Ellen Kemp looks at the Israelis who have taken an unheralded stand against the invasion of Lebanon.
Throughout July and August peace activists in Israel took to the streets to condemn the war in Lebanon. Many of these activists are part of the movement that has continuously demonstrated against the occupation of the West Bank and the incursion into Gaza and has supported Palestinian resistance against The Wall dividing the region.
Women Against War increased their activities and held daily vigils in Haifa and Jerusalem. Other vigils were led by Women in Black who have been demonstrating for peace since 1988.
On 22nd July a demonstration of 5,000 people took place in Tel Aviv, and a further demonstration took place on 5th August with nearly 10,000 taking part. A wide coalition of groups – including feminists, refuseniks, anarchists and communists came together to organise these demonstrations. The demonstrations were also supported by Israeli Arabs.
Slogans against the war included ‘Defence minister Peretz, how many kids have you killed today!’ and ‘Out of Lebanon Out of Gaza’ and ‘support us not the US.’ Some soldiers have refused to serve in Lebanon and were imprisoned as a consequence. Anarchists blockaded the Ramat David Air Force base on 8th August and were dispersed by police, who made 12 arrests.
All those imvolved in these protests supported the demand for an immediate cease fire in both Lebanon and Gaza, the withdrawal of Israeli forces and negotiation for the release of the captured Israeli soldiers.
For most Israelis this peace movement is traitorous and the demonstrators receive a lot of abuse. On one occasion some Israeli soldiers fired rubber bullets and a demonstrator was seriously injured when hit in the face. Whereas this peace movement has taken on the Israeli militaristic state, ‘Peace Now’ the movement that opposed the first Lebanon War that began in 1982 and did not cease until 2000 initially justified Israel’s response to Hizbollah’s provocation.
Amos Oz, Israeli novelist and ‘Peace Now’ founder stated in the Los Angeles Times ‘ The Israeli Peace Movement should support Israel’s attempt at self defence pure and simple’ The continual targeting of civilians - with enormous loss of life - by the Israeli air force eventually led to these opportunists to call for a cease fire.
Israel is a militaristic state, where the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) is held in high esteem by the majority of the population. The leadership of most political parties is dominated by former senior commanders from the IDF. Service in the IDF ensures a smooth career path in the private sector and/or public sector.
Such is the standing of the IDF that is recruits directly from the Jewish diaspora those wishing to emigrate to Israel. TV commentaries on political events are invariably given by ex-generals. This culture of militarism is tied in with notions that unless they defend themselves there will be another Holocaust. As one Israeli put it; ‘we are brained washed since we were kids to see ourselves as victims of anti-Semitism.’
Israel spends 22% of GDP on defence and receives about $5 billion per annum from the USA for defence. With a population of only 7 million Israel can mobilise armed forces of nearly 480,000. This is without doubt one of the major reasons why Israel always seeks to solve all its political, economic and diplomatic problems by military means.
Against this militarism the activities of the Israeli peace movement - those calling for an end to the oppression of the Palestinians and the negotiation with Israel’s neighbours – must be seen as revolutionary acts.
Many thanks to the Israeli comrade who provided a great deal of information for this article.