Ex-Peace Now Activist Launches Hunger Strike Against Occupation in Front of PM's Residence

'My action is a step intended to arouse hope,' archaeologist Avi Ofer, 62, says

Israeli Peace Now activists protesting in Jerusalem on May 15, 2010.
Tomer Appelbaum

Exactly 30 years ago, when the 20th anniversary of the Six-Day War was marked, Dr. Avi Ofer, then an activist in Peace Now, organized a protest event. Ofer and his friends painted the Green Line on the roads leading to the West Bank.

Last Sunday, marking 50 years to the occupation, he began a new protest: He started a hunger strike in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. He began fasting on June 11: “This was the seventh day of the Six-Day War and since then we are stuck in it and don’t know what to do,” said Ofer.

Ofer, 62, who worked as an archeologist specializing in the Biblical period and excavated at Tel Rumeida in Hebron, today is self-employed and works in high-tech. He lives on Kibbutz Ma’anit. This is his second hunger strike. The first was in the late 1990s during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term, when he protested the decision to build permanent structures for the settlers at Tel Rumeida, without allowing him to complete his archeological excavations there.

The occupation is certainly continuing far beyond his expectations, says Ofer. “When I protested with my baby daughter I did not believe that the day would come that she would come with me to a demonstration as a 30-year-old woman.” He says this is not a desperate act of the left wing, whose voice is not being heard. “To set myself on fire or to go on a hunger strike to death is a desperate act. But my action is a step intended to arouse hope. I have no expectations from Netanyahu, this act is turned inward to the peace camp. To everyone who wants peace but has despaired. The hunger strike comes to show it is possible to fight. We do not have the privilege of despair. For 35 years I have fought for it, I don’t know if I have another 35 years, but I will continue to fight,” said Ofer.

'Engenders respect'

The choice of a hunger strike prevents the regular attacks from the right, says Ofer. “This type of protest engenders respect,” he says and shows his visitors book filled with words of support.

For now, his plan is to remain in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence until the end of his hunger strike has met with opposition from the city. Jerusalem city hall prohibits protests on the Sabbath and has demanded that Ofer leave the canopy, under which he sits, on Friday evenings. The city’s legal adviser, Dan Liebman, says the city’s policy is to bar protest structures in the streets on the Sabbath and holidays when the city workers and inspectors are not working, and the general public is not at work or in school and uses a large part of the public space.

The Jerusalem municipality said there was no reason not to hold a protest in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence all day until 11 P.M. and it is allowed to set up a gazebo during those hours. Such an arrangement was approved in the past by the High Court of Justice for other protests. Setting up a tent on the sidewalk blocks the passage and endangers the public, which is forced to put itself at risk and walk on the road. In general, the arrangement does not allow remaining on Friday night from the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath (just before sundown) to the end of the Sabbath on Saturday night. This arrangement applies to all those who want to demonstrate at this location, regardless of the subject of the demonstration or the identity of the protestors. It is possible to receive an extension to extend the period of the demonstration, said the city.

Laura Wharton, a member of the Jerusalem City Council from Meretz, said that almost every Saturday there are groups of ultra-Orthodox who protest and try to block Hanevi’im Street in the city. “The attack on freedom of expression and the attempts to limit the rights of protesters have reached a truly worrying level, in Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular,” she said.