The explosion - "The Other Israel" Briefing No. 19

Luko Willms L.WILLMS at SPAMlink-f.frankfurt.org
Thu Oct 5 08:46:11 MDT 2000


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                  THE EXPLOSION - Briefing nr 19

Tel-Aviv, October 3

We knew that it would come; in a way we saw it coming, and still - it
took us by surprise. On the first Friday when we heard of "rioting" on
Temple Mount - the morning after  Sharon had paid a "visit" to the Al
Aqsa Mosq - we still thought that this was a one day event, an
outburst at an occasional offense, and maybe also a reminder  like
there had been before as to what the explosion would be like if the
peace talks would come to naught. Gradually we start to realize that
the big explosion is happening here and now. From talking to
Palestinian friends it seems it also surprised them. Nobody had really
expected that there would be such an overreaction by the police, whose
only response to what started with stone throwing was shooting to
kill.

On Saturday there were riots all over the Palestinian territories,
which was the first day of Rosh Hashana (holiday marking the begining
of the Jewish new year). Activists of Gush Shalom and Committee
Against House Demolitions started calling each other, mobilizing
within a few hours via phone and email a tiny vigil - including of
course Uri Avnery - at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem,
with as its most remarkable event: a religious bypasser, supporter of
the Shas Party, complaining "why did Sharon have to do it the day
before Rosh Hashana. Now I can't go pray at the Wailing Wall."

On Sunday, Oct. 1, at 8.00 o'clock - after public transportation
restarted at the end of the two-day Holiday, and after another day of
violence and bloodshed - and the spreading of the terrible pictures of
the killing of a so obviously innocent child.  On the pavement in
front of Dizengoff Centre, Tel-Aviv main shopping mall, as central a
place as can be found to address the metropolitan public, we arrive,
some forty peace activists. We know most faces, though some have not
been seen for years. Different groups are represented: Gush Shalom,
Committee Against House Demolitions, Hadash, Women for Political
Prisoners, Nuclear Whitleblowers... in fact, many participants have
overlapping organizational affiliations. Some have brought signs with
them. Others take up marking pens and improvise their own slogans,
sitting down on the sidewalk. Soon, two ragged lines take up position,
holding both sides of the intersection. Sign after sign is displayed
to the bypassers and the motorists halted at the traffic light: "Stop
shooting!" - "Down with the Occupation" - "Stop the murder of
demonstrators!" - "We have no children for unnecessary wars!" - "Get
out of the Territories - Now!" - "Killing Palestinians is not the way
to peace" - "Hands off Temple Mount" - "Sharon sets the fire, Barak
kills" - "Enough blood has been shed" - "Yes to the 1967 borders" -
"29 dead Palestinians on Rosh Hashana - Happy New Year!".

We have come with some trepidation to this site. During the Intifada,
on days similar to this one, peace demonstrators have more than once
been violently assaulted on this very spot. But this evening there is
nothing of the kind. There are, in fact, astonishingly few reactions
of any kind. Most bypassers just glance at the signs and continue on
their way. How are we to interepret this indifference? As lack of
support for what the army and police are doing? As lack of moral
concern? Probably a bit of both - and what does that say about Israeli
society at the start of the Third Millenium?

A police patrol car stops by, then another one. A mild-mannered
officer approaches the line. -"Who is your leader?" -"We have no
leader". -"Who is responsible for this demonstration?" -"We all are".
-"Who organized it?" -"The Internet". He scratches his head. For a
moment he seems about to arrest us, or at least some. Then he goes
back to the patrol car. Half an hour later, he comes again,
accompanied by a female colleague. "Listen, you guys! Do you know that
the whole of Jaffa has burst out in violence? More than half our force
is over there, and here you are tying up two patrol cars. Can you not
end this, so that we can go to reinforce our fellows over there?" We
find it difficult not to laugh. Just before the officer came over we
had held a  quick consultation and decided to pack up the signs and go
to Jaffa so as to stand in the way of the police which had reportedly
started shooting the (not so innocuous) "rubber bullets".

Could the outbreak of spontaneous anger of Arabs in one of the most
miserable slums in Israel be combined with the more measured protest
of middle-class leftist Jews?  But when we pile into taxis and private
cars and arrive in the Ajami Quarter of Jaffa - a short distance, yet
worlds away, from downtown Tel-Aviv - we find Yeffet Street, the main
throughfare of Arab Jaffa, completely empty: pavements strewn with
stones, many smashed windows, some scorched paches on the pavement, no
demonstrators.

At home on a later hour, we hear - among all the dispatches from
further away - a report of "a new outbreak in Jaffa, ending the shaky
ceasefire agreed between the police and the Jaffa Arab leadership". Of
our own action, not a word. On such a day, editors do not seem to
consider a demonstration without violence to be news.

Today (Monday) we are more than a hundred, outside the Defence
Ministry. From the outside there is not much to see of the nerve
centre of all that is going on in the Territories. But as soon as we
take up positions on the parking lot opposite the main gate, an armed
sodier in full battle gear crosses the street in between and
approaches us, with a suspicious look on his face, talking quickly
into a small communications device. A quite unusual sight. We
demonstrate here quite often, and in general the only soldiers you
encounter are unarmed office staff going out to grab a quick lunch.

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
child.)

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 bloodshed.

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 territories?

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.

------------------ schnapp --------------------------------
Lueko Willms                                     http://www.mlwerke.de
/--------- L.WILLMS at LINK-F.frankfurt.org -- Alle Rechte vorbehalten --

"Ohne Pressefreiheit, Vereins- und Versammlungsrecht ist keine
Arbeiterbewegung moeglich"        - Friedrich Engels      (Februar 1865)





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