Like many activists in the peace camp, I’m occasionally afflicted with “hope fatigue” as I watch the Israeli government give up on the pursuit of peace.
When I think back to the high hopes we had for the Oslo Accords, the Camp David Summit, the Clinton Parameters, and the Quartet’s Road Map, a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems more remote today than ever before.
I can’t help feeling distressed that both the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority have permitted the extremists on both sides to dominate the political agenda. My despair deepens as I watch Israelis gobble up land in the West Bank and take over Palestinian property in East Jerusalem that’s supposed to be subject to negotiation in a future peace agreement between the two parties.
But the staff and supporters of Americans for Peace Now—and the young leaders and volunteers at Shalom Achshav, our sister organization in Israel—refuse to succumb to hopelessness and fatigue. They just keep plugging away. And because of them and their work, I keep getting reenergized and recommitted to the struggle to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Like all Israelis of my generation, I will never forget the night of Nov. 4, 1995.
Having just heard from the news desk editor at Israel’s Haaretz newspaper that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been shot, I called Palestinian officials for reaction. I was Haaretz’s Palestinian affairs correspondent at the time and was on the phone with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat when I heard on Israel Radio that Rabin’s spokesman was about to make a statement. As Eitan Haber hushed the crowed, I started translating for Erekat: “The government of Israel announces in dismay, in great sadness, and in deep sorrow, the death of Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Yitzhak Rabin, who was murdered by an assassin, tonight in Tel Aviv.”
In a recent interview, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman – a long-time supporter of Israeli settlements – falsely claimed that Israel occupies “only 2 percent” of the West Bank.
In fact, with the entire West Bank under Israeli military law, 100 percent is occupied by Israel. Yet, when a reporter followed up with State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, asking what percent of the West Bank the Trump administration believes is occupied, she stated: “I don’t know that we have a map of that.”
We at Americans for Peace Now have good news for the State Department: Facts on the Ground 2.0 is coming soon.
Every Jewish holiday comes with its set of very particular traditions. There is the carefully-prescribed sequence of shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah, the prohibition on putting anything (even a toothbrush) in one’s mouth on Yom Kippur, the precise order of lighting the menorah’s candles during Chanukah, and of course the uncompromising war on chametz in preparation for Passover.
Then along comes Sukkot, when the focus is the etrog, the yellow citron used as one of the ‘four species,’ plants and fruit ritually used by observant Jews during this holiday. A kosher etrog must pass a battery of tests. It must have the right proportions and color, be free of stains or blemishes, and above all, its pistil end (or “nipple”) must be intact. Hasidic Jews at Jerusalem’s Sukkot markets are often seen holding up magnifying glasses to these lemon-like fruit, meticulously scrutinizing them for imperfections. You don’t want to end up with a lemon. It must be perfect.
My name is Shabtay Bendet. I am forty-four. I have six children and I live in Jaffa.
I recently joined Peace Now as the director of the Settlement Watch team, after several years of working as the West Bank correspondent of Walla, Israel’s most popular news site.
This move, for me, is a closure of sorts. I see it as a tikkun, repairing a chapter in my life in which I was a settler and took part in the injustices that West Bank Palestinians suffer as a result of the occupation and the settlement enterprise.
About 20 years ago, with an eight-month-old daughter, I decided to move with my family to establish the first unauthorized outpost in the West Bank, Rahelim. During the years we lived in the Occupied Territories, I worked in the adjacent settlement of Yitzhar, studied at the Joseph's Tomb yeshiva in Nablus, and worked in agriculture near the illegal outpost of Shvut Rachel, in areas that paved the way for the establishment of more outposts. In fact, during those years, I devoted my life, my whole life, to activity (today, perhaps, I would call it being an activist) in order to advance the ideology in which I believed.
Each year at Rosh Hashana, we take stock of our actions from the past year. This year, we have additional reason to take stock as we head into the Days of Awe and the season of repentance: this is the 50 year of the occupation.
In Jewish tradition, the 50 year has special status. It is known as the yovel (Jubilee) year. In rabbinic writings the yovel is compared to Rosh Hashanah, with both set aside as time to reflect before beginning anew. The yovel consists of three major features: liberating slaves, setting free the land, and releasing all debts.
It is hard to conceive of a year in which yovel is more needed than the 50th anniversary of Israel’s rule over the West Bank and Gaza. Over this past half century, we have seen the occupation not only devastate Palestinians but also corrupt Israeli society. This past year alone, we have witnessed rising settler violence against Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, the Israeli military, and Peace Now and other activists, as well as land theft and vandalism.
The poison of occupation has metastasized to the highest levels of the Israeli political system. In order to bolster the occupation, Netanyahu’s government passed the Legalization Law, which retroactively legalizes Israeli civilian construction in the West Bank built on privately owned Palestinian land, in violation of both Israeli and international law. For the sake of stifling protest against the occupation, Netanyahu’s government passed the Entry Law, which bans entry to Israel by anyone who supports boycotts of either Israel or the settlements. This doesn’t just stifle debate; it is yet another step in the attempt to erase the boundary between Israel and the West Bank.
Q. Does the absence of a Palestinian state threaten Israel? How?
A. Yes, it threatens Israel, and in more ways than one.
Without an Arab-state political affiliation for the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel is universally seen as their occupier. Not a single state in the world recognizes the terms “Judea and Samaria” or Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem. The possibility of restoring a pre-1967 political link, say by affiliating the West Bank in some way with Jordan, has ceased to be realistic in Arab eyes for several decades. This is so despite the fact that some Israeli right-wingers cut off from regional realities and international standards of human rights argue that West Bank Palestinians could enjoy autonomy under Israel and vote in Jordanian elections.
Nor is the paternalistic proposal put forth by some on the Israeli right—to the effect that Palestinians in the West Bank can in perpetuity enjoy “human” rights but not citizenship rights on the land where they live-- viable in the eyes of Palestinians or anyone else in the world. Palestinian Arabs today identify as Palestinians in a political sense. If they cannot achieve sovereign statehood, the only fallback position they are likely to recognize is Israeli citizenship within the framework of a single state.
This brings us to the demographic issue. Most demographers today argue that there are already more Arabs than Jews in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Some on the Israeli right argue that the totality of Arabs is “only” 40 percent of the total population, meaning Jews constitute 55 percent (another five percent of Israelis are neither Jewish nor Arab). In some cases this figure is achieved by ignoring the two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, a highly problematic geopolitical determination. In other cases it is achieved by radically underestimating the number of Palestinians in the West Bank and ignoring the 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
One way or another, even an Israeli state with a 40 percent (and growing!) Arab minority cannot claim to be intrinsically Jewish. As for a non-democratic state that favors its Jewish over its Arab inhabitants, this is anathema to the vast majority of Jews, to say nothing of the international community. It places Israel in the global family of racist, fascist countries whose prospects for enlightened progress are zero.
Rosh Hashana is a time to reflect. If your reflection brings sadness - and rage - at the ongoing assault on the values and principles you hold dear, both at home and in Israel, we share this with you.
This year, the Israeli Knesset legislated that those of us in APN - who work against boycotts divestment and sanctions (BDS) directed at Israel but who advocate boycotting the occupation and products made in the settlements - are not welcome in the Jewish homeland. Israeli law now states that a visa will not be granted to us because we, as non-Israelis, and APN, the organization on whose behalf we work, knowingly published a public call to boycott the settlements.
This year, Israeli lawmakers put on the Knesset’s docket bills to bar foreign donations to Israeli human and civil rights organizations. Likud MK Miki Zohar, in proposing the bill, said: “The time has come to dry up [the resources used by] leftist organizations that undermine the government, slander Israel and try to infringe on its right to defend itself. We must block their funding sources and thus prevent them from harming the state.” Not surprisingly, this bill targets progressive donors and does not affect the enormous financial contributions made to Israeli organizations by the likes of Sheldon Adelson.
Shalom Achshav (Peace Now)
Israel’s preeminent peace movement, Peace Now (Shalom Achshav), was established in 1978, when 348 Israeli senior reserve army officers and combat soldiers came together to urge their government to sign a peace treaty with Egypt. They knew then what remains true today: Real security for Israel can only be achieved through peace. In the years since its establishment, Shalom Achshav has worked for the achievement of peace agreements between Israel and all her Arab neighbors, and has come to be recognized, both in Israel and abroad, as Israel’s leading grassroots Zionist pro-peace movement.
With a small staff and a small budget, Peace Now runs several important programs to advance peace and democracy and to help keep the door open for a two-state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.