Israeli Peace Movement Dusts Off Its Bumper Stickers
JERUSALEM (AP) _ When Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn, the Israeli peace movement packed away its ``End the Occupation″ and ``Peace Now″ bumper stickers and banners.
Three years later, with the crack of bullets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the signs and the slogans are back. Peace rallies have drawn tens of thousands of Israelis, and 300 reserve soldiers signed petitions saying they will refuse duty in the occupied territories.
``People are furious,″ said peace activist Peretz Kidron. ``Expectations were created over the past three years, and now it looks like we’re being thrown back down to the bottom of the pit.″
In the week since deadly clashes erupted over Israel’s opening of a new entrance to an archaeological tunnel in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, Israel has seen mass protests for the first time since the Palestinian uprising, or intefadeh, ended in 1993.
``The dream was fulfilled, the process seemed to be going by itself,″ said Alon Arnon of the group Peace Now, which Israeli reserve officers founded in 1978 to push for accelerated negotiations with Egypt.
``Now in one week it seems that everything collapsed.″
At a demonstration of about 15,000 people Tuesday night in Tel Aviv, Yossi Beilin, architect of the previous government’s peace policies, said that unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kept the promises of the Israel-PLO accords, peace activists would ``flood every plaza, every intersection, every street.″
``We gave Netanyahu a grace period _ it’s over,″ he said.
``People for the first time in years are angry,″ said Naomi Chazan, a legislator from the opposition Meretz party.
``I’ve been to so many demonstrations my feet are killing me.″
The past week has seen the reappearance of groups like Women in Black, which held weekly protest vigils during the intefadeh, and Yesh Gvul, which encouraged thousands of Israeli reservists to refuse to serve in the West Bank and Gaza during the intefadeh and in Lebanon during Israel’s 1982 invasion.
``It was pretty clear when Netanyahu was elected that we’d be seeing each other again,″ said Rita Mendes-Flohr of Women in Black, as she stood on a Jerusalem street corner holding a sign reading, ``Black September.″
Kidron, an organizer of Yesh Gvul, said the group had collected 300 signatures in the past week on petitions declaring that Israeli army reserve soldiers ``will not take part in the continued oppression of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories and in guarding the settlements.″
The group had celebrated with champagne when Rabin and Arafat began talks in 1993, Kidron said.
``We thought we were pensioning ourselves off _ we’d done our job,″ he said. ``But it seems we hadn’t.″
The rallies of the past week have been small compared to those that drew hundreds of thousands at the peak of protests against the 1982 war in Lebanon. And they have attracted a homogeneous crowd of secular, well-off, European-descended Israelis _ with none of the religious and Middle Eastern Jews or Russian immigrants who voted overwhelmingly for Netanyahu.
``The trouble is that all these movements are totally identified with the half of Israel that voted for (Shimon) Peres in the last elections,″ said columnist and longtime peace activist Uri Avneri.
``They’re completely alienated from the other half of Israel.″
In the end, Avneri said, the peace movement can help lay the groundwork for change, but cannot make it happen.
The 1993 peace accord ``was not brought about by Peace Now, it was brought about by the intefadeh,″ he said. Rabin decided to pull Israeli troops out of Gaza because Israelis were tired of having their soldier-sons killed there, he said.
Avneri said it may take more violence and deaths before the Israeli people and their leaders choose peace once again.
``There’s a Palestinian army now, and you can either fight them or make peace with them,″ he said.
``It will happen to Netanyahu as it happened to Rabin. If you want cause for optimism, it is that the basic facts don’t change. There are two peoples in this country, and when they are tired of killing each other, they will make peace.″