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Palestinian, Israeli and American Discuss the Split in Israel’s Labour Party, the Separation Barrier and the Latest on Gaza

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With a series of important developments affecting the Israel-Palestine conflict in the last week — including the surprise upset of Shimon Peres in the Labour Party leadership race and the reopening of Gaza’s border with Egypt — we’re joined by three peace activists, one Palestinian, one Israeli, and one American. [includes rush transcript]

On Tuesday, Israel agreed to allow Palestinians to reopen the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. And for the first time, Palestinians will be put in charge of operating the border. In addition, the Palestinians will be allowed to build a seaport off the coast of Gaza and to improve transportation links between Gaza and the West Bank.

In return, Israel will be given the ability to monitor the Gaza-Egypt border crossing through remote video cameras. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been credited with playing a key role in the agreement which came just a day after Middle East envoy James Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank, warned that Gaza was turning into a “giant prison.”

The border agreement is just one of a series of major developments in the region in recent days. On Monday, an Israeli army captain was acquitted in the shooting death of a 13-year-old Palestinian girl. The shooting took place in October 2004, as the girl walked near an Israel army post on her way to school. Israeli troops claimed they suspected she was carrying a bomb in her school bag. No explosives were found on her, and she wasn’t searched until after she was shot 17 times and killed. The shooting made international headlines after Israeli TV broadcast a recording of the Israeli army captain saying, “Anything that’s mobile, that moves in the [security] zone, even if it’s a three-year-old, needs to be killed.”

The family of the dead Palestinian girl protested the captain’s acquittal. The girl’s father, Samir al-Hams said, “This was the cold-blooded murder of a girl. The soldier murdered her once and the court has murdered her again. What is the message? They are telling their soldiers to kill Palestinian children.”

In other news from the region — the Israeli political scene was dealt a shake-up last Thursday when union leader Amir Peretz defeated veteran statesman Shimon Peres for leadership of the country’s Labour Party. Peretz immediately announced Labour would leave the governing coalition, setting the stage for new elections within months.

Meanwhile, Israelis and Palestinians spent the weekend marking two significant anniversaries. On Saturday, tens of thousands of Israelis gathered to mark the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who was killed 10 years ago by a right-wing Jewish activist. Former President Clinton and Senator Hillary Clinton attended the memorial for Rabin. Senator Clinton spent three days in Israel but came under criticism for not visiting Gaza or the West Bank to meet with Palestinians. During her trip, Clinton expressed support for Israel to continue building a 400-mile wall through the West Bank. And on Friday, Palestinians marked the first anniversary of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

  • Ayed Morrar, Palestinian activist from the West Bank village of Budrus, where he organized the first Popular Committee Against the Wall in 2003.
  • Jonathan Pollak, Israeli activist. He has participated in more than 200 Palestinian-organized demonstrations in the West Bank and has been arrested dozens of times.
  • Lilly Rivlin, Jerusalem-born filmmaker, writer and co-chair of Meretz USA, the American affiliate of the Israeli political party Meretz-Yachad.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk about all of these developments, we are joined by three guests in our Firehouse studios. Palestinian activist Ayed Morrar is from the West Bank village of Budrus, where he organized the first Popular Committee Against the Wall in 2003. We’re joined by Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak, who helped form the Popular Committee Against the Wall. He has participated in more than 200 Palestinian-organized demonstrations in the West Bank and has been arrested dozens of times. We’re also joined by Lilly Rivlin. She is a Jerusalem-born filmmaker and writer and co-chair of Meretz U.S.A., the American affiliate of the Israeli political party Meretz. We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Let me start off with Lilly Rivlin, the issue of the split in the Labour Party.

LILLY RIVLIN: Well, I’m from Meretz, so I don’t really go into that, but basically, the Labour Party has been divided into a left wing and right wing. I’m making it really simplistic, but the left wing won here, and it’s a very important opportunity. People are looking — I’m looking at this as a seismic kind of event. It could change the whole setup in the Israeli political scene. But it’s too early to say. So, I won’t go further than that, but the basic differences now is that Amir Peretz came in, and he stands for a two-state solution and for domestic reform, meaning he will pay attention to poverty issues. So, that’s important.

AMY GOODMAN: And is he a clear difference from Shimon Peres, do you think?

LILLY RIVLIN: Big, big difference. I mean, everybody has been commenting on that. It could shift the whole Israeli political situation and clarify. It could make it — I dare not say this, a two-party system, because it’s far from that, but it could make the options for a voter clearer.

AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan Pollak, do you agree?

JONATHAN POLLAK: Well, I think that Amir Peretz definitely has different rhetorics, but it should be clear that the Israeli left has been using rhetorics with complete — with absolutely no connection to their practices on the ground, and I have no hope that this will actually change the political situation in Israel. People should remember that the left was in control in 1948 with the expulsions. It was in control in 1967 when Israel occupied the Occupied Territories. It was in control when the settlement project, the illegal settlement project in the West Bank began in the 1970s. The left, the Zionist left, is the one that took the so-called peace process in Oslo and used it to cantonize the Occupied Territories and to maintain control over the Palestinians using less military might, but just as much control. And this is what we see from the Zionist left throughout history. And I don’t see any reason why Amir Peretz will be different. And his rhetoric is still racist. It’s maybe more progressive, but it is still racist. So, I don’t see a big change. It may affect the Israeli political map, but that doesn’t mean there will be a real change on the ground. There’s a very strong consolidation of Israeli politics around the center, and Amir Peretz isn’t a variation to that.

AMY GOODMAN: Lilly Rivlin.

LILLY RIVLIN: Thank you for — I think what you see right here is what is the problem of the left in Israel, and everywhere else. I mean, the disagreements between the two of us is — will get us nowhere, that this young man, Jonathan, is — I’d like to hear from Jonathan what his solution is, because it sounds to me like his solution would be a one state. Is that your position? It feels like it. And before — I mean, I’d like to hear you, but I see this as a no-win position. Jonathan’s position is a no-win position. Our position, Meretz, and maybe hopefully Labour, will be a position that finally maybe we can move further. I’d like to hear what the Palestinian point of view is, but it gives us some hope. Jonathan’s position, there’s no — where you are going to go from here?

JONATHAN POLLAK: Well, my position, if I may say what my position is —

LILLY RIVLIN: I’d like to hear.

JONATHAN POLLAK: — is that the responsibility is on Israel. Israel is the occupying side. I’m not a politician. I don’t speak of one state or two states. First of all, the occupation has to end. And this should be the outline of any —- of every plan, and Israel has to recognize its history and its responsibility as a colonizer in the Middle East. And all we do now is talking about what are Palestinians willing to do about Hamas’s charter, about the PLO’s charter, etc., etc. But the side that is occupying the other side right now, the side that isn’t recognizing the other side is Israel, including the Zionist left. Throughout, the Zionist left had maintained control over Palestinian civilians and over the Occupied Territories in a variety of ways, some of them -—

AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan, I —

JONATHAN POLLAK: — the so-called peace process.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to ask Ayed Morrar, how you view this split. Does it matter to you at all, in the Israeli Labour Party, as a Palestinian?

AYED MORRAR: I think that all of the Palestinians are looking for a way [inaudible] to achieve their freedom and their peace. And we used to see the Labours and the Likud exchanging the political issue inside Israel, and both of them were occupying the Palestinian people. We saw Labours in the government and we saw Likud, and both of them have a occupation upon our people. I think that no one worse than Sharon, and maybe now we have big opportunity or a bigger opportunity to achieve peace and freedom through this new leader. But I think that to be inside the government is something, and to be outside is another thing.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the recent developments of Gaza and the port, and the opening to Egypt, the first time Israel’s not controlling this?

AYED MORRAR: Until now, the situation in Gaza seems like Gaza is a big jail for the Palestinian people, and it’s a good step forward, but I am still wondering why to wait 40 years to withdraw from Gaza and another 40 or 50 years to withdraw from the West Bank. Why not reduce the number of the killed people from both sides? Because the freedom and the peace must be in this land without — no hope — nothing will exist forever, so we have to reduce the time to reduce the suffering from both people.

AMY GOODMAN: You and Jonathan Pollak are traveling around the country. You have just finished your tour: “Against the Wall.” Jonathan Pollak is with the Popular Committee Against the Wall. Ayed Morrar, the same organization. You have been engaged in direct action. What exactly have you been doing? How do you deal with the wall?

JONATHAN POLLAK: Just a correction, the Popular Committee Against the Wall is a Palestinian organization. I am not part of it. But the way we try and deal with the wall is exactly by, as you described, by the form of direct action. The wall is immoral. It hurts the Palestinian civilians in a way that is unacceptable and even at times indescribable, and our way to deal with it is in the form of resistance. We do not ask anyone to stop the constructions, because no one has the right to engage this construction. We simply go and try and stop the work where it is being constructed —

AMY GOODMAN: Who is “we,” and what do you do?

AYED MORRAR: Well, “we” is Israelis, Palestinians and international activists, and what we do is with nothing but our bodies, with our bare hands. Normal people, mostly Palestinian farmers, go down to the lands where the bulldozers are working — 80% of the barrier is built on Palestinian land — and we try and stop the bulldozers. And we are met — we are all civilians. All these demonstrations are completely unarmed, and we are met with military repression, when all we are trying to do is stop the bulldozers from doing something that is immoral and had been declared illegal by the international court of justice. Where the wall is built, many times we try and dismantle it.

AMY GOODMAN: And you took the wall down in your community, Ayed Morrar. You took it down?

AYED MORRAR: Yes. We — the first time we succeeded to move the wall close to the Green Line. We saved 1,200 dunums, that’s equal to 300 acres planted with 3000 olive trees in our village, through our peaceful activities against the wall. It’s a good step forward, a little bit successful, but I think that it can be a good example to choose the non-violence strategy to resist the occupation and to resist the wall, especially. In Budrus, the children, the women, the old people, we are struggling honestly, bravely, non-violently in order to stop the bulldozers who try to stop our children’s food.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask Lilly Rivlin, as an Israeli activist here, Israeli-born, but working here, your response to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton clearly setting up for a presidential run, going to Israel, not meeting with Palestinians — interestingly, Condoleezza Rice did, the Secretary of State, at the same time — and then expressing support for the wall.

LILLY RIVLIN: Well, first of all, I’m Palestinian-born. That makes a difference to establish that; I was born before the state of Israel, and there were others — other Jews who were born before the state of Israel, but to address your question, Meretz itself, the party, is split. There are people within the party who are for the wall, because — why did then — what was the reason for the wall coming up? It was a response to the suicide bombers. I myself am against the wall, but as a personal — as an individual, but there are many people in the party who think that you had to have a separation. Now, there may be a separation, because that’s self-defense, a country has the right to defend itself, but I do agree with Ayed and Jonathan. It went beyond the Green Line. It was a way — in many places they took Palestinian territories. So, I’m against that.

Now, the fact that Hillary Clinton took that position, that’s a political position. She’s going to hopefully, I say hopefully, because I have mixed feelings on this, too, she is going to run for President of the United States, mixed feelings because she is a woman. I’m a feminist. I like seeing a woman in that position. Mixed feelings because she has to — she has some policies I don’t necessarily support, but I understand why she took that position.


LILLY RIVLIN: Because she’s going to run for President of the United States, and she thinks that’s going to get her votes.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that note, we have to wrap up, and I want to thank you all for being here. Ayed Morrar with the Popular Committee Against the Wall, a Palestinian activist; Jonathan Pollak, Israeli activist — the two have been traveling the country speaking out against the wall; and Lilly Rivlin, born in Jerusalem, filmmaker and writer here, co-chair of the Meretz U.S.A. Party.

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