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The need for a just peace



By Kai Frithjof Brand-Jacobsen, TFF Antenna

Director ICL/Praxis for Peace & Coalition for Global Solidarity



October 18, 2000


Anger and frustration should be no surprise

Discussions and analysis of recent events in Israel/Palestine by peace workers, journalists, human rights activists, and others have been cause for both encouragement, and a great deal of concern.

The situation in Israel-Palestine and throughout the entire Middle East today is very alarming, but it is in no way surprising. Anger and frustration at one of the most oppressive and exploitative structures of violence in the world is exploding. A system which Nelson Mandela once referred to as "worse than apartheid" is itself being met with counter-violence in the form of stone-throwing and protest. The cycle of violence, recriminations, fear and anger on all sides is growing, and, given the complete absence of any real attempts at peace on the parts of the leadership on both sides, can be expected to continue. Any 'peace' which would be accepted today on the terms put forward by the Israeli government and the United States would not be peace, nor would it be a solution to the causes and structures of the conflict in Israel-Palestine. Instead, it would be acontinuation of war by other means.

To protest against the violence which has now exploded in Israel-Palestine, to seek to come up with creative and non-violent ways of transforming the conflict, and to work actively for the promotion of peace are necessary and vital. To do this, without trying to understand what really lies behind the conflict, or without trying to address any of the injustices or inequalities behind the violence, is to perpetuate a war which has continued, in one form or another, for over fifty years. Peace must be inclusive. It must be open to participation by all actors and all parties, and include recognition of the basic humanity and dignity of all involved. But it cannot be blind.


Peace between equals?

And this is where we fall into a terrible and very unfortunate trap. For in our efforts to promote peace we are willing to see both sides as 'equal victims.' To recognise the crimes and injustices committed against both sides, the people working for violence, and those working for peace, on both sides. Yet the conflict in Israel-Palestine is not between two equal sides. Indeed, the very basis for all Israeli 'peace' efforts over the past decade has been to solidify a structure of domination and inequality. From Cairo, to Oslo, to Wye River, Paris, and back to Cairo again, the 'peace' process of the past decade has addressed none of the underlying causes of the conflict, it has promoted solutions which themselves further enforce the structure of violence, and has sought to ensconce the hegemony and domination of one of the parties to the conflict. As Tacitus once said of the Romans, "They have created a desolation, and called it peace." To paraphrase Clausewitz, 'peace' has become the continuation of war by other means.

To be in favour of peace we must be honest in our attempts to understand what lies at the root of violence and the conflicts behind it. When we think back to the situation in South Africa we recall how vital it was for many people in the world to support the struggle of the ANC and black South Africans (with a few courageous white South African friends and comrades) against the evils of the apartheid system. Part of this struggle was the very recognition that apartheid itself was 'evil.' Is this the same as Reagan's calling the Soviet Union the 'Evil Empire'. No. Instead, it is more similar to Gandhi, who himself said that "It is necessary to struggle against the evil system, not the evil man."

And in South Africa, this is what was done. Apartheid as a system was opposed by the anti-Apartheid movement within South Africa and internationally. The whites of South Africa were recognised as an integral part of the nation, and the future of the country is being built upon a spirit of reconciliation. Yet it was necessary first to call for an end to the Apartheid system. To recognise that, yes, many white South Africans were afraid of what would happen to them under a 'black' government, and it was necessary to allay these fears, to build a future South Africa which recognised the dignity and humanity of all its citizens. This, however, is not what is on offer in the Middle East. In fact, it is the very antithesis of Israeli-American proposals.

That Arafat is a corrupt, authoritarian and frequently dictatorial ruler, yes, I completely agree. One of the reasons the Oslo Accords were signed between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (for there has been no 'peace' accord between Israel and Palestine), was because Arafat himself had become dependent upon his support from Israel in order to maintain his position within the PLO and Palestine, to prevent a new generation of more legitimate and democratic leaders from developing.


What Oslo promised was not peace

Yet Arafat's corruption has been entirely supported and encouraged by Israel and the United States, while his massive security apparatus itself is a response:

i) to Israeli and American calls that he 'clamp down on terrorism', and

ii) a vital instrument in suppressing any authentic democratic, peace, and human rights movements from within Palestine.

It is worthwhile to note, however, that even Norway has refused to offer any support to groups critical of the Oslo Accords. What is interesting, is that these groups are not critical of the Oslo Accords because they are against peace. Quite the opposite. They are critical because they are for peace, and they recognise that what is promised by Oslo is exactly the opposite.

Yet focus in the media on the corruption of the Palestinian Authority is itself too simplistic and contributes to a false portrayal of the conflict. It is like focussing only upon the corruption of a local henchman or gang leader (for this is what Arafat, in a particularly contemptible way, is degenerating into), without recognising the violence of the Emperor. The scales cannot be compared, and the extent towards which we have almost completely ignored Israel's systematic violence against Palestine borders on propaganda, if not the criminal. Istvan Meszaros once wrote: "Blindness in intellectuals is not a natural calamity that simply befalls them as a matter of unavoidable destiny but a self-induced condition." Let us not allow this to be a condition which we enforce upon ourselves.

Some figures:

- the Wye River Agreement significantly reduced the amount of territory, from 30 to 13 per cent, to be placed under Palestinian control. Israel failed to fulfill even this condition of withdrawal.

- since Oslo, more than 600 Palestinian homes have been demolished and 140,000 dunums of Palestinian land confiscated (1998 figures; the numbers since then have increased dramatically) reflecting Israel's continuing determination to grab as much land as possible before a final settlement is reached.

- between 1994 and 1998, according to B'Tselem, a leading human rights organization in Israel, 356 Palestinians were killed compared to 251 Israelis. Current and historical casualty imbalance (Palestinian : Israeli) is closer to 20:1

- since Oslo, and resulting from frequent Israeli 'closures' the Palestinian standard of living has fallen by nearly 40 per cent, with 30 per cent of the workforce unemployed and 40 per cent of the population now living at or below the poverty line

- a year after Oslo, Israel's control of West Bank land reached about 75 per cent, up from 65 per cent when the Accords were signed, while water supplies to Gaza had been cut in half

- in the West Bank, for every litre of water available to one Palestinian, one Israeli settler consumes 876 litres.

These are only a few of the figures. The actual situation is much worse. As Gandhi recognised, "Economic equality is the master key to nonviolent independence... a nonviolent system of government is clearly an impossibility so long as the wide gulf between the rich and the hungry millions persist." This is true in the case of Israel-Palestine, and equally true of the situation in the entire world today. Peace through violence, peace through exploitation and the denial of the 'other's' humanity, is not real peace. Let us not be part in this crime.


The "peace workers" and the US as mediator

Barak made no concessions, and gave nothing away in Camp David. The entire farce itself was arranged to put the blame for any failures upon Arafat and the PLO and to remove the rising barrage of criticism which had been falling upon Israel from the EU and the vast majority of countries in the world. By making proposals which were clearly impossible for Arafat to accept, the entire failure of the meeting was placed upon the Palestinians' shoulders. If Arafat had accepted, he would have forever given up on the hope of Palestine ever becoming independent. By refusing, he provided the Israelis with the opportunity to say "Look, we wanted peace, he refused. How can we possibly be blamed for what happens next?"

Let us not reproduce the myth that Barak was willing to make peace, but Arafat missed an historic opportunity. No. Arafat was asked to say that Israel owed nothing to Palestine, that Palestine should accept never being a state, that Israeli control and domination of Palestine should remain unchallenged, and that Palestinian police should continue to police, terrorise and abuse Palestinian people for the security of Israel. I do not accept Arafat's credentials as a 'peaceworker', not because he is not willing to meet the demands of the Israelis, but because he has too often betrayed his own people, and has prevented any true peace movement from developing in the region.

This perhaps, is one of the difficulties for international supporters of peace as well. Arafat is no Mandela, therefore, how can the cause of the Palestinians be as noble as that of the South Africans? Shall we let an entire population suffer because we, rightfully, do not believe in the integrity of its authoritarian ruler? Or shall we recognise the vast injustice and crime being committed against the people of Palestine, and demand, and work for a peace based upon the equal recognition of the rights and needs of all sides, while also recognising that security for one cannot be based upon the mass impoverishment and denial of humanity of the other. This has always been a recipe which leads to war. It is doing so now.

Israel's unbridled arrogance in promoting its domination throughout the entire region has been one of the main factors behind the current conflict. Its refusal to make even the slightest authentic efforts towards peace has continuously fuelled aggravation and the loss of hope within Palestine, some of the major factors behind today's explosion of violence. It is not enough for Israeli 'peaceniks' to say that they are for peace, without criticising the horrendous structural violence which is practised against the Palestinians, or while continuing to serve in the Israeli Army.


What we can be for - and not only against

By saying this, it does not mean that I am for either 'side' of the conflict. I am for peace. I am for humanity. I am for the right of Israelis and Palestinians to grow up and live together in peace. I am for democracy in Palestine, and an end to the Israeli enforced apartheid system. I will not tell the slave to love his master, or believe that the slave should stop rebelling because the master wishes to make his control more effective. There can be no peace between slaves and masters, neither should there be.

Does this mean the 'master' should be killed? No. Gandhi would have agreed. But he would also recognise the necessity for the slave to struggle for his/her freedom and independence. Palestine's struggle for freedom against one of the longest occupations in the post-World War II periods must continue. Its aim, however, should not be to 'beat' or 'win over' Israel, but to create a free and independent Palestine. Oppression and violence should be opposed on all sides with the force of non-violence, and commitment to human dignity and dialogue.

I would not agree, as some have suggested though, that the 'silent majority' are working for peace. As we have seen all too often in history, to be silent is to condone the violence being committed, as many Jewish individuals and intellectuals will tell you when confronting German silence in the years leading to the Holocaust. I am very confident that most Israelis do not support the policies of the extreme right (bordering on fascist) of the Israeli settlers and many politicians. Until they are willing to struggle against it, however, and until they are willing to work for active nonviolence and to address the structures of the conflict, they are themselves helping to perpetuate the system of violence. "To accept violence is also violence" as Johan Galtung once said.


The root contradictions of this conflict - and what we ought to do now

Let us look at the attitudes, behaviour, and the structures, the root contradictions, of the conflict. If we are not willing to do this, let us not pretend to be willing to work for peace. Let us echo Edward Said's call for mass non-violent struggle in Palestine, and to welcome true solidarity between Israelis and Palestinians committed to building peace on the formula "no exploitation, no surrender", the catchwords of Gandhi's struggle for swaraj, home rule. Let academics, intellectuals, school children, and every single individual and human being who professes to be concerned with the situation in Israel-Palestine act to try to understand what is really behind the conflict, and to understand the attitudes, hopes, fears, dreams and insecurities of all the actors on all sides. Let us be critical, as necessary in order to be honest, but let us also be creative in coming up with solutions and suggestions for what can be done. Let us demand equality of Palestinians and Israelis, and recognise that equality cannot be built on oppression or exploitation. Let us protest against the killings, and also against international support for the State of Israel's apartheid system, for US Congress funding of the building of settlements, for the betrayal of even the Oslo Accords, themselves a horrible prescription, promoting a foundation for violence, not peace. And let us reassert the authority of the relevant UN resolutions.

Finally, let us call for an end to the newspeak, to the culture of violence and racism, the propaganda, and the belief that one or the other side is "less than human" that has so often been at the heart of war--whether fought through economic or military means. Peace is a struggle. It is not something that will simply fall into our laps or appear because we close our eyes and wish the violence will go away. For too long our eyes have been closed. This is why we are seeing the violence that is exploding today.

My one question, as experts, journalists, politicians and `peaceworkers' fill the pages of newspapers and journals with their articles and analysis, is why has it taken this long? Why did we wait, why did we ignore the violence, the daily killing of Palestinians over the last many years, the destruction of homes, the situation in the refugee camps? Why did we wait, and how now can we believe ourselves to be satisfying our conscience, because we respond to the sight of children being shot, buildings being blown up with missiles, and stones being thrown? The number of Palestinians that have died since Oslo because of lack of access to proper medicines, because of poor health and economic situations in the occupied territories, because of the slow death of structural violence, far exceeds the number of those killed in the last weeks. Were there deaths any less horrific, were there lives any less worthy or sacred, because they weren't captured on the evening news?

This is a question we must be willing to ask ourselves, for the people of Palestine, and of Israel, because if we truly believe, as we should, that Israelis have the right to live in peace, to not fear car bombs and 'terrorism', than we must recognise that this can only happen, if Israelis and Palestinians are willing to work for a true, a just, and an honest peace.

We, however, cannot be satisfied with being silent. Otherwise, we are only helping the war to continue.


Kai Frithjof Brand-Jacobsen

Dir. ICL/Praxis for Peace & Coalition for Global Solidarity



© TFF 2000  


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