Encountering Peace: Observations, thoughts and questions
Summer is back and with it the middle class uprising, or the “Hebrew Spring” as some now call it.
Social protests in Jerusalem Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
Summer is here, ergo I demonstrate. Summer is back and with it the middle class
uprising, or the “Hebrew Spring” as some now call it. I really debated with
myself on whether or not to join the parade this past Saturday evening. It’s not
that I don’t support the calls for social justice. I do. Nor am I in favor of
the continued privatization of public services in Israel. The cost of living is
too high in Israel, the wages are too low, there is too much abuse of public
funds, the government is too big, the wealthy are taxed too leniently. Israel
really should be the exemplary compassionate social democracy.
So why the
hesitation? I don’t want to continue through another summer of protest to be
partner to the lie. There can be no social justice while we continue to control
another people and deny them their basic freedom and liberation as a people, and
I am not willing to enter the tent of denial. I am not willing to be part of
those who even suggest leaving these issues of peace and security out of the
tent because they are unpopular. It may indeed be completely true – who wants to
hear, once again, about the “political” issues? Not many for sure, but that does
not belittle this very basic truth.
So in Jerusalem on Saturday evening I
went out to demonstrate. There were some new slogans (Jews and Arabs refuse to
be enemies, equality for all), some new T-shirts (Peace and Social Justice – one
struggle!), there was a young Ethiopian woman lawyer speaker who spoke openly
about racism in Israel and the crowd chanted “Equality for All!” These were all
Then there was the chant “money for neighborhoods not
for...” and I waited to hear “settlements,” but instead came “seats in the
government.” How disappointing.
When we marched towards Independence Park
and walked along the high white metal barrier surrounding the area where more
than 2,000 Muslim skeletons were removed in order to build a museum of tolerance
in the name of Simon Wiesenthal, the crowd started banging hard on the
four-meter wall, making a lot of noise – enough to wake the dead.
some in the crowd thought for a moment about the irony of calling for social
justice in a city like Jerusalem without protesting against what was happening
behind that wall. But this was not part of the demonstrators’ agenda.
these demonstrations in Israel were taking place, demonstrations were being held
all over Palestine in solidarity with more than 1,500 prisoners who have been on
a hunger strike already for weeks. At least two of them had been hospitalized in
The demands of the prisoners: end administrative
detentions which allow the state to arrest without charge, to imprison without
trial, without a need to present any evidence of wrongdoing – not an
unreasonable demand to the only democracy in the Middle East; end solitary
confinement which for some prisoners has lasted years; return the right of
education in prison, allow family visits for prisoners from Gaza who have not
seen their families for six years – since the abduction of Gilad Schalit – and
to end strip searches of prisoners.
Many of these demands now appear
within a new law on the rights of prisoners which was passed in the Knesset just
last week. Of course, in Israel, at the demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem
and in the other main cities, not one word was spoken about this issue.
Prisoners’ rights are not on the agenda of the social protest movement of
Israel’s middle class. Their situation doesn’t touch us, doesn’t affect our
pocket and besides, they are the enemy, so who really cares about them? With the
second largest government in the history of Israel, real changes could take
place. As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said to Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu, there are no more excuses. The coalition will not fall; the
government of Israel can be bold and can take courageous, historic
Miri Regev, a very right-wing back bencher in the Likud,
understood the momentous occasion and tried to get the government to support
legislation that would annex the Israeli settlements to Israel – unilaterally
annexing about 60 percent of the West Bank.
Almost at the last moment
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman woke up to the imminent danger and alerted the
prime minister to the fact that such a move would be a disaster for the State of
Israel, and that even Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir had not ventured into
this right-wing fanaticide (fanatic national suicide wish).
Regev, Hillary Clinton was not speaking about that kind of boldness, thank you
Yes, she was saying that it is time Israel became a state with
defined borders, but she was suggesting that it be the outcome of negotiations
with the Palestinians and not as a result of opening a new political war between
Israel and the world.
So back to the summer of discontent – no, Hillary
Clinton should not have to tell us what to do, we should be doing that
ourselves. All of the middle class demands, economic restructuring, ending
privatization of public services, providing affordable public housing, bringing
down the cost of living, taxing the wealthy, free education, creating a just and
democratic welfare state – a social democracy can only be achieved in
conjunction with ending our control over the Palestinian people and making peace
with our neighbors.
This very unpopular truth cannot be hidden, it cannot
be ignored and it will not go away by wishful thinking. So I invite the hundreds
of thousands who took to the streets last summer to come out once again – not
for an evening of entertainment with popular singers but for a real political
struggle that will not be a passing illusion of accomplishment, but the real
thing. We can recapture the hope and we can overcome despair. Let us be honest
with ourselves and reconnect the obvious – social justice – YES, end the
occupation – YES, peace with our neighbors – YES.
The writer is the
co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information,
a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, a radio host on All for Peace Radio and the
initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad