When the only tool you own is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail! Abraham Maslow

When the only tool you own is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail!
Abraham Maslow

Different Perspectives

It is quite clear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict no longer holds centre-stage in the media these days!  With the crisis in Kashmir erupting once more, and with other tragedies and international political meetings vying for space and coverage, it seems that the world has put Israel and Palestine on a backburner for the moment!

However, things are far from being normal or steady or unmoving! On the one hand, Israeli tanks still rumble with impunity in and out of the West Bank and Gaza on an almost daily basis. On the other hand, Palestinians are trying to re-discover the democratic process by instituting new elections that would underline the separation between the three branches of power – executive, legislative and judiciary – within a heretofore-imperfect system.

But equally importantly the fact remains that the situation on the ground is as bad for Palestinians today as it was a few weeks ago as a result of the continuing hardships, constraining realities and restrictive measures! Just consider a few factors as expressed through the eyes, ears and pens of some well-known writers and journalists!

As far back as 22 April 2002, the Israeli writer and poet Yitzhak Laor started his hard-hitting article ‘After Jenin’ with a damning paragraph. He wrote that the war between Israelis and Palestinians was ‘about the attempt to slice what is left of Palestine into four cantons, by building “separation roads”, new settlements and checkpoints. The rest is killing, terror, curfew, house demolitions and propaganda. Palestinian children live in fear and despair, their parents humiliated in front of them. Palestinian society is being dismantled, and public opinion in the West blames it on the victims – always the easiest way to face the horror. I know: my father was a German Jew’.

He condemned the senior officers in the Israeli Defence Force for going along with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s tactics to ‘finish their military service with a real achievement: the elimination of the Palestinian national movement under the guise of the war against terror’. In order to destroy all hope for a future Palestinian nation, Laor added that ‘it is enough to destroy its social tissue, to starve dozens of villages, to develop high rates of infant mortality. The West Bank is going through a Gaza-isation’. He professed his own fear of, and opposition to, terror when he admitted candidly that ‘I do not want to die walking my son to the mall. In fact, I do not take him there anymore. I do not ride buses, and I am scared that my family’s turn will come, but I know that our generals accept terrorist attacks as a “reasonable price” to pay to reach a solution’. In his opinion, the solution being pursued by Israel is ‘a peace between the victorious Israelis and the defeated Palestinians’. Indeed, I suggest that it comes out almost from a classic Roman military strategy – vae victis or woe to the vanquished.

Yitzhak Laor is not alone in his ominous predictions either!  Writing in the Christian Century American magazine on 22 May 2002 under the title ‘Sharon’s Plan’, James M Wall averred in his first paragraph that ‘Israel’s military control over Palestinian life [occupation] is at the heart of the problem’.  He castigated President George W Bush for praising PM Sharon as a ‘man of peace’ and quoted the Israeli historian Avi Shlaim when describing Sharon’s career as one that has been marked by ‘savage brutality’ toward Arab civilians. He also believed that Sharon’s real and longer-term agenda was ‘to subvert what remains of the Oslo accords, to smash the Palestinians into the ground, and to extinguish hope for independence and statehood’.

Wall concluded his article by quoting Jesse Larner whose book ‘Mount Rushmore: An Icon Reconsidered’ examines the irony of the South Dakota memorial to four American presidents who were instrumental in humiliating and dehumanising Native Americans. The four faces adorn a mountain on land that the USA agreed by treaty to leave with the Lakota tribe. The American government appropriated that land, and commissioned a sculptor with strong ties to the Ku Klux Klan {Gutzon Borglum} to create the memorial. Wall wrote that Sharon – not unlike the American strategy of yesteryears – was also ‘protecting settlements by stealing land, violating treaties and forcing an entire native population to live on reservations’.

Another article in the Al-Ahram Egyptian weekly on 16 May 2002 stoked Palestinian fears even further. Written by Ilan Pappe, professor of political science at Haifa University and a notable member of Israel’s New Historians, the article referred to the events of the Nakbah (catastrophe as referred to in Arabic by Palestinians) that took place in 1948 as a precursor to the creation of the State of Israel. He said that ‘I found strong proof for the systematic expulsion of the Palestinians from Palestine, and I was taken aback by the speed at which the judaisation of the formerly Palestinian villages and neighbourhoods was carried out’.

Professor Pappe added that ‘although a very considerable number of Israeli politicians, journalists and academics have ceased to deny what happened to the Palestinians in 1948, they have nonetheless also been willing to justify it publicly, not only in retrospect but also as a prescription for the future. The idea of “transfer” has entered Israeli political discourse openly for the first time, gaining legitimacy as the best means of dealing with the Palestinian “problem”. Indeed, if I were asked to choose what best characterises the current Israeli response to the Nakbah, I would stress the growing popularity of the Transfer Option in Israeli public mood and thought. The Nakbah now seems to many in the centre of the political map as an inevitable and justifiable consequence of the Zionist project in Palestine. If there is any lament, it is that the expulsion was not completed. The fact that even an Israeli “new historian” such as Benny Morris now subscribes to the view that the expulsion was inevitable and should have been more comprehensive helps to legitimise future Israeli plans for further ethnic cleansing’.

In the face of those arguments and counter-arguments, analyses and counter-analyses, James Solheim’s article on 10 May 2002 best summed up the prevailing mood and different perspectives between Israelis and Palestinians today. Writing for the Episcopal News Service in the USA, Solheim quoted Philip Wilcox, former consul-general in Jerusalem and US State Department expert on counter-terrorism, who admitted that the USA has been ‘avoiding any consideration of violence as the symptom of deeper problems. [] The so-called “generous” Israeli proposal at Camp David was a proposal for Palestinian surrender because the result would have been a state on 42% of the land in the West Bank and Gaza, surrounded by Israeli settlements’. [This viewpoint correlates with that of many clued-up political analysts – such as those of Robert Malley & Hussein Agha in the Guardian today].

Solheim’s article added that ‘the conflict won’t be resolved until there is substantial change in public opinion on both sides of the conflict. The fear of the Israelis, and the despair of the Palestinians, have led to hardened positions where both sides seem to think that violence, not diplomacy, is the answer’.

Economic Despair versus Institutional Violence

In an article in the Ha’aretz daily on 20 May 2002 entitled ‘The Real Disaster is the Closure’, the outspoken and oft-controversial Israeli journalist Amira Hass exhibited certain economic facts and figures about the decimation of the Palestinian economy through Israel’s policy of sustained closures. 

Quoting a 133-page report prepared by Sebastien Dessus and Nigel Roberts for the World Bank on 18 March 2002, Hass deduced some startling facts about the ongoing damage to the Palestinian economy from the sieges and closures. She quoted from the report that ‘in the first 15 months of the Intifada, from October 2000 to December 2001, the physical damage to infrastructure and Palestinian institutions was an estimated at $503 million, Then, on 12 May 2002, another estimate of $360 million was appended, referring to the physical damage resulting from the Israeli military actions in March and April of this year. But in the first 15 months of the Intifada, at least $2.4 billion in damage was done to the economy, in terms of lost gross national revenues due to the mounting restrictions on freedom of movement imposed by Israel on the Palestinians in and out of the territories’. Hass echoed the words used by Nigel Roberts from the WB report when she labelled the closure policies of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel as “the silent destruction”. Roberts, she added, ‘is convinced that developed Western societies would have collapsed if confronted with an economic disaster of such proportions’. 

But Amira Hass came up with some more revealing truths about the Palestinian economic management. She referred to a ‘working paper’ published by the World Bank in May 2001 called “Government and the Business Environment in the West Bank and Gaza” where ‘the researchers of that document discovered that – as opposed to what is commonly believed – the level of corruption in the Palestinian territories is much less than in neighbouring countries and in other developing countries, where similar studies were done at the same time’.

However, what made chilling reading to me was that the Palestinian average real income in the beginning of 2002 was 30% lower than in 1994 on the eve of the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. The number of poor, defined as those living on $2 or less a day, grew from 600,000 (in a population of some 3 million) to 1.5 million by the end of 2001. The WB report stated that after the Israeli military operation last month, three-quarters of the Palestinian population in the territories was now living under the $2-a-day poverty line. It added that the gross domestic product dropped 6-7% in 2000, as a result of the dramatic drop in economic activity in the last quarter of that year. In 2001, the GDP dropped another 21%. Gross national revenues fell 11.7% in 2000 and another 18.7% in 2001.That comes to $2.4 billion, compared to a GDP of $5.4 billion in 1999.

Finally, the WB report added that the decline in PA revenues, because of the shrinking economic activity, was exacerbated further ever since December 2002 when Israel ceased transferring to the Palestinian Authority taxes it collected on goods imported into the Palestinian areas from Israel on the grounds that the PA was paying for terrorism with the money – even though the money did not belong to Israel. The current estimate of monies owed to the PA by Israel up to December 2001 is pegged at half a billion dollars.


Visions for the Future

Is there any proactive and bold vision for peace that could extricate ordinary Israelis and Palestinians from the morass of mutual violence and bitterness? Can an egress be found to this painful human conflict?

Religious leaders of all faiths are not politicians, but they are duty-bound to provide a moral compass to the larger world. In this context, Latin-rite Roman Catholic Primate of Jerusalem, Patriarch Michel Sabbah, came up with some jubilee-linked suggestions during his homily on the occasion of the Feast of Pentecost on 19 May 2002. 

Crying out for peace between the two peoples and three religions of the Holy Land, this highest-ranking Catholic cleric called upon Israelis and Palestinians to undergo a radical process of purification. He called upon both peoples to place themselves on the side of the human person and the mystery of God revealed on this earth. He reminded both Israelis and Palestinians that they bear the image of God, and that every person is a sanctuary of God to be respected and treated with dignity. Seeking justice and peace, he also stressed that ‘a new reality must be born, and the Spirit of God must be welcomed, so that it will guide those who are responsible for the creation of a new earth and a new man. This land of God deserves better treatment from the men who govern it’.

Earlier, and in a wide-ranging and challenging treatise entitled ‘Basic Conditions for the Success of Non-Violent Resistance’, Father Raed Abusahlia from the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem had argued for a new and emerging culture of non-violence within Palestinian society. Stressing that this strategy is more effective but also less bloody than actions that have bred more mutual violence and hatred, the author asked aptly whether those expostulating against such a strategy sought the game or wished merely to argue with the gamekeeper?

Father Raed, who has been heavily involved for long years with the concept of non-violence, laid down the five basic conditions he believes are necessary for the success of a peaceful resistance.  In short,

* The first condition predicates self-control in countering violence and oppression. It consists of a process of education to produce a frame of mind that is capable of making the qualitative leap from a culture of the sword to one of the olive branch. This change in focus is not easy, nor can it be smooth and swift, but it would produce dramatic results that sit comfortably with Christian teachings; 

* The second condition necessitates the existence of a charismatic leadership at a time when many people are experiencing a sense of great despondency in the loss of lives and the destruction property with minimal returnable or tangible gains. A charismatic leadership – the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Revd Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela – would galvanise their people behind the struggle for peace;

* The third condition is popular participation. For a policy of non-violent resistance to succeed, it needs the massive support of larger numbers of the public who turn themselves from spectators into participants;

* The fourth condition relates to the timeframe for such a strategy and the perseverance of the public. A demonstration here, and a sit-in there, cannot provide an answer!  What is required is a general public mobilisation that resolves to realise gradually the strategic and ultimate aims of such a movement – liberation from occupation – bearing in mind always that this course requires time and patience;

* The fifth and final condition is to address the distorted and negative image of the Palestinian struggle in the international media that often identifies it with stereotypical Islamist militancy and wanton terrorism.

When I examine the trail of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, let alone my own modest involvement with it over the years, I remember with painful clarity a moral that comes out of the pages of Greek mythology! In ancient Greece, the gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly roll a rock to the top of a mountain, whence it would constantly fall back of its own weight! Clearly, there was no harsher punishment than futile and hopeless labour! 

By the same token, and following the dramatic dismantlement of Palestinian society in the past year as much as the ever-increasing critical mass impacting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it behoves well for men and women of wisdom, courage and vision to stand back and examine the route that the Palestinian national struggle has followed to date and its options for the future. I believe it takes real guts to re-centre the course of the Palestinian course now to attain the just and peaceful goal of a sovereign and contiguous Palestinian state. Just as the Japanese proverb states that ‘a thousand mile journey starts with one small step’, violence cannot become the sole method of justifiable resistance to a rancid and debilitating 35-year old occupation. Israel is a mighty adversary, and Palestinians should mobilise a strategy that matches their adversary. If thought out carefully, with less fiery rhetoric or passion and more lucid thought or planning, the tables could be turned against such an implacable foe.

And the light shineth in the darkness!
Jn 1:5

(c) harry-bvH @ 27 May 2002