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Ever-changing goals will ensure Israeli ‘victory’

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has so far killed 1,865 Palestinians and 66 Israelis.

Gigi Ibrahim

There was this village in England which took great pride in its archery. In every yard there stood a large target board showing the skills of its owner. On one of these boards every single arrow had hit a bull’s eye.

A curious visitor asked the owner: how is this possible? The reply: ‘Simple. First I shoot the arrows, and then I draw the circles around them.’

In this war, our government does the same. We achieve all our goals – but our goals change all the time. In the end, our victory will be complete.

Changing goals

When the war started, we just wanted to ‘destroy the terror infrastructure’. Then, when the rockets reached practically all of Israel (without causing much damage, largely owing to the miraculous anti-missile defence), the war aim was to destroy the rockets. When the army crossed the border into Gaza for this purpose, a huge network of tunnels was discovered. They became the main war aim. The tunnels must be destroyed.

Tunnels have been used in warfare since antiquity. Armies unable to conquer fortified towns tried to dig tunnels under their walls. Prisoners escaped through tunnels. When the British imprisoned the leaders of the Hebrew underground, several of them escaped through a tunnel.

Hamas used tunnels to get under the border walls and fences to attack the Israeli army and settlements on the other side. The existence of these tunnels was known, but their large numbers and effectiveness came as a surprise. Like the Vietnamese fighters in their time, Hamas uses the tunnels for attacks, command posts, operational centres and arsenals. Many of them are interconnected.

For the population on the Israeli side, the tunnels are a source of dread. The idea that at any time the head of a Hamas fighter may pop up in the middle of a kibbutz dining hall is not amusing.

So now the war aim is to discover and destroy as many tunnels as possible. No-one dreamed of this aim before it all started.

If political expedience demands it, there may be another war aim tomorrow. It will be accepted in Israel by unanimous acclaim.

The Israeli media are now totally subservient. There is no independent reporting. ‘Military correspondents’ are not allowed into Gaza to see for themselves, they are willingly reduced to parroting army communiqués, presenting them as their personal observations. A huge herd of ex-generals are trotted out to ‘comment’ on the situation, all saying exactly the same, even using the same words. The public swallows all this propaganda as gospel truth.

The small voice of Haaretz, with a few commentators like Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, is drowned in the deafening cacophony.

I escape from this brainwashing by listening to both sides, switching all the time between Israeli TV stations and Aljazeera (in Arabic and in English). What I see is two different wars, happening at the same time on two different planets.

Who is the enemy?

For viewers of the Israeli media, Hamas is the incarnation of evil. We are fighting ‘terrorists’. We are bombing ‘terror targets’ (like the home of the family of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh). Hamas fighters never withdraw, they ‘escape’. Their leaders are not commanding from underground command posts, they are ‘hiding’. They are storing their arms in mosques, schools and hospitals (as we did during British times). Tunnels are ‘terror tunnels’. Hamas is cynically using the civilian population as ‘human shields’ (as Winston Churchill used the London population). Gaza schools and hospitals are not hit by Israeli bombs, God forbid, but by Hamas rockets (which mysteriously lose their way) and so on.

Seen through Arab eyes, things look somewhat different. Hamas is a patriotic group, fighting with incredible courage against immense odds. They are not a foreign force oblivious to the suffering of the population, they are the sons of this very population, members of the families that are now being killed en masse, who grew up in the houses that are now being destroyed. It is their mothers and siblings who huddle now in UN shelters, without water and electricity, deprived of everything but the clothes on their back.

I have never seen the logic in demonizing the enemy. When I was a soldier in the 1948 war, we had heated arguments with our comrades on other fronts. Each insisted that his particular enemy – Egyptian, Jordanian, Syrian – was the most brave and efficient one. There is no glory in fighting a depraved gang of ‘vile terrorists’.

So now the war aim is to discover and destroy as many tunnels as possible. No-one dreamed of this aim before it all started.

Let’s admit that our present enemy is fighting with great courage and inventiveness. That almost miraculously, their civilian and military command structure is still functioning well. That the civilian population is supporting them in spite of immense suffering. That after almost four weeks of fighting against one of the strongest armies in the world, they are still standing upright.

Admitting this may help us to understand the other side, something that is essential both for waging war and making peace, or even a ceasefire.

Without understanding the enemy or having a clear concept of what we really want, even achieving a ceasefire is an arduous task.

For example: what do we want from Mahmoud Abbas?

For many years the Israeli leadership has openly disparaged him. Ariel Sharon famously called him a ‘plucked chicken’. Israeli rightists believe that he is ‘more dangerous than Hamas’, since the naïve Americans are more likely to listen to him. Binyamin Netanyahu did everything possible to destroy his standing and sabotaged all peace negotiations with him. They vilified him for seeking reconciliation with Hamas. As Netanyahu put it, with his usual talent for sound bites, ‘peace with us or peace with Hamas’.

But this week, our leaders were feverishly reaching out to Abbas, crowning him as the only real leader of the Palestinian people, demanding that he play a leading role in the ceasefire negotiations. All Israeli commentators declared that one of the great achievements of the war was the creation of a political bloc consisting of Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Emirates and Abbas. Yesterday’s ‘no-partner’ is now a staunch ally.

The trouble is that many Palestinians now despise Abbas, while looking with admiration upon Hamas, the shining symbol of Arab honour. In Arab culture, honour plays a far larger role than in Europe.

Aim for a ceasefire

At the moment, Israeli security experts look with growing concern at the situation in the West Bank. The young – and not only the young – seem ready for a third intifada. Already, the army fires live ammunition at protesters in Qalandia, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and other places. The number of dead and injured in the West Bank is rising. For our generals, this is another reason for an early ceasefire in Gaza.

Ceasefires are made between the people who are firing - that is, Israel and Hamas. Alas, there is no way around it.

What does Hamas want? Unlike our side, Hamas has not changed its aim: to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip.

This can mean many things. The maximum: opening the crossings from Israel, repairing and reopening the destroyed airport of Dahaniyah in the south of the Strip, building a seaport at Gaza City (instead of the existing small fishing jetty), allowing Gaza fisherfolk to go further from the coast. (After Oslo, Shimon Peres fantasized about a big harbour in Gaza, serving the entire Middle East and turning Gaza into a second Singapore.)

The minimum would be to open the Israeli crossings for the free movement of goods in and out, allowing Gazans to go to the West Bank and beyond, and to support themselves with exports, an aspect which is too rarely mentioned.

In return, Israel would certainly demand international inspection to prevent the building of new tunnels and the restocking of the arsenal of rockets. Israel would also demand some role for Abbas and his security forces, which are viewed by Hamas (and not only by them) as Israeli collaborators. The Israeli army also demands that even after a ceasefire comes into force, it will complete the destruction of all the known tunnels before withdrawing. (Hamas also demands the opening of the crossing into Egypt – but that is not a part of the negotiations with Israel.)

If there had been direct negotiations, this would have been comparatively easy. But with so many mediators vying with each other, it’s difficult.

Last Wednesday, Haaretz disclosed an amazing piece of news: the Israeli Foreign Ministry – yes, the fief of Avigdor Lieberman! – proposes turning the problem over to the United Nations. Let them propose the conditions for the ceasefire.

The UN? The institution almost universally despised in Israel? Well, as the Yiddish saying goes, ‘when God wills, even a broomstick can shoot’.

Assuming that a ceasefire is achieved (and not just a short humanitarian one, that no side intends to keep), what then? Will serious peace negotiations become possible? Will Abbas join as the representative of all Palestinians, including Hamas? Will this war be the last one, or remain just another episode in an endless chain of wars?

I have a crazy fantasy.

Peace will come and filmmakers will produce movies about this war, too.

One scene: Israeli soldiers discover a tunnel and enter it in order to clear it of enemies. At the same time, Hamas fighters enter the tunnel at the other end, on their way to attack a kibbutz.

The fighters meet in the middle, beneath the fence. They see each other in the dim light. And then, instead of shooting, they shake hands.

A mad idea? Indeed. Sorry.

This article first appeared on the Gush Shalom website.

This article is part of our mini-series on Palestine.

Hamas are the real winners


‘We must put an end to this [the rockets, Hamas, the Palestinians, the Arabs?] Once and For All!’ – this cry from the heart was heard dozens of times daily on TV from the harassed inhabitants of Israel’s battered towns and villages in the South.

It has displaced the slogan which dominated several decades: ‘Bang And Finish!’

It did not quite work.

The big winner emerging from the cloud is Hamas.

Until this round, Hamas had a powerful presence in the Gaza Strip, but practically no international standing. The international face of the Palestinian people was Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian National Authority.

No more.

Operation Pillar of Cloud has given the Hamas mini-state in Gaza wide international recognition. (Pillar of Cloud is the official Hebrew name, though the army spokesman decreed that the English name, for foreign consumption, should be Pillar of Defense.) Heads of state and droves of other foreign dignitaries made their pilgrimage to the Strip.

First was the powerful and immensely rich Emir of Qatar, owner of Aljazeera. He was the first head of state ever to enter the Gaza strip. Then came the Egyptian prime minister, the Tunisian foreign minister, the secretary of the Arab League and the collected Arab foreign ministers (except the one from Ramallah.) In all diplomatic deliberations, Gaza was treated as a de facto state, with a de facto government (Hamas). The Israeli media were no exception. It was clear to Israelis that any deal, to be effective, must be concluded with Hamas.

Within the Palestinian people, the standing of Hamas shot sky-high. The Gaza Strip alone, smaller than an average American county, has stood up to the mighty Israeli war machine, one of the largest and most efficient in the world. It has not succumbed. The military outcome will be at best a draw. A draw between tiny Gaza and the powerful Israel means a victory for Gaza.

Who remembers now Ehud Barak’s proud declaration in the middle of the war: ‘We shall not stop until Hamas gets on its knees and begs for a cease-fire!’


Destruction in Gaza. Photo: folkehjelp, under a CC License.

Where does that leave Mahmoud Abbas?

Actually, nowhere.

For an average Palestinian, whether in Nablus, Gaza or Beirut, the contrast is glaring. Hamas is courageous, proud, upright, while Fatah is helpless, submissive and despised. Pride and honor play a central role in Arab culture.

After more than half a century of humiliation, any Palestinian who stands up against the occupation is the hero of the Arab masses, in and outside the country. Abbas is identified only with the close cooperation of his security forces with the hated Israeli occupation army. And the most important fact: Abbas has nothing to show for it.

If Abbas could at least show a major political achievement for his pains, the situation might be different. The Palestinians are a sensible people, and if Abbas had come even one step closer to Palestinian statehood, most Palestinians would probably have said: he may not be glamorous, but he delivers the goods. But the opposite is happening. The violent Hamas is achieving results, the non-violent Abbas is not. As a Palestinian told me: ‘He (Abbas) has given them (the Israelis) everything, quiet and security, and what did [or “does”] he get in return? They spit in his face!’

This round will only reinforce a basic Palestinian conviction: ‘Israelis understand only the language of force!’ (Israelis, of course, say exactly the same about the Palestinians.)

If at least the US had allowed Abbas to achieve a UN resolution recognizing Palestine as a non-member state, he might have held his own against Hamas. But the Israeli government is determined to prevent this by all available means. Barack Obama’s decision, even after re-election, to block the Palestinian effort is a direct support for Hamas and a slap in the face of the ‘moderates’. Hillary Clinton’s perfunctory visit to Ramallah this week was seen in this context.

Looked at from the outside, this looks like sheer lunacy. Why undermine the ‘moderates’ who want and are able to make peace? Why elevate the ‘extremists’, who are opposed to peace?

The answer is openly expressed by Avigdor Lieberman, now Netanyahu’s official political number two: he wants to destroy Abbas in order to annex the West Bank and clear the way for the settlers.

After Hamas, the big winner is Mohamed Morsi

This is an almost incredible tale. When Morsi was elected as the president of Egypt, official Israel was in hysteria. How terrible! The Islamist extremists have taken over the most important Arab country! Our peace treaty with our largest neighbor is going down the drain!

US reactions were almost the same.

And now – less than four months later – we hang on every word Morsi utters. He is the man who has put an end to the mutual killing and destruction! He is the great peacemaker! He is the only person who can mediate between Israel and Hamas! He must guarantee the cease-fire agreement!

Can it be? Can this be the same Morsi? The same Muslim Brotherhood?

The 61 year old Morsi (the full name is Mohamed Morsi Isa al-Ayyad. Isa being the Arab form of Jesus, who is regarded in Islam as a prophet) is a complete novice on the world stage. Yet at this moment, all the world’s leaders rely on him.

When I wholeheartedly welcomed the Arab Spring, I had people like him in mind. Now almost all the Israeli commentators, ex-generals and politicians, who uttered dire warnings at the time, are lauding his success in achieving a cease-fire.

Throughout the operation I did what I always do in such situations: I switched constantly between Israeli TV and Aljazeera. Sometimes, when my thoughts wander, I am unsure for a moment which of the two I am looking at.

Women weeping, wounded being carried away, homes in shambles, children’s shoes strewn around, families packing and fleeing. Here and there. Mirror images. Though, of course, Palestinian casualties were 30 times higher than the Israeli ones – partly because of the incredible success of the Iron Dome interception missiles and home shelters, while the Palestinians were practically defenseless.

On Wednesday I was invited to air my views on Israel’s Channel 2, the most popular (and patriotic) Israeli outlet. The invitation was of course withdrawn at the last moment. Had I been on air, I would have posed to my compatriots one simple question: Was It Worthwhile?

All the suffering, the killed, the injured, the destruction, the hours and days of terror, the children in trauma?

And, I might add, the endless TV coverage around the clock, with legions of ex-generals appearing on the screen and declaiming the message sheet of the prime minister’s office. And the blood-curdling threats of politicians and other nincompoops, including the son of Ariel Sharon, who proposed flattening neighborhoods in Gaza City, or even better, the whole Strip.

Now that it is over, we are almost exactly where we were before. The operation, commonly referred to in Israel as ‘another round’, was indeed round – leading nowhere than to where it started.

Hamas will be firmly in control of the Gaza Strip, if not more firmly. The Gazans will hate Israel even more than before. Many of the inhabitants of the West Bank, who throughout the war came out in their thousands in demonstrations for Hamas, will vote in even greater numbers for Hamas in the next elections. Israeli voters will vote in two months as they intended to vote anyhow, before the whole thing started.

Each of the two sides is now celebrating its great victory. If they organized just one joint celebration, a lot of money could be saved.

What are the political conclusions?

The most obvious one is: talk with Hamas. Directly. Face to face.

Yitzhak Rabin once told me how he came to the conclusion that he must talk with the PLO: after years of opposing it, he realized that they were the only force that counted. ‘So it was ridiculous to talk with them through intermediaries.’

The same is now true for Hamas. They are there. They will not go away. It is ridiculous for the Israeli negotiators to sit in one room at the Egyptian intelligence service HQ near Cairo, while the Hamas negotiators sit in another room, just a few meters away, with the courteous Egyptians going to and fro. Concurrently, activate the effort towards peace. Seriously.

Save Abbas. As of now, he has no replacement. Give him an immediate victory to balance the Hamas achievements. Vote for the Palestinian application for statehood in the UN General Assembly.

Move towards peace with the entire Palestinian people, including Fatah and Hamas – so we can really put an end to the violence, Once and for all!

This article was originally published by Gush Shalom and was crossposted with permission.

Abbas's gamble


Photo by Abode of Chaos under a CC Licence.

A wonderful speech. A beautiful speech. The language expressive and elegant. The arguments clear and convincing. The delivery flawless.

A work of art. The art of hypocrisy. Almost every statement in the passage concerning the Israeli-Palestinian issue was a lie. A blatant lie: the speaker knew it was a lie, and so did the audience.

It was Obama at his best, Obama at his worst.

Being a moral person, he must have felt the urge to vomit. Being a pragmatic person, he knew that he had to do it, if he wanted to be re-elected.

In essence, he sold the fundamental national interests of the United States of America for the chance of a second term.

Not very nice, but that’s politics, OK?

It may be superfluous – almost insulting to the reader – to point out the mendacious details of this rhetorical edifice.
Obama treated the two sides as if they were equal in strength – Israelis and Palestinians, Palestinians and Israelis.

But of the two, it is the Israelis - only they – who suffer and have suffered. Persecution. Exile. Holocaust. An Israeli child threatened by rockets. Surrounded by the hatred of Arab children. So sad.

No Occupation. No settlements. No June 1967 borders. No Naqba. No Palestinian children killed or frightened. It’s the straight right-wing Israeli propaganda line, pure and simple – the terminology, the historical narrative, the argumentation. The music.

The Palestinians, of course, should have a state of their own. Sure, sure. But they must not be pushy. They must not embarrass the US. They must not come to the UN. They must sit with the Israelis, like reasonable people, and work it out with them. The reasonable sheep must sit down with the reasonable wolf and decide what to have for dinner. Foreigners should not interfere.

Obama gave full service. A lady who provides this kind of service generally gets paid in advance. Obama got paid immediately afterwards, within the hour. Netanyahu sat down with him in front of the cameras and gave him enough quotable professions of love and gratitude to last for several election campaigns.

The tragic hero of this affair is Mahmoud Abbas. A tragic hero, but a hero nonetheless.

Many people may be surprised by this sudden emergence of Abbas as a daring player for high stakes, ready to confront the mighty US.

If Ariel Sharon were to wake up for a moment from his years-long coma, he would faint with amazement. It was he who called Mahmoud Abbas ‘a plucked chicken’.

Yet for the last few days, Abbas was the center of global attention. World leaders conferred about how to handle him, senior diplomats were eager to convince him of this or that course of action, commentators were guessing what he would do next. His speech before the UN General Assembly was treated as an event of consequence.

Not bad for a chicken, even for one with a full set of feathers.

His emergence as a leader on the world stage is somewhat reminiscent of Anwar Sadat.

When Gamal Abd-al-Nasser unexpectedly died at the age of 52 in 1970 and his official deputy, Sadat, assumed his mantle, all political experts shrugged. Sadat? Who the hell is that? He was considered a nonentity, an eternal No. 2, one of the least important members of the group of ‘free officers’ that was ruling Egypt.

In Egypt, a land of jokes and jokers, witticisms about him abounded. One concerned the prominent brown mark on his forehead. The official version was that it was the result of much praying, hitting the ground with his forehead. But the real reason, it was told, was that at meetings, after everyone else had spoken, Sadat would get up and try to say something. Nasser would good-naturedly put his finger to his forehead, push him gently down and say: ‘Sit, Anwar!

To the utter amazement of the experts – and especially the Israeli ones – this ‘nonentity’ took a huge gamble by starting the 1973 October War, and proceeded to do something unprecedented in history: going to the capital of an enemy country still officially in a state of war and making peace.

Abbas’s status under Yasser Arafat was not unlike Sadat’s under Nasser. However, Arafat never appointed a deputy. Abbas was one of a group of four or five likely successors. The heir would surely have been Abu Jihad, had he not been killed by Israeli commandoes in front of his wife and children. Another likely candidate, Abu Iyad, was killed by Palestinian terrorists. Abu Mazen (Abbas) was in a way the choice by default.

Such politicians, emerging suddenly from under the shadow of a great leader, generally fall into one of two categories: the eternal frustrated No. 2 or the surprising new leader.

The Bible gives us examples of both kinds. The first was Rehoboam, the son and heir of the great King Solomon, who told his people: ‘my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions’. The other kind was represented by Joshua, the heir of Moses. He was no second Moses, but according to the story a great conqueror in his own right.

Modern history tells the sad story of Anthony Eden, the long-suffering No. 2 of Winston Churchill, who commanded little respect. (Mussolini called him, after their first meeting, 'a well-tailored idiot'). Upon assuming power, he tried desperately to equal Churchill and soon embroiled Britain in the 1956 Suez disaster. To the second category belonged Harry Truman, the nobody who succeeded the great Franklin Delano Roosevelt and surprised everybody as a resolute leader.

Abbas looked like belonging to the first kind. Now, suddenly, he is revealed as belonging to the second. The world is treating him with newfound respect. Nearing the end of his career, he made the big gamble.

But was it wise? Courageous, yes. Daring, yes. But wise?

My answer is: Yes, it was.

Abbas has placed the quest for Palestinian freedom squarely on the international table. For more than a week, Palestine has been the center of international attention. Scores of international statesmen and women, including the leader of the world’s only superpower, have been busy with Palestine.

For a national movement, that is of the utmost importance. Cynics may ask: ‘So what did they gain from it?’ But cynics are fools. A liberation movement gains from the very fact that the world pays attention, that the media grapple with the problem, that people of conscience all over the world are aroused. It strengthens morale at home and brings the struggle a step nearer its goal.

Oppression shuns the limelight. Occupation, settlements, ethnic cleansing thrive in the shadows. It is the oppressed who need the light of day. Abbas’s move provided it, at least for the time being.

Barack Obama’s miserable performance was a nail in the coffin of America’s status as a superpower. In a way, it was a crime against the United States.

The Arab Spring may have been a last chance for the US to recover its standing in the Middle East. After some hesitation, Obama realized that. He called on Mubarak to go, helped the Libyans against their tyrant, made some noises about Bashar al-Assad. He knows that he has to regain the respect of the Arab masses if he wants to recover some stature in the region, and by extension throughout the world.

Now he has blown it, perhaps forever. No self-respecting Arab will forgive him for plunging his knife into the back of the helpless Palestinians. All the credit the US has tried to gain in the last months in the Arab and the wider Muslim world has been blown away with one puff.

All for re-election.

It was also a crime against Israel.

Israel needs peace. Israel needs to live side by side with the Palestinian people, within the Arab world. Israel cannot rely forever on the unconditional support of the declining United States.

Obama knows this full well. He knows what is good for Israel, even if Netanyahu doesn’t. Yet he has handed the keys of the car to the drunken driver.

The state of Palestine will come into being. This week it was already clear that this is unavoidable. Obama will be forgotten, as will Netanyahu, Lieberman and the whole bunch.

Mahmoud Abbas – Abu Mazen, as the Palestinians call him – will be remembered. The ‘plucked chicken’ is soaring into the sky.

This column is reproduced with permission of Gush Shalom and Uri Avnery


Why the Gaza war is a crime against the State of Israel

Nearly 70 years ago, in the course of World War Two, a heinous crime was committed in the city of Leningrad. For more than a thousand days, a gang of extremists called ‘the Red Army’ held the millions of the town’s inhabitants hostage and provoked retaliation from the German Wehrmacht from inside the population centres. The Germans had no alternative but to bomb and shell the population and to impose a total blockade, which caused the death of hundreds of thousands.

Some time before that, a similar crime was committed in England. The Churchill gang hid among the population of London, misusing the millions of citizens as a human shield. The Germans were compelled to send their Luftwaffe and reluctantly reduce the city to ruins. They called it the Blitz.

This is the description that would now appear in the history books – if the Germans had won the War.

Absurd? No more than the daily descriptions in our Israeli media, which are being repeated ad nauseam: the Hamas terrorists use the inhabitants of Gaza as ‘hostages’ and exploit the women and children as ‘human shields’, they leave us no alternative but to carry out massive bombardments, in which, to our deep sorrow, thousands of women, children and unarmed men are killed and injured.

Propaganda

In this war, as in any modern war, propaganda plays a major role. The disparity between the forces, between the Israeli army - with its airplanes, gunships, drones, warships, artillery and tanks - and the few thousand lightly armed Hamas fighters, is one to a thousand, perhaps one to a million. In the political arena the gap between them is even wider. But in the propaganda war, the gap is almost infinite.

Almost all the Western media initially repeated the official Israeli propaganda line. They almost entirely ignored the Palestinian side of the story

Almost all the Western media initially repeated the official Israeli propaganda line. They almost entirely ignored the Palestinian side of the story, not to mention the daily demonstrations of the Israeli peace camp. The rationale of the Israeli Government (‘The state must defend its citizens against the Qassam rockets’) has been accepted as the whole truth. The view from the other side, that the Qassams are a retaliation for the siege that starves the one-and-a-half million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, was not mentioned at all.

Only when the horrible scenes from Gaza started to appear on Western TV screens, did world public opinion gradually begin to change.

True, Western and Israeli TV channels showed only a tiny fraction of the dreadful events that appear 24 hours every day on Aljazeera’s Arabic channel, but one picture of a dead baby in the arms of its terrified father is more powerful than a thousand elegantly constructed sentences from the Israeli army spokesman. And that is what is decisive, in the end.

The realm of lies

War - every war - is the realm of lies. Whether called propaganda or psychological warfare, everybody accepts that it is right to lie for one’s country. Anyone who speaks the truth runs the risk of being branded a traitor.

The trouble is that propaganda is most convincing for the propagandist himself. And after you convince yourself that a lie is the truth and falsification reality, you can no longer make rational decisions.

An example of this process surrounds the most shocking atrocity of this war so far: the shelling of the UN Fakhura school in Jabaliya refugee camp.

Immediately after the incident became known throughout the world, the army ‘revealed’ that Hamas fighters had been firing mortars from near the school entrance. As proof they released an aerial photo which indeed showed the school and the mortar. But within a short time the official army liar had to admit that the photo was more than a year old. In brief: a falsification.

Later the official liar claimed that ‘our soldiers were shot at from inside the school’. Barely a day passed before the army had to admit to UN personnel that that was a lie, too. Nobody had shot from inside the school, no Hamas fighters were inside the school, which was full of terrified refugees.

But the admission made hardly any difference any more. By that time, the Israeli public was completely convinced that ‘they shot from inside the school’, and TV announcers stated this as a simple fact.

Atrocities

So it went with the other atrocities. Every baby metamorphosed, in the act of dying, into a Hamas terrorist. Every bombed mosque instantly became a Hamas base, every apartment building an arms cache, every school a terror command post, every civilian government building a ‘symbol of Hamas rule’. Thus the Israeli army retained its purity as the ‘most moral army in the world’.

The truth is that the atrocities are a direct result of the war plan. This reflects the personality of Ehud Barak - a man whose way of thinking and actions are clear evidence of what is called ‘moral insanity’, a sociopathic disorder.

The real aim (apart from gaining seats in the coming elections) is to terminate the rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In the imagination of the planners, Hamas is an invader which has gained control of a foreign country. The reality is, of course, entirely different.

The Hamas movement won the majority of the votes in the eminently democratic elections that took place in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. It won because the Palestinians had come to the conclusion that Fatah’s peaceful approach had gained precisely nothing from Israel - neither a freeze of the settlements, nor release of the prisoners, nor any significant steps toward ending the occupation and creating the Palestinian state. Hamas is deeply rooted in the population – not only as a resistance movement fighting the foreign occupier, like the Irgun and the Stern Group in Israel’s past - but also as a political and religious body that provides social, educational and medical services.

Erroneous assumptions

From the point of view of the population, the Hamas fighters are not a foreign body, but the sons of every family in the Strip and the other Palestinian regions. They do not ‘hide behind the population’, the population views them as their only defenders.

Therefore, the whole operation is based on erroneous assumptions. Turning life into living hell does not cause the population to rise up against Hamas, but on the contrary, it unites behind Hamas and reinforces its determination not to surrender. The population of Leningrad did not rise up against Stalin, any more than the Londoners rose up against Churchill.

He who gives the order for such a war with such methods in a densely populated area knows that it will cause dreadful slaughter of civilians. Apparently that did not touch him. Or he believed that ‘they will change their ways’ and ‘it will sear their consciousness’, so that in future they will not dare to resist Israel.

A top priority for the planners was the need to minimize casualties among the soldiers, knowing that the mood of a large part of the pro-war public would change if reports of such casualties came in. That is what happened in Lebanon Wars I and II.

This consideration played an especially important role because the entire war is a part of the election campaign. Ehud Barak, who gained in the polls in the first days of the war, knew that his ratings would collapse if pictures of dead soldiers filled the TV screens.

Therefore, a new doctrine was applied: to avoid losses among our soldiers by the total destruction of everything in their path. The planners were not only ready to kill 80 Palestinians to save one Israeli soldier, as has happened, but also 800. The avoidance of casualties on our side is the overriding commandment, which is causing record numbers of civilian casualties on the other side.

That means the conscious choice of an especially cruel kind of warfare – and that has been its Achilles heel.

A person without imagination, like Barak (his election slogan: ‘Not a Nice Guy, but a Leader’) cannot imagine how decent people around the world react to actions like the killing of whole extended families, the destruction of houses over the heads of their inhabitants, the rows of boys and girls in white shrouds ready for burial, the reports about people bleeding to death over days because ambulances are not allowed to reach them, the killing of doctors and medics on their way to save lives, the killing of UN drivers bringing in food. The pictures of the hospitals, with the dead, the dying and the injured lying together on the floor for lack of space, have shocked the world. No argument has any force next to an image of a wounded little girl lying on the floor, twisting with pain and crying out: ‘Mama! Mama!’

A decisive battle

The planners thought that they could stop the world from seeing these images by forcibly preventing press coverage. The Israeli journalists, to their shame, agreed to be satisfied with the reports and photos provided by the Army spokesman, as if they were authentic news, while they themselves remained miles away from the events. Foreign journalists were not allowed in either, until they protested and were taken for quick tours in selected and supervised groups. But in a modern war, such a sterile manufactured view cannot completely exclude all others - the cameras are inside the strip, in the middle of the hell, and cannot be controlled. Aljazeera broadcasts the pictures around the clock and reaches every home.

The battle for the TV screen is one of the decisive battles of the war.

Hundreds of millions of Arabs from Mauritania to Iraq, more than a billion Muslims from Nigeria to Indonesia see the pictures and are horrified. This has a strong impact on the war. Many of the viewers see the rulers of Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority as collaborators with Israel in carrying out these atrocities against their Palestinian brothers.

The security services of the Arab regimes are registering a dangerous ferment among the peoples. Hosny Mubarak, the most exposed Arab leader because of his closing of the Rafah crossing in the face of terrified refugees, started to pressure the decision-makers in Washington, who until that time had blocked all calls for a ceasefire. These began to understand the menace to vital American interests in the Arab world and suddenly changed their attitude - causing consternation among the complacent Israeli diplomats.

People with moral insanity cannot really understand the motives of normal people and must guess their reactions. ‘How many divisions has the Pope?’ Stalin sneered. ‘How many divisions have people of conscience?’ Ehud Barak may well be asking.

As it turns out, they do have some. Not numerous. Not very quick to react. Not very strong and organized. But at a certain moment, when the atrocities overflow and masses of protesters come together, that can decide a war.

The failure to grasp the nature of Hamas has caused a failure to grasp the predictable results. Not only is Israel unable to win the war, Hamas cannot lose it.

Even if the Israeli army were to succeed in killing every Hamas fighter to the last man, even then Hamas would win. The Hamas fighters would be seen as the paragons of the Arab nation, the heroes of the Palestinian people, models for emulation by every youngster in the Arab world. The West Bank would fall into the hands of Hamas like a ripe fruit, Fatah would drown in a sea of contempt, the Arab regimes would be threatened with collapse.

What will be seared into the consciousness of the world will be the image of Israel as a blood-stained monster

If the war ends with Hamas still standing, bloodied but unvanquished, in face of the mighty Israeli military machine, it will look like a fantastic victory, a victory of mind over matter.

What will be seared into the consciousness of the world will be the image of Israel as a blood-stained monster, ready at any moment to commit war crimes and not prepared to abide by any moral restraints. This will have severe consequences for our long-term future, our standing in the world, our chance of achieving peace and quiet.

In the end, this war is a crime against ourselves too, a crime against the State of Israel.

Uri Avnery founded the Israeli peace movement Gush Shalom. He was a member of the Knesset 1965-73 and 1979-81.

Dear Barack Obama

6 By now, the number of settlers in the West Bank has reached some 250,000 (apart from the 200,000 settlers in the Greater Jerusalem area, whose status is somewhat different). They are politically isolated, and sometimes detested by the majority of the Israeli public, but enjoy significant support in the army and government ministries.

For: the President-Elect, Mr Barack Obama

From: Uri Avnery, Israel.

The following humble suggestions are based on my 70 years of experience as an underground fighter, special forces soldier in the 1948 war, editor-in-chief of a news magazine, member of the Knesset and founding member of a peace movement.

  1. As far as Israeli-Arab peace is concerned, you should act from Day One.
  2. Israeli elections are due to take place in February 2009. You can have an indirect but important and constructive impact on the outcome, by announcing your unequivocal determination to achieve Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-all-Arab peace.
  3. Unfortunately, all your predecessors since 1967 have played a double game. While paying lip service to peace, and sometimes going through the motions of making some effort for peace, they have in practice supported our governments in moving in the very opposite direction. In particular, they have given tacit approval to the building and enlargement of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories, each of which is a land mine on the road to peace.
  4. All the settlements are illegal in international law. The distinction sometimes made between ‘illegal’ outposts and the other settlements is a propaganda ploy designed to obscure this simple truth.
  5. All the settlements since 1967 have been built with the express purpose of making a Palestinian state - and hence peace - impossible, by cutting the territory of the prospective State of Palestine into ribbons. Practically all our government departments and the army have openly or secretly helped to build, consolidate and enlarge the settlements - as confirmed by the 2005 report prepared for the Government (!) by lawyer Talia Sasson.
  6. By now, the number of settlers in the West Bank has reached some 250,000 (apart from the 200,000 settlers in the Greater Jerusalem area, whose status is somewhat different). They are politically isolated, and sometimes detested by the majority of the Israeli public, but enjoy significant support in the army and government ministries.
  7. No Israeli government would dare to confront the concentrated political and material might of the settlers. Such a confrontation would need very strong leadership and the unstinting support of the President of the United States to have any chance of success.
  8. Lacking these, all ‘peace negotiations’ are a sham. The Israeli Government and its US backers have done everything possible to prevent the negotiations with both the Palestinians and the Syrians from reaching any conclusion, for fear of provoking a confrontation with the settlers and their supporters. The present ‘Annapolis’ negotiations are as hollow as all the preceding ones, each side keeping up the pretence for its own political interests.
  9. The Clinton Administration, and even more so the Bush Administration, allowed the Israeli Government to keep up this pretence. It is therefore imperative to prevent members of these administrations from diverting your Middle Eastern policy into the old channels.
  10. It is important for you to make a complete new start, and to state this publicly. Discredited ideas and failed initiatives - such as the Bush ‘vision’, the Road Map, Annapolis and the like - should by thrown into the junkyard of history.
  11. To make a new start, the aim of American policy should be stated clearly and succinctly. This should be: to achieve a peace based on the Two-State Solution within a defined time-span (say by the end of 2009).
  12. It should be pointed out that this aim is based on a reassessment of the American national interest, in order to extract the poison from American-Arab and American-Muslim relations, strengthen peace-oriented regimes, defeat al-Qaeda-type terrorism, end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and achieve a viable accommodation with Iran.
  13. The terms of Israeli-Palestinian peace are clear. They have been crystallized in thousands of hours of negotiations, conferences, meetings and conversations. They are:
    1. A sovereign and viable State of Palestine will be established side by side with the State of Israel.
    2. The border between the two states will be based on the pre-1967 Armistice Line (the ‘Green Line’). Insubstantial alterations can be arrived at by mutual agreement on an exchange of territories on a 1:1 basis.
    3. East Jerusalem, including the Haram-al-Sharif (‘Temple Mount’) and all Arab neighborhoods will serve as the capital of Palestine. West Jerusalem, including the Western Wall and all Jewish neighborhoods, will serve as the capital of Israel. A joint municipal authority, based on equality, may be established by mutual consent to administer the city as one territorial unit.
    4. All Israeli settlements – except any which might be joined to Israel in the framework of a mutually agreed exchange of territories - will be evacuated (see 16 below).
    5. Israel will recognize in principle the right of the refugees to return. A Joint Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, composed of Palestinian, Israeli and international historians, will examine the events of 1948 and 1967 and determine who was responsible for what. Each individual refugee will be given the choice between (1) repatriation to the State of Palestine, (2) remaining where he/she is living now and receiving generous compensation, (3) returning to Israel and being resettled, (4) emigrating to any other country, with generous compensation. The number of refugees who will return to Israeli territory will be fixed by mutual agreement, it being understood that nothing will be done that materially alters the demographic composition of the Israeli population. The large funds needed for the implementation of this solution must be provided by the international community in the interest of world peace. This will save much of the money spent today on military expenditure and direct grants from the US.
    6. The West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip constitute one national unit. An extraterritorial connection (road, railway, tunnel or bridge) will connect the West Bank with the Gaza Strip.
    7. Israel and Syria will sign a peace agreement. Israel will withdraw to the pre-1967 line and all settlements on the Golan Heights will be dismantled. Syria will cease all anti-Israeli activities conducted directly or by proxy. The two parties will establish normal relations between them.
    8. In accordance with the Saudi Peace Initiative, all member states of the Arab League will recognize Israel and establish normal relations with it. Talks about a future Middle Eastern Union, on the model of the EU, possibly to include Turkey and Iran, may be considered.
  14. Palestinian unity is essential for peace. Peace made with only one section of the people is worthless. The US will facilitate Palestinian reconciliation and the unification of Palestinian structures. To this end, the US will end its boycott of Hamas, which won the last elections, start a political dialogue with the movement and encourage Israel to do the same. The US will respect any result of democratic Palestinian elections.
  15. The US will aid the government of Israel in confronting the settlement problem. As from now, settlers will be given one year to leave the occupied territories voluntarily in return for compensation that will allow them to build their homes in Israel proper. After that, all settlements - except those within any areas to be joined to Israel under the peace agreement - will be evacuated.
  16. I suggest that you, as President of the United States, come to Israel and address the Israeli people personally, not only from the rostrum of the Knesset but also at a mass rally in Tel-Aviv’s Rabin Square. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt came to Israel in 1977, and, by addressing the Israeli people directly, completely changed their attitude towards peace with Egypt. At present, most Israelis feel insecure, uncertain and afraid of any daring peace initiative, partly because of a deep distrust of anything coming from the Arab side. Your personal intervention, at the critical moment, could literally do wonders in creating the psychological basis for peace.
  17. This open letter was first published in progressive US monthly Tikkun www.tikkun.org

    Uri Avnery founded the Israeli peace movement Gush Shalom. He was a member of the Knesset 1965-73 and 1979-81.

Palestine's Mandela

Photo of Uri Avnery

The division of the Palestinian territories into a ‘Hamastan’ in the Gaza Strip and a ‘Fatahland’ in the West Bank is a disaster. A disaster for the Palestinians, a disaster for peace, and therefore also a disaster for Israelis.

Will the Palestinians overcome this split? It seems that the chances for that are getting smaller by the day. The gulf between the two parties is getting wider and wider.

The Fatah people in the West Bank, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, condemn Hamas as a gang of fanatics, who are imitating Iran and are guided by it, and who, like the Ayatollahs, are leading their people towards catastrophe. The Hamas people accuse Abbas of being a Palestinian Marshal Pétain, who has made a deal with the occupier and is sliding down the slippery slope of collaboration. The propaganda of both sides is full of venom, and the mutual violence is reaching new heights.

It looks like a cul-de-sac. Many Palestinians have despaired of finding a way out. Others are searching for creative solutions. Afif Safieh, the chief of the PLO mission in Washington, for example, proposes setting up a Palestinian government composed entirely of neutral experts, who are neither members of Fatah nor of Hamas. The chances for that are very slim indeed.

But in private conversations in Ramallah, one name pops up more and more often: Marwan Barghouti.

‘He holds the key in his hand,’ they say there, ‘both for the Fatah-Hamas and for the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.’

Some see Marwan as the Palestinian Nelson Mandela. In appearance, the two are very different, both physically and in temperament. But they have much in common.

Both became national heroes behind prison bars. Both were convicted of terrorism. Both supported violent struggle. Mandela supported the 1961 decision of the African National Congress to start an armed struggle against the racist government (but not against white civilians). He remained in prison for 28 years and refused to buy his freedom by signing a statement denouncing ‘terrorism’. Marwan supported the armed struggle of Fatah's Tanzim organization and has been sentenced to several life terms.

But both were in favour of peace and reconciliation, even before going to prison. I saw Barghouti for the first time in 1997, when he joined a Gush Shalom demonstration in Harbata, the village neighbouring Bil’in, against the building of the Modiin-Illit settlement that was just starting. Five years later, during his trial, we demonstrated in the courthouse under the slogan ‘Barghouti to the negotiating table, not to prison!’

There is hardly anyone who is more popular with the Palestinian public than Marwan Barghouti. In this, too, he resembles Mandela while in prison.

It is difficult to explain the source of this authority. It does not emanate from his high position in Fatah, since the movement is disorganized and there is hardly any clear hierarchy. From the time when he was a simple activist in his village, he rose in the organization by sheer force of personality. It is that mysterious thing called charisma. He radiates a quiet authority that does not depend on outward signs.

The war of vilification between Fatah and Hamas does not touch him. Hamas takes care not to attack him. On the contrary, when they submitted a list of prisoners in exchange for the captured soldier Gilad Shalit, Marwan Barghouti, in spite of his being a Fatah leader, headed the list.

It was he who, together with the imprisoned leaders of the other organizations, composed the famous ‘prisoners’ document’, which called for national unity. All Palestinian factions accepted the document. Thus the ‘Mecca agreement’, which created the (short-lived) Government of National Unity, was born. Before it was signed by the parties, urgent messengers were sent to Marwan, in order to obtain his agreement. Only when this was given, did the signing take place.

How will the Palestinians get out of this bind? How can they re-establish a national leadership that will be accepted by all parts of the people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, able to lead the national struggle and make peace with Israel, when peace becomes possible?

Barghouti's followers believe that at the right time, when Israel comes to the conclusion that it needs peace, he will be released from prison and play a central role in the reconciliation – much as Mandela was released from prison in South Africa when the white government came to the conclusion that the apartheid regime could not be sustained any more. I have no doubt that in order to bring such a situation about, Israeli peace forces must start a big public campaign for Barghouti's release.

What will happen in the meantime?

There is hardly anyone on the Palestinian side who believes that Ehud Olmert will conclude a peace agreement and implement it. Hardly anyone believes that anything will come out of the ‘international meeting’ that is supposed to take place in November. The Palestinians believe that the meeting is a bone thrown by President Bush to Condoleezza Rice, whose standing has been dropping dramatically. And if that has no results?

‘There is no vacuum,’ one of the Fatah leaders told me. ‘If the efforts of President Abbas do not bear fruit, there will be another explosion, like the _intifada_ after the failure of Camp David.’

How is that possible, after Fatah activists have turned over their arms and foresworn violence? ‘A new generation will arise,’ my interlocutor said. ‘As has happened before, one age-group gets tired and its place is taken by the next one. If the occupation does not come to an end and there is no peace, a peace that will enable the members of this generation to turn to the universities, to family, work and business, a new _intifada_ will surely break out.’

To achieve peace, the Palestinians need national unity, much as the Israelis need a consensus for withdrawal. The man who symbolizes the hope for unity among the Palestinians is sitting now in Hasharon jail.

*Uri Avnery* founded the Israeli peace movement Gush Shalom. He was a member of the Knesset 1965-73 and 1979-81.

The Real Aim

Uri Avnery

*The real aim is to change the regime in Lebanon and to install a puppet government.* That was the aim of Ariel Sharon’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It failed. But Sharon and his pupils in the military and political leadership have never really given up on it. That’s the main thing. Everything else is noise and propaganda.

On the eve of the 1982 invasion, US Secretary of State Alexander Haig told Ariel Sharon that, before starting it, it was necessary to have a ‘clear provocation’, which would be accepted by the world. The provocation indeed took place – exactly at the appropriate time – when Abu-Nidal’s terror gang tried to assassinate the Israeli Ambassador in London. This had no connection with Lebanon, and even less with the PLO (the enemy of Abu-Nidal), but it served its purpose.

This time, the necessary provocation has been provided by the capture of the two Israeli soldiers by Hizbullah. Everyone knows that they cannot be freed except through an exchange of prisoners. But the huge military campaign that has been ready to go for months was sold to the Israeli and international public as a rescue operation.

Of course, the present operation also has several secondary aims, which do not include the freeing of the prisoners. Everybody understands that that cannot be achieved by military means. But it is probably possible to destroy some of the thousands of missiles that Hizbullah has accumulated over the years. For this end, the army chiefs are ready to endanger the inhabitants of the Israeli towns that are exposed to the rockets. They believe that that is worthwhile, like an exchange of chess figures.

Another secondary aim is to rehabilitate the ‘deterrent power’ of the army. That is a codeword for the restoration of the army’s injured pride that has suffered a severe blow from the daring military actions of Hamas in the south and Hizbullah in the north.

Officially, the Israeli Government demands that the Government of Lebanon disarm Hizbullah and remove it from the border region. That is clearly impossible under the present Lebanese regime, a delicate fabric of ethno-religious communities. The slightest shock can bring the whole structure crashing down and throw the state into total anarchy – especially after the Americans succeeded in driving out the Syrian army, the only element that has for years provided some stability.

‘when the weapons speak, the muses fall silent’. Or rather, when the guns roar, the brain ceases to function

The calculation now is that if the Israeli Air Force rains heavy enough blows on the Lebanese population – paralyzing the sea- and airports, destroying the infrastructure, bombarding residential neighborhoods, cutting the Beirut-Damascus high road – that the public will get furious with Hizbullah and pressure the Lebanese Government into fulfilling Israel’s demands. Since the present government cannot even dream of doing so, a dictatorship will be set up with Israel’s support.

That is the military logic. I have my doubts. It can be assumed that most Lebanese will react as any other people on earth would: with fury and hatred towards the invader. That happened in 1982, when the Shi’a in the south of Lebanon – until then as docile as a doormat – stood up against the Israeli occupiers and created Hizbullah, which has become the strongest force in the country. If the Lebanese élite now becomes tainted as collaborators with Israel, it will be swept off the map.

The American policy is full of contradictions. President Bush wants ‘regime change’ in the Middle East, but the present Lebanese regime has only recently been set up under American pressure. In the meantime, Bush has succeeded only in breaking up Iraq and causing a civil war. He may get the same in Lebanon, if he does not stop the Israeli army in time. Moreover, a devastating blow against Hizbullah may arouse fury not only in Iran, but also among the Shi’a in Iraq, on whose support all of Bush’s plans for a pro-American regime are built.

So what’s the answer? Not by accident, Hizbullah has carried out its soldier-snatching raid at a time when the Palestinians are crying out for succour. The Palestinian cause is popular all over the Arab world. By showing that they are a friend in need, when all other Arabs are failing dismally, Hizbullah hopes to increase its popularity.

Less than three months after its formation, the Olmert-Peretz Government has succeeded in plunging Israel into a two-front war, whose aims are unrealistic and whose results cannot be foreseen. If Olmert hopes to be seen as Mister Macho-Macho, a Sharon # 2, he will be disappointed. The same goes for the desperate attempts of Peretz to be taken seriously as an imposing Mister Security. Everybody understands that this campaign – both in Gaza and in Lebanon – has been planned by the army and dictated by the army. The man who makes the decisions in Israel now is Dan Halutz – Chief of Staff and formerly Air Force commander.

The public is not enthusiastic about the war. It is resigned to it, in stoic fatalism, because it is being told that there is no alternative. And indeed, who can be against it? Who does not want to liberate the ‘kidnapped soldiers’? Who does not want to remove the Katyushas and rehabilitate deterrence? In the media the generals reign supreme, and not only those in uniform. There is almost no former general who is not being invited to comment, explain and justify, all speaking in one voice. _Inter arma silent Musae_ – ‘when the weapons speak, the muses fall silent’. Or rather, when the guns roar, the brain ceases to function.

When the State of Israel was founded in the middle of a cruel war, a poster was plastered on the walls: ‘All the country – a front! All the people – an army!’

Some 58 years have passed, and the same slogan is still as valid as it was then. What does that say about generations of statespeople and generals?

*Uri Avnery* was a member of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) from 1965 to 1973 and from 1979 to 1981. In his youth he was a member of the paramilitary group Irgun. During the 1950s and the 1960s he was the publisher and chief editor of _Haolam Hazeh_ – an anti-establishment tabloid. He later founded _Gush Shalom_ (‘The Peace Bloc’).

Guns among the olives

Had they been here at sunset on the last Saturday in October, most Israelis would not have believed their eyes. In the middle of Havarah, a small village south of Nablus deep inside Palestinian territory in the West Bank, 63 Israelis – men and women, young and old – were standing together with dozens of Palestinian villagers. Jews and Arabs talked together, drank juice, exchanged addresses and phone numbers. Nobody bore arms. They had spent the day together under the olive trees. A human experience. A political act. A symbolic event.

Since biblical times the olive tree has been the symbol of this country. It has sustained the peasants for many generations – Canaanites, Israelites, Arabs. During the few weeks of harvest, the whole family picks the olives – men and women, old people and children. The olives must be picked in time and then brought to the olive press, where the golden liquid is extracted: olive oil. These are days of rejoicing. A whole family can live now on 10 olive trees. Without them, they cannot exist.

The harsher the occupation becomes, the more the villagers become dependent on the olive trees. The Israeli settlers try to prevent the harvesting, to steal the fruit or to burn the groves. They take possession of the villagers’ olive groves without offering payment or alternatives. Or they just shoot. One Palestinian boy was shot and killed by them while picking olives. Hundreds of others were driven out.

On the last Saturday in October, 260 Israelis answered the calls of the various peace organizations. They were divided between the villages that were in the greatest danger. My lot was to come to Havarah, a village lying in a valley between two high mountains. Its olive groves are dispersed on the steep slopes of the mountains, which are covered with rocks and stinging bushes.

Around dozens of trees, groups of pickers, Israelis and Palestinians, started to work. They hit the branches with sticks in order to get the fruit to fall on the green plastic sheets that were spread on the ground. Bad for the tree, but much quicker. Time was short. Sportsmen and sportswomen climbed into the trees, filling hats and bags. Each olive was precious.

The groups that reached the top of the mountain found themselves opposite the settlers of Yitzhar, a well-known nest of fanatics, dressed in their Sabbath clothes – black trousers, white shirts – and holding their guns. They threatened the pickers, shooting into the air and at the ground. The shots echoed between the mountains. Forty minutes later the soldiers appeared and, after hugging the Israeli settlers, demanded that the pickers leave the area. They explained that the settlers were right when they opened fire, because the pickers were endangering the settlement. The pickers continued their work obstinately, defended by the Israeli ‘human shield’. But gradually they were pushed down the slope, closely followed by the settlers, with the soldiers in between.

In the other groves, the work continued without such interruption. Cigarettes were exchanged, conversations started, first haltingly, than more vividly, in spite of language difficulties. Before darkness fell, the sheets were gathered and folded, people put the heavy, full sacks on their shoulders or on donkeys and started the descent from the steep slopes, from terrace to terrace. At the foot of the mountain, an emotional farewell: hundreds of Palestinians, men, women and children, waved enthusiastically at the departing Israelis, in the village square, the alleys and from the windows – a whole village. The happy earnings of a day’s work.

Over 100 international volunteers are in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as part of the International Solidarity Movement’s (ISM and GIPP) Olive Harvest Campaign. More information: or call Grassroots Protection for the Palestinian People (GIPP) on tel: +972 2 296 3847 or mobile: +972 50 557 385.