Nov, 2017

Retired Israeli General Calls for A Two-State Solution

By: Sheldon Kirshner

Conditions are not yet ripe for Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate a peace agreement, but in the meantime, the Israeli government should adopt pragmatic measures to ensure that final-status talks will be possible in the future, says Amnon Reshef, the founder of Commanders for Israel’s Security, a non-partisan Israeli organization that promotes a two-state solution.

Reshef, a retired major-general, outlined his complex plan on October 25 at a forum in Toronto sponsored by Canadian Friends of Peace Now. He urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to borrow ideas from it so as to enhance prospects for a comprehensive accord with the Palestine Authority. He disclosed that Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman, widely regarded as a hawk, “shares a lot of our thoughts.”

Amnon Reshef

Peace is still a long way off, he cautioned, but Israel can improve the atmosphere by rejecting policies that perpetuate the territorial status quo and by taking concrete steps to restore Palestinian confidence in Israel’s commitment to a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Policies rooted in the status quo, he warned, engender dangerous illusions and could have disastrous consequences, such as the formation of a binational state in Israel.

Reshef urged Israel to finish the security fence, which passes along and juts into the West Bank. Israel started building it during the first years of the second Palestinian uprising, which claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Israelis. Having finished 60 percent of it, Israel has stopped construction of it due to pressure from far right-wing Israeli ministers who want to build yet more settlements in the West Bank.

The security fence near the West Bank town of Hebron

Though wary of some aspects of the 2002 Arab peace initiative — which calls for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories in exchange for peace and normalization with Arab League states — Reshef advised Israel to accept it with reservations.

He called on Netanyahu to hew to his 2009 formula of “two states for two peoples” so that Israel can continue to be a Jewish democratic state. More than half of Israeli Jews support the notion of Palestinian statehood, he noted, but only 17 percent think it’s feasible. Until an accord is reached, the Israeli army should be responsible for security in the West Bank, he said.

Israel should also freeze construction in settlements east of the security barrier and limit new construction in settlement blocs west of it, he went on to say.

Suggesting that Israel can protect itself without occupying the West Bank, Reshef said, “The Israeli public for the past 50 years has been brainwashed about the importance of the West Bank to Israel’s security.”

The West Bank

Israel should also try to improve the Palestinian economy in the West Bank and develop Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, which the Israeli government annexed in 1967.

Reshef, who has presented his detailed plan to the Palestinian Authority and the United States, formed Commanders for Israel’s Security three years ago, following the collapse of bilateral talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. By one estimate, 80 percent of retired Israeli army generals and former Shin Bet and Mossad officers subscribe to its program.

Now 79, Reshef founded it after writing Netanyahu a “nice and polite” letter urging him to break the political impasse with the Palestinian Authority. Following the publication of his letter, 103 former generals expressed support for his views. Since then, 270 retired generals, ex-Mossad and Shin Bet officers and former policemen have endorsed his plank.

Reshef is a war hero.

On October 6, 1973, he was a colonel in the Israeli army, commanding the 14th Armored Brigade in the Sinai Peninsula. On that afternoon, 90,000 Egyptian troops attacked Israeli military positions along the Suez Canal, igniting the three-week Yom Kippur War. By the time reinforcements arrived, 82 of his 500 soldiers had been killed and 80 of his 85 tanks had been destroyed.

Amnon Reshef, center, discusses strategy with General Ariel Sharon during the Yom Kippur War

Nine days later, in the bloodiest battle ever fought by Israel, he and his men engaged the Egyptians at a place known as the “Chinese Farm.”

“His brigade suffered more fatalities than any other Israeli brigade in the war, more than 300,” writes Abraham Rabinovich in The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle East. “It had borne the brunt of the Egyptian crossing (of the Suez Canal) on Yom Kippur and of the battle for the Chinese Farm.”

May, 2017

Generals devise plan to save two-state solution

 

A group of high ranking retired officers from Israel’s military and security establishment has a plan for keeping Israel safe while holding the door open for an eventual two-state solution.

This was the message brought to Toronto Jewish audiences on May 16 and 17 by Michael Koplow, Director of the Israel Policy Forum, the American partner for the Commanders for Israel’s Security. Koplow spoke at Toronto’s Darchei Noam Synagogue, as well as at a more intimate luncheon gathering, both events hosted by Canadian Friends of Peace Now.

                                Michael Koplow, Director, Israel Policy Forum

The Commanders is a group of 270 former generals (85% of all retired Israeli generals), as well as top retired staff from the IDF, Mossad and Shin Bet, deeply concerned about the weaknesses in Israel’s current security policies and the slide towards a one-state reality. They have put together a comprehensive plan to address these concerns in a document entitled Security First (for full document READ HERE.).

Koplow pointed out that the Commanders group sees no prospects for an early Israel-Palestine peace settlement, because the leaders on both sides are very far from ready to make the necessary compromises. As for President Trump’s talk of the “ultimate deal,” Koplow said the chances of that happening soon are “very,very low”. Therefore, interim measures are necessary to deal with both the here and now and the desired end game.

One of the important elements in the Commanders’ plan addresses the issue of gaps in the security fence (actually a series of fences and walls) Israel has built to limit terror attacks. A full 39 kilometres of the fence have not been completed — and this is neither inconsequential nor accidental. The Israeli right has resisted closing the gaps, for to do so would likely preclude further settlement east of the barrier — particularly expansion in the Ma’ale Adumim and Gush Etzion areas. But the gaps have allowed more terrorists and illegal weapons to slip into Israel than would otherwise have been the case.

The Commanders’ plan not only calls for the fence to be completed, but also for a unilateral Israeli settlement freeze east of the fence. Expansion would be permitted only within the settlement blocs and then only in already built-up areas. However, some minor adjustments to the barrier’s route are necessary to prevent provocative expansion near existing border settlements — expansion that would severely prejudice the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state. And without territorial contiguity, a credible Palestinian state could not emerge, which would be highly detrimental to Israel’s long term security.

The Commanders’ proposed unilateral settlement freeze should not be confused with a unilateral withdrawal such as occurred in Gaza. Instead, under Security First, the IDF would remain in the West Bank until a final status agreement can be achieved. The plan does not stipulate a Palestinian quid pro quo to the proposed settlement freeze because Israel’s security needs alone dictate the necessity for a freeze. It should not be contingent on Palestinian Authority actions or inactions.

Another of the Commanders’ recommendations concerns Palestinian housing. Under the Oslo Agreement, the West Bank is divided into areas A,B and C. With a small shift between areas B and C, the Palestinians would be able to legally build a significant amount of new housing — homes that are currently deemed illegal and hence demolished by Israeli authorities. The status quo harms the Palestinian economy and the lives of its citizens, playing into the hands of Hamas, but also jeopardizing cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces. A small zoning change could turn a lose-lose situation into a win-win confidence building measure.

The Commanders group stresses the need for a two-state solution as the only way going forward to keep Israel both democratic and largely Jewish, with a clear and recognized border. While not on the immediate agenda, the two-state solution must be implemented without too much delay, as demographics are not on Israel’s side. Security First envisions Israel retaining about 3.6% of the West Bank (the carefully designated border settlement blocs) and compensating the Palestinians via land swaps in a final status agreement. This means Ariel — an Israeli settlement bloc deep in the heart of Palestine — would not remain part of Israel. Such a concession is necessary if the Palestinians are to have a territorially contiguous, though largely demilitarized, state.

Canadians will have a chance to hear more about the Commanders’ plan when CFPN brings its head, Maj. Gen. Amnon Reshef (res.) to Canada in the fall. Stay tuned.

 

Listen to the audio of Michael Koplow’s May 16 talk in Toronto:


Click here to read a transcript of Koplow’s talk.

Also, read Michael Koplow’s excellent weekly column here.

UPDATE: Since Michael Koplow’s talk in Toronto, news reports have revealed that the Israeli government is considering changes to zoning regulations in Area C that, at least in part, move in the direction the Commanders have been advocating. It would mean more legal Palestinian housing construction. If only the government were open to the more pivotal proposals from the Commanders

April, 2017

Peace Now exposes more government collusion
with settlement enterprise

With much fanfare, the Netanyahu government recently announced a policy of “restrained” settlement building as a show of good will to the White House. Peace Now‘s analysis demonstrates it’s all smoke and mirrors and that, in practice, settlement can continue apace.

The policy states construction will be limited to the “built-up area” of a settlement, with use of adjacent or nearby lands supposedly only as a last resort. This makes it sound as if the growth will be fairly circumscribed.

However, many West Bank settlements tend to be amoeba-like. Definitions of “built-up areas” can be fuzzy. Many settlements have far-flung “neighbourhoods” that, if used as the basis for the “construction line,” would permit massive expansion, allowing the settlements to grow many times over. In effect, the policy enables settlers to build everywhere – inside, adjacent to or outside their settlements. The fact that the settler council has expressed satisfaction over the new policy shows it to be a bogus restraint.

The map below of the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim illustrates the problem. The yellow line indicates the built-up area. The black line shows the location of the security fence. The blue shading shows the jurisdictional area of the settlement. All this could potentially be used for new construction.

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For more details on this issue Read Here

Adding insult to injury

To add insult to injury, the Israeli cabinet recently gave the green light to three major settlement initiatives. These are: 1) the establishment of a new settlement, deep in the West Bank and for the first time since 1991; 2) the publication of tenders for nearly 2,000 housing units; 3) and the declaration of almost 1,000 dunams as “public lands,” otherwise termed “state lands,” that will enable the retroactive legalization of three outposts located north of Ramallah and deep in the West Bank. Peace Now has vigorously protested these actions.

Secret mechanisms behind illegal outposts

Peace Now research reveals a whole system of dubious mechanisms that enable settlers to construct outposts and unauthorized buildings while the government winks and colludes. Since the mid-1990s settlers built nearly 100 illegal outposts and built dozens of neighbourhoods and illegal projects.Peace Now‘s data exposes a process parallel to official planning that bypasses the law. The Israeli government enables the illegal system to exist by cooperating directly with three settler bodies, by abstaining from law enforcement or prosecution and by retroactively legalizing illegal constructions. Through these mechanisms, Israeli governments have allowed a small group of settlers to set Israel’s settlement policy and thereby determine the future of Israel.

For a summary of the report: Click Here
______________________________________________________________

Mark your calendar: Upcoming CFPN Events

Montreal, May 3, Time TBD

Denis Charbit-speaker at the Segal Centre (5170 Ch de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine).

Ottawa, May 7, 3:30 pm

Colliding Dreams: feature documentary on evolution of Zionism. St Paul Univ. Auditorium, 223 Main St., Ottawa. $15 pre-registered, $20 at door, $10 students. Register at collidingdreams2017.eventbrite.ca. More info.:goliger@rogers.com.

Toronto, May 16, 7:30pm

Israel at Risk: Preserving the Two State Option. Joint CFPN/Darchei Noam lecture event with Dr. Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum. At Darchei Noam, 864 Sheppard Ave West. $5. Please register online; details available soon.

More info: info@peacenowcanada.org

March 24, 2017

CFPN sponsors new youth education project in Israel

Peace Now staffer Yotam Yaakoba talks to youth about realities beyond the Green Line.

Peace Now staffer Yotam Yaakoba talks to youth about realities beyond the Green Line.

Recent opinion polls show a disturbing trend among Israeli youth: they are becoming more hawkish and less concerned about peace, democracy and human rights. To help counter this trend, Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) in Israel is running an educational project aimed at Israelis, aged 17-19, who are in their “gap year” – between high school and military service. The project – funded by Canadian Friends of Peace Now – will expose about 2,000 youths to a different narrative about peace building and democracy than that which they normally receive.

Normally, Israeli high school students have very little exposure to the reality beyond the Green Line. Their education is based on a highly one-sided narrative – one which erases the Green Line, demonizes Palestinians and creates rifts between different groups inside Israeli society. As a result, they are prey to hard liners. Even those inclined to dovish views may be handicapped because of being isolated and vulnerable if going against the establishment message.
Over the next five months, Shalom Achshav will hold a series of talks onpeace and democracy issues for gap-year youth throughout the country. Dynamic speakers from among Shalom Achshav staff and volunteers will be the presenters. It is hoped the participants will gain resources, tools and peer support to become peace champions and change-makers of the future. Canadian Friends of Peace Now is proud to be a partner in this important project.
New data show sharp rise in settlement construction in 2016
 

On March 22, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS) published its data on construction starts for 2016. According to the ICBS, during 2016, 2,630 housing construction starts took place in West Bank settlements. This is a 40% (39.6%) increase compared to 2015 (1,901).

Furthermore, this is the second highest number of construction starts in the past 15 years (since 2001). The only year during which more construction starts took place was 2013 (2,874). It is worth noting that the 2016 figure is likely to grow, as the ICBS updates its data in the months after its publication.

On average, since 2001, 1,790 housing units begin to be constructed in West Bank settlements each year. In 2016, construction starts surpassed the yearly average by 840 housing units.

Based on ICBS data, since Netanyahu took office in 2009, over 14,000 (14,017) housing units began to be constructed in the settlements.

Peace Now“the sharp increase in settlement construction sends a clear message to the Palestinians and to the international community that Israel is not interested in a two-state solution. Since Netanyahu took office in 2009, over 14,000 housing units were constructed in the settlements, and last year alone, 2,600 housing units began to be constructed – 40% more than in the previous year. By speeding up settlement construction, Netanyahu is leading Israel towards becoming an apartheid state.” 
Have a listen to PeaceCast – enlightening podcasts from Americans for Peace Now
If you care about Israel, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, about Israel’s future as a democracy and a Jewish state, this podcast is for you. Episodes feature experts, activists, advocates and scholars whose work or passion is Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Some sample shows:
Missed opportunities and de facto annexation: A conversation with Galia Golan
Trump, Netanyahu & American Jews: A conversation with Alon Pinkas
The 50-year tipping point: Interview with Oded Haklai
The Azaria trial, the IDF & Israeli society: Interview with Amos Guiora
Click here for the page: click for podcast
March 21, 2017

New format for letter to consulate: Israel’s appalling travel ban

March 21, 2017.
Dear Friends,
Last week we sent out a notice urging you to protest Israel’s new travel ban through a letter or an email to the Israeli ambassador to Canada. We have since discovered that the embassy does not make it very simple to receive such feedback by email. The “Contact Us” page consists of a form, with a space for your message. But this message has to be no more than 250 characters. Also, the form does accept certain characters, including apostrophes. We therefore provide below a very brief message that you can use and that still makes the point.
Thank you for your patience and persistence.
 Gabriella Goliger
for Canadian Friends of Peace Now
Israel’s travel ban violates its founding values, including a guarantee of freedom of conscience. A healthy democracy tolerates dissent. The ban will not get rid of boycotts. It will alienate more people, many Jews among them. A bad and foolish law.
To email this letter to the ambassador, go to the embassy’s web site HERE and fill out “Contact us” form.
March 17, 2017

We urge you to help: Israel’s appalling travel ban.

Dear friend,
We are urging our supporters, and all Jews who value a democratic Israel, to write to the Israeli ambassador to Canada and protest the new travel ban legislation. A proposed letter is below, but you can put the concerns expressed into your own words. Our recent statement on the travel ban is also appended below as background. We also urge you to share our statement and proposed letter as widely as possible.
We hope you will join us in this important campaign.
Thank you,
Canadian Friends of Peace Now
To: Ambassador Nimrod Barkan
Embassy of Israel in Canada
50 O’Connor St.
Ottawa, ON K1P 6L2
 
Dear Ambassador Barkan,
 
I’m writing to register my concern about the erosion of democratic principles in Israel. The recently passed law to deny entry into Israel to individuals based on their views is a clear attempt to punish political speech. A healthy democracy tolerates dissent and does not apply such political litmus tests at its borders. The new law violates the vision set out in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which vowed the nation would guarantee, among other things, freedom of conscience. 
 
Sincerely,
 
[your name and contact info]
To email this letter to the ambassador, go to the embassy’s web siteHERE and fill out “Contact us” form.
Background information: Canadian Friends of Peace Now statement on the travel ban
 
Israel’s new travel ban is neither Jewish nor democratic
Canadian Friends of Peace Now strongly condemns the new Israeli legislation, adopted March 6 by the Knesset, that bans entry to foreign nationals who support or publicly engage in boycotts of either Israel or West Bank settlements.
Anyone who values freedom of expression – whether he or she agrees with boycotts or not – should be appalled by this law. Especially disturbing is that it applies equally to those who advocate a blanket boycott of Israel and those who restrict their actions to settlement products. There are staunch friends of Israel, including many Jews, who believe a settlement boycott is a necessary means to push for a two-state solution. Whether they are right or wrong is not the issue. To bar their entry is both draconian and foolish, sending the message that Israel cannot tolerate dissent and strengthening the hand of those who truly seek the demise of the Jewish state.
As our parent organization, Shalom Achshav/Peace Now says:
“The law ….is neither Jewish nor democratic….Through this law the Bennetyahu government will not prevent boycott but, rather, deteriorate Israel’s international standing and lead Israel towards international isolation.” 
March 10, 2017

Peace Now launches legal action
against expropriation law

Israel's Supreme Court also sits as the High Court of Justice. In this capacity, it has original jurisdiction over civil rights cases filed by citizens against government entities such as administrative agencies.

Israel’s Supreme Court also sits as the High Court of Justice. In this capacity, it has original jurisdiction over civil rights cases filed by citizens against government entities such as administrative agencies.

Together with other organizations,Peace Now has submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice against Israel’s new expropriation law, passed on Feb. 6, 2017 and also known as the legalization law or the regulation law. The law allows for the expropriation of private Palestinian land in the West Bank. The petitioners requested the High Court to issue an interim injunction, which would prevent the implementation of land expropriation processes until a final decision is issued by the Court.

The petition elucidates the ways in which the expropriation law violates basic human rights and contradicts Israeli law and international humanitarian law, as well as provisions of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Violations of the Rome Statute could put officers, MKs and Israeli citizens at risk of being tried in the International Criminal Court.

As revealed in data collected by Peace Now, the law could lead to the expropriation of over 8,000 dunams (approximately 2,000 acres) of private land on which there are illegal settlement structures, and tens of thousands of dunams of agricultural lands used by settlers. The lands slated for expropriation are owned by thousands of Palestinians, if not tens of thousands, many of whom are represented in the petition through Palestinian local councils. The law does not permit Palestinians, who did not elect the parliament that decided to expropriate their lands, to resist the expropriation procedure.

The Knesset passed the law despite the clear and stated opposition of the Attorney General, the Knesset Legal Advisor and the legal adviser to the Ministry of Defense.

The legislation process itself exceeds the authority of the Knesset, which is not authorized to regulate the land laws outside of the sovereign borders of the State of Israel. To date, and for nearly 50 years, Knesset legislation in relation to the West Bank was limited to individual legal rights – applying only to Israeli citizens who live in the West Bank – while legislators refrained from directly administrating the area itself. Legislating this law is a clear act of sovereignty, and thus constitutes unlawful annexation.

Peace Now states: “We felt compelled to submit this petition, both because of the far reaching implications of the law on the two state solution and because of its implications on Israel’s moral values. We refuse to let the Israeli government turn stealing into its official policy. We refuse to let the Knesset expropriate lands from Palestinians who are not represented in the legislative process which they are victims of. We refuse to allow the extreme right wing government to stain Israel’s law books.” 

March 10, 2017

Israel’s new travel ban is neither
Jewish nor democratic

Canadian Friends of Peace Now strongly condemns the new Israeli legislation, adopted March 6 by the Knesset, that bans entry to foreign nationals who support or publicly engage in boycotts of either Israel or West Bank settlements.
Anyone who values freedom of expression – whether he or she agrees with boycotts or not – should be appalled by this law. Especially disturbing is that it applies equally to those who advocate a blanket boycott of Israel and those who restrict their actions to settlement products. There are staunch friends of Israel, including many Jews, who believe a settlement boycott is a necessary means to push for a two-state solution. Whether they are right or wrong is not the issue. To bar their entry is both draconian and foolish, sending the message that Israel cannot tolerate dissent and strengthening the hand of those who truly seek the demise of the Jewish state.
As our parent organization, Shalom Achshav/Peace Now says:

“The law ….is neither Jewish nor democratic….Through this law the Bennetyahu government will not prevent boycott but, rather, deteriorate Israel’s international standing and lead Israel towards international isolation.”
February 7, 2017

New land grab law unjust and dangerous 

Canadian Friends of Peace Now utterly condemns the outrageous new law passed by the Israeli Knesset which legalizes illegal settler construction on private Palestinian land.

The measure retroactively allows outright theft by settlers, giving post facto authorization to 55 West Bank settlement outposts that were illegally built by settlers on land recognized by the State of Israel as privately-owned by Palestinians.

The legislation contradicts commitments of successive Israeli governments to remove illegal settler construction and to not establish new settlements. It gives settlers a green light and an incentive to expand settlements not only on the approximately 50% of the West Bank that Israel has previously found “legal” ways to take control of, but also on land that Israel recognizes as privately owned by Palestinians.  And it confirms that Israel does not respect the basic right of Palestinians to own property, when that property is coveted by the settlers.

We salute Peace Now, which, together with other progressive Israeli organizations, will petition the Supreme Court to overturn this dangerous legislation.

As Peace Now in Israel puts it “this law..makes theft on official Israeli policy and stains the Israeli law books. By giving a green light to settlers to build illegally on private Palestinian land, the legalization law is another step towards annexation and away from a two state solution. In light of this madness, we must act as the responsible adults and turn to the Supreme Court in order to strike down this dangerous law.”

February 2017

Introducing Peace Now activists

Teen group leader undaunted by uphill slog

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Last summer, 17-year-old Aaron Schorr, a neophyte to political activism, stepped into the lion’s den. He volunteered for aPeace Now information stand in downtown Jerusalem, where the mood these days is tense, hawkish and generally hostile to left-wing messages. As Aaron handed out anti-occupation literature, two Haredi (ultra-orthodox) teens confronted him. Wasn’t he ashamed to belong to such a traitorous movement, they scolded. How could he talk about Palestinian rights? After all, Torah taught Jewish supremacy over the gentiles.

Though Aaron was bare-headed and looked typically secular, to the Haredi boys’ astonishment, he countered their Jewish supremacy “nonsense,” as he calls it, with quote after quote after quote from Biblical sources. His opponents went away marvelling that a lefty could be so conversant in scripture. Little did they know that though he’d left religion, Aaron had been raised orthodox. De-bunking their stereotype was a tiny victory perhaps, but still, for Aaron, a step forward in the long, uphill slog to change Israeli attitudes.

“Even just convincing people we’re not the enemy is progress,” he says.

Healthy outlook
Despite his youth and inexperience (he’s been a Peace Now volunteer only for nine months), Aaron has developed a wisdom beyond his years, a healthy blend of idealism and realism.

“Growing up in Israel, it’s drilled into you that war is a given, that you can’t makepeace with the Palestinians, that their culture sanctifies death, and so on. But I don’t believe that. England and France were at war for 1,000 years and they get along now. We made peace with Egypt, which wanted to destroy Israel. I believepeace with the Palestinians is both possible and absolutely necessary. I’m not under the illusion it will come soon. Neither side is ready for it. But maybe in my lifetime, if both sides try to make it happen. That’s what keeps me going through the tougher bits of what we’re doing.”

Born in Jerusalem to left-leaning orthodox parents who’d emigrated to Israel from America, Aaron was raised with a social conscience. By seventh grade he regularly read newspapers and took part in family discussions. He went to a religious high school in Jerusalem and it was there that he began to grow a thick skin, for his liberal views collided with those of his peers. He lost friends, received threats, was called “every conceivable name on earth.” The experience seems to have been good training for Peace Now work.

Last summer, Aaron answered the call for recruits to the newly established youth department at Peace Now. He began attending chat groups and meetings. He volunteered for those information stands in the middle of town. In September 2016, when the head of the fledgling youth group had to leave for army service, the leadership position was offered to Aaron. Though he’d never done such work before, he leaped at the chance. For the past five months, he has facilitated meetings and activities – many online – and nurtured contacts with Israeli high school students from across the country. The teen group is small, with only about 30 members, a number Aaron constantly tries to increase through person-to-person outreach. He fits in this volunteer work with his first-year studies at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, where he enrolled last semester. Bringing the Peace Now message to high school students is a Herculean task, Aaron well knows, both from his own experiences and those of the young people he coaches. Israel has turned sharply right in recent years, especially among youth, and peer pressure is tough to withstand. Still Aaron remains undaunted, grateful for those small successes. He’s thankful too for the practical skills he’s attained while withPeace Now, the insight he’s gained into Israel’s political system and society, and the opportunity to contribute to a cause he fervently believes in.

However, soon these efforts will go on hold. In March, Aaron will start his army service, which means both his studies and volunteer work will have to wait. PeaceNow will have to appoint a replacement to the youth group leadership position. That’s just how things are in Israel. It’s just one of the realities Peace Now takes in its stride. But the youth activists aren’t necessarily “lost” forever. In their post-army lives they may end up serving the movement in some way. For example, one of Peace Now‘s former activists has become a Ha’aretz reporter who specializes in civil society issues. And as the story below shows, military service can transform some Israelis into ardent doves.

 Eran Nissan: combat soldier turned peacenik

Eran Nissan with Peace Now’s settlement map.

Though there’s no such thing as a typical Israeli, Eran Nissan, 26, might be considered one. With a father from Iran and a mother from a European, post-Holocaust family, Eran’s background embodies the Israeli melting pot and also the trauma baggage of both Mizrachi and Ashkenazi Jews. Plus, like so many Israelis, he measures his young life against conflict reference points: the first Gulf War, the second Intifada, the various Gaza campaigns. Like most Israelis of his generation too, he grew up in a state of both acute awareness and denial: aware of security threats and the need for a strong army, but only dimly conscious of Palestinian realities across the Green Line, just a few kilometres away from his home town near Kfar Saba.

It was army service that opened his eyes.

Called up in 2009, Eran became a combat soldier in the Canine Unit, pursuing terrorist threats on the northern and southern borders and as well as in that borderless place, the West Bank. He was proud of helping keep his country safe and even signed up to stay an extra year, so that he completed four full years of service instead of the usual three. However, during his details on the West Bank, he grew increasingly uneasy with the “futility of the conflict.”

“I participated in a lot of arrests, going into Palestinian villages…violent clashes with the population. I became convinced we don’t belong there. I realized it’s not healthy to occupy by force a population that is 95% non-combatant. Yes, there are real dangers [from terrorists], but most Palestinians just want to get on with their lives. Every Israeli and Palestinian deserves to live in dignity and peace.”

The occupation was breeding hostility, Eran felt, creating a never-ending cycle of violence. To his dismay he saw the settler movement and the “ultra-right, messianic, racist forces” gaining momentum. About three years ago, shortly after completion of his army service, he decided to join Peace Now. He was attracted to the movement because it had been started by soldiers (in 1978) and because it had a clear end-game agenda: the two-state solution.

Dedication
Now a second-year student at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Eran acts as head of field operations for Peace Now in the southern region. He helps organize protest rallies, group discussions — especially among students — and other activities to educate the public. He works with a small but dedicated cadre of volunteers.

When asked whether he’s successful, or whether he just hits a brick wall with his educational efforts, Eran says “both.” Often people “warm up” after encounteringPeace Now‘s well-researched, well-presented data on settlement growth and the attendant consequences. He draws heart from the fact that opinion polls consistently show a majority of Israelis favour a two-state solution. Still, he doesn’t underplay the right-wing trends in the country or the deep mistrust, on both sides, that he feels is at the heart of the conflict. What’s needed is a process of confidence building measures, he says. Instead the opposite is happening with settlement expansion, annexation of Palestinian land and desperate Palestinian acts in response.

In no way does Eran condone violence, but he asks those who put all the blame on the Palestinian side: “What would you do if you were in their shoes?”

He is sure that “when we declare a sincere wish to negotiate and stop the settlement enterprise, we will find counterparts on the other side.”

Eran believes many of his fellow citizens realize the status quo cannot go on indefinitely. He intends to do everything in his power to help persuade them that, after 50 years of occupation, it’s time for Israel to choose a more sustainable future.