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Peace & Justice Activists Face New Mid-east Realities

Peace & Justice Activists Face New Mid-east Realities image
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When Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook handsand Israel and the Palestina Liberation Organization (PLO) recognized each other, it was a milestone toward which a numberof local individuals had worked in several groups for many years. Now, with the goal of an independent and prosperous Palestine still unattained, these activists are debating the deal's worth and considering their roles in a changed situation. Rabia Shafie, a Palestinian woman, is the former president of Ann Arbor Palestine Aid Society (PAS), Ann Arbor's largest pro-Palestinian group. Shafie has apprehensionsabout the PLO's deal with Israel: "We have all been yeaming for peace for many years. But whether the agreement is based on equality and mutuality is the big question. l'm not sure that it is. It has some positive things in it, but it does not specifically recognize a Palestinian state." Shafie says that it remains to be seen whether the accord will lead to statehood or freeze the Palestinians into dependent Gaza and Jericho enclaves. Shealso notes that the refugees' return, political prisoners' release, Israeli settlementsandintemational borde rsare all unmentioned in the agreement. Shafie complained that the peace pacfs general tone assumes that "we are the troublemakers, that it is the Palestinians who committed the wrong." Shafie foresees no decrease in the need for PAS fundraising, despite a possible influx of international aid for Gaza and the West Bank. She doubts that such aid will be enough to meet the needs in areas from which Israel withdraws, and sees great unmet needs in Palestinian communities in Lebanon and elsewhere. Ann Arbor PAS, a local chapter of a national organization, draws most of its support from the community ratherthan the campus. It has strong roots among area Palestinians, but its activist core includes both Jews and Arabs. Sponsoring fundraising walkathons and dinners, PAS finances Palestinian institutions, most recently by sending over $10,000 per year to Gaza's Al Ahli Hospital. PAS also publishes a newsletter and conducts other educational work about Palestinian issues. Michael Appel is amemberof New Jewish Agenda (NJA), the first area Jewish group to cali on Israel to recognize the PLO. He cites Israeli recognition of the PLO and a lessening of the impact of the occupation" as positive steps, but "what this does is just narrow the agenda for the negotiations to come." Does the agreement vindícate Jewish peace activists? Appel says that "there's a piece of us that wants to say 'I told you so,' but I don't think we should yet. There's too much that can still derail this. There can still be bloodshed." Still, he says that "N JA can be proud" of its long-standing cali for Israel to recognize the PLO, for which ittookmuch abuse from other Je ws. He expects that old adversaries within Israel and the Jewish community will find other issues over which to malign Jewish peace activists: "Everyone will now be quizzed on Jerusalem, and anyone who doesn't say the 'righf thing will be put on the 'wrong' side of the line, just as for years the PLO was used in the same way." Despite the uncertainties, Appel is generally positive about the agreement: 'The left can't afford to be so critical of whaf s a step forward, even if f s not a big enough one, that we undermine the very goals we've been pushing for." Ann Arbor NJA recently voted to become independent of the national organization, and may change its name. However, its peace work will continue as negotiations proceed. Karima Bennoune, an Algerian-American U-M law student, is a leader of the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC). A local chapter of a national organization, Ann Arbor's PSC is a campus group which does educational work at U-M to promote the Palestinian cause. Bennoune worries that what the Palestinians get out of the peace process could be "so small that it sn't really viable." She also expresses concern about ongoing human rights abuses and the continued deten tion of thousands of political prisoners by the Israelis: "I give my support to the peace process, beca use we all want peace, but the key issue not to be overlooked is justice." Bennoune criticizes much of the mainstream news coverage of the agreement as racist: "Noble warrior Rabin, in his wisdom and oíd age has managed somehow to trust this crafty, little, devious, dark-skinned Arab, Arafat. The question that they ask is if Arafat can be trusted. Yet after many years of terrible Israeli human rights abuses in the occupied territories, nobody is asking the obvious other question, whether the Palestinians can trust the Israelis." Thisfall at U-M, PSC plans to bring in Palestinian speakers, including both supporters and detractors of the Rabin-Arafat accord. to analyze the new situation. The group is also making plans to observe Palestinian Independence Day on campus on November 15. ■ 1 or 21 years until last fali, former Black Panther political prisoner Ahmad AbdurRahman advocated Palestinian freedom from behindthewallsof Michigan'sprisonsystem. Nowhe edits the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ) newsletter, and is a popular speaker at local mosques. Only a small minority of local Muslims are Palestinian. But recently, Rahman said, Ann Arbor Muslims visitad Jerusalem's Al-Aksa mosque and other Islamic holy places in the West Bank. They found them n disrepair. International donations for mosques in the occupied territories have been funnelled through Jordán, but politics have prevented their effective use. With a gradual Israeli withdrawal, Rahman expects local Muslims to join a global effort to restore the shrines. Rahman criticizes the agreement as insufficient and undemocratic. He claims that although the religious militants of Harnas drove the Israelis out of Gaza, the deal tumstheareaovertoHamas's PLO rivals. He fears a neocolonial solution that creates Palestinian enclaves that will be economically and politically dependent. However, Rahman supports a peace agreement between Harnas and Fatah (the largest PLO faction), by which the groups agreed to disagree without using violence. On the local scène, Rahman calis changes in pro-Palestinian activity inevitable. To start, "this is going to change the focus of ICPJ's Middle East committee's work." Rose Hochman, a member of both PAS and NJA, also criticizes the process by which the agreement was reached as undemocratic, because the Palestine National Council was not consulted first. Still, she says that she is "of several minds" about its first results: "In spite of my criticisms and my pessimism, I couldn't help being very moved by the speeches and the handshake, and what has to be seen as the beginning of some sort of change." Hochman fears that there will be insufficient funding for a viable Palestinian state. Acknowledging the need for PAS or some other group to raise money for Palestine for many years to come, she doubts that it could be sufficient to sustain a country. She said that PAS might shift its emphasis from fundraising to education. Asked about how the agreement affects the status of peace activists within the Jewish community, Hochman said that it depends on which sectors of Jewish opinión are considered. Although the Israeli govemment has done what Jewish peace activists were once called traitors for advocating, she said that "the crazies will still be crazy. There are hawks and political rightists who have couched the peace issue in terms of national security for Israel, but they just use the issue and exaggerate it because they come from a very authoritarian and right-wing perspective."


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