Peace Rally in Tel Aviv draws thousands, Eyeless in Gaza by Uri Avnery, and Gush Shalom, chair of the Israeli peace movement
Editor’s Note: For those who think all Israelis are rallying around the war efforts of the Netanyahu government, the big peace rally Saturday night in Tel Aviv comes as an important corrective! See the stories below. Also, please read Uri Avnery’s article that substantiates the point I’m about to make in the next paragraph. Avnery’s Gush Shalom peace movement helped create the intellectual foundation for this demonstration–which is what we in the Network of Spiritual Progressives also focus on: consciousness transformation. Consciousness transformation is the necessary prerequisite for building a transformed political reality. Now, my latest reflections on the Gaza war:
One of the most bizarre responses I’ve gotten to some of what I’ve written on Gaza is the whine “What can we do? They are shelling us?” This rarely comes with an acknowledgment that the shells almost never get through (for which I’m quite thankful, because I want my people to be safe). Of course, the obvious answer that seems beyond the capacity of these respondents to imagine is: What Israel can do is apologize for its part in creating the Palestinian refugee problem and for all the damage that has happened since then (not 100% responsible, but apologize for its part instead of pretend to be the righteous victim), end the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza (my book Embracing Israel/Palestine lays out how that could be done in a way that would be both respectful to Palestinians and safe for Israelis (www.tikkun.org/eip) and assist in creating an economically and politically viable Palestinian state, and do so in a spirit of repentance, and genuine open-heartedness. That’s what Israel could do.
It reminds me of the days when US liberals would say to us in the anti-war movement against the war in Vietnam, “You are right that this is a mess, but how can we get out now?” Our answer was simple: with boats and airplanes. At the time that was dismissed as simplistic, but after another thirty thousand Americans were killed, the ruling elites of the country figured out just what we had figured out years before–that it was as easy as getting into planes and boats and leaving. Of course, Israel is not the same situation–they live next door to the Palestinian people. But they could try generosity and caring for the other (no, when Israel left Gaza before, it wasn’t with a spirit of generosity, but as a trick, refusing to give control to the Palestinian Authority, saying there was no one to talk to, and knowing that that would be giving Gaza to Hamas, which is what the rightwing strategists wanted in order to precipitate a civil war among the Palestinians). This time they could try an honest strategy of generosity. It is unlikely they will until a lot more innocent people, both Israelis and Palestinians, lose their lives or their limbs. And this continues to break my heart.
-Rabbi Michael Lerner
Eyeless in Gaza
by Uri Avnery
The trouble with the war is that it has two sides. Everything would be so much easier if it had only one side. Ours, of course.
There you are, drawing up a wonderful plan for the next war, preparing it, training for it, until everything is perfect.
And then the war starts, and to your utmost surprise it appears that there is another side, too, which also has a wonderful plan, and has prepared it and trained for it.
When the two plans meet, everything goes wrong. Both plans break down. You don’t know what’s going to happen. How to go on. You do things you have not planned for. And when you have had enough of it and want to get out, you don’t know how. It’s so much more difficult to end a war than to start a war, especially when both sides need to declare victory.
That’s where we are now.
HOW DID it all start? Depends where you want to begin.
Like everywhere else, every event in Gaza is a reaction to another event. You do something because the other side did something. Which they did because you did something. One can unravel this until the beginning of history. Or at least until Samson the Hero.
Samson, it will be remembered, was captured by the Philistines, blinded and brought to Gaza. There he committed suicide by bringing the temple down on himself and all the leaders and people, crying out: “Let my soul die with the Philistines!” (Judges 16:30)
If that’s too remote, let’s start with the beginning of the present occupation, 1967.
(There was a forgotten occupation before that. When Israel conquered the Gaza Strip and all of Sinai in the course of the 1956 Suez war, David Ben-Gurion declared the founding of the “Third Israeli Kingdom”, only to announce in a broken voice, a few dates later, that he had promised President Dwight Eisenhower to withdraw from the entire Sinai Peninsula. Some Israeli parties urged him to keep at least the Gaza Strip, but he refused. He did not want to have hundreds of thousands more Arabs in Israel.)
A friend of mine reminded me of an article I had written less than two years after the Six Day War, during which we occupied Gaza again. I had just found out that two Arab road-construction workers, one from the West Bank and one from the Gaza Strip, doing exactly the same job, were paid different wages. The Gaza man was paid much less.
Being a member of the Knesset, I made inquiries. A high-level official explained to me that this was a matter of policy. The purpose was to cause the Arabs to leave Gaza and settle in the West Bank (or elsewhere), in order to disperse the 400 thousand Arabs then living in the Strip, mostly refugees from Israel. Obviously this did not go so very well – now there are about 1.80 million there.
Then, in February 1969, I warned: “(If we go on) we shall be faced with a terrible choice – to suffer from a wave of terrorism that will cover the entire country, or to engage in acts of revenge and oppression so brutal that they will corrupt our souls and cause the whole world to condemn us.”
I mention this not (only) to blow my own horn, but to show that any reasonable person could have foreseen what was going to happen.
IT TOOK a long time for Gaza to reach this point.
I remember an evening in Gaza in the mid-90s. I had been invited to a Palestinian conference (about prisoners), which lasted several days, and my hosts invited me to stay with Rachel in a hotel on the sea-shore. Gaza was then a nice place. In the late evening we took a stroll along the central boulevard. We had pleasant chats with people who recognized us as Israelis. We were happy.
I also remember the day when the Israeli army withdrew from most of the Strip. Near Gaza city there stood a huge Israeli watchtower, many floors high, “so that the Israeli soldiers could look into every window in Gaza”. When the soldiers left, I climbed to the top, passing hundreds of happy boys who were going up and down like the angels on the ladder in Jacob’s dream in the Bible. Again we were happy. They are probably Hamas members now.
That was the time when Yasser Arafat, son of a Gaza Strip family, returned to Palestine and set up his HQ in Gaza. A beautiful new airport was built. Plans for a large new sea-port were circulating.
(A big Dutch harbor-building corporation approached me discreetly and asked me to use my friendly relations with Arafat to obtain the job for them. They hinted at a very large gratuity. I politely refused. During all the years I knew Arafat, I never asked him for a favor. I think that this was the basis of our rather strange friendship.)
If the port had been built, Gaza would have become a flourishing commercial hub. The standard of living would have risen steeply, the inclination of the people to vote for a radical Islamic party would have declined.
WHY DID this not happen? Israel refused to allow the port to be built. Contrary to a specific undertaking in the 1993 Oslo agreement, Israel cut off all passages between the Strip and the West Bank. The aim was to prevent any possibility of a viable Palestinian state being set up.
True, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon evacuated the more than a dozen settlements along the Gaza shore. Today, one of our rightist slogans is “We evacuated the entire Gaza Strip and what did we get in return? Qassam rockets!” Ergo: we can’t give up the West Bank.
But Sharon did not turn the Strip over to the Palestinian Authority. Israelis are obsessed with the idea of doing things “unilaterally”. The army withdrew, the Strip was left in chaos, without a government, without any agreement between the two sides.
Gaza sank into misery. In the 2006 Palestinian elections, under the supervision of ex-President Jimmy Carter, the people of Gaza – like the people of the West Bank – gave a relative majority to the Hamas party. When Hamas was denied power, it took the Gaza Strip by force, with the population applauding.
The Israeli government reacted by imposing a blockade. Only limited quantities of goods approved by the occupation authorities were let in. An American senator raised hell when he found out that pasta was considered a security risk and not allowed in. Practically nothing was let out, which is incomprehensible from the “security” point of view of weapons “smuggling” but clear from the point of view of “strangling”. Unemployment reached almost 60%.
The Strip is roughly 40 km long and 10 km wide. In the north and the east it borders Israel, in the west it borders the sea, which is controlled by the Israeli navy. In the south it borders Egypt, which is now ruled by a brutal anti-Islamic dictatorship, allied with Israel. As the slogan goes, it is “the word’s largest open-air prison”.
BOTH SIDES now proclaim that their aim is to put an end to this situation. But they mean two very different things.
The Israeli side wants the blockade to remain in force, though in a more liberal form. Pasta and much more will be let into the Strip, but under strict supervision. No airport. No sea-port. Hamas must be prevented from re-arming.
The Palestinian side wants the blockade to be removed once and for all, even officially. They want their port and airport. They don’t mind supervision, either international or by the Palestinian Unity Government under Mahmoud Abbas.
How to square this circle, especially when the “mediator” is the Egyptian dictator, who acts practically as an agent of Israel? It is a mark of the situation that the US has disappeared as a mediator. After the futile John Kerry peace mediation efforts it is now generally despised throughout the Middle East.
Israel cannot “destroy” Hamas, as our semi-fascist politicians (in the government, too) loudly demand. Nor do they really want to. If Hamas is “destroyed”, Gaza would have to be turned over to the Palestinian Authority (viz. Fatah). That would mean the re-unification of the West Bank and Gaza, after all the long-lasting and successful Israeli efforts to divide them. No good.
If Hamas remains, Israel cannot allow the “terror-organization” to prosper. Relaxation of the blockade will only be limited, if that. The population will embrace Hamas even more, dreaming of revenge for the terrible devastation caused by Israel during this war. The next war will be just around the corner – as almost all Israelis believe anyhow.
In the end, we shall be where we were before.
THERE CAN be no real solution for Gaza without a real solution for Palestine.
The blockade must end, with serious security concerns of both sides properly addressed.
The Gaza Strip and the West Bank (with East Jerusalem) must be reunited.
The four “safe passages” between the two territories, promised in the Oslo agreement, must at last be opened.
There must be Palestinian elections, long overdue, for the presidency and the parliament, with a new government accepted by all Palestinian factions and recognized by the world community, Including Israel and the USA.
Serious peace negotiations, based on the two-state solution, must start and be concluded within a reasonable time.
Hamas must formally undertake to accept the peace agreement reached by these negotiations. Israel’s legitimate security concerns must be addressed.
The Gaza port must be opened and enable the Strip and the entire State of Palestine to import and export goods.
There is no sense in trying to “solve” one of these problems separately. They must be solved together. They can be solved together.
Unless we want to go around and around, from one “round” to the next, without hope and redemption.
“We” – Israelis and Palestinians, locked for ever in an embrace of war.
Or do what Samson did: commit suicide.
(Moriel Rothman-Zecher and Haggai Matar contributed to this report)
Under a coalition of Israeli left-wing political parties and organizations, thousands gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square in the largest anti-war demonstration since the outbreak of violence in Gaza.
Some 10,000 Israelis flooded Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square under the slogan “Changing direction: toward peace, away from war” in the largest anti-Gaza war demonstration in Israel since the outbreak of hostilities more than one month ago.
Thousands gather at a pro-peace rally in Tel Aviv, calling for a just peace and an end to violence in Gaza, Tel Aviv, August 16, 2014. (photo: Activestills)
The protest was scheduled to take place last week, but was postponed after the police and Home Front Command revoked its permit, ostensibly to stop large gatherings during a time when missiles were being fired at Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities. Roughly 500 non-aligned activists flooded Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square anyway, in defiance of the ban.
At tonight’s demonstration the major left-wing parties, including Meretz and Hadash, as well as Peace Now and other left-wing organizations, joined tonight’s demonstration, calling for a wide range of demands, from continuing negotiations between Israel and Hamas to an end to the occupation and Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Many who have demonstrated throughout the past weeks of hostilities expressed disappointment at Meretz and Peace Now for their refusal to support anti-war demonstrations until now.
Meretz MK Zehava Gal’on addressed the protest, affirming that her party was against the Israeli military operation in Gaza all along. She lashed out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not immediately recognizing the Palestinian unity deal and instead choosing war.
To large applause, Hadash MK Mohammad Barakeh stated in Hebrew and Arabic, “We are building a partnership against the occupation, for a free Palestine.” He continued, “We are here for a two-state solution, for life and a future for people in Gaza and the South.”
Famed Israeli author David Grossman addressed the large crowd, saying, “We won’t be able to breathe deeply in Israel as long as people in Gaza feel choked,” adding, “We will always be neighbors with people in Gaza. We must live together.”
Israel author David Grossman speaks to a crowd of 10,000 anti-war protesters in Tel Aviv,August 16, 2014 (photo: Activestills)
Naomi Tzion, a resident of Sderot, called on the crowd to think of those in Gaza who have now been made refugees twice or thrice, adding, ”The true spitting in the face of the residents of Sderot? The attempts to paint us all as a single stereotyped collective.” Gaza is “the biggest jail in the world,” she continued.
Along with anti-war sentiment, protesters expressed their anger at the Israeli government for its lack of leadership, chanting “Bibi, go home!”
According to the protest organizers, the demonstration was organized to send the following message to Israel’s political leaders:
The next round of fighting can be prevented. No to the way of wars– we must have a political solution! After an agonizing month of war and death, in the face of mounting waves of incitement and hatred, which increasingly tear up the Israeli society, we stand up to demonstrate for peace and for democracy.
The rally at Rabin Square came two days after another demonstration was held to express solidarity with the residents of communities along the Gaza border.
Pro-peace rally held in Tel Aviv amid Gaza truce talks
Right-wing activists plan counter-demonstration; police forces deployed in city.
By Ilan Lior | Aug. 16, 2014 | 9:46 PM
Thousands gather at a pro-peace rally in Tel Aviv, on day 40 of Operation Protective Edge, Aug. 16, 2014.Photo by Moti Milrod
Author David Grossman speaks at a pro-peace rally in Tel Aviv, Aug. 16, 2014.Photo by Moti Milrod
Thousands of demonstrators gathered Saturday evening for a pro-peace rally in Tel Aviv under the slogan, “Changing direction: toward peace, away from war.”
The rally at Rabin Square comes two days after another demonstration expressing solidarity with residents of communities along the Gaza border.
Right-wing activists planned a counter-demonstration, which will be held nearby at the same time. The Israel Police is planning to keep the two camps apart.
At the main rally, which began at 8 P.M., speeches were slated to be made by author David Grossman, journalist Zuheir Bahloul, Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On, Hadash chairman Mohammed Barakeh, a resident of Sderot, a representative of bereaved families and other left-wing activists.
The rally was originally due to take place last week, but was postponed at the request of the police and the Home Front Command, which prohibited gatherings of more than1,000 people at the time in the Tel Aviv area.
The event’s Facebook page states that, “following a painful month of war and death, in view of waves of incitement and hatred that are tearing apart Israeli society, we call for a demonstration for peace and democracy. The next round (of violence) can be avoided. We don’t have to sink into an abyss of ever-crueler wars, of extreme hatred and a destruction of our neighbors and ourselves.
“Only an agreement will ensure long-term security and quiet for residents of the south and of the entire country. There is another way – immediate dialogue with Palestinians to ensure a fair peace, the opening of Gaza and a determined stand of Arabs and Jews against racism and for life. Only a two-state political solution will guarantee independence, justice, security and hope for all people living in this land.”
Speaking at the demonstration, Meretz chairperson Zahava Gal-On lashed out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying, he has failed miserably, not as a result of this operation, but of refusing for five years to take the diplomatic path to peace.
Gal-On accused the prime minister of a “diplomatic freeze: refusing to adopt the Arab Peace Initiative; the so-called blowup of the talks with (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) Abu Mazen after 9 months, the breakdown of U.S.-Israel relations, the refusal to recognize the Palestinian unity government, and the widely authorized building in the settlements, which destroyed any chances of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.”
She continued, “You could have achieved the framework you’re willing to accept now without paying the price of 64 dead soldiers and civilians, the death of 2,000 Palestinians, and the horrible destruction in Gaza, including almost half a million people uprooted from their homes.”
During his speech, author David Grossman, said “Neither side in this war has a victory picture. There are only indescribable images of death and destruction. Every image depicts defeat for both peoples.
“There is no military solution for the conflict between Israel and Hamas. There is no military solution that will end the suffering of Israelis in the south and the inhumane suffering of people in Gaza. People in Israel won’t be able to breathe freely either, until the stranglehold on Gaza is lifted.”
Many streets in the area were closed during the rally.
Gal-On calls for Netanyahu’s resignation at Rabin Square rally
Published: 8.16.14 / Israel News
On Saturday night at Rabin Square, in a rally for a political solution to the Palestinian conflict, many carried signs proclaiming ”Whoever doesn’t want peace is making excuses” and “Yes to democracy, no to incitement.” Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to tender his resignation at the rally. “Bibi, you failed. You need to leave the keys and go home. You failed this badly because of five years of refusing diplomacy, of refusing to adopt the Arab Peace Initiative.”
Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On at Rabin Square rally (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
Gal-On harshly criticized the prime minister. “You failed because of your refusal to recognize the Palestinian unity government, the destruction of our relations with the United States and the obsessive building in the territories.”
The demonstration was organized by two left-wing parties, Meretz and Hadash (the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality), as well as Peace Now and the forum for bereaved families.
Leftwing protest in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
Gal-on also said: “We had enough of the silencing and the incitement. Two days ago we came out here to support Gaza-border residents. The agreement which you are now ready for could have been reached without paying the ultimate price of 64 fallen soldiers and 2,000 Palestinians.”
Gal-On further criticized Netanyahu’s inaction during Operation Protective Edge. “What did you do Mr. Prime Minister? You dragged us into a war of choice in Gaza. You threw Hamas a lifeline and provided them achievements for no reason. You proved to the extremists that you only understand force.”
Hadash MK Mohammad Barakeh, and noted Israeli author David Grossman also spoke at the demonstration.
Yona, a protester from Kfar Saba, said she came to “protest because, unfortunately, the Left has been silent too long and all you hear is the Right. That’s why we came to show we exist. The solution we should have adopted long ago is to return the territories for peace; it will be much harder to achieve today.”
Tali, another demonstrator, said that “we better protest while we still can, because I have a feeling they don’t want us to talk.”
The protest is being held under the banner of “Taking a turn towards peace.”
Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz, one of the rally’s organizers, said: “It is our right and our obligation to call for a political solution which is the only solution that will assure peace and security. No one will silence us or scare us.”