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The Politics of Violence!
No one can remain indifferent to the injustice of which the Palestinian people have been victims for more than fifty years. No one can protest the right of the Israeli people to live in security. However, neither can anyone forget the innocent victims who, on both sides, fall day after day under the blows of violence. - HH Pope John-Paul II - Address to Vatican Diplomatic Corps - 10January2002

18 January   |   2002   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

One of the biggest hurdles, and one of the most daunting challenges, for any public speaker is to get up and talk about 'peace' in the Holy Land at a time when both parties are waging all-out war! No matter how well intentioned the person, and regardless of the inexhaustible reservoirs of optimism or commitment, the temptation to admit defeat and call it a day often becomes alluringly unavoidable!

I am not ashamed to admit that this temptation has also been my faithful companion over the years - in fact, ever since I joined the so-called speaking circuit a decade ago! I have frequently seesawed between optimism and pessimism, vision and nightmare, reality and illusion! Getting up and standing in front of scores of people who are willing to give a speaker the benefit of a doubt as much as the opportunity to articulate a scenario for a peaceful Holy Land is - quite frankly - tough! Mind you, it can be quite exhilarating when one can get up and talk about peace-driven successes! Conversely, it turns depressing when one has to interpret conflict-ridden failures. And as I look at the Holy Land this week - or to debar euphemisms for once, at Israel and Palestine - what do I see that instils in me the confidence of faith or the diffidence of politics?

Let me examine - ever so perfunctorily - the facts! The three-week 'ceasefire' or 'truce' between Israelis and Palestinians has been shattered already. Tit for tat killing has taken hold again, and the culture of violence has reared its ugly head once more. Palestinians are being murdered by Israel everywhere in the West Bank in fresh cycles of extra-judicial killings. Consequently, Palestinians are killing Israelis in retaliation - and both sides are once more upping the ante for violence.

But why is all this happening anyway? It is happening largely because Israel has steadfastly trampled upon the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. Israel has occupied their land, and after long years of protracted negotiations, handed over to them small, isolated and disjointed parcels of territory to call home! Israel has built settlements upon their expropriated land so that Israeli Jews can live there at hugely subsidised rates! Israel has set up military checkpoints that keep Palestinians hemmed in their little cages and disallow them from travelling from one pocket to another, one village to another, and one demographic cage to another! Israel has maintained a policy of inhumane humiliations by dealing with Palestinian women, men or children as if they are expendable dross to be bullied and belittled at any moment and for whatever reason! Israel has controlled the water from their underground aquifers in the West Bank, or else overpriced it for their consumption. Israel has blocked their agricultural produce from going out of the territories, and has limited the number of Palestinians who can come out to seek gainful employment! And not least, during PM Sharon's term, Israel has imposed collective and large-scale punishments for the actions of a number of terror-exporting fighters.

It is undeniable that Israelis - women, men and children - have equally suffered from the Palestinian Intifada that started almost sixteen months ago. Israelis have been killed in large numbers too - a most recent incident being the wanton murder of Avi Boaz. Israelis - women, men and children - have been blown up in suicide attacks. Israelis have had their economy impacted and their tourism industry shaken by the daily confrontations. In fact, Israelis have become as much fed up with the constant violence as they have with Chairman Arafat - who may, or may not be, a leader who snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. But what have Israelis done in return to calm or steady the waters? They have tightened the screws even further, and applied even more stringent (sic, repressive) security measures against the Palestinian people. So, the vicious cycle continues, the humiliations and indignities are kept up, cause and effect scenarios clash, and the situation is far from redeeming itself!

Where do Israelis and Palestinians go from here? For that matter, where do I - an Armenian Christian from Jerusalem - go from here? What have I got to share with you today that might sound a tad more knowledgeable than the headlines in the press or on your CNN channel? Plainly, precious little! It is difficult to think of a course of action that nourishes vision and feeds hope when the region itself has become increasingly more steeped in a quagmire of violent and vicious standoffs, hatred and reprisals.

However, I suppose 'hope springs eternal' for someone who looks at this conflict as much from a political slant as he does from a faith-centred perspective. Indeed, in his homily for New Year2002 , His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem reminded the Christian leaders assembled at the concathedral of the Patriarchate of the urgency to establish peace in the land of the prophets - one that is predicated upon justice and forgiveness. Recalling the story about the sufferings of Pope John-Paul II during both the Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes, he drew the conclusion that peace can indeed be attained through justice and forgiveness. But most importantly, he reminded the faithful, forgiveness is not a concept that opposes justice. Quite the contrary! Forgiveness is in opposition to the spirit of vengeance and vindictiveness. In view of the fact that human beings cannot replicate God's perfect justice on earth, he added, forgiveness becomes a permanent invitation toward a deeper and more genuine healing of wounds.

I do not believe that many people would wish to see violence continue in the Holy Land - or even take hold for much longer. Nor do I believe that the large majority of Palestinians or Israelis would wish to mourn further deaths or injuries, or else to witness more houses demolished and more freedoms crushed. However, Israel must wake up to the reality that peace requires justice, and that implies withdrawal from the occupied territories so that Palestinians could have their own credible and sovereign state next to Israel - equal in peace, equal in security, equal in dignity, equal in responsibility and equal under international law. This option is the only lasting formula for peace! And it does not matter whether Israel believes the Palestinians can pull it off! It is not up to Israel to dictate to the Palestinians their choice of leadership or governance!

Next week, the Churches of the Holy Land come together to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This annual ecumenical drive has become even more concrete over the past few years when the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Churches have managed to put some of their differences aside and work in fellowship toward common causes that grant their people a smidgeon of promise and hope. And let us not choose to forget that the majority of indigenous Christians also happen to be Palestinians - hence, the need to realise that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not pit Christian against Muslim, but rather pits one extremist against another - whether Jewish, Muslim or Christian. Indeed, the Bethlehem to Jerusalem 'March for Justice' that took place on the last day of 2001 with the participation of all the Churches of Jerusalem is just one small illustration of the perfervid desire of most Christians - leaders and congregations alike - to express their solidarity for a peace that secures justice, forgiveness and above all freedom.

Will this ever happen? As a lawyer, I would say that the jury is still out! As a politician, I would also hedge my bets and aver that it depends on whether the circumstances would be conducive for peace! But as a Christian, hope and compassion are what sustain me - and therefore I say that it is bound to happen … soon?

Only respect for others and their legitimate aspirations, the application of international law, the evacuation of the occupied territories, and an internationally guaranteed special status for the most holy places in Jerusalem can bring about a beginning of pacification in that part of the world and break the hellish cycle of hatred and vengeance. One against the other, neither Israelis nor Palestinians can win the war, but together they can win peace. - HH Pope John-Paul II - Address to Vatican Diplomatic Corps - 10January2002

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2002   |   18 January


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