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Peace Now has not said ‘Ceasefire Now’

January 12, 2024 at 7:05 pm

Israeli activists stage a demonstration in Tel Aviv, Israel, demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza under Israeli attack, on December 09, 2023 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

Israel’s biggest anti-occupation group, Peace Now, lends legitimacy to the war by refusing to call for an immediate ceasefire.

Peace Now’s quiet, amidst the global outcry for a ceasefire, speaks to the pervasive pro-war mood in Israel since 7 October.  But the organisation is not just failing to live up to its name by conforming to pro-war social pressure. It, along with most of the “Peace Camp”, is lending liberal credibility to Israel’s genocidal war against Palestinians.

Peace Now does not rally hundreds of thousands of protestors as it did 40 years ago, but it is still a mainstay of Israel’s dwindling peace movement, even providing intelligence to the US and Israel and drawing its leadership from the highest ranks of the Israeli military. The organisation also still maintains influential sister groups in the Americas and Europe, like “Americans for Peace Now”, which boasts of its “strong relationships with Members of Congress”. On 8 January,  after three months of war, Americans for Peace Now became the first Zionist group in the US to call for a ceasefire, likely putting pressure on Peace Now in Israel to do the same.

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Because of the organisation’s stature on the national and international stage, Peace Now’s support for the “justified military objective of destroying Hamas military and political arms” gives the war effort – led by the far-right Israeli government – much-needed liberal clout.

But the pro-war liberal Israeli Peace Camp appears more out of step with the global peace movement than ever before. From Jenin to Jakarta, protest movements, human rights organizations, the largest international agencies and the vast majority of national governments have unified behind the ceasefire demand.

Leading the ceasefire call in mid-October were all major Palestinian civil society groups and political organisations. As early as 13 October, Al-Haq and Al-Mezan and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights called on “Third States to urgently intervene to protect the Palestinian people against genocide.”

But, even in Israel, where the vast majority of people support the war, a small ceasefire movement quickly emerged.

One month into the fighting, 35 Israeli “Jewish and Arab rights groups” published an open letter calling for an immediate ceasefire and hostage deal. Peace Now was not a signatory.

Still, Peace Now has continued to criticise Israel’s far-right and the surging settler violence since  7 October.

Yet, Peace Now’s criticisms have not focused on the most severe elements of Israel’s assault and forcible population transfer, like the credible accounts of field executions, the weaponisation of mass starvation and the systematic destruction of Gaza’s health system. These collective traumas endured by Palestinians have led Palestinian rights groups, academics and journalists, along with genocide and international law scholars and experts, more generally, to describe the assault as a “genocide”. It is a charge South Africa has taken up against Israel with the International Court of Justice.

Peace Now did not respond to both email inquiries from the authors of this piece.

Statements on the war

Since 7 October, Peace Now’s public statements have seemed more supportive of winning the war than stopping it. In a 30 October press release entitled, “Only a political vision will secure victory”, the group stressed that the Israeli government must “bring back the hostages. There is nothing more important than this.”

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Indeed, returning the hostages is important but, ultimately, the statement prioritises the release of Israeli hostages over a “ceasefire” – a term the statement never mentions.

On 22 December, Peace Now hosted an event titled, “There is a solution! A political vision for the day after the war”. The event’s theme exemplifies the group’s recent advocacy, both for the idea of a well-managed war based on the “boundaries set by international humanitarian law”, and for the implementation of a two-state partition solution after – it presumes – Israel wins the war.

The military-style dog tag on the event advertisement inscribed with the words “Peace and Security”, and the organisation’s strategy to “secure victory” appear to invoke a style of militaristic language and imagery normally considered at odds with the mission of a pacifist group.

Except that Peace Now is not a pacifist group. It supported the Second Lebanon War almost until the end, and many of its members are soldiers. Indeed, there is no mystery in Peace Now’s support for Israeli wars, present and past. Its members take part in the everyday activities whereby the Israeli State maintains itself and its colonial control over Palestine, which they, as Israeli Jews, benefit from.

Israel’s pro-war atmosphere

The Hamas-led 7 October attacks and massacres are widely understood to have sparked a national “multilayered trauma”, with most Israelis knowing someone killed, injured or abducted. Coupled with the Israeli military’s heightened media censorship, there is even more social pressure to support this war than previous ones.

Mostly, fringe Israeli ceasefire demands have come from Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, Israelis with family members held hostage by Palestinian militant groups, a handful of rights organisations and the Radical Bloc.

But such calls for peace, now of all times, have been perceived as naive, or worse. Typical of this reaction is a Jerusalem Post opinion piece that describes a ceasefire as a “victory for Hamas.” Similarly, a Haaretz opinion piece dismisses pro-ceasefire “defeatists” as “Hamas’ useful idiots”. The Tel Aviv Institute, a Hasbara think tank, lambasted “ceasefire” as an “anti-Semitic demand that Jews endorse our own genocide”.

But ceasefire calls – even if simply read on “terrorist” media websites – have also engendered State repression. The Israeli police have detained critics of the war and even arrested Palestinian politicians backing a ceasefire.

Rather than challenge this state of affairs, Peace Now has continued to back the war.

“Until When?”

In recent years, around 20 prominent Israeli rights groups – including Peace Now – joined the dozens of Palestinian groups that have long-recognised that Israel imposes an apartheid system on Palestinians. Now, oddly, “ceasefire” has become a more controversial term in Israel than “apartheid”.

As Israel’s assault drags on, already killing some 30,000 Palestinians and displacing and starving over two million, many have wondered, “Until when?” How long can this go on? For Peace Now, the question is, what will it take for the organisation to actually demand peace now?

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.