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The left is alive and well in the territories:
Increase in the ranks of the left

By Lily Galili / haArez

Uri Avnery is waiting for the fifth mother. This metaphoric mother will follow in the footsteps of the Four Mothers movement and protest because her son was killed in the defense of settlements. Avnery is waiting for her patiently, knowing full well that she will come and also because he feels he cannot lead the struggle for peace on his own. The movement he heads, Gush Shalom, is simply too small.

But the spread of violence inside the Green Line is, among other things, delaying the arrival of the fifth mother. The only mother in this story so far is Hava Keller, the mother of Gush Shalom's longtime spokesperson, Adam Keller. Around 10 days ago, the 72-year-old Keller was injured by a smoke bomb that exploded near her when Gush Shalom members came together with some Palestinians to dismantle an army roadblock near the village of Bidiya. Fifteen people were arrested and detained by the Ariel police. Keller required medical treatment.

Amid the silence - or paralysis - of the Israeli peace camp, the existence of a political left is almost news. Throughout the entire existence of the Oslo process, the radical left was swallowed up in the larger peace camp. Usually, its activists would join the larger camp's efforts after realizing the limitations of their size, set up a small stand on the edge of the event and hand out their political wares.

Along with the other changes brought about by the last few months, the different approaches within the peace camp have again been highlighted. The Peace Now camp is confused and is deafeningly silent most of the time; the radical left is determined, more active than ever and talking in a clear voice that is barely heard. In the eyes of most Israelis, actions such as an attempt to dismantle roadblocks or fill in the ditches that besiege Palestinian towns seem seditious or at least frenzied, given the security situation. Avnery agrees that these actions might appear that way, but says, "in politics, it's irrational to ignore the irrational."

Somehow there is in this reality a return to bygone days when the radical left cautiously (and sometimes illegally) established contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and set parameters for resolving the conflict, which later became part of the consensus. From this perspective, their actions and the comments they hear from the Palestinian side are important now also, as a basis for understanding once the dust of the battles settles.

"This war is very strange, especially when both sides deny that this is a war," says Avnery. "The Palestinians must maintain the vagueness, because if they were to admit that this is their war of liberation, they would essentially be admitting that this is a war being directed by their leadership. For us, that would be an admission that would require us to draw conclusions we don't want to draw. So vagueness is established on both sides as well as great confusion. Everything would have been clearer if both sides had declared that this is a war."

The last few months, which have paralyzed the larger peace camp, have actually led to an increase in the ranks of the radical left and to more intense activity on its part. At Gush Shalom events, new activists, who have never before attended such events, show up. Others send the movement small donations to help fund its activities, along with some words of encouragement. A very large number of people are responding to the publications released by the movement, including a recently released, very detailed document that reviews the roots of the conflict and outlines a way to resolve it.

Most of the activities simply take place in the field. Gush Shalom has organized around 25 different events since the latest Intifada began. On April 18, some 50 activists and supporters joined hundreds of Palestinians in an attempt to take down the roadblock near Bidiya; on April 14, they joined a group of Palestinians from Beit Sahur at a roadblock near Bethlehem for a joint protest; on March 23, they came to fill in ditches dug by the army to cut off the village of Rantis. After the army confiscated all of the equipment they brought, they dug with their bare hands.

All of these activities received minimal coverage in the Israeli press, most of which focused on the army and police reaction to them. In the Arab press, in contrast, they were big news. Not only on Palestinian television, a natural choice, but also on the Al Jazeera satellite station that broadcasts from Qatar and has millions of viewers. The Arabs are well aware that this is a small group, numbering around 500, with no influence in Israeli politics, but the symbolic value of the activity is still important to them.

Other activities are happening in cyberspace, on the Internet site set up by Gush Shalom. Oren Medicks, a video editor and the one who set up the site, is proud of the fact that each week the site set up in his Ra'anana home has around 2,500 visitors, "one-tenth the number of visitors to the IDF's official Web site." Last week, an Arabic language site was opened and in its' first week, 1,200 people visited. Alongside the up-to-date information on the site, there is also a crossword puzzle with the sarcastic heading "Am Yisrael Chai" (The Jewish people lives) and clues such as "the rear part of a gun, used by the Border Police to hit Palestinians youths" and "another idea the Jewish brain came up with to take over Palestinian lands."

In addition to the crossword puzzle, the site also has an amusing game, which shows settlers' homes flying through the sky and landing on Palestinian land; clicking on the mouse when the cursor is on the house makes it explode. There is something infuriating and very violent at the sight of houses exploding for fun in a game. "That's not what I meant," says Medicks, who joined Gush Shalom after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. "If that's what you get from it, it's an artistic failure on my part. What I wanted to show in pop art was houses dropping from the sky and settlers shouting from inside them, 'this is ours, this is ours.' I didn't mean for it to look like an explosion."

Avnery is also not surprised by settlers' homes exploding on the Internet, even if many of Gush Shalom's activities are directed against settlers. There is something almost calming in talking with Avnery, whose long and complex life experience has imbued him with a certain sober understanding that is not shaken by the new storm. He understands the peace camp that has disappeared ("It happens to all nations at war; in this respect, we're no worse than other nations"); he understands Shimon Peres' moves, even if the explanation is "what else could be expected from him;" and primarily, he understands the Palestinians.

During an interview immediately after the terrorist attack in Kfar Sava, he said: "Terrorism is not a faucet that can be opened and closed; I know that, because in my youth I was a terrorist; I know this from experience." His experience in the Irgun (a pre-state underground movement led by Menachem Begin) taught him that ending the activities of an underground could only be done when public opinion turns against it.

At the moment, he says, a decisive majority of the Palestinian people is in favor of continuing the attacks. In his view, something tangible has to be given to the Palestinian people in order for Arafat to be able to come and say "we fought, we achieved, now we can return to the political path."

His understanding toward the Palestinian side is so deep that Avnery completely accepts the situation in which even a peace movement like the one he heads cannot arrange any activities in the territories without meticulous advanced planning. Adam Keller says the activists' scariest moments happened after they were released from detention in the Ariel police station and had to return at night along the road on which Palestinians shoot at settlers.

Avnery says that every trip to the territories requires careful planning, including a specific directive from Arafat and a constant escort from the Palestinian security forces. "I'm very careful," he stresses, "I organize these things down to the last detail."

Yet there is still something absurd about an organization that goes out on peace missions because it feels there is an existential threat to it coming from the other nation, which it has come to identify with. "Our relations with the Palestinians are a lot more complex now," says Keller, a veteran Gush Shalom activist. "They aren't always interested in us coming. There is radicalization on both sides. On the Palestinian side there is a feeling that the Israeli side disappointed. Many Palestinians are asking me where the peace camp is, where are the big rallies in Rabin Square. I explain to them why the Israeli peace camp is frustrated. I myself understand it, although I don't agree. It really would have been better if the Palestinians would've waged their battle based on the needs of the Israeli peace camp, primarily on the other side of the Green Line, but I also understand that that's impossible. When Israel causes so much destruction on the Palestinian side, they say 'let Israel suffer too.' I'm not in a position to dictate the terms of their fight to them."

Other movements that are active in this sphere have other ways of dealing with this complexity. In recent months, there have been renewed calls from the radical left for the establishment of a binational, secular, democratic state. In the past, Matzpen (Compass) advocated such a move and it is now being rejuvenated. Another group is the Committee to Establish a Secular Democratic Republic. The committee's seven activists in Jerusalem are now in the midst of a debate over whether to stick to the minimalist agenda of a secular-democratic state or perhaps to be "socialist." "The idea of one state has recently become more widespread in the radical left," says Hillel Barak, a 32-year-old Jerusalemite who works in computers and began his political journey in Meretz. Members of the Committee against Apartheid also support having one binational state as do the Jewish members of the Israeli Arabs' village association.

Iris Bar, a candidate for a master's degree in anthropology from Haifa, "with two kids and a dog," could, based on this description, be a character in the television series, "Haburganim" (The Bourgeoisie). Instead, she has since 1984 been a member of the village association. Bar relates that the Arabs accept her membership as a given whereas the Jews in any case do not understand. "They see in me a part of the Askenazi elite that cares more about the Arabs than about Jews of Middle Eastern origin. The political similarity ends with Peace Now, and to my Jewish friends, I'm just another veteran Peace Now-nik."

Avnery actually sees a great danger and an expression of despair in these marginal movements that support a binational state. "I completely reject this approach," states Avnery, who defines himself as a Zionist who supports Israeli nationalism and therefore also Palestinian nationalism, "talking today about nullifying the state of Israel is both crazy and idiotic. It is a fatal idea which at best I can describe as escapism on the part of good people.


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