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Seasons of Political Violence?
Let us call it by its real name and stop fluffing about, shall we?...

18 April   |   2001   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... In my book, violence is still tantamount to violence no matter what synonym or euphemism is used to describe it! The taking of any human life - be it that of small babies, young children, or older women and men, can only be called violence. As far back as the Book of Genesis and the story of Cain and Abel, violence has been murderous. To put a spin on it, or to try presenting it in a cosmetic or even cosmic manner, does not detract from the fact that one cannot re-define that which is morally reprehensible in order to call it otherwise. Therefore, what has been occurring in the Palestinian autonomous territories, in Jerusalem, in all other occupied territories or in Israel in the past six months of the Intifadah is violence. It is Israeli violence and it is Palestinian violence. One cannot detach violence from its abstract sense. Equally, one cannot interpret it otherwise. Or can one?

Ever since 29 September 2000, Israel has consistently been accusing the Palestinians of ‘terrorism’ (violence) whilst the Palestinians are justifying the ongoing ‘confrontations’ (violence) by stressing out that they are seeking justice for their cause. Justice, from their standpoint, can be assured only through liberty - once Israel returns all the territories it occupied in 1967.

But have you noticed how my discourse has already shifted ever so slightly? Outcries about ‘violence’ apart, one is not talking solely of wanton murder, mayhem and destruction in their dispassionate and dismembered senses. Rather, such acts are being attached to a cause. This cause is - obviously - the establishment of a sovereign and self-sustaining Palestinian state. In other words, and at least in my own mind, there is no need to deny that Palestinians and Israelis are indeed engaged in violent acts. Rather, the key is to analyse this phenomenon more fully.

So, what constitutes violence? How does the Western world perceive it? And what is the road ahead for those two parties - Palestinians and Israelis alike - who are ostensibly betrothed to peace but effectively sworn to war? Let me attempt to deal separately with each category!

What constitutes violence? Based on my Christian faith and moral ethics as much as on world-wide anthropological and legal definitions, violence is not only physical. It could also be structural, psychological and legal. True, its crudest physical sense involves causing harm to another human being - be it through homicide, torture or pain. And that is wrong! But violence can also be exercised through more subtle means. Locking people into their own lands and not allowing them any access to the outside world is violence. Demolishing houses and uprooting olive or orange groves is also violence. Humiliating people at checkpoints for the sake of exercising power and control is violence. Abusing men and women verbally, discriminating against them in every sphere, and ensuring that their lives become intolerable is violence too.

Sadly enough, such manifestations exist in ample supply in a ‘holy land’ of life-givers and life-takers alike! Palestinians and Israelis are killing each other. Both sides are vengeful and chary of what might happen at any moment anywhere in the country. How many Israelis think twice and three times before they venture into any Palestinian area? And how many Arabs would willingly enter a Jewish area or pass through a settlement, unless required to do so? Are Palestinians to Jews today what black Americans were to white Americans a mere century ago? Are Palestinians today in most Israeli eyes the ‘niggers’ of American yesteryears? Conversely but equally true though, have Israeli Jews not also become the focus of visceral and frightening hatred of most Palestinians? This is a reality today. It is becoming uglier and simply refuses to go away!

>But what about the West? Those calling for a Western policy tend to overlook the fact that there is no such thing as a common Western policy toward the Middle East. The USA will not change its geo-strategic support for Israel or become an ‘honest broker’ of its own accord. Moreover, the European Union cannot have a united Eurocentric line either since its members states do not adopt the same policies toward Palestinians and Israelis. True, there are noticeable shifts in public opinion in Europe, but can one truly say that Holland and France share a common platform?

Palestinians are a hardy and wizened people. So if they remove their heads from the sand and face the stark facts, where can they go from here - with or without Israeli political consensus? Let me make a couple of meagre personal observations / suggestions that might well appear controversial let alone possibly unacceptable to all and sundry!

  • In an interview in the Ha’aretz English-language daily on 12 April 2001, PM Ariel Sharon expounded some of his convictions. He stressed that Israel will not withdraw from Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights. He added that no settlements - even the remote ones such as Netzarim or Kfar Darom in Gaza which have almost always been viewed as expendable - will not be dismantled. He also underscored the fact that he might give back 42% (or perhaps even 43%) of territory back to the Palestinians - but certainly not now when there is no peace. In so doing, he spun the logic of ‘land for peace and peace for security’ over its head by turning it into one where security comes first, peace goes second and land only a distant third. But let me say this for him! He was clear, he did not mince his words, and he probably reflected well over 60% of Israeli public opinion today. In fact, the attack on Khan Younis in Gaza last week, as much as his bombardment of Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian positions this week, made his military vision abundantly transparent for all to see;
  • In view of such statements that confirm Sharon’s unblinking view of the region (although he did concede that Palestine is no longer a convenient substitute for Jordan), it is clear that Palestinians can no longer aspire to resurrect the Barak / Clinton Camp David / Taba proposals - no matter how skewered those proposals were perceived to be at the time. Given also that Labour - with few notable exceptions - is incapable and unwilling to do much these days, a strategy needs to be adopted by the Palestinians. They can no longer afford to leap from one tactic to another, but need a long-term strategy that helps them avoid the errors of judgment that have been symptomatic of the past and map out carefully for the future of their state;
  • This would entail that Palestinians no longer rely exclusively on others - be they the Arab states, the old Soviet bloc or the Western world. In fact, they should admit that few are the countries - such as Jordan - which have concretely helped the Palestinians in their struggle. The rest have paid lip service at best, or played the share market of political interests at worst. There is little sympathy for Palestinians in most of the Arab world - or elsewhere;
  • As a Christian, I do not condone violence. I know that this is rather naive! However, I am much taken by the teachings of Mahatma Gandi and his latter-day disciples. Gandhi’s philosophy in life propounded his perfervid belief in the dual strengths of love and truth. As Father Raed Abu Sahlieh wrote recently, he extracted with pacific resistance from the British empire what he could not have achieved through warfare. Should the Palestinians now not take a qualitative leap from live bullets to stones, and from stones to pacific resistance, in their attempt to quash the occupation as much as the anarchy of warlords?
  • Hand in hand with this pacific resistance comes the issue of international observers. These ‘political’ observers - mandated by the UN, the EU or the OSCE - would provide protection for the Palestinian population. They should be deployed alongside a smaller contingent of international church observers’ who would provide the witness of solidarity and sustenance for the Christian communities in the Holy Land who often feel left out from the national equation.

No matter the lexicology one uses, it is undeniable that Palestinians have embarked upon a decolonisation process. They cannot continue to live endlessly under the yoke of an occupation. As such, they should aim for a more coherent let alone cohesive policy and decide whether they are opting for pacific resistance or for an armed - and extremely more dangerous - struggle. In the latter case, they should stop hiding behind facades, and call violence by its real name.

Only then will it become clear that Palestinians have learnt from the past and are ready to face the consequences of their actions. There is no third way - neither with Sharon nor without him ..!

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2001   |   18 April


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