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Against The Odds - A String Of Actions.

Against The Odds - A String Of Actions, Tel-Aviv June 10, 2001.

1) Introduction - a shaky cease-fire
2) Women in Black's mega-vigil
3) Gush Shalom revisits El-Khader
4) Yesh Gvul supports imprisoned CO Gabi Wolf
5) Bir-Zeit students hand flyers to soldiers
6) Solidarity action on Israeli campuses

1) Introduction - a shaky cease-fire

This Sunday morning we woke up with the news that in the Gaza Strip three Palestinian Bedouin women got killed by tank fire. As we were composing this message, an urgent call came from the village of Abud, where settlers and soldiers are systematically destroying hundreds of olive trees. This was not at all mentioned on the radio news. The anguish of the villagers concerned, already in dire economic straights, remains unremarked. The fragile week-old cease-fire does seem to have put a halt to bombing attacks within Israel, but in the occupied territories the unequal struggle continues. On the one side, elusive guerrillas setting deadly ambushes to settler cars, on roads cut trough confiscated Palestinian land and from which Palestinian traffic is excluded; on the other, the mightiest army in the Middle East subjecting the entire Palestinian population under a strangling closure which cuts the West Bank into isolated enclaves, while rampaging militias of settler vigilantes (enjoying IDF protection) find easy targets in Palestinian villages, burning fields and sometimes houses.

Sure, it is not easy to be a settler these days. Today's Ha'aretz reported on an opinion poll conducted settler youth, finding that that 87% believe that a Palestinian state will be created, 82% that settlements will be evacuated, and 31% wishing to go away right now. Life is harsh for these youngsters, who did not choose to grow up at armed enclaves in occupied territory which has now burst out in rebellion.

In the meantime the highly unlikely peace emissary - CIA Chief George Tenet - seeks to stabilize the cease-fire. With Sharon unwilling to accept a straightforward freeze to settlement activities - without which Palestinians will consider cease-fire to be surrender - Tenet's job seems not an easy one.

All too often, we feel inadeqate, if not completely helpless to affect the situation. Still, in the past few days we have exerted what resources we have in a string of actions, the best we could do also when it isn't much, and which we would like to report to you..

2) Women in Black's mega-vigil.

Last Friday, the Women in Black succeeded in bringing together a whole spectrum of peace organizations. To mark the 34th anniversary of the occupation, the weekly Friday vigil at France Square, Jerusalem, was expanded with black- wearing women and men of all other groups (or of no group) invited to take part. The result was that demonstrators crowded not only the centre of the square - where the women stand every Friday - but also lined the corners and side-streets in all directions (except for one corner reserved by the police for a handful from the extreme right).

Israelis - Jews and Arabs - had come in buses from different parts of the country. Also came Palestinians from the Occupied Territories, some distinguished by traditional headdress - women in scarves, men in kafeeyas. East Jerusalemites could get to this point without crossing physical barriers; but there were also participants from the besieged West Bank, whose arrival in spite of the multiplied road-blocks and checkpoints involved much ingenuity and more than a little risk.

There was a moment of silence for all victims of the occupation, Israeli and Palestinian; a thousand black, helium-filled balloons scattered throughout the crowd were simultaneously released into the sky, each bearing the inscription"End the Occupation / End the Closure"; and many speakers, Israeli and Palestinian, of which in this limited space we quote Nurit Peled-Elhanan whose daughter was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem three years ago: "Last week we saw many pictures of dead children. Children who went out to have a good time, who barely had a chance to figure out the complexity of living in this country, and one child who killed all of them and himself as well....Save the children; don't let the merchants of blood continue to trade in them, because they will never be sated."

The crowd dispersed only slowly, as if unwilling to return to the grim routine of radio and TV news and talk shows which all too often turn into thinly disguised war propaganda. Some teens from Hashomer Hatza'ir Youth Movement stayed behind and began to sing songs of peace - the kids who in a year or two will receive their call-up orders and be called upon to kill or be killed.

Concurrently with the Jerusalem rally, there were solidarity vigils at no less than 150 locations throughout the world - ranging from Egypt to Australia and from Turkey to Brazil and even to a Peace Boat off the Maldive Islands - not to mention most countries of Europe (the record being 17 places in Italy) and no less than 45 cities in the US. Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Centre in Philadelphia (Awaskow@aol.com) reported two seperate vigils in his city, one at the Liberty Bell and the other at the Israeli consulate, with some well-known rabbis taking part; and in Brazil there were reportedly about 300 people taking part, among them prominent members of the local Jewish Community shoulder to shoulder with Palestinians. For more information: Women's Coalition for a Just Peace ; Bat Shalom

3) Gush Shalom revisits El-Khader

The Gush Shalom contingent at the Jerusalem event, several dozen in number, left early. Instead of going back to Tel-Aviv, as was originally planned, the chartered bus turned southwards to the Palestinian village of El-Khader, near Bethlehem - not far from Jerusalem in physical distance, but still worlds away. The villagers had contacted Sergio Yahni of the Alternative Information Centre, urgently asking for the help of Israeli activists to protest a new settler incursion on their land. Since there were activists already mobilised and a bus available, Gush Shalom was able to make a rapid response.

In 1995, the settlers of the nearby, ever-expanding settlement of Efrat already targeted a particular part of El-Khader, a hill several kilometres away from the last Efrat houses. Ignoring the Palestinians' title deeds dating back to Ottoman times, it was declared "government land", and the settlers came to set up their housing. Gush Shalom had been there day after day to protest together with the Palestinians. After several non-violent confrontations on the hill, a very violent confrontation erupted below it, shots were fired by the army and many activists were arrested. In the end, the Rabin government gave up the plan to build a settlement on this particular hill.

Now, under cover of the ongoing confrontation, the settlers have come back, set up mobile homes on top, and immediately a whole company of soldiers was stationed to protect them, in spite of their unauthorized settlement being illegal even under occupation law. "This is how Peres' formula works: if settlements are allowed to be extended 'within the built-up area' - the Efrat settlers are just making sure of creating a huge new tract to be filled up later", remarked Uri Avnery.

It was quite a steep climb, under the hot sun. When we reached the top, panting, there was a line of soldiers. Fifty metres before us we saw the mobile homes of the new settlement. The settlers were not in evidence; the soldiers were protecting them quite effectively, even from the need to argue their case directly to us.

The demonstrators started to argue with the soldiers, a reservist unit, mostly men in their thirties. A polite but completely futile conversation, both sides speaking totally different languages even though the words were all Hebrew. "You must turn back, you are creating a provocation here". "Not us. It is the settlers who are creating the provocation". "I have my orders. You must turn back." "Their presence is illegal. You are protecting land robbers." "I don't care about politics. My orders are to protect Israeli citizens who might be attacked by Arabs. I leave legality to my superiors". "Settlements are against International Law. Did you hear of the International Court in the Hague." "I don't care. I am a soldier and I obey orders".

Did he know of how ominous these words are in Twentieth Century history? Perhaps not, or perhaps he did not think the precedent applicable to himself. After all, he was not actually ordered to kill anybody. Just to defend a particular group of people who happen to occupy a particular piece of land, to shoot at anybody who may try to approach them, and not to worry his head about why other people may object to their presence.

Back at the Palestinian protest tent at the bottom of the hill, we heard the villagers' grievances. The soldiers, in their zeal to protect the settlers, are denying the villagers access to a large part of their lands - a large distance on sides of the encampment. This comes on top of the prohibition to work in Israel, which already made life very difficult, since earlier land confiscations and a growing population made it impossible for El-Khader to live from agriculture alone, And there is the the tightened closure of the past week which makes it hardly possible to travel even to neighbouring villages. N.B.: Further action at El-Khader is planned, possibly on Friday this week. Stay tuned for further announcements from Gush Shalom

4) Yesh Gvul supports imprisoned CO Gabi Wolf

Some Israeli soldiers ARE disobedient. Conscript Gabi Wolf is serving a third consecutive jail sentence for his refusal to enlist "in an army of occupation", which he expressed in a series of strongly-worded letters to the military authorities. Yesterday (Saturday) there were some sixty sympathizers and activists at the Yesh Gvul solidarity vigil at the gates of the great military complex of Tzrifin, built by the British back during the Second World War. The jail is well inside the base, out of sight of the gateway where the vigil was held, but Yesh Gvul managed to contact Gabby by phone, to convey support and give him an opportunity to speak with his mother Barbara, who joined the protest. All participants joined in writing a dedication in the flyleaf of the book "Democracy and Obedience", a collection of still highly-relevant articles published by Yesh Gvul some ten years ago; the book will be given to Gabi on the next family visit.

The pedestrian bridge over the old Jaffa-Jerusalem highway, traversed on weekdays by numerous soldiers on their way back to camp, proved a highly convenient vantage point from which to demonstrate. The big signs "Free Gabi Wolf! - Don't imprison conscience! - There is a limit! " were highly visible to the motorists passing below. Further demonstrators lined both sides of the highway, pleasantly surprised by displays of enthusiastic support from quite a few of the motorists.

The hotline of Yesh Gvul continues to receive a stream of calls from reservists telling they have refused to take part in the campaign of repression against the Palestinian population. One of the demonstrators, Reserve Captain Dan Tamir, told:

"After the letter I wrote about my refusal to serve in the Territories, the Regiment Commander told me there was no question of my staying the regiment's Intelligence Officer and that the road I chose would lead to imprisonment. I told him I was quite ready to accept the consequences of my actions. Then I was called by the Division Commander - same story. But in the end, I was just taken out of this unit and told to await re-assignment, so it seems I am not going to prison after all." (Contact: dantamir@hotmail.com). It seems the higher echelons are apprehensive of the publicity which the imprisonment of an intelligence officer would get.

Yesh Gvul has now taken the step of openly and explicitly calling upon soldiers to refuse to take part in such acts as "liquidation" (extra-judicial execution) of Palestinians, shooting or bombing of unarmed civilians, denial of food, medicines or medical treatment, destruction of homes or of livelihood. An ad published in Ha'aretz on June 1 told soldiers that all of these are defined as war crimes by International Law, quoting Transportation Minister Sneh's remark "Sharon will have to go without me to the International Court in the Hague". (Yediot Aharonot on April 20 - and later retracted by Sneh himself.) Contact: Yesh Gvul

Another petition - independent of, but coordinated with Yesh Gvul - calls upon soldiers to refuse all service in the Occupied Territories. The organizers aim to get a thousand signatories of Israeli citizens and present the petition to Army Chief Of Staff Mofaz, Defence Minster Ben Eliezer and PM Sharon, and to hold a televised protest of reserve soldiers in uniform. (Full text from amir@speedy.co.il,, Amir Terkel 051-843791.)

5) Bir-Zeit students hand flyers to soldiers

It so happened, that at the time of the Tzrifin demo there was another protest of Palestinian students of the Bir-Zeit University. The blocking by the Israeli army of the road between Bir-Zeit and Ramallah seriously disrupts academic life in the university - and it cuts off some thirty Palestinian towns and villages from their nearby city.

Yesterday morning, about a thousand Birzeit students and lecturers marched right up to the soldiers and handed them copies of the following document:

"Your acts of aggression and humiliation against the people using this road is a violation to Articles 3 , 27 and 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Your country is both a signatory and acceding State to this convention and is bound by the articles of this convention. You are thus ordered to remove this road-block and to terminate your aggression immediately. Failing to do so, will make you a criminal of war, and legal action will be taken against your government and against you personally."

The soldiers responded by firing tear-gas canisters and rubber-coated steel. Nevertheless, the protesters succeeded in driving back the Israeli army vehicles and opening the road for almost an hour, allowing numerous cars to break the road-block. However, once the march ended, the soldiers re-closed the road, and this time imposed three checkpoints rather than one. The only Israeli media reports of the event were terse references to "Palestinians rioting again". (Source: http://www.birzeit.edu/).

6) Solidarity action on Israeli campuses.

Israeli students plan actions in solidarity with their Bir Zeit colleagues, and in protest of the occupation in general. At the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the student group "Ta Campus" (asafschurr@hotmail.com) is holding a regular anti-occupation vigil, every Tuesday at 12:00, in front of the Social Sciences Gate (Sha'ar Hevra) of the Mount Scopus Campus. They specifically ask anyone who can to come an join them this Tuesday, June 12.

At the Tel Aviv University students, Arab and Jewish, will march from Naftali Building to the Gilman Building under the slogan "The Occupation Kills Us All". The march will start at 1:45 PM on Wednsday, June 13. Contact: guyarie@yahoo.com.

We conclude with the more lighthearted call from the Weitzman Insitute's junction in Rehovot, where on Tuesdays, from 17:00-19:00 anarchist youngsters will stand with slogans, which (as they state themselves) are "variations upon the good old 60's, such as "Teach Sex, Not Hate" and "Grass, Not Guns". For more information: Danie'l the 1st Keleti


The Other Israel - bi-monthly peace movement magazine (hardcopy)
pob 2542, Holon 58125, Israel; ph/fx: +972-3-5565804;
For a free sample mailto: otherisr@actcom.co.il
Selected articles at the website http://other_Israel.tripod.com/


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