Thursday September 29, 2005
Elad Orian began his presentation with a biographical description of his activist-involvement in
Israel’s socio-political and environmental affairs. Orian also writes policy
recommendations which are submitted to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Concerned
about the environmental implications of Israeli military apparatuses, he is an
active pillar of Green Action.
Founded in 1994, Green Action is considered as an anarchist environmental nongovernmental
organization. It addresses issues typically shunned by usual environmental
groups like the impact of military complexes on the environment around the world and the
connection between socio-political and environmental issues. Its aim is the organization on
the grassroots level of young people and different communities.
On a more personal level, Orian narrated what he called ‘the crossroads’ of his life.
When he was 19 years old, he served in the Israeli army as a combat soldier. Last year, he
was stationed in South Lebanon where Israeli military operation hit a UN refugee camp in
1996, killing more than 100. He also highlighted his refusal to serve in the occupied
territories. After his army service, he studied and got his M. A. degree in Physics. For a few
years, he was an active member of ALONE, an NGO dealing with marginalized and
unrecognized villages in Israel. In January 2004, he found himself facing another crossroad –
he became involved in joint Palestinian-Israeli struggle particularly in the opening of the
gates that bar Palestinian villages from entering their agricultural lands, a protest started by
the anarchists. In fact, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) shot an Israeli protester. Together
with others, they visit Palestinian territories and join protest marches.
ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM: Orian emphasized the fact that the Israeli nuclear program is
clouded in great secrecy especially because of the government’s policy of ambiguity. Since the
1960s, it has adopted Simon Peres’ formula: “Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear
weapons to the Middle East”. It also follows the traditional policy that having nuclear arms
serve as a deterrent from possible aggression from other hostile forces. It is interesting to
note that even if it has refused signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it has suffered
no consequences from doing so.
In addition, Orian stresses, Israeli society considers the question of nuclear weapon as a
“social taboo”. In fact, there is hardly any public debate about the nuclear weapons program
The cornerstone of Israel’s nuclear strategy can be called “bomb in the basement” or
“Samson’s option”. The former emphasizes the question that nuclear arms are needed as
“last resort”. In a similar vein, the latter presents the image of the biblical Philistine
prisoner, Samson, who in death had killed more Philistines than in his life.
Ben Gurion, the founding father of Israel, started contemplating Israel’s nuclear
capability in the 1950s. Assisted by France, it reached the nuclear threshold in 1967. It is
generally believed that it is able to develop the technology to make the bomb within two
years. Today, it is estimated that there are 75 - 400 warheads (strategic warheads, variable
yield warheads and tactical warheads) in Israel’s military nuclear arsenal. However, the
commonly quoted estimate is 200. As a small country, a pressing problem is the question of
storage. At the moment, its nuclear storage compound is located only 30 kilometers away
from heavily populated city centers like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Furthermore, the civilian and political control over the nuclear program is virtually
non-existent and there is no clear law governing it. It is veiled in utmost secrecy - “a
kingdom of secrets” - that there is no clear public accountability. Nobody knows who is
responsible as there are no guidelines that stipulate where the civilian authority and
military control begin and end.
Orian then shared on the controversial issue, the Vanunu Case. Vanunu wants to
publish his book, Israel and the Bomb, in Israel but was initially banned. Mordecai Vanunu,
the nuclear whistleblower, was a technical worker in the 1970s. He took pictures of the
processing facility and exposed Israel’s secret to British press, Sunday Times. He was lured
to Rome by Isareli Mossad agent, kidnapped and brought to Israel where he was tried
behind closed doors and convicted of treason. He spent 18 years in prison, more than 11 of
which in solitary confinement. He was released in 2004 but is still barred from traveling
abroad. He has to report his whereabouts regularly. There are strict restrictions on his
movement and speech. In Orian’s view, this case illustrates the Israeli government’s
adamant refusal to end the era of “the kingdom of secret”.
It should be noted that Orian also maintains an objective view of Israel’s position
vis-à-vis nuclear armament. Although a self-confessed critic of his government’s policy, he
also stresses that Israel has been responsible in its use of WMDs (Weapons of Mass
Destruction). Nevertheless, he believes that the Middle East should be free of all WMDs.
ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN STRUGGLE AGAINST THE FENCE: There are 4 million Palestinian living
in the occupied territories of Gaza and the Westbank. Officially, the Palestinian Authority
(PA) has control over former and some parts of the latter. The PA is part of Israel’s tax
In the 1970s and 1980s, the idea of a fence to separate Westbank from Israel was
initially introduced but it was only in 2002 that the first section of the construction was
authorized and started. Already, 200 kilometers has been built out of the 620 kilometers
planned wall/fence. Walls are built on strategic areas while in most parts, fences will be
erected. The project costs around 2 million US dollars per kilometer. It is the special
security zones known as “fingernails sections” which has been constructed. The
construction of the “fingers sections”, the part that goes deeper into the Westbank, has not
been authorized by the Israeli government primarily because of the pressure from
Washington. Because it will divide the Wesbank into three separate areas, the United
States government has been very critical of this move.
The Palestinians directly affected by the construction number around half a million. For
some, their lands are forcibly taken. Others are forced to live on the other side of the fence
which makes it difficult to find a decent source of income and livelihood. Also, the wall
separates water sources from agricultural lands. Some find their only water source
inaccessible. Similarly, neighbourhoods are cut in half and people’s access to clinics,
hospitals and schools are greatly affected.
Officially, the fence serves as a security barrier to safeguard Israel from terrorist
attack and it is not a border of any kind in future negotiations. This official line, Orian
underlines, is highly unconvincing. He asserts that it closely linked to future expansion
plans of the settlement. It is a de facto annexation of lands and the creation of “facts on the
ground”. Combined with the Gaza “pullout” where Israel talked with everyone except the
Palestinians, it has become what Orian calls the “formalin” of the peace process. He further
notes that in effect Israel prevents real possibilities for the peace negotiations to prosper
and in fact, postpones any possible dialogues in the future.
At present, Orian is involved in joint Israeli and Palestinian protests against the
construction of the fence. There are demonstrations spearheaded by popular committees in
the villages and activist assemblies at least once a week. Called “fence intifada”, these are
non-violent direct actions.
OPEN FORUM: The joint movement between the Israelis and Palestinians came about as a
response to the construction of the fence. On the Palestinian side, people do not know how
to consider the on-going construction and the suffering it causes. Initially, they went to the
committees (the mechanism of the first intifada) in trying to stop the construction. This
paves the way for a “ground up organization” in the villages. On the Israeli side, two groups
are active: the old timer leftists and the anarchists. They started with “food campaigns”
wherein they bring food to those who have been affected. These developed into other forms
of direct actions. These two camps somehow got connected and an activist collective was
Orian also comments on the comparison between the Jews in Europe and the
Palestinians now. He notes that the whole issue is imbedded with complexities and is never
one-dimensional. The so-called Palestinian “ghettos” resonated with the “ghettos” of Europe
but this is not to say that the Jews are doing now what the Nazis did before.
Orian then ends his presentation with a question for everyone, “Why are people so
interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?”