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June 2001

And The Band Plays On In Israel

By Karen Nakamura

From the editor's prologue of John Hershey's THE WALL, a fictionalized depiction of the razing of the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. "In hard fact, there was nothing left of the ghetto except the encompassing wall. Within, there was only an immense quadrangle of ruin."

Zeiad Abbass, former journalist, present director of the IBBAA, a Palestinian cultural center serving teenagers and younger children these days, was talking by phone from Palestine to Dennis Bernstein of KPFA's Flashpoints and Barbara Lubin of the Middle East Children's Alliance. Out Zeiad's window, he could see Israeli tanks in the streets.

Daily shellings, blasts, bombings and assassinations carry out Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's final solution. Each shell wipes out a place of business, a home, a child's bedroom or the child itself. Palestinians are fighting back. Zeiad and Barbara are very concerned about the children, Palestinian and Israeli.

Sharon's mid-May announcement of the Israeli military's intent to set up permanent security points within Gaza removes any doubt that the present right-wing government plans on leveling Gaza and the West Bank. Israel refuses to see any legal barrier to intruding into another country's territory and taking over. According to a May 18 report from the Associated Press, an official from the International Committee of the Red Cross recently called the settlements themselves "a war crime."

Israeli troops are forcing Palestinians out and taking the land to build a Greater Israel. What else can settlements and by-pass highways mean? What else can bombings and indiscriminate murder of children mean? What's frightening is the Israeli's use of many of the same methods the Nazis used when they destroyed the Warsaw Ghetto with the residents locked in. In response, Yasser Arafat stated, "We cannot give up and we will not kneel down, and we will not surrender."

Barbara Lubin has become a familiar voice to many of our Bay Area readers. She and her Berkeley-based group have worked with Palestinian and Israeli peace organizations to build children's centers and playgrounds in the region. Presently, Palestinian soldiers patrol one of these children's parks, refusing to allow any child in. Barbara was furious when she was stopped from entering by these soldiers. She had just driven three hours through bulldozed roads with a group of children from the city for a day of fun. Shouting in fine San Francisco style, she made it clear that the organizations she represented had build and funded the children's park. Their name was on the name placard. She had every right to take the children inside. The soldiers hastily explained. Snipers from the settler community on the hill above pick off any child who enters.

Ms.Lubin has also been very vocal in the United States in her opposition to the occupation of Palestine by the Israeli military. Because she is Jewish, she has endured massive amounts of insults, including threatening letters, from her own community. I'm pro-Israel, actually. I see it as my civic duty to speak up when the government is doing something wrong. The same as you and I would do here. There's nothing unpatriotic above criticizing the government."

We spoke to her by phone from the Alliance's headquarters in Berkeley. Asked how activists can overcome the objections of otherwise compassionate Jews in the US who may not realize the Israeli role, Barbara scoffed at the idea of generous, compassionate Jews.

"I think that's been over done," she stated simply. "Jews are not a monolithic community. We have a wide range of ideas and views, just like everyone else. We don't always agree. Within the community are those who believe in a strong Israel that is always right even when it's wrong and there are those who believe in the two people/two states solution."

Barbara, herself, after numerous trips to the Middle East in the past several years, sees things much the way Edward Said, the noted Palestinian-American professor, and many others do; that the two people/two states solution is a fantasy and nearly impossible what with settlements and bypass highways

crisscrossing and dividing the Palestinian homeland. What both Lubin and Said are looking at seriously is a plan that would establish a bi-national government with power shared by both Jew and Palestinians with a secular one person, one vote government.

"What I have observed in my travels," Barbara continued, "is that while Jews all have different opinions about what should be done, nobody wants harm to come to any child. But look what's happening. Children of both communities deserve to live in peace and harmony. I grew up in a right-wing, Zionist family so I

understand the feelings those Jews have about the sanctity of Israel. I have them too. However, I recognize that children of both communities deserve to grow up safe and in peace. There shouldn’t be any double standard in their care."

Zeiad and Barbara have worked together on numerous projects and are good friends. If they can't bring peace, they would, at least, like to see more food and medicines going into the Gaza Strip and West Bank. "Besides being shelled and shot at day and night and tanks and bulldozers breaking up their houses and

streets, there's a serious shortage of medicine. Very little is getting in. The food shortage is enormous and there's 90% unemployment." Barbara explained.

"There is a peace movement in Israel. In fact, I would say that Israel organizations are more organized and are farther along than in this country." When asked to name some of these groups, Barbara mentioned several. "In Jerusalem, there's Link Bata Shalom, the Alternative Information Center and Challenge Magazine among other magazines and papers whose journalists write the truth. Many Jews go to the Israeli roadblocks to witness the humiliation and harassment Palestinians are forced to endure. They've also helped to plant olive trees and repair buildings destroyed by the shellings."

One of these, the Trees of Hope Campaign is locally co-sponsored by A Jewish Voice for Peace and the Coalition of Jews for Justice in Israel and Palestine. Rabbis for Human Rights, headquartered in Israel and with former Bay Area resident, Rabbi Arik Ascherman as it's executive director, consists of 90 rabbis from

across the spectrum plus rabbinical students, (www.rhr.israel.net) It was Rabbi Ascherman who started the tree planting campaign in February. So far the Bay Area Coalition has raised $35,000 to replant destroyed olive trees in the West Bank village of Hares.

A national conference of approximately 200 Jewish activists was held in Chicago in the past month to strategize about where Jewish peacemakers are going and how to get the United States to stop military funding that's used to kill civilians. Around the world, in growing numbers, Jews are questioning the wisdom of Sharon's methods

When asked "Isn't what's really going on the right-wing's attempt to achieve a Greater Israel?" Barbara replied. "Well, I haven't heard that term in a long time. It was used a lot in 1948. But there can be no denying what Ariel Sharon is working towards when he orders the destruction of Palestinian homes and offers a tent in return. More homes have been destroyed than ever before. When he shells a school of blind children and destroys hospitals, he's obviously trying to intimidate people to move out of the region. He's behaving like he did when he massacred 3000 people at the Shatila Refugee Camp early in his career"

To help bring about a peaceful solution to the conflict, Barbara would like us to write to President Bush and our Congressional representatives to let them know of the public's concerns. For more information check out www.mecaforpeace.org or call the Middle East Children's Alliance at (510) 548-0542.

 

 

 

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