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The Valleys of Death ... Revisited!
Prologues of Pessimism?

June   |   2001   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

I have just witnessed another numbing week in the un-holy land! On Thursday, I was dumbstruck when I learnt that Faisal Husseini had died from a heart attack in Kuwait. This man, with solid revolutionary credentials but a gentle belief in peaceful moderation, was an icon of the Palestinian struggle as much as a beacon for Jerusalem. Head of Orient House, responsible for the Jerusalem portfolio and a time-honoured member of the PLO, Abu al-Abd (as he was fondly known to his family and friends) was one of the more charismatic and corrective personalities of Palestine. Not always part of Chairman Yasser Arafat’s inner sanctum, he exuded integrity and disliked violence. He believed strongly in the justice of the Palestinian cause and struggled for long years toward the creation of a Palestinian state with the eastern sector of Jerusalem as its capital. His young light has suddenly been dimmed, and with him some of the hopes and dreams of many friends, colleagues and political acquaintances.

However, I had hardly managed to internalise this sad but God-chosen event when I was dumbstruck yet again on Friday night by a man-engineered suicide attack at the Pascha nightclub in Tel Aviv. Once again, the sirens wailed - this time Israeli ones - and nineteen young Israeli men and women lost their lives whilst many more sustained serious injuries. This heinous attack targeted Israelis as part of the on-going conflict between Israelis and Palestinians over the future of a hallowed parcel of land that the ancient - and not-so-ancient - prophets once considered home. I was speechless at the tragic pictures shown on the box. I was shaken to the core by this latest example of ‘man’ fighting ‘man’ in the most primitive and execrable manner possible. Sadly, the score of deaths ever since the start of the Intifadah in September 2001 to date consists of hundreds of Palestinians and Israelis alike. For me, any one life is God-endowed - so the multiples of death are tantamount to multiples of loss.

Functionality of Conflict?

But - and I have to introduce the dreadful and dreaded ‘but’ - much as my heart goes out for all the families who are mourning those natural or violent deaths, I need to add a qualifier to my observations. It goes without saying that I condemn any and all violent attacks. But if I can rise above my own sense of moral indignation at the way young lives are being violated in Israel and Palestine by one party or the other and try to be less emotive, I can arrive at an inevitable conclusion. Mind you, it is a hard albeit evident conclusion! My conclusion confirms that the tragic events unfurling in this land are linked - directly or indirectly - to a process of decolonisation undertaken by Palestinians against the Israeli occupation of their land. I know! It is distasteful and outrageous for most Israeli ears to express such an opinion at a time when they are in a state of national shock. But it is true! And if peace-seekers and peace-makers want to overcome this latest cycle of violence, they should admit that what is happening today is simply a Palestinian ‘unshaking’ of an Israeli occupation.

I have at times been told - not to put too fine a point on it - that I am mellow and even spineless for speaking out against all violence and calling instead for inclusiveness and even-handedness under the most unjust circumstances. Many Israelis already consider that I have bargained with my tenets, whilst many Palestinians equally suspect that I do not possess the moral courage to stand up for my own beliefs! After all, who wants an equivocator when hard times call for firm and uncompromising standpoints! No grey shades, but simply white or balck formats! And sadly enough, a naive reconciler is often labelled today as an equivocator who fudges the truth! Yet, I must confess that my soul has become weary from all the violence that has cost many lives and maimed many more. Something has to be done, and the skeleton key remains with Israel. So let me explain the two options that I believe lie ahead for Israel in order to restore peace and security to its people as much as to the whole region.

Two Options, Two Futures?

One option for Israel is to use its awesome military might in an attempt to quash the Palestinian cause. Surely, it is not that difficult! The Israeli security cabinet can decide tomorrow to kick the Palestinian leadership out of the territories. It can also come up with sombre ultimatums for the Palestinians, giving them stark choices between subjugation and decimation! It can fence off the Palestinian territories hermetically and embark upon a serious policy of collective punishment against a whole population. It can probably adopt all those stringent measures - and much more - whilst the new US administration wrings its hands in despair, indecision and befuddlement and whilst the leading columnists of the leading papers analyse - ever so knowledgeably - the pros and cons of such measures.

But let me add one thing! Such draconian measures - no matter how much they will maul the Palestinian psyche, and no matter how ‘retaliatory’ they become in the next few days - cannot calm the waters. Rather, the violence will continue, it will intensify and the situation will gradually envelop the whole region in its tarantulan grip. The reason is that seven years of endless post-Oslo negotiations led to a stalemate that did not give Palestinians their rights. Having all those over-populated cities alongside their crumbling economies under Palestinian pseudo-rule is risible! Camp David simply offered Palestinians a ‘state’ that was sealed off from the outside world by a ring of settlements and by-pass roads. It divided the northern and southern chunks of the West Bank and kept Jerusalem well out of their effective control. Under the guise of an end to the conflict, it designed a phantom Palestinian state that was neither sovereign nor contiguous, neither credible nor viable! Can a deal have possibly been more partisan and one-sided?

I happen to share the learned opinion of many analysts that Israel enjoys another - much healthier - option. It could decide to negotiate seriously with the Palestinians for a peace accord that is steeped in justice and security for both peoples. Such an accord would address the Palestinian legitimate claims as expressed in the UNSC Resolutions, the Fourth Geneva Conventions and other international covenants. And to do that, the Mitchell Commission Report awaits eager adoption. As a first step, this report calls for an unconditional cessation of all forms of violence by both sides. It goes hand-in-hand with a call for Israel to refrain from building new settlements or expanding existing ones. And what is wrong with this starting point which aims to restore calm in the region and revive confidence between the two parties? Are settlements that are implanted artificially on Palestinian land truly worth the sacrifices that both Israelis and Palestinians have been paying in the past nine months? When will Israel come to terms with the realisation that the Palestinian people cannot be colonised forever? When will it reckon that the genie has come out of the bottle, and it is far too difficult to put the genie back in the bottle again?

Epilogues of Optimism?

A journalist who interviewed me recently admitted that she was energised by my fresh vision. However, she also acknowledged hastily that this vison sounded more like the wishful musings of a voiceless prophet! But I cling to my vision which encompasses Israelis and Palestinians alike in a future that defines peace and security in justice for all. And it is not a solitary or reedy call! Far from it! Just by reading the latest Pax Christi Report on the post-Oslo period, or simply by talking to countless men and women in the region, one realises that I am not celibate with my vision.

Will any of this ever come to be? Or will the many valleys of death continue to cast their ominous shadows over a land rent asunder by its two peoples and three peoples in their pursuit for ... peace?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2001   |   June


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