Friday, January 23, 2009

The Women in Black

Most people do not realize that there are many Jewish Israeli peace organizations actively working to find peace with the Palestinians. It is a difficult road for them in Israel but they are very committed to peace with justice. I met an amazing women today, Gila Svirski. Every Friday for 21 years and two week Gila and her band of Jewish women have been standing in Paris Square dressed in black to protest their governments occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. They choose to wear black as a sign of mourning. I would like to share with you her story because I think it gives some incite into the fact that there is wide diversity of opinion within Israel as to how to find peace once and for all. Gila. I think represents the voice of reason.

Gila was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family. Her mother was an early Zionist who moved with her parents from Europe to what was, at the time, Palestine in 1935. Her mother emigrated to the United States and Gila was born and raised in New Jersey. The family continued their orthodox practice of the Jewish faith. In 1966, when she was 19, they moved to what was by then Israel and settled in Jerusalem where she started a family. Her view of Israel was the idyllic one of the shining city on the hill. She was a believer in the commonly held view of the time, that Israel was pursuing "an enlightened occupation" in which the goal was to bring civilization to the Arabs.

When the settlement movement began in the 1970's she visited a settlement to see if would be a good place to live. It was then that she personally witnessed the brutality with which Palestinians were treated and started to question the sensibility of building east of the green line which in 1967 had been established as the border. She says the 1987 intifada was like a lightning bolt to her consciousness and in 1988 she founded Women in Black in an effort to convince her government to pull back to the green line and affirm a Palestinian state.

She is very clear on the stumbling blocks to peace and their solutions which I found to be quite sensible. The foundation is that there must be an end to the occupation and a two state solution based on the green line. Jews need to control a state of their own and a one state solution where the Jews and Palestinians live together in one unified country would mean that the Palestinians would outnumber the Jews. Israel would have to become a secular state and that is untenable for Jews because of the Holocaust. The issues and solutions in her view are:

Settlements - Their are today 400,000 Jews living in illegal settlements in the West Bank, east of the green line. Of those 200,000 are in greater Jerusalem, including 30,000 in Ariel and another 30,000 in Mali Adumin. Clearly not all of these Jews can be relocated to Israel so there will need to be a land swap whereby Palestine would receive land that is currently part of Israel. This would require the relocation of about 200,000 settlers and she has a great idea for how to get them to move. Over five a year transition period you pay the settlers to relocate to Israel on a decreasing basis, i.e. full payment in year one decreasing to zero in year five. If after year five they choose to stay they are no longer Israeli citizens and they can become citizens of Palestine.

Jerusalem - The city of Jerusalem which is cherished by three religions needs to be shared, as it has for century's, and be the capital of both Israel (West Jerusalem) and Palestine (East Jerusalem).

Refugees - In 1948 the Jews forced 700 thousand Palestinians into refugee camps in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Jordon and the West Bank. Since that time the Palestinians have continuously demanded a right to return to their homes under international law. Gila says this issue appears more difficult than it is. This issue has more to do with the acknowledgement of the injustice that was done to the Palestinians than their actual relocation after all these years. There are two components to the solution that she says is consistent with Arab culture where it is OK to say one thing and do another. The first step is the key which is to acknowledge (say) the injustice and the right of return provided for under international law. A small number of Palestinians would become citizens of Israel based on family reunification needs. The remaining refugees would be made citizens of their host countries and paid reparations (do) by Israel.

Water - Existing water resources need to be shared ratibly to both countries and a major international investment in desalination plants needs to be made to assure water resources for both countries. Today Israel has gerrymandered the border in order to control both the water and tillable land. Palestine needs to get back the tillable land east of the green line and the water to produce crops on it.

For 21 years Gila has studied the issues involved in a lasting peace from deep within the Israeli culture. She is convinced that peace is possible. If she did not she would not stand on this corner every Friday. It can be done with American help and encouragement. Our new President is obviously committed to it with the appointment of George Mitchell as special envoy for peace on only his second day as President. Lets all hope she and President Obama are right.

60 Minutes - Is Peace Out of Reach?