When Naftali Bennett governed the Jewish state with an inclusive coalition concerned with healing rifts and steering the country towards consensus, he had a mantra: Let’s concentrate on the 70% of issues that 70% of the citizens agree upon.
“Israelis don’t wake up in the morning thinking about the occupation,” he famously claimed. “Let’s focus on what concerns most people: jobs, hospitals, education, prices.”
While many citizens, exhausted by endless elections and ongoing political chaos, were only too happy to sink into a period of calm while coping adults dealt with our daily dramas, Susie Becher, writer, editor, and activist, was definitely not one of them.
Susie Becher: An activist who never stops worrying about the occupation
“I do wake up every morning worrying about the occupation and what will be here,” she insists. “It colors almost everything that I see and do.”
Becher, who first followed her family from Montreal to Israel in 1969, was initially not impressed by a society she felt was militaristic and parochial.
“I was a bit of a hippy and a political activist; Israel didn’t feel like home.” But the universe had other ideas: After a three-year stint studying history back in Canada, Becher took a trip to Europe where she met her future Israeli husband in an American Express office in Lisbon.
“I came back for love, not Zionism,” she recalls, after some 50 years in the country. Husband Yoav fought in the 1973 Yom Kippur War; she raised two children here (and now, one of her three Sabra grandchildren is about to enlist); she has a home in Herzliya; and she worked for 30 years as an editor and local manager for the American Embassy Media Department.
So it’s fair to say that Becher is an accredited Israeli. Yet she is not at all happy about the state of Israel’s democracy, which she believes was shaky even before this government started to rock all the foundations.
“The Jewish character of the country has been established and is solid,” she claims, adding that “We can’t have laws that favor Jewish citizens above others; that is not democracy.”
She demonstrated against the Nation-State law and is critical of those “wishy-washy liberals” who want to amend the law to include Druze but not Arabs. She also advocates amending the national anthem to cut out the “yearning for a Jewish state in which to be a free people,” 75 years after the fact.
“I was always an activist,” says Becher, a slim 72-year-old who, in her pearls and trendy clothes, could easily be mistaken for a glamorous granny who does lunch and not much else. But the opposite is true. In 2000, following the outbreak of the Second Intifada, she joined Yossi Beilin’s Shahar peace movement and followed him to Meretz, where she served on the Executive and General Assembly, working closely with party leaders Beilin and Zehava Galon.
In 2020, Becher resigned from Meretz, which she believed was drifting to the center, and later helped found Kol Ezrahe’ah (“all its citizens”), a Jewish-Arab party led by Avrum Burg and Faisal Azaiza. She also became communications director of the Policy Working Group, where she works with chair Ilan Baruch – a former ambassador, who resigned from the Foreign Ministry in 2011, claiming he could no longer endorse government policies that outraged him. The PWG consists of close to 30 dedicated peace activists such as Prof. Galia Golan; ex-parliamentarian Mossi Raz; former ambassadors Alon Liel and Eli Barnavi; and other human rights activists and senior academics.
The PWG’s platform sounds almost quaintly optimistic in the present reality: a two-state solution based on the principles of the Geneva Initiative, president Bill Clinton’s parameters, and the Arab Peace Initiative, which, according to Becher, allows for compromises on the implementation of the right of return of Palestinians.
The group is not an established NGO and does not fundraise; members meet with ambassadors to Israel, EU representatives, and members of the diplomatic corps here and occasionally abroad. Through memos and policy papers mailed to progressive Jews, government officials, and parliamentarians in other countries, the PWG hopes to keep the peace agenda alive.
“We no longer believe it’s possible to convince the majority of the Israeli public to accept our positions,” she states, “so our mission is to advocate overseas for international intervention.”
The complexities of Israel are just intensifying; it’s becoming very difficult to see a way through the mess.
According to international law, one of the characteristics of a legal occupation is that it’s temporary; but after 56 years, is the West Bank still “temporarily” occupied?
The Palestinians, according to Becher, recently went to the UN to determine the legal consequences of the ongoing occupation; the UNGA submitted a request to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion, and the deliberations could take years.
“Meanwhile, the government of Israel dismisses any criticism of its policy with the claim of antisemitism,” she says, so “reluctance to speak out and risk being labeled a Jew-hater is growing.”
Becher has not given up. She writes letters, addresses meetings, blogs for the Times of Israel, and pens position papers for PWG. She is also the managing editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, a quarterly publication that, she claims, is one of the few remaining Israeli-Palestinian joint ventures of its kind. The PIJ publishes papers on politics, economics, and culture and focuses on issues such as the role of women, Israel and apartheid, youth as peacemakers, and the challenges of life under occupation.
Becher readily admits that the ongoing political stalemate with the Palestinians is terribly complex and that most people have lost all hope of a diplomatic solution.
Still, she feels compelled to bring the other side of the picture to light. Together with attorney Juliette Abuiyun, she worked on a paper for the Zulat think tank, highlighting the human aspect of life for east Jerusalem Palestinian women. Testimonies include the challenges of maintaining the norms of modesty when housed with a neighbor after one’s home has been demolished and wondering whether it’s safe to walk toddlers to nursery school when news of an early morning IDF raid is in the air.
“Eventually it will all be resolved,” she announces, “but not in my lifetime.”
She enumerates intractable problems that finally dissolved: the Berlin Wall, Vietnam, Ireland.
“The solution will come out of left field,” she predicts. “We simply cannot foresee how it will happen, but it will.”
As the country lurches from crisis to crisis under a government that doesn’t seem to care about anything but its own supporters, we are all waiting anxiously for a savior to fly in from left field. May it happen in our lifetime! ■