Peace & Justice
Wednesdays, the Peace/Life Center is usually open from 12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m. Bring brown bag lunch. Come by for some coffee or tea or to chat or to see a film or browse through various books and magazines. Beverages will be provided.
(this month, Div. IV--Saya Lacey)
Prominent Palestinian leader Jonathan Kuttab will give a public
presentation on the Prospects for Peace in Israel-Palestine on Thursday, June
26, at the Modesto Church of the Brethren, 2301 Woodland Ave. at 7:00 p.m.
Kuttab will be on a speaking tour in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas.
Modesto will be his only engagement in the Central Valley.
Kuttab teaches law at the Palestinian Al Quds University in East Jerusalem, and has a private practice in Jerusalem and the USA. He is a co-founder of al Haq, the oldest Palestinian human rights organization in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as well as co-founder of the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence, and headed the Palestinian legal team at the second Oslo Peace Talks in the mid 1990s. From 1988 to 1993 he served on the Palestinian Advisory Committee of Middle East Witness. Currently he serves on the Boards of Directors of Sabeel, the Palestinian Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem; the Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem; and the California Youth Advocates Program.
Kuttab’s California visit is being organized by the Middle East Program of the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz. His local talk is sponsored by the Modesto Peace Life Center and the Witness Commission of the Modesto Church.
ACTION: Free and open to all interested. Donations will be welcome to help pay speaker expenses. Information: Dan Onorato, 526-5436, firstname.lastname@example.org
A Treaty to Abolish Nuclear Weapons By Lawrence S. Wittner on History News Network
Johnny Puts Down His Gun by Dennis Rahkonen from Dissident Voices
Resister PFC Ryan Jackson to stand trial June 3 from Courage to Resist (Listen to interview here)
Remembering the Nakba during Israel's 60th Anniversary from Jewish Voice for Peace
“Israel, Palestine and the U.S,”
a multi-media presentation by Dan Onorato, will be featured at
Peace Camp. Dan spent two weeks in
Israel-Palestine in August 2005. His presentation will show Israelis and
Palestinians working courageously for peace and reconciliation. His
understanding of the conflict and his long history of nonviolent action uniquely
qualify him to give a useful perspective on this issue.
This article is a revision of an article that Dan wrote for Connections in 2004 and provides background for his Peace Camp talk.
The right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland in what is today Israel-Palestine is one of the most contested issues dividing Palestinians and the Israeli government. During the 1948 war following the establishment of the State of Israel, over 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced into exile. The central problem is that both the Palestinians and the Jews assert they have a legitimate claim to the land.
The Palestinian claim is based on the fact that in the early 1900’s Palestinian Muslim Arabs were most of the population (93%), as they had been for centuries. Christian Arabs, Druze, and Jews made up the rest. Up until that time Jews and Palestinians lived peaceably as neighbors in the same land. It is not historically accurate to say the two peoples had always been hostile to each other, so they always will be. Tensions began, however, when increasing numbers of Jewish people, influenced by Zionism, migrated to Palestine, and bought land from absentee landlords, leaving Arab tenants dispossessed or homeless. Because Palestine at that time was considered part of the Arab lands under the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire, the Arabs began to resist Jewish colonization. The reason for their fear was the Zionist ideology influencing Jewish migrations to Palestine.
Zionism has its roots in the Jewish experience of being persecuted in Europe, especially in Eastern Europe and Russia. Discrimination, prejudice, and pogroms led a number of influential Jews in the mid to late 1880’s to conclude that full assimilation of Jews into mainstream European societies was not going to happen. The only way for the Jewish people to be safe and have the same rights as others would be to have their own land, recognized publicly as theirs, over which they would have control. In its origin Zionism was not a religious movement, though religious elements have helped shape it historically. It was a form of nationalism and was secular in its thrust, urging Jews to take their future into their own hands by returning to their homeland from which for centuries they had been living in exile. That idea, that the region of Palestine was their ancestral homeland from which they had been exiled, establishes, from the Zionist point of view, the legitimacy for the Israeli claim to the land.
The irony and, from the Palestinian point of view, the outrage are that while Europe and the United States supported the Jews’ right of return, the Israeli government refuses that same right to the Palestinians. The seething anger that underlies continued hostility, from an Arab and Palestinian Arab point of view, is that Britain and other Western nations, through the League of Nations in 1920 and the United Nations in 1947, sanctioned the Jews’ claim to a homeland while disregarding the rights of the resident Palestinian Arabs. After World War II, faced with the prospect of the UN partitioning the land, the Palestinians asked: why should we lose our land in the West’s effort to compensate for what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust? Why are our rights and needs not as valid and respected as those of the Jews? This sense of fundamental injustice, experienced directly by Palestinian Arabs but shared by the Arab world that cannot forget Western manipulation of its geography and resources, is at the heart of today’s tensions in the Middle East. For the Palestinians and for the Arabs at large, a necessary step to a lasting peace is for Israel to acknowledge this injustice in allowing the right of return to be negotiated.
Important tenets of Zionism, however, make this almost impossible for Israel to do. The basic principle of Zionism is that the Jewish people, like other peoples, have a right to a homeland. In itself, this tenet does not necessarily cause a problem. Many people today, Jewish and gentile alike, may regard themselves as Zionist simply because they share this view. In Israel, had the Zionist leadership envisioned the Jews living as equals with the Palestinian Arabs in a genuine democracy in which all had equal rights and equal access to power, the current conflict might not have arisen. However, with years of hostility showing no end, Jewish distrust of the Arabs today makes this one-state option unlikely for the near future. Many Israelis fear that the Palestinians and Arab states will not stop their violence till they wipe Israel off the map. Many Israelis also fear that if genuine democracy for all were instituted, the Palestinians would soon outnumber the Israelis and would control the nation politically. This prospect would contradict the second major Zionist second principle, that the Jews maintain political control over the land.
This principle, from a Jewish point of view, is understandable given the many centuries of Christian anti-Semitism that culminated later in the Holocaust. Jewish political control would assure at least some degree of security for a people who had experienced persistent discrimination from governments in which they had little or no power. However, this tenet meant that no matter who the majority of the population in Palestine-Israel was, Jews would hold the highest power and Jewish interests would be regarded with first priority by a form of government in which Jewish representatives would remain the majority. Although Israel was established formally as a democracy, this Zionist tenet helps explain the contradictions of a political system in which Palestinians are at best second class citizens.
A third Zionist principle, that the homeland be open to all Jews in unrestricted numbers, exacerbates the tension between Jews and Palestinians. The land of Palestine has limited arable land and available water for irrigation and consumption. Despite all the marvelous advances made by Jewish and Israeli farmers and engineers to increase agricultural productivity and create the best in water-saving technologies, land where people can dwell is limited. If new immigrants are constantly allowed in, this limitation in inhabitable land means either that some people will be displaced, which is the historic experience of Palestinians, or new settlements on land beyond the boundaries need to be built, which has been happening since at least the 1967 war. That the Palestinians lose both ways helps explain their anger and desperation.
The fourth major principle of Zionism is that the Jewish people have a right to the entire ancient biblical land of the Hebrews. For many Jews this land included what is now Jordan and includes today the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Though this view is rejected as extreme by many Israelis, historically it has been a powerful and at times dominant force in Israeli politics. Many contend that Ariel Sharon was, and much of the Likud Party is, of this mind. This view, buttressed by some with religious conviction, justifies the continuing settlement building enacted by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, despite the desperation it creates among dispossessed Palestinians. If one looks at Israel’s pattern of unabated territorial expansion in the West Bank beyond what was legally granted it by the United Nations in 1947 and after the 1967 war, and beyond what was stipulated in various accords in the “peace process” up till recently, it’s hard not to conclude that this long and deeply held version of Zionism is the ideological underpinning for that expansion. The current hostility, with all its resonant danger in the rest of the Arab world, is largely due to this expansionism and the violent Palestinian reaction to it.
For the Israelis to acknowledge the injustice inherent in dispossessing the Palestinians from their land would mean to let go or significantly change some of these Zionist tenets. This is not likely to happen, at least not without powerful pressure. The prospect is further complicated for psychological reasons. Given the historic persecution that has plagued the Jewish people for nearly two millennia, part of the collective identity of Jewish people is that they are a victimized people. Sometimes victims of violence, through their suffering, grow in compassion and live generously for others. Sometimes, however, victims become victimizers themselves.
It seems to me that while the Israeli people, like most human beings, live at many different points along this victim-victimizer spectrum, the Israeli government in its policies regarding the Palestinians has often fit the latter characterization. This seems to be a case of cognitive dissonance at the official level. Much of the rest of the world asks out loud: How does a government of a people dispossessed and almost annihilated by the Nazis execute policies so dehumanizing to the Palestinians? The Israeli government seems unable to see itself and its policies as victimizing a less powerful people. Denial and rationalization block decency from the kind of introspection that could lead to deeper understanding and dialogue.
Current obstacles to peace are many: the internal conflict between Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party and Hamas, the ruinous blockade of Gaza by Israel, the persistent rocket attacks by Hamas and the resurgence of Palestinian suicide bombings, the military reprisals by Israel, and the continuing establishment of new Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory. But hope is not dead. Despite all the criticism against him, Jimmy Carter has been pointing the way to a lasting peace. He insists that Israel must end its occupation and settlement building in the West Bank, and Israel and the U.S. must talk directly with Hamas and include them in the process for peace. Involving Hamas in the peace process is not Carter’s idea alone. Though U.S. media seldom report it, sixty-four percent of Israelis support this proposal, as do the former head of Mossad (Israel’s intelligence agency) and a bipartisan group of U.S. foreign policy experts including Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft. As Nelson Mandela once said, “Dialogue can turn an enemy into a partner.”
In May Israel celebrated its 60th anniversary as a nation. Palestinians recalled their Nakba, the disastrous dispossession from their homes and homeland of over 700,000 Palestinians before and during the war between Jews and Arabs over the land to which they both lay claim. Because of Israel’s continued violation of international law and oppressive policies against the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, not all Israelis or American Jews could join in the celebration. As an American group, Jewish Voice for Peace, stated recently, they will celebrate only when “Arab and Jew live as equals in a peaceful Middle East.”
I hope our next President re-orients U.S. policy on this conflict, and initiates the kind of bold, honest dialogue with both Israelis and Palestinians that will finally open the door to a just, secure peace for both peoples.