Gush Shalom: It is a pity that the government did not take this small positive step at its own initiative
"It took the killing of nine people at sea and the blackening of Israel's name throughout the world to make the government decide to stop interfering with what the people of Gaza may or may not eat. It apparently would have been too much to expect from PM Netanyahu and his ministers to have taken even such a small positive step at their own initiative - not to be dragged to implementing it by massive external pressure" says the Gush Shalom movement.
"It would, however, be wrong to assume that the government's decision, taken at last, will be the end of the matter. Israeli control over the entry and exit of people and goods from the Gaza Strip is a continuation of the occupation by other means. It would certainly be welcome to see that from now on more trucks will enter the Gaza Strip, loaded with a greater variety of ommodities, and that the Gazans' hard lives will be a bit alleviated. But basically, it is an unsustainable situation that it is the government of Israel which has the power to decide whether trucks would enter Gaza and what goods may be loaded on them. There is an absolute worldwide consensus that the solution for our region is a complete end of the now 43-year old occupation and the establishing of a free and sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel. This certainly includes an end to Israeli control over the entry to Gaza by land, sea and air, which is a continuation of the occupation.
Under the Oslo Accords, Israel undertook not only to facilitate but to actively promote the creation in Gaza of a deep water port, through which Palestinians could freely import and export in accordance with their economic needs. Israeli warships which continue to blockade the shores of Gaza and make dire threats at any approaching boat are a continuation of the occupation. The European Union proposed an arrangement which would prevent weapons being smuggled on board Gaza-bound boats – a proposal which the Hamas-led Palestinian government is willing to consider but which the government of Israel rejected out of hand. The Palestinian International Airport near Rafah, which was established as part of the Oslo Accords, lies desolate with its runaways ruined following the visit of Israeli bulldozers. That also is a continuation of the occupation. Furthermore, the State of Israel has undertaken a binding obligation to treat the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, and to facilitate safe passage between the two areas. In practice, soldiers on the West Bank are instructed to treat any Gazan they find there as an "illegal immigrant" to be deported. The government of Israel is doing all in its power to separate and disconnect the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and makes use of various military and diplomatic means to sabotage any attempt of reconciliation and compromise between the rival Palestinian governments located in Ramallah and in Gaza. These are futile and dangerous policies, severely damaging to Israel's own future prospects. It is in the supreme interest of us all is to put an end to Israeli occupation and rule, direct and indirect, over the Palestinians in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It is the occupation which perpetuates the conflict, the hatred and bloodshed, and there is a no chance to end the conflict without ending the occupation.
Being unable to initiate a courageous move to end the occupation, the current government of Israel is doomed to be exposed to mounting global pressure, and to be dragged forward, step by reluctant step.
Contact: Adam Keller, Gush Shalom Spokesperson +972-(0)3-5565804 or +972-(0)54-2340749
On Monday, June 21, I am to appear before the Knesset Education Committee and the Minister of Education, Mr. Gideon Saar, following my unequivocal words to my students, condemning the 43 year-old occupation and rule over the life of the Palestinian people.
A school principal should have a clear and unequivocal moral position about any subject and issue on the agenda of Israeli society. A principal is not an educational clerk. A principal must have, for example, something to say about the deportation of the children of migrant workers, trafficking in women, the separation fence, the withdrawal from Gaza, minimum wage law, settlers attacking Palestinian villagers to exact a `price tag`, the removal of Arabs from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, the siege on Gaza, corruption in government, or the relations of religion and state.
It is the duty of a school principal to take a stand and to defend it if necessary. A principal can not rest content with nodding and mumbling when students ask questions about the conflicts in Israeli society. The one who gives evasive answers is a hollow person, not worthy of being called an educator. Being an educator means to uphold a set of universal and national values which deserve to be part of the state`s symbols.
Being at the storm center of controversy, I was recently obliged to introduce for discussion at our school a spectrum of opinion for and against our presence in the Occupied Territories, and I must admit that this was very difficult for me. When I believe that our country does not respect International Law and its own laws, nor does it have proper regard for human rights - I frankly find it hard to admit into the school representatives of views which support the status quo. Since the expulsion from Paradise it is our duty to distinguish right from wrong. It is my duty to point out the wrong, and to strongly condemn it.
Those who demand that I prepare students for recruitment should know that my duty is also to tell them that they would enter a territory which was occupied 43 years ago, in which human rights are being shamefully violated on a daily basis by means of our military superiority. In future, these children will have to account for themselves, and they will ask if their school has revealed to them the terrible secret called occupation. Yes, occupation. An occupation, not a liberation, not a return to an ancestral land. Not even a return to dry water holes which have been re-filled with tears. *
In the school which I run, there is no entry to proponents of the racist Kahane ideology. There is no place for people who advocate the use of drugs for relieving stress, nor to rabbis who argue that discrimination of Sephardi girls is justified due to the internal codes of their religious community, to those who promote a multiculturalism which includes female genital mutilation - and to those who justify the discrimination against Arab residents of this country or the `encouraging` of them to emigrate.
Wherever there is a conflict, any decision will be a political decision. When I decided seven years that this school would teach Arabic rather than French, that was a political decision. The same when I decided that school hikes will not include the `City of David` settlers.**
On the other hand, also school principals who let their students go to a protest against the withdrawal from Gaza and who present it as the deportation of Jews from their land are performing a political act. To talk to students about a holy duty of settling Jews from the sea to the Jordan River, on the basis of a Divine promise, is a political act. Expressing opposition or support to the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilead Shalit - what is that if not taking a political stand?
So what are the limits of freedom of expression at school? My answer is: everything is permitted provided that it does not contradict such basic values as democracy, universalism and humanism, as well as observing the laws of the State of Israel which should conform to the norms of the Family of Nations.
I can not end this statement without noting that this Knesset debate would probably not have taken place had Professor Yuli Tamir still been Minister of Education and Haim Oron Still headed the Education Committee***. The obvious conclusion is that free speech in the schools is not determined solely by the innocuous expedient of `examining the boundaries`. Rather, it varies according to the political perceptions of those who at the moment occupy the top positions in the educational system, the Knesset and the government.
Ram Cohen is an educator and principal of the Aleph High School in Tel Aviv.
* This is a reference to the song `Jerusalem of Gold`, embodying the nationalist euphoria of 1967, which includes the words `We have come back to the waterholes`.
** The settlers group known as `Elad` have established themselves at Silwan Village, directly south of the Old City of Jerusalem, where they claim King David had his palace 3000 years ago, with the proclaimed aim of `Judaising` it. They have expelled Palestinian residents from several homes and took them over, and the `archeological` diggings conducted by settlers undermine the foundations of many other houses. The `National Park` maintained by the settlers is recommended by the Ministry of Education as a venue for school hikes.
*** Yuli Tamir and Haim Oron, of respectively the Labor Party and the Left-Zionist Meretz Party, held the positions mentioned until the accession of Binyamin Netanyahu to power.
Gush Shalom to appeal to the Supreme Court about the appointment of the Tirkel Commission, which is supposed to investigate the Gaza flotilla raid
"This is a cover-up commission, toothless and powerless. Even had it wanted to, it can't probe the real issues. International friends of Dore Gold won’t bite"
The Gush Shalom movement intends to petition the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, challenging the validity of the Netanyahu Government's decision to establish the Tirkel Commission which is supposed to probe the lethal raid on the Gaza Flottila two weeks ago. The commission's terms of reference exclude in advance all the main points which should be investigated.
It is no coincidence that the government refrained from taking the judicial highway which Israeli law makes available for exactly such cases: appointing a truly independent Commission of Inquiry whose members are appointed by the President of the Supreme Court and which is free of governmental interference. Such a commission may have uncovered facts, or come to conclusions, which would have proven uncomfortable to the government. Such a danger does not exist with the tame commission with which Netanyahu and his ministers came up.
The Tirkel Commission's terms of reference do not include looking into the decision-making process which led to bloodshed on the high seas, to the killing of nine people whose purpose had been to reach Gaza rather than clash with Israeli soldiers, to blackening Israel's image throughout the world and to the complete shattering of the alliance with Turkey which had been a cornerstone of Israeli foreign policy since the days of Ben Gurion. It is guaranteed in advance that those responsible for all this will not be touched, since the commission is not at all empowered to look into their doings.
Nor will the commission be able to look seriously into what actually happened on board the boats during these fateful moments. The commission is specifically and explicitly excluded from calling any soldier or officer to testify. It must place a blind trust in the army's own investigation of its own doings, which is carried on secretly and whose pre-selected results will be presented to the commission. And it is highly unlikely that the commission would hear and seriously consider the eye-witness testimonies of the boat's Turkish, European and American passengers, whom the State of Israel already branded as "terrorists".
It is clear in advance that the Tirkel Commission would not conduct the investigation which needs to be undertaken. The commission was established primarily as a desperate attempt to placate international public opinion, but it is very difficult to believe that this goal would be achieved, or that a report clearing the government of Israel from all blame and fault would gain much credibility in the world.
To get a semblance of international respectability, two international observers were attached to the commission. It should be noted that one of them - David Trimble, Protestant Unionist leader from North Ireland – expressed his allegiance just two weeks ago by joining a "Friends of Israel" group established by Netanyahu loyalist Dore Gold. In addition, Trimble is a veteran member of the
Henry Jackson Society, an international organization linked with the American "neo conservative" circles and which advocates the "spreading of democracy" by way of military incursions and invasions. At Trimble's side, this society's membership includes such people as Richard Perle, who under the Bush Administration was among the main initiators of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as well as William Kristol who is the main neo-conservative ideologue.
The other international observer on the commission is Ken Watkin, retired Canadian Army general and until recently Judge Advocate General. Watkin's name is associated with a sensational affair in Canada, regarding cases of Canadian forces in Afghanistan transferring dozens of prisoners to the custody of the Afghan government's security service – where they were tortured and some extrajudicially executed. Watkin refused to testify to the Canadian Parliament regarding the advice he had given to the military commanders on this issue, arguing that there existed between him and the Canadian government a privileged attorney–client relathionship. This behavior does not bode well for Watkin 's willingness or ability to participate in exposing facts which might prove embarassing to the Government of Israel.
In short, it is unlikely that the "kosher certificate" provided by these "international observers" to the commission would greatly enhance the credibility given to its conclusions.
Contact: Uri Avnery 0505-306440 or Adam Keller 054-2340749
"Our purpose is to call an end to the siege of Gaza, to this illegal collective punishment of the whole civilian population. Our boat is small, so our donations can only be symbolic: we are taking school bags, filled with donations from German school children, musical instruments and art materials“, says Kate Leiterer, one of the organizers. „For the medical services we are taking essential medicines and small medical equipment, and for the fishermen we are taking nets and tackle. We are liaising with the medical, educational and mental health services in Gaza.“
''In attacking the Freedom Flotilla, Israel has once again demonstrated to the world a heinous brutality. But I know that there are very many Israelis who compassionately and bravely campaign for a just peace. With broadcasting journalists from mainstream television programmes accompanying our boat, Israel will have a great chance to show the world that there is another way, a way of courage rather than fear, a way of hope rather than hate'', says Edith Lutz, organizer and passenger on the ''Jewish boat''.
The ''Jüdische Stimme'' (‚Jewish Voice’ for a Just Peace in the Near East), along with her friends of EJJP (European Jews for a Just Peace in the Near East) and Jews for Justice For Palestinians (UK) are sending a call to the leaders of the world: help Israel find her way back to reason, to a sense of humanity and a life without fear. ''Jewish Voice'' expects the political leaders of Israel and the world to guarantee a safe passage for the small vessel to Gaza, thus helping to form a bridge towards peace.
Edith Lutz, EJJP-Germany +15204519740
Kate Katzenstein-Leiterer, EJJP- Germany +1629660472472
Glyn Secker, Jews for Justice For Palestinians (UK) +7917098599
Weekend demonstrations will call for an international investigation, for letting the "Rachel Corrie" through to Gaza and a general lifting of the siege – as well as calling for a complete end to the 43 years' old occupation.
For several weeks the peace movement in Israel has been organizing to mark June 5, the 43rd anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Demonstrations and rallies were planned - some in cooperation with Palestinian groups – calling for an end to the occupation.
Following the lethal takeover of the Gaza relief flotilla, the focus changed. As now planned, a central role will be given to the call for an international investigation of the killings on the sea - as the organizers place no confidence in the ability of Israel's military authorities to look into their own deeds and possible misdeeds. The demonstrators will also call upon the government to allow the Irish aid ship "Rachel Corrie", now en route on the Mediterranean, to reach the port of Gaza, and in general to lift the siege of Gaza. As long as the Gaza Strip is under siege, it still remains under a de-facto Israeli occupation, and the naval commando attack on the Turkish aid ship in effect expanded the occupation from Gaza deep into sea.
The Gush Shalom movement cooperates with the rest of the Israeli peace camp in organizing and mobilizing supporters for these demonstrations.
Contact: Adam Keller, Gush Shalom Spokesperson 03-5565804 or 045-2340749
1) On Friday, June 4, at 11:00 am, a convoy of Israeli activists will depart from Makabim Junction and move along Highway 443 which bisects the West Bank. South of the highway, they will join with Palestinians for a march and a rally at the village of New Beit Nuba (adjacent to Beit Lycia) at 12:30. Expected speakers include former MK Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom, MK Haneen Zoubi who participated in the Gaza flotilla rally, Mustafa Barghouti, Maher Re'naem, Minister for the Fence in the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian Legislature Members Kaes Abdul Karim (Abu Leyla) and Mahmoud Al - 'Alul. In addition to the general issues of the occupation and the siege on Gaza, the action will take up the issue of Highway 443, from which Palestinian traffic is in practice still excluded despite the Supreme Court;s ruling, as well as of the villages of Yalu, Emaus and Beit Nuba in the Latrun enclave, which were destroyed by Israel immediately after the conquest in 1967. Many of their displaced inhabitants will participate in the demonstration
Contact: Jonathan 054-6327736; Yusef (Arabic, English) 059-8464054, 054-5571328, Eilat Maoz (Hebrew, English) 050-8575729
2) March and rally in Tel Aviv, Saturday June 5. The march will leave at 19:00 from the Rabin Square (corner of Frishman) and culminate with a rally at the Museum Plaza on 20:00. This is intended as a mass demonstration protesting the Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman Government's dangerous escalation of regional violence, as well as marking 43 years of occupation. The main slogan would be "The Government is drowning all of us – we must strive for peace." The rally's manifesto read: "It's time to return to sanity and save our society from ruin. Without a solution of two states for two peoples and two capitals in Jerusalem, the whole region's future is in doubt." The organizations co-sponsoring the demonstration include Gush Shalom,the Hadash Communists, Combatants for Peace, Meretz, Physicians for Human Rights, Peace Now and Banki.
Contact: Yoni 054-72765873) A special demonstration of the Women in Black at Paris Square in central Jerusalem, Friday June 4 at 13:00. The Women in Black movement is holding a regular weekly vigil at this square, since the time of the first Intifada, call for an end to the occupation. On the occupation anniversary, the movement invites other peace groups throughout the country - women and men, Jews and Arabs - to join in.
Contact: Gila Svirsky 02-6725293 / 0523-334986