Sunday, August 24, 2008

2 Reports on Free Gaza boats arrival in Gaza

Last update - 21:56 23/08/2008
Haniyeh: Arrival of blockade-busting boats spells end of Gaza siege
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent and The Associated Press

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday welcomed two boats that sailed from Cyprus to the Gaza Strip in efforts to break the Israeli-imposed blockade on the Palestinian territory, saying that the arrival of the boats signaled the end of the siege.

The 70-foot (21-meter) Free Gaza and 60-foot (18-meter) Liberty left the southern port of Larnaca about 10 a.m. Friday for the estimated 30-hour trip. The activists planned to deliver 200 hearing aids to a Palestinian charity for children and hand out 5,000 balloons.

The 46 activists from 14 countries belonging to the U.S.-based group Free Gaza include an 81-year-old Catholic nun and the sister-in-law of Mideast envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The arrival of the boats is another "nail in the coffin of the blockade," Haniyeh said in an interview with the Qatari-based television network Al Jazeera.

He urged the head of the Arab League Amr Moussa to come to Gaza and called on Egypt to open the Rafah border crossing, which the Egyptians closed in 2007 when Hamas violently seized control over the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also lauded the activists, who docked at Gaza City's tiny port Saturday evening, receiving a warm welcome from thousands of jubilant Palestinians after a two-day journey marred by communications troubles and rough seas.

"We were all dizzy, nauseous. We were all tired. But in the last hour it was like we were recharged," said Ayash Daraj, a journalist with al-Jazeera who sailed with the activists.

Since setting sail from Cyprus early Friday, the Free Gaza mission had been in question. Israel initially hinted it would prevent the vessels from reaching Gaza, and on Saturday, the group accused Israel of jamming its communications equipment.

But late Saturday, Israel said it would permit the boats to dock in Gaza after determining the activists did not pose a security threat. Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said Israel wanted to avoid the media provocation that the activists were seeking. He said he had no knowledge of attempts to harm the boats' communications.

He went on to say that the authorities in Greece and Cyprus inspected the vessels and their passengers before they set sail from the port of Larnaca in Cyprus Friday morning, and assured Israel that they carried no weapons.

Israel decided to permit the Free Gaza boats to sail into the Strip as a one-time measure and announced that similar missions in the future would be examined individually. It was further announced that the boats would be inspected upon their return to ensure they were not carrying wanted militants or weapons.

Israel has led an international boycott of the Gaza Strip since the militant Muslim group Hamas seized power of the territory in June 2007. Israel closed its trade crossings with the coastal territory, while neighboring Egypt sealed its passenger crossing, confining Gaza's 1.4 million residents.

Israel has allowed little more than basic humanitarian supplies into Gaza, causing widespread shortages of fuel, electricity and basic goods. Only some people are allowed to leave Gaza for medical care, jobs abroad and the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

Under a June truce deal which halted a deadly cycle of bruising Palestinian rocket attacks and deadly Israel airstrikes, Israel has pledged to ease the blockade, but Palestinians say the flow of goods into Gaza remains insufficient and there has been little improvement in the quality of life. Israel has periodically closed the cargo crossings in response to sporadic Palestinian rocket fire that violated the truce.

Earlier Saturday, the Free Gaza activist group accused Israel of sabotaging the mission, saying that Israel had jammed the boats' electronic communication systems.

"I can't think of any other reason or any other party with an interest," said Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, the group's spokeswoman in Israel. She accused Israel of jeopardizing the activists' safety, and appealed for international assistance.

Israel has denied interfering in the boats' communications.

In a statement, the activists said their communications systems had been jammed and scrambled and said they were victims of electronic piracy.

"We are not experienced sailors. As a results, there is concern about the health and safety of the people on board," the statement said.

"We are following the development and if they are looking for a provocation, we will know how to avoid it," Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Merkel said Saturday.

Another spokesman for the ministry, Aviv Shiron, said Friday that all options were being considered when asked whether Israel intended to use force to turn the boats away.

In Gaza City, meanwhile, a small boat zoomed off the coast waving a Palestinian flag as a crowd of activists and journalists gathered in the tiny fishing port hoping to glimpse the vessels.

"I brought the kids so if they [the activists] arrive, I can tell them welcome - and thank you for not forgetting us," said Jamila Hassan, a 42-year-old Gaza resident who brought along her 14-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter to the port.

Hamas policemen controlled traffic in and out of the Gaza City port in anticipation of the boats' arrival. Youths leaped off high rocks into deep water nearby. Two large tents were set up for people to watch the scene.

"Nobody thinks that these boats will break the siege in a practical way, but this is a moral message - what is happening [in Gaza] is illegal and inhumane, and must be halted," said Raji Sourani, a prominent human rights activist.

On Friday, organizer Paul Larudee said the group expected Israeli authorities to intercept the boats and arrest those on board. He said it was highly unlikely the Israeli navy would fire on them.

The boats departed after last-minute engine repairs to the Liberty, passenger safety drills and a final inspection of the vessels' hulls by Cyprus Marine Police divers. Group members sang a peace song in Arabic and formed the peace sign with their fingers before boarding the boats.
Israel: Gaza blockade in place despite ships

Israel's decision to allow two boats carrying international activists into Gaza's port on Saturday was a "one-time" event and did not constitute a decision by the government to allow sea access to the blockaded Palestinian territory.
Activists planning to attempt...

Activists planning to attempt to break the Gaza blockade set sail from the Cypriot port of Larnaca.
Photo: AP
Slideshow: Pictures of the week

Carrying foreign activists from the US-based Free Gaza Movement, the two boats set sail from Cyprus on Friday and arrived in Gaza on Saturday. They received a warm welcome from thousands of jubilant Palestinians after a voyage marred by communications troubles and rough seas.

The 46 activists from 14 countries include an 81-year-old Catholic nun and Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair. The organizations participating in the Free Gaza movement include the International Solidarity Movement.

"In this media war, it was impossible for them [Israel] to win because they have no case for what they are doing to your port and to your borders," Booth said.

* Navy to repel Free Gaza Movement boats

As the boats docked in Gaza City's tiny port, children swarmed around the vessels and leaped into the water in joy, while thousands of cheering people looked on from the shore. Palestinian flags on one of the boats snapped in the wind, activists waved to the crowd, and the slogan "End Occupation" was written in large letters on its side.

"We were all dizzy, nauseous. We were all tired. But in the last hour it was like we were recharged," said Ayash Daraj, a journalist with Al-Jazeera who sailed with the activists.
An activist places flags of...

An activist places flags of countries of origin of around 40 activists aboard the vessels that set sail from Cyprus to Gaza on Friday.
Photo: AP

Israeli defense officials said a consultation was held late last week between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak during which it was decided to allow the boats into Gaza and not to use the navy to prevent their arrival.

"It was clear from the beginning that this whole operation was a provocation aimed at making Israel look bad," a senior defense official said on Saturday. "We decided to let them through in order not to play into their hands." The official stressed that despite the opening of the Gaza port for international boats on Saturday, Israel did not plan to lift its sea blockade of Gaza and would not allow additional ships into the Strip out of fear that they will try to transport weaponry and explosives to Hamas."

The official added that Gaza was not experiencing a humanitarian crisis and was receiving sufficient food and supplies from Israel via the land crossings.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aryeh Mekel said that the decision to let the boats in, which was made at the highest governmental levels, was made for two reasons.

"The first was to prevent a media provocation on the high seas," Mekel said, "and the second is because we knew who was on the boat, and that the equipment they were bringing in was humanitarian equipment for deaf people."

Mekel said the decision was made on a one-time basis, and should not be seen as a precedent.

Now that the group is in Gaza, the expectation in Jerusalem is that they will at some point ask Israel to let them into the country so they can fly back home, since it is unlikely they will want to sail back the way they came. No decision, however, has yet been made on whether they will be allowed into Israel.

Jerusalem had initially hinted it would prevent the vessels from reaching Gaza, and on Saturday the group accused Israel of jamming its communications equipment.

But later on Saturday, Israel said it would permit the boats to dock in Gaza after determining the activists did not pose a security threat.

The activists brought with them a symbolic delivery of hearing aids and balloons for children. Organizers said they would stay in Gaza for 24 hours, though it remained unclear how they planned to leave.

Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh welcomed the activists. "We call for more activities to break the unfair siege imposed on our people," Haniyeh said.

"They are very brave, they are very strong, I am proud of them," said Samira Ayash, a 65-year-old retired school teacher who came to watch.

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Nusseibeh -- 'We are running out of time for a two-state solution'

[Sari Nusseibeh is a prominent advocate of the position that the
Palestinian national movement should explicitly abandon any claim to
a right of return to anywhere within the Green Line. Instead, he
argues, Palestinians should focus on demanding an independent state
with Jerusalem as its capital (shared in some way with Israel).

This is a fairly centrist Palestinian position, although Nusseibeh is
typically more critical than most of 'symbolic' solutions to the
problem of the right of return that involve e.g. a token number of
people resettled within the Green Line accompanied by an Israeli
statement 'recognizing' the right to return and appropriate
compensation for the remainder of the refugee population. His
reasoning is that Israelis is about as unlikely to recognize the
right of return as Palestinians are to accept a state without
Jerusalem as its capital.

Underlying this reasoning is the belief that Israel accepts it can
sustain itself as a simultaneously Jewish and democratic state only
by establishing permanent borders within which it has a secure Jewish-
majority population. This acceptance provides Palestinians with the
leverage to negotiate a state of their own in the remainder of the
territory; and this logic would be undermined by trying to force
Israel to accept the right of return.

It is therefore of considerable interest that Nusseibeh appears, in
this article by Akiva Eldar of Ha'aretz, to be suggesting that
Palestinians can no longer aim at an independent state, but should
struggle for equal civil rights with Jews within a greater Israel
that stretches from the Mediterranean sea to the Jordan river. This
struggle could start in Jerusalem (Nusseibeh is president of Al-Quds
University) where Palestinians are much more closely integrated into
Israeli life than elsewhere in the illegally occupied Palestinian
territories. He slyly hints that he might even stand for mayor of
Jerusalem in the November elections.

The single state alternative is quite often discussed these days (see
future-of-israel.html for an interesting exchange on this issue
between Illan Pappe and Noam Chomsky). But that someone like
Nusseibeh should – albeit tentatively -- advocate something like it,
someone whose engagement with Israel is based on a pragmatic
understanding of Israel's anxiety to remain a Jewish majority state,
suggests that perhaps the time has come where the two state solution
is no longer viable. It is above all the intransigent negotiating
positions of the Israeli government and the continued creation of
illegal Jewish enclaves in the proposed Palestinian state that are
undermining the possibility of a two state solution to the extent of
making even those, like Nusseibeh, who maintain friendly contacts
with top-level Israeli figures, skeptical about its chances of
success. Nusseibeh's comments should therefore serve as a subtle but
strong message to the next Israeli administration that if it does not
act soon to reach an acceptable settlement it may be faced with
Palestinian leadership prepared only to struggle for Palestinian
civil rights within a single state. Alistair Welchman]
'We are running out of time for a two-state solution'
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent

At the end of my conversation with Sari Nusseibeh at the American
Colony Hotel in Jerusalem, the highly respected president of Al-Quds
University - and cosignatory of "The People's Choice," a peace plan
that he formulated with former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon - told me he
wouldn't be surprised if one of the Palestinian residents of the city
ran for mayor in the municipal elections in November. The candidate
would not run as a representative of Jerusalem per se, Nusseibeh
stressed. Rather, he would be running on behalf of all Palestinians
in the occupied territories.

"Why don't you do it?" I blurt out. The 59-year-old son of Anwar
Nusseibeh, a Jordanian government minister, does not smile. "It's
possible," says the professor of Islamic philosophy, who briefly
replaced Faisal Husseini a few years ago as the top Palestinian
official in East Jerusalem. "Anything is possible," he adds without
batting an eyelid.

Nusseibeh's previous contention that the Oslo "house of cards" had
begun to collapse was further confirmed by this week's report in
Haaretz regarding Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's latest peace offering
(Israel would annex 7 percent of the West Bank and compensate the
Palestinians with territory in the Negev, which would be equivalent
to 5.5 percent of West Bank land; an agreement on the future of
Jerusalem would be postponed to a later date; there would be no right
of return for Palestinian refugees to Israel; and the entire plan
would be implemented after Hamas is removed from power in the Gaza

Nusseibeh says he knows full well what happens during negotiations -
or, to be more specific, what does not happen. For over 20 years the
Palestinian leadership has been trying to persuade their people to
agree to a state along the June 4, 1967, lines, while Israel has been
destroying that option, Nusseibeh explains, adding: "You cannot
negotiate anything about final status if you don't talk about
Jerusalem. Final status consists primarily, I believe, of Jerusalem
and refugees. If you want to postpone Jerusalem, you postpone
refugees. Really, you are not dealing with the problem. You have to
discuss these issues, and that is exactly where the trade-off has to
be made."

Is Sari Nusseibeh, the secular Palestinian, the symbol of moderation,
Ayalon's guy, burying the two-state solution?

"I still favor a two-state solution and will continue to do so, but
to the extent that you discover it's not practical anymore or that
it's not going to happen, you start to think about what the
alternatives are. I think that the feeling is there are two courses
taking place that are opposed to one another. On one hand, there is
what people are saying and thinking, on both sides. There is the
sense that we are running out of time, that if we want a two-state
solution, we need to implement it quickly.

"But on the other hand, if we are looking at what is happening on the
ground, in Israel and the occupied territories, you see things
happening in the opposite direction, as if they are not connected to
reality. Thought is running in one direction, reality in the other."

Nusseibeh says the struggle for a one-state solution could take a
form similar to some of the nonviolent struggles waged by oppressed
ethnic groups in other places.

"We can fight for equal rights, rights of existence, return and
equality, and we could take it slowly over the years and there could
be a peaceful movement - like in South Africa," he notes. "I think
one should maybe begin on the Palestinian side, to begin a debate, to
reengage in the idea of one state."

'Jerusalem is out'

"We have failed in the last 15 years," Nusseibeh continues, "to
create the world we wanted to create. We were supposed to be very
clever; we convinced ourselves that we were going to be very
democratic and clean, a model for the rest of the Arab world. And
Jerusalem was supposed to be our capital. That's what we believed.
But then it turned out that all of this was total rubbish. Jerusalem
is out, all we have is Ramallah. And we lost Gaza. There is
corruption and inefficiency. This is not what we vouched for when we
sat back in the early 1980s and ideologized the two-state solution.

"It so happens that Fatah, in particular, the mainstream party and
the only viable alternative to extremes on the left or on the right,
now needs a strategy, an ideology. Because the ideology that Fatah
has adopted over the last 15 years - a two-state solution - seems to
be faltering, and with it, Fatah is faltering. So it is time maybe to
rethink, to bring Fatah around to a new idea, the old-new idea, of
one state. "

The recent "bulldozer terrorism" in Jerusalem did not highlight the
difficulties inherent in a binational state model?

"These are isolated incidents, but they do reflect a major sickness
in our Jerusalem Arab society. A sickness that has resulted in
pressure, schizophrenia, the fact that these people speak Hebrew, and
listen to Hebrew songs, go out with Israeli girlfriends while at the
same time they live in Arab neighborhoods and under the influence of
Muslim culture. There are contradictory forces pulling at them.

"What is the driving force behind a two-state solution? The fact that
it seems more acceptable to a majority of people on both sides and
therefore more applicable. The primary motivation is to minimize
human suffering. This is what we should all be looking at. If there
will be a one-state solution, it will not come today or tomorrow.
It's a long, protracted thing, not the ideal solution. Unless, in an
ideal world, people really want to be together, then it is the ideal
solution. The best solution, the one that causes the least pain and
that can actually be instrumental to a one-state solution, is to have
peace now, and acceptance of one another on the basis of two states."

Is this an ultimatum?

"That's an ultimatum. Unless a major breakthrough happens by the end
of this year, in my opinion we should start trying to strive for
equality. Back in the 1980s, before the first intifada, I was saying
there was schizophrenia in the body politic of the Palestinian
people. It was like the head was going in one direction, which was
the direction of seeking independence, national identity - but the
body was slowly immersed in the Israeli system, and I said it can't
last because it looks like it will snap. Either the body will join
the head so that there will be a civil disobedience campaign, or the
head will have to join the body, so that there will be a civil rights
campaign, to become part of the Israeli system.

"Fifty, 100, 200 years down the road there will be some kind of
conclusion. Sometime in the future - however far away this future is
- I believe we'll be living at peace with one another, in some way or
another. I am not sure how, whether in one state or two states, or in
a confederation of states, but people finally will come to live at
peace. In the meantime, we will simply cause pain to one another.
It's tragic. It is very tragic, because we know we can do it now.
That today it is possible with some guts, leadership, vision, we can
make it happen today, we can reach a peaceful solution today. [The
Arab Peace Initiative proposed in 2002] is a fantastic chance. The
Palestinians have adopted it, they'll go with it all the way. It is a
perfect chance. It doesn't even mention right of return. It is even
better than the Ayalon- Nusseibeh plan, but I am willing to accept it."

'Dead money'

Asked why he - who realizes so well how complicated it will be to
reach a fair and logical solution regarding Jerusalem - is opposed to
Olmert's idea of postponing discussion on that issue, Nusseibeh says
he hopes that the prime minister is not repeating the same mistake
made by Ehud Barak at Camp David, and that the idea of postponement
was broached strictly for public relations purposes.

"Because for Israel, however important Jerusalem may be, the primary
factor is the Jewish character [of the state]. And however important
the refugees might be, what is more important for the Palestinians
and Muslims is Jerusalem. It is the issue over which the most
extremist of refugees will be willing to make a sacrifice. Let's hope
this is not where [Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas]
are disagreeing. If that is what they're disagreeing about, then
there's no hope. We have to do everything now, we have to put
everything on the table.

"The facts on the ground are making [the situation] irreversible,"
Nusseibeh warns. "Take the Clinton parameters - Palestinian
neighborhoods are Palestinian sovereignty, Jewish neighborhoods are
Jewish sovereignty. They are acceptable in principle, but with
realities on the ground, like the expulsion of Arab families from
their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and the inhabitation
of those areas by Jewish settlers, it's going to be unacceptable on a
practical level. That's why we don't have time."

You ruffled some feathers among the Palestinian leadership when you
recently asked the Europeans to halt financial aid to the Palestinian
Authority. Someone even wondered whether you would be willing to give
up the aid provided for Al-Quds University.

"Ramallah's reaction was a bit worried. They called me a few times, a
bit worried."

Nusseibeh adds that the PA is still dogged by corruption - different
from the corruption of which Olmert is accused - whereby donor states
subsidize thousands of salaried employees at nonprofit organizations.
This creates what he sees as an unhealthy dependency on foreign

"We have a terrible situation. Our political bible, our platform, our
moral values - we need to be brought together again. If not for
creating a state, then for our own sanity and for own values as a
people. Apart from in Ramallah, everybody is living under very bad
conditions. The occupation is terrible. The siege is everywhere.
Pressure. As it is, the Europeans are financing the occupation. And
the Europeans are happy, because they feel they're doing something,
it cleans their conscience. And the Israelis are happy because
they're not paying for it. And the Palestinians are happy because
they are getting their wages paid. It keeps the economy going, and
people are getting complacent about it. It's dead money [going] after
dead money."

Nusseibeh mentions the recent meeting he had with British Prime
Minister Gordon Brown at the British consulate in Jerusalem, together
with four other Palestinians, during which the premier stated he
would like to assume a role in the peace process more central than
that of a cash register. "I said, I want to tell you what you can do
to transform yourself from a payer into a player: Make your money
payments conditional on tangible progress in the peace process."

Not long ago, the professor continues, "I was in Brussels. I gave a
talk and I said to the Europeans: If you want to pass on money, do it
only on the condition we build a state, in which case it makes sense
for you to spend money to build us an international airport. But if
in the end there isn't going to be an independent Palestinian state,
why waste your money? Waste your money, if you need to, on
integrating us into Israeli society. Makes more sense. Pay the money
for us to become part of Israel, to have equal rights. Raise our
level of education, bring our standards of living up. But to have the
PA taking all this money, creating all this debt, makes no sense.
Maybe the Europeans should link the aid they are giving us to real
progress in peace talks, so that both the Israelis and the
Palestinians will be shocked out of their complacency, or lack of

What do you make of the growing support among Palestinians for the
dismantlement of the PA?

"The PA has no use. If we fail to reach a peace agreement by the end
of this year, I believe it would be best to go back to the period
when we were living happily under occupation. We had a small civil
administration, they were paying back some $20 million a year to the
Israeli treasury, so they were making money off us. Today, we are
creating, year after year, bigger deficits. We are spending billions,
we have 160,000 employees, half of them are security personnel, who
give us no security whatsoever, we are spending masses of money on
guns, which we only use against each other and which provide us no
security. The whole thing is a mess."

Nusseibeh says that to this day, the Palestinians have opposed taking
part in the Jerusalem municipal elections because they feared doing
so would sever the link between Jerusalem's Arabs and the
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Now, given the diminishing
likelihood of a two-state solution, perhaps it is time for the
Palestinians to reconsider.

"People in Jerusalem - why should they attach themselves to the
Muqata, to Ramallah? There is no reason. There's nothing. The
municipal election in Jerusalem [could serve as a launching point for
seeking equal rights in a binational state]. We begin with Jerusalem,
not as a separate part, but as a spearhead of the entire Palestinian
body. Why not? Why not turn the weakness into a strength?

Are you disappointed by the Israeli peace camp? Did your partner, Ami
Ayalon, who joined the same government you now accuse of distancing
itself from your proposal, betray you?

"I respect Ami Ayalon. He is a very honest person, that is something
that has always attracted me to him. It is not a betrayal of me
personally. I look upon it as the ultimate submission by the
individual to the wheels of history. You reach the point where you
feel no longer able to do what you want, to steer the wheels in the
direction you want them to go. And you submit, and become a part of
the machine. So it's not really a betrayal. It's rather an expression
of weakness. I am sad more than surprised. I recognize it as part of
human weakness.

"I was still hoping because, before he went to the Labor Party, he
came and spoke to me. I like this about him. I knew what he was
doing. People were pushing him for a long time, trying to get him
into the system, and he resisted. But then at one stage, I think he
made up his mind: 'Maybe I can lead the Labor Party, and then this is
the best place for me to be.' I said, fine, do it. I was unhappy
that ... he became marginalized as minister without portfolio."

Nusseibeh says he lost touch with Ayalon since the latter became a

Asked if Abbas would be able to muster Palestinian support for an
agreement like "The People's Choice," Nusseibeh says both the
Palestinian president and Olmert need to courageously take on their
respective opposition camps. For instance, if Abbas "would come to
the Palestinian people and say, 'I initialed such a document. I want
to dissolve the legislative council and run for election and this is
going to be my political platform. Not only for me as a president,
but also as leader of Fatah.' Let us assume that he does this and
then he creates a debate in our society. It will be a very far-
reaching, democratic debate, in which he will be looked upon as
presenting his project. [This would] mark the beginning of a process,
of a struggle.

"I believe that on Israeli side, Olmert could do the same. We don't
know whether both leaders will be reelected, but it's worth doing,
even if they're not, because at least we know we've given this peace
agreement a chance."

Ami Ayalon says, in response: "I agree with Sari Nusseibeh that time
is running out for the two-state solution. He voices the frustration
and desperation of the Palestinians, and we have to consider that. If
a man like him, a son of a Palestinian refugee who relinquished his
right of return and was bodily attacked because of it, comes to the
conclusion that the two-state solution is no longer an option, it
means that the whole pragmatic Palestinian approach is crumbling.

"I share his view that Olmert missed a chance to get an agreement due
to efforts to insure his own political survival. The Labor Party will
not succeed in getting back in power by attacking the other parties,
but only by raising the common banner of security and political

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To
subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to http://

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More on the Free Gaza Movement

We recently circulated a post concerning the Free Gaza Movement, a group of international activists who are sailing 2 ships to Gaza to break the siege and deliver humanitarian supplies. Below is an interesting exchange of letters between organizers from the movement and a PR official from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. In one way, the exchange illustrates the futility of 'speaking truth to power': as Noam Chomsky points out, people in power generally already know the truth and they don't care. The question here is not whether the Ministry for Foreign Affairs will acknowledge that the children of Gaza need hearing aids, the question is whether the Israel navy is going to attack the ships.

A press release from the organization (first piece below) points to the fact that the Ministry describes the Movement as "humanitarian", and has entered into dialogue, and claims that this is a positive sign. At the same time, an article in the Jerusalem Post states that "the Navy has been ordered to turn back" the ships, and Ha'aretz reports that it might use force to do so, as allowing the ships to proceed would "create a dangerous precedent." In the meantime, the group is facing obstacles of a different sort, as they (and their families) have been barraged with threatening phone calls from anonymous sources.

Supporters of the occupation are perhaps right to be worried, because in some ways, the Free Gaza Movement is in a no-lose situation. If they get through, they will be able to deliver their humanitarian supplies. If they are confronted by the Israeli navy, it could generate publicity and help expose the nature of the siege – not to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, but (as Chomsky says) to people who can collectively constrain, dismantle and overthrow power. We can help them succeed not only by responding to their call for funds, but by alerting the media to this event and helping publicize their efforts as widely as possible.

Judith Norman

For reports on the Israeli response, see: or

Israeli Government Recognizes "Humanitarian" Mission to Break the Siege of Gaza
For more information, please contact:
Greta Berlin, Cyprus +357 99 081 767
Angela Godfry-Goldstein, Israel +972 547 366 393

NICOSIA, CYPRUS (18 Aug. 2008) - In a letter today to the Free Gaza Movement, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledged that the group of international human rights activists attempting to break the siege of Gaza were "humanitarian," and stated that the Israeli government "assume[s] that your intentions are good."

Greta Berlin, one of the organizers of the Free Gaza Movement stated that, "Since the Foreign Minister's office responded to our invitation to join us, and said that we have good intentions, we now fully expect to reach Gaza."

According to recent reports in the Israeli media however, the Israeli military is preparing to use force to stop the nonviolent campaigners from reaching Gaza. It's not clear if the letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs signals a change of policy, or is simply an attempt to open up an official dialogue between the state of Israel and the Free Gaza Movement regarding the current blockade.

The Free Gaza Movement is preparing to sail two ships into Gaza carrying 40 human rights workers from 17 different countries. They will also deliver hearing aids for children who have lost some or all of their hearing due to Israeli sound bombs and sonic booms.

The ships have been named the SS Free Gaza, and the SS Liberty - in recognition of the USS Liberty, a U.S. Navy ship, carrying 340 that was attacked by Israeli fighter planes and torpedo boats on 8 June 1967, assassinating 34 American sailors and wounding 170.

The Free Gaza Movement hopes to draw attention to the devastating consequences of the Israeli blockade by actively demonstrating the power of non-violent direct action to change inhumane governmental policies. ###

18 August 2008

Noam Katz
Director, Public Relations Department
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel

Dear Mr. Katz,

The Free Gaza Movement thanks Foreign Minister Livni for your response regarding our efforts to break the siege of Gaza. We appreciate Israel's formal recognition of our human rights mission, as well as its acknowledgement that our "intentions are good."

However, several factual errors in your letter need to be addressed. You wrote, "Your claim that the residents of the Gaza Strip are suffering from hunger is groundless…" According to the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), "only 43.5% of basic commercial food import needs were met during the period between 3 and 30 December 2007." Furthermore, in May 2008, several international aid organizations, including CARE International UK, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Oxfam, and Medecins du Monde UK, stated that, "the stranglehold on Gaza's borders has made ... the work of the UN and other humanitarian agencies ... virtually impossible. Only a trickle of medicine, food, fuel and other goods is being allowed in. [The Israeli Blockade of Gaza] has made people highly dependent on food aid, and brought the health system and basic services such as water and sanitation near to collapse."

Although, we appreciate your offer to deliver humanitarian supplies for us, Israel's deplorable track record of delivering supplies is, in fact, the very reason for our mission.

Your offer also slights our human-rights mission, which is to break your siege of Gaza. We intend to raise international awareness about the open-air prison called Gaza, where Israel collectively punishes 1.5 million Palestinians. We want to pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for Israel's continued occupation. Finally, we want to uphold Palestine's right to welcome internationals as visitors, human rights observers, humanitarian aid workers, and journalists.

We would like to, once again, invite Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni to join us on our historic voyage to end the siege of Gaza, and to see first hand the devastating effects of Israeli policies on the men, women, and children of the Gaza Strip.

Greta Berlin, Ramzi Kysia, Tom Nelson
Free Gaza Movement, Cyprus
+357 99 081 767


18 August 2008
The Steering Committee for the Free Gaza Movement, Cyprus

Dear Committee Members:

Your letter to Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni as published on your website has been brought to our attention. We assume that your intentions are good but, in fact, the result of your action is that you are supporting the regime of a terrorist organization in Gaza, an organization dedicated to non-recognition of the State of Israel and its right to exist; an organization that sends women and children to commit suicide in order to hurt others; an organization that has committed dozens of terrorist acts against Israeli civilians, including massive attacks of rockets and mortar bombs on Israeli communities in the heart of Israel's sovereign territory. It is this organization that does not allow the Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace. In 2005, Israel withdrew all of its forces and all of its citizens from the Gaza Strip so that the Palestinians could manage their own lives; in return, innocent Israeli citizens were the targets of repeated attacks
launched from within Palestinian civilian population centers, turning the Palestinian population into hostages of the terrorist organizations and the Hamas regime. The attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli communities continue to this day.

In June 2007, Hamas led a violent coup in Gaza and seized the government illegally, a fact which led to an international boycott and isolation of its government. The international community also set clear conditions that Hamas must fulfill in order to be regarded as a partner for diplomatic contacts and normal economic relations. Hamas is the central player in the Gaza Strip and the address to which you should direct your complaints concerning the situation there. In this protest voyage to Gaza, you seek to remove legitimate pressure on the Hamas government and to violate the conditions of the international community; therefore we cannot cooperate with your efforts.

Your claim that the residents of the Gaza Strip are suffering from hunger is groundless considering the amount of food that passes every day from Israel to the Gaza Strip. There isn't another conflict in the world in which one side supplies all the needs of the other side – food, medicines, water, fuel and electricity. Thousands of Palestinians have crossed into Israel from the Gaza Strip to receive medical treatment at Israeli hospitals.

We would like to point out that the area to which you are planning to sail is the subject of an advisory notice that has been published by the Israeli Navy, which warns all foreign vessels to remain clear of the designated maritime zone off the coast of Gaza in light of the current security situation.

We have received information that you are planning to bring humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. We would like to bring to your attention that the transfer of humanitarian aid to Israel is effected, at present, through agreed-upon channels, and the Israeli authorities will ensure that the shipment reaches its destination via the land crossing points. We will be happy to assist you in this endeavor.

If your intentions are good, please choose this way; if you do not intend to deliver the humanitarian aid via Israel, this proves that your goal is political and constitutes the legitimization of a terrorist organization.

Noam Katz
Director, Public Relations Department
Ministry of Foreign Affairs -----


5 August 2008 Tzipi Livni Foreign Affairs Minister, Israel

Dear Foreign Minister Livni: On behalf of the Free Gaza Movement, we would like to formally invite you to join us on our upcoming voyage from Cyprus to the Gaza Strip. We feel that your presence on this important mission would help alleviate concerns that have been expressed in the Israeli media about our objectives. More importantly, we believe that it would be extremely helpful for you to see firsthand the horrific effects of Israeli policies on the people of the Gaza Strip, as well as to witness firsthand the effectiveness of non-violent action in bringing about positive change.

While we disagree with many of the statements and policies you have made as the Israeli Foreign Minister, we wholeheartedly agree with a portion of something you wrote two years ago when you said:

"For too long, the Middle East has been governed by zero-sum logic. One side's loss was seen as the other's gain. This thinking has brought much suffering to our region" (Tzipi Livni, "The Peace Alternative," Asharq Alawsat, 18 June 2007). This is absolutely correct. We seek an end to this suffering. We find ourselves, and you must be feeling this intensely yourself, in truly difficult times. The one thing that is clear is that violence has not worked for anyone in this conflict. As a group of avowed non-violent, peace activists, we hope that you will accept this opportunity, move past the zero-sum logic of your government's blockade, and join us on this historic voyage to break the Siege of Gaza.

Your government's siege on the people of Gaza has been deemed illegal by numerous human rights organizations, has lead to the death of over 200 patients in the last year as a result of being denied adequate medical care, and has caused a man-made humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip. Clearly this is not the behavior of a civilized government, nor can these policies ever lead to peace for Israel.

Our voyage may seem to be a quixotic endeavor and therefore easily dismissed, but as a group of individuals who fervently believe that such moves can be vitally transforming, and that individuals do indeed each have the power to change our world for the better, we hope that you will take our offer seriously. We set sail for Gaza in the next few days. Please join us.

Sincerely Yours,
The Steering Committee for the Free Gaza Movement, Cyprus
Tel. +357 99 081 767

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
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Monday, August 18, 2008

Israeli petition against attacking Iran

On August 6 over 100 Israeli academics and peace activists released a statement opposing an Israeli strike against Iran. "Arguments for such an attack are without any security, political or moral justification," they argue. While this is a relatively small number, the signatories include some high visibility names and has gotten some international circulation. The Jerusalem Post interviews veteran peace activist Reuven Kaminer, who explains the thinking behind the statement and differentiates the Israeli effort from a similar international statement signed by over 150 Jews ( Prominent individual signers of the international statement include Noam Chomsky, Avi Shlaim, Lea Tsemel, Michael Warschawski, Uri Davis, James Cohen, Université de Paris VIII (France) and Canadian concert pianist Dr. Anton Kuerti.

Joel Beinin


Israeli academics, peace activists sign petition against attacking Iran
BEN SALES Jerusalem Post
Thursday, August 7, 2008

Over 100 academics and peace activists joined forces Wednesday to petition the Israeli government against attacking Iran, claiming that Israel should give more credence to current diplomatic efforts.

The petition states that though its signatories understand the significance of the Iranian threat, they believe that Israel is moving toward an attack on Iran and that 'all the arguments for such an attack are without any security, political or moral justification.'

The petition urges the Israeli government to place greater faith and show more patience in the negotiations that western powers such as the United States and the European Union are undertaking with Iran, and that a military strike would constitute 'an act of adventurism that could endanger our very existence.'

Former provost for overseas students at the Hebrew University Reuven Kaminer, who signed the petition, said that the urgency with which Israel seems to be mobilizing for a strike mandated his speaking out.

'Israel is doing this as a loose cannon,' he said. 'Israel is concerned that Obama will be president and there will not be the conditions for a first-strike policy: that if it has to be done, then it better be done while [US President] George Bush is still around.'

Kaminer feels that the petition is an important addition to the political discourse, because Israelis have a tendency to be hawkish in their thinking about Iran.

'The average Israeli is so antagonistic regarding the Iranian regime that he has a tendency not to think logically,' said Kaminer. 'We don't condone any of the state policies or thinking out of Teheran but we're against the statement that [Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] is a new Hitler. We don't think war is inevitable.'

The main advocate of that antagonism and urgency, according to Kaminer, is Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who has spoken publicly of the possibility of an attack on Iran several times.

'There's a strong trend in our country to solve these problems on a military basis, even though there are clearly no military solutions,' Kaminer said.

Mofaz's office refused to comment on the issue.

Instead of a strike, Kaminer would like Israel to look toward the multilateral talks being held with Iran, which many governmental officials have disregarded as ineffective. Kaminer, however, said that diplomatic efforts like this take time and yield far better results than military action.

'These things take time,' he said. 'I don't know how many years it took in North Korea, but the Iranians don't want to be talked down to. Given their official position that they don't want atomic weapons, that creates objective conditions for patient policies that can come out better than any war.'

While Kaminer does not expect pro-attack politicians to pay attention to the petition, he and other signatories have been in touch with members of the Israeli political left and believe that in stating their opinion, they are fulfilling their civic responsibility.

'This is not a worldwide movement,' said Kaminer. 'We feel we're making a rational contribution to an important level of discourse in our country. This is our duty as citizens.'

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Zochrot conference: Towards Return of Palestinian Refugees: Practices, Strategies and Visions.

The conference, Titled "Towards Return of Palestinian Refugees: Practices, Strategies and Visions", took place in June.
Below are Eitan Bronstein's introductory notes, as well as the text of a talk based on a paper by Eitan Bronstein and Norma Musih:
"Thinking practically about the return of the Palestinian refugees."

Eitan Bronstein says in the opening paragraph: "... "I hope that today we may begin a discussion of the actual return of the Palestinian
refugees. It's a little like beginning to learn to walk, like a baby who begins talking without really having a command of the language...
We're here today to begin to stumble over our words, in order to create a language that will allow civil discourse about the return of the
Palestinian refugees... because we don't really have the words to speak it".

Trying to envision what the return will be like, in terms of the practical details involved, is a way of getting past the fear that the whole
subject arouses for the great majority of Israeli Jews. Breaking down a huge, undefined, looming fear into smaller, better defined
questions of logistics etc. - gets one over the first hurdle. The questions, once they're fleshed out, might not appear to be as insurmountable
as the unspoken taboo.


Zochrot conference on right of return
Introductory remarks
Eitan Bronstein

I am moved and happy to open this conference: "Towards Return of Palestinian Refugees: Practices, Strategies and Visions." This title promises a great deal, and if I may be permitted to do so right at the beginning, I'd like to be slightly more modest. I hope that today we may begin a discussion of the actual return of the Palestinian refugees. It's a little like beginning to learn to walk, like a baby who begins talking without really having a command of language, so she tries, and fails, and stumbles. We're here today to begin to stumble over our words, in order to create a language that will allow civil discourse about the return of the Palestinian refugees. Perhaps, in fact, not only in one language, perhaps in many languages, speaking Arabic, English, Hebrew, Russian, Yiddish…about the Palestinian refugees who will one day return to Palestine. This will be a new language, and it's difficult to say much about it today. Because we don't know much about what that future will
look like, and also because we don't really have the words to speak it. The title of one of Oz Shelach's writings can serve as an example: "Grandpa, how do you say 'decolonization' in Hebrew?"

The well-known Viennese Jew – Theodore Herzl – is one source of inspiration for our attempt to speak in an entirely different language and about an entirely different place. In 1896 he published his book, The Jewish State, in which he proposed establishing a Jewish state in Palestine.
That, incidentally, was after he asks: Argentina or Palestina?
He set down his vision in a storm of emotions, before he even had visited the "homeland of the Jews," as he called it, for the first time. His book details a vision of what life will be like here, and how the Jews will implement this project. All this - 64 years before it was implemented in the 1948 Nakba. His essay discusses issues that are very relevant to us today: the constitution of the future state, labor laws that will apply there (he proposes a seven-hour work day), immigration regulations, where and how will people settle? Language (he proposes that each person speaks their own mother tongue, as in multilingual Switzerland), separation of religion and the state, the flag, and more.

I suppose that today we won't design a flag for the post-colonial future – maybe we'd rather do without flags?
But we will dare to envision, to suggest possibilities, to argue about alternatives…?

Today's discussion can be viewed as the third leg of a tripod.
The other two, I think, are more familiar – accepting the fact of the Nakba, and accepting the right of return. Otherwise, any discussion of the decolonization of Israel is doomed to fail right from the beginning, and we will remain in the same violent arena in which we now find ourselves – the current reality of our lives.

Knowing the Nakba, and taking responsibility for its consequences, is necessary if we are ever to understand where we ourselves stand, where we live. Here are two good examples: A few weeks ago Zochrot received an email from a concerned mother. Her adolescent daughter came home from school and told her that the teacher taught them that before the Jews arrived the country was empty. The mother began to tell her daughter about the Palestinians who had lived here, and been expelled. Her daughter got angry and replied: If I have to choose between your story, and the teacher's, I prefer to believe the teacher.

How is it possible to speak about the return of Palestinian refugees before we understand that we expelled them, that we prevented them from returning?

Three days ago Zochrot's web site received an email from Micha, who fought in 1948: "I'd like to correct an error in the above quotation, from your web site. I was one of the soldiers in Battalion 52, which captured 'Aker. The village fell without a fight, after we fired only a few shots. The inhabitants were brought to the village square and asked to hand over their weapons. They were given 24 hours to do so, and in the interim we left. When we returned at the time we had set to collect the weapons, the village was empty. The villagers left voluntarily. No one was expelled. I'm proud to have been a soldier in the Giv'ati Brigade in 1948, the only one of the brigades in the War of Independence in whose sector not a single Arab remained, without having expelled people from their homes."

First he tells us that shots were fired and they ordered the Palestinians to turn over their weapons, and then he claims they left voluntarily.

And then he continues, and asks us: "The offices of Zochrot are located in the Zionist settlement of Tel Aviv, on the lands of Jaffa, Sumeil, Jamassin and Sheikh Munis. Is that kosher?"

It's not kosher, I answered, and invited him to come here today and think about what could be done about it.

If Micha meets that teacher, perhaps he could teach her a thing or two about the Nakba and the ethnic cleansing that occurred in Palestine in 1948. Unless we know about it, how can we accept responsibility for it?

Whoever had to be reminded of how important it is to acknowledge the Nakba, was reminded by Tzipi Livni, Israel's Foreign Minister, who stated that peace will come only after the Palestinians remove the term "Nakba" from their vocabulary. From her point of view, she's absolutely correct. Acknowledging the Nakba, and preserving its memory, contradicts the Jewish state as it has existed so far.

The second leg on which the beginning of our discussion stands is the right of return, that is, the opportunity of each refugee, male and female, to choose whether to return or receive compensation and be resettled elsewhere. The right of return also includes returning property. When we know something about the Nakba, and understand the tremendous crime committed against inhabitants of the country, we also understand that the right of return is the "natural" moral and political response to it. It is also the basis for the discussion in this conference. International law, and in particular UN Resolution 194, adopted in December, 1948, calls for the return of the refugees to their homes in the near future. Israel was accepted as a member of the United Nations in May, 1949, only after it promised to fulfill this resolution, and the time has come to accept and act to implement it.
In recent years there have been many important conferences in Israel and abroad devoted to this topic – the right of return. The most recent was held last weekend in Haifa, and its scope was extremely impressive.

Now we come to the subject of today's conference, which is the third leg, and the title of our deliberations: the return of the Palestinian refugees. Whenever we talk about the Nakba and the return of Palestinian refugees, we're asked, "Ok, so what do you propose? What can we do now? Go back to the countries we came from? Swim away in the ocean?" All the fears of Israel Jews float to the surface. That, exactly, is what this conference is about. In fact, for the past two years and more we've been trying to develop answers to this question, the question of implementing the return of the refugees. We established a study group on the subject, and this conference is one of its products. The idea is to try to think about what might occur in the future when the refugees actually return. When we began to think this way we discovered, somewhat to our surprise, that almost no research, or developed ideas, exists on this issue. There's a great deal about the right of return and about
the Nakba, as well as comparative research on refugee issues elsewhere in the world. But there are almost no serious attempts to propose how the return could actually come about, and what its implications would be for our lives here. It is important, in this connection, to mention what may be the only existing text, The Feasibility of the Right of Return, by Salman abu Sitte, which shows that most of the area of the Palestinian villages is still vacant today.

We want our discussion to peel away the layers of myth that have accumulated over the years. Here's a realistic example, from a selction by Anton Shamas that appears in the third issue of Sedek. Shamas writes how it's impossible for A' to return to Palestine. "Rahat Filistin, that is, going to Palestine. True, the territory didn't disappear in 1948. But their territory faded away – its name was changed, it was pulled out from under them, and so – it went. So there was no home to come back to. But A' wanted to go home to Filistin." He goes on to cite the Lebanese author who once wrote, "It's impossible to return to Palestine; you must just go there. And if that's also impossible a person must, perhaps, create a Palestine of his own." We simply want to begin going there, because if it's really "impossible to return to Palestine" as it was, we should create something new that deals with what occurred here in 1948.

Discussion will begin with ideas about the actual return, and criticism of them. The second session will present projects prepared primarily by planning professionals. The third will deal with the situation after the return of the Palestinian refugees, and the final session will address what can be done now to bring about their return. Today's meetings will conclude with performances of song, some of them quite startling.

Before we begin, I would like to thank our speakers, who rose to a challenge that was by no means simple, given the topic. It should be mentioned that, for a variety of reasons, it wasn't easy to find appropriate speakers.

Nor was it a simple matter to find a place to hold the conference. This setting, the home of the Zionist Organization of America, should be seen not only as a cute joke, but precisely as an appropriate setting to begin a discussion of the decolonization of Palestine. Here, in the middle of the Hebrew city that is busy cleaning itself up for its centennial celebrations, 114 years after the appearance of Herzl's The Jewish State, and sixty years after his vision was realized, the time has come to think about a completely different reality. This is a necessary political act in the present circumstances, and we'll hear more about this during the day.

I would like to thank the coordinator of this conference, Rona Even, who landed in Zochrot in order to organize it – actually, it landed on her – and who worked day and night under difficult circumstances to guarantee its success. Nor can I ignore the contribution of two partner organizations that are very important to us: the Committee of the Uprooted, and Badil. The Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Uprooted in Israel, whose representatives will address us today, has been a partner since the beginning of our work, and we are particularly pleased that Wakim Wakim is here with us. Badil, from Bethlehem, has encouraged us since we started. Unfortunately, Mohammad Jaradat did not receive permission from the authorities who are finalizing the occupation of Palestine since 1967, to be with us here. A few months ago, when we began discussing the conference with them in Bethlehem, he said that the very fact that it is being held already represents a success. Today I
understand just how right he was.

The Iris O'Brian Fund provides financial support for the conference, and we are grateful to it.

Yesterday an exhibit opened in Zochrot's offices, curated by Ariella Azoulay, on the architecture of destruction, fear and subordination – in other words, on the destruction of buildings and other forms of repression in the territories that were occupied in 1967.

The third issue of Sedek, published by Zochrot, has just appeared in conjunction with the conference, in cooperation with Parhessiya and Pardes Publishers, and most of it also deals with the return of the refugees. Some of the texts it contains will be improved during the conference discussions.

In addition, Erased from Space and Consciousness, by Noga Kadman, a member of Zochrot, has just been published by November Books Ltd. It deals with the repression of the memory and the physical presence of the Palestinian villages that were captured and mostly destroyed in the Nakba. It is an exact, detailed study, and required reading for anyone who wants to understand the country in which they live.

The conference continues tomorrow, and your program provides details for everyone who wishes to participate in the planned activities.

I'm happy to invite our associate, Nada Matta, who will chair the panel, to open the discussion.

Zochrot conference on right of return

Thinking practically about the return of the Palestinian refugees: Eitan Bronstein and Norma Musih

(Presented by Norma Musih).
What I'm presenting here today is part of an article Eitan Bronstein and I wrote and published recently at Sedek 3. It's a suggestion to open a discussion on the return of Palestinian refugees.

For us Israelis, the "right of return" has always been a taboo topic. It stood for the demographic threat; "us or them;" the real fear of Palestinians in particular and of Arabs in general; "they'll throw us into the sea;" and more.

Every person who was expelled in 1948, and their descendants, has a right to return; it's a right that is personal as well as collective. This means that each refugee and his or her descendants have a right to choose among alternatives: returning to their former home (or nearby, if it no longer exists), receiving compensation, or resettlement in the original locality or elsewhere. Implementation of the right of return does not necessarily mean, as people mistakenly suppose, that the refugees will actually come back. Very often people ask, How long will the descendants of Palestinian refugees be themselves considered refugees? How many more generations of refugees will be born? We believe that the answer is – until the refugees and their descendants are given the opportunity to choose whether to return; in other words, until their right of return is implemented. Their freedom to choose where, and with whom, to live – and to gain the full rights of citizenship – is their road to
liberation from the difficult condition of being a "refugee."

The right of return is based on international law and supported by UN Resolution 194, which is reaffirmed every year by the UN General Assembly. Therefore, and because we don't doubt that the right exists, we prefer to focus on the return. This right, like all other rights, is implemented through negotiations: we all have a right to freedom, but the freedom of each of us is limited by the freedom of others or by various interests. It is therefore very important to think about what the actual return of the refugees would entail. We also understand, in part from our own personal experience, that thinking about the return in concrete terms – in which the refugees have faces and names, when we know the names of their towns and villages, their locations and their histories – reduces the fear of their return, by making the process visible, and at the same time allows us to address the actual questions we'll have to answer when it comes time to implement the return.

To make writing this document easier, we've divided the text into chronological stages: before the return; the return itself; after the return. We've tried with respect to each stage to describe the situation as we imagine it, and the necessary conditions for materializing it. It is important to note that a topic that we assign to a particular stage doesn't necessarily begin or end in that stage, but it is required for that stage to be implemented. While we wrote, there were times in which we tried to begin with the present and imagine the next steps, and other times in which we imagined what the situation would be like after the return and used that as a basis for imagining "in reverse." This text can be read, therefore, as it appears here, from beginning to end – but also backward, from the end to the beginning.

Stage I – Before the return

One of the first things required is to begin learning: learning about the Palestinian Nakba, about the destroyed villages, the towns that were emptied by mass expulsions, the Palestinian culture which existed before the Nakba, and of course the Palestinian culture which developed afterwards. Not much is needed to learn these things, no revolutionary changes nor major investment of resources. It's enough to read books, take a tour or listen to stories, but it's mainly necessary to deal with what you learn and what it means. It's no accident that most Israeli Jews who grew up here know very little about Palestinian culture and about the Nakba. Learning about them is challenging; it cracks open the foundations on which we were raised and contains a surprising dimension: Who knows what we'll discover if we start digging?

One argument frequently raised against the possibility of return, even if the Palestinian demand to do so is justified, is that there simply is no room. This is a small, densely settled country, and there's no room for any more people. It's just a fact – look at the map, look at the plans. But maps, as we already know, don't only describe reality, but also create it. And if we want to create a different reality we'll need a different mapping with different categories, one that describes new dimensions and answers different questions. We'll need a mapping that examines, for example, where villages that were erased could be re-established – in other words, which destroyed villages could be rebuilt at the same site (Lifta? Bir'im?) and which could be re-established (Mas'ha? Saffurya?). Which villages could be re-established in the vicinity of their original lands or on some of them (Beit Jubrin? Zakkariya?), and where would this be impossible (Sumeil? Al-Sheikh Muwanis?). It
would also be necessary to locate buildings that in 1948 belonged to Palestinians and are held today by Jews (or by other Palestinians), like in Jaffa or in Ein Karem; how many buildings that housed Palestinian institutions still exist, and how many of them still house public institutions (assuming it is easier to transfer the use of a public institution from one community to another than it is to move families around).

Mapping is important not only to understand the geographical situation, but also in order to understand the social conditions in each place, and thereby identify the individuals and groups who will negotiate over its future character. The mapping must also describe plans for land use in the future, as these are defined in official planning documents. Lands expropriated from the refugees have changed ownership over the years, and many city and regional plans refer to them. This doesn't mean, of course, that existing zoning or construction plans can't be changed, but plans to build new localities in the future must take them into consideration.

The results of Salman Abu-Sitte's research contradict the assumption that "there's no room." He shows that most of the built-up core of the villages that existed until the Nakba has remained vacant. On tours conducted by Zochrot, we saw again and again that most of the villages were still empty, unlike the agricultural and public lands, most of which had been allocated to Jewish localities and was in use. This refutes the argument that all the village lands are occupied by Jews.

Mapping will help us understand in a more responsible manner the situation on the ground and, equally important, train us to view the country differently – not as divided up and fenced in, but as a single entity between the Jordan and the sea in which people live who have common interests, and who want to create a better, more appropriate life for themselves.

The term "surveys" may sound almost like a dirty word in the context of discussions about the return of Palestinian refugees, since many surveys that were carried out served the interests of those who wanted to prove that refugees wouldn't want to return if and when they had the chance to do so, and might prefer compensation that would allow them to stay where they were. Many surveys were conducted of Palestinians and of Jews. They frightened some people, and encouraged others. When, for example, refugees were asked whether they wanted to return to Israel, the assumption was that Israel would remain a Jewish state, and many refugees answered "no." We, on the other hand, propose to survey both Israelis and Palestinians on the assumption that the return will be implemented and that members of both groups will live together in full civic equality. The question, then, is how such surveys can be done.

It would be important, for example, to ask how many Jewish homeowners would be willing to return their property to their original owners, or how many Jews who live abroad would be likely to move here. We'd have to ask how many Palestinians would want to return, where they would want to return to, in which social framework, what kind of job would they want, whether they would like to change their occupation, what property they owned before the Nakba, etc. How would someone who had no property return or be compensated? What about tenants who worked lands owned by others? Other questions include: How can the creation of a society with huge economic inequalities be prevented? Which destroyed Palestinian localities were home to large enough groups of refugees who might be able to resettle them? Would they want to establish a locality of their own, or build one together with refugees from other localities? Would entire communities of the displaced (such as a refugee camp in Lebanon
in which refugees from many villages live, and which itself forms a community) wish to remain together?

A constitution
It will not be possible at first to agree on a constitution, which would have to be drafted together with the Palestinian refugees who are not yet here. Doing so raises the same kinds of technical and ideological issues that characterize the discussion over a constitution for the state of Israel: one justification for that delay is said to be the desire to wait until all the world's Jews have moved here. The lesson to be learned from that experience is to proceed as rapidly as possible to formulate a constitution, or at least a "minimal constitution" containing elements on which there is fundamental agreement and that can serve as a basis for the eventual creation of a more complete document. We believe that a minimal constitution would calm apprehensions (primarily among Jews) resulting from the return of refugees.
Here is a preliminary framework:
* The constitution will be based on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights
* All residents of the country will be equal citizens.
* Immigration law: Canceling the Law of Return as it is currently formulated will, of course, be one of the first steps taken, in addition to confirming the Palestinian refugees' right of return. After a set period has elapsed, the government will establish new immigration laws that will give preference to Jews and Palestinians, whose entry will be allowed according to specified criteria.
* Separating religion from the state.
* Legal reforms to eliminate preferences benefiting Jews.
* Negotiations over the constitution will include instituting an agrarian reform in which lands allocated by the state to Jews (kibbutzim and moshavim) will be redistributed.
* Every citizen may live anywhere he chooses in the country.
* No person may be forcibly evicted from the house in which he lives.

Planning and construction
New construction plans must be prepared during this stage. Which new localities will be built? Which existing localities will be expanded in order to receive the returnees? New country-wide master plans will have to be prepared that take into account considerations based on results of the mapping and surveys. In other words, construction plans must reflect the discussions and negotiations between the returning refugees and the residents of the country.

Stage II – The Return

Before the refugees actually return, the ground must be prepared. We consider four elements of such preparation that could help pave the way: "Birthright" tours; establishing absorption centers; readying the receiving society; orienting the migrants.

--The format of "Birthright" tours that the Jewish Agency organizes for Jewish youth from abroad in order to introduce them to the country could be a model for the return of Palestinian refugees. During the decades that have passed since the Nakba, the country has changed almost beyond recognition. The refugees, most of whom have not been here since they left, must be aware of what awaits them. The village they remember no longer exists, and the landscape often contains little hint that it ever existed. It is important for those wishing to return (or their representatives) to tour the area in order to see what things actually look like, who their new neighbors will be, and maybe even who now occupies the houses where their mothers and fathers lived in the past.

--The receiving society must also prepare for the refugees' return. Successful absorption of a large number of immigrants requires great effort. Palestinians living in Israel will play a major role here. They will "naturally" be the ones to assist their brethren who return to Israeli territory, which is the area in which most of them, or their parents, lived before they became refugees. There may be those who prefer to live in the West Bank or in Gaza, but that would probably require less preparation or advance planning. Palestinian citizens of Israel are familiar with both Israeli and Palestinian society, and it will not be difficult for them to describe to other Palestinians what it's like to live with Jews. Jews will also have to be prepared to absorb the refugees. Many changes will occur – cultural, demographic, economic and others – and Israeli Jews will have to be ready for them.

--The returning refugees will also need preparation. Civil society has a prominent role to play here. The preparation must begin with educational activities in the Palestinian diaspora and continue in absorption centers in Israel, perhaps in the same way that kibbutz members were trained before moving onto the land that had been allocated to them.

The actual return of the refugees must occur in stages, gradually, taking into account the absorptive capacity of the country. To actually return, even when doing so may be a Palestinian refugee's lifelong desire, is still migration – and every migration involves being uprooted from somewhere. In the case of the Palestinians, all the refugees who choose to return have lived for most of their lives in some other place, in some form of exile. Most of their lives have been lived in places that had not been their destinations, but which they still feel is where they belong: they are used to them, are familiar with them, and over the years they became a kind of home. Their actual return becomes a (willing) uprooting from the places where they live. Its successful implementation requires the preparation of the refugees themselves, the receiving communities and the absorption system. Therefore, the return cannot be simply a spontaneous process that depends only on the decisions of the
returning refugee.

The process of return also depends on systemic factors, which will undoubtedly limit the number of returnees according to the capacity to absorb them. Criteria are therefore required in order to decide who goes first. Here are some possible criteria:

1. Age: Refugees who were themselves forced to leave and wish to return will have preference over others. There is no need to justify preferring an elderly person who wishes to return over members of the second or third Nakba generation. These elderly people will return, of course, with those family members who wish to accompany them. (The issue of how broadly "family" will be defined for this purpose is not one we have to consider here.)

2. Refugees in Lebanon: Refugees who live in Lebanon will be next on the list, because the social and physical conditions of their existence are in general worse than those of refugees in other countries. The condition of those living in refugee camps is the worst of all, but even people who moved out of the camps lack civil rights and are prevented from working in dozens of occupations. They are under great pressure from the Lebanese government and the Lebanese population.

3. Preserving community: Migration is more successful when the migrants – the returning refugees - are able to maintain in their country of destination the community structures that existed prior to their migration. Two types of communities are relevant: those that existed in their localities of origin, from which the refugees were originally uprooted, and those in which they live now, for example a camp with refugees from many localities. The members of both types may wish to preserve their communal life and return together with the others. Israel adopted a similar approach to the resettlement of residents who had been evicted from the localities in Gush Katif prior to Israel's withdrawal from the area, and tried to move them together to their new locations. Refugees in the Ein al-Hilweh camp in Lebanon, for example, have lived together in the camp for much longer than they lived in the individual villages in Palestine from which they were uprooted. It is possible that they may
also choose to live together after the return, perhaps preserving the collective memory of each original locality, as has actually occurred in many places since the Nakba. But there may also people from the same village who wish to live together in their own separate locality, and this possibility must also be considered.

The gradual return of the refugees also applies to the total number who will return each year. A yearly quota should be established, for two reasons: the first, and obvious reason, is connected to absorptive capacity. The second is Jewish fears that they will be displaced by the returning refugees after so many years of conflict and occupation. Jews should be guaranteed against being forcibly evicted from the homes in which they live, as also internally displaced Palestinians who live in homes of refugees. They will be given the opportunity to leave in return for appropriate compensation, but under no circumstances will they be compelled to do so.

A number of questions arise which must be considered: What happens in the case of a building originally owned by Palestinians, whose former owners demand its return, and it is occupied by Jews or others who refuse to leave? What if its occupants purchased it in good faith from the state or from its previous owners? And what if the original Palestinian owner is no longer living, and his descendants claim it?

The answers provided by international law seem to be inadequate. For example, according to international law, if the house has remained more or less in the condition it was prior to 1948, the Palestinian owner has a stronger claim that he would have if the building had undergone major renovations and improvement, in which case the present occupants have the stronger claim. In our opinion - as laymen, not as lawyers - the present occupants' claim grows stronger with time. When, after scores of years have passed, second, third or fourth generation heirs claim their property from the current occupants who purchased it in good faith, their claim is weaker than that of someone whose property was taken only recently. On the other hand, during the return, and in hope of encouraging reconciliation, it is worth offering incentives so that both sides will be willing to make "painful concessions." For example, Jews who relinquish their property to returning refugees would receive
appropriate compensation and public recognition, as would Palestinians who relinquish their claim in favor of the current occupants.

Internal refugees first Israeli citizens who are internal refugees can return before refugees from abroad – since many of the challenges that the latter will face do not apply to the internal refugees. The short distances, physical proximity and familiarity with local conditions provide them with many advantages that will help them plan their return. For example, the displaced residents of Saffurya, most of whom live in Nazareth's Sfafara neighborhood, could decide relatively easily whether any of them are interested in returning to their former locality, only a few kilometers away from where they now live. After deciding, they would be able to begin planning to rebuild, together with official and unofficial planning agencies, so that their needs are met. Their Jewish neighbors, residents of the moshav Zipori and others, must be part of this planning. Returning the internal refugees first will also make it easier for them to orient those who live abroad before their return, and
assist in their absorption after they arrive. Their own experience will expose them to the challenges that the others will face, and they will be able to provide help and advice about useful strategies that they themselves developed to deal with their own readjustment. We believe that Israeli Jews will be more willing to accept the return and resettlement of their displaced neighbors, and slowly accept the idea of the return in general.

Burial and visiting
The refugees' return has two more elements that complement each other: burial and visiting. Palestinian refugees (as well as Jews living abroad) will always have the right to be buried here. Many refugees may not wish to return to Palestine, but they may want to be buried here after they die. This return does not require a very great investment, but its symbolic and practical importance is great. Similarly, refugees living abroad will forever have an unlimited right to visit.

Where will they return to?
A crucial question, of course, is where the refugees will return to. There are various possibilities: to the localities from which they were expelled; near those localities; to other localities; to new communal localities made of different refugee groups; or to localities formed jointly with Jewish groups.

1. Returning to the localities from which the refugees were expelled seems like the most "natural" solution, and in some case could actually occur. A number of conditions are required. First, there must be a large enough group willing to reestablish the locality. Second, the built-up core of the village that was destroyed must still be mostly uninhabited, and there must be surrounding land that can be attached to it. Third, various planning elements, such as ecological factors, infrastructure, etc., must be considered.

2. If the locality no longer exists, or if others now live there, or if it has been turned into an industrial area, it could be reestablished nearby. Such a solution preserves the proximity to the original geographical area, on the one hand, but is adapted to the changed circumstances, on the other. An example would be the villages that were located on lands that today are covered by Tel Aviv neighborhoods. The residents of Sumeil can't return to their lands because, aside from a few buildings, nothing remains, and their agricultural lands are today in the center of Tel Aviv. But they could receive apartments in the buildings that will soon be built there. They could live in them, rent them out, or sell them. It would also be possible to establish a locality near Tel Aviv for all the refugees from those villages who wish to return. Another possibility would be establishing a Palestinian locality adjacent to an existing Jewish locality. The moshav Kerem Ben Zimra, for example,
is located on the former site of al-Ras al-Ahmar, and Kerem Maharal sits on I'jzim's land. Kerem Ben Zimra and Kerem Maharal could be expanded by the addition of neighborhoods occupied by returning Palestinian refugees.

3. Groups of displaced persons from different localities may wish to resettle together. As stated above, if residents of a particular refugee camp, who originally came from different localities, wish to preserve the community they established in exile rather than those from which they originally came, new localities would be established near those from which they were displaced. Such localities are usually made up of refugees from nearby villages, as in the Galilee.

4. Refugees may also return to other places. They may resettle anywhere in the country, and nothing would prevent refugees from Haifa, for example, from wanting to live in Nazareth or in Tel Aviv.

Stage III – After the return

What form will the state take?
At this point we will try to sketch an outline for creating the state to be established after the refugees return, which we view as an opportunity to make a new beginning and create a new social order. We propose thinking about a form other than the familiar nation-state – one that will not have to define itself in defensive terms against an external enemy but will instead be defined by the communities of which it is composed. Our state is a "weak state," secular, with a strong constitution, limited in scope, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its constitution will provide a strong, limited framework that allows "strong" communities to be established, each of which will have its own social and cultural autonomy (within the framework of the country's basic laws). Each community will be the equivalent of a state, in the sense that it will be able to create its own social and cultural structures. We envision not a "polis," a city-state, but a community-state. One
important purpose of such a state would be to maintain a multi-cultural framework that would allow all its citizens to live a full life. The state, for example, would be responsible for the road system and would prevent the development of a predatory market as well as prevent one group gaining power over the others. The state's supreme authority, based in its limited constitution, will be primarily formal and regulatory in nature.

Citizenship in each of the community-states will not be linked to its geographical location: a number of community-state entities could exist in the same region. There could be some in Tel Aviv, each of which would maintain its own educational system, language and customs. There could be, side by side, schools whose languages of instruction are Arabic, Hebrew, Amharic, Russian, or some other tongue, and the curriculum in each school would be determined by the community-state that runs it. The national government would have the authority to reject curricula (if, for example, they encouraged racism), but would not have to approve them.

Creating a multi-cultural space within the state will not only permit Jewish and Arab communities that currently exist to maintain cultural autonomy – but will also dismantle the fictitious unity we find today, in which the Jewish community in the form of the nation-state confronts the Palestinian community in the form of the nation (non)state. At present, internal differences within each community are suppressed, and the groups which make up each national community are unable to express themselves equally. The hegemonic group (among Jews, the Ashkenazi) colors all the rest white, and the others – like Ethiopians, or labor migrants – have no place in the state as we know it today. Separating citizenship from nationality by establishing many community-states will permit the creation of additional communities which will not be defined in national terms. For example, community-states of farmers, or of artists, might be created. Such community-states would, naturally, be connected to
each other by ties of greater or lesser strength, and these connections would have continually to be reconstituted.

A new political order is not all that is necessary to renew our lives here. New forms of relationships must be established, based on mutual trust among people – those who now live here as well as those who will arrive in the future. To create a healthy society, wounds that have opened and festered during the past sixty years must be healed. Public space must be provided for speaking about injustice and for listening to the stories of victims and of perpetrators. One possible model that might be applicable is that of the South African "Truth and Reconciliation Commissions," which may have been the first attempt to distinguish among truth, responsibility and punishment for injustice. It is possible, for example, to say that the events of '48, '67 or even the recent shelling and bombing of Gaza were the result of what was taken for granted at the time, and not decisions made by particular individuals; that this officer, or that minister, can't be blamed, since they were only
out the mandate that came with their job. But, if we say that everyone is to blame, that's like saying no one is to blame, and worse – that no one can take responsibility. That's what's interesting about the South African model. The "Truth and Reconciliation Commissions" demand the truth. The victims present their accounts, and the perpetrators are also required to tell their stories publicly; it is the public account that leads to healing, not only of those presenting their stories, but of the entire society.

Was this worthwhile?
Having presented these preliminary reflections about the possible return of Palestinian refugees, it is important, instead of summing up, to explain why it's worthwhile thinking about such things. Let's start by indicating what each side would have to give up in order for the Palestinian refugees to return.

Jews relinquish sovereignty, exclusive control over the country, the guaranteed Jewish majority. After more than 100 years of socialization to Zionism, that will require courage and daring. When the refugees return, Jews will become a minority in the country. Israel as a Jewish state will change radically, and it will no longer be defined as such. Jews will no longer be able to determine their future, and that of the Palestinians, by themselves. They will have rights as a minority in a democracy, but also many constraints.

So why is it worthwhile? In our view, a situation in which Palestinian refugees are no longer prevented from returning to their land allows Jews, for the first time since the beginning of Zionism, to live in the country instead of prevailing as occupiers or dreamers of a mythological "return to Zion." When the myth of "Eretz Yisrael" evaporates, and the country becomes an actual political entity, Jews will finally – paradoxically – be able to "arrive" at a real place, land here, see and learn its history at close hand, its geography and its demography. Only when Jews come to see the Palestinians who live here, and those who were expelled, as people worth living with can we hope to live here fairly and equitably. As a minority, Jews will be able to continue living more or less as they've been used to: life in Jewish localities shouldn't have to change much – and even if it does, the change will be gradual and consensual. Jews can continue to create in Hebrew, to learn Jewish
history and support Jewish and Hebrew culture.

Palestinians, for their part, will have to relinquish the materialization of their dream of a lost paradise. The mythological Palestine, in which all was wonderful, will never return, and will exist only in the world of memory and yearning. For Palestinians, living with Jews means living with the occupier, with those who expelled most of their countrymen. This is a tremendous challenge for someone whose land was occupied, and who would certainly have preferred the occupier to simply disappear, evaporate. That won't happen. There may be Jews, most of them of European origin, who won't be able to adjust to a non-Zionist reality, and prefer to use their other passport to move elsewhere, but many will remain – among them those who simply have nowhere else to go, or don't have the resources to leave. We think that the cost of realizing paradise on earth is greater than the cost of giving up that hope. In the real world, it's necessary to take into consideration the tremendous
changes that have occurred in the country since the time of the Nakba, but not all of them have been for the worse.

Jewish Peace News editors:
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