Jerusalem, March 10 — On November 7, 1986, 21 Israeli peace activists landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport, returning from a three-day trip to Romania. Within minutes, four were ordered to report for interrogation by the Israeli police. The four — Latif Dori (of the left-Zionist MAPAM party), Eliezer Feiler (of Rakah, the Israeli Communist party), Yael Lotan (active in circles close to the Progressive List for Peace), and Reuven Kaminer (of SHASI, the Israeli Socialist Left) — were later indicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance.

Their trial began in Ramleh on March 9, 1987. The Israeli delegation had gone to Romania at the invitation of the Romanian Writers’ Association to participate in a symposium on paths to peace in the Middle East. The symposium featured officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization, including a member of the PLO Executive Committee, and 10 members of the Palestine National Council. Participants described the exchange as “friendly” and “useful,” and the final communiqué called for continuation of the dialogue. The meeting was particularly noteworthy because the Israeli delegation comprised people from a broad range of leftist and peace groups, including Zionists as well as the non-Zionists who had participated in previous contacts.

Why the prosecutor chose to indict these four individuals is not clear. Progressive Israelis and PLO officials have been meeting in Europe and elsewhere for years, and despite official threats participants were never prosecuted. But in August 1986, anxious to prevent further contacts and to intimidate Israelis ready to recognize Palestinian rights, the Labor Party and the Likud joined together to amend the 1948 Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance to make “the establishment of contact by an Israeli citizen or resident, knowingly and without lawful authorization, within or beyond the boundaries of the State of Israel, with any person holding any position within any organization that the Israeli government has declared a terrorist organization” a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison.

Delegation participants have also been subjected to a vicious campaign of slander. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir publicly branded them traitors, and rightwing politicians and newspapers attacked them for “aiding terrorists.” Thugs from Meir Kahane’s KACH party have harassed many delegation members by telephoning death threats, defacing their houses and sending ambulances to their homes with anonymous calls claiming they had suffered heart attacks.

Calls for police action to stop the harassment have been fruitless. The four defendants and their supporters have begun to organize a public campaign to defend the right of Israelis to meet with whomever they wish, to unmask the repressive character and political purpose of this law, and to make broader sections of the Israeli public understand that there is no alternative to negotiations with the PLO. Various peace groups have begun to talk of organizing further meetings with PLO representatives, in open defiance of the law.

On February 16, Israeli authorities used a different provision of the same Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance to raid the office of the Alternative Information Center in West (i.e., Israeli) Jerusalem. They detained everyone they found in the office and carted off all the office equipment and furniture. For three years the AIC, an independent news service, had provided up-to-date information on the occupied territories to Israeli and foreign journalists. It also published the English-language bulletin “News from Within,” and provided publishing and office services to various groups.

The police shut down the AIC under a clause in the Ordinance which allows them — without a court order — to close any place they believe is utilized by a “terrorist organization.” They charged that the AIC was working for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Both Israeli Jews and Palestinians from the occupied territories worked at the Center, and maintained contacts with individuals and groups belonging to many political tendencies. Observers familiar with the political views of the Center’s activists reject the notion that it was a front for any Palestinian organization. They say that the authorities wanted to close off this important and reliable source of information which regularly undermines official versions of events in the occupied territories, and to intimidate Israeli and Palestinian leftists involved in joint struggle against the occupation.

Authorities subsequently released all the AIC workers except veteran Matzpen activist and Center director Michael Warshavski. At his court hearing the police claimed, on the basis of “secret files,” that Warshavski had provided printing services to an illegal organization — the PFLP. The judge refused Warshavski’s request that the secret files be made public, and extended his detention without bail.

This was apparently the first time this law had been applied within Israel’s 1967 borders. The Israeli League for Civil Rights and several leftwing Knesset members also protested the police action, although the mainstream Israeli media has largely failed to comment on this attack on freedom of the press. AIC supporters have organized vigils in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to express solidarity with Warshavski.

These official attacks by the authorities on Israeli Jewish activists struggling for recognition of Palestinian rights and against the occupation occur in the context of escalating repression against Palestinians in the occupied territories. Likud, which favors annexation, and the Labor Party, which wants to make a deal with Jordan that excludes the PLO, find a common interest in silencing that small but vocal minority of Israelis who support Palestinian self-determination and denounce the brutality of the occupation. And so the repression which is standard practice in the territories comes home to roost, eroding the democratic rights enjoyed by Israeli Jews within the Green Line.

How to cite this article:

"Israel Cracks Down on Jewish Peace Activists," Middle East Report 145 (March/April 1987).

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