Signs of Life :: Activists Seek Peace in Gaza
Activists Seek Peace in Gaza
|Supporters of conscientious objectors outside of a prison.|
In the wake of the death and destruction that resulted from the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, there is a positive story that has received little attention: People of conscience from around the world are organizing to support human rights in Palestine.
While there has been little sympathy in the international community for the extremist Hamas organization that came to power in the crowded Palestinian territory a year and a half ago, there has been widespread recognition that Palestine’s civilian population should not be subjected to massacre. More than 1,300 Palestinians, close to half of whom were civilians, died during the Israeli assault in December and January, compared to 13 Israelis (three civilians).
In the United States, which provides Israel with most of its weaponry, an unprecedented number of peace and human rights groups mobilized their memberships to challenge the Bush administration and Congress in their support of the war. Liberal pro-Israel groups like Americans for Peace Now (APN), Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, and J Street countered more conservative groups—who rallied in support of the attacks—by pushing for an immediate cease-fire.
When the House of Representatives passed a resolution defending Israel’s actions, a sizable number of representatives who had previously supported similar resolutions abstained as a result of phone calls, emails, online petitions, local demonstrations, and other constituent pressure. Activists believe these successes point to a growing understanding in the U.S. that Israeli security and Palestinian human rights are mutually dependent.
Within Israel, there was a series of antiwar demonstrations, some numbering in the thousands. Near the Gaza border, hundreds of residents of Sderot, an Israeli town that had been hit by Hamas rocket attacks, signed a petition calling for an end to the Israeli military operations.
Since the end of the fighting, an unprecedented amount of donations has poured in from around the world for relief organizations working in the Gaza Strip, and teams from human rights organizations have begun documenting war crimes.
Meanwhile, Israelis in growing numbers are questioning their government’s actions in light of emerging stories of loss and hardship suffered by Palestinians. Chief among these is the case of Ezzeldine Abuelaish, a prominent Palestinian doctor who lost three of his children after his house was hit during an Israeli missile strike on January 17. Among them was Abuelaish’s daughter, who had attended a summer camp in the United States designed to build trust and reconciliation among Israeli and Palestinian youth. Abuelaish is well-known in Israel for his peace activism. His story has triggered an outpouring of sympathy in the U.S., Israel, and Palestine, and served to mobilize efforts for peace and reconciliation.
—Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, where he chairs the Middle East Studies program.
|Photo courtesy Oren Ziv Photos / ActiveStills.org|
More than 70 Israeli high school seniors have refused to obey their legal requirement to serve in the military, and some have been jailed. On December 18, 22,000 letters of support were delivered to the Israeli Minister of Defense.
Refuseniks: Conscientious objectors speak out
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The organization Jewish Voice for Peace has launched a global movement on behalf of a group of over 70 Israeli high school seniors calling for Israel to recognize the rights of conscientious objectors. The students have refused to obey their legal requirement to serve in the military, and some have been jailed. In December, the group, called the Shministim, launched an online campaign asking for letters of support. On December 18, they delivered 22,000 letters to the Israeli Minister of Defense in Tel-Aviv. The group has continued to receive an outpouring of support: a total of 50,000 letters has come in from around the world since the campaign started.
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Turkey has for decades refused to acknowledge the 1915 events as genocide, and in recent weeks investigated the authors of the apology for possible violation of the Turkish penal code, which makes “insulting the Turkish people” a criminal offense. They have since found no grounds for prosecution.
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