Dismayed at the impact of occupation, a group of Jewish activists has launched a global appeal calling on Israel to uphold and respect human rights.
Beginning with 23 signatures from Jews in Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Israel, the organisers of the petition hope to reach as many of the world's 13 million Jews as possible.
Since Israel's recent offensive in Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,200 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, Swiss activist Jochi Weil-Goldstein has felt increasing despair about this "hopeless situation".
"I see myself playing chess. It's my turn and I have to move my queen but whatever move I make I will lose her," he explains.
The former teacher from Zurich knows the region well. Project leader for more than 30 years for the non-governmental organisation Medico International Suisse in the Occupied Territories, he was also involved in promoting the export of Palestinian olive oil to Switzerland.
Rather than give up on the problem, Weil-Goldstein is putting his energy into spreading the word about the appeal, which is available in eight languages.
The appeal – "out of a sense of shared responsibility and in the spirit of Jewish tradition" – is intended to reach out to the Jewish diaspora, as well as the five million Jews living in Israel.
"Because the occupation is destroying the lives of the occupied and the souls of the occupiers," says Weil-Goldstein, who came to Bern on Monday with fellow signatories Shelley Berlowitz and Philippe Lévy to launch the appeal.
A member of Jewish Voice for a Just Peace between Israel and Palestine (Switzerland), Shelley Berlowitz remembers growing up with the "awareness that the state of Israel was a exemplary democracy... which made a life of dignity and liberty possible for all its inhabitants – including Arabs in the region".
But today she no longer recognises the country whose flag she proudly served under between 1974 and 1976. A country where she says Palestinians are "second class citizens" and see their dignity, their perspectives for the future, their daily life "controlled and strangled every day a little more, sacrificed on the altar of Israel's national security".
Philippe Lévy, former ambassador and president of the Swiss Commercial Expansion Office, described the initiative as a first.
"There has never been an initiative of this type," he explained to swissinfo. "Traditionally the Jews show solidarity to Israel whatever the country and its government does. But now this attitude is no longer sustainable and it is necessary to reflect on our stance."
And what do the 18,000 Jews in Switzerland think? "We will see," responds Lévy. "To begin with we have started rather discreetly, but now that it is being spoken about in the media, we will certainly have a reaction in both directions."
Although his friend Weil-Goldstein has been described as a "traitor", the term does not bother the ex-diplomat, who doesn't feel "any sense of obligation towards the state of Israel", as he is not a citizen.
"The fact that 80 per cent of the inhabitants have the same religion as I do is not decisive," Lévy explains.
"And we are convinced that if the ideas we are promoting were put into practice, it would be in the interest of 80 per cent of Israeli Jews, as well as the wider community of Jews in the world."
So how many of the Jews living around the world, at whom the appeal is mainly directed, do the activists expect to reach? Impossible to say, according to the instigators of the petition because the support that the diaspora gives to Israel is largely dependent on events on the ground and no one can predict what will happen.
This is why the organisers have given the appeal three years to collect signatures. The weight of the signatures should provide a boost to the peace camp in Israel – where it has lost ground, as has been shown by the "holy union" around the Gaza offensive and the results of the last elections.
"These developments worry us, even if they are understandable," Lévy notes. However he continues to believe in the path of negotiation and thinks that even with Hamas it is possible to find a solution.
"To simply say that they are extremists and terrorists and that one does not speak with them, that is an attitude that will bring nothing to the situation," the former diplomat argues.
The activists have not asked for the official help of Swiss diplomacy so far and they do not fear that their action could influence relations between Switzerland and Israel.
Switzerland was the launching site of the Geneva Initiative back in 2003, an alternative peace plan put together by former Israeli and Palestinian ministers and signed with great pomp in Geneva, with the blessing of the UN and several serving and former heads of state.
"It is evident that the impact was limited and it was known from the start, because it was a private initiative and non governmental," Lévy points out. "However I don't think we have heard the last word yet."
swissinfo, based on an article in French by Marc-André Miserez
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