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Link to the mandala of Brother Nicholas of the Flueli
Ursula Schneider

Peace Initiatives and Peace Potentials
in Israel / Palestine


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 2006/10, P. 706-709
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


From 2 to 4 June 2006 in Paris the second "Salon international des Initiatives de Paix" took place with more than 13.000 participants. 200 groups and associations organized an exhibition on occasion of the half-time of the UN-Decade for a Culture of Non-violence. Forty workshops and six international panel discussions belonged to it. Peace education was here with very good models and empiric reports in the centre - amazing for a "marginal" peace movement.

Europe versus Israel/Palestine: Israel/Palestine appears like a "globalization" of mankind's unresolved conflicts. "Peace" is nevertheless one of the most used words, whether you say now in Hebrew "Shalom" or in Arab "Salam". If you meet someone, if you say good-bye - you greet with that word. When Jews wish each other a good Sabbath they say "Shabat Shalom".

The struggle of these two peoples for one country becomes apparent in the argument about the end of the Israeli occupation policy in the Palestinian areas, and aims at the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict involves refugees, water, settlements, the status of Jerusalem, national sovereignty and the fixing of boundaries. The psycho-social situation, the increase in violence, radicalization and fundamentalism, corruption, missing human and citizen rights, and the fragmentation of the society characterize the substantial internal-Palestinian conflict. Those who prove to be shocked by the overwhelming decision of the Palestinian people for Hamas, have too large illusions about the material living conditions in Gaza, left by the Israeli settlers, and in the still occupied areas of the Westbank.

Up to the current dismantling of Fatah, corruption, inability and internal dissension speeded up the loss of confidence, whereas its competitor Hamas achieved by convincing social commitment on the basis, by independence from the autonomy authority, and by political hardness a strong reliability, which Fatah in its turn had lost. Menachem Klein, political scientist at the Bar-Ilan-University, who is one of the main actors of the Geneva Initiative, warned to favour the concept of interim agreements. This had proved to be a fundamental mistake in the Oslo Agreements, and would mean that the evacuation of every individual settlement was regarded as crucial step to peace, and thus the "road map" was in danger to become a "street map".

Israeli and Palestinian peace activists pursue the common object of violence-free resistance. It is differently structured in Israel than in the occupied areas. The Arab and the Jewish civil society developed parallel to each other in Israel. Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israeli nationality make up nearly 20 per cent of the total population of Israel within the borders of 1948. Their acting within society finds expression in associations and organizations which deal with the Israeli Palestine Peace



and the dialogue with the Palestinians in Israel and in the occupied areas. Due to the Oslo peace negotiations apart from the already existing Palestinian-Arab human right organizations as "The Association of Forty", "Arab Association for Human Rights" and "Birem" also new associations developed, such as "Adalah" and "Alternative Information Center". They focus above all on the legal and political protection of the interests of the Palestine Arab minority in Israel. The "House of Hope - International Peace Center" works in the educational field and the "House of Grace" on the psychosocial one.

For almost thirty years an Israeli-Jewish peace movement exists. Despite its variety its political standing is small. Until 1967 no relevant part of the Israeli society would have seen an alternative to the confrontation with the Arab world. 1967 the Six-Day War was still led as a war for surviving. The October War ("Jom Kippur") from 1973 too was defined in this way. In 1977 the Egyptian President Mohammed Anwar as-Sadat's visit to Israel brought a break-through. The establishment of the (still) most important peace movement "Peace Now" ("Shalom Achschaw") 1978 cannot be assessed as coincidental. First its goals affected the Palestinians only a little. Its concern was rather that the government of Menachem Begin took a more flexible attitude toward Egypt.

After 1982 the peace movement spread. Peace Now crystallized as umbrella organization. In addition ad-hoc-groupings appeared on the field which subsequently turned up to be relatively stable. To them above all the conscientious objectors of "Jesh Gvul" ("There is a Border") belonged, who admittedly rejected selectively but similarly to the "Committee Against War in Lebanon" the employment there. Peace Now did not share their radical ideas towards the Palestinians. They were content with the slogan "Peace is better than Grand Israel". They were not averse to entering into discussions with the PLO, but that would also not have been permitted officially as long as that organization was not ready to agree to conditions. This happened only after the beginning of the first Intifada (1987 to 1991), when in Algiers the highest Palestinian committees explicitly and clearly recognized Israel.

A broad spectrum of Israeli-Jewish peace organizations as "Israeli Council for Israeli Palestinian Peace", "Rabbis for Human Rights", "Gush Shalom", "Jewish Voice for Peace", "New Profile", and "Not in My Name" stands up for a general peaceful argument in the conflict, and for an end of the occupation of Palestinian areas. In addition those groupings dedicate themselves to the fight against serious concrete social and human right shortcomings.

"Monitoring", human right observation as a necessary field of work, is based on the experiences with the chicaneries at the checkpoints. "Machsomwatch" for instance supervises the behaviour of soldiers and police, in order to protect the human rights of the Palestinians. The "Shministim" is a union of higher grade students. They obey the call for conscientious objection in the occupied areas. Conscientious objection is considered as a way of civilian disobedience

Out of the women's movement more than 90 organizations were founded in Israel, many of them direct their activities to problems connected with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,



and the situation in Palestinian areas. For this "Bat Shalom", "Fifth Mother", "Machsomwatch", "Neled", "New Profile: Movement for the Civilization of Israeli Society", "Noga Feminist Journal", "TANDI", "WILPF", and "Women in Black" are to be mentioned. Those organizations are united by the "Coalition of Women for Peace", which was created in the year 2000 and to which almost without exception Palestinian and Israeli women belong.

Among others "Neveh Shalom/Wahat as-Salam", "Sikkuy" and "Bat Shalom North" and the group of coexistence "Taayush - Arab Jewish Partnership" see their life and work as contribution to a peaceful living together of both ethnic groups within and outside Israel. This kind of co-operation represents a new characteristic of the civilian resistance in Israel.

Every single day Palestinians put up active non-violent resistance in everyday life. They go to school, care for sick relatives or work on their field. Non-violent acting can e.g. also mean that people repair their destroyed houses, remove road blocks with their bare hands or in their houses defy the menaces and chicaneries of the Israeli army. When such everyday life actions are oriented towards resistance, the feeling of powerlessness is overcome in this way. There are many efforts which pursue the goal of non-violent resistance. Among others the "Palestinian Center for Peace and Democracy" (PCPD), "The Palestinian Center for Rapprochment between People", "The Peace Research Institutes in the Middle East" (PRIME), "Wi'am-Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center", "Badil" ("Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights"), "MEND", "The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group", "Passia", "PENGON" ("The Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network"), "Holy Land Trust", "B'Tselem", "Al Haq", "Addameer", "Jerusalem Center for Women" belong to them.

In the context of their fields of action two figures may here be pointed out: The "Jerusalem Center for Women", the Palestinian sister organization of "Bath Shaloms", acts similarly as it and has its seat since 1994 in East Jerusalem. Two centres, locally separated from each other, were quite deliberately established. Sumaya Farhat Nasser, since 1997 leader of the "Jerusalem Center for Women" comments on this that both sides wanted to work in independence and freedom. It is important for them to keep the respective political and cultural identity.

Mustafa Barghouti is counted among the most well-known leading figures for reconciliation and civilian protest in the Palestinian society. In the Madrid peace negotiations of 1991 he belonged to the Palestinian delegation. He holds the office of president of the largest medical organization, "Union Palestinian Medical Relief Committee" (UPMRC). Palestinian municipalities are medically supplied by his organization with the help of people who work on full-time basis or in a honorary capacity. It cooperates with the Israeli "Physicians for Human Rights" (PHR), who supply medical material and auxiliary goods.

The result of the work of the "Apartheid Wall Campaign", which was brought into being on 2 October 2002 on occasion of a meeting of "PENGON"-members, is the civilian rebellion against the partition wall. Together with many NGOs they gather and document information. By this they want to protect for example



the lives of hundreds of thousands of families in the Westbank, which are hit into their vital nerve by the wall. The merit of those campaigns with good publicity became apparent in the declaration of the International Court of Justice in The Hague of 9 July 2004, in which the building of the Wall was called illegal and furthermore an offence against international law. From it resulted that on 20 July 2004 the UN-plenary assembly followed the opinion of the ICJ and expressed this by a resolution.

An external peace initiative comes from the Lassalle Institute in Switzerland. The project: "Jerusalem, International City for Learning Peace in the World" takes the complex situation into account and is working on six different levels: forming spiritual groups on the spot and in other parts of the world; interlinking the peace forces and working on practical political visions on the spot; work at the diplomatic level at the United Nations (Geneva and New York); efforts to give an interreligious sign of peace in the old part of town of Jerusalem (its renovation); authorizing women from all over the world for a more efficient engagement in the peace work (special seminars for women); regular solution-oriented conferences with representatives of various religions, peace activists, and politically engaged persons (in the Lassalle House and Lassalle Institute).

That ecumenical initiative joins those which are launched on the part of the Christians in Israel/Palestine. On the search for consent the four "Church Families" are united under the umbrella organization of the Middle East Church Council (MECC). The MECC was created in 1974 and offers a platform for ecumenical discussions and relations.

Since the middle of the sixties of the last century in Jerusalem an interest in the Jewish-Christian dialogue began to grow, inspired by the resolutions of the Second Vatican Council and the following synods. The "Ecumenical Research Council" in Israel, which had been established for the theological consolidation of that topic, has accompanied, carried and transported this topic into many churches on the spot. From this a consorting with each other arose, as it had not existed for many centuries among Christians.

There is as further component: the interreligious dialogue in which many local but also the religions imported from Asian countries come together. Beyond that or as part of it several Israeli groups are in contact with Muslims. Also Christian groups are striving for the dialogue with Islam. The religious dialogues show the universality of Jerusalem; for the first time since Byzantine time Jerusalem is open again for all those who are looking for God.

Although the in August 2005 dramatically enacted evacuation from the Gaza Strip concerns only a small part of the occupied areas, it is not to be underestimated in its symbolism, because a precedent was created. So as Pax Christi co-operates with Gush Shalom, also the back of the peace initiatives in both camps should be stiffened from outside, so that they can be carriers of the 'principle hope'. Peace in the Near East is of central importance for the peace in the world.



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