Saturday, November 10, 2007

End the Siege on Gaza - International Campaign

On 25 October, a Palestinian patient died at Erez crossing while awaiting being allowed to cross to Israeli hospital. A week ago, a woman died in Gaza hospital with her newly born baby, while awaiting permit to be transferred to Israel for medical treatment. These are not the first victims, and will certainly not be the last should the current situation continue

Last week, the operation rooms in Gaza's main hospital were shut down due to lack of medical gases, which was not allowed by the Israelis. Today Israel only allows 12 basic items to enter Gaza, out of over 9,000 commodities. From soap to coffee, from water to soft drinks, from fuel to gas, from computers to spare parts, from cement to raw materials for industry, all and hundreds of other items are presently not allowed into Gaza.

The Israeli cabinet declared Gaza a hostile entity, and has declared its intentions to further intensify the collective punishment by cutting off electric power and fuels. Banks in Israel are also threatening to cut off all financial cooperation with Palestinian banks in Gaza.

Given all this, we have adopted the initiative of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program to launch the Palestinian-International campaign for breaking the siege on Gaza, which has been intensified lately by the strict siege imposed on the Gaza Strip since June 2007.

The aim of this humanitarian, non-partisan campaign is to put pressure on the Israeli government in order to lift the siege imposed on the population of Gaza. By raising the awareness of the international community on the deteriorating living conditions resulting from the siege, we aim at mobilizing the efforts of the various international community organizations and governments to stop the boycott of Gaza. We call for the implementation of the recent European Parliament resolution calling on the Israeli government to end the siege.

It is important to declare that "End the Siege" is a non-partisan campaign, initiated and managed by representatives of the civil society, business community, intellectuals, academics, women activists, and advocates for human rights and peace from the West Bank and Gaza. We are all guided by our commitment to peace and our respect for human dignity.

We believe that it is a moral and ethical duty to rescue the lives of human souls living under bitter circumstances that sabotage their right to exist. People in Gaza are deprived of the simplest requirements for a decent life. We are determined to move hand-in-hand and shoulder-to-shoulder with all people who believe in freedom, human dignity and peace.

We need the support of all people who believe in justice all over the world, to contribute to the success of this campaign. We also call upon all Palestinians, whether in Gaza, West Bank, inside the green-line, or anywhere else in the Diaspora to support our efforts and join our activities. It is a genuine call to rescue people not governments or political parties. It is time to put aside any partisan conflicts and unite people in the pursuit of freedom, justice, and peace. We particularly call upon Jews whose history of trauma, discrimination and suffering should guide them to stand up today against the suffering of others.

Planned activities of the campaign:
The campaign is planned to take place from November 2007 until the siege is broken. We will hold a press conference to announce the launching of the campaign. Media and information technology methods will be our main tools to lobby supporters
and contributors from around the world.

The first major event of the campaign will be organizing an international symposium entitled "Breaking the Siege on Gaza: Together for a United Front for Peace" in Gaza.

The campaign will include inviting friends from around the world for an on-going individual or group visits to Gaza. The visitors will have first hand information on Palestinian life in order to disseminate information in their own country. Visitors will be hosted in Palestinian homes in order to closely get acquainted with the realities of their hardships and living conditions. Media coverage of the activities in Gaza will be documented.

We will rely on our Israeli friends to host and help our friends from abroad who, if not allowed to enter Gaza, are expected to stage non-violent protests.

We will arrange for a peaceful march to Erez checkpoint from both the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the checkpoint. It will include peace activists from all over the world.

Throughout the campaign, solidarity meetings, cultural activities, and discussion will take place not only in Gaza, but in Tel Aviv, Ramallah, and different cities in the world.

The campaign will include a major event in May, which is the arrival of 120 human rights activists including Nobel Prize winners to Gaza on a boat coming from Cyprus. This event will be titled "Free Gaza Movement Day" and is planned by the "Free Gaza" solidarity group in USA.

The campaign will have special posters as well as a website where all relevant materials will be published. The site will give opportunity for people to exchange information, ask questions, and have their comments.

Throughout the campaign, close contact with the media will be maintained with regular feeding of information and news update.

The Background and Impacts of the Siege on Gaza:
The Gaza Strip has two main crossings that connect it to the whole world, i.e. Rafah in the south (To Egypt) and Erez in the north (to Israel) . There are three other crossings that are used to exchange goods and bring in food to the Gaza Strip. Currently all are closed partially or completely.

Since the electoral victory of Hamas in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in 2006, the Israeli government, with the support of the US administration, has imposed a siege on all the Palestinian occupied Territories, declared its boycott on the new Palestinian government, and refused to transfer customs revenues to the Palestinian government. After taking these measures, several donor countries including major donors like Europe have severely cut off their development assistance offered to the Palestinian people. The result of that form of collective punishment was a gradual deterioration of life in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).

Following Hamas' military take-over of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, the siege imposed by Israel was tightened to an unprecedented degree. Citing the continuing home-made rockets from inside Gaza, the Israeli government has recently declared Gaza a hostile entity and threatened to cut off electrical power, fuel, external financial sources, most goods and food supplies, and to substantially decrease the number of people allowed in and out.

The Israeli policy of collective punishment has always had a serious impact on the lives of the Palestinian civilians. Collective punishment is expressly forbidden under international humanitarian law. According to this principle, persons cannot be punished for offenses that they have not personally committed. In its authoritative commentary on Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the International Committee of the Red Cross has clarified that the prohibition on collective punishment does not just refer to criminal penalties, "but penalties of any kind inflicted on persons or entire groups of persons, in defiance of the most elementary principles of humanity, for acts that these persons have not committed."

The siege that was imposed on the Gaza Strip has created excessive loss and damage in the different aspects of Palestinian life. The Gaza Strip has turned into a huge prison with no access to the outside world.

The health sector has been dramatically affected by the siege. According to the latest Humanitarian Situation Report of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released on October 9 th, 2007, fewer than five patients crossed into Israel/West Bank each day for medical treatment compared to an average of 40 patients per day in July . World Health Organization has indicated, though, that an average of 1000 patients used to leave Gaza for treatment each month prior to the mid-June closures.

As a result of the continuous closures, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) has reported significant increases in the costs of some food items. The price of 1 KG of fresh meat has increased form NIS 32 to NIS 40 (20%) while the price of chicken rose from NIS 8 to NIS 12 (33%). According to OCHA's report of October, 9 th, during the month of September, a total of 1,508 truckloads of goods crossed into Gaza. This compares to 2,468 truckloads in the month of August and 3,190 in July. There are no food stocks anymore and that contributes to the rising of prices.

The educational system in Gaza has also been affected by the siege. With the start of the new school year, there has been a serious lack of books and a shortage of the raw materials needed for printing. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), one third of the students started the school year without the needed text books. The closures also deprived thousands of students from reaching their universities outside the Gaza Strip. Thousands of students are not allowed to join their universities in the West Bank or abroad due to the siege.

On the industrial level, preventing the import of raw materials essential for Gaza businesses and industry, and the export of final goods, resulted in the shut down of many manufacturing businesses. According to Paltrade's assessment on 12 September 2007, over 75,000 private sector employees (around 60% of the total private sector workforce) have been laid off in the latest three months, bearing in mind that private sector employees represent around 36% of the total work force in Gaza. According to the Palestinian Private Sector Coordination Council (PSCC), the current restrictions have led to the suspension of 90% of Gaza's industrial operations.

The agricultural sector is also at risk. According to OCHA's report, the export season for Gaza's cash crops (strawberries, carnation flowers and cherry tomatoes) is expected to begin in mid-November. This year, 2,500 dunums of strawberries have been planted with an expected production of approximately 6,250 tons of strawberries including 2,500 destined for European markets. 490 tons of cherry tomatoes are also expected to be produced. If exports are not allowed by this time, farmers will be exposed to tremendous losses in terms of production cost and potential sales.

According to the World Bank, 67% of the Gaza population live under poverty line which is estimated by World bank to be $2.per day. Since human beings are the products of the environment in which they live, the Palestinian environment today is a combination of deprivation, poverty, anger, feelings of powerlessness and despair. Such feelings will inevitably lead to simmering anger which will eventually brew into more violence and defiance.

Palestinians have gone through repeated traumas of death and destruction of home and life over the past few decades. The current siege provokes the previous traumas making people re-experience the negative feelings that they have previously encountered and passed through. It is only to be expected that in such an environment extremist ideologies tend to flourish. This impacts Palestinian society internally as well as the larger political environment in the whole region and hinders the possibilities of peace and security. Putting all this in a nutshell, with this immoral siege Gaza has become a city of death where nearly all aspects of life have been destroyed. It is our responsibility and our duty to rescue life.

Dr. Eyad Sarraj, President, Board of Directors of the American International School in Gaza
Mr. Abdel Karim Ashour, Director, Agricultural Development Association
Mr. Hashem Shawwa, President, Administrative Council, Bank of Palestine
Mr. Ma'moun Abu Shahla, Vice-President, Administrative Council, Bank of Palestine
Mr. Issam Younis, Director, Al Mizan Center for Human Rights
Mr. Constantine Dabbagh, Executive Secretary, Near East Council of Churches
Mr. Mohsen Abu Ramadan, Director, Arab Center for Agricultural Development
Dr. Jawad Wadi, President, Al Azhar University
Dr. Kamalein Shaath, President, Islamic University
Mr. Raji Sourani, Director, Palestinian Center for Human Rights
Mr. Khaled Abdelshafi, Director, UNDP
Mr. Jawdat Khoudari, Businessman, Businessmen Association
Dr. Riyad Za'noun, Former President of Gaza Community Mental Health Programme
Dr. Ali Abu Zuhri, President, Al Aqsa University
Ms. Rania Kharma
Mr. Nader Shurafa, Administrative Director, Ramattan Media Agency
Mr. Omar Shaban, President, PalThink for Strategic Studies
Dr. Fawaz Abu Sitta, Lecturer, Al Azhar University
Mr. Tala Okal, Writer and Political Analyst

Me. Mustafa Mas'oud, External Affairs Officer, Businessmen Association
Ms. Nebras Bseiso, Director, Palestinian Banking Association in Gaza Strip
Ms. Hanan Taha, Director, PalTrade
Mr. Ibrahim Khashan
Ms. Mona El Farra
Dr. Mamdouh Aker, Commissioner General,
Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights - PICCR
Mr. Hasib Nashashibi, Ensan Center, Jerusalem

Dr. Laila Atshan, Psychosocial Consultant

Mr. Hani Masri, Director General, Badael Center for Media and Research

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Path for Respectful Engagement - Pat Hostetter Martin

In the weeks since Columbia University’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, introduced his invited guest speaker, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as a “petty and cruel dictator,” the media have been full of support for Bollinger’s treatment of Ahmadinejad. Many of the writers piled on more insults. One prominent blogger described the Iranian president as a “brown-skinned, terrorist-enabling, nuclear-proliferating certifiable nut.”

The we-hate-Ahmadinejad writers were divided on tactics. Some believed Ahmadinejad should never have been invited. Others thought Bollinger handled it right by bringing him into the spotlight and then lashing into him.

The only rebuttal to the hate-Ahmadinejad stance came from a minority — the writers of perhaps 1 or 2 out of every 10 published letters — who held that in the interests of academic freedom Ahmadinejad should have been treated politely and allowed to speak.

At my university, we think there is a third way that should have been taken at Columbia. It’s one that has been successfully taken with Iran by our academics, staff and students since the 1990’s. It’s called active, but respectful, engagement. We hold our dissenting views. We express our views clearly and with integrity. But we do so in the spirit of transforming conflict rather than pouring fuel onto it. And we do so with the knowledge and humble admission that we, too, are fallible people and that we are part of a fallible nation. While this essay centers on contact with Iranians, this could be a model for how colleges might handle any number of controversial figures who come to their campuses, whether from around the world or down the street.

My small university in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia tends to be better known among people who work at places like the United Nations, World Vision, and Catholic Relief Services than it does among academics at large North American universities. We’re situated in the shadow of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, far from the media circus we saw at Columbia. We have about 1,600 students, two-thirds being liberal arts undergraduates, one-third being graduate students. About half come from faiths other than the pacifistic Mennonite church, including from non-Christian traditions. By virtue of our path-breaking programs in conflict transformation — through which 3,000 people have passed since 1994 — EMU is widely known by people around the world working in conflict or immediate post-conflict zones, such as in Croatia, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Nepal, the Philippines and Indonesia. Beginning with relief work after the 1990 earthquake in Iran, EMU and its sister Mennonite agencies have worked hard to earn the trust of Iranians of various persuasions, enabling a unique level of educational exchanges.

On October 9, 2007, two weeks after Ahmadinejad was insulted at Columbia, EMU president Loren Swartzendruber sat near me at a lunch round-table with one of Ahmadinejad’s advisers, Ali Akbar Rezaei, a senior member of Iran’s Foreign Ministry.

Swartzendruber, who holds a doctorate in ministry, opened the lunch with a prayer in which he asked for God’s blessing on the food we were about to eat and on the dialogue we were about to have. Swartzendruber then excused himself from the lunch with Rezaei with the explanation that he was heading to a lunch presentation on building peace through interfaith dialogue, study, and exchange, given by a pastor-scholar who had spent 1997-99 in Qom, Iran, studying Islam as well as Persian language and literature.Yes, it may seem hard to believe, but here in Harrisonburg, Va., we manage to have competing lunch events about Iran!

For Rezaei — who had been responsible for setting up meetings for Ahmadinejad in New York in September — this was the beginning of 24 hours of contact with the faculty, staff, and students of our university and its Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. The center houses a master’s-level graduate program that attracts students from around the world. Among its 100 graduate students are 9 from the Middle East, mostly Fulbright students. Some of these students, joined by six Muslim students from other countries, had a meeting with Rezaei in which they respectfully, but frankly, disagreed with most of Rezaei’s characterizations of Iran’s policies, particularly with his description of Iran as a “status quo” state. Rezaei counter-challenged them to not take Fox News about Iran at face value. He encouraged people to come to Iran and see for themselves.

I had met and been impressed by Rezaei seven years ago when he came to my university’s annual Summer Peacebuilding Institute. At the time, he was a young scholar in Iran’s Institute for Political and International Studies. Rezaei took five successive classes, including one on strategic nonviolence and one on inter-religious peacebuilding taught by Marc Gopin, an orthodox Jewish rabbi who is now director of the Center on Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University.

During the two months that Rezaei was at EMU, his first child was born in Iran, and we all celebrated with him. After his return to Iran, we followed his career with interest. He spent four years in London, working in the Iranian embassy there, and then returned to work in the Foreign Ministry in Tehran as director of the North and Central America Department. On the home front, two more children were born.

It was a pleasure to see Rezaei again after all these years and to see that his intelligence, open-heartedness and curiosity were undiminished. Over the lunch — attended by more than a dozen faculty and staff members — Rezaei expressed concern that both the United States and the Islamic world contain an influential minority of people who “think they are 100 percent right, that God is with them, that everyone else is wrong, and that they are the only good guys in the world, so they should impose their views on everyone else.” He noted that those who planned the invasion of Iraq and the men who organized and executed the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States demonstrated similar biases in their thought patterns.

Rezaei lamented mutual ignorance about each other’s countries. He said many Iranians view Americans as being uncivilized people who don’t believe in God, who like killing people and who want to eradicate Muslims. He said, “We desperately need ways to overcome this ignorance.”

He didn’t have to articulate how most Americans view Iranians. All of us sitting at that lunch table were painfully aware of the ignorance about Iran in our own society. I had experienced this myself when I visited Iran as part of a Fellowship of Reconciliation delegation of “civilian diplomats” in March. We thought we would be viewed as the “enemy” in Iran. Instead our group of Americans, seeking to exchange ideas with a broad range of Iranians, was extended warm hospitality wherever we went. Since only about 300 Americans have visited Iran this past year, people seemed surprised to hear we were from the United States. And invariably, the first thing out of their mouths was “We love you!” They would sometimes go on to say that we don’t like your president or we don’t like your government, but their feelings about “Americans” were demonstratively warm-hearted.

In the last 18 months, faculty and students from various departments of Eastern Mennonite have taken trips to Iran. Two students attended a human rights conference in Qom in May, giving presentations on human rights from a Christian perspective. One of our seminary professors gave a theological paper at a conference in Iran on messianism. EMU has also hosted a number of Iranian visitors, including several university professors and an Iranian researcher from the University of Tehran, who attended two sessions of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute.

To be sure, there are numerous issues between Iran and the United States that deserve very serious scrutiny. No one is served by naiveté or ignoring those concerns. One of our Indonesian Muslim students raised concerns about Mennonites interacting with Iranian officials in this e-mail message to me:

“I’m writing this e-mail just to ‘remind’ the Mennonites to be careful in building networks and relationships with the Iranian government. Who takes benefit from this ‘peacebuilding project’: Iranians, Mennonites, Muslims, the United States? I am afraid there is a ‘hidden agenda’ behind the meeting.

“They just use the Mennonites to send their ‘peaceful message’ to the American public, while at the same time they produce uranium, discriminate against non-Shi’ite communities and non-Muslims, massacre members of the Baha’i faith, and so on and so forth.

“Last, but not least, hopefully what I was thinking does not happen. Hopefully, by the Mennonites’ intervention, justice and peace will greet Iran, like in the Harrison Ford movie ‘Witness.’”

We in the peacebuilding field cannot know whether eventually “justice and peace will greet Iran,” just as we cannot know whether eventually the United States will choose the path of equitable peace in the world instead of military and economic dominance. But we are certain that to transform conflict and lay the groundwork for a better future, one must treat others the way – yes, to borrow from our holy book (but not the only book to say this) – one would want to be treated. In our conflict transformation program, we teach our students to move toward differences of opinion without fear, dealing with it open-heartedly, rather than trying to suppress or avoid conflict. Iran’s president undoubtedly has his own agenda for promoting exchanges with American colleges and academics, but our agenda is to promote respectful talking and listening, knowing that none of us has a corner on the truth and that each of us views matters through a particular lens. The more effort we make to peer through the lens of the “other,” the less likely we will end up in violent conflict.

Seeking to “practice what I preach,” I was one of about 120 people from a dozen religious groups and institutions who met with Ahmadinejad two days after his speech at Columbia University. Requested by Iranian officials, the meeting was organized by the relief and service agencies of the Mennonites and Quakers, but included Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Christian university leaders, and many others.

During the two-hour session, Ahmadinejad addressed the audience for 20 minutes. Five panel members, selected for their range of perspectives, responded to his speech and asked their own questions. The dialogue covered the differences many of us have with Ahmadinejad, but it was conducted with respect and civility on all sides.

I believe this model is a better one for encouraging positive change – on both sides – than verbal attacks. I agree with the petition circulated by Columbia students, which was signed by 660 people online as of this week, in which the petitioners expressed distress that “inflammatory words were delivered at a time when dialogue with Iran is of the utmost importance in an effort to forestall war.”

One petitioner who identified herself as Alena, class of 2009, in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia, wrote: “As someone who grew up in the U.S. State Department world, I was often exposed to how difficult it was for my father to dialogue with leaders with whom he deeply disagreed. However, it was always his imperative to treat others with human dignity and respect and that U.S. Foreign Policy is best served by always having a platform for dialogue. There is always room for decorum and respect – even if you are faced with your worst enemy.”

We in the academic world must always be open to dialogue, which means respectfully listening as well as frankly speaking in a civil manner. I often disagree with positions that President Bush takes, but I would never presume to change his views and behavior through refusing to speak to him or insulting him.

Instead of limiting our choices to, on one hand, treating Ahmadinejad hatefully or, on the other hand, inviting him to speak without rebuttal in the interests of academic freedom, we advocate a third way: respectful, but active, engagement with those with whom one disagrees. This is what Martin Luther King did and wrote about in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” It’s what Gandhi did in India with the British. And it is what Nelson Mandela did with the leaders of the South African regime that jailed him for 27 years.

We advocate this third way both for intellectual and spiritual growth, as well as for combating injustice and achieving peace. Nothing is ever gained by pouring fuel onto a simmering fire.

This essay was submitted to Inside Higher Ed's website, to which I refer the reader for a taste of the lively discussion it generated. Pat Hostetter Martin, who holds a masters degree in conflict transformation, is one of the administrators of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, in Harrisonburg, Va., and director of its 13-year-old Summer Peacebuilding Institute.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and Willium Ury

In reading Fisher and Ury's Getting to Yes, Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, a classic in this field, I was struck by several negotiating principles and observations they mention which I believe are key to the peace process for Israel-Palestine, elements which have been missing or inadequately attended to. Following is one quotation I believe merits consideration.

"Give them a stake in the outcome by making sure they participate in the process. If they are not involved in the process, they are hardly likely to approve the product. It is that simple... If you want the other side to accept a disagreeable conclusion, it is crucial that you involve them in the process of reaching that conclusion... Even if the terms of an agreement seem favorable, the other side may reject them simply out of a suspicion born of their exclusion from the drafting process. Agreement becomes much easier if both parties feel ownership of the ideas. The whole process of negotiation becomes stronger as each side puts their imprimatur bit by bit on a developing solution... To involve the other side, get them involved early. Ask for their advice. Giving credit generously for ideas wherever possible will give them a personal stake in defending those ideas to others... Apart from the substantive merits, the feeling of participation in the process is perhaps the single most important factor in determining whether a negotiator accepts a proposal. In a sense the process is the product."

(this post to be continued..)

Roger Fisher teaches negotiation at Harvard Law School, where he is Williston Professor of Law Emeritus and director of the Harvard Negotiation Project. Willium Ury co-founded Harvard's Program on Negotiation, where he directs the Negotiation Network.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Geneva Initiative Mission Statement

After a century of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, the Geneva Initiative offers a real and mutually agreed upon possibility for ending the conflict between the two sides and obtaining a mutually acceptable peace that guarantees the vital national interests of both sides.

The Geneva Initiative provides realistic and achievable solutions on all issues, based on previous official negotiations, international resolutions, the Quartet Roadmap, Clinton Parameters, Bush Vision, and Arab Peace Initiative.

In addition to presenting a detailed blueprint for Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Initiative aims to bring that moment of peace closer, by showing the way and preparing public opinion and leadership to be accepting of the real compromises required to solve the conflict.

We affirm that it is in the best interest of Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate directly in order to reach a realistic, dignified, and sustainable 2-state solution in which both peoples can build a brighter future, as is embodied in the model Geneva Accord.

We hope to reinstill in the Israeli and Palestinian peoples the hope that it is possible to reach an agreement that will serve their respective national and personal interests and aspirations. We are committed to exposing each side's public to the message of the other – despite the technical and psychological barriers.

From the Geneva Initiative website. For details of the Geneva Initiative Proposal please visit the linked title above or the link shown in our Points of Light for Peacebuilding list.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

In Search of Meaning - Gila Svirsky

I’m about to say a good word about materialism, but first… If I had to capture the current Israeli mood in two words, they would be “national disenchantment”. This is the result of a buildup of events that would discourage even the most patriotic of citizens: · A long list of sex, power, and money scandals among our top political brass (president, prime minister, justice minister, finance minister, chief of police, head of tax authority, and more); · The meltdown of the myth of military invincibility during the recent Lebanon War; · The lack of success of any of our sports teams in international competitions (even our usually good basketball team). I could cite more, but these alone are sufficient.

One of the most revealing signs of the time was the phone call to his broker made by the former military Chief of Staff to sell off all his stock, moments after he and Olmert had made the decision to launch an all-out assault on Lebanon. While this act, too, was framed in public discourse as callous, self-centered, and materialistic, in private discourse many Israelis smirked and called it smart. Is it any wonder that Israelis have begun to notice that patriotism, integrity, and austerity are only words, and the name of the game is profitability?

The ongoing conflict with the Palestinians also no longer fills Israel with a sense of meaning (“we are fighting for our lives”), as our media fail to report the death and destruction that now take place behind the Separation Wall – out of sight, out of mind. A clear symptom of a breakdown in the patriotic ethos is that more and more young men and women are avoiding military service. These include both those who openly and courageously refuse to show up for the draft, as well as those who find excuses for not being able to serve, or manage to leave the service before their term is up. Indeed, recent data indicate that half the age-appropriate Israelis do not begin or complete a full term of service. And now we confront what Michael Walzer might say is the declining willingness of the citizen to make the ultimate sacrifice for his or her state.

Lack of zeal does not apply to one special group of Israelis: those messianic settlers who now disdain Israeli law and army in favor of their understanding of God’s Wishes. For these settlers, the holiness of the Land is now pit against the holiness of the State, and Land takes precedence. They have formed separatist groups, alienated from and hostile to Israeli society, scattered in settlements throughout the West Bank. To be clear, the settlers include moderates who would leave cooperatively in the event of a peace agreement, fanatics who would struggle to remain, and the small but growing group of messianists, who reject Israel entirely following the evacuation of Gaza. The relative size of these three groups is unknown.

What is clear is the broad consensus within Israel that a two-state solution is inevitable, and the sooner the better. The other issues are in contention – Jerusalem, the refugees, and the precise location of the borders of those states – but the principle of ending the occupation has prevailed. Ironically, at a time when the Israeli body politic and the moderate Arab states could come together on a deal, we in Israel have ended up with a prime minister with barely enough power to stay in office, let alone negotiate a peace agreement with our neighbors. We will be lucky if he is replaced by someone no worse. And thus disenchantment – a loss of patriotic fervor – is making way for simple western materialism. Perhaps it may come in time to save Israel from itself?

We Refuse to be Enemies- Dr. Sumaya Farhat-Naser and Gila Svirsky

Although the information has not yet reached the international media, we would like the world to know that women in Israel and Palestine are ready to make peace.

For almost two decades, women have been the most vibrant, daring, and progressive part of the peace movement on both sides of our divide. Palestinian and Israeli women have been meeting and negotiating with each other for years, even when the very act of speaking to each other was illegal in Israel and prohibited in Palestine.

These negotiations began in secret years ago in local homes and churches. Then we felt safer meeting in Basle, Berlin, Brussels, Bologna, and other European cities. Today, we meet openly when we can, often in symbolic venues, such as the Notre Dame Center on the border between Palestinian and Israeli Jerusalem.

While there have been dissension and debate, and while the context in which we have held our discussions has often been painful, we have always held aloft the common vision of peace. Were it left to us, we would long ago have had a peace agreement that settles the difficult issues between us.

We women advocate an end to the situation of occupier and occupied. We want to see Israel and Palestine as two separate states, side by side, with Jerusalem the shared capital of both. We want a just solution to end the suffering of the refugees. We believe that each nation has equal rights to statehood, independence, freedom, security, development, and a life of dignity.

And a crucial point of agreement: We condemn all forms of brutality, violence, and terrorism - whether by individuals, political groups, governments, or the military. We have had enough of the killing, on both sides. Too many Palestinian and Israeli children are now dead or orphaned or maimed for life, and too many of our own sons, fathers, and brothers have done that killing. For war victimizes not only the innocent, it also brutalizes the perpetrators.

Israeli and Palestinian women have engaged in educating our own peoples about the validity of both claims to this territory, and have sought to counteract the demonization in which both our societies engage. We have promoted dialogue between women, paid mutual condolence calls to the families of victims on both sides, been arrested for protesting what is outside our national consensus, and spoken out in a clear voice to demand a just solution.

And, apart from our public, organizational activity, we women also operate as secret agents. We are not just the mothers, teachers, nurses, and social workers of our societies. We are also secret agents serving up politics with dinner, teaching the lessons of nonviolence to every child in our classrooms, every patient in our care, every client we advise, every son and daughter that we love. We plant subversive ideas of peace in the minds of the young before the agents of war have even noticed. This is a long process, whose results are not visible overnight, but we believe in its ultimate efficacy.

The women's peace movement in Palestine and in Israel believes that the time has come to end the bloodshed. The time has come to lay down our weapons and our fears. We refuse to accept more warfare in our lives, our communities, our nations. We refuse to go along with the fear. We refuse to give in to the violence. We refuse to be enemies.

Dr. Sumaya Farhat-Naser, a Palestinian woman, is co-founder and former director of the Jerusalem Center for Women, a Palestinian organization committed to Middle East peace based on justice, human rights, and women’s rights. Gila Svirsky, a Jewish Israeli peace activist, co-founded the Coalition of Women for Peace, which brings together nine Israeli women’s peace organizations to advocate for a just peace with our neighbors and justice and equality within Israel.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Jews, Muslims, and Peace - Yehezkel Landau and Yahya Hendi

With ongoing violence sapping the spirits of Israelis and Palestinians, and with the Iraq war generating shock waves throughout the Middle East, we call on our fellow Jews and Muslims to join forces with concerned Christians to transcend this cycle of death and destruction. Jews and Muslims should be spiritual allies, not adversaries. Any student of comparative religion knows that Judaism and Islam are as close to one another as any two faith traditions can be. In both, the sacred texts prescribe communal norms, and the criterion for genuine faithfulness is the practice of justice and compassion. The Hebrew and Arabic languages, too, are amazingly close to one another. Muslim and Jewish scholars, at times both writing in Arabic, have nourished each other’s spiritualities for centuries. It is only in the past hundred years that the conflict over the Holy Land, whether called Israel or Palestine, has engendered competing nationalisms and the violation of basic human rights affirmed as sacred by all three faith traditions. The conflict has also undermined the historic cross-fertilization of these traditions.

The mixture of religion and nationalism is dangerously combustible. On a human, pragmatic level, two nations in a dispute over a land claimed by both should be able to compromise and share the territory. But when God’s will is invoked to absolutize one or the other claim, then compromise becomes sacrilege, and religious extremism generates grotesque ideologies of domination, death, and destruction.

In recent years, we have wept as our sacred traditions have been hijacked and contaminated in this way. Religious leaders who share our sorrow are sometimes intimidated into silence by the extremists, or else the political constraints of their public roles encourage self-censorship. Their reticence only compounds the tragedy.

One of the reasons the Oslo “peace process” failed is that it was a secular peace plan imposed by secular leaders on a Holy Land, where large minorities of Jews and Palestinians are motivated by deeply held religious convictions. There are festering wounds that require spiritual, not only political, remedies: the displacement and dispossession of Palestinians in 1948 and of Jews from Arab countries afterwards; a series of Arab-Israeli wars over half a century; a prolonged, unjust, and humiliating occupation of Palestinian territory since 1967; continuing violence against civilians; the reluctance of many to accept each other as neighbors; and the growth of hatred and suppression. All of these factors have sustained a chronic religious pathology.

Despite this crisis of the spirit, leaders of the various religious communities were not enlisted as partners in the struggle for peace. If the September, 1993, signing ceremony on the White House lawn had included an Israeli chief rabbi and a high-ranking Palestinian Muslim cleric, the message projected on that occasion, especially to the faithful, would have been very different. And if religious leaders from the three faiths had been brought together from the outset to help make peace possible, the diplomacy would have had a much greater chance of success.

Instead, Israeli and Palestinian leaders, with the endorsement of American and European diplomats, labeled Islamic militants and ultra-nationalist religious Jews as “enemies of peace”. The dynamic that ensued, with fervent Muslims and Jews feeling threatened by a “peace process” that excluded them, has contributed to the dreadful impasse in which we are all caught. Religious issues important to both sides were pushed aside and not properly addressed. These include sensitive issues like Jerusalem and the status of what Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call the Haram Al-Shareef.

In a more conducive context of trust and good will, it might be possible for Jews, Christians, and Muslims to design a political framework for peaceful coexistence in a shared Jerusalem. Both nations could agree to offer up to God the sacred plateau at its heart, as extra-territorial space in terms of sovereignty and with the waqf Islamic trust continuing to administer the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock. This was the late King Hussein’s proposal, and it seems to us the fairest and most practical option. But, in the meantime, voices are heard on both sides delegitimizing each other’s attachments to this sacred site. This mutual denial adds poison to an already lethal atmosphere.

Part of the problem is that the notion of “political sovereignty” often eclipses the fundamental religious truth that only God is sovereign over Creation, and that we human beings are God’s regents or servant-partners in blessing and perfecting this world. This means that all political realms are under Divine judgment and that their power is relativized by God’s ultimate authority. The ramification for Israel and Palestine, under any agreement establishing two adjacent sovereignties, is that these two states should be understood as means for ensuring the rights and opportunities of people, not ends in themselves. A federation or confederation, perhaps including Jordan as well, might be a more effective framework for enabling the self-determination of each people and, simultaneously, serving the needs of all on the basis of equity and interdependence.

In fostering interreligious peacebuilding, a Christian mediation role is helpful on two counts: to encourage polarized Jews and Muslims to find common ground, and to inspire Western Christians to make amends for their own bloody history toward the other two Abrahamic communities. For Palestinian Christians, rooted in the land for centuries, reconciliation between their Muslim brethren and Israeli Jews is essential for their own economic and spiritual welfare.

The major burden, however, falls on the Jews and the Muslims themselves. Both communities, guided by wise leadership, need to overcome longstanding prejudices and resentments. Each tradition has sacred teachings that can be enlisted to build bridges of respect, reconciliation, and cooperation. Wise religious leadership consists of identifying those teachings and educating both peoples in that spirit.

There will be no political peace in the Middle East without a spiritual underpinning reconciling Jews and Muslims. At this critical moment in our history, with heartbreaking suffering and loss on all sides, we need to be inspired by the Divine light that shines forth from the holy Qur’an and the holy Torah. They both affirm life, not death. They both teach compassion, not callousness or hatred. They both call for a richly diverse human family under the sovereignty of the One God.

We both pray that--insh’Allah, b’ezrat Hashem, with God’s help--2003 will be a year of genuine peace and security for everyone everywhere, starting with our common homeland, Israel/Palestine.

is co-director of the Open House Center for Jewish-Arab Coexistence in Ramle, Israel, and Faculty Associate in Interfaith Relations at Hartford Seminary. Imam YAHYA HENDI is Muslim Chaplain at Georgetown University, spokesperson for the Islamic Jurisprudence Council of North America, and director of the Peace Office of the Muslim American Society.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Mohammed Abu Nimer - Nonviolence and Peacebuilding in Islam

..Abu-Nimer starts [his book "Nonviolence and Peace Building in Islam"] with an overview of the many studies done on just war and Islam. It is clear that there is a school of thought in Islam that justifies acts of war and the use of force under certain strict conditions.. [but, says Abu-Nimer] Jihad should above all be understood as a struggle for the individual Muslim to become a better Muslim.
What Abu-Nimer mainly objects to is that too little research has been focused on the other side of Islam - namely the traditions and teachings of nonviolence and peace building in Islam. It turns out that both the Quran and the traditions of Muslim societies harbour treasures of nonviolence and techniques for resolving conflicts.

The word `Islam' is itself defined as the "making of peace." The Prophet says: "Break your bows, sever your strings, beat stones on your swords" (to break the blades). Peace (salam) in Islam means not merely an absence of war, but also the elimination of the grounds for conflict and the waste and corruption it creates. Peace is God's true purpose for humanity. The Quran also affirms the sacredness of human life: "And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people."

There are countless stories on how the Prophet Mohammed acted as an arbitrator when two parties were in conflict which shows that third-party intervention is an acceptable option to end fighting in Islam. During the Meccan period of the Prophets life (610-622 C.E) the Prophet showed no inclination towards the use of force in any form, even for self-defense. He practiced a nonviolent resistance that was reflected in all his teachings during that period, when Muslims were a minority and under threat. Although tortured, accused of blasphemy, humiliated, ostracized, he permitted himself neither violence nor even swearing. The Prophet always prayed when he was persecuted during the Mecca Period, saying, "Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do". Something we Christians have no problem recognizing! Some of the Prophet's followers asked him to invoke the wrath of God upon the Meccans because of their persecution of Muslims. His reply to them was: "I have not been sent to curse anyone but to be a source of rahmah (compassion and mercy)."

Justice is the ultimate goal of Islamic religious teachings. It can be argued that pursuing justice and peace through nonviolent strategies is the more viable and effective method for achieving it. Except for the existence of one God, no other religious moral principles are more emphasized in the Quran and the traditions than the principles of justice, uprightness, equity and temperance. The notion that peace cannot be achieved without justice is echoed in the works of numerous peace-building researchers and activists.

There are a few new Islamic scholars that have begun to study the connection between Islam and nonviolence. One that Abu-Nimer mentions is Satha-Anand. He argues that even if Islam once accepted violence as a way of defense it is today forbidden because of the modern technology of war that has been invented. Since Muslims are forbidden to kill civilians and since modern weapons can't generally distinguish between soldier and civilian it means that Muslims should not use violence. But Muslims are not allowed to be passive either when they face injustice, so therefore they should use nonviolence as a way to resist injustice.

So there seems to be a good foundation for a nonviolent struggle in Islam. Has this been practiced by Muslims? It leads us to the practical part of the book. Abu-Nimer shows us examples of different nonviolent campaigns in Muslim communities: the mass protests against the British in Egypt in 1919, the revolt of Muslims of Peshawar Pathans in Pakistan 1930; the Palestinian general strike of 1936; the 1948 Iraqi upraising; the Iran Revolution of 1978-79; the Golan Druze resistance movement in 1981-82; the activities in defense of al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem since the 1970s; the Sudanese insurrection of 1985 and the first Palestinian Intifada, which began 1987.

The most famous Muslim nonviolence resister in modern time would be Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his "Army of God", consisting of people from the Pashtun-people who used to be known as feared warriors. It was a nonviolence movement of about 100 000 people who struggled nonviolently for twenty years against the British occupation in what is today Pakistan. Khan said: "There is nothing surprising in a Muslim or a Pashtun subscribing to the creed of nonviolence. It is not a new creed. It was followed fourteen hundred years ago by the Prophet all the time he was in Mecca, and it has since been followed by all those who wanted to throw off an oppressor's yoke. But we had...forgotten it." When recruited the "Servants of God" had to sign a ten-point pledge in which they swore to serve God and to live by nonviolent principles.

Although Abu-Nimer wants to show the world the good examples of nonviolence in Muslim communities he is also critical that there are not more efforts of peace building and nonviolence from the Arab world. The obstacles according to him are lack of creativity from the leadership, patriarchal social structures, extensive authoritarian control systems and a lack of critical self-examination. There are also different myths in the Islamic world that Abu-Nimer sees as obstacles to peace building. One widespread myth in the Middle East is that violence can eliminate conflicts. "What was taken by force can only be returned with force" is an old Arabic saying. Another myth is that nonviolence is not an effective method. Abu-Nimer mentions that one antidote to this myth can be to remind Muslims of the considerable experience the Prophet in waging nonviolent campaigns against his oppressors.

In the last part of the book Abu-Nimer makes a case study of the nonviolence during the first Intifada (uprising) in Palestine. Abu-Nimer shows convincingly that although the Palestinian Intifada is known for its violence it was really dominated by a massive and impressive nonviolent campaign. He is not saying that the Intifada was an islamic movement, because it was foremost a Palestinian struggle, Muslims and Christians side by side. But like the civil rights movement in the USA the religious institutions played a large part. The Palestinians gathered for political meetings in mosques and churches. The loudspeakers in the mosques were used to direct demonstrators or to encourage them in their efforts. Abu-Nimer argues that if it wasn't for their religion they wouldn't have been able to preserve their humanity and their patience. He shows it with the example of an Israeli soldier in Hebron being protected by an Arab family.

Before the Intifada, a primary symbol in the occupation was the armed guerilla. Now, in place of this symbol of heroic armed aggression stood a symbol of innocent suffering.

In conclusion Abu-Nimer says that Islam can both reinforce violence and nonviolence, and has done both in history. Much like Christianity I would say. Islam has not developed an explicit ideology of nonviolence and Muslims have done little preaching or teaching about nonviolence as a way of life, but the roots and the traditions are all in place creating a fertile ground for nonviolence.

Abu-Nimer's wish is clear with one of his last statements in the book: "Every religion can foster either violence or nonviolence. It is the responsibility of those who follow a particular faith to cull these resources for nonviolence from their religious scriptures."

Review excerpts by Martin Smedjeback for of Mohammed Abu Nimer's book "Nonviolence and Peace Building in Islam".

Friday, July 27, 2007

Gila Svirsky - To UN Security Council on the Contribution of Women to Peace Process

Your Excellencies,

Allow me to begin by telling you about the secret meetings held between Palestinians and Israelis that began 15 years ago. These meetings were secret because it was illegal for Israelis and forbidden for Palestinians to meet in those years. A number of groups were then getting together, but only one group persisted over time - resolutely grappling with the most difficult issues - and crafted an agreement that was signed and publicized several years before the Oslo Accords. Above all this agreement declared establishment of a free, independent and secure state of Palestine side-by-side with a free, independent and secure state of Israel as the core of a political settlement.

[T]he agreement was written by women. ...[T]hese women were neither marginal nor radical. Each delegation included prominent political leaders - members of parliament, government ministers, an ambassador, and a party head.

As for the content of the agreement, most of its principles have now become matters of consensus among both Israelis and Palestinians. Despite the current magnitude of brutality - or perhaps because of it - surveys consistently show that a decisive two-thirds of Israeli Jews would support a peace agreement that includes Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories, evacuation of most Israeli settlements, and creation of a Palestinian state. Most Palestinians hold the very same views. Indeed, only extremist political leaders on both sides fail to understand that these principles will ultimately set the terms of peace between our nations.

Clearly, the agreement was both pragmatic and moderate. In fact, had the women who wrote it been internationally recognized negotiators, the two Intifadas that followed might have been prevented..

At the grassroots level women have also been at the forefront of peacemaking. In 1988 women in Israel founded the movement now known as Women in Black. Dressed.. to mourn the victims on all sides, Women in Black has kept a one-hour vigil every single Friday for the past 15 years. On street corners throughout Israel, Arab and Jewish women hold signs demanding an end to the Israeli occupation and pursuit of a just peace.

The Women in Black movement quickly and spontaneously spread around the globe as a public forum for women to say “no” to war and injustice. In Italy Women in Black protest the Israeli occupation and the violence of organized crime. Women in Black in Bangalore, India call for an end to abuse by religious fundamentalists. During the war in the Balkans Women in Black, Yugoslavia set an inspirational example of interethnic cooperation. Today, Women in Black throughout the world are engaged in a struggle to prevent a war from being launched against Iraq. For their remarkable work, the international movement of Women in Black, represented by the movements in Yugoslavia and Israel, were nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace and won the Millennium Peace Prize awarded by UNIFEM [the UN Development Fund for Women].

In Israel, the women’s peace movement extends well beyond Women in Black. We are Bat Shalom, the organization formed to promote the principles of the pre-Oslo peace agreement described earlier. We are New Profile, women seeking to end the militarization of Israeli society. We are Machsom Watch, women preventing human rights violations at checkpoints. We are the Movement of Democratic Women, Jewish and Palestinian women citizens of Israel struggling for peace and justice. These and other organizations, joined together in the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, are united in relentless effort to bring the bloodshed to an end.

The women’s peace movement in Israel is absolutely breathtaking: It is alive with new ideas, indefatigable as women have always been, and at the vanguard of creative thinking about how to get to peace. Israeli and Palestinian women march together under the banner “We refuse to be enemies”. Indeed, the Israeli and Palestinian women’s peace movements have already made peace: on paper, in our hearts, in the lessons we teach our children, and in the behavior we model. We are allies for peace, united in our struggle against extremists and warmongers on all sides.

Is it not preposterous that not a single Israeli woman, and only one Palestinian woman, have held leadership roles at a Middle East peace summit? Instead, the negotiators have been men with portfolios of brutal crimes against each other - military men who have honed the art of war and who measure their success by the unconditional surrender of the other. Is it any wonder that we are still locked in combat?

Ultimately this occupation, like every other in history, will come to an end. The general parameters of that ending are already drawn and in agreement. What we need now is leadership committed to swiftly concluding this era awash in blood, leadership that understands the price we pay in death and destruction for every hour of delay. What we need now is leadership with expertise at reconciliation and rapprochement. What we need now is women.

Thank you.

Address by Gila Svirsky representing Women in Black to the UN Security Council, October 22, 2002 on the subject of women at peace negotiations to spur compliance with Security Council Resolution 1325, which mandates the participation of women in all decision-making, including negotiations for peace.

Marc Gopin - Letter to Bill Clinton

[Written December 16, 1998, ..still relevant.]

Dear Mr President,

There have been a great number of private meetings between Jewish and Islamic religious clergy and leaders in recent months, as you are apparently aware. The challenge that we face in terms of moving these meetings into a phenomenon that will have a major impact on the peace process, is that they must become public at some juncture. This is the only way that these encounters will have a broad impact on the religious public in both communities. It is these communities that have housed the rejectionists of the peace process until now, and who hold the key to realigning the political structure in such a way as to allow the peace process to move forward.

There are two ideas floating about. One is that there could be a signing of a document, already in formation, by the highest religious leaders on both sides, that would formally embrace peacemaking as the only acceptable path for Jews and Muslims in the current context. This would have a profound impact, especially in terms of the effect on the public of witnessing the embrace of sheikhs and chief rabbis. Furthermore, there are major leaders on both sides that are interested not only in this one-time event, but also an ongoing interfaith committee that would not interfere with the details of the peace process, but would parallel its successes with spiritual and cultural reinforcement.

Everything that I, and many others in conflict resolution, have studied from around the world indicates that this is the key missing ingredient in many peace negotiations. The detailed, rational negotiations are critical, but they are constantly undermined by deep cultural and spiritual roots of mistrust and rage. We have a solution, and that is for there always to be a parallel peace process between the most respected members of the culture on each side. The secular members of the respective cultures are already well-represented in the peace process, but not the religious community, and everything indicates that they will continue to be obstructionist until their revered figures become a part of the process of envisioning the future, together with the other peacemakers. This is how everyone, religious and secular, can see themselves having a stake in the future.

Here is the challenge [deleted]. We must help them... The key to helping them.. is the prestige of your office, and especially the trust that you have engendered in the people on all sides of this conflict. ..[H]ere the rub. Few statesmen today understand as well as you do that the deep cultural, spiritual, and emotional roots of a people are critical elements in the construction of lasting peace, especially after terrible trauma and war. Religion and culture are the most powerful change agents in human psychology, and either they will be part of the problem of the Middle East, or they will be part of the solution. But they will certainly not be sidelined. All the evidence is clear on this.

There are thus numerous activists here and religious leaders who would welcome your leadership in this element of peacemaking, by simply inserting this idea into the state-to-state recommendations on how to proceed in the peace process, how to incorporate this form of peacemaking now.

The timing is critical. As you know, Ramadan begins on Sunday, and in other parts of the Arab world, it has been used by extremists to unleash terrorism. Furthermore, the failure of the troop withdrawal.. in addition to the Iraqi bombing, may make this a perfect time for [extremists] to attack sending the two populations into a tailspin of violence. This new path could be a way to engage Islam and Judaism now, or very soon, in a way that will make them a powerful symbolic force for pursuing peace and valuing the lives of others, even as the political and land issues remain bitter for now, and divisive, with no concrete end to the negotiations in sight. I firmly believe, based on the evidence, that cultural processes, and the symbolic power of gestures by major leaders, have an extremely powerful effect on populations, one that may bring about the realignment of political forces that we need in Israel and the Territories to move forward.

Thank you very much for considering this, and I will be glad to pursue this further with you at any time.


Rabbi Dr Marc Gopin
Center for Strategic and International Studies
George Mason University

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sara Roy - A Jewish Plea

I grew up in a home where Judaism was defined and practiced not so much as a religion but as a system of ethics and culture. God was present but not central. Israel and the notion of a Jewish homeland were very important to my parents, who survived Auschwitz, Chelmno and Buchenwald. But unlike many of their friends, my parents were not uncritical of Israel. Obedience to a state was not a primary Jewish value, especially after the Holocaust. Judaism provided the context for Jewish life, for values and beliefs that were not dependent upon national or territorial boundaries, but transcended them to include the other, always the other. For my mother and father Judaism meant bearing witness, raging against injustice and refusing silence. It meant compassion, tolerance, and rescue. In the absence of these imperatives, they taught me, we cease to be Jews.

Many of the people, both Jewish and others, who write about Palestinians and Arabs fail to accept the fundamental humanity of the people they are writing about, a failing born of ignorance, fear and racism. Within the organized Jewish community especially, it has always been unacceptable to claim that Arabs, Palestinians especially, are like us, that they, too, possess an essential humanity and must be included within our moral boundaries..

Why is it so difficult, even impossible to incorporate Palestinians and other Arab peoples into the Jewish understanding of history?..

In [the Israeli mindset], compassion and conscience are dismissed as weakness, ..pinpoint surgical strikes constitute restraint and civility and momentary ceasefires, acts of humanity and kindness. "Leave your home, we are going to destroy it." Several minutes later another home in Gaza, another history, is taken, crushed.. Our warnings have another purpose: they make our actions legitimate and our desire for legitimacy is unbounded, voracious. This is perhaps the only thing Palestinians (and now the Lebanese) have withheld from us, this object of our desire.

If legitimacy will not be bestowed then it must be created. This explains Israel's obsession with laws and legalities to insure in our own eyes that we do not transgress, making evil allowable by widening the parameters of license and transgression..

We can easily ignore their suffering, cut them from their food, water, electricity, and medicine, confiscate their land, demolish their crops and deny them egress -- suffocate them, our voices stilled. Racism does not allow us to see Arabs as we see ourselves; that is why we rage when they do not fail from weakness but instead we find ourselves failing from strength. Yet, in our view it is we who are the only victims, vulnerable and scarred. All we have is the unnaturalness of our condition..

Judaism has always prided itself on reflection, critical examination, and philosophical inquiry. The Talmudic mind examines a sentence, a word, in a multitude of ways, seeking all possible interpretations and searching constantly for the one left unsaid. Through such scrutiny it is believed comes the awareness needed to protect the innocent, prevent injury or harm, and be closer to God..

Holocaust survivors stood.. as a moral challenge among us and also as living embodiments of a history, way of life and culture.. As the rightful claimants to our past we should ask, How much damage can be done to a soul? But we do not ask. We do not question the destruction but only our inability to complete it, to create more slaughter sites..

Where do Jews belong? Where is our place? Is it in the ghetto of a Jewish state whose shrinking boundaries threaten, one day, to evict us? We are powerful but not strong. Our power is our weakness, not our strength, because it is used to instill fear rather than trust, and because of that, it will one day destroy us if we do not change..

I have come to accept that Jewish power and sovereignty and Jewish ethics and spiritual integrity are, in the absence of reform, incompatible, unable to coexist or be reconciled. For if speaking out against the wanton murder of children is considered an act of disloyalty and betrayal rather than a legitimate act of dissent, and where dissent is so ineffective and reviled, a choice is ultimately forced upon us.. between Zionism and Judaism.

Rabbi Hillel the Elder long ago emphasized ethics as the center of Jewish life. Ethical principles or their absence will contribute to the survival or destruction of our people. Yet, today what we face is something different and possibly more perverse: it is not the disappearance of our ethical system but its rewriting into something disfigured and execrable.

..For my parents-defeating Hitler meant living a moral life. They sought a world where "affirmation is possible and . . . dissent is mandatory," where our capacity to witness is restored and sanctioned, where we as a people refuse to be overcome by the darkness..

..What then is the source of our redemption, our salvation? It lies ultimately in our willingness to acknowledge the other - the victims we have created - Palestinian, Lebanese and also Jewish - and the injustice we have perpetrated.. Perhaps then we can pursue a more just solution..

Excerpts from an essay to be published in "The War on Lebanon", by Interlink Publishing, Spring 2007. Sara Roy is a Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University. The full text of Sara's essay may be found here: