The Guardian August 15, 2001


Israeli peace groups protest Orient House occupation

by Gush Shalom

Last week the whole world immediately became aware of the Orient House, the 
building in East Jerusalem seized by the Israeli police under orders of the 
Sharon Government. The international media reported that it was a major 
centre of Palestinian political and cultural activity and that its 
occupation by the police was a direct violation of an explicit written 
guarantee, given in 1993 by Shimon Peres  then, as now, Foreign Minister 
of Israel.

What was hardly mentioned in the media was the special role this place has 
for the Israeli peace camp. In no other Palestinian venue were peace-
seeking Israelis such frequent visitors, always made to feel at home and 
engage in fruitful discussion and dialogue.

It was painful to see on the TV screen the conquering soldiers and police 
arrogantly trampling the same beautiful balconies and verandas where such a 
short time ago Palestinian and Israeli peace-seekers had stood together in 
amity. And seeing the Israeli flag raised by the stupid arrogant conquerors 
on top of the building filled us with shame and disgust for the flag of our 
country. 

Contrary to Sharon's claim to have "restored Israeli sovereignty in Greater 
Jerusalem" by closing down the Orient House and more than ten other 
Palestinian institutions, this brutal and high-handed act demonstrated for 
all to see that East Jerusalem is an occupied territory, held by the State 
of Israel by sheer brute force. 

The Orient House had been a primary target for Sharon and the rest of the 
Israeli right-wing. Last Thursday's terrible suicide bombing served as the 
pretext for implementing this long-prepared design and occupation of Orient 
House. It was a very thin pretext, since not even Sharon dared claim that 
this building or anyone in it, was in any way connected to the bombing.

In the past two days Israeli peace activists  as well as a sizeable 
number of international volunteers from the US and various European 
countries  joined the increasing wave of protests by Palestinians outside 
the occupied Orient House.

Gush Shalom and the Women's Coalition for Peace, in co-ordination with the 
Palestinian leadership in East Jerusalem, resolved to hold their own 
demonstration at the Orient House  or as near as we can get, considering 
the enormous police presence all around, blocking off whole streets.

This protest is to take place on Tuesday, August 14 and will call for the 
immediate restoration of the Orient House to its Palestinian owners. (An 
earlier demonstration was brutally broken up by Israeli police.)

Here is a draft protest letter to go to the Israeli Government and 
President Bush:"

"The whole world was shocked again by a very devastating terrorist attack -
- this time in the centre of Jerusalem. But to see the Government of Israel 
make use of this terrible event as a pretext to clamp down on the Orient 
House is, in itself, flabbergasting.

To destroy this centre of dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis and a 
place frequently visited by international diplomats doesn't give to the 
Palestinians the message that the violence should end. On the contrary, 
there can only be expected more violence after such a symbol of reason and 
mutual respect is shut down."

Send to:
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Office of the Prime Minister
3 Kaplan Street, PO Box 187
Kiryat Ben-Gurion. 
Jerusalem 91919 Israel
Fax: + 972 2 651 2631
Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres
Fax: +972-2-5303704
e-mail: sar@mofa.gov.il

Ambassador
Embassy of Israel (Australia)
6 Turrana Street,
Yarralumla. ACT 2600
Email: canberra@israel.org

Send a copies to:
president@whitehouse.gov

Send a message of solidarity to the peace activists of Israel and 
Palestine:
info@gush-shalom.org

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