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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace


There Is Another Way - a new group tries to wrest the Israeli-Palestinian debate from the extremists.
by By Carole Bass

Early last week, Yale students showed their sympathy for Palestinians by setting up a mock Israeli checkpoint and pretending to shoot a pregnant Palestinian woman...

Sunday, Marcia Freedman came to the area with a different message: You can be pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian, anti-occupation and anti-terrorism.

It's a rare message these days. After two-plus years of escalating violence between Israel and Palestinians, the debate is so polarized that it's scarcely a debate at all.

Freedman, a former member of Israel's parliament, hopes to change that through an American-Jewish organization, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom (www.btvshalom.org). Founded six months ago, Brit Tzedek is small but fast-growing, according to Freedman.

"Our Jewish communal tradition has always been diversity--two Jews, five opinions," she told her audience at the Jewish Community Center in Woodbridge. "And now we've got 10 Jews, one opinion."

That opinion: "There's only one way to stand with Israel," by supporting brutal and expansionist policies as necessary to crack down on terrorism.

"Our goal is to become a different voice," Freedman declared--"to say, 'There is another way to be pro-Israel.'"

In fact, she said, reflexively lining up behind the current Israeli government "is a very bad way to be pro-Israel"--bad for Israelis, bad for Palestinians, bad for everyone.

Brit Tzedek, known in English as the Jewish Alliance for Justice & Peace, was founded in April by longtime peace activists. A local chapter sprang up soon after. The founders see the United States as critical in quelling Israeli-Palestinian violence and reviving negotiations for a long-term solution. And they see American Jews as critical in shaping the U.S.'s role.

Unlike many other peace activists, Brit Tzedek is unabashedly pro-Israel: It insists on Israel's right to exist as a secure Jewish state, alongside a secure Palestinian state.

The group also calls for a complete end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem "with border adjustments agreeable to both parties"; Jerusalem as a shared capital, with free access to all religious sites for Jews, Muslims and Christians; an end to Jewish settlements in the occupied territories; an end to "terrorism and state-initiated violence"; and a "just resolution" for Palestinian refugees. This would include only a limited "right of return" to Israel, preserving the country's status as a Jewish homeland.

Those positions put Brit Tzedek in something of a political no-man's land--somewhere in the broad middle ground between two warring opponents. The hard-line Israel lobby brooks no criticism of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government. Much of the American and international left, while championing Palestinian statehood, decries Jewish statehood as racist and demands a refugees' right of return that would turn Israel, through sheer numbers, into a second Palestinian state.

But Freedman, Brit Tzedek's San Francisco-based president who still spends half her time in Israel, insisted that a majority of Israelis, Palestinians and American Jews fall into the middle ground. She cited polls showing that 80 percent of Palestinians "support a nonviolent intifada," or struggle against occupation. Nearly 70 percent of Israelis, she said, favor a Palestinian state, with Israel withdrawing to its pre-1967 borders.

Despite this popular willingness to compromise, "the extremists are in charge of the agenda" on both sides, Freedman said. Sharon's approval rating in Israel stands at 70 percent, even though an identical 70 percent of Israelis disagree with his hard-line policies. Fear, she said, "creates a population that can't see in front of its own face."

If Israelis did look in front of their own faces, said Freedman, they would see the devastation their government is wreaking on both sides of the 1967 border. "The Palestinian economy is not even an economy" any more, since people and goods are penned in by military checkpoints. Vast numbers of Palestinians live below the $2-a-day poverty level.

In Israel, the economy "is in a shambles," with unemployment over 10 percent and foreign investment shriveling.

And while Israelis think Sharon will keep them safe, Freedman pointed out that he profits politically from terror attacks. Every time Hamas or Islamic Jihad blows up a bus, Sharon's ratings go up. Every time Israel assassinates an alleged terrorist, somebody retaliates by blowing up a bus. For both Sharon and Hamas, fear and anger are powerful allies.

One of Brit Tzedek's most intriguing ideas is to "bring the settlers home."

An enormous amount of Israeli money goes into subsidizing and patrolling Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, which are a major provocation to Palestinians.

Citing a Peace Now survey showing that most settlers are there not for ideological reasons but for cheap housing and child care, Brit Tzedek proposes an international fund to subsidize their move back to Israel.

"We can begin to end the occupation," Freedman said, "by people voting with their feet" in the West Bank and Gaza.

And, she hopes, with their voices in the United States.

Carole Bass can be reached at: cbass@newhavenadvocate.com For more info: 773-583-5747 or info@btvshalom.org Locally: inewhaven@btvshalom.org

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