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Gush Shalom: Pressure rather than violence

GUSH SHALOM - pob 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033 www.gush-shalom.org/

Pressure rather than violence

Press release, originally published by Gush Shalom spokesperson Adam Keller from Kuala Lumpur, March 31, and quoted on the Israeli radio.

What made this conference different was that it wasn't just a gathering of NGO representatives, but that there was serious governmental interest on the part of the host country: "The government of Malaysia considers the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the continuation of the occupation a phenomenon endangering not only the Middle-East, but the entire world, as it tends to deepen the hostility and suspicion between the United States and the Muslim World. Therefore, Malaysia is going to take a high profile involvement in an effort to end the occupation and the conflict" said Abdullah Badawi, the prime minister of Malaysia, in a conversation with members of the Israeli delegation. The occasion for the conversation was the festive dinner given by the Malaysian PM to more than 500 civil society delegates from 34 countries, gathered at the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur for a three-day conference on peace in the Middle East.

The five representatives of the Israeli peace movement at the conference - Adam Keller and Beate Zilversmidt of Gush Shalom, Adi Dagan (Women's Peace Coalition), Gershon Baskin (IPCRI) and bereaved father Yitzhak Frankental of the Arik Institute - received tremendous interest from the moment of their arrival at the conference, both from delegates, and from the Malaysian media and several days there were appearing interviews on the main Malaysian newspages and TV broadcasts.

Since Malaysia is a Muslim country which has no diplomatic relations with Israel and usually does not accept Israeli visitors, a special procedure was needed for the five who were met at Bangkok airport by representatives of the Malaysian embassy to arrange visas.

The participation of Israelis at the conference was said to be one of the reasons for hardline Muslim opposition groups not to attend. The issue was also raised in a press conference where the Foreign Minister answered that the government of Malaysia distinguishes between the Israeli peace movement and the government policies. The government of Malaysia is committed to a peace agreement involving an end of the occupation, and the creation of an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as capital, and the representatives of like-minded Israeli groups are welcome in Malaysia, but diplomatic relations are out of the question as long as Israel continues to occupy and oppress the Palestinians.

At the conference itself there was an intensive discussion of the ongoing plight of the Palestinians, especially the disastrous effects of the wall, with experts providing maps, diagrams and photos. The conference hall also saw some fierce debates on issues such as the one-state against the two-state solution, and the armed struggle vs nonviolence.

Dr Mahathir Muhammad, who was prime minister of Malaysia until a year ago, invited the Israeli delegation to meet with him at the research foundation he heads. During an hour-long meeting he told them that he had met with the late PM Yitzchak Rabin in 1994, and that during the Oslo period he had planned on a gradual warming up of relations with Israel, but that these plans were shelved with the collapse of the peace process.

The conference set out a Plan of Action with the double aim of pressuring the Israeli side to fully end the occupation and not let the Gaza Disengagement be an end in itself. On the other hand the Palestinian side is also urged to fully adhere to the norms of international humanitarian law in the conduct of its resistance to the occupation. This point was underlined by a keynote speech by Dr Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi who mentioned ways in which his grandfather's experience is applicable to the Palestinian cause.

The conference resolved to set up a Malaysia-based institute to coordinate activities of civil society Palestinian solidarity groups, focussing on the Third World. Among the causes of action was mentioned: boycott of such multinational companies as Caterpillar, which produces the D-9 bulldozers which weare used by the IDF to demolish thousands of Palestinian homes in the past four years. Also considered were campaigns and popular pressure in Third World countries to stop their governments from buying Israeli arms and military equipment nor invite Israeli instructors to train their armies and security services. Such selective economic pressure was considered a better means than violence for the Palestinians to achieve their liberty.


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