Northern California Friends of Sabeel ad in Downtown Berkeley BART Station. (Photo: Barbara Erickson)
Two Israeli women, one Palestinian and the other Jewish, are the latest activists to appear on San Francisco Bay Area transit posters calling for an end to U. S. military aid to Israel. Images of Lubna Masarwa and Michal Zak, who work together for the threatened Bedouin of the Negev/Naqab Desert, are now greeting commuters on Bay Area Rapid Transit stations in San Francisco and the East Bay.
“Join with us,” the posters say. “Build peace with justice and equality. End U.S. military aid to Israel.” The five advertisements also invite viewers to read about Lubna and Michal at www.BuildPeace.org.
Northern California Friends of Sabeel, with help from members of Bay Area Jewish Voice for Peace, produced the posters as part of a campaign inspired by the Chicago group, Committee for a Just Peace in Israel Palestine. (The project is now under the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.) Last year NorCal Sabeel ran ads featuring Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions with his friend and colleague Salim Shawamreh. Two posters of Jeff and Salim are appearing concurrently with those of the women.
Stand With Us ad. (Image: Stand With Us)
NorCal Sabeel began its advertising campaign in December 2010 using the Chicago group’s posters of two unnamed fathers, one Israeli and one Palestinian, with their young daughters. In response to these, the Israel Lobby group StandWithUs ran provocative counter ads showing a pair of angry eyes peering out from a keffiyeh, but BART removed these ads after receiving complaints that they were racist. Since then StandWithUs has placed new posters claiming that Israel lacks a partner for peace and directing viewers to a web site that charges Palestinians with teaching their children to hate.
Culture jammer’s re-branded Stand With Us ad, February 2011. (Photo: Jamnation/IndyBay)
StandWithUs, flush with millions of Israel Lobby dollars, is able to run several times the number of ads that NorCal Sabeel can afford. So Mondoweiss readers are encouraged to help out by visiting www.BuildPeace.org and making a donation.
Visitors to the web site can read about Lubna and Michal, who guide delegations to the most vulnerable citizens of Israel, the remnants of Israel’s historic Bedouin communities. The women accompany visitors to villages like Al Araqib (demolished and rebuilt over thirty times) and Wadi al Na’am, home to 8,000 who live in the shadow of contaminating industrial plants, and they visit other Palestinian communities “unrecognized” by Israel and denied water, transportation, electricity and services readily available to Jewish settlements.
They also escort delegations to the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages, where newcomers learn that Israel is drafting a law to force the Bedouin off their ancestral lands and into townships blighted by unemployment and poverty. As Israel destroys the “unrecognized” villages, the Jewish National Fund moves in to uproot their trees and plant forests under the pretext of reclaiming the desert. Israeli media meanwhile vilify the Bedouin and say they are “invaders” on their own land.
Michal, a resident of the bi-national community Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam, spent 20 years working as a political educator, facilitating dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and when Lubna attended one of her workshops six years ago, the two women met for the first time. But both of them became disillusioned with dialogue that fails to challenge injustice, and they chose instead to take more direct action in confronting the racism and abuses in Israel and the Occupied Territories.
Lubna highlights the Israeli policy of dividing Palestinians into separate groups and enclaves, and she works with those in the Diaspora, within the state of Israel, and under occupation. She has joined with the Palestinians of East Jerusalem and villagers in the occupied West Bank who are fighting the confiscation of their land, water and homes. She took part in four attempts to break the siege of Gaza by sea and succeeded in entering the strip twice, and she spent six months in Belgium as an advocate for Palestine at the European parliament. At the invitation of Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire, Lubna also attended a forum on nonviolent strategy held in Hawaii.
Two years ago, Michal joined the staff of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages that advocates for the 90,000 Bedouin of Israel’s southern desert. She coordinates outreach to Jewish groups and human rights organizations and helps the council tell the story of the persecuted Palestinian Bedouin.
She recounts their stories of dispossession, going back to the early days of Israel, when the tribes were driven off their original land to make way for Jewish settlements and their remnants were forced into a small corner of the desert. She also describes the current assault on their way of life, which threatens to demolish the last Bedouin communities in the name of an exclusive Jewish state.
“There is a plan to concentrate people,” she said, “to take their land and make everyone around, including the international community, think it is all in the name of progress.”
Michal has been called a traitor by some of her fellow Jews, but she finds fulfillment in her work. As a staff member of the regional council, she said, “I feel liberated.”
Lubna has faced harassment from Israeli security services. They call her to say that they are watching her. They have held her for hours of questioning and accused her of threatening the security of Israel, but she is willing to pay the price for her work. “It will not stop me from raising my voice,” Lubna said.