Israeli peace movement on the move

TEL AVIV – On Sept.29, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who had been under seige for ten days in his almost completely destroyed headquarters in Ramallah, was greeted by a rally as he left the building after the Israeli occupation forces had withdrawn from the vicinity of the building. A crowd lifted Arafat on their shoulders and welcomed him as a victorious hero.

The sudden turnaround by Sharon and his army commanders was the result of pressure from the Bush administration, which could not risk interference with their own war designs against Iraq. Sharon was also pressed by the rapidly growing pressure of public opinion the world over, as well as in Israel.

In Israel, the largest anti-war rallies in years were held on Sept. 28, the second anniversary of the provocative visit of the then presidential candidate Sharon, to the Temple Mount, which is also a holy site for Muslims. The Sharon visit set off demonstrations in which 11 Palestinians were killed.

The central rally was held in Kufr-Manda near a memorial site for a resident of this mountainous Galilean village, who was killed two years ago. The event was called by the Monitor Committee of the Arab-Palestinian Minority in Israel, which includes the political parties and other Arab groups.

Tens of thousands of Arab Israeli citizens arrived from all over the country. A high point of the rally was when three bus and car convoys, carrying hundreds of Jewish peace activists, arrived from Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, Haifa and other cities. Leaders of the committee, as well as several Knesset deputies, city mayors and heads of village councils addressed the huge crowd. Palestinian Authority Defense Minister Tawfiq Tirawi spoke by phone from the besieged headquarters of Arafat.

On Sept. 25 and 26, the Women’s Coalition for a Peace opened a two-day event in a huge Succah Tabernacle tent. The site was in front of one of the largest prisons, where 1,200 Palestinians are detained. For hours, women lined the highways with posters calling for a stop of anti-Arab racism and for just Israeli-Palestinian peace, for ending the terrorist slaughtering of civilians, women and kids on both sides.

Within the huge tent, decorated with slogans protesting, among other things, the war designs of the Bush administration, symposia were held on subjects like racism and dehumanization, racism and the threat of ethnic cleansing, and occupation of Palestine and racism. The participants were Arab, Palestinian and Israeli women, who rallied in peace and close friendship with each other.

Another peace event was a three-day-long Succah tent, set up across from the Military Prison No. 6 by the “Shministim” group of several hundred 17-18-year-olds They signed letters to the army command and Prime Minister telling them that, when called in October or next spring to their obligatory army service, they will also refuse for reasons of conscience to serve in the occupied territories.

Dozens of beautiful kites, with slogans such as “The refuseniks express the conscience of the Israeli People,” “End terror oppression against Palestinians, Return to the negotiation table,” “Peace solely with two states for both our Peoples,” flew over the courtyard of the military prison. The eight jailed refuseniks, serving time for refusing to serve in the occupied trritories, stepped into a courtyard and waved white bed sheets to thank the solidarity action. The kites had been built by Jewish and Arab youth groups.

Many news commentators mentioned that this weekend surely had their impact, too, on the Israeli army withdrawal from Arafat’s headquarters.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org