Board member Sue Swartz reports from the ground in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Hebron on last week's 40-year anti-occupation activities.

Shalom Ken!
Kibush Lo!

Peace Yes!
Occupation No!

Children want only to live...
in Hebron and in Sderot!

The settlements are like a bone in our throat!

Enough of the settlements --
we want 2 states for 2 peoples!

It is already hot in Hebron at 11 a.m. as 300 of us disembark from the comfortable bullet-proof buses which started out in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Be'er Sheva, buses which passed through the checkpoints outside Kiryat Arba and inside Hebron itself, and -- accompanied by IDF and police vehicles -- down one of the main thoroughfares of the city, past Palestinians gathered outside their small stores and auto repair shops, past young boys carrying containers of soup given out on Tuesdays, past Christian tourists in red baseball caps. The open space, normally a dirt parking lot, where we are to hold our demonstration quickly fills up with large banners and small hand-held posters, sound equipment, protestors in Peace Now t-shirts, reporters, and the familiar sound of chanting.  Shalom Kein! Kibush Lo! It is my third event during this week of protest, although it is the first Peace Now rally pemitted in Hebron by the government for many years (and then, only by High Court order). I feel a bit like an old hand as things get underway, a bit like an outsider, and a bit like an activist just out to have fun.

Demonstration in Hebron organized by Shalom Achsav (Peace Now).
Counter-demonstrators with signs that include: "Peace Now are traitors," "Ethnic Cleansing of Jews from their Land," "Hebron was a Jewish city when Europe was Still a Swamp."


The banner reads: "Occupation and war are catastrophes. Only a just peace equals security." The photo is a door in Hebron. On the door it says "Revenge" and on the wall it reads: "God is King."
On the ride to Hebron, I talked to Tzippora, a former Canadian who came to Israel 45 years ago as a young bride. She was eager to hear my American take on Israel and to give me her own opinions. As we drove through Hebron, Tzipporah, waving at the police and Palestinian residents with equal gusto, said "the Left is so pareve".  Pareve -- kosher both for dairy and meat -- so well-behaved, she explained, so boring. Always doing the same old thing.

With all due respect, I must disagree.  The first 10 days of June were a whir of anti-occupation activities, much of which was definitely not boring: a car convoy and bicycle parade, photo exhibitions and films, vigils and street theater, demonstrations, concerts, an academic conference, a daily cable TV show. The earthly laws of physics (i.e., not being able to be in 2 places at once) and other obligations made it impossible for me to see and do everything. And word limits makes it impossible for me to tell you everything I did do. What follows are highlights from those days, days which also saw much public discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as the 6-Day War and its 40-year aftermath.


My favorite event was "Critical Mass", a bicycle and roller skate convoy through the streets of Tel Aviv. Well over a hundred cyclists (most, but not all, under 30) and a dozen skaters fanned out from Cinemateque Square to "paint the city with messages of freedom and equality".  Several were dressed in clown make-up and fabulouly mis-matched clothing, others rode bicycles of their own design complete with streamers and balloons, still others looked like kids you would find on U.S. college campuses, with orange converse sneakers, baggy clothes, and tatoos. Before they took off -- with a police car leading them through the most congested areas during rush hour -- there was a drumming circle so contagious, even folks setting up a simulated checkpoint for a later event paid attention. 
The banner reads: "Yes to the agreement. We support the Geneva Initiative."
Though not a cyclist, I did join the Geneva Initiative's car caravan from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Three dozen cars and a bus decked out in posters ("support the Geneva Initiative) and balloons ('yes to an agreement") traveled the main highway to Jerusalem where we met up with a similar-sized Palestinian contingent. Together we made our way around the Old City, then up to the Mount of Olives for a short rally opened by Saman Khoury of the Palestinian Peace Coalition, who spoke of the mundane -- make sure you have your hats on and drink water in this heat -- and the existential -- you're always welcome in East Jerusalem, even after it is the capital of Palestine. 

"Tree of Life" performance art on the Tel Aviv boardwalk. They ended by putting oranges on the branches.

What else? There was also "Until She Opens Her Eyes", a day-long mix of performance art, panel discussions, photo and video exhibitions, and personal testimonies on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv's port sponsored by several human rights groups; "The Desert Generation", an exhibit by Israeli and Palestinian painters and photographers, whose hundreds of  9" X 12" works covered an entire room in Jerusalem's Artist's House; a "Day of Protest" with music and postering at Tel Aviv University; and the "main" demonstration Saturday night attended by 5000 people.



The hand signs held by Women in
Black read: "End the occupation."

There was a special gathering for members of Combatants for Peace outside Jerusalem with speeches, music, and pledges to pursue non-violence; the launching of a campaign to re-build every Palestinian home demolished by the Israeli government during the upcoming year; vigils held by Women in Black at main intersections in Haifa, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv throughout the week. People lined up to walk through a "checkpoint" built of wire fencing and warning signs eerily similar to those you see in the West Bank, where "soldiers" checked your ID (I had to explain why I only had a U.S. passport), detained suspicious persons, and made you extremely nervous -- even though it was all happening in the middle of Tel Aviv.

By the end of the week, I had amassed 4 souvenirs. First, a collection of t-shirts. Second, a glimpse at how hard it is to build momentum for peace when national political leadership is absent, and many -- if not most -- Israelis are convinced there's nothing they can do to change things. Third, a series of frightening and disturbing comments made by those who disagree with ending the status quo: from being called traitors by settlers in Hebron to being told that Arabs were worse than animals by a fellow American in Jerusalem to 4-letter words shouted from passing cars. Fourth, the opportunity to spend time with people who truly believe that despite their mutual suffering, Israelis and Palestinians must -- and will -- make peace.

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206

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