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"Which Side Are You On?" by Mark Rosenblum

Professor Rosenblum, APN Founder and Policy Director, speaks to the challenges in the lead up to Israel's disengagement this August, and for supporting APN

Professor Rosenblum with students

Dear Friend:

I am concerned about Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's safety. Sharon-the bulldozer who led the settlement juggernaut. Sharon-the uncorked genie of Israeli politics.

And now, Sharon-the first Israeli leader to begin a withdrawal from the territories and dismantling of settlements there. The first Israeli leader to face a Palestinian leadership not run by Yasser Arafat. In a world full of ironies, Ariel Sharon is now the man Israel's "peace camp" looks to to take the first steps towards ending the occupation.

And so, I'm worried about Ariel Sharon. I'm worried he will die like Yitzhak Rabin. At the hands of a fellow Jew.

Some 9,000 Israeli settlers will be uprooted from Gaza and the northern West Bank settlements in July, according to plans.

And the opposition is mounting. Supported by hardliners in the Knesset (including members of Sharon's own Likud party), provided with a religious hechsher by prominent rabbis in the territories and funded by right-wing American Jewish groups, Israeli extremists are emboldened to back their opposition to the withdrawal with violent action.

It is out of this chaos that another Yigal Amir (Prime Minister Rabin's murderer) might emerge, an unknown with a gun, ready to murder Israel's elected leader because, he says, his rabbi said it was the moral thing to do.

This must stop.

It is time for the forces of sanity and pragmatism to join together and make clear that we are the majority. On March 19, thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv under the banner, "Israel is getting out of Gaza." Organized by Shalom Achshav, Israel's Peace Now movement, the demonstrators were a fraction of the overwhelming majority of Israelis who support a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, leading to separate, independent Israeli and Palestinian states, with security for Israel.

Recent surveys show that 75 percent of Israelis support renewing political negotiations with the Palestinians. And 52 percent of Palestinians oppose military operations against Israeli targets. That number is up from 29 percent just six months ago.

As the U.S. sister organization of Peace Now, Americans for Peace Now (APN) provides 60 to 90 percent of the funds that Peace Now in Israel uses for its activities. APN's support is crucial to counter the right-wing American Jews and Evangelical Christians who help finance the settler movement and its opposition to a negotiated settlement.

APN stands as proof that there are American Jews who will not bite every time right-wing groups dangle another red herring to scuttle progress toward peace. As a supporter of APN, you can help keep American public opinion on course to follow the "Road Map" that President George Bush designed to lead to an accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians.

American support is crucial to successful negotiations-and welcome by both sides.

In March, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found that 55 percent of Israelis and 79 percent of Palestinians believe the U.S. should increase its involvement in trying to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Beyond the poll numbers, experience makes it clear that no agreement will be reached without active involvement of the United States. America is Israel's only trustworthy ally. And an American public opinion that sides with a negotiated settlement is crucial to propelling the U.S. government into action.

APN works to build American consensus on peace and demonstrates that the power to act is on our side.

Just look at what the other side is doing.

- A year ago, the Rabbinical Council of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip released a statement that the uprooting of settlements is against Jewish law and that no one, including soldiers, should be involved in such an action.

- Since then, the implications of that ruling have begun to take a hideous form. Former Chief Rabbis Mordechai Eliahu and Avraham Shapira have called on soldiers and police to refuse orders to evacuate settlers. Rabbi Shapira compared the possible evacuations to desecrating the Sabbath and eating unkosher food.

- The spiritual leader of the Shas Party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, made headlines when he called Sharon "evil" because of the disengagement plan. He added, "God will strike him with one blow and he will die. He will sleep and not awake." Although they seem perfectly clear, Rabbi Yosef later said those comments had been misunderstood.

- The desecration of the tombs of three national heros: the assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's founding father David Ben Gurion and Theodor Herzl, the original visionary of Zionism.

- In February, Chabad rabbis rallied in Jerusalem. Wearing sackcloth as a demonstration of mourning, they accused Sharon of leading Israel to "another Holocaust," according to the Jerusalem Report.

- In March, Ha'aretz reported that settlers in several areas around the West Bank attacked Palestinian laborers in what the Israel Defense Forces described as "an attempted lynching." The extreme right will stop at nothing to put a spoke in the wheels of disengagement, and the current clashes are merely an omen of what is to come, the newspaper editorialized.

- When Israeli soldiers recently tried to remove two trailers from an outpost in the West Bank, they were met by hundreds of angry settlers. One settler cocked his gun and pointed it at the head of a soldier.

Professor Assa Kasher, who wrote the IDF code of ethics, put it best: "I hear these things and I can't believe my ears," he said. "The rabbis have not learned a thing from the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and are playing with fire by encouraging soldiers to disobey orders to dismantle settlements."

Will the withdrawal from Gaza and four West Bank settlements lead to violence, with extremist settlers-buoyed by rulings of their rabbis--attacking Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians? Will a right-wing extremist emerge from the shadows and attempt to avert the withdrawal by threatening the nation with civil war, by attacking the mosques on the Temple Mount or by assassinating Israel's elected leader?

In the lead-up to the withdrawal in July, which side are you on?

Where you stand on this question may also dictate what you think about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Elected in a free and fair election, Abbas is a very different kind of leader than the autocratic, duplicitous Yasser Arafat.

Abbas recently won praise from the head of Israel's military intelligence, Aharon Zeevi Farkash, for his record so far in fighting terrorism. "Besides talking, [Abbas] has also been taking action," Farkash said.

Rightist American opponents of negotiations point to Abbas' record as the longtime No. 2 man in the PLO: "Abbas is a terrorist!" "Abbas is a Holocaust Denier!" their propaganda screams. They say: "would you support Saddam Hussein's deputy to take over Iraq?" No doubt that Abbas is a Palestinian Nationalist and not a born-again Zionist, however, a more fruitful analogy would be, "Would you have supported Anwar Sadat's offer in 1977 to come to Jerusalem?" The Egyptian president, after all, launched the Yom Kippur War. Many at the time opposed negotiating with Sadat. Because they did not prevail, Israel has had peace with Egypt for more than a quarter century and a precedent was set for peacemaking with Israel's other neighbors.

No one involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict can boast of clean hands. Not Abbas. Not Sharon. The practical, realistic question about Abbas is not, "Can he whistle Hatikva?" but "Does he have the will, agility and support to halt terrorism and deliver a negotiated settlement?"

As Abbas proves to be-as Margaret Thatcher said about Mikhail Gorbachev-"someone we can do business with," which side will you be on?

Shalom Achshav and Americans for Peace Now believe there is only one side-the side that promotes a secure, flourishing, Israel through negotiations with the Palestinians leading to a contiguous Palestinian state.

And to do that we need you to join with us. To push the zealots and messianists to the fringes. To soberly and rationally assess the chances for peace. That's what Shalom Achshav and APN do.

It was Shalom Achshav and its Settlements Watch project that revealed the Israeli government's complicity in establishing illegal outposts on the West Bank.

It was Shalom Achshav and APN that helped publicize the potential land grab by the Israeli government in East Jerusalem and contributed to forcing its halt.

It was Shalom Achshav and APN that refuted the propaganda of the anti-peace camp in our newspaper and magazine ads, and continues to do so.

It was APN that conducted a forum on Capitol Hill, during which the senior diplomats of Israel, the Palestinians, Egypt, and Jordan spoke together, for the first time, about the unique opportunity that exists for Israel and the Palestinians.

Ambassador Ayalon, of Israel, said about the event, "I think it is very timely and I think that it has been quite some time since there was a forum which included the ambassadors from Jordan, Egypt, Israel, and a representative of the PLO together in one forum. I think maybe also it symbolizes the changes of the time, and I hope the time is changing." This cautious optimism was the dominant message from the four diplomats.

Something else came out of the Ambassador's conversation with reporters after the event. One correspondent asked if Ayalon's participation in a program sponsored by APN would cause political problems for him at home. Ayalon did not flinch. He said that it is entirely natural for the Israeli embassy to work with APN. Continuing, he observed that APN is the Zionist organization with the credibility and relationships needed to invite the Arab ambassadors.

It was Shalom Achshav that kept the communications channels open with like-minded Palestinians during the intifada so, at the right moment, there would be someone to talk with.

It was APN that brought a nuanced, progressive approach to Israel advocacy on college campuses.

It was Shalom Achshav and APN that revealed that municipal budgets from settlements are used for anti-government incitement. In fact, as I write this letter, Shalom Achshav's petition to the Israeli courts has, at least, temporarily halted the transfer of funds to Yesha Council of Settlements.

Join us if you believe that as we grow in numbers we grow stronger. Join us because you believe that the majority of Israelis want to negotiate peace with the Palestinians. Join us because you don't want the future to belong to the zealots, the fundamentalists, the territorial maximalists who would rather spill Jewish blood than see peace come to the Land of Israel.

Join us if you believe that Israel must choose security over settlements, demography over geography and democracy over theocracy. Join us if you believe that these radical settlers can't have a veto over Israeli democracy.

Join us so that, once and for all, we can forge an overwhelming and undeniable consensus to end the occupation. By now you see the potential cost of failure could be more than the life of a prime minister.

Please make your tax-deductible contribution today to Americans for Peace Now.

Because there is only one side to be on.

Click HERE to see APN's "Letter to Christian Friends of Israel" from Rabbis Joy Levitt & Michael Strassfeld