Film fest panel tackles peace

What can you do when you believe — or, you know — that the path your country's leadership is taking you down will only lead you toward further disaster; when gross human rights violations are being carried out in your name on a daily basis; when you sometimes feel you are the lone voice of sanity in a land where the government is doing its damnedest to prevent voices like yours from being heard?

And perhaps most importantly, how do you continue to maintain hope?

Those were some of the questions a panel of four Israeli peace activists tried to answer Monday night in Berkeley, following a screening of two Israeli movies as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The event, which went until almost midnight, drew a crowd that nearly filled Wheeler Auditorium.

Moderated by Jewish Voice for Peace activist Lincoln Shlensky, the discussion was called "In Search of Peace: Voices From the Peace Camp."

Sergei Sandler, a Ukrainian-born conscientious objector who is involved in the New Profile movement, which is trying to demilitarize Israeli society, said proudly that he was always on the fringe of Israeli society, which is why he opted for two months in military jail rather than serve in the army.

"At 18, I came to realize that being an enemy of somebody is one big precondition of having enemies at large" said Sandler.

Terry Greenblatt, the director of Bat Shalom, an Israeli feminist peace organization, read her remarks, which had the audience spellbound. She described the Israeli soldier who watched a Palestinian woman give birth in the dirt, rather than allow her to get to the hospital, in the name of security. Maintaining that Jews need to take collective responsibility for the actions of the soldier, she said, "He is my husband, he is my son, he is my father, he is my brother.

"My greatest fear of all," she said, "is that I might fear for my own security so greatly that one day, even tomorrow, I could read about another Palestinian woman forced to give birth in those conditions and no longer be outraged at all."

Didi Remez, a representative of Peace Now, talked about his own journey into activism. The occupation has been detrimental to Israeli society as well as the Palestinians, he said, mainly in the "corruption of two generations of Israeli youth. The cream of Israeli society is put into a situation where they have absolute power over a mostly civilian population. The distance between the tools they are given and the mission to carry out is huge."

As an Orthodox Jew who founded the Parents' Circle, a peace-seeking group of parents who lost their children to terrorism, Yitzhak Frankenthal said he had no tolerance for religious Jews who justify keeping the territories because it is mandated by Jewish law.

"It makes me angry that people in Israel are using Jewish law against making compromises for peace," he said. "There are ayatollahs in Iran, and there are ayatollahs in Israel."

While all four panelists spoke of a crisis in leadership, all remained optimistic that peace isn't only a pipe dream.

"Peace will come," said Frankenthal. "The only question is how many bodies we will have to count on both sides before then."

And Remez said, "There's no way to do the work we're doing without being optimistic. If we're not, there is no point in getting out of bed in the morning."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."