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Israeli Jews and Arabs publish a peace plan


The echoes of gunshots were particularly loud on the evening of Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday. Just a few hundred yards from my Jerusalem apartment people were fighting, and the silent atmosphere that usually characterizes the Day of Atonement was disturbed. Jewish settlers, according to CNN, were attacking Palestinians from the northern neighborhood Shoefat. When the Palestinians responded, the Israeli border police intervened.

By contrast to the general impression produced by the U.S. and Israeli media, this conflict is by no means balanced. After all, one of the world’s most formidable military powers is quelling a popular uprising. Since the uprising started Sept. 29, the number of Palestinian fatalities has constantly increased and is currently just shy of 100. Over 3,000 more have been wounded, many of them children. Even during the most lethal period of the Intifada the human toll was much lower, suggesting that Israel’s open-fire regulations have changed. During the Intifada, Israeli soldiers were instructed to aim at the lower parts of the body, while now Palestinian doctors report that many of the bullet wounds are above the waist. It seems that Israeli snipers are shooting to kill.

While opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Muslim shrine -- the Dome of the Rock -- triggered the rebellion, simply blaming Sharon serves only to conceal what the fray is actually about. Not unlike the civil rights demonstrations in the United States during the 1960s, Palestinians, both citizens of Israel and residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, are protesting against racism, rampant discrimination and poverty. They are demanding radical social reforms that will enable them to regain the human dignity that the existing political configuration has undermined. Thus, to understand the current struggle, one must go beyond the recent events and examine the political structures informing them.

But in the meantime, a full-scale war is impending. During the Jewish holiday, about 50 Israeli scholars and community leaders -- Jews and Arabs -- published a petition stating that such a war can still be avoided. We demanded:

  • An immediate and unilateral Israeli commitment to evacuate all the provocative settlements and zones that are to be included within the Palestinian state -- including the Gush Katif Area in the Gaza Strip, Hebron and the Jordan Valley.
  • That Israel accept Palestinian sovereignty over all Arab neighborhoods and mosques inside Jerusalem, while Israel will maintain sovereignty over the Western Wall. The city, within this framework, will be completely open to all of its residents.
  • That Israel declare a strong commitment to ensuring equal rights in every area to all Palestinian and other citizens of the state of Israel, and that it stop shooting at citizens.
  • A release and exchange of all prisoners on all sides.

We concluded the petition by declaring our belief that only the acceptance of this package and the immediate cessation of all violence and threat of violence, by all populations on all sides, can prevent a major bloodbath from taking place and serve as the basis for the reconstruction of a mutual trust and reconciliation between the Jews, the Palestinians and the Arab world.

It is for this I prayed on Yom Kippur.

Neve Gordon teaches in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University, Israel, and can be reached at ngordon@bgumail.bgu.ac.il

National Catholic Reporter, October 20, 2000