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Grass-roots search for peace in Israel. Israeli Jew, Palestinian seek answers in strength of people, not arms

By Shannon A. HorstStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 6, 1985


Centuries of animosity in the Middle East have driven the Jewish and Palestinian peoples apart. Decades of war in Israel have drawn one Jew, Ora Namir, and one Palestinian, Abdel Darousha, together. With a shared goal of ``raising the consciousness of the American Jewish community to recognize the urgent need for peace,'' they began a trip this week that will take them to five cities in the United States: Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Chapel Hill, N.C. Traveling together, speaking to Jewish communities and student- and peace-activist groups, the pair hopes to demonstrate -- here and in Israel -- ``that Jews and Arabs can cooperate in Israel's search for a more secure nation,'' says Mr . Darousha.

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``American Jews want to be proud of Israel . . . and they want Israel to be strong. But what kind of strength? Physical? Human?'' asks Mrs. Namir. Both Mrs. Namir and Mr. Darousha agree that American Jews need to know that morale in Israel, particularly among the country's youth, is at an all-time low. The toll of ``one long war'' is stripping Israel of the democratic and Judaic principles upon which it was founded: human rights, equal rights, and respect for minorities, adds Mrs. Namir.

As representatives of Peace Now, Darousha and Mrs. Namir, both members of the Knesset (Israel's parliament), are in the US to encourage American Jews to support all efforts working toward peace in the Middle East. Their trip is being sponsored by Friends of Peace Now, the US affiliate of Peace Now, with 17 chapters throughout the country.

Although Peace Now has no formal membership roll, it is recognized as the largest peace movement in Israel today. Mrs. Namir says it often draws crowds of more than 100,000 for its rallies. Peace Now is an ad hoc coalition formed in 1978 to press then Prime Minister Menachem Begin to move ahead with the Camp David peace process. Although the group was instrumental in organizing public opinion against the occupation of Lebanon, its influence has waned since Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon.

According to Darousha and Namir, the group's goals today are to ``influence the Israeli government and public opinion to work toward peaceful coexistence with the Arabs.'' Its programs, outlined in its promotional literature, are designed to teach Israelis, especially Jewish and Arab youth, ``the moral dangers of occupation and unnecessary wars'' and to ``break stereotypes'' about Arabs.

Any hopes Namir and Darousha may have had about leaving some of the ugly opposition to their movement behind in Israel were shattered by demonstrators and local police that met them at the door to the Jewish community center in Newton, Mass.

An audience of several hundred people warmly welcomed them. But it was clear that even in the US Jews are divided over where the borders of Israel should lie. Some Jews, in Israel and the US, are critical of Peace Now's stand on the border issue: a complete withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, except for Jerusalem. Jews are also divided over how to handle Jewish-Arab relations within Israel. They feel the group is advocating a sell out to the Arabs. As one person in the audience put it, ``Why m ust the Jews always give up so much and the Arabs nothing?''