Friday, April 08, 2011

Voices from Sderot that should be heard

THERE'S a demonstration with a difference taking place in Israel today, and I am just hoping it gets media coverage. As missiles and accusations flew back and forth over the Gaza border, and before Palestinian groups declared a cease fire today, so people their side can bury their dead, a group comprising Israelis resident in the city of Sderot and other places near the border announced their intention of holding this event:

'Last Friday, the IDF carried out a "liquidation" in the Gaza Strip, and immediately the alert level was raised in our region for fear of a Palestinian retaliation leading to escalation.

On Friday, April 8, 2011, at 2:30 PM, we will hold a protest vigil at the Yad Mordechai Junction, and call for:

No "Cast Lead 2"!

Yes to dialogue!

A life for them = A life for us

We, residents of the area, see a close connection between the suffering of our neighbours due to the ongoing siege and military attacks, and our own suffering.

We call upon the Government of Israel to stop the deterioration towards another senseless cycle of violence, to put an end to the mutual bloodshed and offer residents of this region a different option:

Dialogue, negotiations, and a striving for a long-term agreement, which will enable us and our neighbours to live a quiet life in dignity.

The option of brute force has brought us to a dead end!

It's time for a political initiative!

The Other Voice

in Sderot and the Gaza Border Region


Before launching its Operation Cast Lead against Gaza at the end of 2008, the Israeli military set up a media centre in Sderot, the place most in range of Kassem rockets fired by Palestinian groups, making sure the city got plenty of publicity rather than adequate precautions to protect or evacuate its children, say.

Even before this, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York had organized a display of 4,200 red balloons outside the United Nations building, to represent the number of rockets fired into Sderot. It was the idea of the Israeli consul. It got wide newspaper coverage.

Established at least partly on land belonging to the Palestinian village of Najd, whose ruins lie just to the north, and areas from which Negev Bedouin were evicted, and deported to Gaza, Sderot was one of Israel's 'development' towns, to which immigrants from the Maghreb and Kurdistan were sent, and later took a large number from the former Soviet Union.

It was no accident that the State chose to plant people in this strategic location facing the Gaza strip. As for the residents, for a time like many of the 'poor relations' from similar backgrounds they took revenge on the Labour establishment by voting for the demagogic right-wing Likud, till this was overturned by Moroccan-born Amir Peretz, who made Sderot his base for taking working class politics into the Histadrut unions and Labour leadership, combined with a popular peace call. Peretz became Labour leader, but rather than storm the establishment he was taken in by it, saddled with the Defence Ministry before the disastrous Lebanon war, and went on to lose the Labour leadership to army man Ehud Barak.

Meanwhile in Sderot, however, some people have continued even under the most difficult conditions to argue for for alternative policies, and maintain links by e-mail with friends in Gaza, who were able to report on the effects of Israeli siege and bombing as well as people's feeling. It is a pity that those reporters and politicians who flocked to Sderot when invited by the IDF were not able to meet this other Sderot. It might even have helped them report on what was happening across the border when the IDF was keeping them out.

Since the Gaza war the rockets had largely ceased - Hamas had already declare a truce before Israel invaded - until this past week. The flow of funds to Sderot has dried up too, and the municipality has been saying it might have to declare bankruptcy. Plainly the people calling today's demonstration don't see a return to war as the answer to their problems. Their voices must be heard.

In Gaza too, there are demonstrations, young people calling for unity and an end to political restrictions. This could both strengthen the Palestinians and make it easier to call for genuine negotiations if the two main Palestinian forces are not watching each other, But there are also reports of outside infiltrators, Salafi Islamicists and others, who may be supported by outside powers wanting a diversion from unrest in the wider Middle East, and more interested in asserting their own authority than seeking a solution to the Palestine issue.

Another sign of the different forces at work, from those who remain in the shadows to the open and honest voices of the people, came this week with the murder of visionary theatre director Juliano Mer Khamis. It was no secret that not everyone liked Juliano or his theatre project in Jenin. The Israeli Army probably regarded the ex-paratrooper as a renegade who sided with Arabs, and Israeli soldiers wrecked the theatre his mother established, as well as trashing his replacement. Conservative Muslims, including some of the elders of the Jenin refugee camp, did not like the modern theatre or co-education.

But Juliano was highly regarded by the young people of Jenin, and reaction to the killing was one of shock and grief. Zakaria Zubeidi, a former Al Aksa brigade fighter who worked with Juliano said he believed the shooting was a professional 'hit.' "The people behind this murder either belong to a powerful organisation or a state," he told reporters. "This cannot be the work of people who were angry with Juliano or with the theatre."

Another former Al Aksa member has been arrested. Hamas has denied any responsibility in what it described as a "purely criminal" action.

Juliano was buried on Wednesday n Kibbutz Ramot Menashe, near the grave of his mother Arna Mer Khamis. When she died in 1995 there was some difficulty finding a space to bury her. Arna had specified that she did not want a religious funeral, which meant Jewish cemeteries would not take her, and even those kibbutzim that allowed secular burials (for payment) were unwilling to accept a dead communist! Ramot Menashe, settled by immigrants from Argentina, was the exception.

Juliano's funeral procession started in Haifa, passed near the border so Palestinians could pay respects, before arriving at the kibbutz. A friend who attended says " about 800 people attended the funeral, two third Arabs one third Jews. I met many old friends there. Nowadays we are too old to meet in demos so we meet in funerals. An Arab youth choir sang and many people said a few words."

Whoever ordered the murder of Juliano Mer Khamis, we can be sure that the visions of freedom and peace for which he strove will not be finished.

Meanwhile, from a different level in Israeli society, a two page document has been issued calling a for a new 'Israeli Peace Initiative' comprising possible treaties with Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. Incidentally, even in dealing with Palestine as a state this goes against the current hard-line attitude of the Israeli government which has said nobody must recognise Palestine statehood. (Not only does the Israeli government assumne the right to tell Palestinians where they can or cannot go, but to tell foreign governments whom they can recognise or talk to).

The peace envisaged would involve Israeli withdrawal to more or less 1967 borders, and a Palestinian state having its capital in East Jerusalem, something else the Israeli government has opposed, since all Jerusalem and its environs were unilaterally annexed by the Zionists, effectively splitting the Palestinian West Bank into two restricted zones.

The people who have drawn up the document, including military and intelligence chiefs, recognise a debt to the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which was sponsored by the government of Saudi Arabia, as "a historic effort made by the Arab states to reach a breakthrough and achieve peace on a regional basis". The Israeli initiative endorses the Arab statement that "a military solution to the conflict will not achieve peace or provide security for the parties".

At the same time, perhaps explaining the delayed reaction, they say it presents an opportunity for Israelis to participate in the "winds of change" blowing through the Middle East. "We looked around at what was happening in neighbouring countries and we said to ourselves, 'It is about time that the Israeli public raised its voice as well.' We feel this initiative can bring along many members of the public," Danny Yatom, the former head of the Israeli external security agency, Mossad, told the New York Times.

"We are isolated internationally and seen to be against peace," he told the New York Times. "I hope this will make a small contribution to pushing our prime minister forward. It is about time that Israel initiates something on peace."

Before it risks losing some of its privileged place in the policies and affections of the United States, perhaps?

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