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Local Web site used to urge peace

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Friday April 05, 2002

E-mails, faxes sent to  

leaders calling for an end to Middle East violence 


Since Friday, more than 134,000 people from the Bay Area and around the world have used a Berkeley Web site to send e-mails and faxes to American, Israeli and Palestinian leaders calling for an end to Middle Eastern violence. 

“It’s really picking up a lot of steam,” said Steve Freedkin, who operates the site,, and serves as a member of the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission. 

The Web site, launched in May 2001, serves as a vehicle for citizens to contact decision-makers on a wide range of issues. Progressive Portal’s most prominent campaign was a one-million-letter effort to dislodge members of the Pacifica Radio board last year. 

The Middle East message calls for an end to Israeli military action in Palestinian-controlled areas. The letter also advocates an end to suicide bombings, carried out by Palestinian radicals, against Israeli citizens. Visitors to the site, if they choose, can edit the message. 

Freedkin said he has no illusions that this week’s e-mails and faxes, alone, will bring peace to the Middle East.  

But he suggests that they may play some small role in easing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has escalated in recent weeks. 

“Maybe we can, in some small way, contribute to the larger effort of governments and citizens and action groups around the world to step back from the brink of chaos in the Middle East,” he said. 

Freedkin said that quick, e-mail activism also helps people feel more involved. He said he hopes this sense of involvement leads to greater activism.  

Norma Harrison, a Berkeley real estate agent who used the service, said she is already a busy activist. But Harrison added that she does appreciate the convenience of and other similar sites. 

“This is one of the easier things to do,” she said. “I do this as much as possible.” 

“I really just want to do something,” added Annie Smiley, a UC Berkeley senior who used the site after seeing a link on 

Freedkin said people from Japan, Turkey, Italy, Canada and several other countries have joined local activists in making use of the site.  

Freedkin said the e-mails and faxes only targeted American and Israeli leaders until Saturday night, when he added Palestinian leaders to the list. 

The problem, he said, was that Israeli attacks on the Palestinian stronghold of Ramallah disabled several web sites and made it difficult to find contact information for the appropriate leaders. 

Now, he said, those who send messages through the web site reach the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Negotiations Affairs Department. Freedkin said he will add Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Mikhail-Ashrawi to the list shortly. 

Freedkin said most of the faxes and e-mails have reached their destinations. But, he added, fax machines at the State Department and White House have been busy at times and the Israeli Deputy Defense Minister’s e-mail account has been full, and unable to accept new messages, on several occasions. 

Thus far one recipient, a member of the Israeli Knesset, Uri Ariel, has responded to a Progressive Portal message calling for an end to military action. The response: “Thank you for writting (sic) me, but that won’t be possible, we have to protect our lives here.”