Peace Under Fire

Activists Go Where United Nations Fears To Tread


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The world is paralyzed. As the violence against Israelis and Palestinians spirals out of control, politicians, including the federal Liberals, are shunning bold diplomatic action for peace in favour of pro forma appeals to stop the killing.

The cautious diplomacy by Western leaders has been spectacularly inadequate considering a desperate United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan admitted in his address to the Security Council Monday, “It would take a reckless optimist to say that the worst is over.”

It’s shocking that some kind of direct intervention — such as an international monitoring force — is only being quietly discussed on the margins. Despite repeated pleas by the Palestinian Authority for an international force, the request has been rejected by Israel and the United States as a non-starter.

Still, Annan told a press conference that the issue was raised at the closed Security Council meeting Monday and that it’s “coming back to the forefront.”

That the U.S. will take the next step and put a monitoring force on the table seems highly unlikely.

This past Friday (March 29), U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked by a reporter if “buffer forces, troops, peacekeepers” were “being contemplated.” Powell responded vaguely that “there is nothing that we are not considering.”

But in the last couple of days, senior U.S. officials have categorically dismissed the idea. And on more than one occasion in the past year the U.S. has shot down resolutions before the UN Security Council calling for an international monitoring group in Palestinian territory.

At the moment, Canada seems content to ape U.S. foreign policy in the region. During a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Bill Graham, indicated that he had just spoken to Powell and that he fully supported the Tenet plan, named after CIA director George Tenet, for a ceasefire, and the so-far fruitless efforts of U.S. Special Envoy Anthony Zinni to broker it.

NOW asked Graham if his government is prepared to call for an international presence in the West Bank.

“I don’t think our calling for an international monitoring force would at this time be productive of a solution,” Graham responded, adding, “An international monitoring force is not going to achieve stopping the violence between the two parties if the two parties themselves are not willing to do that.”

Perhaps. But while world leaders dither, international peace activists have decided not to wait for an invitation that will likely never come. They are courageously filling the void created by the UN’s paralysis, literally throwing themselves into the line of fire.

Most recently, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) has been bringing in delegations, mostly from Europe, to work on the ground with grassroots Israeli and Palestinian peace groups.

The 30 international activists who defiantly marched past Israeli Defence Force (IDF) tanks and into Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah this week, where they are now acting as human shields, are only a small part of the direct peace actions being played out in the Palestinian territories and in Israel.

On Monday, about 170 peace activists demonstrated against the occupation of Beit Jala. They were prevented from going to Palestinian homes that the IDF had occupied.

“Israeli tanks stopped us and without any warning or provocation started shooting randomly at the crowd and reporters,” says Ghassan Andoni, co-founder of the ISM and executive director of the Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement.

Seven activists were wounded during the demonstration.

In Ramallah, about another 30 activists have been riding in ambulances trying to help ensure they are able to get past military roadblocks and to a hospital. According to Andoni, on Tuesday activists managed to help rescue a woman who was pinned down in the street after she was shot.

Over 100 activists have also taken up residence in refugee camps to act as witnesses and barriers to military aggression.

Because movement is restricted in the territories, Andoni says activists are working autonomously and making decisions based on the needs in the communities they’re in. But however courageous their actions may be, they can’t do the same job as a UN-backed force.

“We’re trying to urge the UN and officials in the world to look carefully at the idea of protection and monitoring,” says Andoni.

At the same time, the Israeli peace movement has been keeping the heat on prime minister Ariel Sharon. Adam Keller, a long-time peace activist and now spokesperson for Gush Shalom, a grassroots peace group, tells NOW from Tel Aviv that about 1,000 Israelis recently signed a petition that was published as a full-page ad in Ha’aretz calling for, among other things, an international monitoring force.

Last Saturday night (March 30), about 500 people blocked the road outside the defence ministry in Tel Aviv for a half-hour. That same night several hundred peace activists also demonstrated in Jerusalem.

On Tuesday, about 400 people demonstrated in front of a military prison in Tel Aviv to show solidarity with the 16 soldiers who have been imprisoned for refusing to serve in the West Bank.

And on Wednesday well over 1,000 Israelis and Arabs attempted to march from Jerusalem to Ramallah to protest the occupation. Although they were prevented from leaving Jerusalem, after some negotiations Israeli police did allow busloads of food and medical supplies to pass through the checkpoints.

Israel’s largest anti-war group, Peace Now, has also been holding weekly demos outside Sharon’s official residence in Jerusalem. Although the group appeared to be tilting toward Israeli policy after the outbreak of the second intifada, it has recently been calling for the IDF to halt military aggression in the territories.

A larger peace demo is planned for this Saturday (April 6). Thousands are expected to turn out to what could be the biggest anti-occupation demo to date.

If George W. Bush won’t pressure Sharon to curb his hawkish ways, maybe Israelis, weary of the escalating violence, will. scottand@nowtoronto.com

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