When Israel's Maariv daily wrote about housing construction in East Jerusalem this summer, it offered exact numbers - down to the individual house.
How did they do it? In the paragraph after giving the numbers, Maariv offered this telling admission:
"These figures were given to us by Hagit Ofran, who heads the Settlement Watch program for Peace Now [Shalom Achshav]. Ofran carefully monitors each and every construction permit given to neighborhoods beyond the Green Line and documents them. She was the only one who could give us the precise numbers in an orderly Excel chart."
Hagit's dogged investigative work has become a vital source for those who are trying to separate facts from spin in Israel's settlement drive. Her findings have led to changes, such as court rulings to remove illegal outposts. And it has put her at personal and physical risk.
Persistence is rarely popular. Gadflies get swatted. And those who insist on revealing unpleasant realities are viewed as nags, or worse. But nag is what you do when the emperor has no clothes and the country is threatened as a result. Israel's settlement drive has the power to unmake Israel's Jewish and democratic character.
And so Shalom Achshav, Israel's veteran Peace Now movement, and its U.S. counterpart, Americans for Peace Now, nag. Just like those in the Soviet Jewry movement nagged. And as those in the Save Darfur movement nagged. The history of Zionism and the modern state of Israel is full of naggers. Herzl. Ben-Gurion.
By supporting APN, which provides Shalom Achshav with nearly half of its budget, you'll help ensure that this moderate, rational, but persistent, nagging continues until there is a negotiated settlement that allows for a viable Palestinian state and a secure Israel.
As the Maariv article about settlements confirmed, no permit for construction is pulled without Shalom Achshav knowing about it. No foundation of a house is laid without Shalom Achshav alerting the public. Shalom Achshav discovers illegal outposts before the Israeli government is even aware of them. (A few years back, Shalom Achshav activists actually rolled away a trailer that constituted an outpost, demonstrating, contrary to popular belief, how easy it is to dismantle an illegal outpost.)
The approach of a new Jewish year can be an opportunity to take stock of what we accomplished in the year now ending. In Israel, Shalom Achshav was persistent in drawing attention to the need for peace and the role settlements play in reducing the chances for a negotiated settlement:
- When President Obama spoke in Jerusalem in March, Shalom Achshav organized a live screening in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, which was filmed and featured by the New York Times.
- When Secretary of State John Kerry came to Israel after President Obama's visit, Shalom Achshav held a rally urging the Israeli government to take the necessary steps to help him rekindle the peace talks between Israel and Palestine.
- When Israel's Supreme Court ordered the government to evict Israeli settlers illegally inhabiting Palestinian-owned shops in Hebron, it was because Shalom Achshav (along with the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee) brought the case to court.
- When Shalom Achshav's June 2013 settlement report was released, Shalom Achshav Director Yariv Oppenheimer appeared on Israeli evening news and informed hundreds of thousands of viewers of record high settlement construction figures.
- When Israel's attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, wrote to Defense Minister Ya'alon requesting his personal leadership in enforcing planning and building laws related to settlement construction, the letter was based on information about illegal construction in the West Bank provided by Shalom Achshav.
In the United States, APN informs the public and, yes, nags our government officials about the importance of an active peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and what it takes to bring about a two-state solution.
APN's website, peacenow.org, is a hub for Middle East news and analysis. Want a daily digest of news from the Israeli media? Subscribe to our News Nosh. Looking for analysis from an Israeli security insider? Each week ex-Mossad analyst Yossi Alpher offers us a look at what's behind the events we hear about in the news. APN's mobile settlement map-app, available on I-Tunes, has been downloaded over 10,000 times and is a definitive source for anybody who wants to get educated on settlements.
In Washington, APN builds relationships with members of Congress and their staffs, and with executive branch officials to educate them about important developments in the Middle East and the implications of their policy choices. On university campuses, APN counsels students on steps they can take to improve and enrich the Mideast debate in their community. We offer our experts as speakers, both on campus and in Jewish communities nationally and internationally.
And on the internet, APN has a vigorous new media presence where we connect with younger people and offer them a pro-Israel, pro-peace perspective. To this community, we introduce progressive peace advocates in Israel, and offer them opportunities to take action. We continue to have more "fans" on Facebook than any other American Jewish organization.
This year saw a group of unlikely nags join the chorus warning about the price Israel is paying for its occupation of the Palestinians and ceaseless settlement building. In the documentary "The Gatekeepers," six former heads of Israel's Shin Bet security service, the men who understand the occupation better than anyone, said Israelis are dreaming if they think they can continue the occupation indefinitely at no cost to Israel.
Then in July, one of those "Gatekeepers," Yuval Diskin, warned in an essay that time is running out on a two-state solution. "We are approaching a point of no return regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict", he said.
And Diskin offered an observation that APN and Shalom Achshav have been making for a generation, that the occupation has taken root "in our essence, in our identity, in our souls, in our security, and in our perception of morality - as a society or nation that has come to rule another nation."
For too long, too many have been caught in the settlement trap. With a new year beginning, it's time to think outside the settlements. Please make your commitment to Americans for Peace Now today. Your contribution is tax-deductible and truly goes to an organization that's worthy of your support. Please support APN now so that we can focus our nagging on the ones who need to hear it.
L'shana tova tikatevu v'techtemu,
Rabbi Alana Suskin
P.S. If anyone has been a true nag (in the best sense of the term), surely it must be Secretary Kerry, who has nagged both Israel and Palestine back to the table. But he can't do it alone. If we want to see the blessing of peace in Israel in the upcoming year, you, too, must be a nag with the best of them. There are lots of things that you can do. Foremost among them is to keep reminding people that American Jews care deeply about peace and a two-state solution. And, of course, support Americans for Peace Now, so that Shalom Achshav can keep reporting the truth about the settlements and developing grassroots in Israel. As an additional gift from us to you, if you send $108 or more, we will send you Peace Now's new map of the settlements. APN and Shalom Achshav will nag right alongside you until a two-state solution is reached.
Rabbi Alana Suskin has for years leveraged Jewish values and ethics to advance causes of peace and justice. She is Americans for Peace Now's Director of Strategic Communications.
Rabbi Suskin was the Assistant Rabbi at Adas Israel, Washington's largest Conservative synagogue. She currently serves as an officer of Rabbis for Human Rights. Rabbi Suskin serves as a Managing Editor of Jewschool, a leading Jewish faith blog, and was a founding fellow of Clal's project, Rabbis Without Borders. She is a contributor to several other blogs including Jewish Values Online, and has worked with and served on the boards of a variety of social justice organizations, including American Rights at Work and Jews United for Justice.
Rabbi Suskin has published articles in a variety of magazines, journals and anthologies, including Shma, Daily Beast and Lilith.