Golanactivists bring campaign to Jerusalem

IN ISRAEL / Door: WEBMASTER / 13 dec 1999 GAZA GOLAN KNESSET

The Jerusalem Post

JERUSALEM (December 13) – Golan activists fighting to keep the region under Israeli rule are to take their campaign to the streets today with a demonstration opposite the Knesset.

Hundreds of residents, including schoolchildren, are expected to participate in what was described by some activists as the first shot in the battle to save the Golan.

Meanwhile, the Golan Residents Committee (GRC) has decided to join forces with the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, to fight the uprooting of any settlements.

The decision was made during talks between Golan and council leaders in recent days in light of the scheduled resumption of peace talks between Israel and Syria.

In the past, the GRC has avoided direct association with the council, believing this could harm its campaign to keep the Golan under Israeli rule.

Times and attitudes, however, appear to have changed in view of the arrival of "crunch time" regarding the future of the Golan and the fact that the GRC has run out of funds.

Katzrin local council chairman Sami Bar-Lev said that he welcomes the move, which was long overdue.

"There was a link [with the council] in the past, although we did not want joint activities because it was thought that this would not contribute to our cause," said Bar-Lev.

"Now when we see the government’s position, we have to fight with all those who are prepared to be soldiers in this battle. If the council and residents of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza join us, then I’m sure we will be together in everything.

"We will set up a joint headquarters and we will cooperate in a joint campaign. I announced several months ago my opposition to the evacuation of any communities in Judea and Samaria, and that I was prepared to join the council.

"There were other members who for tactical reasons were not anxious to cooperate with the council. Now, however, I can assure you that everybody is prepared to cooperate on the question of the Golan, although I can’t speak for them as to how much they are prepared to fight for communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza," he said.

Bar-Lev earlier presided over the official inauguration yesterday of the Batra neighborhood in Katzrin. The ceremony was scheduled to take place in a month but was advanced to demonstrate the residents’ intention to remain in their homes and develop the township.

During the ceremony he sent a personal message to Prime Minister Ehud Barak that any real peace could not be built on the destruction of the communities, livelihoods, and the lives of those who had built them.

Similar comments were made by Katzrin’s Chief Rabbi Yosef Levy during the ceremony, attended by hundreds of people, including youngsters from a local kindergarten who were promised that they would would be raising their children on the Golan.

At a separate venue, young Golan residents set up what they described as their tent campaign headquarters near Kibbutz Kfar Haruv, overlooking Lake Kinneret.

On the opposite side of the debate, Jordan Valley regional council head Ze’ev Shor sent a letter of support to Barak to encourage him to seek a just and lasting peace with Syria.

Shor, a member of Kibbutz Ein Gev, which suffered from bombardments from the Syrian-held Golan prior to the Six Day War, said that in any attempt to achieve peace there was an element of risk. He maintained, however, that the majority of residents in the regional council are prepared to take that chance in return for lasting peace.

Meanwhile, the Golan on the Path to Peace movement is to establish a lobby for the Golan residents and their communities. The lobby is to be headed by One Israel Knesset faction leader Ofer Pines-Paz and Avshalom Vilan from Meretz and MKs from various other parties.

"The uncertainty in which Golan residents are having to live in the face of whether a peace agreement will be reached or not obligates the decision-makers to relate to residents of the Golan who are trying to live normal lives despite this abnormal situation," said Yigal Kipniss, one of the founders of the pro-peace movement.

"The lobby that was established recently under the leadership of MK Yuli Edelstein is aimed at opposing the peace process but cannot act for the Golan residents’ benefit.

"Council leaders on the Golan are also committed to a militant position on the future of the region and are putting all their time and energy into this, and are not fulfilling their tasks of dealing with the day-to-day problems.

"Because of their activities, they are distancing themselves from the decision-makers. The new lobby will constitute an initial step to make direct contact between Golan residents and the political hierarchy," said Kipniss.

Movement members are also opposed to using schoolchildren in political activities during school hours, including cutting lessons for demonstrations.

"Our obligation to our children is to allow them, as much as possible, to continue normal lives in such difficult circumstances and not to create a rift among children in schools against a political background," said Kipniss.

Bar-Lev said that if the Israel Lands Administration did freeze Golan tenders on the instruction of the political hierarchy two months ago, as was reported yesterday, the GRC would take the matter to the High Court of Justice. He maintained that the Golan is, according to law, an integral part of the state, and had to be treated accordingly by all statutory bodies.