Violence has been one of the most prominent characteristics of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, one used deliberately by both sides in order to achieve their separate political objectives. In the history of the conflict, various periods have been marked by first intensification, and then a reduction, in the use of force. But for most years of the conflict, from the beginning of the waves of Zionist immigration to Palestine to the subsequent attempts to take over land and property from the indigenous Palestinian population that persist even today, violence has been a major feature of this struggle.
We have recently reached the point where many (and perhaps even most) Israelis and Palestinians labor equally under the illusion that the other side understands the language of force over any other means of communication. This is despite historical evidence to the contrary, which shows that violence has never produced political results for either Israelis or Palestinians. Palestinians, who are legitimately trying to achieve the end of Israel’s occupation and their own freedom, self-determination, statehood and refugee right of return, have not made significant progress towards any of these goals through forceful means, while they have made progress--no matter how incremental--via peaceful means. The most prominent examples of Palestinian successes are Israel’s recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization as the legitimate Palestinian leadership, as well as Israel’s partial and gradual withdrawal from Palestinian land as it simultaneously allowed the PLO to take charge. All of these achievements occurred during and as a result of the peace process, which began at the Madrid conference and culminated in the signing of the Oslo agreement, however flawed it was.
Israelis, on the other hand, who have been trying to achieve the legitimate goals of peace, security, recognition and regional integration, have not moved one step towards realizing those goals via their own use of violence. On the contrary, periods of intensified Israeli force, such as that which commenced on September 29, 2000, have brought Israelis only less peace, security, recognition and integration and resulted in this protracted vengeful confrontation.
It was during the periods that Israel used a peaceful negotiated approach that circumstances have changed--no matter how slowly--in favor of the objectives of the average Israeli citizen. The years of 1997-2000 were the most peaceful and secure four years for Israelis in the history of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. Those years witnessed remarkable breakthroughs in Israeli-Arab relations, mutual recognition, cooperation and integration. It was not by coincidence that prominent Israeli journalist Danny Rubinstein noted in the tense weeks preceding the outbreak of the September 2000 violence that the last Palestinian attack on Israelis had occurred four years prior.
Both sides have now reached a climax in the use of force and subsequently each side is insisting that the other stop first. The only way out of this circuitous logic is the implementation of a schedule of steps that will be acted out simultaneously by both sides, i.e., a coordinated fulfillment of the obligations of the roadmap. Together and at the same time, each side must make a declaration recognizing the basic rights of the other and committing to a moratorium on the use of force. Then, also simultaneously, both sides must actually stop their acts of violence, not excluding the quiet violence of Israeli attempts to confiscate land, demolish houses and prevent by force the movement of Palestinian citizens and local commodities. Otherwise, we have learned through an excess of experience that the wielding of force will only produce a like reaction.
Ghassan Khatib is Minister of Labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet. He has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
When we can't agree on the meaning of violence
by Yossi Alpher
Any discussion of the role and ramifications of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is seriously hampered by the two sides' inability to agree on the meaning of violence--much less the ramifications.
This has not been an issue in Israel's other conflicts. Israel has fought wars with Egypt and Syria, with both sides declaratively accepting the need to observe the international rules of war with regard to civilians, POWs, banned ammunition, etc. If there were violations of the "rules of violence"--and there were, on both sides--the two parties were able to deal with them in the context of their bilateral relationship. Thus the legacy of violence has not played a significant role in Israel's efforts to make peace with Egypt, which succeeded, and with Syria, which failed.
This is not the case in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, where violence appears to be a more central factor. First, because we can't agree on the meaning of the term. Many Palestinians and supporters of the Palestinian cause define violence as anything that derives from the occupation. According to this approach, the settlements are violence, deportations are violence--indeed, any Israeli act of occupation is violence--and the violence embodied in all such acts is equally severe.
Israelis, this writer included, generally disagree: the occupation is bad and many of the settlements reflect a terrible mistake in Israeli strategic thinking. They are an abuse of power. But to term any abuse of power "violence" befuddles the issue. The term "violence" should be confined to the meaning of rough or injurious physical force. Wherever possible, abuses of power should be dealt with politically rather than with a violent response. The record shows that at a number of junctures in recent decades the Palestinians could have achieved statehood on far better terms than they can contemplate today, had they renounced violence and accepted or adhered to a political process: for example in 1947-48, 1978 (Camp David I) and 2000 (Camp David II). By and large violence has hurt, not helped, the Palestinian cause.
This brings us to the second reason why violence is now so central to our conflict. Most Palestinians apparently refuse to distinguish between the violence of suicide bombings and other attacks carried out by Palestinian civilians that deliberately target Israeli civilians, and the violence of Israeli military responses that target Palestinian perpetrators of violence and all too frequently inadvertently injure innocent Palestinian civilians, or even the violence attributed to acts of occupation. In those instances where Palestinians agree that Israeli civilians should not be targeted, they generally refuse to view Israeli settlers, including women, children and the aged (who do not bear arms) as civilians. Moreover, many of those Palestinians who criticize the use of violence against Israeli civilians express their reservations at the level of utility--costs and benefits--rather than morality.
Israelis not only insist upon these moral distinctions, but since the events of 9/11 in New York we are in good company: the issue of the right to deliberately target civilians with violence is today on the cutting edge of a clash of civilizations between the Islamic radical movements and their supporters on the one hand, and Israel, the United States and much of the rest of the world, on the other. One additional key aspect of this clash touches on the readiness to do violence to oneself, i.e., to commit suicide, in order to injure enemy civilians. Here we appear to be confronting significant differences in current religious and cultural attitudes toward life and death between Judaism and Christianity on the one hand, and some adherents of Islam, on the other.
Meanwhile, the violence of the conflict is having a disastrous effect within our respective societies. As Palestinian psychiatrist Eyad El Sarraj notes in the current Palestine-Israel Journal, "it is a proven fact that abused people will turn to abuse others." This is something neither side wants or needs.
Because we cannot agree on the definition of violence relative to our conflict, we cannot productively discuss many of its ramifications. This is a major impediment to the restoration of mutual confidence and of a shared capacity to communicate between the two sides. Still, even if the two sides can agree on a partial suspension of violence--though they apparently cannot do so on the basis of shared values and motives--this could be a step forward. This is where we currently stand with the efforts to implement the roadmap.
Yossi Alpher is former Director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, and a former Senior Advisor to PM Ehud Barak.
Very few people believe that the "vision" of United States President George W. Bush will be realized through the declared roadmap. This is not only because there are many formidable and powerful enemies of peace in all camps, and not only because both publics are in a serious state of mistrust and despair. Indeed, the roadmap has an inherent structural problem because it is missing the primary principles that should guide it and does not spell out the details of the end game.
People on both sides are traumatized by terror and violence and confused and bewildered by the political haggling. Nobody knows what shape or borders or viability the Palestinian state will have. No one knows if there will be refugees returning. And no one knows the fate of Jerusalem.
In order for peace to set sail there should be some guiding principles. The most important is equality. This is not to say that the conflict is between two equals. Overwhelming Israeli power and unconditional United States support have no comparison on the Palestinian side, other than the tragic balance of terror that has been reached with Israel through suicide bombing. But neither side should be treated differently from the other. This principle should be applied in all issues, although Palestinians may willingly surrender their right to have a military because they understand that Israelis are obsessed with the fear that Palestinians will use the arms to take back the Palestinian villages and towns that are now part of Israel.
It is a matter of principle that Palestinian fighters be granted recognition and immunity from prosecution in Israel. They believed they were fighting for their country and people. Both sides’ soldiers should be forgiven and permitted to reenter life as normally as possible, while allowing room for internal prosecution of ranking officers who ordered crimes against humanity.
Israel will recognize the Palestinian right to return and Palestinians will accept the Jews’ right of return. If Jews are allowed to return after 3,000 years, it is only natural that Palestinians have the right of return after less than six decades. In this respect, no nation, group or individual can claim the privilege of being "chosen". I am, like every other human being, as chosen as any--and no better than any.
The other principle that both sides must accept is that violence will only bring violence, that persecuted Jews have in their own way persecuted Palestinians who in their own way persecuted themselves and others. Both communities today suffer an endemic state of violence. During the relatively quiet seven years of Palestinian Authority governance, violence within Palestinian society rose by 300 percent every year. Israel has seen a sharp increase in all forms of violence and today the Israeli army has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world.
For this reason, the roadmap should include provisions for internal as much as cross-border reconciliation. Peace means creating a way of life, not only scripting a treaty between two politicians. Both Israeli and Palestinian societies must undergo a process of national reconciliation. Palestinians will have to experience a process of grieving for lost land, home and loved ones. This period should also include a process for granting forgiveness and clemency to collaborators with Israel, allowing them to reenter life as usual.
Too, Israel will have to undergo a process of acknowledging its responsibility and apologizing for the hurt caused Palestinians, while taking responsibility for Palestinian compensation. Israel must accept world condemnation of its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as the root of evil. Indeed many Jews have warned against the serious detrimental and demoralizing effects of oppressing another nation and subjugating millions of people who simply want their freedom and rights. Such a brutal and long-standing occupation has produced an inhumane environment for Palestinians, with horrifying results.
The most tragic development of the current Intifada is the invention and use of suicide bombing on a horrific scale. Resulting from the Palestinians’ failure to win over the Israelis, suicide bombing is the ultimate expression of despair, promising not freedom but revenge. Naturally such operations of "terror" have added to the arsenal of Zionist propaganda that states that Israel is the only and ultimate victim, aiding further in the repression of Jewish guilt.
It is not surprising that Israel’s propaganda machine has managed to link Palestinian suicide bombing to international terror. Suicide bombing and the killing of civilians inside Israel is all that is needed to convince the world that Jews continue to be slaughtered as victims of racial and religious hatred and of the barbarism of "those Arabs."
As part of any peace agreement, Palestinians must accept that murdering innocent children and women in buses and restaurants in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is a crime, one that should be made prosecutable by law. While suicide bombing is understandably a brutal form of revenge for the inhumane condition of occupation, this should not justify terror. It is tragic that suicide bombing of civilians has undermined Islam’s message and the Palestinian demand for freedom.
If peace is a way of life then resistance through peaceful means should be the Palestinian method of struggle for liberation. A peaceful resistance would liberate not only Palestine and Palestinians, but also Israel and Israelis. Peaceful resistance will allow Israelis the chance to look inward, release their repressed guilt and accept responsibility. Violence will only force them to look outside for an enemy. And when Israelis apologize for the crimes committed against Palestinians, it will help both.
For the Palestinians, this will be their opportunity to feel dignified by responding with the honorable, "Yes, we accept your apology and we accept you." On the other hand, apology will help Israelis to feel whole, rehabilitating their injured selves from their grief and loss and repressed guilt.
Eyad El Sarraj is Director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program in Gaza City.
Violence in its various forms was and remains the principal permanent characteristic of the conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Land of Israel/Palestine since the conflict began in the late 19th century. More precisely, violence was the most prominent attribute of the Arab reaction to the political, material and cultural challenge presented by the Zionist enterprise.
The violence employed by individuals and groups of Palestinian Arabs against the Jewish settlers was a response to a sense of threat projected by an immigrant society that was culturally foreign and possessed an advanced organizational, economic and technological capability. Moreover, the Zionist enterprise had the goal of turning the entire country into a Jewish state, with the threat--that over the years appeared to be a self-fulfilling prophecy--to dislodge the Arabs from their material and spiritual assets.
Arab violence toward Jews generally involved sporadic, temporary and uncontrolled popular uprisings, alongside a routine of murders carried out by individuals acting on their own. Together they evolved into a mode of violent activity devoid of any distinction between target categories and directed at civilians. A considerable portion of the more extended violent Palestinian Arab outbreaks also involved internal bloodletting; this derived from traditional societal tensions that even the struggle against the Zionist enemy could not stop.
In the Palestinian collective memory, the extended violence directed against the Jews became a legitimate weapon within the context of a just struggle to protect the basic rights of individuals and of a people. The violent conflict to defend Palestine and its Arab nature against the Zionist invaders, whether defined religiously as a “jihad” or in a national-secular sense as armed popular struggle, took on a peremptory moral significance that shaped the consciousness of generation upon generation within Palestinian society. Thus Sheikh Ez a-Din al-Qassam, who pioneered the fulfillment of jihad as an obligation for all Muslims, became both symbol and paragon for the secular and religious Palestinian resistance movements alike, as they raised the banner of total and uncompromising struggle against Israel.
Violence and terrorism were always presented by Palestinians as the weapon of the weak and as a response to aggression by foreign invaders who were supported by international forces. In the absence of the capacity to directly confront Israeli security forces, the strategy of armed struggle that was selected featured political and propaganda objectives that bore unmistakable characteristics of terrorism against innocent civilians--who were defined as part of the "Zionist military entity."
The Palestinian national movement has adhered to a violent mode of action since the mandatory period, despite the failures and disasters that have befallen it. At the receiving end, violent outbreaks by Palestinians honed the existential fears of the Zionist founding fathers and drove them to develop, in any way possible, the political, organizational and military capacities of the Yishuv (the pre-state Jewish community in Palestine) and then the State of Israel, in anticipation of an all-out and decisive confrontation. Indeed, non-discriminate Arab violence helped develop and rationalize the power components of Zionism, and to base them on the moral ethos of "defense", "purity of arms" and the ultimate necessity of the use of force.
Palestinian Arab violence against Jews and Israelis usually featured an unbridgeable gap between goals and means that inevitably led to self-destruction. With the exception of the 1929 riots, when the Yishuv was in real danger, Arab violence and terrorism were not able to strike a mortal blow at the Zionist enterprise. Nor, with the exception of the invasion by Arab standing armies in 1948, did the State of Israel ever confront an existential threat by an Arab military coalition. But in historical perspective, the violence invoked by generations of Palestinian Arabs emerges as a disaster for their own national interests. Even when, in the short term, it appeared that violence had yielded political fruit, such as the 1939 White Paper or the opening of a dialogue between the United States and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1988 during the first Intifada, in the longer term the Palestinian national leadership failed the historic test of distinguishing between vision and reality, and repeatedly missed the opportunity to achieve part of its objectives.
Nor did the Oslo process bring Palestinian society to recognize the need to abandon violence and turn to peacemaking, if only in accordance with a calculation of costs and benefits. Despite bitter historical experience, the Palestinian leadership continued to rely on the support of the Arab and Muslim world in its struggle with Israel, and to anticipate its assistance in internationalizing the conflict. True, the culmination of the Oslo process bitterly disappointed most of those Palestinians who supported it from the start. But in the final analysis the al-Aqsa Intifada will probably not be remembered by many Palestinians as their greatest hour, and particularly not as the greatest hour of the Palestinian Authority headed by Yasir Arafat. The latter was supposed to serve as a responsible national leadership, but instead acted as a service provider to local entrepreneurs of violence and terrorism, and adhered to unrealistic sacred ideals rather than trying to change them.
Palestinian violence and terrorism, which in the current Intifada reached new heights in terms of frequency of attacks and the scope of murder of Israelis, are more disastrous than ever, first of all for Palestinians themselves. Given the extent of loss of life caused both to them and to Israel, the economic and institutional destruction they have brought upon themselves, to say nothing of the damage to Israeli public trust in any sort of agreement with them and the Israeli public's inclination to rally round right wing forces--it remains only to contemplate how far along the Palestinians could have been today in their drive to realize their goals if, prior to and during the first Intifada, they had adopted a strategy of civil disobedience and non-violence from the school of thought championed by Gandhi and his Palestinian disciple, Mubarak Awad.
Dr. Avraham Sela is Chair of the Department of International Relations at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
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