August 1-13, 2005

Report First


The beginning of the road: Anne Frank, the Gaza break-up and US politics


31 July to 2 August


Our delegation arrived at Ben Gurion airport very early in the morning on Tuesday, August 2nd. At 1: 30 in the morning, the airport was almost empty, and we felt noticeably walking along the long shiny corridors, only occasionally meeting with the service staff. But we were relieved to go through passport control and collect our luggage without any delays. Earlier, some people on our plane clapped their hands when we made an uneven landing. But for many of us, members of the delegation, the fact that we actually arrived in Israel was not realized until our guide Rimon welcomed us into the arrivals hall and we loaded our bags and ourselves onto the bus.


Despite our fatigue, we felt well prepared for the next thirteen days spent together in Israel and Palestine. Our orientation at the FOR headquarters in Nyack, NY

it helped me a lot. The sessions covered cultural councils, the background to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, listening skills, group decision-making and

support each other on the road. We've played out some situations we might encounter. We met at meals and between sessions, and through a series of nonviolent exercises.


After leaving New York, we took advantage of a seven-hour stopover in Amsterdam to visit the Anne Frank Museum (www.annefrank.org ). Barry Van Drel of the Anne Frank Foundation organized for us a tour of the house where the young Anne Frank hid with her family during the occupation of the Netherlands by Germany during World War II. The Franks tried to avoid capture and deportation by the Nazis to the extermination camps. In the end, the Franks were captured, and the Nazis executed Anna, all members of her family except her father and those who provided them with asylum.


Climbing the steep, narrow stairs to the secret refuge of the Franks, and walking slowly and silently in a line through the empty rooms, provoked reflection and increased our awareness of the horror of those who were forced into hiding or sent to the extermination camps. The powerful story of this young woman, found in her diary published after her death, expresses an indomitable spirit that has inspired tens of millions of readers. Tom Ellis, who teaches in Albany, New York, observed several girls of Anne Frank's age who were very close to tears.


As we boarded the plane to Tel Aviv, I think we were increasingly reminded of the great crimes against the Jewish people that forced the surviving Jews to flee Europe and settle in Palestine. In addition, the hundreds of people who passed through the Anne Frank House during our short visit reminded us of the many museums, books, films and other historical and cultural manifestations that inform and remind us of the Holocaust of the Jews. Although the human tragedy of the Palestinians is of course of a different kind and scale, some of us have wondered whether there are comparable reminders for us of the Palestinian experience of displacement and exile. In the United States, at least, the Palestinian experience remains largely unknown.


After a few hours of sleep at the Kfar Maccabi hotel in Ramat Gan, north of Tel Aviv, we gathered as a group and went to our first official meeting-a presentation by Adam Sterling, Acting political advisor at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv (www.usembassy-israel.org.il /). Sterling outlined U.S. policy. Two weeks before returning to work at the state department in Washington, he stated that US policy consistently rejects the annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel and opposes the creation or further development of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip. While the U.S. supports Israel's right to build what Sterling called a "security barrier" on the pre-1967 border, the" green line," the U.S. government opposes further Israeli incursions into Palestinian lands.


We insisted that Sterling explain why the United States could not more effectively subordinate Israel to the American will on such an important issue, given the enormous amount of aid given to Israel. Sterling said that " the ability of the US to order its detention [of the barrier] is overstated."He explained that a large number of Americans are in favor of us support for Israel as the only democracy in the region and a nation that has been a "good friend" of the US in other situations. The United States "will suffer from martial law because of the existence of Israel," he said, and our relations with Israel will benefit the American economy and armed forces. Sterling also said that the Bush administration is investing huge political capital in the success of the disengagement from Gaza. He said that the credibility of the United States is related to what the Gaza Strip looks like after the withdrawal of Jewish settlements and the Israeli armed forces.


Sterling also stated that the people of Gaza must see an immediate improvement in their lives in the short and long term if we want the peace process to continue to make incremental progress. The group commented on the enormous and potentially insurmountable task facing the Palestinian Authority to show itself to the international community and Israel by rebuilding the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated regions in the world, which is constantly subjected to the most brutal treatment by Israeli forces, leaving many homeless and suffocating the region's economy. Economy.


Sterling said that the "security barrier" provides Israel with a degree of security, pointing out that the Gaza wall was built many years ago and effectively stopped suicide attacks on Israel. The barrier also reinforces the "two-state psychology-the feeling that' we are here and they are there ' - among both Israelis and Palestinians.- Finally, he says that the security barrier implies the final abandonment of these settlements on the Palestinian side of the wall, which characterizes it as a major change in Israeli policy.


In conclusion, Sterling noted that " people who work on this [the Israeli-Palestinian conflict], as a rule, know what the final solution will look like."He said that this point of view involves the inclusion of large blocks of Israeli settlements in Israel with the exchange of land elsewhere in favor of the Palestinians and the withdrawal of settlements deep in the West Bank. Israel's successful withdrawal from Gaza will challenge the mentality of both sides.


We got on the bus and headed south to Tel Aviv to meet Rachel and Uri Avnery from Gush Shalom, the "Israeli peace bloc." (www.gush-shalom.org/english /). Uri Avnery joined the Jewish underground to fight against the British during the mandatory period (1919-1948, when Britain ruled Palestine under the mandate of the league of nations). He fought, was wounded and lost his brother in the war of 1948. He later published an information magazine and several books, was one of the first Israelis to meet with Yasser Arafat and other PLO members advocating a two-state solution, sat in the Knesset (Israeli parliament), representing the United Arab and Jewish party, which advocated a Palestinian state on the side of Israel and equal rights for all Arab citizens of Israel, and is now one of the leaders of the Israeli peace movement.


Avnery presented an analysis of US policy in the region. He began by saying that the US had abandoned its key role in the peace process. The Israeli lobby was joined by a powerful right-wing lobby of evangelical Christians supporting extremist groups in Israel to the right of Sharon. Avnery said that the common assumption everywhere but the United States is that the United States used various fabricated pretexts to justify war with Iraq to

"point American weapons" in the center of the Middle East, at the top of the second largest oil reserves in the world and between the second and third largest oil reserves.

Deprived of any convincing justification for the US presence in Iraq, the Bush administration is now promoting the idea that the reason is the spread of democracy. Ironically, Bush's only success in democratisation was the election of Mahmoud Abbas as president of Palestine. This caused some tension in Israel when Bush tried to strengthen Abbas.


Avnery also considered the possible positive aspects and numerous shortcomings of the withdrawal plan implemented by prime minister Sharon. While the Israeli peace movement supports the separation of the Gaza Strip because it wants to support any Israeli action to dismantle illegal settlements, Avnery fully expects a second phase in which Sharon will unilaterally withdraw from parts of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians with only 40-50% of the land there, all isolated in many cantons. According to Avnery, " Sharon believes that God has shown him-even though he does not believe in God-the creation of the state of Israel as it will be in the future... with as much territory as possible and as few Arabs as possible."This new territory for Israel will cover 58% of the West Bank, including the "great Jerusalem", 4-5 largest settlements and a security zone in the Jordan Valley. He expects the US government to accept this second unilateral "withdrawal" (de facto annexation of Palestinian land). The current struggle to withdraw troops from Gaza is, in fact, a proxy battle to bring about a final settlement of the situation in the West Bank. According to Avnery, all this drama is deliberately aimed at reducing the likelihood of a serious demolition of settlements in the West Bank.

We traveled north of Tel Aviv to Ramat Ha Sharon for our next meeting. It was a relief from the bustle and heat of Tel Avis to be welcomed in the home of Israel
and Dorothy Naor. There we had a light dinner and an evening conversation with representatives of NewProfile (www.newprofile.org). New Profile is a feminist group working for the ?civil-ization? of Israeli society. They support the right of conscientious objection to military service, make presentations to school, provide support for parents of children dissenting from normative Israeli expectation that they enter the armed forces, and challenge the pervasive influence of the military on Israeli society. We also met with retired Rabbi Moshe Yehuda, Ruth Hiller, Diana Dolev and other members of New Profile.

After introductions, we broke into three smaller groups for more personal interaction. Those who met with Ruth Hiller were impressed by her account of raising three sons who have refused military service. Ruth described
the fear and anxiety that Israelis experience every day in light of continuing terrorist attacks. Her husband, son and daughters frequent a mall in Netanya
that was again targeted by suicide bombers last week.

In another group Dorothy Naor said that after Israeli forces used live ammunition to suppress demonstrations by Arab citizens of Israel at the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2001 she began to reassess her commitments and now no longer considers herself a Zionist. Dorothy and Moshe argued about the nature of Zionism and whether the ideals of being both a Jewish and a democratic state could be reconciled. Despite their differences, they are both working
shoulder to shoulder for New Profile.

Another woman talked about her daughter being sentenced to four consecutive jail terms, totaling seven months, for refusing military service. She was told that if she refused to wear a uniform in prison that she would serve her term in solitary confinement.

At our evening debriefing, delegation members reported being deeply moved by the insights and commitments of the Avnerys and those working with New Profile. Many delegates had not been aware of the deep divisions in Israeli society over issues such as the Gaza Disengagement Plan and the role of the military. We headed off to bed exhausted from jet lag and an overdose of information and impressions, but grateful for the ongoing and inspiring work of so many people struggling for peace.

Report submitted by Scott Kennedy for the delegation

 

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