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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
Town Hall Meetings Transcripts
A talk by Brit Tzedek President Marcia Freedman to Boston Chapter in Brookline, MA, in November 2002
I will be speaking to you probably for about 20 or 25 minutes, and then we'll have a good long period of time for Q & A; if you don't hear me at any point in time, just wave your hand in the air and I'll know what that's about, because that's an occupational problem of mine; I have a small voice-small body and small voice.
The way I want to structure what I'm going to be talking to you about is first of all, how I see the situation on the ground today, both for the Israelis and for the Palestinians, including something about the upcoming elections on both sides; secondly, where it looks like we need to go in order to get to a solution to this terrible conflict, and thirdly, where Brit Tzedek fits into that picture of how we get to a solution. That sounds perhaps a little bit grandiose, but I think it's probably not, ultimately.
ON THE GROUND TODAY
As you know, suicide bombings and the other suicide attacks in Israel have done what terror is supposed to do: Terror makes people terrified. One of the reasons that it's so terrifying, is, obviously, because it's so random, it's so unpredictable, you never know where it's going to happen or when it's going to happen.
You never know what kind of a choice you made that day, or what kind of choice you made for what your child could do that day that's going to put them in harm's way or keep them safe; there's just no way of your knowing that in advance. So you get on a bus, and if you get off that bus, you say, "Oh, good!" You send your child to school, and your child gets home from school safely, and you say, "Oh, good!" But you are constantly worried and constantly needing to know where those children are. These little children are walking around with cell phones, as is every parent, so that they can trace where the kid is, if need be. This has made people really crazy, as it would tend to do. And it has also made them very irrational, as it would tend to do.
What is happening in Israel today is that poll after poll after poll continues to show a solid, 60%-70% majority in favor of a two-state solution, based roughly on the 1967 borders, with evacuation of settlements, etc. At the same time, 73% of the population give Ariel Sharon a high approval rating. Those positions are anathema to Ariel Sharon's government; there's no question about that.
Another thing that is happening is that people are beginning to understand that as a direct consequence of the occupation, of the settlements, of the conflict with the Palestinians, the Israeli economy, for two years straight, is in negative growth. It is in minus growth, minus 1.2% for two straight years, and this has never happened before. Even in the earliest days of the State, there's never been a negative growth to GDP; this is the first time ever. Unemployment is now 10.4% and it goes up every single month, without any changes to the better; there is very little foreign investment coming into the country. I have sometimes laughed to myself about the divestiture movement on campuses, because it is so unnecessary. Israel is doing that all by itself; it doesn't need anybody to encourage divestiture.
Another indication of the failing economy is that 16% of people are living below the poverty line. And if you took away the economic safety net, which is still stronger in Israel than it is in this country, for sure, 30% of people would be below the poverty line, that is to say, almost 1/3 of the population is poor, and this is in an economy that is often thought of as a first-world economy. So I think we have to understand that the damage that is being caused by the current situation is very pervasive.
In addition, as a result of the occupation, democratic principles are being undermined because, as we know in America today, when people are afraid, when security is the primary concern, democracy is a secondary concern. I think that the statement that the New Israel Fund has made has made is very important. I don't know how many of you see the New York Times, but the New Israel Fund has begun a campaign for us here in this country not to be afraid to speak out against abuses of power in a Israel, because without a maintaining a strong democracy in Israel there's a real danger to the democratic character of the country. With security issues so very paramount, and with no constitution and without a lot of experience of or sensitivity to civil rights and civil liberties, it's easy to begin to abuse some of them.
So I think that we can see that there is a way in which Israelis are very conflicted about everything. This is probably going to show up in the Israeli election as well.
THE UPCOMING ISRAELI ELECTIONS
Regarding the current Israeli elections, it is very encouraging to someone like me and to those of us who are looking for the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that Amram Mitzna has come forward as a new voice, as a clean voice, as a voice that has very little involvement in the way of Labor party politics as well. That's a plus for him, I think, with the electorate; it's a big minus for him with his own party. So, it's going to be really interesting to see whether or not he is able to stand by the positions he has already put forward as the election proceeds. I doubt very much, as the polls are showing, that he can win, but he should be able, at least together with Meretz and Shinui, to come together with a sizeable opposition, 40-50 seats in the Knesset, 40 at the very least, I would guess. If that's the case, and if they maintain a sizeable opposition outside of the government and do not go to a unity government, that puts all of the burden on Ariel Sharon to control the right wing of his party.
Now, there are many who criticize Sharon, particularly from the left, for not having a plan for how to end the conflict. I think that that is a very big mistake. Nomi Chazan, who is a Member of Knesset from the Meretz party, has said, and I think she is absolutely right, that she believes that Sharon dreams about maps. Sharon is the architect of the settlements; when Sharon was Minister of Housing and Infrastructure during the 1980s in the Begin government, and later somewhat in Netanyahu's government, he planned those settlements. He planned every single one of them, where they would be, and what the final map that he has in mind would ultimately look like.
Up until the time when he understood that he would be running for the prime ministership when the Barak government fell, Sharon said, very openly, in many different interviews and on many different stages, that he was in favor of the establishment of a Palestinian State on 40% of the West Bank. That is the "Sharon vision." If we take a look at what is in place now, on the West Bank, with Sharon having been in power for the past 18 months, we see the rest of Sharon's plan.
What has happened is that the West Bank has been divided up into eight enclaves, and each enclave includes a major city plus the surrounding villages, which includes almost all of the current Palestinian population of the West Bank. I think, and Sharon has said earlier, in other places, and you know from the way he has placed the settlements, that he sees the Palestinian State as divided into these eight enclaves. And any Palestinians who lived outside one of those enclaves would be non-resident citizens of the Palestine State. This is what he means when he talks about the "painful concessions" that he is willing to make in order for there to be a Palestinian State. And it's the reason that he keeps insisting to his own Likud Party, that he is in favor of the establishment of a Palestinian State. He knows that if there is no Palestinian State, and Israel holds onto the West Bank, the consequences, one way or the other, are unacceptable: Either you have to have all of the Palestinians become citizens of Israel, or you have a situation in which you have people who are not citizens of Israel, but are subject to its government. And I think that Sharon is smart enough and clever enough to know that he wants neither one of those solutions. But he has his own solution. And I think that he believes that he can force the Palestinians ultimately to accept that kind of solution.
THE PALESTIAN INFRASTRUCTURE
Today on the West Bank, as you know, the Palestinian infrastructure-both cultural and educational, the medical infrastructure, social services-is pretty much destroyed as a result of the invasions that began in March and have continued ever since. Every one of the enclaves today is surrounded by the Israeli Army, by deep ditches and high mountains of debris that people have to climb over or climb through, and barbed wire to get through. People can travel from one enclave to another enclave, or can travel from one of those to Jerusalem, only if they have a pass that is issued by the Israeli Civil Authority in the Occupied Territories. The pass is good for a month and permits travel from five in the morning until seven at night, but even then, anybody and everybody can and does expect to be held up at the various and sundry checkpoints as you're going from one place to another, within the area that was Area A under the Oslo Accord.
If the Israeli economy is bad, the Palestinian economy is practically non-existent. Sixty percent of Palestinians are living under the Palestinian poverty rate, which is $2 per day. That's 60% and rising, and it's been consistently rising for the past two years. There is very little in the way of an economy, and what's happening right now is also extremely difficult for them because it is the season of the olive harvest. The olive harvest is the primary livelihood for about 600,000 Palestinians of the 1.2 million Palestinians who live on the West Bank. (By the way, the poverty rate in the Gaza Strip is even higher; I don't remember the statistics, but it's somewhere closer to 80% in the Gaza Strip.)
THE SETTLER MOVEMENT
At any rate, a concerted effort is being made by the extremists of the settlers who are (I'll want to say a little more about this) a minority of the settlers. The extremists of the settlers are making it very difficult, if not impossible, for Palestinians to get out to their olive groves and conduct their harvests. They are harassing them, they are out there with guns, and they are not being controlled, not being contained by the army. I don't know if you have seen this yet, but those of you who are members of Brit Tzedek will soon be getting an Action Alert. We are going to be supporting the initiative of the Reform Movement, which is calling upon American Jews to write to the Minister of Internal Security as well as to the Minister of Defense in Israel, asking for protection for the Palestinian harvesters of their olive crops.
The extremists in Israel represent a position that was maintained prior to the establishment of the State of Israel by a small minority position within the Zionist movement; this minority adhered to the principles of Ze'ev Jabotinsky and, later, Menachem Begin. This Zionist minority maintained from the very beginning that all of historic Palestine should be Israel. The position of the maximalists, the 100% solution folks on both sides, has a history within Zionism, but it is important to remember that it was the view of a very small minority within the Zionist movement.
However, it began to take hold after 1967, when the West Bank was in Israeli hands. In the early 1970s, Gush Emunim, the "block of the faithful," were the first to go out and start to create Israeli settlements on the West Bank in order to create "facts on the ground" which, they believed, would ultimately result in Israeli sovereignty over all of the West Bank. When Begin was elected in 1977, for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but had everything to do with the economyc and especially the with a revolt of the Mizrahi Jews [descended from families from Arab-speaking countries) against the Labor Party. They voted for Begin in order to vote against the Labor leaders of the time who had done nothing for them and done nothing to even try to reach out for their votes. That election was the first time in history that the Likud Party had come into power. For 30 years, there had never been anything other than a Labor government. The 1977 election was called the "Mahapach," the upheaval, and it was considered to be an enormous upheaval in Israeli society, and it indeed was an enormous upheaval.
So from 1977 through to the present, the 5,000 messianic nationalist settlers, the true descendents of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, became 210,000 settlers. But most of the 210,000 are not messianic nationalists. It's very interesting to know who most of these settlers are: Peace Now has recently done a very important poll among the settlers. The survey found that some 60% of the settlers today would obey a lawful order to evacuate their settlement and would accept economic compensation in order to do so. Another 20% have said that they would obey a lawful order to evacuate the settlements. That leaves 20% of the settlers who are those who are ideological settlers. They are there for ideological reasons, be that either messianic nationalism or religious reasons; many of them truly believe that their presence in the West Bank will bring the Messiah, and if they are not there, the Messiah can't come. They do believe that. And they are dangerous, because they are so fanatical, and they are dangerous because they are so zealous, and they are dangerous because they are within a mind-set that is self-contained; there is nothing you can say that will show them that they may be wrong about anything, and that's the way the fanaticism works.
The Peace Now poll tells us, again, that most Israelis, including the settlers, understand very well that the ultimate solution is going to have to be a two-state solution.
The settlers would obey a lawful order to evacuate moved to the West Bank originally for economic reasons. From the early days, from '77 on, they were offered enormous economic incentives to move out beyond the Green Line into what they considered to be safe territory because the army would be able to protect them. You can, today, with $2,500, make a down payment on a nice, middle-class villa, with beautiful vistas, and you can get a mortgage on very easy terms, something that is not true within Israel proper. You will receive a 7% reduction on your income taxes, you will get free pre-school education for your children. Hundreds of millions of shekels every year are given to settlers in economic incentives. Most of these settlers are people from low-income urban neighborhoods in the crowded center of the country, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
They are people who have moved to the West Bank to improve their quality of life and because they could do it really cheaply. They are now very stuck. They are stuck where they are because they are house rich and cash poor-nobody's buying their houses today-there are fewer settlers moving into settlements than ever before; the growth used to be something like 8% a year, and this year it was about 2% and most of that growth was natural growth, not any people moving into the settlements. So they have these houses and apartments that they can't sell, and they don't have the cash to buy something within Israel.
AN ADMINISTRATION HELD IN PLACE BY FEAR
On the Palestinian side today, there is no question at all but that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are controlling the agenda. Hamas and Islamic Jihad can really control both what happens on the Israeli side as well as what happens on the Palestinian side. It is very important to understand that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are maximalists. They don't want a two-state solution; they want a one-state solution, and that is that all of historic Palestine will be Palestine and there will not be an Israel. On the Israeli side, what we have is a government that is the most extreme right-wing government that has ever existed in Israel, in all of its 53-year history. Now, with the secession of the Labor party from that government, Ariel Sharon basically stands to the left of his own government, because what remains is very extreme.
We need to keep that in mind when we think about Israel today, that there's a government that doesn't represent the majority of the population's political views. And that it is a government is held in place by fear. And the fear is reinforced by the minority on the other side, on the Palestinian side, because all they have to do to reinforce the fear and to shore up Sharon and his government, is the timely suicide bombing. And if they should, for any reason whatsoever, accept the persuasion of the Palestinian Authority, and the Fatah, to refrain from attacks within Israel proper (which has happened), then all that Sharon's government has to do is make sure that there is a timely targeted assassination of a Hamas leader, which will certainly, then, call for a response by Hamas or Jihad, another a suicide bombing. So here we have a situation where extreme opinions on two sides are really in control of the agenda. And there does not seem to be a way to move out of that situation, other than international intervention.
WHERE WE NEED TO GO TO GET TO A SOLUTION
The coming together of the so-called "Madrid Quartet" is an extremely important development, in my view, and it's important, because it represents not just the United States' involvement, but it's the UN, it's the EU, and it's Russia, that is to say, it is genuinely international.
The Quartet has now put forth a road map. Israel is saying, "We can't talk about this until after the election." Palestinians have said that they would accept it with some qualifications. A new version has now been put forth to both sides, which calls for very tough measures on both sides, in order to get going on stage one. It calls for those tough measures to begin to be put into place, I think, in May of 2003
The roadmap is really a timetable, and it says at what stage and at what date this should happen and that should happen and the other thing should happen. None of it can happen without very strong pressure from and the involvement of the United States government. And therefore, because the EU and the UN do not have enough influence in Israel, and they don't even really have enough influence among the Palestinians, without the involvement of the one super-power, the United States, any serious international intervention is dependent on the U.S.
One, and only one, of the reasons why the U.S. government, our government, is hesistant to act on its own roadmap is because it believes that the American Jewish community is entirely behind the policies of the Sharon government.
But here's another Americans for Peace Now poll, which has just been published, that shows that 52% of Jewish Americans favor the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside Israel, which would remain a state for the Jewish people, with borders that would be somewhat along the lines of June 4, 1967. They believe in a shared Jerusalem as the capital of two states, and they believe that the Palestinian right of return needs to be limited to the right of return to the new State of Palestine. Fifty-two per cent of American Jews support that plan. That plan is the Clinton bridging proposals that were under discussion during the Taba negotiations, the last negotiating process the Israelis and Palestinians engaged in prior to the election that brought Ariel Sharon into power. That plan is the plan that is put forth by Brit Tzedek v'Shalom in its seven principles.
People have always asked us, "Well, who's going to support you among Jews in this country? Everybody seems to be going to the right." Well, I think we now have the clear evidence that more than half of Jews in this country have not gone anywhere to the right-they may have stopped speaking out on the issue, or never did speak out on the issue, but when they're asked anonymously what they actually think, they have answered. And this, by the way, is the same proposal that is supported by 79% of Palestinians. It's very interesting; I encourage you to go the websites and get the information on these polls, which are conducted jointly by the Arab-American Institute and by Americans for Peace Now, so I'm sure on both the websites you can find the results. They are being widely reported in Israel as well, in Ha-Aretz and in other places. These are very important numbers for us.
WHERE BRIT TZEDEK PLAYS A ROLE IN THE SOLUTION
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom is looking to become a mass, chapter-based membership organization, and when I say "mass," I really mean "mass." We are looking for tens of thousands of members, as quickly as possible, if not hundreds of thousands of members thereafter.
Now, if we know that there are 5,000,000 Jews in this country, and now 52% of them support the principles of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, it doesn't seem all that unlikely that we should be able to get these tens of thousands of members. We have to keep in mind that AIPAC has no more than 60,000 members. And AIPAC goes to Congress and says, "We speak for the Jewish community." But they don't. And Congress doesn't know it, and the administration doesn't know it, and we of Brit Tzedek, as a chapter-based organization, together with APN and together with Meretz-USA, together with the Israel Policy Forum, all of which can constitute together, either formally or informally, an American Jewish peace movement, must make our voices heard in Congress, and we must make our voices heard in our home districts, which is why we want to be chapter-based.
It is very important that you are here together in this. I cannot say this strongly enough: from our point of view, and from your points of view, we have to make our numbers visible and our voices heard. We have to be counted. And one way of being counted is by joining this organization. It's a very clear, political action to join Brit Tzedek, and it's even a stronger political action to recruit others to join the organization. We need to build our strength as our number one priority. There are other things we need to do at the same time, obviously, but our number is our first priority, I would urge you all to think of getting the numbers together and making them very visible, getting active and getting involved. We need every single one of you, not just to join but also to be active and to recruit.
So with that, I am going to stop and let you ask questions. (for Q & A click here)