WASHINGTON – Peace and faith organizations – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – alarmed that the Palestinian-Israeli death toll is surging during this high holy season – are calling for Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab lands and creation of a Palestinian state coexisting with Israel.

The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee called for demonstrations in Washington and Los Angeles March 30 to demand an end to the Israeli occupation and creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Jewish Voices Against Israel’s Occupation of Palestinian Territories (JVAO) ran a quarter-page ad in The New York Times Mar. 17, which declared, “The occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem is killing Palestinians and Israelis alike and destroying Israel from within.”

The ad warned that there will be no peace or security for either Israel or Palestine until Israel “completely evacuates its settlements in Palestinian territories, ends its military occupation and returns to its pre-1967 borders.”

More than 638 people of Jewish background contributed $37,394 to pay for this ad in the Times. But JVAO had to take out a $5,000 loan to cover the $42,279 cost of running it. (Contributions can be sent to JVAO, P.O. Box 11606, Berkeley, CA, 94712.)

JVAO urges Israel to agree to establishment of an international peacekeeping force in the occupied territories to halt the bloodshed and that Israel “cease building or expanding settlements as a first step toward their complete evacuation.”

It demands that the U.S. government suspend military aid to Israel and reduce economic assistance by the amount Israel spends on maintaining the settlements.

Calls for peace are growing but so is the danger of an even bloodier war. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon refused to give Palestinian President Yasir Arafat safe passage to attend the Beirut summit of the Arab League Mar. 26. Arafat announced that day that Sharon’s conditions were impossible to meet and he would not attend the Arab summit.

The hope was that the summit would reach a consensus in support of Saudi Prince Abdullah’s plan for Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from Arab lands occupied since the 1967 war and the creation of a Palestinian state coexisting with Israel.

The White House pressured Sharon to allow Arafat to attend but Sharon had threatened not to allow him to return to Palestine if an act of terrorism was committed in his absence.

Not In My Name (NIMN), a Jewish peace organization, has initiated a “Courage to Refuse” campaign inspired by the 1,000 Israeli army reservists who have refused to serve in the occupied lands. “Their courage, their willingness to speak out publicly at great risk to themselves and their families, has breathed new life into the Israeli peace movement,” states a NIMN letter.

The NIMN letter continues, “Suddenly there is hope that a broader, deeper conflagration can be avoided, to break the cycle of violence and find a way to secure peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. But they cannot do it by themselves. They need the help of Jews from around the world and especially American Jews … We believe that this is a crucial turning point … What we do now could help transform a ‘window of opportunity’ into an unstoppable momentum towards peaceful coexistence.”

Their first project was to publish a full-page ad in The Chicago Reader, a citywide weekly, Mar. 14 announcing their peace campaign.

Churches for Middle East Peace initiated a petition calling for negotiations to create “a viable Palestinian state living in peace alongside the state of Israel. For a Palestinian state to be viable and for Israel to be secure, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza must end. All Israeli settlement activity in the Occupied Territories must cease. Jerusalem should be a shared, open city – a sign of peace and a symbol of reconciliation for the Abrahamic faiths.”

Among the organizations endorsing the petition are the National Council of Churches, the United Methodists, the Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, American Friends Service Committee, Church of the Brethren, Mennonites and several orders of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Muslim Peace Fellowship and the Fellowship of Reconciliation are cosponsoring a pilgrimage to the West Bank and Gaza April 12-26 to protest the Israeli occupation and speak out for “two states for two peoples.”

Last week, Vice President Richard Cheney spoke from both sides of his mouth when he announced that he would not meet with Arafat claiming that the Palestinian leader had not done enough to halt Palestinian “violence.”

Last week, Cheney also endorsed Sharon’s threat of an even bigger Israeli invasion of Palestine with the aim of crushing by military force all forms of popular resistance to the Israeli occupation. So far, more than 1,000 Palestinians and 300 Israelis have died while the Bush administration waffles on the issue. Sharon’s aim is the annexation of Palestine.

The administration was forced into a concession on the Palestinian issue only when Cheney faced angry rejection from Arab leaders during his trip to 11 Middle East nations to whip up support for a renewed war on Iraq. The Arab leaders demanded that the U.S. instead help implement Prince Abdullah’s peace plan.

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com

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