While hawkish Israeli politicians are talking of war, a growing group of their fellow citizens are working inside the West Bank to heal the conflict’s 60-year-old wounds.
Israel-born Kobi Snitz heads to the Occupied Territories every week to participate in protests there. A mathematician at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science and a member of Anarchists Against the Wall, Snitz is part of a movement of Israelis standing side by side with Palestinians as they protest against house demolitions and settlement expansions.
And Snitz says that Israeli participation in the West Bank demonstrations is on the rise. “This is more than a handful, it’s a phenomenon. Today, everyone knows there are Israelis joining the Palestinians.” Snitz believes that up to 20 per cent of the protesters are Israeli.
The trend began in 2003 when Budrus, a small West Bank village, stood to lose a critical portion of its farm land to the construction of the Israeli Separation Wall. It was at that time Palestinian community organiser and Budrus-resident Ayed Morrar decided to shift gear away from the armed struggle that typified the Intifada, “and bring Palestinians back to a peaceful resistance”.
Morrar then did what many on both sides once considered unthinkable — he enlisted the help of Israelis.
“Israelis were asked to come to Budrus because with them they brought a level of media attention,” says Snitz, who has worked with Morrar from the start. Equally important, he explains: “The rules of engagement for the army are different if we are around. It is less likely to be lethal.”
Chief among Snitz and his network of Israeli activist’s efforts is disseminating information to news outlets about demonstrations, as well as organising weekly car lifts for protestors from downtown Tel Aviv to the West Bank. And when a protestor is arrested, no matter his or her nationality, hours are spent working with human rights lawyers to secure their release.
Morrar agrees Israelis participation in Budrus’ protests was influential in helping push back construction of the Separation Wall that was set to run through a sweeping patch of his village’s olive groves.
Israeli’s efforts have also become critical in other West Bank towns such as Nabih Saleh and Bilin, which after nearly six years of demonstrations, will see the Wall rerouted to give back a large portion of their agricultural land.
“Who knows where we would be right now if this kind of action was part of Israeli left wing politics 30 years ago,” says Snitz after attending a protest in the West Bank village of Nabih Saleh last weekend. “Perhaps it could have even forced the Israelis to finally settle with the Palestinians.”