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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace


Town Hall Conference Call with Naomi Chazan

From Crisis to Ceasefire

On Sunday, August 6, 2006, Naomi Chazan, former Member of Knesset and co-founder of the International Women's Commission for a Just and Sustainable Palestinian-Israeli Peace, spoke about the latest developments in the Mid-East crisis.  Below is the text from her address. 

What I’ll try to do in the next fifteen to twenty minutes is, number one, give an update on the situation today, and number two, start asking questions that are being raised within the Israeli body of politics on the entire operation.  Number three, I’ll focus in a little bit on the peace movement during the course of what is now being called the second Lebanese war, and finally I’ll look ahead at where we can go from here under the circumstances.  Before I begin let me say that the situation is extraordinarily complicated and in many respects very confusing and I really don’t know anybody in this country who can say with equanimity that they have not been perplexed or have not had to constantly reexamine the basic premises, because the situation is confusing, it is complicated, and it requires a great deal of thought. 

So let me start with the first set of questions and that relates to an update of the present situation.  Today has been a day, in a sense, that compresses the extremities of what’s been going on.  On the one hand, everyone woke up this morning to read headlines about the UN ceasefire proposal as a substantive relief.  This proposal by the way is not an easy proposal, it is a draft, and it appears to be a draft that has built into it two phases.  The first phase is an immediate phase of the ceasefire with some kind of strengthening of the UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon, which indicates in all probability the continuation of some fighting but [also] the opportunity for Israel’s ground forces to withdraw and for the Hezbollah to at least slow down its rocket attacks on Israel.  Then it promises a much more comprehensive ceasefire which will involve sending international forces under UN auspices, but not led by the UN, which would be able to implement and supervise a truce. 

The Israeli government examined the proposal today and basically decided to wait for the UN Security Council to come up with a concrete suggestion.  At the moment the Lebanese government has rejected the UN proposal and I assume there will be a few more days where we will have back and forth on some kind of arrangement. 

So on one hand this is a day that started off in a very promising way.  On the other hand, in terms of Israeli casualties from missile attacks, this has probably been the worst day that we’ve experienced since the beginning of the war, which is now almost closing its fourth week.  At lunch time twelve reserve soldiers who were gathered in a parking lot in the far north of Israel waiting to join their unit were hit by a missile directly and they were basically burnt in their cars.  It is really one of the most unfortunate, unlucky tragedies that we have known.  And just an hour ago six missiles were fired on Haifa and there is at least one woman killed and fifty-eight wounded.  This is the most comprehensive missile attack on Haifa since the beginning of the war.  So today in a sense demonstrates all the tragedy and the complexity of what’s been going on.  Again, let me emphasize from an Israeli perspective, in Lebanon there have been numerous Israeli attacks at the same time and let me hasten to add that Israeli troops continue to operate in Gaza and in the West bank as well.  So that’s an update as of now.

As I’m speaking to you I am trying to read the trailers on the television screen to get some grasp of what’s going on in Haifa.  All I can say is that all the television networks have been on live in Israel now, with what’s been going on in Haifa, just to give you an idea of the amazing mood swings that we’ve experienced in recent weeks. 

Let me move very quickly to the second set of issues which I think are more important.  In the last two weeks we’ve begun to hear more questions posed in Israel on what is going on and at least the beginning of some kind of flagging of the kind of issues that will have to be dealt with very seriously in the weeks and months to come.  Let me start with what I think everybody understands very well.  There is very little disagreement in Israel even in segments of the far left that Israel was justified in responding to a direct attack on its sovereign territory.  That is not being disputed in almost any quarter I know.  There are questions that are being raised about the nature of the Israeli response.  And the first question that is being raised now very seriously, and perhaps the best source is to read Haaretz in English online, is how could Israel respond only militarily to the Hezbollah provocation without embarking on this venture with a diplomatic or political strategy as well.  And the only strategy initially was a military strategy that was designed and implemented by the IDF itself. 

The amount of input emanating from the government was infinitely smaller at least at the first stages of the war.  And the question is, was it prudent to only have a military reaction and only such a massive military reaction at the outset.  The second question that is being raised, and its an extraordinarily serious one, what has the past three weeks of fighting done for Israel’s military deterrent power?  And increasingly there’s the feeling Israel’s deterrent capacity has suffered a serious blow as a result of what’s been going on.  What that means in terms of Israel’s future military capacity to defend itself or use its military deterrent power as a mode of defense is something that is being asked very broadly now in many circles.  The third question that is being asked is how one understands the decision-making process and the decisions made at various stages of the process. At virtually any major point that was possible to actually stop and claim victory or claim success, and appeal for a ceasefire, there seems to be a very clear dynamic that one stage leads to another in almost predetermined form.  What kind of brakes were put on this dynamic is a question that is directed at the decision makers and primarily, needless to say, at Amir Peretz, the Minister of Defense, and Ehud Olmert, both civilians with very limited military experience.  A fourth question that is being raised is how can one separate today between the home front and the front? Has the home front, in the far north and portions of the Negev as well, become the front?  And what is being done in this respect?  A very important aspect of the question of the home front and of the entire war experience in Israel is what it means socially.  Because if there were any doubts about social divisions and social inequalities in Israel, I think this war has magnified these divisions.  Anybody who could has left the north during the past month.  Major cities are heavily depopulated, but those who have remained are those who do not have the money, do not have the capacity, do not have the connections, and therefore those who are being hit today are the most impoverished and the least empowered of Israel’s citizens, and I’m talking about not only Jewish Israelis but also about Palestinian Israelis or Arab Israelis.  The final question I’ll raise at this juncture, what are the political implications domestically of what’s going on?  The amount of support for the war among the political parties has been fairly large, but this won’t last, it definitely will not be able to survive the post fighting phase and this is the beginning of what will develop into very serious opposition to the government after the serious fighting ends.  So I would say Israelis are beginning to ask questions, and not surprisingly. 

If I may I’d like to move very quickly to the third point, and that is, where is the peace movement in all of this?  Frankly, the Israeli peace movement has been very seriously divided during the course of the war and is seriously divided today.  Every Saturday night there have been demonstrations in Tel Aviv.  I would say that 90 percent of the demonstrators the first few weeks were Arab Israelis, Palestinian Israelis.  These were demonstrations that were organized by the radical peace movement in Israel and essentially populated by members of Hadash and Balad [far left Israeli political parties].  It was very difficult for Israeli Jews to participate in these demonstrations.  I admit, I’ve been to every single one of them, and I did so because I felt from the word ‘go’ that military action would escalate and perhaps get out of control and I felt it might be possible to do some kind of public action to stop it.  I should probably know better at my age, but nevertheless I think one has to voice these things publicly as well.  The demonstration that was held last night was different because at least significant portions of Meretz, which is also very heavily divided, joined last night’s demonstration and I spoke, Yael Dayan spoke as well.  So there’s the beginning of a movement.  This morning A.B. Yehoshua, Amos Oz, and David Grossman, Israel’s most noted literati, published a big ad in Haaretz saying that even though they justified the war they think it’s enough; they think its time for a ceasefire.  So we’re beginning to get a more tactical approach from the moderate segments of the peace movement in Israel.  But I would say that this war has split the peace ranks even more than the second intifada.  The one ray of light here is actually the women’s peace movements, which have been very consistent in opposing the war from the outset and have made their voices heard through organizations like Bat Shalom, and Women’s Coalition for a Just Peace, or through the newly formed coalition, Women Against War, or through the International Women’s Commission which actually brings together Palestinians and Israelis and internationals.  So the consistency of the women’s peace movement here is notable. 

And if I may, just as part of the introduction, I want to move to what happens next.  And I want to make my position very clear.  I think the key victim of this war is unilateralism.  Unilateralism for now on will be a non-starter, both because of the Israeli public mood but also because it is not a viable strategy for achieving lasting accord.  But what we have learned from this war as well is that there is a clear benefit to withdrawal to an internationally recognized boundary.  But that is not enough because in the case of Lebanon, where Israel withdrew to an internationally recognized boundary, and therefore enjoys a certain amount of support in the global arena, this was not accompanied by an agreement and without an agreed withdrawal to an internationally recognized boundary.  Israel’s security, and I think the security of the entire Middle East will be in peril. 

But moving from there, the question is, how can one take advantage of what is occurring now and avert disaster, to create the conditions so that this type of situation does not recur.  And it seems to me that ironically, but also in a promising way, a ceasefire may open some serious opportunities here.  The silver lining is that there are real possibilities for opening negotiations with the Palestinians if the Israeli government will have the courage to pursue these opportunities.  And more significantly, this may be the chance to begin to explore seriously the Arab League initiative, what’s known as the Saudi initiative, which talks about the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as part of a comprehensive agreement that will include Lebanon and Syria.  So on the diplomatic front I am more optimistic if all efforts are made now to channel some of the lessons of what is taking place into constructive avenues.  What is needed now though is a ceasefire agreement.  Everyday that passes not only are more civilians being killed on both sides, but the mood is becoming so terrible that it’s making any thought of talking much more difficult.  So there is an opportunity here and I don’t think one should lose sight of this opportunity. 

Q&A followed this address, and is available for listening on our website.

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