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The Other Israel: Sharon, Arafat and US Elections

Sharon beats brainchild / ill Arafat flies to Paris / US elections

TOI-Billboard Oct. 31

[A week full of drama, and all may effect our future: Sharon beats his brainchild the settler movement in the Knesset, Arafat's illness ends his three-year siege & American elections.]

In such a dramatic week one doesn't know where to start

<> Much ado about "the Jewish vote" Safire's anti-Kerry argument may boomerang <> Peace camp fills the squares but lacks agenda bereaved mother fills the gap <> Meanwhile, the olive harvest Why it is an issue of peace activists <> The Israeli press and Arafat & two translations: Only Arafat Can, Uri Avnery in Yediot Arafat, get better, Yitzchak Frankental in Y-net

P.S. Released occupation refusers touring the US - the schedule ~~~

<> Much ado about "the Jewish vote" Safire's anti-Kerry argument may boomerang

William Safire unintentionally provided the very argument to vote for Kerry which may sway American supporters of Middle East peace. The veteran right-wing columnist wrote on Oct. 25 (Arab and Jewish Votes, New York Times):

"Kerry can legitimately point to dozens of pro-Israel votes. But the essence of his foreign policy - to rely on alliances with France, Germany, Russia and the U.N. to combat terror and enforce the peace - requires accommodation with the central demand of these entities to lean heavily on Israel to make the very concessions Kerry now says he's against." ~~~

<> Peace camp fills the squares but lacks agenda bereaved mother fills the gap

On Monday last week (Oct. 25), at the eve of the parliamentary vote on the Gaza Disengagement, the Labor and Meretz/Yahad paries together with Peace Now Labor Party held their torchlight march and rally in front of the Knesset - giving an open and unreserved support to Prime Minster Sharon who (as many of the speakers said) "is implementing the peace movement's program", and glossing over Sharon's declared intention to follow withdrawal from Gaza with de-facto annexation of major portions of the West Bank. The Geneva Initiative organisers stayed away from the event, unwilling to endorse Sharon's unilateralism and his rejection of negotiations with the Palestinians - though the chief architect of Geneva, Yossi Beilin, did attend in his capacity as Yahad party leader....

This new alignment had direct implications for the annual Rabin Memorial Rally, scheduled already months in advance for this Saturday (Oct. 30). Ever since the assassin's bullets made Yitzchak Rabin a revered martyr, the mass rallies held on the assassination anniversary came to reflect the current situation of the peace movement. As was disclosed in today's (Oct. 31) editorial of Yediot Aharonot, the possibility had been mooted of inviting Sharon to deliver the keynote speech at this year's rally. This possibility was further facilitated by Sharon offering an official apology to the Rabin Family for the sharp things he had said about Rabin in the period immediately preceding the assassination, at the present time eerily reflected in what the extreme right is saying about Sharon himself.

It seems that Dalia Rabin, the daughter, opposed this idea of inviting Sharon and got the Commemoration Committee to ban all politicians from speaking at the rally - and invite instead a deliberately bland mixture of "respectable, non-political speakers". This excluded not only Sharon, but also the Yahad/Meretz people and notably Labor's Shimon Peres, Rabin's long-standing rival and colleague, who had spoken at every single previous rally. Probably because of these manoeuvres the rally lost much of the financing which in previous years it got directly and indirectly from political parties, with the result that there were no ads about the rally in the major papers and no transportation provided from outside Tel-Aviv. Even so, it was a major event, with the turnout estimated at between 80,000 and 100,000, many of them enthusiastic youths.

All these behind the scenes manoeuvres were overshadowed by the sudden deterioration on the health of Palestinian Authority President Arafat. Incongrously, the name of Arafat was not even once mentioned from the podium of a rally convened to commemorate the Prime Minister who had shaken Arafat's hand on the White House lawn and who paid for it with his life. It was left to Gush Shalom activists, circulating among the crowd, to distribute stickers with the photo of that historic handshake and the words "Let's continue along Rabin's path".

Michal Kafra, who covered the rally for Ma'ariv, commented: "The respectable speakers - present mayor, former chief rabbi, present university president, former supreme court president - chose to speak of democracy, of the spread of political violence, of the character of the state of Israel, some words about the advantages of unilateral disengagement from Gaza - and had nothing to say about peace, hospitalized in critical condition at Paris" (Ma'ariv, Oct. 31).

As Lily Galili remarked in Ha'aretz, there were in fact two rallies - a collection of "non-political" dignitaries one on the podium, and an audience of highly-motivated peace supporters, waving highly political signs and banners. When Meir Shamgar, former president of the Supreme Court, delivered a homily against the refusal of orders by soldiers: "Any refusal, from the left or the right, is equally reprensible and destructive of public order and the institutes of the state"; he was answered by some clapping, but also by the waving of giant banners reading "The occupation won't end if YOU don't refuse", brought on the scene by "Courage to Refuse" activists.

As on previous years, the gap was momentarily bridged by some of the singer interspersed among the speakers. David Broza, with a well-known tune originating from the time of President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in 1977, sang "All can still go well, if only..." and thousands of voices joined in the chorus "...we get out of the Territories!".

But the truly memorable moment of the evening were the words of actress Osnat Vishinsky, speaking in public for the first time since her soldier son was killed in the Gaza Strip half a year ago:

"A month and half ago, me and my family were taken by the army to see the accursed place where that terrible disaster happened to us. Even though we were closely guarded, I could see at first hand what things are like over there, how every moment is filled with the dread of death, with the knowledge that life can be cut off without warning. This is playing with fire, it is Russian roulette, it must stop! We are tired of burying our death, tired of this ancient conflict. We must do our utmost to open dialogue and further peace. Not because the Americans or anybody else is pressuring us, but out of ourselves, for our own sake, for the future of our country. What do I feel about that piece of disputed land in the sands of Rafah, the place where Lior breathed his last? Let me tell you, for me it is a holy place, the holiest place in the entire world. But I have no wish to posses it. I turned back forever from that cursed and holy place. Disengagement is indeed saying goodbye to a place, to a piece of land, but it also gives a chance to create a new life." ~~~

<> Meanwhile, the olive harvest Why it is an issue of peace activists

While the historical events are quickly following each other the more radical activists are busy harvesting. An olive harvest coalition is at work in which many hundreds of activists are spending weekend after weekend (this weekend mobilized by from MachsomWatch, last weekend by Gush Shalom; before that Ta'ayush); and dozens (among them the Anarchists Against the Wall and the Rabbis for Human Rights) find an opportunity to get up at five in the morning in order to assist Palestinians on weekdays (day after day).

Why is the olive harvest already for years an issue of peace activists? 1) Settler violence against Palestinian harvesters lead to the need of coordination with the army. (Also this year settlers destroyed trees and shot to death a Palestinian farmer picking his own olives.) 2) The army only gave a few days to each village. (This is an aggravation of the situation started this year.) 3) Often only women are allowed to cross through the gates in the fence separating them from their fields and do all the work, also the carrying of heavy sacks on the way home. (This is also new; it is the reality of the Separation Wall.)

Harvest Coalition contacts: Yakov Manor 050-5733276 Arik Ascherman 050-5607034 ~~~

<> The Israeli press and Arafat & two translations: Only Arafat Can - Uri Avnery in Yediot Arafat, get well - Yitzchak Frankental Y-net

"Arafat is not dead yet, but the Israeli authorities are already obsessed with his passing away" wrote Stephanie Le Bars in Le Monde today (Israel veut priver le rais de son reve : etre enterre sur l'esplanade des Mosquees [translation: Israel to deprive the Ra'is of his dream: to be buried on the Temple Mount] -,1-0@2-3218,36-385197,0.html

The eager rush into death scenarios is really disgusting. The Israeli media constantly quote officials making such bold statements as "Arafat is dying", "Arafat is in coma". Detailed plans were already published as where to have Arafat buried (and where not). Even the gesture of allowing the Palestinian leader to get out for medical treatment (and guarantee that he will be allowed back) is overshadowed by remarks such as "we won't have to keep that promise; he is a dead man", and a government minister (Israel Katz, agriculture) suggesting that in case Arafat does recover we wouldn't be bound by the promise, "as one is not bound by promises to hostage takers." (One really wonders who is who in this equation.)

But we collected for you two rare voices of sanity, also appearing in the Israeli media, Avnery and Frankental.

Only Arafat Can, by Uri Avnery

[Translated from Yediot Aharonot, Oct. 28, 2004]

Suddenly, the tone has changed. Millions of words have been written in the past few years about Yasser Arafat, not one percent of which was positive. A totally evil man, the ultimate villain, a despicable murderer, corrupt, and other epitaphs. He must be driven out (meaning: he must be killed) as quickly as possible! If only the Americans would allow us...

And now, suddenly, when the possibility of his passing away has become concrete, they change their tune. Former Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami, who had been spreading the poisonous "We Have No Partner" doctrine, has suddenly become lyrical: "Arafat is the soul of the Palestinian People". Others, less poetical, started thinking seriously of a world without Arafat - and grew frightened. For a good reason.

Yossi Beilin of the Meretz/Yahad Party talks of the rise of "pragmatic Palestinians". Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom dreams of "A new leadership that will fight terrorism". How easy to dream, when you don't know the Palestinian reality.

The simple truth is that Yasser Arafat is the only person with the enormous moral authority needed, not only in order to sign a peace agreement but also - and especially - to lead his people to accept that peace, a peace which will inevitably involve a painful giving up of things which Palestinians hold sacred.

It is an illusion to think that a "pragmatic" leadership, which does not enjoy the support of its people and which no longer has an Arafat to give it his moral backing could make this kind of concessions. Equally absurd is the assumption that such a leadership could conduct a head-on struggle with the Tanzim or Hamas militias.

The true interest of Israel is that Arafat will completely recover. As long as he is alive - whether imprisoned in the Ramallah compound or free in far-away Paris - it will be he who defines the line. And even if he dies, his program will remain the guiding star: an independent Palestinian state in the whole of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital; the re-institution of the pre-1967 border (possible with minor exchanges of territory); and the evacuation of all Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories. It is futile to expect a Palestinian leader to sign an agreement giving less than that, even more futile to expect Palestinians to regard such signature as binding. ~~

Arafat, get well - Yitzchak Frankental, Y-net,7340,L-2997192,00.html

[Yitzchak Frankental, peace activist whose son Aryeh Tzvi Frankental was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas in 1994, has met dozens of times with the Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. The following excerpts were translated from his article, published today (Oct. 31) on the Y-Net website.]

Arafat is ill, and I hope with all my heart that he will recover and lead his people for still many years to come. I met him dozens of times. I met a charismatic leader, a warm and hearty person, the first Palestinian leader to recognize Israel as a neighbor and to want to make peace. A leader on the level of Ben Gurion and George Washington, the kind of leader which a nation needs in the first stage of its existence. Various Israeli and world leaders had passed through me messages to Arafat, and I passed back his answers. Always when I went to him, I knew that I am sitting with an enemy leader. Arafat never expected me to become a Palestinian. He knew that I am a Zionist Israeli patriot and an observant Jew, just as I knew him to be a devoted Palestinian patriot.

More than once I heard on radio or TV one or another of our leaders being interviewed and baldly lying, telling things which knew to be the absolute opposite of the truth. People who spoke of Arafat as being "irrelevant" when they themselves will soon become irrelevant. It is the custom in this country to talk of Palestinians with contempt and depict Arafat as the chief monster. Well, ladies and gentlemen, the Arafat I know is just as willing now as he was five and ten years ago to make peace with Israel and live as its good neighbor. Arafat wants open borders, mutual respect. He accepts a state in the borders which were agreed on in the Camp David and Taba talks except that he insists on sovereignty over the Temple Mount. Arafat has no trouble with the Wailing Wall staying in our hands, or the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. He has no trouble accepting that the Palestinian Right of Return will be to the Palestinian State, to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, rather than to Israel. He finds nothing wrong with an exchange of territories, enabling Israel to keep inside its borders many settlers in exchange for getting Israeli territory near Gaza. Am I telling you anything new? A startling revelation? No, ladies and gentlemen. All the prime ministers of Israel, all the chief decision makers know it very well, and just lie barefaced. Just two months ago I interviewed Arafat with TV cameras, I asked him the most difficult questions and he did not avoid any issue. Eighteen minutes, covering all the sensitive issues, but nobody was willing to broadcast it. I tried all the stations, none was willing to touch it.

Why? What is going on? What is going to happen? Unfortunately, I don't see any of our present leaders as standing on Arafat's level, a leader who is able to look the people in the face and say "That's how it must be, hard as it is." Arafat did it in 1993. He could have done it now, too, if there was on the Israeli side a leader to match him in courage. He had regarded Rabin as a true partner, the assassination smashed Arafat's belief that an Israeli leader can successfully carry out a program of peace and compromise. I never said that Arafat is a Zionist or "a righteous gentile". I did say that he can lead his people to "a peace of the brave with Israel". Indeed, Arafat is wily, indeed he is not willing to bow down before the israeli Goliath, indeed he is the elected leader of his people.

When Sharon talked about "just seven days free of terrorist attacks" Arafat told me "even with many weeks free of terrorism, Sharon will not talk to us", and he was right. And Arafat also asked at that time: "Can Sharon give us seven days without occupation?"

I remember when Rabin asked me to accompany him to Oslo, to the ceremony when he got the Nobel Peace Prize together with Peres and Arafat. On that morning a bereaved mother phoned me and told me she was going to commit suicide "when Rabin's hand touches that of the villain Arafat". I talked long with her and asked when was her son killed, she said in the Yom Kippur War. I asked her "Why did you not kill yourself when Menachem Begin shook the hand of Anwar Sadat, who had launched that war." She said "How can you compare, the one is a president and the other - a terrorist." I said "Give the Palestinians a state, then Arafat will also be a president." She was silent, and she did not kill herself. So, I wish the ill Arafat a complete recovery, a chance to use his charisma to lead his people to peace with Israel. The Palestinians need him, we in Israel need him too. ~~~

P.S. Released occupation refusers touring the US - the schedule

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