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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
Two States Are ‘Common Sense’
Atlanta Jewish Times
Marcia Freedman, the president of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, served in Israel’s Knesset from 1973 to 1977. She focused on issues that Israel had not faced openly: domestic violence, breast cancer, rape, incest, teen prostitution and abortion.
Today, she divides her time between her home in Berkeley, California, and Israel, though for the past three years she has remained in the United States to serve as the founding president of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom. She visited at the invitation of the Atlanta chapter and recently spoke with Suzi Brozman.
Q. How did you come to be active in the peace issue?
A. I’ve been a proponent of the two-state solution since the early ‘70s. It was considered a very radical view. Its wonderful to live long enough to see it happen. It was very clear to me all along that until we resolved the Palestinian issue, we’d never be able to resolve the issues with the surrounding states. When the Arabs met in Beirut last year, they stated when Israel returned the occupied areas, they’d all recognize Israel. Ben Gurion’s dream can be had.
Since the death of [Yasser] Arafat, it’s clear there are Palestinians who wish to be a partner for peace. It’s important to understand that those who are now in power in the Palestinian Authority are the exact same people who led the delegation during the Geneva accords.
They are open and ready and have already signed off on the basics. The Israelis who negotiated the Geneva accord with them are those who were in power during [Ehud] Barak’s time and some who are part of the current unity government in Israel.
Q. What brought you to the conclusion that a two-state solution was possible and preferable?
A. It was just common sense. At the time in Israel, the word Palestinian was never used by politicians or in the media. The occupied territories were called “administered territories.”
The Palestinians took a long time to come to a boil in 1989 with the start of the first intitfada. They were docile until then. It didn’t seem to be costing Israel anything to continue the policy.
Q. How did the settlement movement come to be such an issue?
A. The settlement movement was started by messianic nationalists. The Gush Emunim, wearing knit kippot, established settlements on hilltops. At first, it was one or two young people with a flag, a generator and a trailer. Then it grew. Until 1977 there were only about 5,000. [Yitzhak] Rabin and [Shimon] Peres made a bad decision to leave them there, not evacuate them as illegal settlers. The thought was “when the time comes.”
The settlers believe that the messiah could not come until we settled the West Bank. Now, only 20 percent of the settlers are there for religious beliefs; the rest came for quality of life.
They got enormous subsidies to more to Gaza and the West Bank. Per capita government spending in those areas is twice that spent on those living inside the Green Line.
[Menachem] Begin was a proponent of the greater land of Israel. Under him, Likud adopted this attitude, though it was not elected on this basis in 1977.
[Ariel] Sharon was Begin’s second in command. He planned where the settlements would be, and the numbers grew from 5,000 to 100,000 in under eight years.
Today, there are approximately 230,000 settlers.
Q. What about the Palestinian slogan of throwing the Jews into the sea and occupying the entire land?
A. From the sea to the river is an agenda held only by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Most Palestinian leaders have adopted a policy of nonviolence. [Mahmoud] Abbas’ plan is to use the Northern Ireland model to deal with Hamas. The peace process has been going on for a long time in Ireland. It’s wise to try to bring extremists into the political process. Collecting arms will happen in Gaza eventually.
Q. How do you feel Israel should deal with the Palestinians?
A. We have to create the conditions for them to have a shot at success. Israel still controls the air and sea access, water, electricity and food. Just because the army and settlers are out of there does not mean the Palestinians have actual control. But now they can spread out and begin building.
The EU will subsidize their growth. They have to be able to establish a rule of law. Until now it has been chaotic, with Hamas providing charities, health services and schools, the functions a government should provide. We will see what happens in January. Hamas has agreed to participate in elections.
Q. How can Americans help?
A. Through Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, Americans can help spread the message that we must seek an end to the conflict in order to secure Israel’s future and well-being and that we see that end as only possible with the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, with a negotiated, not unilateral, solution.
Ultimately, Israelis and Palestinians not only sign a formal peace agreement and establish permanent borders, and then, the years afterward, work together toward reconciliation and forgiveness.
Q. What about the right of return?
A. Palestinians are insistent on this recognition of their right under international agreements, but they are prepared to accept implementation of this right in terms of reparations and compensation for lost property. The P.A. has agreed to that. They’ll never say they relinquish the right of return, but 90 percent say that they wouldn’t choose to return to Israel even if they could. Unbeknownst to Americans, Palestinians are the most upwardly mobile, educated group among the Arab world. There are six universities in the West Bank. Feminism has had an organized voice among them since 1948.
Q. What is Brit Tzedek v'Shalom?A. It is a single-issue organization begun in 2002 with about 200 people. Today we have 30,000 members in 31 chapters. We concentrate on public education, developing close, ongoing relationships with the government and organized Jewish community groups, seeking to influence media and U.S. government through local congressional districts. We discovered early on that we had a major mission to break the silence within the American Jewish community about Israel that began in 2000. People were told that if they did not stand in unity with Israel, they were traitors, so fewer and fewer people expressed opinions criticizing the Israeli government or its politicians. We began working to establish room for dialogue, to educate voters and congressional representatives.