Last month, on September 11th, we sat down to begin drafting this letter to tell you about the vital work of Americans for Peace Now (APN) and the Israeli Peace Now movement.
That date will forever have a powerful meaning for us, as we are sure it does for all Americans. It brings back memories of a terrible tragedy. But it also evokes memories of men and women rushing into burning buildings to save others, at great risk to their own lives. In that sense, the day was a reminder of the incredible strength of the human spirit and of the heroes that quietly live among us.
Heroes do live among us, both here and in Israel. People who toil--some in obscurity, some under the bright light of public scrutiny--trying to save lives by advancing the cause of peace.
The two of us are members of APN's Board of Directors and one of the chief reasons for our commitment to APN is that it is the sister organization of Israel's peace movement, Shalom Achshav (Peace Now). The leaders and activists of Shalom Achshav are among our most admired heroes because, in the face of an Israeli leadership that often risks the country's future for the sake of political expediency, they continue to keep the hope for peace alive, to keep the cause alive through grass-roots activism, public education efforts, and passionate advocacy. We're proud that Shalom Achshav is a primary benefactor of the funds raised in America by APN.
For Israel's future, a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an existential imperative. In the absence of a negotiated settlement, Israel seems destined to become a bi-national state, a permanent occupying force, and an international pariah. The status quo seriously threatens Israel's founding principles as a democratic Jewish state. But peace is not strictly an Israeli cause. The American people and our government have a vital interest in calming Middle East tensions and insuring peaceful co-existence, security, and stability in that part of the world.
Some Americans have given up. Some delude themselves in the belief that there's time to spare, or it's a matter of waiting for the right leaders to come along, or it's okay to kick the can down the road while doing nothing. But we know as well as you do that the struggle for peace requires constant nurturing and lots of hard work.
Our heroes in Israel are the people in Shalom Achshav who do this work every single day despite an increasingly hostile, sometimes threatening, political environment. Today we want to talk to you about some of these heroes.
First, our brave, intrepid friend, Hagit Ofran, who heads up Peace Now's Settlement Watch. Because Israel's West Bank settlements and military occupation fly in the face of fundamental Jewish values and poison Israel's democracy, Hagit dedicates all her energies to exposing settlement activities and challenging the occupation. In the face of an Israeli government that seems to care more about grabbing land than guaranteeing the rule of law, and in the face of right-wing extremists who paint death threats on the walls of her home, Hagit doesn't give up. For this, she is our hero--a selfless patriot who seeks no personal credit or fame, but who simply and tirelessly lives the courage of her convictions.
Parenthetically, Hagit happens to be following in the footsteps of her grandfather, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, one of Israel's most respected philosophers and the first prominent public figure to warn of the dangers of the occupation. We draw strength from knowing Hagit and the depth of her commitment, just as we draw strength from others who, at a time of growing extremism, navigate their lives by a moral compass that unerringly points to true north.
A second hero of ours is Peace Now Director General Yariv Oppenheimer, who likewise regularly faces death threats for his work, but refuses to give up or back off. Another is Peace Now's lawyer, Michael Sfard, who is steadfast in his efforts to challenge settlements and the occupation within Israel's courts. And there are dozens of everyday heroes among Peace Now's courageous volunteers who speak on Israeli campuses in order to educate youth about the vital need for peace and the importance of a two-state solution to insure Israel's long-term security. We salute young Israeli peace activists like Yotam Berger, who two years ago established a Peace Now chapter at his Jerusalem high school to galvanize support among his fellow students and who recently embarked upon his three years of service in the Israel Defense Force. Israel needs more Yotams.Our heroes include others beyond the Peace Now family, people such as:
- Michael Melchior, an Orthodox rabbi and prominent Israeli political figure. With a gravitas earned throughout a lifetime of religious scholarship and peace activism, he fearlessly stands up to the religious bigotry that fuels this conflict;
- Talia Sasson, a distinguished Israeli lawyer whose report on illegal settlement activities, written at the request of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, earned her the hatred of the Israeli right, and the respect of Israelis of conscience;
- Yossi Alpher, a former Israeli intelligence official whose probing insights and trenchant analysis make his weekly Q & A (published by APN on-line) required reading for all who care about Israel and the region;
- Danny Seidemann, a lawyer who for decades has almost single-handedly led the fight against expropriation of Palestinian property in order to keep the possibility of the two-state solution alive in Jerusalem;
- Eli Moyal, the former Sderot mayor who in the midst of rockets falling from Gaza called for Israel to talk directly with Hamas over a cessation of violence.
It goes without saying that one of our pre-eminent heroes was Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was gunned down by a Jew, not an Arab, because he sought peace for Israel. Just like the Israeli Army reservists who founded Shalom Achshav thirty-four years ago, Yitzhak Rabin came to understand that military might alone will never guarantee Israel's security.
And yes, we have heroes on the Palestinian side as well. Heroes like Palestinian Prime Minster Salam Fayyad, whose commitment to a democratic Palestinian state is evident in the institution-building initiatives he has pioneered over the last several years. Heroes like Kadoura Moussa, a former Fatah leader who after twelve years in an Israeli prison became the governor of the West Bank town of Jenin, and turned it from a hotbed of suicide bombers into a thriving engine of economic and ecological cooperation with its neighboring Israeli communities. Heroes like Izzeldin Abuelaish, the doctor from Gaza whose three daughters and niece were killed by Israeli shelling during the Gaza War, but who, in the aftermath of that tragedy, redoubled his commitment to peace and coexistence. And our heroes include thousands of Palestinian farmers who, in the face of violent attacks and harassment by settlers, plant new rows of olive trees to replace those vandalized by Jewish settlers, and continue their nonviolent struggle for independence and peace.
We also have heroes in our own country. Bill Clinton has worked tirelessly, both in and out of the White House, to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the so-called "Clinton parameters" still serve as a basic framework for resolving the conflict. George W. Bush deserves credit for being the first U.S. president to endorse the establishment of a Palestinian state as official US policy and to make the two-state solution a tenet of our nation's objectives in the Middle East.
Indeed, we find heroes and inspiration in any American political figure or administration official--from either party--who refuses to pander to powerful lobbyists, or take refuge in the empty excuse that "we can't want it more than the parties themselves." What we can want--and what Americans for Peace Now advocates for--are American leaders strong enough to help Israel see the price for inaction, and the payoff for peace. We also take pride in our fellow APN activists who have stayed the course and never given up the struggle:
Heroes like Sara Ehrman, a seasoned political advisor and longtime APN board member from Washington, D.C. who has spent the better part of four decades encouraging American Jews to support Middle East peace. And like members of APN's remarkable staff who help advance a robust U.S. domestic agenda that promotes Israeli-Palestinian peace and works to keep the two-state solution alive.
Heroes like Arthur Stern, another longtime APN board member who was an outstanding leader in the California Jewish community. Arthur died earlier this year. A survivor of the Holocaust, he emerged from a world of brutality and chaos with a deep commitment to the idea that Jews have an obligation to fight for justice both in their own neighborhoods and in the Middle East. Until the end of his life, Arthur believed that only peace can preserve a democratic Jewish Israel and fulfill the Zionist dream. Arthur did not live to see peace come to Israel and Palestine but his determination and zeal for justice inspires us all.
Finally, our heroes are, perhaps most importantly, all of you who support Americans for Peace Now. These days, when the prospect for peace appears distant, it is neither easy nor popular to stand up for this cause. Likewise, we all fight the impulse give in to exhaustion or resign ourselves to defeat.
But if you still believe peace is possible, we ask you to support APN. Join us. Don't give up. Resist cynicism and despair.
The settlers may have established massive facts on the ground. But they have not yet succeeded in their effort to torpedo all possibilities of a two-state solution. They have not yet achieved that goal. It is incumbent upon us and our friends in Israel to deny a victory to triumphalists and obstructionists. Because if they win, Israel will lose. And we will lose.
If you are someone who refuses to close your eyes to disastrous developments in Israel, if you refuse to fall into the trap of denial--in which people tell themselves that the status quo is tolerable, or that there is no Palestinian partner, or that settlements aren't really a problem--then you, too, are our hero. So join us. Stand with us. Show your support for a peaceful resolution to the conflict by supporting APN and Shalom Achshav.
And please accept our admiration and our thanks.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin & Victor A. Kovner
LETTY COTTIN POGREBIN, a past president of Americans for Peace Now, is a long-time pro-Israel peace activist. A founding editor of Ms. Magazine and a leading voice in American feminism, she is the author of nine books, most recently Three Daughters, a novel, and Getting Over Getting Older, a memoir. She is also a past president of The Authors Guild.
VICTOR A. KOVNER , s a dedicated leader in support of Israel and peace. He is a longtime member of the board of Americans for Peace Now, and a Co-Founder and board member of J Street. Mr. Kovner is the former Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, the former Chair of the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, and the longtime Chair of the Fund for Modern Courts.