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Peace activists in Israel speak about their hopes for the end of war


An 8-year-old organization founded to try to bridge the divide between Palestinians and Israelis has been encountering trouble since the Hamas attack earlier this month. The group, Standing Together, said two of its members were arrested when they tried to put up stickers with a message of unity. And it has canceled some gatherings because of resistance to its message. We spoke with two of its members earlier this week, Sally Abed in Haifa and Alon-Lee Green in Tel Aviv. They are both Israeli. Sally Abed is also Palestinian. She and other members of Standing Together have been trying to figure out what to do at this moment.

SALLY ABED: After the aftershock, you know, what we are trying to do is really understand what can we actually control right now? I think we got to a point where we really felt like everything is out of control. Everything is just escalating so quickly and so dangerously, and we thought that we have control over our communities, and we just try to really understand how we can strengthen those communities. And we built a network of Solidarity Watch who provide support for the thousands of people that are part of the movement and the people around them and their communities.

SIMON: How would - and I will note we are speaking now on a Thursday afternoon in the United States. How would people in Standing Together hope the Israeli government might respond to the attacks of October 7?

ALON-LEE GREEN: Well, that's a very complicated question because of course, the entire membership of Standing Together are shocked. And from this shock, we see a lot of anger and a lot of feelings of revenge. And we do understand these feelings, but we do say in the clearest way possible, more killing of innocent people, more bloodshed, more feeding of this vicious circle of death and blood will not bring back anyone to life. And more than that, it will not bring back the 200 Israelis that are held captured and that are alive. And we're saying to our government, work on the life. Talk to us about the ones that are still alive. Talk to us about us, the ones that are still living here and suffering from this in this moment. Try and not to just promise us more death and revenge and blood and destruction. But unfortunately, that's all that we hear from our government.

SIMON: Sally Abed, what would your vision be for Israel, Gaza and Palestine?

ABED: I don't know what it would look like. I don't think I want to draw on maps on my ideal vision where I am as a Palestinian. I do think that the occupation needs to end. That's a necessary step. For at least two decades, we see that the Israeli government has had zero intentions and zero efforts to do that. And we see that from the other side, too. But, you know, the Israeli government happens to be the government that I live under. So I'm talking to that government.

SIMON: Let me ask you a question that's often raised about standing together in other groups. Would your group be possible in Gaza?

GREEN: Do we want to be Gaza ourselves? Do we want to be under the control of a fascist and racist, homophobic organization and murderous organization like Hamas? I do not want to live like this. I live under a government which is bad enough already, a government that controls millions of people and does not give them the right to vote, does not give them the rights to move freely, does not give them the right for independence or freedom. I'm also a gay person in Israel. I cannot marry in my own country. I cannot bring children in my own country. It's worse enough to live under my my government. And to wish that we will live under Hamas - no one wishes to live under Hamas, believe me.

ABED: I also don't like this kind of comparison and this kind of, like, justification. Like, you have it good enough. Like, it's almost becoming like it's impossible for us to exist here, either. And people don't realize that. Our activists went in Jerusalem. You know, they confiscated our T-shirts because they had Arabic on it. It's a bilingual, you know, (non-English language spoken). And they confiscated our T-shirts. They fined us on every single poster that we had that said, we will go through this together because it was bilingual. You know, people are being fired from schools, from universities, from their work because they empathized with Gazan children. I don't want to be under the rule of Hamas. And let me tell you something. Most of Gazans don't want to be under the rule of Hamas.

SIMON: I feel blessed to have been in Israel and the West Bank 30 years ago on the day that they signed the Oslo Accords. And I remember at that point speaking with both many Israelis and many Palestinians who said, well, there - you know, something imperfect about the agreement, but look - we're just tired of all this fighting. People have suffered enough. We got to stop. And that was 30 years ago. I mean, I left Jerusalem, I was so happy. I thought, well, the world has solved this. What happened?

GREEN: I was born just a day before the First Intifada started. And I had my bar mitzvah just two days after the Second Intifada started. And I was already above 18 during all the wars of the 2000. I think we deserve much better. They have done nothing in the Israeli government. In my leadership, you know, among the people that I expect to lead me towards, you know, a safe place, they've done nothing to even talk to the president of the Palestinian people since 2014. So when there is no peace, I guess war comes.

ABED: I was just today - my parents came here. And my mom told me, you don't remember. You were 3. I was 3 at Oslo. She told me it was just so different. Everyone was just nicer. People really, really wanted peace. And she was almost, like, grieving those days. She's like, look where we are now. I really don't want to think that we needed to endure such loss, you know, such atrocities here in Israel. But maybe now I really hope that from this dark corner, we can have, like, this shift in the paradigm on how we actually look at these wars and how, actually, we look at the Israeli control over Gaza and over the West Bank and really have a different outlook on what our leadership actually should look like.

SIMON: Sally Abed and Alon-Lee Green, part of the group Standing Together. Thank you both very much for speaking with us.

ABED: Thank you so much.

GREEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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