Rami and his wife Dr Nurit Peled-Elhanan have become outspoken campaigners for peace in Israel. At a time when Israelis and Palestinians are struggling for new responses to the ongoing violence in the Holy Land, Rami articulates a rare inclusive vision for peace. But how does he manage to find enough resources within himself to respond in this peace-seeking manner toward an implacable foe that robbed him of his precious daughter?
Justice without might is helpless, might without justice is tyrannical Blaise Pascal, in PensÃ©es (Section V: Justice and the Reason of Effects), 1660
He is a man of remarkable let alone admirable courage! His name is Rami Elhanan, and his daughter Smadar was murdered by a suicide bomber on 4 September 1997 as she was walking in Ben Yehuda Street in central Jerusalem.
Five years on, Rami and his wife Dr Nurit Peled-Elhanan have become outspoken campaigners for peace in Israel. At a time when Israelis and Palestinians are struggling for new responses to the ongoing violence in the Holy Land, Rami articulates a rare inclusive vision for peace. But how does he manage to find enough resources within himself to respond in this peace-seeking manner toward an implacable foe that robbed him of his precious daughter?
In an interview with Justin Huggler of the Independent daily newspaper in Jerusalem on 21 July 2002, Rami Elhanan provided his sobering response! ‘The two sides are completely blind to each other. The Palestinians do not see the Holocaust. The Israelis do not see the suffering of the Palestinians. My mission is to try to close the gap, to break the endless cycle of violence.’ Reminiscing over the recent history of escalating violence, he continued, ‘We [Israelis] consider ourselves victims. But the guy who murdered my daughter is a victim of the 1967 occupation and the continued denial of freedom to 3.5 million people who have no civil rights.’
Smadar’s parents are part of the constituency of unsung heroes in Israel and Palestine who are fighting against desperate odds to institute peace between those two peoples. They form part of a movement called ‘Bereaved Families for Peace’ which brings together Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones. Last April, they placed 1000 coffins outside the UN HQ in New York and covered each coffin with both the Israeli and Palestinian flags.
What is striking about this Israeli man of peace is that he has the moral courage to utter the unutterable in the midst of a war that has already scarred the collective psyches of Israelis and Palestinians alike. He is also quite forthright about the ultimate solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ‘We [Israel] will withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, the Palestinians will get the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, there will be no right of return for the Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem will be divided. The only question now is how many people will die before this happens.’
Mr Elhanan – whose father-in-law was the daring IDF General Matti Peled – was called up as an Israeli army reservist in the Yom Kippur war of October 1973. Today, however, he gives lectures at Israeli schools, calling for peace and an end to the occupation. He talks as freely about the 1948 Arab refugees as he does about the Barak proposals at Camp David II in July 2000. He shows Israeli schoolchildren maps of the offer made to Chairman Arafat by the former Israeli Prime Minister. It has large swathes of the West Bank that were held back from the Palestinians by the Israeli Jewish settlers. ‘This was the greatest secret of all’, he observes, ‘because Barak never allowed any maps to be made. I sometimes suspect Barak was not willing to give anything at all – he was giving a proposal he knew the Palestinians would not accept! But from the Israeli point of view, he gave a lot. He was like the Persian prince who went through seven gates of hell to save the princess, and at the last one he turned round and the princess stayed behind.’
So who is to blame for the frightening political stalemate that has gripped this conflict and yielded to physical violence? ‘The first ones to blame are the Americans’, opines Rami. ‘They are the people who are standing aside while two children fight, waiting for them to kill each other.  This is the enormous price of not making peace.’
Indeed, the latest fatality figures reflect the enormous price being paid by the men, women and children of the Holy Land. Until a few days ago, the figures stood at over 2010 casualties – including 266 Palestinian and 61 Israeli minors whose lives were snuffed out violently as a result of the indiscriminate use of firepower by one side or the other.
Last week, another moral dimension was added to those peace-seeking efforts deployed by many main-line Christian churches. Two open letters were published simultaneously in the United States. Dated 12 July 2002 and addressed to President Bush by forty American evangelical Christian leaders, the first letter concerned itself with peace and justice in the Holy Land. It called for the critique ‘of both Israelis and Palestinians on the basis of biblical standards of justice’. The second letter, dated 15 July 2002, was signed by a number of retired American clergy who advocated that the principles of international legality be applied equally to both Palestinians and Israelis in the conflict.
Referring to the Hebrew prophets in expressing their abhorrence for, and condemnation of, terrorism and violence, both letters urged the US Administration to focus on the substantive issues that have robbed the region of hope for so long and to implement an even-handed policy ‘of equitable support’ in order to secure peace with justice.
So where does the ‘process for peace’ move to at this stage of the asymmetrical conflict?
On the political front, a diplomatic offensive unveiled last week envisages an international protectorate for the Palestinian territories. It would oversee a radical reform programme and lead to eventual statehood for Palestinians. This offensive involves the quartet from the EU, Russia, the UN and the USA as well as a number of regional Arab states. It aims to thrash out three elements as part of a broader goal meant to revive the stalled political process:
Chairman Yasser Arafat would appoint a caretaker Prime Minister, enjoying recognition and stature both at home and abroad, who will assume day-to-day responsibilities. This idea reflects a growing consensus that Chairman Arafat lacks a political strategy over how to end the violence, initiate reforms and eventually return to the negotiating table. It also coincides with the German Middle Eastern plan that was submitted a fortnight ago suggesting that the tenure of such a person should last until elections are held in January 2003.
The UN Security Council would appoint an envoy wielding executive powers to oversee the implementation of Palestinian political reforms and the establishment of security co-operation between Palestinians and Israelis. Although this would be tantamount to placing the Palestinians under a protectorate, EU diplomats believe that such a framework could work so long as it offered Palestinians the prospect of real statehood in the very near future. But concurrent with these measures, Israel would lift the closures, stop confiscating Palestinian land or build special security roads for the settlers, and cease building illegal settlements.
EU member-states, the UN and Russia also believe that Washington must now play its part in persuading Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to accept three rudimental principles. They include an exchange of land for peace, a future Palestinian state that is politically and economically viable, and an Israeli commitment to stop setting revolving new demands as a pre-condition for fresh negotiations.
But politicians are not alone in re-visiting their assessments. The International Crisis Group (ICG) is a leading independent think tank that counts HRH Prince Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan among its Board members. Rob Malley is its Middle East Programme Director as well as a former key aide and close adviser on the Middle East to former President Bill Clinton. He drafted an executive summary, a set of recommendations and a recent op-ed in which he called on the US to lead a multinational force that would oversee the implementation of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, monitor the borders of a future Palestinian state and deter attacks by either side. According to Malley, an international police presence as well as civilian administration in the Old City of Jerusalem would complement such a force. This recommendation for sending monitors to oversee any peace accord has long been supported by the EU – with backing from the Palestinians but opposition from Israel. However, Israel might agree to such a monitoring presence so long as the USA leads it and so long as Israeli concerns over security are fully taken into account.
The conclusions of this document, which has found resonance with many politicians, academics and activists, reflects a growing awareness by the international community that any peace agreement has little chance of success unless underpinned by a robust monitoring force. But I also believe that it equally underlines a growing realisation that piecemeal, step-by-step and incremental initiatives or approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – as unveiled only recently by President Bush – have become redundant and are doomed to failure.
In the current environment, any attempt to reach a ceasefire or to rebuild confidence must be marked by a bold and proactive departure for past US policy. America must commit itself to a specific final political settlement plan rather than merely tinker with a process that might produce a settlement someday! An overall package is needed now that ‘seeks to rebuild the fabric of trust, resume security co-operation and renew the bargain originally struck at Oslo’. The Oslo bargain had targeted increased security for Israel in exchange for increased control by Palestinians over their daily lives. However, this bargain flopped, not least because the Palestinian leadership did not prepare its people for the concessions that were proposed over Jerusalem, refugees or land swaps. Conversely, the last three Israeli Prime Ministers backtracked on the Oslo peace accords, postponed the phased withdrawals and built new illegal settlements.
On 20 June 2002, a hearing took place at the European Parliament on ‘EU-Israel Bilateral Relations in the Framework of International and European Law’. Entitled ‘Israeli Violations of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in the Occupied Territories’, Professor Jeff Halper performed an article-by article dissection of Israeli violations of the IV Geneva Convention that forbids an occupying power from making its presence a permanent one.
In his presentation, the Israeli Coordinator of the Committee Against House Demolitions concluded, ‘The occupation poses a bold challenge to the international community, whether to its elected representatives as in this chamber or to the civil society as represented by the NGO’s and faith-based organisations testifying before you today. In an era of global transparency, of mass media, instantaneous news coverage and the Internet, can a new Berlin Wall be built that locks millions of Palestinians behind massive fortifications, Israel’s $100 million “security fence”?’
Halper added, ‘Decades after the end of colonialism and a decade after the end of South Africa apartheid, will the international community actually sit passively by while a new apartheid regime arises before our very eyes? And in a world in which the ideal of human rights has gained wide acceptance, could an entire people be imprisoned in dozens of tiny, impoverished lands, denied its fundamental right of self-determination? Until we all act according to the ideals and rules we ourselves have created, the answer will remain blowing in the wind.’
In one of its wry forebodings, the ICG Report had also stated, ‘The hardening of positions on both sides and the toll of [now twenty one] months of ever-escalating violence severely diminish the prospect for success of any initiative at this point. But without a sustained and concerted political / security initiative by the international community, with the United States at its head, the further escalation and regional spread of the conflict is a virtual certainty.’
But surely the proof of the pudding is in the eating? Will Palestinians and Israelis manage their anger or channel their frustration toward a durable, comprehensive and just solution? Or will the pain that is convulsing them both be allowed to fester into spasmodic and more painful sores? And equally importantly, will the current US Administration show the political mettle to see through such a comprehensive plan that merges the Taba proposals with the pan-Arab [Saudi] plan? Or will it bend to the internal as much as external lobby pressures that have made such a freedom-loving, pioneering, vibrant, prosperous and powerful country a pariah for a huge segment of the ‘Old World’?
It is sometimes claimed that older or retired people are usually more eloquent and less fearful in expressing their moral indignation or experience-based criticisms over issues of endemic concern. In that vein, the retired American clergy concluded their letter of 15 July 2002 with a quotation that is as mindful of the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament as it is of the late Pope Paul VI when they asserted that ‘If we want peace, we must work for justice’. Perhaps the US and UK governments, two major middle eastern players that tend to attach their foreign-policy stances into faith-based and ethical standards, will heed their clarion call?
If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies
General Moshe Dayan (1915-1981)
Links to the two church letters can be found on the web site of the Holy Land Ecumenical Foundation: