Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

MIDEAST: Some Israelis Cry Out for Peace

Daan Bauwens

TEL AVIV, Jan 11 2009 (IPS) - Another peace rally Saturday night brought together about a couple of thousand Israelis to demand an immediate end to the ongoing assault in Gaza. The demonstration was held in front of the Hakirya, the central command of the Israeli Defence Forces and the Ministry of Defence in the heart of Tel Aviv.

This was the third peace rally in three weeks. The first was held directly after the first air bombing of Gaza. It was attended by a few hundred protesters. At the second, more than 2,000 people came out on the streets.

“We have a humanistic and political message,” says Yosef Douek of the movement Peace Now which organised the demonstration. ‘Children in Gaza and Sderot want to live in peace and security. There is no use whatsoever to a continuation of these military actions.”

Peace Now was joined by Israeli peace movement Gush Shalom, after the joint Palestinian-Israeli non-governmental organisation Alternative Information Centre made an appeal to make Jan. 10 “a huge global day of mobilisation against the Israeli war in Gaza.”

“We are doing what we can to influence public opinion although I believe the effect of our actions is very limited,” says Yosef Douek. “Because we live in a country where media aren’t interested in breaking the political consensus. At the same time, the political approach to our message is non-existent. Everybody feels a patriotic urge to support the war, at least at this stage. I strongly believe this will change very soon. Public support will collapse, just as it did in previous wars.”

“This war started with a clear feeling of triumph,” says Ido Gideon, member of Meretz, a Jewish leftist party that supported the Israel Defensive Forces operation when it first began. “People in Israel thought that it would be a clean and fast operation to prevent Hamas from firing any more rockets at us. There was a clear feeling of vengeance amongst Israelis for what had happened that needed a response. Now things are getting out of hand, and vengeance has made place for disillusionment.”


But the group is finding it difficult to gain support both within Israel and internationally. “Whenever there is an Israeli military action, all leftists around the globe become anti-Israeli,” says Gideon. “All anti-war protests around the world are mingled with an anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish sentiment that is clearly aimed at the Jews’ right to live in this country. That makes it hard to be a leftist in Israel. Because in the first place, it isolates the whole of Israel, in the second place, it isolates the forces that are trying to change it.

“I am making the same battle as them,” Ido adds, “with one big difference: I’m making the battle inside of Israel. And whenever I go outside of Israel, I have to make another battle: the one of defending my right to be a Jew and live in this country.”

“The difference now with previous wars is the disproportionate use of violence, which has led to enormous anger in the rest of the world,” says Ronen Eidelman, an internationally known Jewish artist, writer and activist. He is engaged with linking art, culture and grassroots politics as editor of the online art and culture magazine Maarav, and is setting up several initiatives against the war in Gaza. “Last week we published a booklet with works of poets and artists against the war, which we distributed at the demonstrations. For some people, poetry is something they connect more to than an article in the newspaper.”

Last Tuesday, as President Shimon Peres attended the dedication of Israel’s national poet Bialik’s house in Tel Aviv, a group of poets recited Bialik’s poem ‘On the Slaughter’, and asked the attendees how they are able to “sip champagne while hundreds are being murdered in Gaza.”

“These initiatives are part of a much broader anti-war movement,” says Ronen Eidelman. “The cultural initiatives are only one thing out of a huge Israeli peace movement which is much larger than newspapers tend to say.”

“It is time Israelis and Palestinians start talking about pain instead of guilt,” says Ido Gideon. “Both sides have to realise that the holocaust is as much a part of the Israeli national psyche as is the Nakba for the Palestinians.” Nakba refers to the mass deportation of a million Palestinians from their cities and villages, massacres of civilians, and the razing to the ground of hundreds of Palestinian villages when the state of Israel was founded in 1948.

“We have to find a way to make both stories live together in the same land, whether or not you hold one of both to be more true than the other,” says Gideon.

 
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