Not only has peace disappeared from the horizon, but also the horizon itself has disappeared!

Not only has peace disappeared from the horizon, but also the horizon itself has disappeared!

Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Papal Nuncio in Israel, made this distressing statement to Vatican Radio immediately after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s victory in the recent Israeli Knesset [parliamentary] elections. Stressing that the course of violence so far had failed to break the deadlock between the two parties, he reminded his listeners of the Pope’s rejoinder that the four pillars on which peace is based are truth, justice, love and liberty. This consummate politician and charismatic Christian leader also extolled the formidable fortitude and courage of those indigenous Christians who have opted to remain in the Holy Land rather than emigrate to foreign climes despite the hardships they face on a day-to-day basis.

So if the four pillars of peace are truth, justice, love and liberty, it seems to me that the edifice meant to sustain this future peace between Israelis and Palestinians is seriously at risk of irreversible damage. Another echo of this dismal but worrying reality was reverberated only ten days ago when the UK-based Christian Aid released a report entitled ‘Losing Ground: Israel, poverty and the Palestinians’ which described the accelerated slide into poverty today of Palestinians in the occupied territories. The report mentioned that 60% of Palestinians in the West Bank, and 80% in Gaza, are living in property. It added that the World Food Programme is providing food rations to approximately one million Palestinians – almost one in three of the overall population! In launching the report at the House of Lords [Upper House], the British Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short indicated that malnutrition levels in Gaza today are comparable to those in Zimbabwe and other deprived countries.

Why is this happening to Palestinians across their cities, towns and villages? What are its underlying structural and systemic causes, and can they be challenged so that poverty is eradicated from Palestinian society? Roger Riddell, International Director at Christian Aid, indicated recently that the report uses personal testimonies by Palestinians to highlight the levels of poverty and despair. Its four-pronged axis focuses on ‘the Israeli policy of closure and curfews which are tearing apart lives and communities, the direct and indirect effects of Israeli settlement policy, the loss of access and control of land and the management of water resources.’ The report concludes with a primary recommendation that a just and lasting peace for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and for the eradication of poverty, require an end to the Israeli illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. According to the World Bank, ‘a further radical tightening of closure [by Israel of Palestinian territories] would push the Palestinian economy into a poverty trap in which any prospect of recovery can be forgotten for a long time.’

The Rt Revd Michael Langrish, Bishop of Exeter, who wrote the forward for the Christian Aid report and also spoke at the launching event, referred to an ‘impoverishment of hope’. Reminding the audience that the Oslo process for peace had been political as much as economic, he also emphasised the declining belief within Palestinian communities that a dreadful situation may get better soon. Reminding the audience of the local Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant communities witnessing in the Holy Land, the Bishop mentioned that prayer and protest, as much as aid and advocacy, go hand in hand within the Christian ministry.

Earlier last week, Roy Isacowitz, veteran Israeli journalist at the Independent Media Centre in Israel, wrote an article entitled ‘Sharon Shoots the Elephant’. Referring to George Orwell’s 1936 short story, he used the analogies to depict Israel as the coloniser of the Palestinian people and their land. He added that Israel was maintaining the perception of power and strength since losing face was the greatest failure. However, he added, perceptions exist only in the eyes of the beholder. So the coloniser has become dependent on the reactions of the subject, whilst the ruler has become the puppet of the ruled.

Isacowitz added rather ruefully that Israelis ‘have all lost the capacity to see reality and [we] are all infatuated with the illusory blessings of power and force. Despite an apparently widespread recognition that the occupation is the prime cause of our social fragmentation and economic disintegration, we are unable to shake off the mask of the sahib. We would prefer to continue on our downward spiral than lose face in the eyes of the Palestinians.’

Whilst the USA and some Western countries today are possessed almost exclusively with the threat that Iraq poses to world safety, Palestinians – once priding themselves for the highest number of PhD’s per capita in the whole Arab world – have been abandoned to a wretched fate. They are expected to fend off poverty and anguish as much as political oppression and subjugation by Isacowitz’s sahibs whose colonial rule, by its very nature, petrifies the thinking and behaviour of the Israeli occupying ruler. Day in day out, Palestinians are losing more parcels of their land. Day in day out, their human dignity is being stolen away from them. Palestinians are enduring one of the longest and most dispiriting occupations of modern times. However, like all past chapters of colonialism, like the British officers in the Raj, the Belgian officers in the Congo or the French officers in Vietnam, Israeli officers too will fail to quell freedom. Wrong as it may well be, colonised nations have invariably had to resort to violence of one form or another to achieve their independence. Just remember India, or the Mau Mau in Kenya or the Frelimo in Mozambique.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, ‘Injustice and oppression will never prevail. Those who are powerful need to remember the litmus test that God gives to the powerful: what is your treatment of the poor, the hungry, the voiceless?’ What I fear these days is that we are all becoming increasingly and frighteningly enmeshed in a world of antipodean designs, and our intuitive thinking is being cloned in ways that are not necessarily synchronous with International law and global ethics.

As I re-read Archbishop Tutu’s words, and as I look at the situation in the Holy Land today, I pray that the world would still make an effort to recall the poor, hungry and voiceless Palestinians before it is too late!
(c) hbv-H @ 7 February 2003