded by this wall.) Second, the area adjacent to the wall will probably be declared an 'open-fire zone', thereby endangering the lives of anyone who approaches it. Who needs an open-fire zone in your backyard???
Check out the B'Tselem website for details (www.btselem.org) and tell George W. that you think this wall is a major obstacle to peace (202-456-111, available Monday through Friday, 9-5 EST). We need to offset the campaign to support it.
The neo-cons have cast their shadow over Israel, too, and our new economic reform is, wouldn't you know it, good for the rich and bad for the poor. Vicky Knafo, a gutsy single-mother who walked into Jerusalem from her home in the Negev, managed to inspire dozens of Israelis to do the march and join her at her encampment opposite the Finance Ministry (now headed by Bibi Netanyahu, former Prime Minister). Those joining have included not only other down-and-outers, but also contingents from both the peace and the social justice movements. These movements are finally building bridges to each other, after many years of working in unproductive isolation. A spur-of-the-moment feminist conference, in which all the women's organizations are participating, has been called for next weekend in the park adjoining Vicky's encampment. Bring your sleeping bag, your listening skills, and at least one practical idea.
Gila Svirsky is an Israeli peace activist living in Jerusalem. She is a founding member of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, a grouping of eight Israeli and Palestinian women's peace organisations.