“Let us work together to replace despair with HOPE, fear with human SECURITY and humiliation with DIGNITY”

Disaster Versus Disaster?

The clash of arms has drowned the voices of those who struggle to have the crisis addressed through diplomatic confrontation. Both fronts blame the adversary. It is a sterile dialectical exercise to try to hide the inability to hear those different from one’s own, running the risk of discovering that reason is not just on one side.

The clash of arms has drowned the voices of those who struggle to have the crisis addressed through diplomatic confrontation. Both fronts blame the adversary. It is a sterile dialectical exercise to try to hide the inability to hear those different from one’s own, running the risk of discovering that reason is not just on one side.
L’Osservatore Romano

This statement was part of a recent article in L’Osservatore Romano, the Italian-language daily newspaper that echoes the views of the Vatican. During the same week that the article came out, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, Latin-rite Roman Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, declared that the two-year Intifada pitting Israelis against Palestinians had been a disaster for both peoples. He lamented the increased rate of emigration from the Holy Land, and surmised that the small numbers of indigenous Christians remaining behind were those who were firmly committed to a calling to live in the Holy Land. The kernel of both statements demonstrated the volatility of the situation on the ground as much as how far it had deteriorated in the past two years, or one year, or three months, or even three weeks!

A couple of weeks earlier, an Interfaith Declaration was issued by ‘Clergymen for Peace’, a newly-constituted movement comprising Jewish, Christian, Druze and Muslim religious leaders in Jerusalem who ‘cry out in the name of our one God, to recognise one another, children of Abraham, as created in God’s image’. Explaining that the ‘task of religious leaders is to engage our own people in self-reflection and point the way to a better future for our children and ourselves’, the declaration made a series of recommendations that applied mutatis mutandis both to Israelis and Palestinians.

* We condemn all acts of violence and human rights violations, seeing as they contradict God’s will for humanity. The suffering of Israelis and Palestinians must stop. An attack against any human being is an attack against God.

* We call upon Israelis and Palestinians to recognise each other’s humanity, deep roots in this land and suffering. We must find the courage to break the cycle of violence and human rights violations. Each act of violence being committed by either side elicits further violence.

* We call for energising the vision of peace through negotiations, based on international legitimacy and respect for international law and the shared ethics of our religious traditions, thus fulfilling the national aspirations of two peoples and ensuring the human right to live free from occupation and fear.

* We draw from the wisdom of our faiths to accept the particularity of each of our traditions while respecting one’s right to be different. Our Houses of worship must remain open and unharmed. Any desecration of our sanctuaries is a desecration of God’s presence in this world. Even more important than those sanctuaries built of stone are the sanctuaries that God has implanted within each and every human being.

* We agree to act as a living bridge between despair and hope and re-ignite the peace process, acting as mediators where possible and as agents of faith and instruments of love where it seems possible. We will collectively and individually employ all of our influence in every conceivable way to realise a vision that goes beyond the cessation of hostilities and looks forward to the day when our peoples will be a mutual blessing to each other. We will meet among ourselves and engage our peoples and leaders.

Earlier in the week, the British agency Oxfam had issued its Briefing Paper 28 for September 2002.  Entitled ‘Forgotten Villages: Struggling to survive closure in the West Bank’, the aid agency painted a grim picture of the realities facing Palestinians day-in-day out in the villages dotted across the West Bank and Gaza. It spoke of its deep concern ‘about the appalling toll being paid by the civilian population on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict’. ‘Oxfam’, it mentioned, ‘is committed to the impartial applicability of international humanitarian and human rights law, especially the right of all civilians to protection from violence. We believe that a just solution to the current conflict must be based on existing UN Security Council resolutions, which call for an end to the Israeli occupation of lands held since 1967, and the right of both Israel and a future Palestinian state to live within secure borders. The recent escalation of the conflict has created a serious humanitarian crisis for the Palestinian population living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. All parties to the conflict must take immediate steps to prevent this humanitarian crisis from turning into a full-blown humanitarian disaster, by supporting the long-term livelihoods of the poorest and most vulnerable in the area’.

Oxfam expressed its profound consternation and concern about ‘the Israeli government’s policy of closure which finds thousands of rural households in the West Bank on the brink of destitution. Away from the media spotlight, the families of farmers, unemployed labourers and small businessmen in these often neglected Palestinian villages have run out of savings and sold off land and livestock’. It added that the closures, curfews, restrictions on the freedom of movement as well as new travel permit systems and the 350-kilometre security fence being built by Israel constitute collective punishment and are illegal under international law. It went on to say that Oxfam had witnessed the rapid erosion of support networks in local communities that provide a range of services and social protection such as credit, loans and food. Furthermore, the loss of cohesion in the household and wider community had exposed more women and children to violence and discrimination. Restrictions on movement have distorted supply and demand in the economy to such an extent that harvests were rotting in the fields whilst some market places remained empty. Health and water were now, for many households, either too expensive or simply not available. There was an increase in malnutrition, chronic health problems, welfare dependency and psychological stress.

Clearly addressing both sides in this collective disaster, Oxfam suggested remedial steps to salvage the situation:

* Water tankers to be allowed to reach the rural population, particularly in areas without networked water systems.

* The Israel Defence Forces to remove, or at the very least regulate, checkpoints to allow trading, farming and other enterprises that sustain peoples’ livelihoods. In particular, there is an urgent need to allow farmers to reach both their land and markets during the imminent olive harvest.

* Ambulances and health workers to be allowed to move freely between villages and cities, and villagers allowed travelling to towns for specialist health treatment.

* The PA to ensure the protection of Israeli citizens. It should condemn and seek to prevent the activities of suicide bombers and prosecute all parties engaging in illegal activities against civilians, including attacks against settlers.

* The PA to guarantee that donor funds will be used transparently and effectively for the alleviation of poverty.

* The International Community to intensify diplomatic efforts to bring an end to this conflict and maintain pressure on all parties to halt the spiralling violence against civilians and uphold international humanitarian law with regard to their protection.

* The International Community to intensify diplomatic pressure on the Government of Israel to ease closure, and on both the Government of Israel and the PA to comply with the other recommendations listed above.

* International donors and local and international aid agencies to provide appropriate humanitarian assistance that supports and strengthens existing coping strategies. They should work with local communities to prioritise the protection and rebuilding of productive assets and credit networks.

This description by Oxfam of the unfolding realities on the ground in many Palestinian towns and villages, and the concomitant set of recommendations applicable to both parties, reminded me also of the formidable – and oft-dangerous – work undertaken by a number of Jerusalem-based faith-centred organisations such as the International Christian Committee (NECC-ICC). The ICC is an arm of the Department on Service to Palestinian Refugees, and its Executive Secretary Ramzi Zananiri has been working hand-in-glove with international aid agencies and church-related organisations to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian villages and towns across the West Bank. On 2 October 2002, his latest circular informed his networks that a convoy of relief supplies was heading for Nablus (in the northern West Bank).  He wrote that ‘this is another convoy to another forgotten area from the agenda of politicians, who do not experience the daily agonising misery represented in ‘Occupation’ that attempts to dehumanise the Palestinian image’.

So where do we go from here? Do we just describe the situation as one disaster versus another, where hapless victims on both sides are paying a bloody price for a conflict that the politicians could solve tomorrow – if they so decided?

An article that appeared last summer in the English-language Jerusalem Post daily newspaper reported that a US scientist posited that transcendental meditation could well be the answer to the Middle East crisis. Dr John Hagelin, a quantum physicist, had explained at a conference that if a tiny fraction of Israelis and Palestinians ‘regularly practised transcendental meditation techniques in a group, the wave effect of calm will eventually halt terrorism’. The scientist had added that the technique, known as invincible defence technology, ‘applied cutting-edge discoveries in quantum mechanics, neuroscience, and human consciousness that diffuse stress, effectively disarming aggressors’. Hagelin claimed that a similar technique was already producing results in the dispute over Kashmir.

I am not readily convinced that quantum physics and transcendental meditation are the answers to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict! However, I remain very much convinced that the present dire situation cannot be allowed to continue unchecked. Deaths, injuries, misery, suffering, penury, suspicion, bitterness and hopelessness have occupied the ‘reality frames’ of Israelis and Palestinians in different ways. But what is equally worrisome is the scale of the humanitarian crisis that is being visited upon large cross-sections of the Palestinian population across the West Bank and Gaza.

What Israelis and Palestinians need now is a cessation of all forms of abusive violence – whether physical, structural, institutional – so that peaceful negotiations could resume forthwith between both parties. Violence cannot lead to the realisation of all Palestinian aspirations for statehood, just as counter-violence cannot lead to the realisation of all Israeli aspirations for security. There already exists a whole plethora of recommendations from different governments, organisations and individuals that purport to show the way toward a peaceful resolution of this conflict. So I believe that the Oxfam recommendations could prove to be another such starting point. They would include the implementation by Israel of all previous UN Security Council resolutions leading to its withdrawal from occupied territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state that would be democratic, representative of all strands of opinion in a pluralistic society, free from corruption as much as nepotism, intolerance and bigotry, and live side-by-side with Israel in peace and security. Israel, on the other side, needs to provide the conditions for such a reality to emerge – through its withdrawal from occupied territories – so that Palestinians can regain their dignity and become masters of their own futures. If both parties cannot succeed in achieving those goals, it becomes imperative to have a third-party mediation that is followed by an international presence on the ground with the mandate and authority to monitor the situation and report any violations of agreed agreements between two erstwhile bellicose neighbours.

This is one equation for the realisation of a just solution to this conflict, and it is also the only future I can envisage in order to extricate the whole region from further disasters – one disaster versus the other!

(c) harry-bvH @ 3 October 2002

2016-10-24T07:33:02+00:00 October 3rd, 2002|Categories: News|