There’s very little talk in Israel about peace nowadays. Since the failed negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership in 2000, the predominant belief in Jewish Israeli public opinion is that “there’s no partner for peace”. Yes, Israeli Prime Minister declares every now and again that he’s ready to talk to the Palestinian President Abu Mazen any time, but there’s been no movement at all since October 2010 when the talks promoted by the Obama administration ran aground on the issue of settlements: the Israeli government refused to freeze them, and the Palestinian Administration refused to negotiate while their land was being taken from them. Even if there were negotiations, talk about peace isn’t the same as peace.
The “Arab Spring’s” potential and actual dangers to Israel are far more often reported in the media and mentioned in conversation (attacks launched by Islamists from the Egyptian Sinai peninsula; concerns about the future of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of 1979; anxiety about what sort of regime will take over in Syria). As seen in Netanyahu’s presentation of a cartoon bomb in his UN speech on September 27, in the Israeli mediasphere it’s simply assumed that Iran will use a nuclear bomb if it enriches enough uranium, posing an existential threat to Israel. And certainly for Israelis who live close to Gaza, the presence of war rather than peace seems to be confirmed regularly when rockets and mortars fall on them, often as part of a routine exchange of violence following Israeli “targeted killings” of Palestinians there.
Those Israelis who prefer not to watch or listen to any news and just get on with their lives can imagine that the relative quiet in relations between Israelis and Palestinians is a kind of peace, especially because the mainstream news long ago forewent reporting the daily assaults by West Bank settlers and on-going displacement of Palestinians by the military government. If on this side of the Separation Wall’s it’s peaceful, what does it matter what happens on the other side?
In an effort to get people talking about peace again, women activists in a group called Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace, often known as The Parents Circle – Family Forum, has launched a campaign to Put Peace Back in the Picture. Launched on a dedicated Facebook page titled A Crack in the Wall, the campaign invites the public “to dream, talk and think anew about peace.” Everyone is asked to post a picture of themselves on the page while holding a sign that says: “I also want to bring peace back into the picture,” mostly in in Hebrew or Arabic, but also English and other languages too. The web page for the campaign says:
We can blame the other side, the circumstances or ourselves, but the fact is that slowly but surely, peace as an option has vanished from our midst and we’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s not possible, certainly not in the foreseeable future.
…And when there is no vision of peace, nothing will happen to lead us there. Other visions and other aims will continue to lead us to more and more years of conflict and alienation between us and our Arab neighbors.
We stand here together – Israeli and Palestinian women of the Forum of Bereaved Families for Reconciliation and Peace. We want to bring peace back into the conversation of Israeli and Palestinian society; and to then call on our leaders to act, in any way possible, to bring about peace in our region and end the cycle of hatred and bloodshed.
In addition to the Facebook campaign which currently shows over 160 photos, the women activists also held a three hour event on Internatio
nal peace Day, Friday 21 September, placing a few stalls by an entrance to Tel Aviv’s busy Carmel Market at which passers-by were invited to be photographed with a sign. Some were happy to do so, others were reluctant, and inevitably a few people wanted to argue. Taking turns to use the megaphone, the women activists dressed in white repeated the message of the
event, while a young woman was on hand to photograph the willing. At the stall there were also blank placards on which children drew their images of peace (why do we imagine that only children can imagine peace?) and there were stickers handed out too bearing the group’s slogan “It won’t be over until we talk” (in Hebrew this rhymes as: ze lo y’gamer ad sh’ndaber). The highlight of the event for the women was the arrival of their Palestinian friends, allowed on this occasion to travel from the West Bank with military permits. Their presence didn’t prevent those who wanted to pick a verbal fight from insisting loudly, in line with Israeli “common sense of the age,” that “we want peace, but they don’t. They’d kill us if they could.” This obvious projection of intentions is sustained by an image of the enemy Other that is stronger than any reality.
The campaign is shaped by two metaphors that are slightly different, one visual, one spatil, yet that reinforce each other. The women have understood that if there is to be peace, we have to be able to see it, to envision it, to imagine it. But given current circumstances, it’s hard to imagine the kind of peace that would put an end to the killings that have bereaved these families (in contrast to the imagined “peace” that is the relative quiet on the Israeli side of the Separation Wall). And so there also has to be a new space opened up to see and imagine peace; there has to be a crack in the wall. This remarkable group, Parents Circle – Family Forum, both embodies such a peace and opens a crack in the wall, because instead of allowing bereavement to feed the cycle of violence and revenge, they have chosen reconciliation and dialogue. Their hope is that by example more people on both sides will see each other as partners for making peace rather than as antagonists for waging war. The campaign is a start, or rather another of many small efforts by Israeli and Palestinian peace groups to at least keep a crack in the wall open so that peace can be imagined and made real.