Münchner Friedensbündnis - c/o
Isabellastr. 6, 80798 München
THE KEY word was "Hamas". It was spoken from the tribune and appeared on printed material - but in two very different ways.
On the tribune of the large annual memorial rally for Yitzhak Rabin,
two weeks ago, the writer David Grossman, the sole speaker at the
event, gave an important speech. Coming to the climax, he advised the
Prime Minister: "Appeal to the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert. Appeal to them
over Hamas's head. Appeal to the moderates among them, to those who,
like you and me, oppose Hamas and its ideology!"
At the same time, dozens of Gush Shalom activists dispersed among the
100 thousand participants of the rally to distribute a sticker that
said, simply: "Peace is made with enemies - TALK TO HAMAS!" They later
reported that some refused to take the stickers, but the majority
accepted them willingly.
These two attitudes illustrate the dilemma which the Israeli peace camp is now facing.
GROSSMAN'S SPEECH aroused many echos. It was a brilliant speech, the
speech of a writer who has a way with words. The speech lifted the
spirits of those present and was treated by the media as an important
event. True, Grossman did not mention that he had initially supported
the war and changed his view as it went on, but this fact did lend even
more credibility to his penetrating criticism of the government.
He did mention the personal tragedy that hit him, when his son, Uri,
was killed in the last hours of the war: "The calamity that my family
and I suffered…does not give me any special privileges in our
national debate. But it seems to me that facing death and loss brings
with it a kind of sobriety and clarity."
He coined a new phrase that gripped the imagination and took hold of
the public discourse. "Our leadership, both political and military, is
hollow!" he declared. And indeed, that is the general feeling since the
war: that this is a leadership empty of all content, devoid of any
plan, lacking all values, whose only aim is to survive. He spoke about
the "leadership" and not about Ehud Olmert personally, but this
adjective fits the man himself exactly: a party functionary whose
entire talent consists of devising tactical combinations and spins,
without any intellectual depth, without vision, without an inspiring
Another image also caught the imagination. Speaking about the inclusion
of Avigdor Liberman in the government as Minister for Strategy, he
said: "This is the appointment of a compulsive pyromaniac to head the
I could wholeheartedly identify with 90% of his speech. I could
identify with everything he said about the state of the State, about
the moral and social crisis, about the stature of our leaders and the
national need to achieve peace. If I had stood on the tribune
(something quite impossible, as I shall explain later on) I would have
said similar things, which indeed my colleagues and I have been saying
The difference between us, and a profound difference it is, concerns
the other 10% of his speech. And, even more so, the things he did not
I don't mean tactical matters. For example, in the entire speech there
was no mention of the role of the Labor Party in the government, in the
war and in the appointment of Liberman. Olmert is to blame for
everything. Amir Peretz has disappeared.
No, I mean more substantial matters.
AFTER THE frontal attack on the "hollow" leadership, which lacks vision
and plans, one would have expected Grossman to lay before the tens of
thousand peaceniks assembled in the square his own vision and plan for
the solution of the problem. But, as much as his criticism was clear
and loud, his proposals were vague and banal.
What did he propose? To appeal to the "moderates" among the
Palestinians "over the head" of their elected government, in order to
restart the peace process. Not very original. That was said (but not
done) by Ariel Sharon, that was said (but not done) by Ehud Olmert and
George W. Bush.
This distinction between "moderates" and "fanatics" on the Arab side is
superficial and misleading. Basically, this is an American invention.
It evades the real problems. It contains a large measure of contempt
for Arab society. It leads to a dead end.
Grossman's proposal diverts the discussion onto the path of "who to
talk with" and "who not to talk with", instead of stating clearly what
to talk about: the termination of the occupation, establishment of the
State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, withdrawal to
the pre-1967 border, solution of the refugee problem.
One could reasonably expect that in such a speech, at such a place, on
such an occasion, these statements would be voiced loudly and clearly,
instead of a repetition of intentionally blurred formulas. "Go to them
with the boldest, most serious plan that Israel is able to put
forward, a plan that all Israelis and Palestinians with eyes in their
heads will know is the limit of refusal and concession, ours and
theirs." Sounds nice. But what does it mean?
After all, it is clear that one has to make such a proposal to the
elected Palestinian leadership, whatever its composition. The idea that
we can talk with a part of the Palestinian people (now the minority)
and boycott the other part (now the majority) is false and misleading.
It is also imbued with the overbearing arrogance that is the hallmark
of the occupation.
Grossman has much empathy for the poor and downtrodden in Israeli
society, and he expresses it in moving words. It is obvious that he
tries, really tries, to feel a similar empathy with the suffering
Palestinian society. But here he fails. His is an empathy without
pathos, without real feelings.
He says that this is "a people no less tortured than we are." No less
than we? Gaza like Tel-Aviv? Rafah like Kfar-Sava? The effort to
create a symmetry between occupier and occupied, which has become
typical for some of the peaceniks too, testifies to a basic fault. That
is true even if Grossman meant the untold suffering of the Jews
throughout the ages - even that does not justify what we are doing to
the Palestinians now.
About the Palestinians, who voted for Hamas in a manifestly democratic
election, Grossman says that they are "hostages to fanatical Islam". He
is certain that they would change completely the moment Olmert "speaks
with them". That is, mildly put, a patronizing attitude. "Why did we
not use all our flexibility, all our Israeli creativity, to extricate
our enemy from the trap in which he ensnared himself?" Meaning: we are
the thinking, creative party, and we must liberate the poor Arabs from
their mindless fanaticism.
Fanaticism? As a genetic trait? Or is it the natural wish to free
themselves from a brutal, choking occupation, an occupation from whose
devastating grip they did not succeed in freeing themselves when they
elected a "moderate" government?
The same is true for Grossman's second proposal - the one concerning
Syria. On the face of it, a positive suggestion: Olmert must accept
every appeal from an Arab leader who proposes peace. Excellent. But
what does he advise Olmert to do in practice? "Offer him (Assad) a
peace process lasting several years, only at the end of which, if he
meets all the conditions, lives up to all the restrictions, will he get
the Golan Heights. Force him into a process of ongoing dialogue." David
Ben-Gurion or Ariel Sharon could not have put it better.
Bashar al-Assad certainly did not fall off his chair for sheer enthusiasm when he read this.
IN ORDER to understand Grossman's words one has to remember their background.
There is not one Israeli peace camp, but two - and the difference between them is important.
The first camp, the Grossmanian one, calls itself the "Zionist peace
camp". Its strategic concept is that it is wrong to stray from what is
called the "national consensus". If we lose contact with the consensus,
so they believe, we shall not win over the public. Therefore we have to
tailor our message to what the public at large is able absorb at any
The "Peace Now" movement is located at the center of this camp, and
several other groups and personalities belong to it. It is a perfectly
legitimate strategy, if only it were successful in winning over the
masses. Unfortunately, that has not happened: "Peace Now", which
succeeded in 1982 in mobilizing hundreds of thousands in the protest
against the Sabra and Shatila massacre, succeeded last week in
attracting a mere 150 protesters against the Beit Hanoun massacre. (The
other movements which joined the demonstration brought a similar
number. Altogether, we were some 300.) About the same number appeared
in other recent demonstrations of "Peace Now", even those which had
more time for preparations.
This camp keeps in close contact with two political parties: Meretz and
Labor (at least with the left wing). Almost all the founders and
leaders of "Peace Now" were candidates of these two parties, and
several of them were elected to the Knesset. One of the founders is now
the Minister of Education in the Olmert-Peretz war government.
THE SECOND camp, usually called the "radical peace camp", carries out
the opposite strategy: to spell out our message loudly and clearly,
even when it is unpopular and far from the consensus (as it usually
is). The assumption is that the consensus will follow us when our
message proves right in the test of reality.
This camp, to which "Gush Shalom" (in which I am active) belongs,
together with dozens of other organizations, is engaged in strenuous
daily work: from the fight against the Wall and all the other evil
doings of the occupation up to the boycott of the settlements and the
support for soldiers who refuse to serve in the occupied territories.
This camp differs from the other one also in its close contacts with
the Palestinians, from the leadership down to ordinary villagers who
are fighting against the wall that robs them of their land. Recently,
"Gush Shalom" started a dialogue with Hamas leaders. These contacts
enable us to understand the Palestinian society in all its complexity,
feelings, insights, demands and hopes.
Not being aligned with any party, this camp knows that it will not
become a mass movement. That is the price it has to pay. It is
impossible to be popular while taking stands and carrying out actions
that are contrary to the consensus. If so, how does it have an impact?
How did it happen that, in the course of the years, many of its stands
have been accepted by the general public, including luminaries like
We call this the "small wheel effect". A small wheel with its own drive
pushes a larger wheel, which drives an even larger wheel, and so on,
until it moves the center of the consensus. What we say today "Peace
Now" will say tomorrow, and a large part of the public on the day after.
This has been proven dozens of times in the past, and was proven again
in the last few weeks during the Second Lebanon War. We called a
demonstration against the war on its first day, when the overwhelming
majority - including Amos Oz, David Grossman and others - supported it
openly and wholeheartedly. But when the real motives and the fatal
results started to become obvious, the consensus began to change. Our
demonstrations swelled from 200 to 10,000 protesters. Even "Peace now",
which had supported the war in the beginning, changed its stand, and
near the end of the war called its own anti-war demonstration, in
conjunction with Meretz. In the end, the entire "national consensus"
It may be true that the "radical peace camp" and the "Zionist peace
camp", while playing different roles, complement each other in the
decisive fight for public opinion.
GROSSMAN"S SPEECH should be judged in this spirit.
It was a moving speech, even a great speech. It did not contain all we
would have wished for, but for Grossman, and the camp he belongs to, it
was really a big step in the right direction.