In 1987, with the outbreak of the Intifada, the whole Israeli peace camp was on the streets. Arguments abounded and different slogans merged into each other, mixing into what seemed to be one harmonious call: Enough with the occupation. The arguments offered by different people in different circumstances didn't seem to matter much. The bottom line was that the military control of the occupied Palestinian territories must be put to an end. Then there was the human-rights argument which also fitted well. It seemed that there was no pragmatic reason to distinguish between all these arguments. Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a political way, and avoiding more war and bloodshed - these, after all, are essential to the protection of the human rights of anyone living in the area.
Eleven years later, the situation is more complex. The structure of oppression has changed dramatically. Power relations have not. Israeli elites found the way to achieve peace for themselves, but those realpolitik reasons that used to serve the struggle against the occupation, now justify injustice and violations of human rights. For most Israelis the status quo is convenient. The conflict does not intervene in their everyday life. Terror attacks within the Green Line are rare. The worst they suffer is, for the most part, car theft, and this is being dealt with intensively by the state.
Foreign aid to Israel continues, along with a good quality of life. Israelis don't have to face too many Palestinians: the closure ensures that. When serving in the army, they are not put in the disturbing and, sometimes, dangerous situations typical of the days of the Intifada. It is under these circumstances that the mettle of the Israeli peace movement is tested. Was it really concerned by human-rights violations, or were these violations just the blood-red coloring that sensationalized another cause, that of a solution that would leave Israel in peace, no matter what happens to its enemies?

Oslo or No Oslo

Violations of Palestinian human rights continue apace, Oslo or no Oslo. In some areas, the violations have decreased. With fewer Israeli soldiers patrolling Palestinian cities and villages, the number of people injured or killed is lower. The constant friction of the occupation has been eased tremendously, to the advantage of both the occupier and the occupied. On the other hand, other sorts of violations continue to multiply - and some are immanent in the peace process arrangements.
Freedom of movement is gone, with Gaza ripped from the West Bank and the north of the West Bank nearly cut off from the south. Students from Gaza can no longer study in peace at Bir Zeit University and are forced to live like fugitives until they are ready to return to Gaza permanently. To visit one's daughter in Gaza, a Hebronite needs permits: one to cross the Green Line into Israel and another to enter Gaza. One needs to show a humanitarian cause: perhaps if she is dying the request would be approved. If it is only to see a newborn grandchild, the request would probably be denied. In any case, consideration is given only if the proper medical documents are supplied. Many are barred from such travel anyway, no matter what, for reasons kept in the General Security Services (GSS) computer files. Entering Jerusalem legally poses similar problems. Although there is no legal limit on the movement within the West Bank, the sealing of Jerusalem and the growing number of checkpoints make travel a potential nightmare.

The Meaning of Separation

The new limitations on the freedom of movement are closely linked to the peace process. For many Israelis, peace means separation: Israel will leave Gaza and will wash its hands of the Gazans. Israeli soldiers will not walk the alleyways of refugees camps. High barbed-wire fences will remove even the mere existence of Gaza, making it no more than a memory of some imaginary planet that used to haunt us in the old days. Such separation infers no freedom of movement - at least not for Palestinians into Israel or through Israel.
Separation, however, does not take into account the Israeli responsibility for what Gaza became during the generation of Israeli rule. It leaves out the troubling questions, like: Who will feed Gaza? Where will Gazans work? Where will they go? The redeployment of the IDF did not end Israeli influence on daily life in Gaza. It cannot serve as an excuse for not considering Israeli responsibility for the well-being of Gazans.
Some left-wing Israeli politicians have publicly defended for security reasons the restrictions on freedom of movement of Palestinians codified in the closure orders, on the ground that these closures protect the peace. "We shall separate for peace," goes the slogan. Protecting the peace process seems to justify all means: closures, torture, mass expulsions, house demolition, targeted political assassinations - all this is only the price that everyone should be willing to pay for the realization of our common dream - peace.
Peace, to be sure, is our common dream. Peace also means compromise. No side will achieve all that it wants, and our respective national dreams - a greater Israel or a greater Palestine - are the sacrificial lambs. However, while national dreams may be compromised, individual human rights should not. They are not on the negotiating table. If human rights deserve to be protected in times of violent conflict, how much truer it is then to protect them while establishing peace.

A Toll in Human Rights

The final status of the occupied territories is hopefully to be negotiated soon. Unfortunately, this mere fact takes its toll in human rights. The quiet war over lands and roads, anticipating the permanent arrangement, is behind the wave of house demolition in Area C. The upcoming negotiations over the future status of Jerusalem might be the motivation behind the quiet transfer of Palestinians from East Jerusalem. This was speeded up at the end of 1995 (under the Labor-Meretz government) right after the Interim Agreement was signed in Washington. The redeployment also has its effects on the rights of Palestinian political prisoners. These were moved into Israel when the prisons within the territories were transferred to the Palestinians. Family visits, as well as visits by lawyers are now, due to the closure, a complicated mission. Then there is the Israeli bill to prevent compensation for Palestinian victims of Israeli soldiers in the occupied territories.

Wanted - A Movement for Justice

We now live in a reality shaped by the Oslo agreement. But can alternative solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict provide better defense for human rights? There is reason for skepticism. It is too easy to promote national interests or the interests of political leaders at the expense of individuals. Oslo is no exception. A solution of two independent states is not immune from human-rights abuses, nor is the solution of one democratic state. Some people use the human-rights violations typical to the Oslo era to attack the agreement, that they oppose for different reasons. Will they defend human rights in other eras too?
The authenticity of the fight for human rights is tested in times when it does not coincide with any political cause. Israelis who support torture to save the peace process fail this test. Palestinians who are ready to postpone equality for women for the sake of national unity in the face of Israeli oppression, fail the test as well. Justice and equality cannot be divided. People deserve their rights now, not in some vague future. It is time to stop hitching human rights to political causes. Human rights should be fought for their own sake - under occupation, during the Interim period and under a permanent arrangement of any form.
Human rights should not be a political issue. They are not on the negotiation table. One cannot support both the settlements and human rights. That is a contradiction, but opposing the settlements does not make one a human-rights activist. We need more human-rights activists and organizations and a stronger peace movement, but we also need, side by side with them, a strong movement for justice and human rights.