Bereaved Israelis Spearhead Fight for Peace
Israeli families who lost relatives in Palestinian attacks or during the wars with the Arabs are spearheading the push for a peace agreement at the Camp David summit.
In Tel Aviv's Yitzhak Rabin Square, these pacifists have set up a huge marquee where, over the last ten days, hundreds of people, including a great many Palestinians, have come night after night to express their support.
These bereaved families have collected thousands of signatures calling for a peace agreement at the Camp David summit. This, they argue, is the only way "to bring security to Israel".
Yitzhak Frankenthal, 49, who set up the "association of bereaved relatives for tolerance," which now has 145 members, lost his son Arik, a soldier in a unit that was kidnapped and killed in 1995 near Jerusalem by a member of Palestinian commando unit of the Hamas Islamic Resistance Movement.
"Our main objective is to cure Israelis of their fear of the Arabs. It is mainly because of this fear that people refuse to pay the price of peace," he said.
"Those like me who have known the worst possible tragedy and work nevertheless for peace are living proof that this fear can be overcome," he added.
In that spirit, his association meets regularly with families of Palestinians who have lost their children in anti-Israeli attacks.
Orna Shimoni'son was killed in Lebanon in 1997. After her son's disappearance, this energetic 60-year-old became a leading figure in the debate over an Israeli pullout from Lebanon.
"We won, but at the start the politicians were almost all against this withdrawal and I felt alone against everyone, like a Don Quixote figure," she said.
"This time round, we are leading a struggle that is not against the government but for it, and at least one Israeli in two supports us," she says.
That does not necessarily make the task any easier as long as the Israeli government fails to demonstrate that it can deliver peace on acceptable terms.
"It is hard to mobilize support among people for a peace deal that still has to be worked out," said Frankenthal, who laments "the powerlessness of the peace camp" in the face of the propaganda bombardment from the nationalist right wing.
The right's supporters gathered on July 16th in the very same Rabin Square, with some 150,000 demonstrators, and are covering the country with posters and banners denouncing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak for giving away too much and accusing him of "leading the country to destruction".
In a sign of the disarray in the "peace camp" in Israel, the main pacifist organization "Peace Now" has provisionally called a massive turnout next Saturday evening to welcome Barak home from Camp David with a peace deal in his pocket.
If he comes back empty-handed, the event could be cancelled, one of the movement's officials, Dalia Golan, told AFP - OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)