I'm sure I'm not alone in finding the relentless stories of killing, oppression and destruction coming from the occupied territories, depressing and upsetting. The level of emotion which surrounds the issue making intelligent discussion difficult and at times impossible, does not make it any easier to deal with. In this context I have developed an interest in Israel's embattled peace movement, one of the few glimmers of light in the otherwise soul-destroying darkness.
Sharon's plans for a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and, more particularly, the plan's rejection by the Likud Party
appear to have revitalised the Israeli peace camp. May 15 saw anything between 100-250,000 protesters, depending on who you ask, take to the streets of Tel Aviv
. The development has also seen the emergence of various groups which have attracted considerable support from a public who overwhelmingly support Sharon's withdrawal plan.
Israeli liberal daily Haaretz
(recommended for anyone interested in Israeli politics) has an interesting article
looking at three of the leading groups in this movement: Mateh Ha'rov, the Coalition of the Majority; Yahad; and Shuvi
, "Come Home". There is much the article misses out: the burdgeoning refusenik movement and the groups supporting it such as Yesh Gvul
; the more radical peacenik groups like Gush Shalom
; Arab-Jewish partnerships such as Ta'ayush
; let alone the openly revolutionary anarchist groups and communist parties. It also does not deal much with Peace Now
, probably the preeminent Israeli peace group, although they are mentioned as one of the members of the Mateh Ha'rov coalition. Nonetheless it is recommended for anyone who wants reassurance that sanity is not as limited a resource in the modern world as it sometimes seems.
There two points about the Israeli peace camp which explain much about it, but which might not be obvious.
Firstly, the unusual prominence within its ranks of soldiers. Americans For Peace Now
note that Peace Now
was founded in March 1978 by 348 reserve commanders, officers, and combat soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces. Experience had taught these citizen soldiers that only a politically negotiated solution could end their nation's hundred-year war with its Arab and Palestinian neighbors.
One of the main reasons for this is that many on the right come from an ultra-orthodox background and do not serve for religious reasons.
Secondly is the influence wielded within the peace movement by the Labor Party. This is particularly clear with Peace Now, whose American support group was described by an American friend involved in campaigning around the issue of Israel-Palestine as the US wing of the Labor Party. This might seem strange given that, as Noam Chomsky points out,
Contrary to illusions fostered [in the US], the two major political groupings in Israel [Labor and Likud] do not differ in a fundamental way with regard to the occupied territories. (Fateful Triangle, Pluto Press, London, 1999, pp. 45-6)
This is of course hardly an unusual position when one considers the role of social democratic parties within their national peace movements. Even today Labour activists and even some MPs are prominent within the British anti-war movement despite their party's active support for and complicity in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, not to mention a long and bloody history of British imperialism.
None of the above should present the idea that the Israeli peace camp is without flaws, it has many, which it is to be hoped it can transcend. However, its continuing existence in a increasingly militaristic and right-wing society offers a glimmer of hope in a world where hope often seems hard to come by.