MCC Palestine Update #28
Amidst talk of a potential cease-fire declaration, the road closures for Yom Kippur, and the one-year anniversary of the al-Aqsa Intifada, the work of MCC’s Palestinian partners continues. The Center for Agricultural Services in Hebron this week initiated a program to support the production of “dibs” (a honey-like spread made out of grapes) in Hebron’s Old City–the project will provide a badly needed additional source of income for nearly 50 families in an area often under curfew. The Badil Refugee Resource Center in Bethlehem, meanwhile, has begun to assemble a Hebrew-language packet with information on the legal basis of the right of Palestinian refugees to return and on practical modalities for return.
Below are three pieces. The first, by Palestinian academic Sari Nusseibeh, tries to lay out a way ahead for Palestinians and Israelis; his piece was published simultaneously in Palestinian and Israeli papers. The second is a worship reflection which MCC country representative Alain Epp Weaver will be offering at MCC’s student conference in New York on forgiveness and politics. The final piece, by Haaretz journalist Amira Hass, considers what the press would look like if it reported everything that happened in the occupied territories.
1. What next?
Haaretz, 24 September 2001
What can a levelheaded person among us (be he/she Jewish or Arab) see as a future prospect to the escalating bloody events in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? This is a question all of us (whether we be levelheaded or aspire to be so) must consider patiently and detachedly.
Surely no rational person on the Israeli side expects that this conflict can be resolved by removing the Palestinian people from historic Palestine. Similarly, no sane person on the Palestinian side expects to achieve the desired peace by means of removing the Jewish people from this land. Both peoples exist and, in all likelihood, will continue to do so. Therefore, the struggle between them will continue unless they put a stop to it.
Surely also, on the other hand, no sane person on the Israeli side expects Israel to be able to bring about security and stability by forcefully imposing a settlement on the Palestinian people. But equally and conversely, Israelis are unlikely to cave in and accept solutions forced upon them. Force, therefore, will not produce stability or relatively permanent security, if for no other
reason than because force is not a trait that is the permanent property of any one party over the other.
All of this means that when any levelheaded person looks ahead, all he or she can see is either a future full of confrontations and bloodshed, or the logical need for a peaceful, agreed-upon
Some might say: But we have tried the peace process and it has failed (with each side presenting reasons for this failure from its own point of view). They might continue by accusing the other
side of deliberately prolonging the confrontations, alleging that it never wanted peace in the first place and concluding that the theory that a peaceful solution to the conflict works is, therefore, not a valid theory, and that peace is not a realistic option.
It is true that the peace process has failed, but it must be asked: Did the theory or merely its implementation fail? Are we the only party that believes in peace? In my opinion, the fault does not lie in the theory: It lies in the form it took and the way in which it was implemented.
Why do I say that the fault does not lie in the theory? From an Israeli point of view, failing to reach a solution gradually places Israel in danger. Sooner or later, Israel will find itself
turning either into a racist state – like the apartheid regime that existed in South Africa -that is unable to bring security or peace to its citizens, or a binational that has lost its Jewishness. Both outcomes represent a strategic problem for Israel and require a preemptive measure to prevent them. Thus, strategically, Israel is in need of a solution.
On the Palestinian side, the dream of a national identity within a political entity can only be realized through the creation of a separate (or independent) national state. Allowing such a goal to slip away, or setting a goal beyond this, will simply push the Palestinians toward a demographic and strategic confrontation with Israelis, the best outcome of which, from their viewpoint, will produce a political framework in which Palestinian national identity will not be the predominant political identity of the state. Thus, a solution is a strategic requirement for the the Palestinians too.
Commonsense, therefore, says that a joint solution for both the Palestinian and Israeli problems – and not for one side alone – involves concluding a definitive peace between the two peoples. The theory that such a solution must be based on the establishment of two neighboring – but separate – states also remains sound for as long as such a solution is practicable, both geographically and demographically. In this context, it is important to point out that time does not stand still, waiting for the people to return to their senses.
But if, in theory, peace is a valid way out, why did we fail in its implementation? Is it because the other side does not believe in peace? Or is it because the other party to the conflict does not
There are certainly a number of different reasons for its failure. But in my opinion, one can identify three fundamental obstacles to a solution. These obstacles, whether directly or indirectly, will also continue to prevent one. Therefore, if peace is to be attained, both peoples must confront these obstacles and take them into account. These obstacles can be described as fixed political positions or deeply-rooted psychological states of mind. The first is Palestinian; the second is Israeli; and the third is common to both.
The first obstacle, from the Palestinian perspective, is the emotionally- fixed delineation by the Palestinian people of the areas occupied in 1967 as the geographic/political space for the
establishment of a Palestinian state. As a result, attempts by Israel to reduce this space in one way or another (through procrastination, the confiscation of land, settlement activities, and the like) will surely lead the negotiations to failure.
The second obstacle, from the Israeli perspective, is the adamant rejection by Israel of the “principle of the right of return”, or its refusal to accept waves of refugees to its land. Once again the clear conclusion is that the Palestinians’ insistence that Israel allow these refugees to return to their original homes and lands will also lead to failure.
The third obstacle, which is common to both peoples, is Jerusalem. Neither side is ready to give up the city. This means that a solution, if one exists at all, must be designed in a manner in which both parties come to share the city through joint sovereignty. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s suggestions in this regard, during the final days of his presidency, can serve as a basis for such a design.
If the first step in a peace process does not involve a concerted effort by both sides to face these issues head on, there will not be a final step in the process. Transitional political solutions (the
policy of stages, plans such as the Mitchell Report, the Tenet recommendations, and so on) will not lead to the sought-after peace.
In my view, the issues I have just pointed out are matters that all rational people among us realize deep down in themselves. They are neither strange nor new, but rather things that everyone already knows.
Can, therefore, the voice of reason, on both sides, be raised to deliver us from this tragic situation? Or will we leave our shared destiny to opportunists – those bent on wanton destruction – and others?
Professor Nusseibeh is the president of Al Quds University in Jerusalem. This piece is appearing simultaneously in Israeli and Palestinian newspapers.
2. Worship Reflection
Alain Epp Weaver
MCC UN Conference, New York, October 2001
Our reading this morning comes from Jeremiah, chapter 8:
You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord:
When people fall, do they not get up again?
If they go astray, do they not turn back?
Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding?
They have held fast to deceit, they have refused to return.
I have given heed and listened, but they do not speak honestly.
No one repents of wickedness, saying
“What have I done!”
All of them turn to their own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle.
Why do we sit still?
let us go into the fortified cities and perish there;
for the LORD our God has doomed us to perish,and has given us poisoned water to drink,
because we have sinned against the LORD.
We look for peace, but find no good,
for a time of healing, but there is terror instead.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?
(Jer. 8:4-6, 14-15, 22)
“We look for peace, but find no good, for a time of healing, but there is terror instead.” It has indeed been a time of terror during the past month. Horror, terror, shock, revulsion, despair, anguish: we search the thesaurus for words to help us name our reaction to the attacks in the United States on September 11, but find words wanting.
Our stunned silence does not last long. Into this wordless vacuum quickly rushes anger, a visceral desire for revenge. We become like horses plunging headlong into battle. Coarser voices on talk shows urge bombing “them” back to the Stone Age, turning Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, whomever, into rubble. A minister of God’s Word, Franklin Graham, suggests on CNN that the use of weapons of mass destruction should not be ruled out. Subtler voices at the Pentagon, the State Department and in the punditocracy speak chillingly about the “necessary collateral damage” of any US military action, meaning the death of who knows how many civilians. Perhaps most disturbingly, we barely notice that the closing of the borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan means a cutting off food supplies to millions inside Afghanistan dependent on World Food Program supplies.
“We aren’t like the terrorists, we don’t kill innocent children,” said one New Yorker shortly after the World Trade Center crumbled. If only that were true. American wars, like all wars, have not been clean. Thousands of Iraqi children die each month as a result of U.S.-led sanctions on Iraq. Our attempts to distance ourselves from the evil perpetrated by those who planned and implemented the deadly terror of September 11; our President’s promise to “eradicate evil,” blind us to our involvement as a nation in institutions of injustice and violence which directly and indirectly spread death and destruction on a larger scale than in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, even if not always as dramatically.
We like to think of ourselves as progressive and civilized. But, warns Gregory Jones, it is “one of the ironies of ideologies of progress” that “the conviction that ‘we’ who are ‘progressive’ or ‘civilized’ have learned how to live without diminishing or destroying other people. Hence ‘we’ conclude that the solution to all problems is for others to become like ‘us,’ all the while masking the ways in which our own ‘progress’ is built on the backs of others as they are destroyed.”
“The prophets understood the events of their day with some subtlety,” Eastern Mennonite professor Ted Grimsrud preached the Sunday following the attacks of September 11. “They saw God’s finger in the very human (and very evil) acts of the Babylonians in attacking ancient Israel. They portrayed these events as having two levels of meaning-they were acts of
bloodthirsty aggression by human beings sold out to evil, but they were also expressions of God’s judgment against God’s people and their institutions for the injustice and violence of those people.” The words of the prophet Jeremiah are potentially offensive. Could God possibly the will the death of thousands of innocent people going about there daily chores? No-God did not desire their deaths. But God has given us, a sinful humanity, up to the consequences of our sinful, violent ways. If we sow violence, we not surprisingly reap it, too.
In reflections before the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, Jewish theologian, Marc Ellis warned that “the dichotomy of innocence and guilt, civilized and uncivilized, do not serve us well . . . they do not fulfill the demands of the Days of Awe and Repentance-to reflect anew, to turn away from injustice, to confess our sins as individuals, as a community and as a nation. We too are part of the cycle of violence that we condemn so easily when the burden is so dramatically placed on another people or nation.”
Is there no balm in Gilead? God asks rhetorically in Jeremiah’s prophecy. There is a balm for our burned flesh and souls, God is telling us, but sadly we do not avail ourselves of it. We would rather rub in the soothing ointment of revenge into our wounds. But we are not physicians who can heal ourselves, and our prescription of revenge does not ameliorate our condition, but worsens it. We delude ourselves-in fact, we commit idolatry-if we think that we can dispense “infinite justice.” God cries instead for us to accept the only balm that will heal us, the stinging ointment of forgiveness which demands that we recognize our own complicity with cycles of
violence and domination.
The coming days will undoubtedly be difficult. Demands for revenge will not grow silent. America will most likely not use this time for critical self-reflection. We must, therefore, recommit ourselves as Christians to the difficult, painful discipline of forgiveness, of allowing ourselves to be molded into communities which testify that there is indeed an alternative to the politics of violence and revenge, that there is indeed a balm in Gilead. May God give us grace, courage, and strength for the days ahead. Amen.
3. Just For One Week
Haaretz, 26 September 2001
DAILY DIFFICULTIES: A soldier stopping Palestinian students and teachers on their way to school on Monday in the old city of Hebron, which was under curfew. (Photo: Reuters )
Suppose that for one week the entire Israeli media – radio, television and daily newspapers – would decide to report everything happening to the majority of the population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In other words, to the Palestinians.
Let us suppose that space is not an issue; in other words, that the newspapers would publish a special daily supplement – every day for one week – covering all the events of the previous day in the territories, not omitting of course reports about attacks on settlers and soldiers. On television and radio, several long talk shows would be replaced – for a week, just for a week – with items about the neighbor/occupied people/enemy living just five minutes away.
During that week, the Israeli media would report not only every mortar shell falling near a Jewish settlement, but also every Israeli shell hitting a Palestinian home as its eight children are preparing to go to school. IIt would tell the stories of the Jewish casualties, but also those of the Palestinian ones: Who was killed holding a gun after firing at the Ofer military camp from a post in Bitounia’s cemetery, and who was killed by a tank shell while sitting in her home in Jenin. The Palestinian dead would also be given names, ages and biographies, and the television would broadcast pictures of their family and friends crying on each other’s shoulders.
The media would show Palestinian schools with walls riddled by Israeli bullet holes and sandbags blocking the windows to protect the children studying in their classrooms. It would not content itself with dry reports about “exchanges of fire,” but rather detail the topography and technology of these exchanges: A barricaded military post on a mountain top armed with a tank and machine guns, facing AK47 fire from the foot of the hill. The media would devote ample space, from a journalistic point of view, to Palestinian claims that no shots had been fired that day from a specific site shot at “in retaliation” by IDF soldiers, and then request a comment from the IDF spokesman’s office.
The media would report the story of every peasant whose olive trees were uprooted and shredded by IDF bulldozers, or chopped down by unknown perpetrators in the middle of the night. It would describe the occurrences at every roadblock separating one village from the other, or separating a village from the nearby city: Patients laid out on stretchers moved from one ambulance to the other over dirt mounds, and children passing three roadblocks on their way
It would carry reports about tear gas and stun grenades fired by soldiers at pedestrians passing through the roadblocks, give details of those wounded and try to find out from the IDF spokesman why the grenades were used. It would also interview children questioning their parents why they did not go to the beach this year, or why they are not visiting their grandmother in Nablus this year, or why she cannot visit them.
This imaginary project is not designed to bring about a change of heart among Israelis, nor to convince them that they are not the attacked, the victims, the betrayed. These are feelings that are
difficult to root out. The aim of the project is first of all a basic journalistic aim: to try and report everything happening, and not only from the Israeli angle.
But the project also has a by-product with intelligence value, because without the full picture it is impossible to draw up a sensible policy. This project would force the Israeli public to pose
clearer questions to its leaders about the path for the future.
Information of this type is usually given to the Israeli public in doses that do not enable it to judge the situation clearly. Were the information presented almost in full, the public would be
exposed to the totality of the Israeli occupation of 3 million people, and realize the endurance and staying power of the Palestinian public, its determination and ability to live under inconceivable hardship.
Understanding the Palestinians’ staying power should worry Israelis, far beyond the question of where the next terrorist will blow up. It might increase the number of those concluding that the
government is not doing enough to defeat the Palestinians and that it must switch to new tactics or intensify existing ones – perhaps by deporting thousands across the border? Perhaps bombing
inhabited buildings and open-air markets? Perhaps a really hermetic sealing of every Palestinian village and town? Perhaps barbed wire fences and armed guards around each such town?
Alternatively, some Israelis might be convinced by the Palestinians’ stamina to listen more attentively to the basic Palestinian demands. To understand how deeply these are linked to their very existence, a fair, respectable existence. Not to fantasies, privileges, or luxuries.