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
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
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
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.