Reports and Articles from the
Brit Tzedek/Meretz-USA Israel Symposium
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, in a pilot partnership with Meretz USA,
co-sponsored a symposium in Israel and the West Bank from
January 12-19, 2008. The delegation met with Israeli and
Palestinian political and grassroots leaders of the peace
movement, as well as saw first hand the effects of the
occupation to gain an understanding of the realities affecting
Israeli and Palestinian lives on a daily basis.
You can check out daily reports and pictures from the trip by
Brit Tzedek president Steve Masters, national office staffer
Anna Freedman, and Rabbinic Cabinet Member Rabbi Brant Rosen at:
And see below for a collection of published op-eds and
letters to the editor written by trip participants.
Last chance for two
January 29, 2008
By Steve Masters
Officials again are talking about an
Israeli-Palestinian agreement. But bold action is a must, or the
door to peace may shut for good.
Steve Masters is president of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, the
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace.
I recently returned from leading a delegation to Israel and
the West Bank whose mission was to express American Jewish
support for a negotiated two-state resolution of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given news reports about recently
renewed diplomatic efforts, you might think the trip was almost
Twenty Arab leaders and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
recently met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in
Annapolis to relaunch peace negotiations; President Bush just
completed his first trip to the region, where he reiterated his
intention to achieve a treaty before he leaves office and named
Lt. Gen. William Fraser as his envoy; and Israel and the
Palestinians have begun to discuss "core issues" such as
Jerusalem and the settlements.
Everything we've asked for - negotiations over substantive
issues with the full diplomatic backing of the United States -
has come true. Why, then, do we feel such apprehension?
One need look no further than the facts on the ground: During
our visit, settlers responded to the president by expanding new
outposts; a faction pulled out of Olmert's coalition, rejecting
efforts to revive negotiations; and Israeli officials announced
that any settlement freeze wouldn't touch the main settlement
blocs - including East Jerusalem, a make-or-break issue for
Palestinians. Furthermore, the expected publication of the
second Winograd Report, assigning blame for Israel's blunders
during the 2006 Lebanon War, may force Olmert to resign.
As we followed in Bush's wake - meeting with Olmert and other
Knesset members, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad, and
journalists, academics and peace advocates on both sides - a
picture emerged: Unless substantial progress can be achieved
before 2009, when Bush and Abbas both leave office, the
possibility for a two-state solution may all but disappear.
We spent our time listening to as many Israelis and
Palestinians as we could. We toured Hebron with Yehuda Shaul, a
former Israeli soldier who has made it his mission to bring the
suffering of that city's Palestinians to light, and toured East
Jerusalem with Danny Seidman, a lawyer who works to expose and
halt unilateral Israeli actions that create obstacles to
peaceful settlement. We observed Palestinians as they attempted
to pass through just one of Israel's 546 checkpoints at the end
of their workday. We met with the general secretary of Kibbutz
Metzer, whose residents, despite a 2002 terrorist attack in
which five members were murdered, continue to work toward
coexistence with their Palestinian neighbors.
We heard a mixture of optimism and frustration from former
Israeli Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin, coauthor of the Geneva
Accord (an unofficial draft of a peace treaty), who told us that
Olmert now speaks like a peacemaker but has failed to make any
concrete changes on the ground. We heard worry from journalist
Akiva Eldar and Gershon Baskin, Israeli director of an
Israeli/Palestinian think tank, who fear that the window of
opportunity is rapidly closing. And we heard a solemn commitment
from Olmert to make exceptional efforts to reach a peace
agreement within a year, even as his coalition lost 11 members
and more than 50 rockets rained down on southern Israel. The
next day, Fayad spoke at length about progress already achieved
on security matters and complained about Israel's failure to
clearly state a commitment to freeze settlements.
It was an emotional roller-coaster, and we came away more
convinced than ever to do all that we can to ensure that Bush's
words become action. We'll share our experiences with our nearly
40,000 supporters, and reach out to others - including the 87
percent of American Jews who support a two-state solution to the
conflict. We'll call on our elected representatives,
presidential candidates and the president himself to employ our
country's considerable resources in engaging Israelis and
Palestinians in making the difficult compromises that true peace
demands. Fraser must be authorized to present bridging proposals
to overcome differences, and a separate back channel must be
established to allow for negotiation breakthroughs.
Because we love Israel, we will aggressively advocate for
that which it most needs: peace.
Let's hope that the president, too, returned home with
renewed determination, and that Olmert and Abbas have the
courage to take him up on his pledge to press the negotiations
Steve Masters, of Philadelphia, PA, serves on the board
of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater
Philadelphia. E-mail him at email@example.com.
Next year may be too late for
February 1, 2008
By Susie Coliver and Bob Herman
The time is now to conclude an Israeli-Palestinian peace
agreement. Next year may be too late.
We spent the past week in Israel and the Palestinian
territories as participants in a symposium sponsored by Brit
Tzedek v’Shalom and Meretz USA. As such, we had the rather
stunning opportunity to speak with officials such as Israeli
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam
Fayyad as well as Ha’aretz journalist Akiva Eldar,
Palestinian spokesman Hanan Ashrawi, academics, Arab Israelis,
Israeli settlers, Israeli and Palestinian peace activists and
former Israel Defense Forces officers.
In the West Bank, we saw the ghost town that the once vital
Palestinian commercial center of Hebron has become, as well as
the security barrier dividing the Arab village of Maiser from
its olive orchards. We ate in a basement falafel joint in East
Jerusalem, toured the new settlement blocks in Har Homa and
witnessed the degrading treatment of Palestinian workers as they
negotiated their return home to Bethlehem through a checkpoint
on the Israeli side of the Green Line. By the same token, we
heard from settlers at Gush Etzion of their mistrust of
“the Other,” and from kibbutzniks of the night a
terrorist opened fire on Kibbutz Metzer, killing six of their
Despite the reality that Israel continues to expand West Bank
and East Jerusalem settlements in violation of their own
commitments to the U.S.-devised road map, and Hamas in Gaza
continues to launch Kassam rockets daily into civilian areas in
southern Israel, the take-home message we got from Knesset
members and skeptics alike is that now is the time to get
serious about entering into permanent status negotiations.
Why? While President Bush, Mahmoud Abbas and Olmert are all
weak domestically, they have a genuine willingness to work
together — yet Bush and Abbas will be out of office next
year, Olmert may not survive the fallout from the upcoming
Winograd Report, and there is no guarantee that their
replacements will share their willingness.
The good news is that there already exists substantial
agreement on a large percentage of the provisions of a final
status agreement. Clear majorities among Israelis (including
Olmert himself) and Palestinians have said repeatedly that they
support a two-state solution. Some of the Israeli public has
even begun to indicate its willingness to compromise on East
But after so much fear and heartache, the Israeli public is
also weary of talking about peace and has begun to lose interest
in focusing on it anymore. Certainly the Palestinians have lost
much of the faith they once had in negotiations.
So now, right now — when the Bush administration is
reversing seven years of inaction on the issue, when the leaders
on the ground remain committed to a two-state solution, and
before the people themselves simply give up all hope — is
the time to move assertively toward a mutually agreeable,
durable peace agreement.
We are not naive. We got the clear sense that divorce, not
reconciliation, is desired. The separation barrier is apparently
doing its intended job of providing increased security, and will
need to remain even after a peace agreement has been signed. On
the other hand, its path will need to be altered in many places
to relieve genuine and unnecessary hardship for the civilian
population of the West Bank. Settlements must be evacuated, or
equitable land swaps arranged. A just resolution of the
Palestinian refugee problem must be found.
Moreover, as Knesset members Colette Avital and Yossi Beilin
told us, if such an agreement isn’t achieved this year,
Israel will face a new problem, one that just as surely
threatens the future of a Jewish state in the land of
Within less than a decade, the size of the Arab population
west of the Jordan River will exceed that of the Jewish
population. If there is not a two-state solution, the Arab
population will simply ask for one person, one vote. At that
point, if Israel remains a democracy, it will not be Jewish. If
it remains Jewish, it will not be democratic. There is a moral
price tag to be paid for carrying out an occupation, for
that’s what it would be if democratic principles are
abrogated. The prospect of such a future is ethically untenable
and in fact essentially un-Jewish in spirit.
The American Jewish community must tell its legislators to
support the current administration in its efforts to broker a
lasting peace agreement at this time. Next year may well be too
Susie Coliver and Bob Herman are members of the San
Francisco chapter of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom.
Gift of Peace
January 30, 2008
By Jan Jaben-Eilon
I just returned from Israel, where I had an opportunity to
get a sense of the feeling on the ground about the "peace
process" and President Bush's trip to Jerusalem. I was surprised
by the incredible hopelessness and helplessness felt by many
Israelis. Although they didn't seem to place much weight on
Bush's visit, they hold onto a tiny thread of hope that only the
United States can make the Israelis and Palestinians reach the
negotiated two-state solution sought by the majority on both
The purpose of Bush's visit was to accelerate the talks that
would achieve that result. All American Jews should support his
efforts. Unfortunately, several established American Jewish
groups that usually argue that American Jews should support the
Israeli government are now either remaining silent or are trying
to put blockages in the way of successful negotiations.
We should all support Bush's commitment to do everything he
can to push the two parties toward an agreement that would
result in two secure, democratic and contiguous states living in
peace and security. What better gift can America give to Israel
for its 60th birthday?
Jan Jaben-Eilon, of Marietta, GA, is a chapter leader and
national board member of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom.
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