I have been in Jerusalem since September 20th accompanying the team of Swedish Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) who are meeting with peace and justice groups based in Israel and run by Israelis. I have not been relocated for good and I am still hoping that I will be able to return to Jayyous soon.
The reason I am temporarily working in Jerusalem is because the United Church found that the travel insurance I was carrying, for accident, illness, injuries, and death, was only valid in Israel proper and did not cover the West Bank and Gaza. This necessitated my being pulled out of Jayyous. In order for me to be insured in the Palestinian territories, I have to have war and terrorism coverage. I am here reluctantly, waiting for the church to find the proper coverage. The whole situation does not make sense to me. I wonder if the insurance companies realize that suicide bombers attack Israeli cities like Jerusalem, Haifa, and Tel Aviv, not a West bank village like Jayyous.
While I am here in Jerusalem, the Program Coordinator said it was fine for me to travel with the Israel Team of the EAPPI, which consists of three Swedish EAs. The team”s mandate is to visit selected Peace and Justice groups in Israel to find ways for the EAPPI to support and work with them. The selection of these groups is based on whether they have the same aims and objectives as those of the EAPPI. Towards that end, the selected groups all have the same objectives as the EAPPI: to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, to ensure human rights and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis, and ultimately to bring peace to the region. It is a very worthwhile task, and I am thoroughly enjoying it.
We walk a lot in West Jerusalem where most of the Jewish Israelis in the city live. We even passed the area called German Colony, where the most recent suicide bomb attack occurred. I was once in the café that was struck, two years ago. People there are afraid and, in some way, this is a kind of accompaniment in solidarity with people who live in fear. German Colony also happens to be where some of the Israeli peace groups, like Bat Shalom,* have their offices.
The work of making greater connections with the Israeli peace movement had already begun before the current EAPPI Israel Team started its efforts. A survey was conducted in June by two Swedish researchers. The goal of the work, commissioned by the EAPPI and the Swedish Council of Churches, was to list the Israeli organizations which would fit the EAPPI criteria. The result of this survey was a comprehensive list of Israeli organizations with which the EAPPI could work. So, we have an excellent guide to follow.
Last Wednesday, when Israelis were preparing for their New Year — Rosh Hashanah — they were startled to see in the newspapers a letter signed by 25 Israel Air Force pilots declaring their intention to refuse to carry out targeted attacks to assassinate leaders of "terrorist" organizations in the occupied territories. This letter came as a profound shock to the Israeli society because the Air Force pilots are an elite group — the pride of the nation. Many of the alumni occupy important positions in business, government, and politics. In the letter, they said, "We, who were taught to love Israel and contribute to the Zionist enterprise, refuse to take part in attacks on civilian population centres. It is immoral and unjustifiable." The Jerusalem Post, which is owned by a former Canadian, Lord Black, of course, was full of condemnation of the action by those pilots.
I think my temporary assignment in Jerusalem is particularly important and interesting for me, because many Canadians do not realize how diverse opinions in the Israeli population are. It is refreshing to hear vigorous debates and disputes on public policies, or even a severe criticism of the actions of the military. Meanwhile, in Canada, there are those who call us anti-Semites whenever we criticize the Israeli government over actions we believe to be violations of human rights or international laws. These critics so often intimidate us. We very often criticize our own government or the United States. But we love Canada and we are not anti-American or racists. Likewise, we believe that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is wrong, not just for Palestinians, but also for Israel. We meet many Israelis who believe likewise.
For all the above-mentioned reasons, it is so helpful to meet with groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights. They have asked us to participate in their project to profile the Palestinian families whose homes are earmarked for demolition, often for the purpose of expanding the settlements in the occupied territories. They want to use the material to let the Israeli public know how morally wrong the occupation is. Often, they take direct actions. For example, when they know about the imminent arrival of a bulldozer, they stay with the family in their home. They think that the presence of EAs is particularly useful because Israelis are not permitted to enter certain areas of the occupied territories.
"Women in Black" is another major player in the Israeli peace movement. It was started by Israeli women in January 1988. They wore black and started to demonstrate every week, on the same day of the week and at the same time in the city centre, often at a major intersection. They silently carry placards that say, "End the Occupation." They are like the "Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo" in Argentina. Those Israeli women are still maintaining their demonstrations, now often joined by men. Of course, "Women in Black" is everywhere in the world today, demonstrating against violence on women, poverty, war, racism, and many other justice issues. I joined them once in Ottawa in a demonstration against homelessness.
Recently, an activist in "Women in Black" facilitated the formation of the "Coalition of Women for a Just Peace" with some Jewish and Palestinian feminist organizations. There are several member organizations already. "Women in Black" and Bat Shalom are two of which I have known for some time. This group is a mix of Zionist and Non-Zionist organizations but they are united in their call to end the occupation and negotiate a just solution. Most of them are volunteer organizations. Only Bat Shalom (Daughters of Peace) has an office and staff. They want EAs to participate in demonstrations. So, we went with them to Tulkarem to demonstrate against the separation wall. Palestinian partners did the same on the other side. Several "Women in Black" went to the wall, and presented the symbolic gifts of school supplies through a gap on the barrier. Bat Shalom, because it has an office, is willing to accept the services of interns and volunteer office helpers. That could be something that EAs can provide. Otherwise, EAs can always participate in demonstrations to show the solidarity of the worldwide Ecumenical community.
Some people may complain that those Israeli activists represent such a small minority of the whole population. I don”t believe in this assumption. I believe that the size of peace-loving people is quite large. Even if it is a tiny minority, so what? Have I seen any of the social justice issues The United Church of Canada advocated winning a landslide victory in the ballot box? We have inherited the tradition of the prophets. And they were more often than not in the wilderness. Listening to Gila of "Women in Black" under a huge leafy tree in a Jerusalem park, munching a falafel sandwich, or sipping spicy sweet tea made by farmer Ahmed under an olive tree waiting forever for a gate to open in Jayyous, I can assure all that we love peace and each other. There is hope, even here in Israel or in Palestine. There is hope.
On Shabbat of Rosh Hashanah