Only last month a military strike on Syria looked likely; today it appears that diplomacy has stalled any strike and opened up a potential space for dialogue. It was a moment that changed, if only slightly, the dynamics of the war in Syria.
A little over 200km from Damascus lies a city that is crying out for a similar change in political dynamics, yet Jerusalem currently hosting direct peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, will not see any change in conversational space. Twenty years since the Oslo accords were signed, a fair and viable peace agreement appears to have dissipated. Indeed as the current peace talks are progressing the Israeli government is continuing to put forward plans for further settlement construction.
The unfortunate truth is that there are no negotiators on the Palestinian side, they are merely empty shells placed to sell a façade to onlookers, while the Israeli side plods along with its settlement project, continued occupation, and discriminatory policies towards Palestinians.
Palestinians who protest against the settlements and occupation are often brutally suppressed, and jailed under administrative detention law. Moreover, the U.S and the E.U are both happy to keep the Israeli occupation of Palestine as a third priority; it doesn’t need to be sorted out straight away, nor is there a need to put a detailed plan in place, rather it is perpetually on the back-burner, a pot of stew on the lowest heat, stirred every now and again, while the contents are ignored yet aware of an outside presence.
In this situation peace talks will always stagnate and fail unless change comes from within the dominant side. It is Israeli-Jewish citizens that can create the dialogue and change the dynamics that is so sorely needed in this stagnating conflict.
However anti-occupation Israeli-Jewish activists are a tiny minority within Israeli society who face abuse, threats, and arrest due to their want to see the conflict resolved fairly, and equality given to all.
Matan, an activist with Anarchists Against the Wall (AATW), an anti-occupation, direct-action organisation, has been arrested 13 times, been interrogated and threatened by the Israeli secret service, and been refused employment. Why? For helping Palestinian farmers tend to their fields, and protesting against The Wall and the frequent eviction of Palestinian families from their homes. As he told me “the majority of Israelis see us as traitors, in their words, “They [activists] are worse than the Arabs.”
Losing friends and family due to anti-occupation activities and beliefs is also a very real reality for some. Rahel, who works for an organisation that advocates for legal, civil, and political rights on behalf of Palestinians told me that her work and political beliefs have “left me feeling alienated from people I know, and my family as well, it is easy to be the majority and say nothing, but I can’t do that.”
Compulsory military conscription has certainly played a part in ensuring the majority of young Israelis view Palestinians through the state lens of enemies of the state and people who have no claim to the land. However there remain cracks of hope within this that show that some Israelis are willing to look out with the black and white dichotomous relationship that they are taught to view Palestinians and Israelis through; Breaking the Silence, an organisation that consists of former IDF soldiers who speak openly about the abuses against Palestinians that they witnessed and directly took part in, is a great and important example of this.
Furthermore there exists a trend among a few new conscripts in dodging military conscription in order to not provide further manpower to Israel’s occupation project. Uri, a friend, and anti-occupation activist confided to me about how he and other Israelis often have to appear suicidal in order to avoid military service: “I took a notebook and wrote a fake suicide diary and asked my friend to tell his commander that he accidentally found it. After my friend showed the diary to his commander they thought it was an emergency case so they called the army psychologist to see me at 1:00 am. She gave me two weeks off and sent me to see an army psychiatrist. He gave me two weeks to think about it and then he set me free. This is the most common way of getting out of the army.”
If there is ever to be a fair and just change in the current status quo, be that a one-state or the ever dwindling possibility of a two-state solution, then it will require more Israelis who are willing to stand up against the unequal treatment of Palestinians, who are willing to go to the West Bank and protest in solidarity with Palestinians under occupation, and who will find ways to reject compulsory conscription. It is clear that the Israeli government refuses to listen to Palestinians and to anyone, or institution, out with its borders; the only hope is that the movement against occupation within Israel grows, and with that, a dialogue that is built on fair principles for all can emerge. It is only then, that any peace talks will ever move forward.
These three activists and others like them within Israel are the unsung heroes of the conflict. They go against the majority of society, and face abuse, threats, arrest, and alienation from family, friends, and society as a whole, because of this. The very fact that all three asked me not to disclose their real names shows this in full colour; they all know ramifications can happen and do happen, because they are willing to speak out. If we want to help solve the conflict then we would do well to encourage and support anti-occupation activists in whatever ways possible.
Peace will never happen when the majority within Israel do not advocate equal rights for Palestinians, however thankfully there do exist some individuals who are willing to put everything on the line in order to advocate for what’s right. The current peace talks are a farce, but if this minority within Israel grows, peace need not be.