Reuven Kaminer's book sets out to describe the emergence and the
growth of the protest movements in Israel in response to the
Palestinan Intifada and it is a pioneering work on the subject.
Kaminer's first forty pages provide a background for those protests
which started with the outbreak of the Intifada in December 1987,
on which the book concentrates. The narrative ends with the Madrid
Conference at the end of 1991. An Afterword, called "Measuring
Success and Failure," takes in the Oslo accords of September
Reuven Kaminer covers in some detail the activities of about a
dozen relatively small and radical protest organizations, like the
early leftish coalition Dai La'kibush (End the Occupation); the
Twenty-First Year, which tried to present a radical alernative to
Peace Now; Ad Kan (Up to Here), a group of militant academics at
Tel Aviv University; and various professional groups, including
psychologists and mental health workers, doctors, writers and
painters, university lecturers and teachers.
Though this information is well-researched, the movements which
stand out on the protest landscape, and correctly receive fullest
treatment, are Peace Now, Yesh Gvul (There Is a Limit) and Women in
Black. The author, himself a veteran peace activist, explains the
ups and downs of each, how they reacted to each other and their
special contribution to the wider peace movement.
Two of the most interesting and significant questions concerning
the politics of protest are first (and most important) how
effective was the peace movement, and what real influence did it
bring to bear on events; and second, whose evaluation was correct
in the discussions on policy between the large mainstream Peace Now
movement, which always operated within the confines of the law, and
the smaller more radical movements, especially Yesh Gvul, whose
members refused army service in Lebanon and the occupied
territories (selective refusal, not pacifism).
On the first question, the author is wary of characterizing the
peace movement's response to the Intifada as a success or a
failure, in spite of prior achievements, such as helping to force
Menachem Begin move towards the Camp David Accords in 1978, and
spearheading the protest against the Lebanon War from 1982. Before
the Israeli-PLO Declaration of Principles (DOP) of September 1993,
he thinks his book might have been called "Noble Try" or "Noble
Failure," but he sees the DOP as a historic breakthrough which bore
"the deep imprint of the peace movement."
Nevertheless, he believes that "the peace movement can shape the
history of an epoch, but it cannot shape its own history," since it
is not alone in the political arena, and many of the circumstances
which determine the capacity of voluntary movements to pressure the
authorities are not in their control. On the other hand, he notes
that "most people in Israel consider the current peace process with
all its limitations and complications as the crowning achievement
of the Israeli peace movement."
Accepting the Personal Challenge
Moreover, the peace camp was proven historically correct on two
counts: on the need at the political level for mutual
Israeli-Palestinian recognition, and on the unprecedented
cooperation at the operational level between Israelis and
Palestinians in the struggle against the Occupation. Here Kaminer
pays tribute to the many "stubbornly determined, devoted and
conscientious men and women" who accepted the personal challenge of
protest. In this he sees the "success story" of the peace
On the second question of Peace Now and the more radical groups,
Kaminer believes in the advantages of "unity in diversity." He sees
Yesh Gvul's "patriotic anti-militarism" as a new dimension in
Israel's political culture which exerted great moral authority by
virtue of the dedication and integrity of its adherents. With the
outbreak, in 1982, of the catastrophic Lebanon War (which
ironically was called "Operation Peace for Galilee" by the Begin
government), a radical group succeeded in bringing 20,000 people to
a protest rally. This in turn helped to encourage Peace Now, which
had feared that opposing the war might appear as disloyal to the
soldiers at the front, to organize a rally of over 100,000. Thus
the mainstream and the various currents of protest tended to
complement each other.
The author provides convincing evidence that the women's peace
movements in general, and especially Women in Black, were
particularly effective because of the unprecedented scope of their
vigils, the wide respect they earned in Israel and abroad, and
their ability to work together both with each other and with their
In September 1982 came the largest demonstration in Israel's
history, when Peace Now brought a crowd estimated at 400,000 to
protest the Sabra-Shatilla massacre and to demand Israeli
withdrawal from Lebanon. The Likud was then in power, and among the
speakers was Yitzhak Rabin. It was not until the Intifada some five
years later that tens of thousands were again to demonstrate at a
Peace Now rally in the same Tel Aviv square in January 1988,
demanding dialogue with the Palestinians instead of Rabin's attempt
to suppress the Intifada by force of arms.
Recognition of PLO Delayed
Though Peace Now played a leading role in opposing both the
Occupation and Jewish settlement in the occupied territories, it
took until 1988 for the mainstream movement to support negotiations
with the PLO. This enabled Peace Now to occupy much of the space
formerly taken up by more militant peace movements, and by the end
of 1989, Peace Now was supporting a two-state solution, leading to
what the author calls "the demise of the militants."
From the start, and all along the line, decisions were taken in
Peace Now with the utmost caution. It preferred internal agreement
to a "vanguard" style of leadership, and put up with periods of
lying low until goaded into activity by its own public opinion. It
was "a mood and not a movement," in the words of Tsali Reshef, one
of its founders and leaders, who failed to win a Knesset seat on
the Labor slate in the 1996 elections. Peace Now, as such, never
ran for the Knesset, though retaining close contact particularly
with MK's from the dovish wing of Labor and from Meretz. One might
add that the movement's strength came mainly from the
well-established Ashkenazi Jewish population.
'They Can Look for Me'
The last chapter dealing with controversies in the peace movement
over the Gulf War includes an account of Yossi Sarid's statement on
"the poisonous and sickening stench of the PLO position toward
Saddam Hussein ... every generation of Palestinian leaders made
every mistake possible ... I am still trying to maintain my human
image, but Arafat, Husseini and Oarawshe have no role in this ...
until further notice, they can, as far as I am concerned, look for
me" (reviewer's italics).
Kaminer notes that some considered these words of Sa rid, today
leader of the Meretz party, "patronizing and over-emotional," while
others saw them as unbalanced but politically logical. Attacking
the statement, Shulamit Aloni asked "whether the Israeli left had
done anything for the Palestinians," stating that "the government
continued to control the territories, to deny human rights, to
destroy and to kill, and we are a part of this because we did not
declare a rebellion ... we were the fig leaf of Israeli democracy
... the Palestinians do not owe us anything."
Zionism and the Peace Movement
Reuven Kaminer adds that while "Aloni never went so far as to
question the articles of her Zionist faith, she did reveal on more
than one occasion a level of understanding and sensitivity for the
'other' that transcended the traditional limits of nationalist
discourse and establishment politics."
The implication that "Zionist faith" needs questioning or is
intrinsically negative rings strange from an author who explains at
the beginning of his book that some of the greatest pre-State
Zionists, like Martin Buber and Judah Magnes, believed that "the
achievement of Arab-Jewish understanding was a precondition for the
success of the Zionist venture."
Their movement, the Ihud, failed, but their basic idea is still
very much alive, as long as the struggle for the peace process is
maintained. Otherwise, how can one explain what Kaminer himself
writes: "The mainstream Zionist force, Peace Now, expressed the
readiness for compromise and moderation in broad sections of the
electorate [playing a] pivotal role in Israeli protest activity." A
chronicle of the Israeli peace movement which sees Zionism and
peace as somehow incompatible is likely to become entangled in
insoluble contradictions. After all, within Zionist pluralism,
Buber is as much a part of the movement's history as Jabotinsky, so
that Peace Now had no need to question the articles of its Zionist
faith in order to play its pivotal role in the peace movement.
Could it be that on this subject the author permitted his own
political inclinations to overcome his general ability in this book
to write fairly and objectively?
One might add that Netanyahu's electoral victory, which came some
months after the publication of this book, is going to confront the
Israeli peace movement, which was less active during the
Labor-Meretz government, with new tests. In facing them, many of
the lessons of Kaminer's book may again be relevant.
In conclusion, Hebrew University professor of criminology, Stanley
Cohen, is right in stating that this book provides "a first
sustained account of how progressive Israelis reacted to the
uprising in the occupied territories, and a serious analysis of
how, despite major obstacles, forces developed within Israeli
society working towards a just solution of the Israeli-Palestinian
Reuven Kaminer's book is indeed highly recommended.