Libby Lenkinski is the Vice President for Public Engagement at the New Israel Fund, where she leads all aspects of NIF’s public efforts in the United States – including communications, digital, programs, events, leadership, community partnerships and engagement, New Generations and our fellowships. Prior to joining NIF, Libby lived and worked in the Israeli non-profit field for almost a decade, including as Director of International Relations at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).
That experience is not actually unique to the 1990s. Peace is not something frozen in time like an insect in amber. Israelis, Palestinians and allies around the world have been resisting the slow drift away from peace and democracy and towards an entrenched occupation of Palestinian people and lands for all five of the decades since the Six-Day War. The war left destruction in its wake, together with the greatest problem of Israel and the Jewish people: the occupation. It has been debilitating to Palestinians and a corrupting force to every aspect of Israeli society. But it what is too often ignored is that the Six Day War is that it also sparked the beginning of a strong and vibrant peace movement that has made its mark on every day, year, decade since. Knowing, teaching and telling the stories of our movement from these decades is key to carrying our legacy forward, to solving this conflict and achieving peace.
So on the eve of the anniversary, I am giving a snapshot of a few moments over the decades.
There was the time, just days after the Six-Day War ended, when a group of kibbutzniks led by Amos Oz recorded intimate conversations with soldiers returning from the battlefield. Those days were euphoric in Israel as the country erupted into patriotic celebrations of the victory and the reunification of Jerusalem. But Oz’s group heard another narrative and decided to turn it into a book. After more than 70% of the content was deleted by the military censor, the remaining words were published under the title, Censored Voices (Siach Halochamim). In 2015, filmmaker Mor Loushy released a film of the same name, wherein the original recordings are heard for the first time.
There was the floating pirate peace radio of the late 1960s and 70s, started by independent thinker and eccentric innovator Abie Nathan who came up with the idea in order to reach out to the Arab world and relay a message of peace after the war. He bought a boat in the Netherlands and took it to New York, where he raised money for the project, and in the Spring of 1973 the ship sailed towards the Middle East and docked 25 kilometers off the Israeli coast. It was the first 24-hour radio broadcast in Israel, with programming primarily in English that included music and discussions of current affairs.
There were the decades of Shulamit Aloni in politics, starting in the 1960s and going all the way until 1996. Throughout the 1970s she attempted to create a dialogue with Palestinians in hopes of achieving lasting peace. During the 1982 Lebanon War she established the International Center for Peace in the Middle East. She held a number of ministerial appointments and was always pushing, connecting, making deals and innovating for peace. When asked about her activities working with Israeli human rights organizations who expose the violations taking place in the occupied territories, she famously said, "I hate to cover up things that should be open to the sun."
I moved to Israel 13 years ago and met attorney Michael Sfard, who told me about his work defending Palestinians in Israeli courts as part of a group of human rights organizations that emerged after the second intifada. He has defended top-ranking Israeli pilots refusing to enforce the occupation, Palestinian villages challenging the route of the Separation Barrier through their lands, and artists and activists resisting the unfolding realities in the recent decades since 1967.
Michael convinced me to go see a checkpoint with a group of elderly women who monitor them called Machsom Watch. I met Dina Gur (z”l) and Ruti Keidar. They explained to me that the soldiers enforcing the policies of occupation were the age of their grandchildren. “We are like their savtot,” they said, “they’ll behave when we’re watching.” At the age of 82, Ruti was going to the West Bank three times a week to monitor checkpoints with Machsom Watch, take testimonies of Palestinians with Yesh Din, and climbing over hills in the far reaches of the Jordan Valley to assist farmers.
Ruti and Dina sent me on a tour of Hebron with former Israeli soldiers who had served in the occupied territories and tell the stories of their service publicly, breaking through long-standing myths about the Israeli military. I met Yehuda Shaul of Breaking the Silence. A border-crosser with elephant skin and a kippa, Yehuda holds a mirror every day to Israeli society, even though his society wishes to break that mirror—and break him—for breaking his silence.
With the vitriol and violence that Israeli right-wing leaders lob at peace activists and human rights defenders, and with the mainstreaming of that slander over the last two decades, it is easy to lose sight of the important legacy of those brave souls who weren’t afraid to imagine and work tirelessly toward a peaceful, just and democratic future for Israelis and Palestinians. It is easy to forget that one day the occupation will end, the dark shadow of war will shift toward the bright future that we all deserve. I don’t think that Amoz Oz or Shulamit Aloni, even Dina Gur or Michael Sfard, ever would have believed that we would reach 50 years of occupation. They have been saying for decades what we now say on this anniversary, that 50 is enough.
I was an Israeli-American suburban tween looking for something bigger. It was the 1990s and the something bigger was a paradigm-shift happening on the ground in Israel – the peace movement. Oslo was on the rise, Israelis were in the streets, and peace, the cause of my grandparents and parents’ lives, was just around the corner. I looked at those Israelis challenging their status quo, and I found my cause, my connection.