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“A conversation in a grocery store reminded me I can never give up”: Standing Together’s Uri Weltmann in the Metro

Standing Together’s National Field Organiser Uri Weltmann has written an opinion piece for the UK newspaper Metro. We republish the article below. The original is available on the Metro website here.

Five years ago, I stopped at a grocery store on my way home from a protest. The shop owner noticed the megaphone that was hanging on a strap on my shoulder. I’d been in Yad Mordechai junction – in the southern part of Israel, a few kilometres away from the Gaza Strip.

‘Are you going to a demonstration?’, he asked.

‘I just got back from one in the Gaza Envelope,’ I replied. ‘We were there protesting the fact that the government wasn’t offering any hope for the people who live there’.

He answered: ‘Good! You are right! The government really ought to bomb the hell out of Gaza!’

His response, while not unexpected, was frustrating. This line of thinking is the very same thing we in Standing Together – the grassroots movement that unites both Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel that I helped to found a few years earlier – are working so hard to change. Indeed, it was what our protest that day was all about.

Rather than seeing the ongoing reality of violence and war as a zero-sum game, we work to promote the notion that ending the occupation and achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace is actually in the interest of the vast majority of people who live here. In fact, it is the only way to safeguard our future.

After the events of 7 October last year, this message is just as – if not more – important now. It’s why I’m still helping to organise peace protests in Tel-Aviv to this day.

The first protest I helped organise was in 2002 when I was a first-year university student in the coastal city of Haifa. We set up a small vigil of students and lecturers in support of our colleagues at the University of Birzeit – in the Palestinian West Bank – that were facing persecution. I think around 30 people came to that one.

Since then, I’ve been involved in doing peace work, which is one of the reasons I helped to found Standing Together in 2015. I felt that we needed to bring Israeli citizens of various national backgrounds – both from the Jewish majority, as well as from the Palestinian minority – to work together.

I am especially proud of the role we played in the previous round of bloodletting – in May 2021 – when we helped organise dozens of joint Jewish-Arab protests across the country. At a time in which reading the news risked being pulled into despair, the work me and my friends were doing filled me with quite a lot of hope. 

Then on 7 October, Hamas terrorists attacked those towns and villages in which my friends, my co-protesters, live. Some lost family members and friends, and are now evacuated from their homes, living in other parts of Israel.

One was kidnapped to Gaza, and is still held there. I recall the first time I saw his face on one of the ‘Free the Hostages’ posters that sprung out throughout Israel. I tried to figure out why he looked so familiar, then it dawned on me: I know him.

I know his name. We talked. We stood next to each other holding signs. 

The shock of that day filled our society with grief and anger, but it never shook the commitment of myself and my partners to the idea of achieving security and justice through peace and diplomacy.

This notion is what brought us also to organise rallies in the centre of Tel-Aviv, under the slogan: ‘Only peace will bring security’. Our demonstrations – attended by thousands of Israeli citizens, both Jewish and Arab-Palestinian – were the biggest peace protests since the war began.

In our protest in Habima Square, the famous Israeli singer-songwriter Achinoam Nini (Noa) gave a powerful speech, ending it with singing her renowned song, There Must Be Another Way. Some of the crowd quietly hummed the song. Others knew the lyrics well, and joined in.

Palestinian peace activist Ghadir Hani – who is an Israeli citizen and one of the leaders of Standing Together – spoke in tears about the need to recognise the loss of innocent lives and the pain of grieving families of both peoples. Many were moved by these words. I felt proud of the fact that Ghadir and I are political partners. Although we hail from different communities and backgrounds, our paths crossed and we led together a joint Jewish-Arab organisation that works to promote the values we both share.

Others who passed nearby were not always in agreement. One bystander shouted: ‘Why don’t you talk about the bereaved families in Israel?’

People around him turned his attention to the fact that the speaker he was shouting at was Dr Yael Admi, a founding leader of the movement ‘Women Wage Peace’, who is herself a bereaved sister. She lost her brother in one of the many, many, wars between Israel and its neighbouring Arab countries.

These kinds of exchanges are not something new to me. The current mood in Israeli society is hawkish and agitated. Following 7 October, even people who were previously supportive of Israeli-Palestinian peace seem to have taken a step towards that political pole that prioritises the use of force over diplomatic agreements.

Yet this only shows why efforts such as ours are so important: if we won’t advocate a ceasefire agreement and a peaceful resolution, then who will? If the peace movement in Israel won’t mobilise, convince and work to shift public opinion, then surely the camp of eternal war will be having it their way.

It’s now been four months since the war began. As we continue to fear for the lives of the Israeli hostages and grieve for the loss that our own society suffered, we are also horrified to learn that more than 25,000 Palestinian lives are already lost in the Gaza Strip – thousands of them are children.

The humanitarian catastrophe there – including the lack of clean drinking water, food shortages, collapse of the medical facilities – will not bring safety and security for us in Israel. Rather, this terrible human suffering only undermines hopes for achieving decent lives for all of us. What is needed now is a ceasefire agreement that would return the hostages back to their families and end the killing of innocent civilians.

Not stopping at that, we need to advance to an Israeli-Palestinian peace, that will include establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Such a prospect will show a way out of the current reality of bloodletting and pain.