How many straws does it take to break a camel’s back? At Yachad Youth we’re keen to find out. But, with no desire to mutilate any camels, we’ve set our sights on the occupation.
I am, by nature, an optimist. So when I look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the occupation that is approaching its 50th year, I don’t despair at the seemingly interminable suffering nor am I consumed by hatred or fear of the ‘other’. Instead I seek to identify and support the opportunities emerging with the greatest potential to bring peace to the region.
As I see it, there are five main ways in which pressure is being applied on the Israeli government to end occupation – three of which are ineffective and two of which could have a real impact.
The first ineffective tactic is Palestinian violence, which must be totally rejected by all. Seeking the harm of civilians cannot be the means through which any goal is achieved, and throughout Israel’s existence Palestinian violence has achieved only a hardening of Israeli attitudes towards Palestinians and the occupation, which consequently garners support for…
Ineffective source of pressure number 2: international anti-Israel protest movements like BDS. While certainly the nonviolence of BDS is preferable to the violence we see perpetrated in the region to achieve a similar goal, the BDS movement is not peace-building, and actually inadvertently perpetuates occupation. By seeking to delegitimise Israel entirely (through blanket boycotts) it silences the critical, anti-occupation voices within Israel, while also playing into Bibi Netanyahu and the right’s “the world is against us” rhetoric. Clearly, like violence, BDS is counter-productive to its own aims.
The third, equally ineffective source is international pressure from other states. The US regularly asserts its disapproval of Israeli government actions, but this has failed to produce any change in policy or any real progress in the peace process. Further, the recent UNESCO resolution sponsored by Lebanon and Tunisia, in which Jewish ties to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (site of Judaism’s First and Second Temples) are ignored completely, also does nothing more than serve Bibi’s agenda (like violence; like BDS).
So do any means of pressure exist that can truly have a positive impact? The first possibility is pressure from NGOs and grassroots organisations within Israel: from Jewish organisations working to put human rights abuses in the occupied territories under the spotlight (see: B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Yesh Din, Rabbis for Human Rights and Machsom Watch); to organisations bringing Israeli Jews and Palestinians together through dialogue and action (see: Shorashim, Parents Circle Families Forum, Women Wage Peace and Combatants for Peace); to quasi-political movements for change (see: Darkenu and Two States One Homeland). Each of these plays a niche and vital role, and their effect is powerful and growing. The B’Tselem head’s speech at the UN last week riled the government to such an extent that there have been calls for his citizenship to be revoked. In other words, the actions of these organisations are making the government sit up and take notice.
The final source – which is potentially the most important and least utilised – is international pressure from the pro-Israel community within the diaspora. We’ve seen it recently in America with the Centre for Jewish Nonviolence and their Occupation is Not Our Judaism campaign, and this is also where Yachad and the Partners to Peace campaign comes in. We have set the target of raising £8,000 for Palestinian organisation Holy Land Trust, which trains young Palestinians in methods of nonviolent resistance. And we need your support.
There is power in the diaspora, and with power comes influence. A study from earlier this year proved that 71% of the British Jewish community sees a two-state solution as the only viable means to achieving peace; what would it look like if all of those 71% (c. 190,000 by conservative estimates) spoke out? What would it look like if the entire pro-Israel, anti-occupation diaspora spoke out? Where this differs from ineffective anti-Israel BDS-style protests is that it can’t be dismissed by Bibi and the right as anti-Zionist or antisemitic. We are Jews and we are Zionists, lest anyone (least of all Bibi) tell us we’re not.
Of course the Partners to Peace campaign is not going to end the occupation, and we’re under no illusion that it is. But what it is doing is adding to the cumulative pressure being applied on the Israeli government from both within Israel-Palestine and the Zionist/Jewish diaspora – and the two must work hand in hand. This presents the government with a choice: continue doing what you’re doing, and watch as the world realises that you are not in fact working in the interests of the world’s Jews and Zionists as you so claim; or react. React to the fears and concerns not of the anti-Israel movement, but of the adamantly pro-Israel movement. The weight of straw is building upon the back of the Israeli government, and eventually it will buckle.
To those eager to label us as anti-Zionist or anti-Israel, I ask this: what could be more Zionist, and more pro-Israel, than seeking the establishment of a peaceful Palestinian state alongside Israel, and ending the occupation that has turned so much of the world against Israel? (And by the way, pro-Palestinian does not mean anti-Israel.) Others will refuse to accept that anything remotely Palestinian could possibly be peaceful, and to those I implore you: look at the Holy Land Trust (among plenty of others). Look at the work they’re doing, and their desire to see a peaceful resolution to the conflict. If you’re still pessimistic then maybe you should ask yourself if you’ve already given up on peace.
We want to see a secure, democratic and moral Israel which does speak for us. We are not standing idly by, allowing the occupation to continue indefinitely. And because others are not, we’re finding partners to peace.