About a week ago, ten Israelis from different grassroots organizations crossed the Qalandia checkpoint and entered besieged Ramallah, a city located in â€Area Aâ€ of the Palestinian territories and therefore legally out of bounds for Israeli citizens.
They were met by a number of representatives of civil society, including Raja Shechada the founder of the human rights organization AL-Hak and Moustafa Barghouti, the head of PNGO, the umbrella association of all Palestinian non-governmental organizations.
The purpose of the meeting was to explore new venues for cooperation following the recent Israeli elections, in which the right wing parties won their greatest victory in the Stateâ€™s history — they now control two-thirds of the seats in the Knesset (parliament).
The discussion rapidly turned to the war against Iraq and the effects such a war would have on the Middle East, particularly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The people in the room remembered that during the Gulf War the international media concentrated on Scud missiles falling on Tel-Aviv, while ignoring the suffering of the occupied Palestinians. They recollected that in 1991 the Israeli government imposed a 40-day curfew on all of the major cities, subjecting the population to massive collective punishment. The Palestinian economy was in much better shape then than it is today; this time around, with the majority of Palestinians living off of less than $2 a-day, a pro-longed curfew will undoubtedly lead to widespread hunger.
Those present at the Ramallah meeting expressed their fear that the Sharon government will take advantage of the international media concentration on the war to perpetrate large-scale human rights violations. They specifically mentioned the possibility of deportation of Palestinian leaders, and the uprooting and internal expulsion of whole villages from one part of the West Bank to another so as to render large areas within the occupied territories Palestinian free. The objective of such a move would be to make these areas more susceptible to Israeli annexation.
Along the same lines, concern was raised about actions which might be taken by the Jewish settlers. It is possible that settlers will also exploit the war to accelerate the expropriation of Palestinian land and to ruin their fields. Their goal is to destroy the Palestinian infrastructure of existence, a tactic employed in order to â€œencourageâ€ Palestinians to leave certain areas.
The Israelis and Palestinians decided to draft a joint statement against the war, which numerous organizations on both sides of the green line have already signed. They then sent it to groups all over the world and asked that they read it aloud during the international protests against war that will take place on February 15.
The Arab and Jewish residents of the Middle East wrote:
In spite of the growing international opposition of millions of people all over the world, it has become clear that the United States intends to lead a military assault against Iraq, regardless of the expected number of civilian casualties and suffering. Indeed, the imminent war will undoubtedly have catastrophic effects on the people of Iraq, on the Middle East as a whole and on the West Bank and Gaza Strip more specifically. Peoples of this region will pay the price of the war the price of death, destruction, hatred and more war.
Based on our experience from 1991, we also fear that massive repressive measures could be launched against Palestinian civilians during this period. We urge all peace-loving people in Israel to join forces in order to preempt such policies, and call for international protection of the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation.
We, Israeli and Palestinian members of civil society, are against this war, as it is not about security or justice, but about power, hegemony, control, and greed. We firmly believe that security as well as freedom for the peoples of this region cannot be achieved through war, violence, and death.
We call upon all people and organizations to raise their voices in opposing this war and to work jointly towards the establishment of a just, comprehensive, and durable peace in the region.
Together we say: No to the War Against Iraq! Yes to a Life of Peace & Justice in the Middle East! Yes to Ending Israeli Occupation!
The Bush administration has decided to ignore the opposition mounting in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. I doubt it will heed the cry of the people from the Middle East — those who will suffer most from this war.
Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University, and is a contributor to The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent (New Press 2002). He can be reached at [email protected]