Peace will be the fruit of Justice and my people will dwell in the beauty of Peace”

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Wednesday, 22 November 2000

Dear Friends,

The escalation of the violence from both sides is illogical, because instead of teaching both sides that enough is enough, they are using their power and making their utmost to humiliate each other, which will not resolve anything but will complicate the whole situation, life of both people and put the whole region in a serious danger. Of course I cannot put the aggressors and the victims at the same level, because the excessive use of force and brutality is imaginable and unacceptable, especially that it is done in front of the eyes of the whole world, and unfortunately, the victims are criticized and blamed because they are defending themselves. I am sorry to say that we feel that the world is living in a complete blindness and his conscious is sleeping deeply, we don’t know when it will walk up and say, for God’s sake stop this stupidity. I think that this will continue going in this same direction, because nobody is ready to surrender and be classificated as a looser under pressure. The generals of the most powerful army in the world will not accept to be defeated by the generals of the stones our small kids. Our people will not stop unless he achieves a result worthy to be proud of, otherwise all the blood of our hundreds of martyrs, wounds of thousands of injuries and suffering of a whole nation will be a sacrifice in vain.

What is the solution then?

Let me propose and suggest some possible exits of this dilemma:

1)      An agreement between both sides to stop all kind of violence for one week as a good will, with the guarantees that negotiation on the essential issues will continue soon, giving both sides another chance of not more that one month to reach an agreement which should be implemented in six month not more than that.

2)      The United Nation should sponsor such proposal not only the United States of America, because we don’t trust any more in this super power which is unconditionally siding the weak against the strong, it is not any more an honest broker of the peace process.

3)      The bases of any agreement should be the International legitimacy and all the UN resolutions, not the Oslo agreements or way of negotiation because Oslo is already dead and inappropriate any more.

4)      This solution should be achieved and implemented in a very strict period of time otherwise we are just postponing everything for the next frustration, explosion and round of confrontation and violence.

I will stop here, hoping that this proposal will help to find a kind of a solution to this cycle of violence. I will let my friend Dr. Harry Hagopian who tried to give a very complete analysis of the actual conflict giving many visionary ideas “Truth, Peace & Harmony … in the Holy Land?”.

 

You will find also a very interesting analysis conducted on the base of stories collected at the Arab Educational Institute: “PEOPLE’S STORIES DURING THE AL-AQSA INTIFADA”. Our Friend Toine van Teeffelen is the analyst who did this good work. We thank him on you behalf, and we publish it in order to give you an idea about the psychological consequences the actual situation. I enjoyed reading all these story that I almost know by heart, but it is very good also to share it with you.

You will find also a short reflection written by an American volunteer and his wife working in my village Zababdeh. Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders, tell us their experience in the olive harvest in this village. They show us how important the olive trees to our farmers.

Finally, I am glad to share with you a good news that Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop of Newark, NJ, has been named Archbishop of Washington, D.C. This is a very good news for us because he is a very good friend of the Holy Land, we knew him very well during the visit of the Pope to the Holy Land. We congratulate him for this new nomination and we wish him all the best in this very important post.

We thank you for your patience, care and support.                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Fr. Raed Abusahlia

 

PEOPLE’S STORIES DURING THE AL-AQSA INTIFADA

An Exploratory Analysis conducted on the base of stories collected at the Arab Educational Institute, Bethlehem, October-November 2000

 The following is an overview of different types of stories told in the Bethlehem and Hebron region (Palestine) during what has become known as the “Al Aqsa Intifada.” Most are stories that have circulated widely within the local communities. The purpose of the categorization is to show that almost all these emotionally salient stories express, in different ways, the deep powerlessness people feel during this period. Most of the time the stories make a straightforward and almost desperate point: Palestinians face overwhelming violence. On the level of content, they seem disempowering. At the same time, the stories are told with the purpose to create community, to fight isolation, to sustain a moral basis among people under immoral circumstances. On that level, that is, in their social embeddedness, they are empowering. The stories, perhaps some sixty-seventy in total, have been collected mainly from teachers and school students in the larger Bethlehem and Hebron region who come together at the Arab Educational Institute in Bethlehem. (The Arab Educational Institute is an institute for community education, associated with the “Euro-Arab Dialogue from Below” project, and an affiliated member of the peace movement Pax Christi International). The stories have been added by examples from personal hearsay. On the base of our experiences, it seems, perhaps not surprisingly, that in ordinary life women (girls) are somewhat better in story-telling and story-writing than men (boys). This may have had an influence on the kind of themes and values that the stories express.
 

Let me stress that what follows is not more than an exploratory classification. For instance, the stories as they are told or written are not registered here. Also, the stories have not been collected in a systematic way, nor did I apply a precise definition of “story.” This preliminary overview may yield hypotheses for a more solid study, and that it gives directions for developmental, educational and counseling work.
 

1. Stories of the killing of innocent people, especially children.

Undoubtedly, the best-known story of the A-Aqsa Intifada is about the young boy Mohammed Al-Dura who was filmed by French TV while trapped with his father in a crossfire in Gaza. His desperate father tried to protect him in vain. The film showed how he died in his father’s hands. The story immediately touched the hearts of all Palestinians and indeed people all over the world. In Palestine Mohammed al-Dura became a household name. It is not only the tragedy of an innocent child being killed but also the circumstances under which it happened - his father asking for help, while the shooting continued. The fact that the father was unable to protect the child exposes deep vulnerability and helplessness. The images are still repeatedly screened on local TV, according to Israel for reasons of “incitement”, but quite likely because the story expresses what common Palestinians feel. It is also possible that the story resonates since it is felt to be an allegory of the larger Palestinian story of vulnerability and suffering. Other stories of innocent young people stand out, too. One colleague told how his son asked him to write a story about his friend, a young kid in the Al-Arroub refugee camp, who just for curiosity went out to watch the clashes near the camp’s entrance, and was targeted by an Israeli sharpshooter, how he was critically injured, brought to Saudi Arabi and died there. Again, the innocence of the boy is the main theme. He just wanted to watch. The stories show both cruelty and exposure.

2. Humiliation stories
 

Israeli soldiers are said to have become increasingly inhuman in their encounters with people whom they stop or arrest. Telling stories about such encounters also expresses people’s violated feelings of morality. For instance, people tell how those who supposedly tresspass a curfew or are caught without a permit have to sit in a row for a few hours, with their head down. An 8-year boy who didn’t know that he entered H2 (an Israeli-controlled) area in Hebron was forced to lay down, the soldiers spat at him and kicked him. He had simply lost his way. In another story, a truckdriver was said to have been caught in an area where he was not supposed to drive. He was confronted with the following choice: either to have his tyres shot or to drive the foreside of the truck against a wall. He chose the last option because the heavy tyres were very expensive. Afterwards, the soldiers shot his tyres, too. Similarly, there is the story of the shooting of tyres of about thirty taxis near Al-Arroub camp. The drivers also had to give the car keys to the soldiers. Other stories of senseless violence and intimidation show the insulting behaviour of soldiers at checkpoints. Such humiliation stories are told with indignation, sadness and anger. They, too, indicate both cruelty and helplessness.

3. Stories of abandonment
 

During the Sharm al-Sheikh summit, and the Arab summit afterwards, people felt abandoned by the Arab world. There were no effective steps taken against Israel. The feeling of abandonment went for some so far as to lead to a feeling of betrayal.  Stories of being betrayed and abandoned by Arab countries are very familiar from past experiences in Palestinian national history. There is also a feeling of being betrayed by the international world which does not prevent the siege and suffering of Palestinian communities. Sometimes, youth tell about their surprise when they see on TV Western people abroad demonstrating in support of the Palestinians. Alternatively, those with close contacts with Israeli colleagues in the peace movement sometimes tell stories of being abandoned by them, not receiving support or consolation.

 4. “First reaction” stories
 

These are stories about how people react upon unexpected happenings or unexpected news. The bombings and shootings keep people out of their daily rhythms. Most people live on the edge. They tend to listen well, and are scared about what may come, whom of their friends and family may be affected. People tell about how they keep their ears wide open, always listening to the sounds of sirenes or shooting, and how they react upon the electricity cuts (sudden darkness, computers getting off etc.) which occur regularly. Sometimes the stories are tragi-comic; for instance, when school students are said to routinely continue their exam after hearing the bombs falling, bringing out the collective remark, “Oh it is just a normal bombing…” Or the teacher who says that she and her sisters simultaneously jump up when planes break the sound barrier. Many stories are about the panic which sometimes breaks out when rockets fly over one’s house. One story is about the panic which broke out after a funeral when a large lamp fell down in the midst of a reception of mourners. Panic stories tend to make other people afraid, too. Sometimes the stories are about how people were informed about some terrible news. When the garage of the Baboun brothers oppositie Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem was bulldozered (to clear the view of soldiers who wanted to spot stonethrowers), it was told how the family very carefully approached both brothers, who were elsewhere at that moment, in telling the terrible news - both are heart patients. The story of the Bethlehemite who saw his house destroyed while viewing TV abroad, and who got a deadly stroke on the spot, is well-known. It was widely circulated by local TV.
 

5. Stories of hiding

People tell each other how they go and look for safety with friends, especially those who live alone. People stay together in bed to comfort each other. That is true both for the young and the elderly. There are stories about how people give hospitality, and try to comfort or console each other, such as by praying or reading the Bible. There are also stories about students who hide and study under their bed. Or when people find themselves in a shooting zone and have to hide whereever they can find shelter. Some stories show that it is impossible to hide, which again shows the ever-present vulnerability. People discuss whether to sleep at the first or the second floor, but anecdotes show that both levels can be hit. A girl whose house was severely damaged pointed out that she and her family were happy not to have hidden under the staircase – an area the TV shows to be full of bullet holes. Some stories are, surprisingly, about people who do not hide but go out. Violence facinates, and some people go to the roofs and balconies to watch the shooting and shelling, or go and visit friends and family members who live close to the firing zone in order to watch. The watching itself is a salient act which is expressed in stories.
 

6. Rescue and escape stories

Harry Fischer, the German physiotherapist living in Beit Jala who was killed by a rocket while trying to rescue a neighbour, could not flee, was trapped, and even after he was hit, nobody could reach the scene. His story had and still has an enormous impact locally. As we said before, Mohammed Dura and his father were trapped, they could not escape, nor could they be rescued. There is the touching story of a girl who wanted to rescue her doll after her house was severely damaged, a story widely circulated on local TV. Stories of narrow escape abound, like when bullets are said to have flewn over people’s heads, or rockets have touched the roof of a house. Many people had to leave their houses, sometimes without being able to rescue anything inside. Stories of failed rescue and failed or narrow escape attempts again show extreme vulnerability.
 

7. Revenge stories
 

Some reaction stories are told precisely because they show restraint, a will to forgive, such as the eight-year girl at St Joseph School who said that the Israelis are a cruel people but that she wants to ask God to forgive them because they are human beings too. Others, especially children and youth, tell fantasy revenge stories; stories one wants to act out if one would have the opportunity to do so. Such reaction stories show powerlessness in an indirect way, by the very fact that they are a fantasy.

8. Travel stories
 

These days it is so difficult to travel, that people have a lot to say about how they crossed or circumvented checkpoints, how long it took, how difficult the roads were, what kind of discussions they had with soldiers about permits, how unpredictable the public traffic is. One cannot plan. Many travel stories have the function to advise people what to do on the road. In fact, taxi drivers stay in contact with each other all the time, also on the road, in order to tell each other where there are police and army checks, which road is safe etc.

9. Stories about psychological reactions and functioning in daily life
 

Many stories are about how the situation affects people’s psychological functioning. Examples are stories about children who do it in their pants, children having nightmares (e.g. dream stories of being attacked by the Israelis), children who cannot leave their parents’s legs, or who are silent or unruly; or stories about older people who cannot sleep alone anymore. Some stories show children and youth emphatically not being afraid (playing games of “military” parades or funerals at school), but at a psychological level the stories may well suggest that the fear is rather suppressed – a conclusion drawn by many.
 

Conclusion
Most of the stories are told by women. There may be various reasons. One is that in daily life women and girls are perhaps better story-tellers and story-writers. Women are often those who build community. It is easier to ask girls to keep a diary. Another reason may be that the present-day stories do not have much of an “heroic” element – the type of stories that usually attract boys and men. Rather, there is more emphasis on the lack of care and vulnerability that is generally felt. The stories that are told emphatically, in a salient way, and which circulate within the community, are stories which show abandonment, exposure, vulnerability, helplessness, lack of choice, powerlessness, lack of orientation and knowledge about what to do, lack of safety, psychological dysfunctioning and comcomitant fear. It is quite possible that the stories resonate with Palestinian history which is in general characterized by vulnerability.
 

It is remarkable that the story of an “Intifada,” that is, the story of a progressive uprising aimed at the shaking off of an occupation, is – at least as observed in people’s talk - an “abstract” story only, one which is supported as a general issue, but apparently not sustained by the “little narratives” of ordinary life. Contrary to the stories of the (first) Intifada some ten years ago, we don’t find empowering tales of how people and youngsters courageously or cleverly confront the Israeli army. The present Israeli army is quite overwhelming in its force, and apparently the suffering too great. The little stories tend to say that it is almost impossible to fight such a army. Moreover, people do not feel that a clear political victory or even progress is forthcoming; rather the stories tend to have an open-ended, pessimistically inclined ending, or even suggest despair in any solution leading to co-existence.
 

While there are stories about how people support and comfort each other, they are less salient. They do not express the main theme of the moment. Stories about how people can cope with the situation tend to emphasize the problems in coping effectively, such as failure and helplessness in rescuing people and property, or the problems when faced with the need to tell people terrible news about their damaged property, for instance. Many stories are about children, and show how people are afraid about the children and their future.
 

A major point stories make is showing the Israelis to be inhuman. The point of the story is often made explicitly. People also compare the relatively little amount of suffering the Israelis undergo, such as in Gilo (the Jerusalem settlement which has been under fire from the Beit Jala area), with the suffering felt in the Palestinian areas. Another major point the stories express is that when faced with such an adversary, people need support and intervention.
 

The stories help to feel people not being alone. While they are about powerlessness, and are almost inevitably depressing, they comfort at the same time because they express a joint community feeling. “Shared suffering is half suffering,” a foreign proverb says. Often the stories hit hard, like a punch in the face. Sometimes they are tragi-comic, which helps to release tensions and keep the conversation flowing, preventing it from becoming too depressing. Usually several stories are told at a meeting during work or at home. People add their own stories to a common theme, as they jointly make a point. Story-telling is a community and community-making activity. In the final analysis, the stories preserve an agreed moral basis in a world in which morals are increasingly at risk. In doing so, the stories show that people deeply care about each other.
 

For us, as a community education institute which works in a tradition of value-based inter-religious understanding and empowerment, we have to think about two major questions:
 

  1.. How can we have people, including youth, discussing the many sad stories in an empowering way?
  2.. Is it possible to give more emphasis to stories with an element of community and hope, such as stories of cooperation, consolation, support, and inclusion?

Toine van Teeffelen

Bethlehem, 20/11/00
 

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Toine van Teeffelen received his Ph.D. in Discourse Analysis at the University of Amsterdam (1992) with a thesis on English-language bestselling stories about the Palestine/Israel conflict. His present work mainly involves community education with a focus on Moslem-Christian living together, learning about/through the local environment, and developing communication skills. He is married with a Palestinian, has a daughter of three and lives in Bethlehem.

 

Truth, Peace & Harmony … in the Holy Land?

by Dr Harry Hagopian, LL.D

Doctor in Public International Law (UK)

 

I.          Introduction to Peace

“He becomes endowed with that kind of wise insight which allows him to see all beings as on the way to slaughter.  Great compassion thereby takes hold of him … and he radiates great friendliness and compassion over all those beings, and gives attention to them.”
 

In the wisdom literature of Mahayana Buddhism, this short excerpt is often quoted to define the person who has made peacemaking a vocation in the face of the manifold threats challenging our global village today. Indeed, this passionate sense of solidarity with the whole human family - with those who suffer everywhere as much as with those who do not yet know what suffering may await them - is not simply a matter of ethics or politics. In its essence, it is the ultimate intersection where the vertical dimension of our highest spirituality must cross the horizontal dimension of our broadest humanity. It is the place in our lives where love becomes the beginning and the end of our being.
 

I have been thinking a lot about peacemaking these days. And when I have not thought - or written - about it, others have awakened in me through their statements, analyses or articles a miasma of beliefs - and prejudices - that colour my own position. It suffices that a person start talking about the role of religion in situations of conflict, or to excoriate - whether intelligently or unintelligently, knowingly or unknowingly - the attitude of religious communities toward those who have been impacted by this conflict, that my mind simply shifts gear and goes into overdrive!
 

So this article will attempt to address - albeit briefly - three compartments of thought. The first part will relate to the role and viability of religions in peacemaking. The second part will provide a personal analysis of the situation today - both in political and human terms. The final part will suggest the bare bones of a tentative scenario for peace in the Holy Land.
 

II.          Religions and Peacemaking:  Any Common Threads?
 

 “It is one of the major tragedies of the world that the great religions instead of unifying mankind in mutual understanding and goodwill divide mankind by their dogmatic claims and prejudices.  They affirm that religious truth is attained in this or that special region, by this or that chosen race, condemning others either to borrow from it or else suffer spiritual destitution.”
 

This is what the great Hindu thinker Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan once wrote, and one can almost imagine an audible sigh as he concluded this sentence! Yet, despite the fact that religion has often been misdirected or misused, it is also true that many religions - whether Christianity, the two other monotheistic religions or some of the polytheistic ones - believe firmly that their own spiritual heritage can be a bridge for reconciliation and a force for non-violence.  So what are those spiritual themes and resources which project our visions of peace and thereby shape a theology of peace?  By and large, religions:
 

·         Profess visions of God as loving, merciful and compassionate - the source of inner peace, as well as peace in relationships amongst persons and nations;
 

·         Proclaim the unity and inter-dependence of the whole human family;
 

·         Affirm non-violence and reconciliation - not only as matters of principle but as active powers for overcoming hostility;

·

            Repudiate egotism, racism, jingoism, xenophobia and materialism - by asserting the humanity of the ‘neighbour’;
 

·         Stress justice for the poor, oppressed and marginalized;
 

·         Exalt the value and power of the individual human spirit;
 

·         Promise life after death - in other words, immortality and continuity.

Different religious traditions express these themes with different methods or emphases. But if we truly aspire to emulate the biblical concept of shalom as mentioned in the Book of Isaiah (Is 32:15-18), we must become more inclusive in our attitudes toward others and aim for  harmony with health, wholeness and peace in a community replete with love and justice.
 

III.          Where are We Today?


“A universal compassion is needed, to be extended to all living beings … All sentient beings are involved in suffering; all are struggling in a dark ignorance that blinds them to the truth of their own nature and the laws that govern their existence … If each of us were to realize that whatsoever he does to another he does in effect to himself, through the law of reciprocal compassion, this world would become a happy and peaceful place.”
 

None other than U Thant, a former secretary-general of the United Nations, uttered those words in a discourse he gave in New York in 1967. To come to terms with such words, it is important to examine conscientiously and truthfully the existential realities that beset both peoples of this land today - well into the seventh week of the Intifada of Al-Aqsa - and to highlight those areas that are ostensibly impacting the fragile relationships betwixt Palestinians and Israelis here and now.
 

·         The confrontations that have stubbornly engaged most Palestinian towns of the West Bank and Gaza are deadly and painful symptoms of the failure of Oslo as a framework for negotiations. With a political handshake in 1993, Oslo was meant to engender a momentum that broke down the barriers between two peoples and led toward a just peace;
 

·         But Oslo introduced instead a piecemeal approach to the Palestinian situation where the geographical contiguity and human proximity of a people were seriously compromised. By dragging its feet in the implementation of the accords, as much as by using the USA as the sole broker for peace, Israel turned Palestine into Swiss cheese with small holes that represent pockets of so-called self-authority. The major issues were left unresolved, and uncertainty abounded. Therefore, a realisation dawned gradually upon people that the sole means of achieving a genuine peace in this land is by implementing the principles of international legality as represented by the binding UN Security Council resolutions;

 

·         One result of the Intifada is that it has strengthened the unity amongst the Palestinian grass roots. The previous tensions and fissures between Muslim and Muslim, Christian and Christian or Muslim and Christian have diminished to a large degree. A sense of solidarity has crept into the relationship between all Palestinians - Christians and Muslims alike;
 

·         A new word - at least for me - of mousta’ribim or mousta’rivim has re-entered into the political lexicon. Loosely translated into English as arabists, these people are Israeli Jews disguised as Arabs who are allegedly infiltrating into Palestinian towns and then notifying the Israeli establishment of the Palestinian positions or movements;
 

·         Israel often states that the Palestinians started the Intifada, and that Israel is merely defending itself. Israel further adds that it is exercising restraint in its counter-measures. True, Palestinians started the Intifada after the visit of the Israeli Opposition leader to the Muslim Noble Sanctuary. Palestinians also throw stones and even molotov cocktails at the Israelis, and at times fire at Israeli positions during the confrontations - be those military targets or settlements;
 

·         However, I still find the Israeli response disproportionate. It reminds me of an Armenian folk tale where a man uses a gong to swat a fly!  Whilst Palestinians are certainly not flies, the imagery stands well. Does Israel need to shell houses with bombs in response to a few bullets? Is this excess meant to calm down - or more likely to exacerbate - the tense situation in this land? Is Israel not falling into the same trap it did with Oslo when it dictates its terms to Palestinians?
 

·         The Israeli closures of the West Bank and Gaza are stifling a whole people. With a system of curfews, products and commodities are now scarce, the economy is losing 200 million dollars per day, 32% of the erstwhile labour force in the West Bank and 40% in Gaza are on the dole, and people cannot move from point to point - even to pray! This form of collective punishment cannot be viewed as the ideal way to appease a people or to convince them to cease the Intifada. Nor can it prove to Palestinians that they have the beginnings of what could be defined as an (in)dependent state;
 

·         Palestinians and Israelis must both stop the incitements and sensationalism that appear regularly on television screens and in newspapers. Although there might exist a certain domestic logic to such actions, I maintain that the graphic relay of each death or funeral hypes up Palestinians for another confrontation. Equally, a graphic relay of fire exchanges between Beit Jala and Gilo also hypes up both Beit Jala residents and Gilo settlers. Fear-mongering, crisis election and visual angst do not help calm the  psyche of two peoples who feel  - in their own right - outraged, injured or violated;
 
 

·         Palestinians should exert every possible effort to keep young and under-18 children away from the flash-points or hot-spots. This is a national responsibility commensurate with article 1 of the Optional Protocol of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It does not matter whether the deaths of so many children occurred on their way home or to school, as accidental passers-by, as innocent adventure-seekers or as premeditated stone-throwers. The priority - as Mrs Mary Robinson, UN Human Rights Commissioner put it - is to protect those young generations.
 

·         However, a corresponding responsibility lies upon Israel since it is inadmissible under any international norm to aim at heads (eyes) or chests (hearts) in any confrontation. Alternative means of riot control must be used by the Israeli army;
 

·         The Intifada of Al-Aqsa that began on 28 September 2000 has gradually transmogrified into an Intifada for independence. In other words, an initial religious reaction has now assumed ethno-national dimensions. Hence, it is cardinal for Palestinians to ensure that they possess the appropriate tools, structures and strategies that define their long-term objectives. It is quite dangerous to allow oneself to be led by sheer momentum;
 

·         Stereotypes that Palestinians and Israelis project of each other are becoming increasingly demoniac and shrill. There is a critical level of rage, hatred and frustration - conscious or unconscious - in both peoples’ hearts. I see so much evidence of it - in the slogans being used by each side, in the way one side describes the other, in the graffiti on walls in Israeli and Palestinian neighbourhoods. Such behavioural patterns are denigrating and ultimately destructive.

IV.          Tentative Vision for the Future?
 

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.  Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it … Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.  Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hatred cannot drive out hatred: only love can do that.”
 

These are strong and uncompromising words coming from Revd Martin Luther King. Not only do they initiate a debate on the nature and forms of violence or apply directly to the confrontations between Palestinians and Israelis in the Holy Land today. They also provide a window of hope for the future. As a priest friend of mine from Jerusalem told me last week, “one must look, evaluate, and then act.”  Having looked at the religious and scriptural standpoints, and having then evaluated  the situation, let me now act by sketching my broad personal map for the future.  I am confident that a battery of experts, lawyers and technocrats can flesh out any such agreement with the necessary political logic and language.
 

However, let me also add that I am not engaged here in producing a political paper or initiating a nationalist discourse. My concern focuses on the human dimension. The Christian faith I struggle to uphold is predicated upon the belief that we are all born equal in the image and likeness of God.  How can this belief be transposed onto a political reality?
 

·         I am starting off with the premiss that the historical land of Palestine - in other words the territories of 1948- has already been left out of the ambit of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. This implies that any negotiated settlement resulting in a viable and acceptable Palestinian statehood would also translate into a recognition of Israel by all Arab countries. It also means that the Palestinians will have kicked off their negotiations with a large territorial concession of their own, and that the claims of intransigence against them do not echo the truth in real historical terms;
 

·         The starting point for the negotiations should be the status quo ante that existed on 4 June 1967. This emphasises the inadmissibility of the acquisition of land by force as embodied in UNSC 242. It means that the territories of the West Bank and Gaza that are still occupied by Israel should be returned to full Palestinian sovereignty. Nonetheless, and given that the larger Israeli settlement blocs constitute a human, geographic and demographic realities, territorial modifications or swaps could be made to the map. The more remote and smaller settlements strewn all over the West Bank and Gaza should be dismantled and their residents compensated fully in order to help them re-locate elsewhere;
 

·         Claims that Jerusalem is the ‘eternal capital of Israel’ are indefensible! God alone is eternal - not a capital! As a multi-faith hub, Jerusalem would remain an open city. The western part would become a capital for Israel, and its corresponding eastern part a capital for Palestine. In the old city, the Christian, Armenian and Muslim quarters would come under Palestinian political control, whilst the Jewish quarter and the Western Wall would remain under Israeli political control. The three faith communities would administer their own holy sites. Finally, to ensure success in its implementation, this accord would be buttressed up by international guarantees from a UN-like international body;

 

·         Insofar as the refugee issue is concerned, Israel must recognize the principle of a right of return and compensation for Palestinian refugees as incorporated in UNSC 194. I personally believe that very few refugees would actually return to Israel, and that most of them would either opt to stay in their adopted countries or else re-settle in Palestine. However, acceptance of the principle itself by Israel will indicate its adherence to international obligations and lead to a ‘purification of memory’ that will inevitably foster some measure of goodwill amongst both parties;
 

V.     Conclusive Remarks
 

Is there anyone among you who is wise and understanding?  He is to prove it by his good life, by his good deeds performed with humility and wisdom. But if in your heart you are jealous, bitter and selfish, do not sin against the truth by boasting of your wisdom.  Such wisdom does not come down from heaven; it belongs to the world.  But the wisdom from above is pure first of all; it is also peaceful, gentle and friendly; it is full of compassion and produces a harvest of good deeds;  it is free from prejudice and hypocrisy.  And goodness is the harvest that is produced from the seeds that peacemakers plant in peace.” Jas 3: vv13-18

Throughout my article, I have constantly used the words ‘peace’ and ‘compassion’.  I have argued that it is possible to reach a peaceful and just settlement between Palestinians and Israelis if both sides are willing to be peace-driven and compassion-bound. They should be willing to rely on a wisdom that is peaceful, gentle, friendly and full of compassion. They should free themselves of prejudice and hypocrisy, planting instead the seeds of peace in their societies. As St Paul writes in his Letter, “don’t do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves. And look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own”  Phil 2: vv 3-4.

Making peace is hard!  After all, the expression goes that one sues for peace!  And making peace on the basis of Christian values becomes even harder since the goalposts are so much higher!  But peacemakers should persevere in their irenic task since establishing peace in this land also means planting at long last the first saplings of justice too. I remain convinced that both peoples are not only meant to live together - as politicians constantly remind us - but actually can live together.  Bereft of stultifying ideologies or stunted stances, and annealed in a vision that is inclusive, it is possible for both Palestinians and Israelis to rise above their mutually negating differences and to aim for a neighbourliness that remains healthy and rewarding for both peoples.  But so long as vested interests play their part, the challenge becomes even more defiant.
 

In an article in the Tablet on 11 November 2000, Rabbi Lionel Blue from England writes, The present problem is not ownership but the fear and hatred which have become endemic in a small area about the size of Wales, with two nations claiming the same capital, and three religions each of which has its own memories and hurts … Two states must be accepted in that small country and must share Jerusalem equally and fairly.  Israel-Palestine is home to all in it and all who regard it as home, whether Palestinian refugees or persecuted Jews.  The heroic intelligence and determination which created the State of Israel can accomplish that too if it enables expensive ‘swords’ to be turned into ‘ploughshares’ of technology. The cost of the settlements which have held Israel to ransom is too high.”

Is any of this feasible? I do not know! Would either party respond to it? Who knows! Is it likely that people would smirk and then dismiss it as being far too impractical or partisan to one side or other?  Probably!  But should it be done? Definitely!
 

The longer the problem is left unresolved or patched up shabbily, the higher the price of peace will be for both sides. My heart grieves for each and every Israeli or Palestinian - every boy or man, every girl or woman - who dies in these
confrontations. Every news-flash that announces another bereavement - irrespective of its source, ethnicity, family or origin - is a cause for mourning by all peacemakers.  Surely, Israelis and Palestinians deserve happiness and fulfilment - peace, justice and security - in their lives?
 

Having already developed a theology of land for their rights, is it not time to stretch that theology a bit further and develop a theology of peace that by its very definition is also tantamount to a leap of faith in the land of prophets?
 

©  harry-bvh @ 18 November 2000
 
 
 

Among the Olive Branches

From: Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders

sanders@palnet.com

http://come.to/zababdeh

November in Palestine is the month for the olive harvest. Most of Zababdeh headed for the hills to strip their trees bare and bring fruit to the local olive presses where it is turned into oil. We joined several families in their work, enjoying the change of pace from school (which closed for a weekend so that the whole family could lend a hand in the task). The trees are beautiful; the land is beautiful; the work is hard but rewarding. Most of the olives harvested are consumed at home, whole or as oil. Some is sold locally, and very little - if any - ends up being exported outside of Palestine. The harvest is a task that takes most of the month, and you can hear the hum of the tractors early in the morning and late at night, going to and returning from the family orchards. Many families have given us fresh oil from their trees - there is nothing like fresh baked bread with a little Zababdeh olive oil!

The entire life of the community is altered by these days. Children come to school tired, having already worked several hours in the groves. Church is nearly empty on Sunday mornings, as everyone heads for the hills and the harvest.  Because of inadequate rainfall, last year there was no harvest, and so this year's crop is especially important. Also, as the Israeli closure of the West Bank tightens, the local economy is slowly being strangled. People need every cent (or shekel) they can get.

It feels ironic in these days of armed conflict to work among olive branches.  But it cannot help but add deeper meaning to a tree which is already deeply symbolic. Christ told his disciples to learn their lesson from the fig tree, and we know that the olive tree has much to teach us, too. Some of the trees in Zababdeh are only several generations old, planted by grandparents who cleared the land by hand, planted seedlings, watered the dry earth, moved rocks and stones, cleared away the brush, terraced the hills, and passed these gifts along to their children and grandchildren. We understand in a deeper way why it is so agonizing for Palestinians to lose their lands and trees. Stories from people who fled during Al Nakba ("The Catastrophe") of 1948 often center around the loss of the family olive trees, to which (like their homes) they have never been allowed to return. These trees are very real and very symbolic connections to the land for these people, and as we picked olives with our friends, we felt their passionate desire for their homeland.

Other trees have been here since the Romans controlled these lands, nearly 2000 years ago. These grand patriarchs carry meaning for the Christian minority here. Like the Christian community, these trees have witnessed the oppression of Roman, Ottoman, and Israeli occupations. And, like the Believers, the trees persevere, and continue to grow and bear good fruit. Yesterday word came to us that a sixty year-old Palestinian was been stoned to death by Israeli settlers in the West Bank while he harvested his olives. We remain hopeful in the thought that, like so many tragedies these trees have seen, this too shall pass.
 

READERS REACTIONS:

I share with you the following letter from New Zealand, to tell you that we are not alone, even there we have good friends praying for us and supporting our just cause. We thank them all for their support, care and solidarity, hoping that they days of peace and reconciliation will be very near on the corner.

On behalf of Pax Christi Aotearoa / New Zealand I would like you to know that our prayers and thoughts are with you and your people during these days of conflict, anguish and suffering. There have been several protests rallies in New Zealand supporting the Palestinian cause for independence and freedom in which we have been active

David Wakim
Chairperson Pax Christi Trust Aotearoa/New Zealand

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Fr. Raed Awad Abusahlia

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E-mail: nonviolence@writeme.com
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Website: http://www.Lpj.org
Website: http://members.nbci.com/nonviolence