All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. -Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1
For better or worse, Israel is a sovereign country enjoying vast international recognition and support. Its parliamentary democratic system is amazingly stable and organized. It also operates one of the most formidable and flexible military forces in the planet. Israeli Jews are typically proud people because of their historical heritage and scores of amazing undertakings. Such spirit and pride helps to hold the country together in times of conflict, making them fierce warriors. Besides possessing a strong cultural base it is a major trade partner for various countries, most notably the United States. In summary, Israel is a strong, well-established player of the international community and it will continue being so for years to come. Whether Israel, its Arab neighbors and the residents of occupied Palestinian lands like it or not, the only way out of the current stalemate is by fair, egalitarian negotiations, not by violence.
The Israel-Palestine conflict never bothered me while I was living in Puerto Rico. Matters outside the national issues are not given too much attention by our society. The parties concerned in the conflict are virtually invisible back there in that small tropical haven. To exemplify, there is only one synagogue and two mosques in an island of 6 million people where the majority is mainly Christian. For many of us, it was one more thing that appeared in the international section of the evening news for about twenty seconds. However, the media did a wonderful job in oversimplifying matters for the average spectator’s consumption leading many to create a shortsighted opinion (bordering by indifference) in regards to the whole conflict. They continuously portrayed the Palestinians as the aggressor and Israel as the righteous defender. For a long time such a frame of reference provided me with meager appreciation of the whole conflict.
Coming to the mainland United States allowed me to interact with both Jews and Muslims. It has been a year and a half ever since I met a Jew for the first time ever in my life. Less than that amount of time since my first contact with a Muslim. Further less time ever since I finally opened my eyes to the sad reality existing between these two peoples in the Holy Land. It didn’t take too much time before I realized that the Israel-Palestine crisis transcended geographically. Even here, in such an irrelevant geographical position in regards to Palestine (that is, Pittsburgh, PA), I hear the propaganda bombardment shelling the streets of my mind every single day. Zionist Jews strive for converts into their ideology from all cultural and religious backgrounds in the American community. In the other end of the spectrum there are smaller, underrepresented Muslim groups who unite their voices in demanding justice for almost 50 years of abuses against the inhabitants of occupied Palestine. It is clear that the ideological battle for ‘who gets what’ in Israel has arrived to the streets of our communities. The Activism Avenue
One of the smaller campaigns is being fought here in Pittsburgh as well as in many other places around the USA. There are no AK-47s or Merkava tanks involved but rather ranks of politically aware men and women. There are no ‘hit and run’ attacks or ‘guerilla’ tactics. Instead, there is a peaceful alternative called activism. Needless to say, the collective results of the outcome of such small battles will definitely make a difference in how the United States plans and executes its foreign policy towards the region in question.
Since the United States has played the role of the power broker in the Middle East for the last 50 years, it is imperative that constituencies all around this country arise and protest in the name of justice. Jewish groups here understood the need for lobbying the government for concessions and support well before 1948. Regrettably, Arabs in America remained dormant and underrepresented in America. From a moral standpoint, the USA should not allow the actual bloodshed to continue; yet in practice Washington tacitly approves Israel’s claims and tactics. It is not enough to see Colin Powell declaring that Israel has to stop immediately all settlement activity and Arafat has to cooperate in the ‘crackdown against terror’, as seen in a January 2002 press conference in the State Department. America’s duality towards Israel and Palestine aggravates the whole problem. Why can the USA threaten Arafat with freezing financial aid to the Palestinian Authority if cooperation does not materialize while allowing Ariel Sharon to act with impunity? That is why all those with a political and moral conscience must arise and cry out for justice. Watching the rape of the Holy Land in CNN, reading about it in New York Times and not reacting is as evil as being a perpetrator in this fiasco.
The battle for activism needs strong leadership worldwide, with a special focus placed in the United States. It is true that Pro-Palestine activism is alive and in the works here in America, however, it consists of various disparate groups with no clear center of leadership. The Pro-Israel camp clearly enjoys the advantage and superiority in the lobbying and activism areas. Its organization is centered on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), who works in coordination with other smaller Jewish organizations in activities relevant to this discussion. Until this problem of leadership and coordination is dealt with, Palestine will not enjoy an egalitarian treatment in the lobbying sector.
What is to be done? One of the biggest Arab organizations in America is the Arab-American Institute (AAI). Although the main purpose of this establishment is to secure the social advancement of Arab-Americans, it has the potential, resources and necessary connections to serve as a solid base of operations for Pro-Palestine activism. Imagine a national conference of hundreds of pro-peace groups in the USA coming together with Palestinian activists in concert with the AAI. The prospects sound promising; it would advance the Palestinian cause greatly in the USA campaign. However, such undertaking takes time, money and most of all, dedication.
In regards to manpower issues, this battle requires educated soldiers. It is in dire need for people that follow these events carefully, with a sense of objectivity and fairness. Obviously, it is imperative for these activists to be able to digest this information wisely and form strong opinions based in facts and not in slogans. Screaming famous phrases like ‘down with Israel and the Great Satan’ or ‘we are the children of the Diaspora’ will get the antagonists nowhere near a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Demonizing long gone figures like the Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini, Theodore Herzl or Ben Gurion will not miraculously break the impasse and undo the violence. Arguments regarding religious claims to the land will never convince intelligent people that such is enough to justify the everyday abuses made against the Palestinian people in the occupied lands. Suicide bombings deteriorate the image of the Palestinian and Muslims amongst the peoples of this planet since many feel alienated from the concept of martyrism and outright violent behavior. Violence creates violence, many say. There are always peaceful alternatives to such activities and it is the duty of the activist worldwide to give life to such claims.
A Palestinian Gandhi?
It is extremely clear that Palestinians live in constant frustration after almost 40 years of occupation. Israeli settlements in these territories stand as a symbol of defiance and disrespect for the Palestinians whose burden is heavy enough already. Many of the evicted have to live everyday while looking over their shoulders to see a gleaming new construction project inside an Israeli settlement next door. Recent developments like the creation of buffer zones in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by the current Sharon administration to “contain” terrorism will just add more poison to this already contaminated water. Current incursions into refugee camps like those in Balata and Jenin stir emotions of anger and even more frustration among Palestinians. Then I have to ask why do many people feel surprised when those suicide bombings happen?
These reactions are not getting Palestinians anywhere but into more trouble with their next-door neighbors. However, even if their measures have led to horrible consequences, credit must be given to these Palestinians who rose in arms against their unlawful landlords in a fight for national respect and sovereignty. They helped create a national conscience that Arafat’s incompetent Palestinian Authority has not been able to nurture and provide to their people for the past years. It is definitely a counter-Machiavellian point of view: ‘the goals do not justify the means’. Therefore even though the goals of these ‘martyrs’ and ‘jihadis’ are noble, their actions were made unholy with spilling the blood of innocents Jews and Muslims alike.
If Palestinian Activists want to earn the upper hand in this conflict, then I must ask them to lay down their Kalashinovs and stop suicide attacks. There is another way, and that is the morally high road of non-violent opposition used by Gandhi and American civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King Jr. Mobilizing the masses in peaceful marches creates a more effective, constructive and powerful impression than initiating a shooting spree in Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street. History has been witness of the success of non-violence and civil disobedience before, leading to a rather healthy rise of Indian national conscience and Johnson’s proclamation of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
However, how can a Palestinian be convinced to protest and resist peacefully, knowing that a rain of Israeli-fired rubber coated bullets and live ammunition might come next? That is a question to be addressed at a personal level. It takes courage, patience and self-control. Emotions should not get in the way of the cause. Now stop and think about the results for a moment. Peaceful demonstrations and human chain-blockades would make the Israeli Government think twice before doing anything that would make them look as the aggressor in front of the media (and so, to the World). Besides, it would be a great incentive to force a military “de-escalation” that Israel has been unwilling to perform in the occupied territories even after the Oslo Agreements and subsequent ‘negotiations’.
Not only should Palestinians arise and rebel peacefully against the Israeli invaders in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, they also need to do so against their incompetent leadership. Yasser Arafat has agreed on terrible deals for the Palestinian people continuously, accepting crumbs instead of pushing for a more fair agreement in order to appease both Israel and the USA. He always agreed on postponing the negotiations of critical issues like East Jerusalem, the return of refugees and the settlements issues. Now such a lack of attention continues to grow into a monster that slowly consumes his people. His miscalculations do not stop there, since his own steps to consolidate his power as Chairman of the Palestinian Authority have distanced him from Palestinians in general. This, in turn lets him with little or not influence and control over the population.
There must be a change of leadership if there is to be true peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Sharon’s hardliner, ruthless and aggressive policies only antagonize Palestinians and sends hundreds of young Israeli conscripts to the killing fields. On average, three Israeli soldiers and perhaps even more civilians get killed every day as the Intifada continues, not to forget the scores of Palestinians who suffer the same fate too. Arafat, in the other hand, cannot do too much about it since he has sealed himself off the heart of Palestine and therefore lost control of it already.
This new leader must stand strong and demand the respect that Palestine deserves as a nation. This person needs to recognize the need of mutual respect between Israel and Palestine and must command equality in the negotiation table. The new Authority should not succumb to political pressure by Israel or the USA but to stand strong and be patient. Non-violence should be one of the main pillars of belief of this new leadership. Besides, it will require the unanimous support of its Arab peers and the rest of the world, if it is to be successful in resisting joint Israeli-American pressure. Palestinians are not second-class human beings, and they do have a right to return to the land that they have been forced to leave because of countless wars, occupations and abuses from both sides of the conflict. This land may be taken away from a nation, however its soul will never die as long as it receives the respect it deserves.
Finally, if true peace is to descend over Palestine, both Jews and Muslims have to accept accountability for the horrors of the past. It is perhaps easy for leaders to forget about the evils that all suffered because of this conflict when signing a ‘peace agreement’, but the common folk don’t forget so easily. Until true, non-hypocritical reconciliation between both camps takes place, the blood of innocents will continue to flow thru the veins of the Holy Land.
May the light of true peace descend over Palestine and Israel!
Fernando Zambrana contributed this piece to PRAVDA.Ru