30 Years after “Now”

I can remember precisely what the weather was on Israeli Independence Day in 1983: Horrid. On the mountain near Nablus where Peace Now was demonstrating against the establishment of a new settlement, the rain was coming down in big cold drops that soaked through my ‘rain-proof’ shell and down jacket and sweater and shirt and skin. By Independence Day, the rainy season is supposed to be over. The sun is supposed to shine on picnics.

Thousands of settlers and their supporters were expected to come to the mountain to picnic that day and hear Housing Minister David Levy speak at the formal dedication of the settlement of Brakhah, which would be one more statement that Israel would rule “Judea and Samaria” forever. Only a few hundred showed up. The Peace Now demonstrators came by the busload and surrounded the ceremony, with very soggy soldiers separating the rings of people. The peace activists had not planned on a day of fun, and they by the thousands came despite the weather. So David Levy gave his speech inside a prefab structure – that’s what it looked like over the heads of the soldiers – and peaceniks rode home cold and soaked, but happy that they’d dominated the field that day.

Except that 25 years later, according to Peace Now’s excellent settlement monitoring effort, Brakhah has about 1,200 residents. The demonstrators were there for an afternoon, and were gone.

Tonight, as I write, Peace Now is holding a celebration of sorts in Tel Aviv to mark 30 years of activism since it was born in response to Anwar al-Sadat’s offer of peace. I’m not sure a peace movement, especially one with the word “Now” in its name, should feel happy about a 30th birthday, which represents a dream long deferred.

Peace Now can point to notable successes. Unlike most movements on the left, it did not wallow in arguments on minute points of doctrine. Instead, it began as a coalition of everyone who agreed that Israel should be willing to give up land taken in 1967 in exchange for peace. Laborites who still supported the Allon Plan could back the movement, along with believers in a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines – though very few of those were willing to speak their views publicly in 1978. Peace Now’s moderate coalition arguably helped create the public backing for the deal with Egypt, and later the Oslo Accords. And over those 30 years, it has helped an essential shift in Israeli public opinion. A two-state solution is no longer a radical idea.

Yet 270,000 Israelis are now living in the West Bank, not counting East Jerusalem. Ehud Olmert, former believer in the Whole Land of Israel, now believes in giving up land as long as he doesn’t have to confront settlers or even members of his own coalition who would like to keep building in Givat Ze’ev. Of the reasons that Palestinians don’t trust Israelis, the ineluctable spread of the settlements is surely central. Peace Now helped make a division of the land into conventional wisdom, while the settlers and their backers in government made division of the land more difficult every day.

I could list many reasons that Peace Now has not gotten further. This failure has many fathers – Israelis, Palestinians and others. But an essential imbalance, as demonstrated that day at Brakhah, is a major factor. Settlers “created facts” – they expressed their views by staying on the hilltops, looking down on Palestinians in every meaning of the words. Their opponents spoke and demonstrated and went home. Even if they believed as passionately in their cause, their homes in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were not statements in the same way. Vice Premier Haim Ramon has admitted that all of Ofrah, the first Gush Emunim settlement on the mountain ridge north of Jerusalem, stands on private Palestinian land. Ofrah was established with the connivance of Shimon Peres, then defense minister. Ramon, who made the admission, has done nothing to remove illegal outposts. The pattern of government connivance and active support for lawbreaking continues. The “Zionists” of the hilltops have blurred the borders and the laws of Israel. In the name of the land, they have taken apart the state – with the state’s willing help. Inside the cabinet as well, supporters of settlement acted, often illegally, while their opponents spoke.

I am not suggesting that Peace Now should have ignored laws in the way that the settlers did, or turned to violent confrontation. But democratic protest is at a disadvantage against a revolutionary movement that undermines the state in the name of patriotism. The playing field has never been even.

7 thoughts on “30 Years after “Now””

  1. Here we have the umpteenth repitition of the canard that the reason that the Palestinians are unhappy with Israel is “the settlements” in Judea/Samaria, and if only Israel had not built these “settlements”, peace would have been achieved long ago. This, of course, begs the question then of why the Six-Day War broke out?….after all, Israel was confined within the Green Line at that time. And why was there a war in 1956? Same thing. Why was there a war in 1948? Why was there organized Arab violence in 1920, 1921, 1929, 1936-1939? Have you yet noticed a pattern? It is true that the Arabs oppose settlements, but not just those built in Judea/Samaria after 1967….they oppose ALL Jewish settlements in Eretz Israel.
    And regarding “private Palestinian land”….it isn’t just Ofra…it includes the land the Knesset is sitting on and the land of Arab village Sheikh Munis which Tel Aviv University (a place dominated by “progressives” who oppose “settlements” in Judea/Samaria). The Arabs who own this land never sold it to Israel. Now, I know progressives will “that is totally different…whatever Israel conquered in 1948 is Israel’s by right, unlike 1967”. Why is this I ask them? They reply “the land was given to Tel Aviv U by the “adminstrator of abandoned property” which took it over after the Arabs fled. The “progressive” feels this clears his concience, but the Arabs who owned this land are probably languishing in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip is most certainly not comforted by this legal technicality. That is why the majority in Gaza support HAMAS…because HAMAS says explicitly that they will never recognize Israel within ANY borders (I have no problem with Tel Aviv U because the Arabs started the war which THEY defined as a war of annihilation which, thank G-d, they lost, just like the Germans of Sudetenland and other places who also lost their property due to their aggression in World War II). I think it is high time that everyone take a clearer perspective on the true nature of the Arab/Israeli conflict and give up the tired bromides of the post-Yom Kippur War period which motivated Peace Now and which have proven to be false.

  2. I teach statistics part-time at an American community college- and Ben-David’s post reminded me of a poignant conversation with a student in the aftermath of the assassination of Indira Gandhi. (Gandhi was of course assassinated by Sikhs among her personal bodyguards- which resulted in massacres of Sikhs by Hindus, then of Hindus by Sikhs, etc.)

    My student was was an Indian exchange student and a Sikh. When he told me that, I expressed hope that his relatives were OK and expressed concern. In his answer, he told me that ALL the massacres perpetrated by Sikhs were totally justified and necessary due to the vile behavior of the Hindus. He felt that even when the atrocities by Hindus were responses to previous massacres by Sikhs!

    Lesson learned- it’s a bad idea to focus exclusively on the bad things the other guys did while ignoring the bad things your guys did. Ultimately, people who are neighbors have to learn to live together- it’s not a zero sum game. The North Ireland peace settlement hinged on people who had done really bad things to each other committing to a better future (fingers still crossed here…)

  3. Mr. Ben -David has some real fact problems The Palestinians didn’t just leave they were driven out and any Israeli willing to admit this will go a long way in convincing this unbiased Methodist Christian to listen to their arguments on why all of Israel belongs to them A/K/A “might makes right ” position. Having just returned from Israel I found the propaganda extolled by some of the tourist guides sickening along with the efforts to build a new Great Wall of China counterproductive . There is a old bromide that says” when a formally oppressed people are given absolute power they usually use some of it to oppress others…” Granted Hamas is just the “mirror – image” of the extreme Jewish Zionist elements and can always be called upon to do something stupid and do ; one should wonder
    whether the Moslems are now the ones saying “next year in Jerusalem” and will they wait 2000 years?

  4. Mr Hilborn,

    The Arabs started the war they lost in 1947-48. Not the Jews. The UN voted for partition, the Jews accepted it, the Arabs rejected it. They began murderous attacks immediately on adoption of the UN Resolution on 29 November 1947. It is important that you note that fact, because it seems you are ignoring it. The Arabs promised ethnic cleansing on a grand scale. The Arab League Chairman Azzam Pasha said it would be a “massacre on the scale of the Crusades and Mongols”.
    In 1939, Hitler promised the same thing in an open speech in the Reichstag which was recorded. We see what happened after that one. So do you really expect us to sit back and let it happen again?
    Your selfrighteousness and wilfull ignoring of historical facts simply reinforces the view that we Jews will not allow ourselves to be in a situation of powerlessness again, waiting for people like yourself, who have other agendas, to step in and “save us” when it suits your interests and delicate moral sensibilities.

  5. MR. Ben – David : Blah, blah ,blah—- I didn’t think I was “bad mouthing” the Jewish people who I consider the most courageous people in the world just the “wingnuts”who you seem to want to stick up for.I’m talking about the now and the future The followers of Islam have over 1.5 billion followers ;you can’t nuke them all or even the Iranians. Our own little ” nutjob” Hagee seems to want to get y’al into the mood for the coming of the”BIG GUY” then all the Jews either convert to Christianity or get “deep sixed”and all these mundane problems over whose land it is will be moot. Striving for Peace is a full time job and that is not self-rightous and past history doesn’t tell the entire story about a people including the Palestinians.My ancestors were Quakers who were hung on Boston Commons for being different religously than the Puritans and even Donald Rumsfield had a special unit who spyed on members of my extended family for Peace activities during this recent fiasco. I think a little self examination by all of us is including Israelis and their relationship with the Palestinians is or can be productive instead of xenophobia.

  6. Yes, the Quakers. As pacifists and “concientious objectors” they opposed the war against fascism (the Second World War) of which we Jews were the primary victims. Sure they tut-tutted that what the Nazis were doing to the Jews “wasn’t nice” but they opposed any action to stop it. I also recall reading that they helped Nazi war criminals escape justice because they believe “justice belongs to G-d, not man, blah, blah”.

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