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July 2002

There Are Middle Eastern Peace Activists

By Karen Nakamura

Intimidation and death threats are on the increase in the United States. Attacks against synagogues and mosques are up significantly. But there is another segment of society that is rarely acknowledged yet has been inundated with hate mail, death threats and intense pressure to make them stop expressing their views. They are the Middle East peace activists.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine and head of a liberal San Francisco synagogue, has spoken many times about the hate mail and death threats he has received. Undeterred however, he recently declared in a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle that both Israel and Palestine were wrong. He called for international intervention, a binding resolution ending occupation of the territories and recognition of both states. "The politics of the United States are keeping this reality from happening." He also blamed Senator Diane Feinstein as one of those trying to get the media "to put a strong Israeli spin on the news."

Dennis Bernstein of KPFA's Flashpoints, who uses Palestinian reporters, has also received more than his share of threats. Adam Shapiro of International Solidarity, locked in the PLO compound with Yasser Arafat, told the media afterwards, he was able to walk freely among Palestinians but worried about being shot by Israeli soldiers. Shortly after, his parents were taken under police protection because of death threats against them from supporters of Israel. Because he wants to give a peace a chance, he's been called the Jewish Taliban. He and his new wife, a Palestinian-American activist, are under a vigilante death threat. Each of these three Jewish-Americans has been called a traitor to Israel. Why? They believe in rights for all people. "It's not enough to be supportive of Israel, that's what's so scary," said one activist. "The critic must be harassed and silenced. Even Israeli papers are more critical of their government."

What isn't understood is the majority of peace activists are not against the state of Israel. They're against the expansion of the state of Israel and its destruction of another culture to achieve it. This has nothing to do with Israel's right to exist but of the right of Palestinians to exist. The right of self-defense is allowed in the United Nations charter. The right to confiscate a nation is not.

One of these peace activists is Marin County's Alison Weir. Founder of IF AMERICANS KNEW, she made news in April when she organized an emergency flight from San Francisco to Israel during the siege of the West Bank. The 12 peace activists were determined to act as human shields for Palestinians and to help ease the suffering where they could.

There were eight activists on Alison's flight. Two others flew to Israel a couple days before and two more made the flight two days later. Unfortunately, as they went through customs, Alison's group was arrested at the airport. After 24 hours in custody, they were deported back to the United States. This much was reported in Bay Area newscasts.

Amazingly, the two members who had gone ahead and the two who followed later were not detained and got through customs. Even the Middle East Children Alliance's Barbara Lubin, an American Jew and well known to KPFA listeners for her support of the Palestinian cause, got through on a later flight. We asked Alison about her arrest.

"My name was obviously in their computer. Three of our people ahead of me went through just fine. But when I stepped up to get a visa, my name clearly set off something in the computer, so they grabbed me. Unfortunately, the tickets all had the same itinerary so it was easy to connect the dots. I have to think that someone in San Francisco alerted the Israelis I was coming."

Or, did an older notation on the computer trigger her rejection? Alison took a trip to the Middle East last year. She went alone, with no group supporting or guiding her and as an investigative, free-lance reporter, spent a month traveling anonymously though the West Bank and Gaza. Was it what she reported back in the US that upset the Israelis? However, on June 16, 20 members of American Muslims for Jerusalem, another peace/aid group, were also met at the airport and sent back. Whatever, this apparent closing of the borders of Israel to peace groups, thus cutting off access to Palestine, is putting a chill on proceedings.

Alison spoke of her first trip. "I wandered through the West Bank and Gaza at my own pace. What I saw was extreme tragedy and devastation and this was a year ago. It was already incredibly awful. Whole neighborhoods were torn up. Crops, land, buildings, all of them were torn up. I saw children in a hospital with bullets in their heads. There was a pattern of Palestinian subjugation and humiliation that you just don't fully comprehend until you experience it first hand.

"And it was all going on right next door to Israel. The majority of Israelis were living their lives seemingly unseeing and uncaring about the population suffering next door to them. Except, that is, for a small, valiant group of Israelis of conscience. Most didn't seem concerned about what was going on until Israeli lives were lost. The devastation and mutilation of Palestinians didn't seem sufficient to create a call for peace."

We asked Alison if she agreed with Rabbi Lerner's opinion that both Arafat and Sharon were at fault, a popular idea to many moderates and liberals alike.

"No, I don't think so. Benjamin Beit–Hallahmi, the noted Israeli scholar from Haifa University once said, "In the case of Zionism, the victims bear no guilt. They are not to blame for the oppression that necessitated this liberation movement." Look what happens to people who live on land that a colonial entity wants. The problem with the narrative here is it's upside-down. It's always that quote, "Israel is retaliating." For example, many people are unaware that in this current intafada, 53 Palestinians were killed before a single Israeli life was lost, even before the suicide bombings.

"What we need to remember is that the second intafada began when Ariel Sharon took 1,000 armed soldiers to the Al Aqsa mosque and did it in a way guaranteed to get a response. The response was rocks from kids and teen-agers. Sharon responded with gunfire and killed six or seven young people. They didn't have to shoot. It was like the Klu Klux Klan marching into Harlem with machine guns and kids throwing stones and the KKK blowing them away. Yet seemingly intelligent people have remained silent about this action, about taking any action against Sharon, a man who is known for having massacred Arab women and children throughout his career. I can't believe Democrats. They seem to have lost sight of the principals they believe in."

 

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