December 5, 2009 by cgsstlouischapter
A report written by Dorothy Poor which appeared in the October 2009 newsletter of the St. Louis chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), pages 3-4.
A panel of five with input from the audience of 85 listeners took on the question “Israeli-Palestinian Peace: Possibility or Dream?” and when the evening was over the question mark remained. But most in attendance seemed to relish the exchange of information and ideas sweetened by an array of delicious cookies.
WILPF sponsored the program October 7, 2009 at the University City Library auditorium. Moderator Jane Mendelson introduced the panelists: Repps Hudson, former Post-Dispatch reporter and Washington U. adjunct professor of “Readings on the Arab-Israeli Conflict;” Mazen Badra, Palestinian peace activist who teaches at Sanford-Brown College and Webster U.; Robert Cohn, former editor of The Jewish Light; Gloria Gordon of Brit Tzedek; and Michael Berg, U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation and St. Louis Instead-of-War.
The six minutes allotted each speaker in the beginning allowed no time for longwinded exposition, and timekeeper Suzanne Reinhold was promptly acknowledged at her signal.
Hudson remarked at the start that” the problem probably won’t be settled in the next 20 years.” The strong alliance between the U.S. and Israel will continue, he said, and the problems don’t lend themselves to simple solutions.
Badra said we need to stay hopeful for a peaceful solution and look for ways to exist without killing each other. He decried the growth of Jewish settlements on the West Bank – some 500,000 people – and said that in Jerusalem the Palestinians fear there’s a policy to uproot them. It’s important to be mindful of the points of view of people in the streets, he said.
Cohn took us back about 4,000 years to King David, Solomon and the two oldest sons of Abraham to illustrate how long Jews have been around the disputed area.
Gordon described Brit Tzedek, a Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, as a grassroots effort to educate Jews in support of resolving the conflict, and J Street as a new political lobby in Washington to work for a two-state solution. The effort includes re-defining “pro-Israel” not to mean “Israel right or wrong.” Gordon said major focus is on an Israeli majority favoring a two-state solution, and support of a government with clout, i.e. supporting President Obama in his effort to help official leaders negotiate a peace treaty.
Berg emphasized the devastating effects of encroaching settlements, checkpoints, and denial of human rights to Palestinians. He condemned the U.S. complicity of providing Caterpillar bulldozers used to destroy homes and olive orchards. As a nonviolent action he suggested boycott, divestment and sanctions.
Discussion on the next best steps to peace brought these comments:
Berg: The most important step is to stop military and economic aid until Israel complies with international laws. It might be reasonable for settlers to stay in the West Bank if they’re willing to live under Palestinian laws. The U.S. needs to exert real pressure.
Hudson: Positions on all sides have hardened and middle ground seems to be gone. But suicide bombings have gone down; there’s not so much killing, and that’s why the Wall exists.
Badra: I think Israel has a right to build a Wall, but don’t build it on my land, build it on your land. This Wall cuts off Palestinians from their land, their mosques, hospitals, and schools.
Cohn: Sanctions don’t work; they just make people more united against the users. They won’t work against Iran.
Gordon: Peace is a clear possibility, but to achieve it strong support will have to be given for Obama’s program. Sign and send the pledge “I’ve Got Your Back” to President Obama, and participate in the J Street conference October 25-28 to lobby for a two-state solution.
About ten people from the audience then formed a line up front, and each was allowed a minute to ask a question of the panel or make a comment. The first question referred to the Goldstone Report on possible war crimes committed by the Israelis and Hamas during the assault on Gaza, and asked why the U.S. has so far ignored it. Hudson said he thought the president had enough to consider without dealing with that report and Cohn concurred, saying that the president is already bogged down with war crimes. Berg and Badra disagreed, and Badra said Palestinians were furious that their own officials refused to support the follow-up.
Regarding the future of Jerusalem, Hudson said most Israelis don’t believe the city should be partitioned. “That’s the reality today.”
Anna Baltzer, author of Witness in Palestine: a Jewish American Women in the Occupied Territories, said, “The entire state of Palestine is under the control of Israel. What would happen if you just gave everyone the same rights? Would that justify denial of rights to Christians and Muslims?”
Steve Best asked, “What would happen if the settlers on the West Bank were told they could stay where they are, provided they are willing to live under Palestinian laws?”
Ron Glossop, Citizens for Global Solutions, picked up on Berg’s suggestions and asked, “Why not have the U.S. say to Israel: ‘You have to stop settlements, and if you don’t, we’ll cut down on financial assistance’?”
Fortunately, answers to the what ifs and why nots weren’t expected. With only minutes remaining before library closing time the program ended in a round of applause for the panel members, who joined the audience for cookies and conversation. WILPF hopes the talking continues.
The WILPF committee included Joan Botwinick, Louise Green, Betsy Hamra, and Mary Jane Schutzius, as well as moderator Jane Mendelson and timekeeper Suzanne Reinhold.