Reuven Kaminer's book sets out to describe the emergence and the growth of the protest movements in Israel in response to the Palestinan Intifada and it is a pioneering work on the subject. Kaminer's first forty pages provide a background for those protests which started with the outbreak of the Intifada in December 1987, on which the book concentrates. The narrative ends with the Madrid Conference at the end of 1991. An Afterword, called "Measuring Success and Failure," takes in the Oslo accords of September 1993.
Reuven Kaminer covers in some detail the activities of about a dozen relatively small and radical protest organizations, like the early leftish coalition Dai La'kibush (End the Occupation); the Twenty-First Year, which tried to present a radical alernative to Peace Now; Ad Kan (Up to Here), a group of militant academics at Tel Aviv University; and various professional groups, including psychologists and mental health workers, doctors, writers and painters, university lecturers and teachers.
Though this information is well-researched, the movements which stand out on the protest landscape, and correctly receive fullest treatment, are Peace Now, Yesh Gvul (There Is a Limit) and Women in Black. The author, himself a veteran peace activist, explains the ups and downs of each, how they reacted to each other and their special contribution to the wider peace movement.
Two of the most interesting and significant questions concerning the politics of protest are first (and most important) how effective was the peace movement, and what real influence did it bring to bear on events; and second, whose evaluation was correct in the discussions on policy between the large mainstream Peace Now movement, which always operated within the confines of the law, and the smaller more radical movements, especially Yesh Gvul, whose members refused army service in Lebanon and the occupied territories (selective refusal, not pacifism).
On the first question, the author is wary of characterizing the peace movement's response to the Intifada as a success or a failure, in spite of prior achievements, such as helping to force Menachem Begin move towards the Camp David Accords in 1978, and spearheading the protest against the Lebanon War from 1982. Before the Israeli-PLO Declaration of Principles (DOP) of September 1993, he thinks his book might have been called "Noble Try" or "Noble Failure," but he sees the DOP as a historic breakthrough which bore "the deep imprint of the peace movement."
Nevertheless, he believes that "the peace movement can shape the history of an epoch, but it cannot shape its own history," since it is not alone in the political arena, and many of the circumstances which determine the capacity of voluntary movements to pressure the authorities are not in their control. On the other hand, he notes that "most people in Israel consider the current peace process with all its limitations and complications as the crowning achievement of the Israeli peace movement."
Accepting the Personal Challenge
Moreover, the peace camp was proven historically correct on two counts: on the need at the political level for mutual Israeli-Palestinian recognition, and on the unprecedented cooperation at the operational level between Israelis and Palestinians in the struggle against the Occupation. Here Kaminer pays tribute to the many "stubbornly determined, devoted and conscientious men and women" who accepted the personal challenge of protest. In this he sees the "success story" of the peace movement.
On the second question of Peace Now and the more radical groups, Kaminer believes in the advantages of "unity in diversity." He sees Yesh Gvul's "patriotic anti-militarism" as a new dimension in Israel's political culture which exerted great moral authority by virtue of the dedication and integrity of its adherents. With the outbreak, in 1982, of the catastrophic Lebanon War (which ironically was called "Operation Peace for Galilee" by the Begin government), a radical group succeeded in bringing 20,000 people to a protest rally. This in turn helped to encourage Peace Now, which had feared that opposing the war might appear as disloyal to the soldiers at the front, to organize a rally of over 100,000. Thus the mainstream and the various currents of protest tended to complement each other.
The author provides convincing evidence that the women's peace movements in general, and especially Women in Black, were particularly effective because of the unprecedented scope of their vigils, the wide respect they earned in Israel and abroad, and their ability to work together both with each other and with their Palestinian counterparts.
In September 1982 came the largest demonstration in Israel's history, when Peace Now brought a crowd estimated at 400,000 to protest the Sabra-Shatilla massacre and to demand Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. The Likud was then in power, and among the speakers was Yitzhak Rabin. It was not until the Intifada some five years later that tens of thousands were again to demonstrate at a Peace Now rally in the same Tel Aviv square in January 1988, demanding dialogue with the Palestinians instead of Rabin's attempt to suppress the Intifada by force of arms.
Recognition of PLO Delayed
Though Peace Now played a leading role in opposing both the Occupation and Jewish settlement in the occupied territories, it took until 1988 for the mainstream movement to support negotiations with the PLO. This enabled Peace Now to occupy much of the space formerly taken up by more militant peace movements, and by the end of 1989, Peace Now was supporting a two-state solution, leading to what the author calls "the demise of the militants."
From the start, and all along the line, decisions were taken in Peace Now with the utmost caution. It preferred internal agreement to a "vanguard" style of leadership, and put up with periods of lying low until goaded into activity by its own public opinion. It was "a mood and not a movement," in the words of Tsali Reshef, one of its founders and leaders, who failed to win a Knesset seat on the Labor slate in the 1996 elections. Peace Now, as such, never ran for the Knesset, though retaining close contact particularly with MK's from the dovish wing of Labor and from Meretz. One might add that the movement's strength came mainly from the well-established Ashkenazi Jewish population.
'They Can Look for Me'
The last chapter dealing with controversies in the peace movement over the Gulf War includes an account of Yossi Sarid's statement on "the poisonous and sickening stench of the PLO position toward Saddam Hussein ... every generation of Palestinian leaders made every mistake possible ... I am still trying to maintain my human image, but Arafat, Husseini and Oarawshe have no role in this ... until further notice, they can, as far as I am concerned, look for me" (reviewer's italics).
Kaminer notes that some considered these words of Sa rid, today leader of the Meretz party, "patronizing and over-emotional," while others saw them as unbalanced but politically logical. Attacking the statement, Shulamit Aloni asked "whether the Israeli left had done anything for the Palestinians," stating that "the government continued to control the territories, to deny human rights, to destroy and to kill, and we are a part of this because we did not declare a rebellion ... we were the fig leaf of Israeli democracy ... the Palestinians do not owe us anything."
Zionism and the Peace Movement
Reuven Kaminer adds that while "Aloni never went so far as to question the articles of her Zionist faith, she did reveal on more than one occasion a level of understanding and sensitivity for the 'other' that transcended the traditional limits of nationalist discourse and establishment politics."
The implication that "Zionist faith" needs questioning or is intrinsically negative rings strange from an author who explains at the beginning of his book that some of the greatest pre-State Zionists, like Martin Buber and Judah Magnes, believed that "the achievement of Arab-Jewish understanding was a precondition for the success of the Zionist venture."
Their movement, the Ihud, failed, but their basic idea is still very much alive, as long as the struggle for the peace process is maintained. Otherwise, how can one explain what Kaminer himself writes: "The mainstream Zionist force, Peace Now, expressed the readiness for compromise and moderation in broad sections of the electorate [playing a] pivotal role in Israeli protest activity." A chronicle of the Israeli peace movement which sees Zionism and peace as somehow incompatible is likely to become entangled in insoluble contradictions. After all, within Zionist pluralism, Buber is as much a part of the movement's history as Jabotinsky, so that Peace Now had no need to question the articles of its Zionist faith in order to play its pivotal role in the peace movement. Could it be that on this subject the author permitted his own political inclinations to overcome his general ability in this book to write fairly and objectively?
One might add that Netanyahu's electoral victory, which came some months after the publication of this book, is going to confront the Israeli peace movement, which was less active during the Labor-Meretz government, with new tests. In facing them, many of the lessons of Kaminer's book may again be relevant.
In conclusion, Hebrew University professor of criminology, Stanley Cohen, is right in stating that this book provides "a first sustained account of how progressive Israelis reacted to the uprising in the occupied territories, and a serious analysis of how, despite major obstacles, forces developed within Israeli society working towards a just solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
Reuven Kaminer's book is indeed highly recommended.