Amos Gvirtz: man of passion and compassion

Yesterday (Monday 28 October) was the last full day of the Quaker Voluntary Action project which has taken 12 of us to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nablus, Jericho, Tel Aviv and neighbouring villages. We met for several hours during the afternoon and evening with Amos Gvirtz in his home on the kibbutz in which he has spent all his life.

Amos Gvirtz is a nonviolent peace activist and a passionate proponent of justice for the Palestinians throughout Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He had a lot to tell us. Before the war of 1948 Jews formed 10% of the population and owned 1% of the land. During that war most of the Palestinians were driven out of what is now Israel, so that now Jews make up 80% of the population and own 97% of the land. Whilst Israelis call the war in 1948 the “War of Independence”, Palestinians refer to it as the “Naqba” or “Catastrophe”.

Since 1967 Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) have grown inexorably. The policy of the Israeli government is de facto annexation of Area C, which comprises 54% of the West Bank. Palestinians who own land in Area C or in East Jerusalem have their land confiscated. Many Palestinian families have had their homes demolished. And Israel is taking 80% of the water in the West Bank. Palestinians experience these violations of their human rights as a war of a military power against defenceless civilians.

The population of Israeli settlers in the West bank has grown from 110,000 in 1993 to 204,000 in 2000 and 320,000 in 2013.

As land confiscations and house demolitions continue, there is a “war process”, no real “peace process”.  If Israel were serious about wanting peace, they would stop the demolition of Palestinian homes and the continuing construction of settlements. “On the ground, the one-sided war against the Palestinians is continuing.”

If Israel were “persuaded” by the international community to agree to a two-state solution and settlements had to be evacuated, the settlers would not go quietly. Would the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) remove them forcibly? Amos thinks that such a scenario would lead to a civil war.

The Palestinians have to choose between violent resistance and nonviolent struggle. If they choose violence, Israel will always win because Israel has overwhelming military power. Violent acts by Palestinians are used by the Israeli government to justify the continuing repression of the Palestinians in the name of security. Nonviolent action on the other hand would mean that Israelis would no longer fear for their lives and could no longer justify abuse of the human rights of Palestinians.

Israelis can take nonviolent action through conscientious objection to military service or to serving in the Occupied Territories. And they can refuse to buy products from the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The international community can engage in boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS). Amos agreed that a boycott of settlement products would hurt Palestinians working in the settlements. This demonstrates the willingness of Palestinians to suffer themselves in the struggle for justice rather than inflict suffering on their enemies, the Israelis. There needs to be an escalation of nonviolence on all sides of the conflict. Israelis should be taking part in this nonviolent struggle.

Amos was most passionate when talking about the plight of the Bedouin in the Negev, the southern part of Israel. About 1,000 houses are being destroyed each year by the Israelis in order to force the Bedouin out of about 45 “unrecognised” villages into two densely populated towns. Many acres of crops such as wheat and barley have been destroyed. The highest rates of unemployment and poverty in Israel are to be found in the two “concentration towns”. Amos describes the action against the Bedouin as an act of war. There has, however, been very little publicity. Israel is failing in its responsibility to protect its own citizens, but the international community seems to be turning a blind eye. More people need to visit the Bedouin and demonstrate their solidarity and support.

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