PHILADELPHIA – As part of a Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) tour, Aliyah Strauss, an Israeli peace activist and a founder of Women in Black, spoke to over 200 people here Oct. 6. Strauss gave the history of the peace movement in Israel and expressed her belief that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians want to live in peace. Women in Black is a group of Israeli and Palestinian women who hold weekly vigils against the violence of the Israeli army in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as suicide bombings.

Two women briefly disrupted the meeting, shouting at Strauss, calling her a traitor. Strauss told them to read their bible. “Read Isaiah: Turn your swords into ploughshares,” she said.

Strauss, born in the United States, joined the Zionist Youth Movement in 1953 and moved to Israel in 1958, where she’s lived with her family for 44 years. “Raising a family and being an English teacher was my life until 1985,” said Strauss. That is when she helped to organize Bridge for Peace, a group that brought together Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians in a social setting. “Before this we lived side by side but with no interaction,” said Strauss. “Each meeting was a pot luck dinner and we got to know each other as human beings.”

The Israeli peace movement demands an end to the occupation, a return to the 1967 borders, and having Jerusalem a shared capital city. It calls for equality for all Israeli citizens, women’s rights, peace and the integration of Israel into the Middle East. Strauss explained that Palestinians living in Israel are Israeli citizens but are not afforded the full rights of citizens, making a connection to the way Blacks are treated in the U.S.

“There is a large Palestinian peace movement, but it gets no press,” said Strauss. In August 500 Israelis gathered in Jerusalem and marched to Bethlehem, where they were to meet 750 Palestinian peace activists in Manger Square. “But the army and the police prevented us from meeting,” Strauss said. “We joined each other through cell phones and loudspeakers.”

Strauss called the “settlers movement” one of the greatest obstacles to peace. In the late 1980s there were 20,000 settlers in the Palestinian territories, but now there are 230,000.

On the 1993 Oslo Accord, Strauss said it gave many hope, but the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin set it all back.

Strauss said the reason the Camp David Summit failed was not Arafat’s fault. The media said Israel agreed to return 90 percent of the Palestinian land, but Arafat refused. Strauss held up a map that showed the areas in the agreement were not contiguous but rather separated areas ringed by Israeli territory. To travel between areas Palestinians would have to go through Israeli checkpoints. “Arafat could not agree to that,” Strauss said.

Strauss responded to questions on U.S. aid to Israel, the war on Iraq and terrorism. “The people don’t benefit from that aid. The military gets it. We must fight against this together,” Strauss answered. Strauss opposed a U.S. war on Iraq. It would cause even more destabilization in the Middle East, she said. Strauss believes dialog will lead to peace. “Every terrorist act results in more aggressive violence by the Israeli military.”

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