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Citing Israeli peace activists, Seattle couple campaigns against security barrier

By Leon Cohen
of The Chronicle staff

August 13th, 2004

Hydro-geologist and peace activist John Reese from Seattle was visiting Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip for seven months in 2002 — and decided he had to do something.

During that time, he saw Israel begin building its wall-fence-security barrier in the West Bank, and he was one of the first non-Israelis to take pictures of it that have since been circulated around the world.

He concluded that “the wall is a barrier to peace”; that its construction is more “about taking land and water” from the Palestinian Arabs than about protecting Israelis from terrorism; and that it is doing massive environmental damage, “destroying flora and fauna, polluting surface and ground water.”

And he felt that people in the United States “have to see this” and learn that via the aid money that the U.S. gives to Israel, “your tax dollars are building this barrier.”

So back in Seattle, he and his partner and fellow social activist, Erica Kay, with the assistance of others, created a model of part of the concrete sections of the barrier and put it on a trailer. Beginning July 2, they started a four-month, driving tour of the country to show the model and speak against the security barrier.

They brought their effort to Milwaukee last Monday, Aug. 9, handing out literature downtown during the day and speaking that evening at an event sponsored by Peace Action Wisconsin and attended by about 25 people at the Milwaukee Friends Meeting House.

During their presentation, they showed a video titled “The Wall” (2003) made by Israeli-Dutch film-maker Benny Brunner and distributed by the American Friends Service Committee. This hour-long documentary focuses primarily on Jewish Israeli peace activists speaking against the construction.

Reese and Kay also bring with them a full-size (eight meters or 26 feet tall) pipe-and-tarp model of a concrete slab used in that part of the barrier, which they set up wherever they can. And a climax of their effort will be a planned visit to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, when they and others will build a model Palestinian village with an Israeli wall around it.

“Our experience has been that seeing is believing for people,” said Kay. “When people stand next to [the full size model slab], they are open to learning more.”

When asked in an interview afterward why they picked this cause, both said the choice came from their respective backgrounds.

Though neither one is Jewish, Kay, a biochemist by training, said her father was a Jewish Holocaust survivor who married a non-Jewish woman. She said she has a long history of working on “peace and justice and environmental issues,” and this particular one is “what I needed to do” at this time.

Reese said his involvement “stems from my anti-racism beliefs” born as far back as 1965, when his attorney father took him on the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march. He too has been active in many causes.

Reese vehemently denied that by opposing the construction of the wall he was therefore favoring terrorist attacks on Israel. During the question and comments session, he told the audience, “Israelis are not evil demons. The majority of them want peace.” He also asserted that many Israelis don’t really know about the injustices Israeli forces are committing in the territories.

“I’m for peace,” he told The Chronicle. “It is a sad day every time a suicide bombing occurs. I wish they would stop.”

“But I don’t see this barrier as reducing death,” he said. He insisted that “the long term effect will be an increase in conflict” and that the Palestinians “will find ways to continue the conflict.”