The bloody terrorist attack by Hamas has changed everything in Israel: people are moving closer together. Things have become more difficult for peace activists; many people don’t want to hear their words of warning.
These are not good times for someone who advocates for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Rimmon Levi has been doing this for around 55 years. And that’s why he wanted to make a statement right now, in the Gaza war. In the middle of Jerusalem, where he lives.
Levi is active in a group called Standing Together. This refers to Palestinian and Jewish Israelis. And because he thinks this is particularly important right now, during the war, he and a few friends recently put up posters that read: “Only peace brings security”, “We will get through this together” and “No to violence, “no to racism”.
The posters were in Hebrew and Arabic – and there was criticism, says Revi: “Someone who came by told us: Now is not the time to talk about peace. Everything that the other side also focuses on and calling on people not to take revenge now does not fit national needs at the moment.”
Police action against activists
But this criticism didn’t stop there: the police came by. Arrested the peace activists briefly and handed out a hefty fine. The whole of Jerusalem is full of posters, says Levi, which is why he considers the police’s actions against his message of peace to be arbitrary. There is probably even a risk of legal proceedings now.
“Standing Together” is the largest Jewish-Arab movement in Israel and is particularly in demand in these times of war, says Sally Abed, an Israeli-Palestinian from Haifa who is also part of it: “The most important thing we can do now is to de-escalate. Especially when it comes to tensions in mixed cities. With our message of solidarity, partnership and a common destiny.”
Tense Security situation
Because there have been tensions in the last few days and weeks. Since the war between Hamas and Israel began. Palestinians had demonstrated in view of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip – and the police had taken tough action.
In Netanya, north of Tel Aviv, people had to be brought to safety in a student dormitory after right-wing extremist demonstrators marched there and chanted “Death to Arabs.”
There is currently little room for empathy, for seeing the grief on both sides, says Abed: “In this moment of extreme polarization, where there is almost no room left to grieve for both sides, the most important thing is “Keeping this space open, as difficult as that is. The hope is that if we are able to feel grief and pain for both sides now, that we will then have a shared, equal future.”
“Only coexistence between Jews and Arabs helps”
Now, in the midst of war, only a few people are thinking about this future. Only people like Sally Abed and Rimmon Levi from Jerusalem. He came to Israel in the 1960s. And he is convinced that there can only be security for his homeland if there is coexistence.
“I believe that only coexistence between Jews and Arabs helps. This is a real democracy, and it has to prove itself even in difficult times, not just when everything is easy. Especially when there is war, you have to ensure that every citizen has rights to speak out and identify with what is happening to the people in Gaza.”
And even though his posters have triggered a police operation, he wants to go out again in a few days and put up new ones. Together with his Palestinian friends.