Stand Up For Peace

Joel Bleifuss

In March, the Israeli Defense Forces, on the instructions of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, entered cities and refugee camps in the Occupied Territories and rounded up a couple thousand Palestinian men and boys, ages 16 to 24. In a few of these operations, before being interrogated, prisoners were stripped to the waist, bound, blindfolded and marked with numbers on their arms and foreheads. The televised images of this human cataloging outraged some Israelis, particularly those who remember when they too, confined to ghettos, were corralled and marked with identifying numbers.

Responding to protests, Chief of Staff General Shaul Mofaz eventually halted the practice. It was badly received in the media, explained a Sharon spokesman. An editorial in Haaretz, noting that Mofazs action was very tardy, put it this way: The IDF caused deliberate suffering and humiliation to the broader Palestinian population. … Actions that harm the population and involve humiliations of civilians sabotage the chancesin any case minimalof reaching a cease-fire and eventually an agreement and reconciliation. … Instead of fanning the flames and sowing hatred, [the government] must increase its efforts to achieve calm and return to the political track.

The numerical marking of civilians in mass roundups received little attention in the United States. The Washington Post made a passing reference to the practice. The New York Times presented it as an allegation based on reports. After quoting ArafatIs that not what they say the Nazis did to the Jews?the Times let an Israeli army spokeswoman have the last word: This is an obscene and absurd statement which hardly warrants further response. End of story.

This eerie silence extends to the halls of Congress and the White House, where Sharons escalation of the war has evoked barely a murmur of protest. That is especially disturbing because Americans share complicity with the actions of Sharon and the Israeli military, which the United States funds to the tune of $1.3 billion a year.

Public opinion polls repeatedly show that a sizable majority of American Jews supports the peace process. A survey last October by Jewish Week found that 73 percent of those polled said it was in Israels interest for the United States to serve as a credible and effective facilitator of the peace process, even if that meant disagreements between the two countries.

Yet the powerful pro-Israel lobby brooks no criticism of either Israel or U.S. military aid. The key members of that lobby are the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. As Michael Massing pointed out recently in the American Prospect, these two organizations, which have the most influence on foreign policy, have had leaders who are far more conservative and hard-line than are most American Jews.

It is time for American Jews to repudiate groups like AIPAC and speak out against Sharons vision of greater Israel, the garrison state. And it is time for all Americans to ask that the United States leverage its very significant influence for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

The Bush administration has made tentative steps in that direction, supporting a U.N. resolution that called for creation of a Palestinian state and criticizing the Israeli incursions into the Occupied Territories as unhelpful. More is needed. One way to go would be to link progress toward peace negotiations with continued military support. Such linkage could pressure Sharon to accept Saudi Crown Prince Abdullahs proposal to trade land for peace.

An argument can be made that U.S. military aid to Israel violates the Arms Export Control Act, which holds that the U.S. government shall only sell or provide arms to countries if such military aid will strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace.

As it stands, continuing to support Sharons escalation of the conflict with the Palestinians does neither.

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Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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