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THE UNITED STATES AND BOLIVIA
Stephen Zunes, September 18, 2008
Reprinted with author’s permission from Foreign Policy In Focus, http://www.fpif.org.
The alleged support by the United States of wealthy landowners, business leaders, and their organizations tied to the violent uprising in eastern Bolivia has led U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg’s expulsion from La Paz and the South American government’s demands that the United States stop backing the illegitimate rebellion. Goldberg had met with some of these right-wing oppositionist leaders just a week before the most recent outbreak of violence against the democratically elected government of Evo Morales, who won a recall referendum in August with over 67% of the popular vote.
U.S. subversion has assumed several forms since the leftist indigenous leader became president in 2005. For example, the U.S. embassy — in violation of American law — repeatedly asked Peace Corps volunteers, as well as an American Fulbright scholar, to engage in espionage, according to news reports.
Bolivia gets approximately $120 million in aid annually from the United States. It’s an important supplement for a country of nine million people with an annual per capita income of barely $1,000. Presidential Minister Juan Ramón Quintana has accused the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) of using some of this money to support a number of prominent conservative opposition leaders as part of a “democracy initiative” through the consulting firm Chemonics International. A cable from the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia last year revealed a USAID-sponsored “political party reform project” to “help build moderate, pro-democracy political parties that can serve as a counterweight to the radical MAS or its successors” (MAS stands for Movimiento al Socialismo, the party to which Morales belongs.). Despite numerous requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act, the Bush administration refuses to release a list of all the recipient organizations of USAID funds.
Decades of Intervention
The history of U.S. intervention in support for rightist elements in Bolivia is long. The United States was the major foreign backer of the dictatorial regime of René Barrientos, who seized power in a 1964 military coup. The CIA and U.S. Special Forces played a key role in suppressing a leftist peasant uprising that followed, including the 1967 murder of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, a key leader in the movement.
When leftist army officer Juan José Torres came to power in October of 1970, the Nixon administration called for his ouster. When an attempted coup by rightist general Hugo Bánzer Suárez was threatened by a breakdown in the plotters’ radio communications, the U.S. Air Force made their radio communications available to them. Though this first attempted takeover was crushed, Bánzer was able to seize power by August of the following year in a bloody uprising, also with apparent U.S. support. Thousands of suspected leftists were executed in subsequent years.
The United States largely supported Bánzer and subsequent dictators in the face of a series of protests, general strikes and other largely nonviolent pro-democracy uprisings, which eventually led to the end of military rule by 1982 and the coming to office of the left-leaning president Hernán Siles Zuazo. The United States refused to resume economic aid, however, until the government enacted strict neoliberal austerity measures.
A series of center-left and rightist civilian governments ruled the country over the next 20 years, most of which were corrupt and inept and none of which could come close to meeting the basic needs ordinary Bolivians, who —with the exception of the Haitians —are the poorest in the Western hemisphere. Despite the restoration of democracy, the strict austerity programs pushed by the United States and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) resulted in the Bolivian people, more than two-thirds of whom live in poverty, having little say in the decisions that most impacted their lives. Furthermore, even though the majority of the population is indigenous, the country’s leaders continued to be white or mestizo (of mixed-race heritage).
The 2005 election of Evo Morales, a left-wing activist and the first indigenous leader in the nearly 500 years since the Spanish conquest, marked a major shift in Bolivia’s politics. His commitment to a radical reform of the country’s inequitable social and economic system has proven to be even more critical than his racial and cultural identity.
To understand Bolivian sensitivities to U.S. aid and its conditions, as well as concerns regarding U.S. intervention, it is important to look what happened to Bolivia’s first leftist government, which governed back in the 1950s.
Undermining the 1952 Revolution
In 1952, a popular uprising against a rightist military regime led to the left-leaning nationalists of the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) coming to power promising political freedom and radical economic reform. As with Morales and MAS, his political party, that revolutionary government had strong support from militant worker and peasant political movements. And, also like today, the new government’s policies were strongly nationalistic, particularly in regard to the country’s natural resources, in which U.S. investors had substantial interests.
It wasn’t long, however, before the United States forced a dramatic shift in the regime’s priorities.
With its landlocked location, dissipated gold reserves, increased costs of production and imports, and huge trade deficits, Bolivia’s revolutionary regime couldn’t counter the economic power of the United States. U.S. aid wasn’t enough to improve the standard of living in Bolivia, but it did manage to make the country more dependent. The Bolivian Planning Board noted that “rather than an impulse to improvement, the aid has represented a means only of preventing worse deterioration in the situation as it existed.”
The ruling MNR recognized that it couldn’t afford to anger Washington. Their fear stemmed not just from the threat of direct intervention (like what took place in Guatemala against the nationalist Arbenz government less than two years later), but also from the fear of economic retaliation, not an unimportant concern given Bolivia’s dependence on the U.S. to process its tin ore and provide needed imports.
Indeed, it was clear from an early stage of the revolution that the economic weakness of Bolivia, combined with the economic power of the United States, allowed the U.S. to establish clear parameters for the revolution. For example, the United States forced Bolivia to pay full compensation to the wealthy foreign owners of recently nationalized tin mines rather than use the funds for economic development. The Petroleum Code of 1955, written by U.S. officials and enacted without any public debate or alterations by Bolivian authorities, forced the Bolivian government to forego its oil monopoly. Bolivia was then forced to sign an agreement to further encourage U.S. investment in the country. It was due only to this desperate need for an additional source of foreign exchange and pressure from the U.S. government that the once strongly nationalistic MNR agreed to these concessions.
The following year, the U.S. took more direct authority over Bolivia’s economy by imposing an economic stabilization program, which the Bolivian government agreed to, according to U.S. officials, “virtually under duress, and with repeated hints of curtailment of U.S. aid” (This quote is from Inflation and Development in Latin America: A Case History of Inflation and Stabilization in Bolivia , a book by George Jackson Eder.). The program, which bore striking resemblance to the structural adjustment programs which have since been imposed on dozens of debt-ridden countries in Latin America and elsewhere, consisted of the devaluation of the boliviano; an end to export/import controls, price controls and government subsidies on consumer goods; the freezing of wages and salaries; major cutbacks in spending for education and social welfare; and an end to efforts at industrial diversification.
The result, according to U.S. officials which forced its implementation, “meant the repudiation, at least tacitly, of virtually everything that the Revolutionary Government had done over the previous four years.” It not only redirected the economic priorities of the revolution, particularly its efforts at economic diversification, but altered the revolution’s political structure by effectively curbing the power of the trade unions and displacing socialist-leaning leaders of the MNR.
In the end, the United States was able to overthrow the Bolivian revolution without having to overthrow the government.
In many respects, U.S. policy towards Bolivia proved to be a harbinger for future U.S. domination of Latin America in this age of globalization, where the so-called “Washington consensus,” backed by U.S.-supported international financial institutions, created a situation where even wealthier Latin American countries had as few choices in choosing their economic policies as did impoverished Bolivia during the 1950s.
This has begun to change, however. Thanks in part to Venezuela’s oil wealth and the willingness of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, in the name of Latin American solidarity, to help its poorer and financially-strapped neighbors, a number of Latin American governments have had their debts reduced or eliminated. The strengthening of regional trade blocs and increased trade with Europe and China has also made it easier for South American nations to wean themselves from dependency on the United States.
Under Morales, Bolivia has attempted to strengthen the Andean Community of Nations and the signing last year of a “People’s Trade Treaty” with Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba is indicative of the desire to strengthen working economic and political alliances outside of direct U.S. influence in order to be better able to stand up to Washington.
As a result, Morales and the MAS seem better positioned to withstand economic pressure from the United States. Unlike the MNR in the 1950s, Morales comes out of a popular mass movement of the country’s poor and indigenous majority, which is very different than the predominantly white middle-class leadership of reformist officers under the previous government. Combined with economic support from oil-rich Venezuela and Morales’ efforts at strengthening its economic relationships with Bolivia’s Latin American neighbors, MAS has made it possible for the Bolivians to resist buckling under the kind of pressure imposed by the United States a half-century earlier.
The Current Uprising
qIt’s this very ability to better withstand the kind of economic pressures the United States had until recently been able to exert, either directly or through international financial institutions, which has led to recent violence in Santa Cruz and elsewhere in the wealthier white and mestizo -dominated eastern sectors of the country. As a result of the reduced leverage of their friends in Washington, which had previously enabled them to rule the country, certain elite elements now appear willing to violently separate themselves and the four eastern provinces in which they are concentrated.
With much of Bolivia’s natural gas wealth located in the east, and taking advantage of the endemic racism of its largely white and mestizo population against the country’s indigenous majority, now in positions of political power for the first time, these right-wing forces appear ready to either bring down Morales or secede from the country. Earlier this year they sacked and burned government buildings, murdered government officials and supporters, attacked journalists, sabotaged a key natural gas pipeline, and renounced any allegiance to Bolivia’s democratically elected government.
While the leadership of the Organization of American States and virtually every Latin American president has condemned the uprising the U.S. government has not, adding to concerns that United States may indeed have a hand in the violence.
The apparent triumph of the neoliberal model of globalization in the early 1990s and the resulting hegemonic domination by the United States over poorer countries — for which Bolivia served as the prototype 40 years earlier — made it appear as if the days of cruder forms of U.S. interventionism in Latin America were a thing of the past.
Recent events in Bolivia, however, may be a frightening indication that this is no longer the case.
*Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and a Foreign Policy In Focus senior analyst. He wrote a longer version, with citations, of the segment on U.S. policy toward Bolivia for the Center for International Policy’s Americas Program last year. If you are interested in seeing a more detailed analysis of U.S. policy toward the Bolivian Revolution of the 1950s by the author, you can find that at: http://americas.irc-online.org/am/4701. Many of his other articles are on his website at: http://www.stephenzunes.org.
THE BOSS HAS GONE MAD
Uri Avnery, January 17, 2009
169 YEARS before the Gaza War, Heinrich Heine wrote a premonitory poem of 12 lines, under the title “To Edom”. The German-Jewish poet was talking about Germany, or perhaps all the nations of Christian Europe. This is what he wrote (in my rough translation):
“For a thousand years and more / We have had an understanding / You allow me to breathe / I accept your crazy raging // Sometimes, when the days get darker / Strange moods come upon you / Till you decorate your claws / With the lifeblood from my veins // Now our friendship is firmer / Getting stronger by the day / Since the raging started in me / Daily more and more like you.”
Zionism, which arose some 50 years after this was written, is fully realizing this prophesy. We Israelis have become a nation like all nations, and the memory of the Holocaust causes us, from time to time, to behave like the worst of them. Only a few of us know this poem, but Israel as a whole lives it out.
In this war, politicians and generals have repeatedly quoted the words: “The boss has gone mad!” originally shouted by vegetable vendors in the market, in the sense of “The boss has gone crazy and is selling the tomatoes at a loss!” But in the course of time the jest has turned into a deadly doctrine that often appears in Israeli public discourse: in order to deter our enemies, we must behave like madmen, go on the rampage, kill and destroy mercilessly.
In this war, this has become political and military dogma: only if we kill “them” disproportionately, killing a thousand of “them” for ten of “ours”, will they understand that it’s not worth it to mess with us. It will be “seared into their consciousness” (a favorite Israeli phrase these days). After this, they will think twice before launching another Qassam rocket against us, even in response to what we do, whatever that may be.
It is impossible to understand the viciousness of this war without taking into account the historical background: the feeling of victimhood after all that has been done to the Jews throughout the ages, and the conviction that after the Holocaust, we have the right to do anything, absolutely anything, to defend ourselves, without any inhibitions due to law or morality.
When the killing and destruction in Gaza were at their height, something happened in faraway America that was not connected with the war, but was very much connected with it. The Israeli film “Waltz with Bashir” was awarded a prestigious prize. The media reported it with much joy and pride, but somehow carefully managed not to mention the subject of the film. That by itself was an interesting phenomenon: saluting the success of a film while ignoring its contents.
The subject of this outstanding film is one of the darkest chapters in our history: the Sabra and Shatila massacre. In the course of Lebanon War I, a Christian Lebanese militia carried out, under the auspices of the Israeli army, a heinous massacre of hundreds of helpless Palestinian refugees who were trapped in their camp, men, women, children and old people. The film describes this atrocity with meticulous accuracy, including our part in it.
All this was not even mentioned in the news about the award. At the festive ceremony, the director of the film did not avail himself of the opportunity to protest against the events in Gaza. It is hard to say how many women and children were killed while this ceremony was going on – but it is clear that the massacre in Gaza is much worse than that 1982 event, which moved 400 thousand Israelis to leave their homes and hold a spontaneous mass protest in Tel-Aviv. This time, only 10 thousand stood up to be counted.
The official Israeli Board of Inquiry that investigated the Sabra massacre found that the Israeli government bore “indirect responsibility” for the atrocity. Several senior officials and officers were suspended. One of them was the division commander, Amos Yaron. Not one of the other accused, from the Minister of Defense, Ariel Sharon, to the Chief of Staff, Rafael Eitan, spoke a word of regret, but Yaron did express remorse in a speech to his officers, and admitted: “Our sensitivities have been blunted”.
Blunted Sensitivities are very evident in the Gaza War.
Lebanon War I lasted for 18 years and more than 500 of our soldiers died. The planners of Lebanon War II decided to avoid such a long war and such heavy Israeli casualties. They invented the “mad boss” principle: demolishing whole neighborhoods, devastating areas, destroying infrastructures. In 33 days of war, some 1000 Lebanese, almost all of them civilians, were killed – a record already broken in this war by the 17th day. Yet in that war our army suffered casualties on the ground, and public opinion, which in the beginning supported the war with the same enthusiasm as this time, changed rapidly.
The smoke from Lebanon War II is hanging over the Gaza war. Everybody in Israel swore to learn its lessons. And the main lesson was: not to risk the life of even one single soldier. A war without casualties (on our side). The method: to use the overwhelming firepower of our army to pulverize everything standing in its way and to kill everybody moving in the area. To kill not only the fighters on the other side, but every human being who might possibly turn out to harbor hostile intentions, even if they are obviously an ambulance attendant, a driver in a food convoy or a doctor saving lives. To destroy every building from which our troops could conceivably be shot at – even a school full of refugees, the sick and the wounded. To bomb and shell whole neighborhoods, buildings, mosques, schools, UN food convoys, even ruins under which the injured are buried.
The media devoted several hours to the fall of a Qassam missile on a home in Ashkelon, in which three residents suffered from shock, and did not waste many words on the forty women and children killed in a UN school, from which “we were shot at” – an assertion that was quickly exposed as a blatant lie.
The firepower was also used to sow terror – shelling everything from a hospital to a vast UN food depot, from a press vantage point to the mosques. The standard pretext: “we were shot at from there”.
This would have been impossible, had not the whole country been infected with blunted sensitivities. People are no longer shocked by the sight of a mutilated baby, nor by children left for days with the corpse of their mother, because the army did not let them leave their ruined home. It seems that almost nobody cares anymore: not the soldiers, not the pilots, not the media people, not the politicians, not the generals. A moral insanity, whose primary exponent is Ehud Barak. Though even he may be upstaged by Tzipi Livni, who smiled while talking about the ghastly events.
Even Heinrich Heine could not have imagined that.
The last days were dominated by the “Obama effect”.
We are on board an airplane, and suddenly a huge black mountain appears out of the clouds. In the cockpit, panic breaks out: How to avoid a collision?
The planners of the war chose the timing with care: during the holidays, when everybody was on vacation, and while President Bush was still around. But they somehow forgot to take into consideration a fateful date: next Tuesday Barack Obama will enter the White House.
This date is now casting a huge shadow on events. The Israeli Barak understands that if the American Barack gets angry, that would mean disaster. Conclusion: the horrors of Gaza must stop before the inauguration. This week that determined all political and military decisions. Not “the number of rockets”, not “victory”, not “breaking Hamas”.
Whwn there is a ceasefire, the first question will be: Who won?
In Israel, all the talk is about the “picture of victory” – not victory itself, but the “picture”. That is essential, in order to convince the Israeli public that the whole business has been worthwhile. At this moment, all the thousands of media people, to the very last one, have been mobilized to paint such a “picture”. The other side, of course, will paint a different one.
The Israeli leaders will boast of two “achievements”: the end of the rockets and the sealing of the Gaza-Egypt border (the co-called “Philadelphi route”. Dubious achievements: the launching of the Qassams could have been prevented without a murderous war, if our government had been ready to negotiate with Hamas after they won the Palestinian elections. The tunnels under the Egyptian border would not have been dug in the first place, if our government had not imposed the deadly blockade on the Strip.
But the main achievement of the war planners lies in the very barbarity of their plan: the atrocities will have, in their view, a deterrent effect that will hold for a long time.
Hamas, on the other side, will assert that their survival in the face of the mighty Israeli war machine, a tiny David against a giant Goliath, is by itself a huge victory. According to the classic military definition, the winner in a battle is the army that remains on the battlefield when it’s over. Hamas remains. The Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip still stands, in spite of all the efforts to eliminate it. That is a significant achievement.
Hamas will also point out that the Israeli army was not eager to enter the Palestinian towns, in which their fighters were entrenched. And indeed: the army told the government that the conquest of Gaza city could cost the lives of about 200 soldiers, and no politician was ready for that on the eve of elections.
The very fact that a guerrilla force of a few thousand lightly armed fighters held out for long weeks against one of the world’s mightiest armies with enormous firepower, will look to millions of Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims, and not only to them, like an unqualified victory.
In the end, an agreement will be concluded that will include the obvious terms. No country can tolerate its inhabitants being exposed to rocket fire from beyond the border, and no population can tolerate a choking blockade. Therefore (1) Hamas will have to give up the launching of missiles, (2) Israel will have to open wide the crossings between the Gaza Strip and the outside world, and (3) the entry of arms into the Strip will be stopped (as far as possible), as demanded by Israel. All this could have happened without war, if our government had not boycotted Hamas.
However, THE worst results of this war are still invisible and will make themselves felt only in years to come: Israel has imprinted on world consciousness a terrible image of itself. Billions of people have seen us as a blood-dripping monster. They will never again see Israel as a state that seeks justice, progress and peace. The American Declaration of Independence speaks with approval of “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind”. That is a wise principle.
Even worse is the impact on hundreds of millions of Arabs around us: not only will they see the Hamas fighters as the heroes of the Arab nation, but they will also see their own regimes in their nakedness: cringing, ignominious, corrupt and treacherous.
The Arab defeat in the 1948 war brought in its wake the fall of almost all the existing Arab regimes and the ascent of a new generation of nationalist leaders, exemplified by Gamal Abd-al-Nasser. The 2009 war may bring about the fall of the current crop of Arab regimes and the ascent of a new generation of leaders – Islamic fundamentalists who hate Israel and all the West..
In coming years it will become apparent that this war was sheer madness. The boss has indeed gone mad – in the original sense of the word.
WORKING WITH COLLECTIVE TRAUMA TO FACILITATE PEACE
This article is part of a special series on Psychological Effects of Conflict written for the Common Ground News Service, who has distributed it with permission to publish.
Trauma triggers violence. We know this based on research and applying this knowledge can contribute to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israeli and Palestinian populations suffer from chronic trauma. Israelis feel as though they revisit the Holocaust with every terrorist attack. This feeling has been reinforced by five wars, anti-Semitic propaganda in the Arab world, and extermination threats from Iran. Palestinians suffer from the trauma of having to assert their identity as Palestinians against Arab and Jewish denial that such an identity exists. They suffer from a lack of autonomy and water, economic dysfunction, refugee problems, and occupation.
These traumas are neither negligible nor innocuous; they are at the very root of what perpetuates this conflict, and foreign and local leaders must encourage healing in both communities in order to help them restore self-regulation, release despair, helplessness, anger, mistrust and hatred, and set the necessary emotional foundation for effective dialogue.
Every new incident amplifies and propels the cycle of violence in the region. Negative experiences produce trauma that is passed down through generations (called a collective trauma vortex)˜affecting collective narratives, deepening fears, and creating a lasting sense of victimhood and animosity. Most importantly, a trauma vortex provokes impulsive rather than thoughtful responses.
The Palestinians‚ collective nervous system is kept aroused by media, internal factional violence, suicide-bombers used as weapons against the Israelis, and escalating control by the Israeli Defence Forces. The media encourages them to focus all their energy on suffering, and they fall prey to inflammatory slogans, while some are driven to violence and the destruction of their own society.
Stress and despair are also part of the Israeli psyche, which is torn by a need to defend itself, while simultaneously repulsed by its occupation of the Palestinians. Social groups are polarised against each other within Israeli society, and extremism is fuelled in small groups on both sides of the political spectrum.
The conflict has turned each party from victim into victimiser. Often, both sides feel like the political situation is at an impasse, as political approaches to the conflict have thus far failed to address the root causes of the violence. The befuddled international community, and its approach, would benefit from being more attuned to the traumatic collective experiences of Israelis and Palestinians. Indeed, many who are deeply engrossed in the conflict are not cognisant of the impact of their traumatic suffering on their behaviour, and need help, as well, recognising trauma in the other.
Assessing signs can help gauge the degree of trauma in either group and alert them to the need for healing. Aspects of the conflict which have only helped undermine the peace process include: feelings of religious superiority; suspending critical thinking; labelling, blaming and demonising „the other‰; ethnic cleansing of „the other‰ from their midst; distortion of traumatic narratives; believing one‚s side is totally innocent; repressed media; purposeful violence against civilians to regain control; and rearing children in hatred.
The mental health, medical and educational fields, clergy, military, media, diplomats, NGOs, and local and international political leaders can all help ease the effects of collective trauma by introducing innovative tools for self-regulation. By employing an apolitical language to deal with trauma‚s ravages, these groups can help all sides prepare for a durable peace.
Traumatic narratives fixate us in our trauma and appear to absolve us of any responsibility. Therefore, leaders throughout civil society and government need to do their part to identify these harmful distortions by validating the suffering of all, condemning the destructive ways it is expressed, and confronting traumatised groups with historical facts.
Palestinians and Israelis need to be asked if their actions are: giving them real safety, real autonomy; supporting their self-esteem and inspiring respect in others; making them feel competent; giving meaning to their life or culture without jeopardising the needs of others (meeting our needs at the expense of others‚ indicates a trauma vortex pull and forecasts the perpetuation of one‚s trauma and further victimisation); helping them trust and be trusted; promoting cross-cultural understanding; and inspiring compassion and the desire to validate their suffering.
Trauma, and the actions it elicits, calls for rigorous self-honesty. And the same questions should be asked of all outsides forces involved. Beginning to recognise the unacknowledged forces in this conflict ˆ foreign, domestic; inside, outside; psychological, non-psychologicalˆis a positive step forward.
*Gina Ross, MFCC, is the founder and chair of the International Trauma-Healing Institute in the United States and the co-founder of the Israeli Trauma Center in Jerusalem. She specializes in trauma and has been involved in this field since 1990.
SHARE SPACE. DEFY THE WALL
This article was written, December 4, 2008, for and distributed by the Common Ground News Service with permission to publish
Arabs and Jews were separated for decades before the separation wall was built in the West Bank and around Gaza. When former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat travelled to Israel in 1977, he declared before the Knesset (parliament) that such separation can only bring devastation and alienation to Arabs and Jews alike. He came to meet the Israelis in their homes to challenge their fears.
The physical wall between the West Bank and Israel reflects how current political leaders and ideologies have deepened the Israeli-Palestinian moral, mental, physical, economic, and psychological divides. However, history shows that such divides between enemies in neighbouring and interdependent geographical areas fail to bring about genuine peace or stability (e.g. Northern Ireland, South Africa, or Germany).
There are many strategies for reducing the adverse effects of the wall. In my view, the most important approaches will address separation by creating more shared Israeli and Palestinian space.
The wall is tragic for Arab-Jewish relations because it promotes apathy, alienation, detachment, and ignorance in relation to what is happening on the other side˜which together form one’s own sense of responsibility to the conflict. The wall opens the door for socialising agents ˆ like politicians, preachers and teachers ˆ to sustain images of the enemy as “other,” while ignoring the suffering resulting from the physical and mental separation.
The short and long-term remedy to separation imposed by the wall is to mitigate its impacts by meeting face-to-face and constructing more spaces to encounter the other. It is worth investing in shared spaces for meetings, as long as the relationships are symmetrical and balanced, and the participants empowered. Productive shared spaces, such as youth encounters, economic ventures, environmental initiatives, non-violent advocacy and protests, should increase people’s capacity to be self-critical and perceive any wrongdoing on their own side, and provide tools and opportunities for participants to apply the lessons learned, and explore alternatives for a shared future (for example, a joint youth project that focuses on the negative impact of the wall with a possibility to engage their respective communities ˆby arranging visits, sculpturing the wall in their own towns; artists displaying their work against the wall and against separation in schools, etc.)
New shared spaces ˆ from peace encounters and joint development projects, to farmer exchanges and clergy meetings ˆ are a precious opportunity – a resource that needs to be professionally constructed and managed to ensure that its participants are nurtured by the encounter, and empowered to spread the humanising messages within their respective communities. A summer camp for Palestinian and Israeli high school students should be treated as a rare and almost sacred space; the various Arab-Jewish initiatives for peace and dialogue have an historic role to play in creatively constructing more spaces for shared meetings in which the realities of the separation wall are challenged and not perpetuated.
The various walls that politicians have erected between Israelis and Palestinians (symbolic and actual) have forced many into a siege mentality. For Israelis, the siege mentality takes hold when they feel they must calculate every move they make when travelling overseas. It does not help that they are restricted from travelling beyond their immediate borders to neighbouring countries and it prevents them from knowing how Palestinian counterparts think and live.
The Palestinian siege mentality is reinforced by their physical imprisonment by a wall in their own towns, by military checkpoints, and by limited access to the Israeli narrative. In fact, the siege mentality is so strong that many Palestinians are surprised by the acts of solidarity groups in Israel.
These shared spaces are able to demystify the monstrous image of the other, offering the only guarantee that future Palestinian and Israeli generations will not grow in a reality of avoidance and denial, but will instead have the opportunity to re-humanise each other. Israeli youth will no longer be able to say „we did not know;‰ and Palestinian youth will no longer be able to say „we can’t do anything.‰ They will both say, „we are trying.‰
The walls around Gaza should serve as an example of what Palestinians and Israelis can expect in the West Bank if they don’t actively seek to transcend their separation: escalating violence and dehumanisation of Gazans and Hamas by the outside world, more internal Palestinian fighting, and continuous threats to Israel’s southern borders.
The more Israelis and Palestinians create shared spaces and meetings, the less likely people on both sides will flock behind leaders who propagate radical solutions and preach superiority of one side over the other. Arabs and Jews who are fighting the walls and social separations need to creatively break the fear of living side-by-side by sending a consistent message to their communities. The message should explain that a genuine mutual recognition and implementation of each others‚ rights for a sovereign, equal, and independent state are the only security guarantees for both peoples.
*Mohammed Abu-Nimer is the Director of the Peacebuilding and Development Institute at American University. He is an expert on conflict resolution and dialogue for peace, focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
AMERICA’S HIDDEN ROLE IN HAMAS’S RISE TO POWER
Previuosly published, with editors note, on AlterNet, Posted January 3, 2009, http://www.alternet.org/audits/116855/america%27s_hidden_role_in_hamas%27s_rise_to_power/?page=entire. Republished with permission of the author.
No one in the mainstream media or government is willing to acknowledge America’s sordid role interfering in Palestinian politics.
AftreNet Editor’s note: In the U.S., the claim that the actions of Hamas forced Israel to launch a massive assault on the impoverished population of Gaza is almost universally accepted. But, as scholar Stephen Zunes explains below, the picture of Hamas as an organization of wide-eyed radicalism without electoral legitimacy or the support of a significant portion of the Palestinian population is simplistic. In this important piece, Zunes examines the ways in which Israeli and American policy-makers encouraged the rise of the conservative religious group Hamas in an effort to marginalize secular and leftist elements within the Occupied Territories.
The United States bears much of the blame for the ongoing bloodshed in the Gaza Strip and nearby parts of Israel. Indeed, were it not for misguided Israeli and American policies, Hamas would not be in control of the territory in the first place.
Israel initially encouraged the rise of the Palestinian Islamist movement as a counter to the Palestine Liberation Organization, the secular coalition composed of Fatah and various leftist and other nationalist movements. Beginning in the early 1980s, with generous funding from the U.S.-backed family dictatorship in Saudi Arabia, the antecedents of Hamas began to emerge through the establishment of schools, health care clinics, social service organizations and other entities that stressed an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam, which up to that point had not been very common among the Palestinian population. The hope was that if people spent more time praying in mosques, they would be less prone to enlist in left-wing nationalist movements challenging the Israeli occupation.
While supporters of the secular PLO were denied their own media or right to hold political gatherings, the Israeli occupation authorities allowed radical Islamic groups to hold rallies, publish uncensored newspapers and even have their own radio station. For example, in the occupied Palestinian city of Gaza in 1981, Israeli soldiers — who had shown no hesitation in brutally suppressing peaceful pro-PLO demonstrations — stood by when a group of Islamic extremists attacked and burned a PLO-affiliated health clinic in Gaza for offering family-planning services for women.
Hamas, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (Islamic Resistance Movement), was founded in 1987 by Sheik Ahmed Yassin, who had been freed from prison when Israel conquered the Gaza Strip 20 years earlier. Israel’s priorities in suppressing Palestinian dissent during this period were revealing: In 1988, Israel forcibly exiled Palestinian activist Mubarak Awad, a Christian pacifist who advocated the use of Gandhian-style resistance to the Israeli occupation and Israeli-Palestinian peace, while allowing Yassin to circulate anti-Jewish hate literature and publicly call for the destruction of Israel by force of arms.
American policy was not much different: Up until 1993, U.S. officials in the consular office in Jerusalem met periodically with Hamas leaders, while they were barred from meeting with anyone from the PLO, including leading moderates within the coalition. This policy continued despite the fact that the PLO had renounced terrorism and unilaterally recognized Israel as far back as 1988.
One of the early major boosts for Hamas came when the Israeli government expelled more than 400 Palestinian Muslims in late 1992. While most of the exiles were associatd with Hamas-affiliated social service agencies, very few had been accused of any violent crimes. Since such expulsions are a direct contravention to international law, the U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned the action and called for their immediate return. The incoming Clinton administration, however, blocked the United Nations from enforcing its resolution and falsely claimed that an Israeli offer to eventually allow some of exiles back constituted a fulfillment of the U.N. mandate. The result of the Israeli and American actions was that the exiles became heroes and martyrs, and the credibility of Hamas in the eyes of the Palestinians grew enormously — and so did its political strength.
Still, at the time of the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the PLO in 1993, polls showed that Hamas had the support of only 15 percent of the Palestinian community. Support for Hamas grew, however, as promises of a viabl Palestinian state faded as Israel continued to expand its colonization drive on the West Bank without apparent U.S. objections, doubling the amount of settlers over the next dozen years. The rule of Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority President Yassir Arafat and his cronies proved to be corrupt and inept, while Hamas leaders were seen to be more honest and in keeping with the needs of ordinary Palestinians. In early 2001, Israel cut off all substantive negotiations with the Palestinians, and a devastating U.S.-backed Israeli offensive the following year destroyed much of the Palestinian Authority’s infrastructure, making prospects for peace and statehood even more remote. Israeli closures and blockades sank the Palestinian economy into a serious depression, and Hamas-run social services became all the more important for ordinary Palestinians.
Seeing how Fatah’s 1993 decision to end the armed struggle and rely on a U.S.-led peace process had resulted in increased suffering, Hamas’ popularity grew well beyond its hard-line fundamentalist base and its use of terrorism against Israel — despite being immoral, illegal and counterproductive — seemed to express the sense of anger and impotence of wide segments of the Palestinian population. Meanwhile — in a policy defended by the Bush administration and Democratic leaders in Congress — Israel’s use of death squads resulted in the deaths of Yassin and scores of other Hamas leaders, turning them into martyrs in the eyes of many Palestinians and increasing Hamas’ support still further.
Hamas Comes to Power
With the Bush administration insisting that the Palestinians stage free and fair elections after the death of Arafat in 2004, Fatah leaders hoped that coaxing Hamas into the electoral process would help weaken its more radical elements. Despite U.S. objections, the Palestinian parliamentary elections went ahead in January 2006 with Hamas’ participation. They were monitored closely by international observers and were universally recognized as free and fair. With reformist and leftist parties divided into a half-dozen competing slates, Hamas was seen by many Palestinians disgusted with the status quo as the only viable alternative to the corrupt Fatah incumbents, and with Israel refusing to engage in substantive peace negotiations with Abbas’ Fatah-led government, they figured there was little to lose in electing Hamas. In addition, factionalism within the ruling party led a number of districts to have competing Fatah candidates. As a result, even though Hamas only received 44 percent of the vote, it captured a majority of parliament and the right to select the prime minister and form a new government.
Ironically, the position of prime minister did not exist under the original constitution of the Palestinian Authority, but was added in March 2003 at the insistence of the United States, which desired a counterweight to President Arafat. As a result, while the elections allowed Abbas to remain as president, he was forced to share power with Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister.
Despite claiming support for free elections, the United States tried from the outset to undermine the Hamas government. It was largely due to U.S. pressure that Abbas refused Hamas’ initial invitation to form a national unity government that would include Fatah and from which some of the more hard-line Hamas leaders would have presumably been marginalized. The Bush administration pressured the Canadians, Europeans and others in the international community to impose stiff sanctions on the Palestine Authority, although a limited amount of aid continued to flow to government offices controlled by Abbas.
Once one of the more-prosperous regions in the Arab world, decades of Israeli occupation had resulted in the destruction of much of the indigenous Palestinian economy, making the Palestinian Authority dependent on foreign aid to provide basic functions for its people. The impact of these sanctions, therefore, was devastating. The Iranian regime rushed in to partially fulfill the void, providing millions of dollars to run basic services and giving the Islamic republic — which until then had not been allied with Hamas and had not been a major player in Palestinian politics — unprecedented leverage.
Meanwhile, record unemployment led angry and hungry young men to become easy recruits for Hamas militants. One leading Fatah official noted how, “For many people, this was the only way to make money.” Some Palestinian police, unpaid by their bankrupt government, clandestinely joined the Hamas militia as a second job, creating a dual loyalty.
The demands imposed at the insistence of the Bush administration and Congress on the Palestinian Authority in order to lift the sanctions appeared to have been designed to be rejected and were widely interpreted as a pretext for punishing the Palestinian population for voting the wrong way. For example, the United States demanded that the Hamas-led government unilaterally recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist, even though Israel has never recognized the right of the Palestinians to have a viable state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or anywhere else. Other demands included an end of attacks on civilians in Israel while not demanding that Israel likewise end its attacks on civilian area in the Gaza Strip. They also demanded that the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority accept all previously negotiated agreements, even as Israel continued to violate key components of the Wye River Agreement and other negotiated deals with the Palestinians.
While Hamas honored a unilateral cease-fire regarding suicide bombings in Israel, border clashes and rocket attacks into Israel continued. Israel, meanwhile, with the support of the Bush administration, engaged in devastating air strikes against crowded urban neighborhoods, resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties. Congress also went on record defending the Israeli assaults — which were widely condemned in the international community as excessive and in violation of international humanitarian law — as legitimate acts of self-defense.
A Siege, Not a Withdrawal
The myth perpetuated by both the Bush administration and congressional leaders of both parties was that Israel’s 2005 dismantling of its illegal settlements in the Gaza Strip and the withdrawal of military units that supported them constituted effective freedom for the Palestinians of the territory. American political leaders from President George W. Bush to House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have repeatedly praised Israel for its belated compliance with a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for its withdrawal of these illegal settlements (despite Israel’s ongoing violations of these same resolutions by maintaining and expanding illegal settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights).
In reality, however, the Gaza Strip has remained effectively under siege. Even prior to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, the Israeli government not only severely restricted — as is its right — entry from the Gaza Strip into Israel, but also controlled passage through the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, as well. Israel also refused to allow the Palestinians to open their airport or seaport. This not only led to periodic shortages of basic necessities imported through Egypt, but resulted in the widespread wasting of perishable exports — such as fruits, vegetables and cut flowers — vital to the territory’s economy. Furthermore, Gaza residents were cut off from family members and compatriots in the West Bank and elsewhere in what many have referred to as the world’s largest open-air prison.
In retaliation, Hamas and allied militias began launching rocket attacks into civilian areas of Israel. Israel responded by bombing, shelling and periodic incursions in civilian areas in the Gaza Strip, which, by the time of the 2006 cease-fire, had killed over 200 civilians, including scores of children. Bush administration officials, echoed by congressional leaders of both parties, justifiably condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas-allied units into civilian areas of Israel (which at that time had resulted in scores of injuries but only one death), but defended Israel’s far more devastating attacks against civilian targets in the Gaza Strip. This created a reaction that strengthened Hamas’ support in the territory even more.
The Gaza Strip’s population consists primarily of refugees from Israel’s ethnic cleansing of most of Palestine almost 60 years ago and their descendents, most of whom have had no gainful employment since Israel sealed the border from most day laborers in the late 1980s. Crowded into only 140 square miles and subjected to extreme violence and poverty, it is not surprising that many would become susceptible to extremist politics, such as those of the Islamist Hamas movement. Nor is it surprising that under such conditions, people with guns would turn on each other.
Undermining the Unity Government
When factional fighting between armed Fatah and Hamas groups broke out in early 2007, Saudi officials negotiated a power-sharing agreement between the two leading Palestinian political movements. U.S. officials, however, unsuccessfully encouraged Abbas to renounce the agreement and dismiss the entire government. Indeed, ever since the election of a Hamas parliamentary majority, the Bush administration began pressuring Fatah to stage a coup and abolish parliament.
The national unity government put key ministries in the hands of Fatah members and independent technocrats and removed some of the more hard-line Hamas leaders and, while falling well short of Western demands, Hamas did indicate an unprecedented willingness to engage with Israel, accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and negotiate a long-term cease-fire with Israel. For the first time, this could have allowed Israel and the United States the opportunity to bring into peace talks a national unity government representing virtually all the factions and parties active in Palestinian politics on the basis of the Arab League peace initiative for a two-state solution and U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. However, both the Israeli and American governments refused.
Instead, the Bush administration decided to escalate the conflict by ordering Israel to ship large quantities or weapons to armed Fatah groups to enable them to fight Hamas and stage a coup. Israeli military leaders initially resisted the idea, fearing that much of these arms would end up in the hands of Hamas, but — as Israeli journalist Uri Avnery put it — “our government obeyed American orders, as usual.” That Fatah was being supplied with weapons from Israel while Hamas was fighting the Israelis led many Palestinians — even those who don’t share Hamas’ extremist ideology — to see Fatah as collaborators and Hamas as liberation fighters. This was a major factor leading Hamas to launch what it saw as a preventive war or a countercoup by overrunning the offices of the Fatah militias in June 2007 and, just as the Israelis feared, many of these newly supplied weapons have indeed ended up in the hands of Hamas militants. Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip ever since.
The United States also threw its support to Mohammed Dahlan, the notorious Fatah security chief in Gaza, who — despite being labeled by American officials as “moderate” and “pragmatic” — oversaw the detention, torture and execution of Hamas activists and others, leading to widespread popular outrage against Fatah and its supporters.
Alvaro de Soto, former U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, stated in his confidential final report leaked to the press a few weeks before the Hamas takeover that “the Americans clearly encouraged a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas” and “worked to isolate and damage Hamas and build up Fatah with recognition and weaponry.” De Soto also recalled how in the midst of Egyptian efforts to arrange a cease-fire following a flare-up in factional fighting earlier this year, a U.S. official told him that “I like this violence … it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas.”
Weakening Palestinian Moderates
For moderate forces to overcome extremist forces, the moderates must be able to provide their population with what they most need: in this case, the end of Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip and its occupation and colonizing of the remaining Palestinian territories. However, Israeli policies — backed by the Bush administration and Congress — seem calculated to make this impossible. The noted Israeli policy analyst Gershon Baskin observed, in an article in the Jerusalem Post just prior to Hamas’ electoral victory, how “Israel ‘s unilateralism and determination not to negotiate and engage President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority has strengthened the claims of Hamas and weakened Abbas and his authority, which was already severely crippled by … Israeli actions that demolished the infrastructures of Palestinian Authority governing bodies and institutions.”
Bush and an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress have also thrown their support to the Israeli government’s unilateral disengagement policy that, while withdrawing Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip, has expanded them in the occupied West Bank as part of an effort to illegally annex large swaths of Palestinian territory. In addition, neither Congress nor the Bush administration has pushed the Israelis to engage in serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians, which have been suspended for over six years, despite calls by Abbas and the international community that they resume. Given that Fatah’s emphasis on negotiations has failed to stop Israel’s occupation and colonization of large parts of the West Bank, it’s not surprising that Hamas’ claim that the U.S.-managed peace process is working against Palestinian interests has resonance, even among Palestinians who recognize that terrorism by Hamas’ armed wing is both morally reprehensible and has hurt the nationalist cause.
Following Hamas’ armed takeover of Gaza, the highly respected Israeli journalist Roni Shaked, writing in the June 15 issue of Yediot Ahronoth, noted that “The U.S. and Israel had a decisive contribution to this failure.” Despite claims by Israel and the United States that they wanted to strengthen Abbas, “in practice, zero was done for this to happen. The meetings with him turned into an Israeli political tool, and Olmert’s kisses and backslapping turned Abbas into a collaborator and a source of jokes on the Palestinian street.”
De Soto’s report to the U.N. Secretary-General, in which he referred to Hamas’ stance toward Israel as “abominable,” also noted that “Israeli policies seemed perversely designed to encourage the continued action by Palestinian militants.” Regarding the U.S.-instigated international sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, the former Peruvian diplomat also observed that “the steps taken by the international community with the presumed purpose of bringing about a Palestinian entity that will live in peace with its neighbor Israel have had precisely the opposite effect.”
Some Israeli commentators saw this strategy as deliberate. Avnery noted, “Our government has worked for year to destroy Fatah, in order to avoid the need to negotiate an agreement that would inevitably lead to the withdrawal from the occupied territories and the settlements there.” Similarly, M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Center observed, “the fact is that Israeli (and American) right-wingers are rooting for the Palestinian extremists” since “supplanting … Fatah with Islamic fundamentalists would prevent a situation under which Israel would be forced to negotiate with moderates.” The problem, Avnery wrote at that time, is that “now, when it seems that this aim has been achieved, they have no idea what to do about the Hamas victory.”
Since then, the Israeli strategy has been to increase the blockade on the Gaza Strip, regardless of the disastrous humanitarian consequences, and more recently to launch devastating attacks that have killed hundreds of people, as many as one-quarter of whom have been civilians. The Bush administration and leaders of both parties in Congress have defended Israeli policies on the grounds that the extremist Hamas governs the territory.
Yet no one seems willing to acknowledge the role the United States had in making it possible for Hamas to come to power in Gaza in the first place.
*Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and chairman of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco and serves as a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus.
HOW MANY DIVISIONS
Uri Avnery, January 10, 2009
Nearly seventy years ago, in the course of World War II, a heinous crime was committed in the city of Leningrad. For more than a thousand days, a gang of extremists called “the Red Army” held the millions of the town’s inhabitants hostage and provoked retaliation from the German Wehrmacht from inside the population centers. The Germans had no alternative but to bomb and shell the population and to impose a total blockade, which caused the death of hundreds of thousands.
Some time before that, a similar crime was committed in England. The Churchill gang hid among the population of London, misusing the millions of citizens as a human shield. The Germans were compelled to send their Luftwaffe and reluctantly reduce the city to ruins. They called it the Blitz.
This is the description that would now appear in the history books – if the Germans had won the war. Absurd? No more than the daily descriptions in our media, which are being repeated ad nauseam: the Hamas terrorists use the inhabitants of Gaza as “hostages” and exploit the women and children as “human shields”, they leave us no alternative but to carry out massive bombardments, in which, to our deep sorrow, thousands of women, children and unarmed men are killed and injured.
In this war, as in any modern war, propaganda plays a major role. The disparity between the forces, between the Israeli army – with its airplanes, gunships, drones, warships, artillery and tanks – and the few thousand lightly armed Hamas fighters, is one to a thousand, perhaps one to a million. In the political arena the gap between them is even wider. But in the propaganda war, the gap is almost infinite.
Almost all the Western media initially repeated the official Israeli propaganda line. They almost entirely ignored the Palestinian side of the story, not to mention the daily demonstrations of the Israeli peace camp. The rationale of the Israeli government (“The state must defend its citizens against the Qassam rockets”) has been accepted as the whole truth. The view from the other side, that the Qassams are a retaliation for the siege that starves the one and a half million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, was not mentioned at all.
Only when the horrible scenes from Gaza started to appear on Western TV screens, did world public opinion gradually begin to change. True, Western and Israeli TV channels showed only a tiny fraction of the dreadful events that appear 24 hours every day on Aljazeera’s Arabic channel, but one picture of a dead baby in the arms of its terrified father is more powerful than a thousand elegantly constructed sentences from the Israeli army spokesman. And that is what is decisive, in the end.
War – every war – is the realm of lies. Whether called propaganda or psychological warfare, everybody accepts that it is right to lie for one’s country. Anyone who speaks the truth runs the risk of being branded a traitor.
The trouble is that propaganda is most convincing for the propagandist himself. And after you convince yourself that a lie is the truth and falsification reality, you can no longer make rational decisions.
An example of this process surrounds the most shocking atrocity of this war so far: the shelling of the UN Fakhura school in Jabaliya refugee camp. Immediately after the incident became known throughout the world, the army “revealed” that Hamas fighters had been firing mortars from near the school entrance. As proof they released an aerial photo which indeed showed the school and the mortar. But within a short time the official army liar had to admit that the photo was more than a year old. In brief: a falsification.
Later the official liar claimed that “our soldiers were shot at from inside the school”. Barely a day passed before the army had to admit to UN personnel that that was a lie, too. Nobody had shot from inside the school, no Hamas fighters were inside the school, which was full of terrified refugees. But the admission made hardly any difference anymore. By that time, the Israeli public was completely convinced that “they shot from inside the school”, and TV announcers stated this as a simple fact.
So it went with the other atrocities. Every baby metamorphosed, in the act of dying, into a Hamas terrorist. Every bombed mosque instantly became a Hamas base, every apartment building an arms cache, every school a terror command post, every civilian government building a “symbol of Hamas rule”. Thus the Israeli army retained its purity as the “most moral army in the world”.
The truth is that the atrocities are a direct result of the war plan. This reflects the personality of Ehud Barak – a man whose way of thinking and actions are clear evidence of what is called “moral insanity”, a sociopathic disorder.
The real aim (apart from gaining seats in the coming elections) is to terminate the rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In the imagination of the planners, Hamas is an invader which has gained control of a foreign country. The reality is, of course, entirely different.
The Hamas movement won the majority of the votes in the eminently democratic elections that took place in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. It won because the Palestinians had come to the conclusion that Fatah’s peaceful approach had gained precisely nothing from Israel – neither a freeze of the settlements, nor release of the prisoners, nor any significant steps toward ending the occupation and creating the Palestinian state. Hamas is deeply rooted in the population – not only as a resistance movement fighting the foreign occupier, like the Irgun and the Stern Group in the past – but also as a political and religious body that provides social, educational and medical services.
From the point of view of the population, the Hamas fighters are not a foreign body, but the sons of every family in the Strip and the other Palestinian regions. They do not “hide behind the population”, the population views them as their only defenders.
Therefore, the whole operation is based on erroneous assumptions. Turning life into living hell does not cause the population to rise up against Hamas, but on the contrary, it unites behind Hamas and reinforces its determination not to surrender. The population of Leningrad did not rise up against Stalin, any more than the Londoners rose up against Churchill.
He who gives the order for such a war with such methods in a densely populated area knows that it will cause dreadful slaughter of civilians. Apparently that did not touch him. Or he believed that “they will change their ways” and “it will sear their consciousness”, so that in future they will not dare to resist Israel.
A top priority for the planners was the need to minimize casualties among the soldiers, knowing that the mood of a large part of the pro-war public would change if reports of such casualties came in. That is what happened in Lebanon Wars I and II. This consideration played an especially important role because the entire war is a part of the election campaign. Ehud Barak, who gained in the polls in the first days of the war, knew that his ratings would collapse if pictures of dead soldiers filled the TV screens.
Therefore, a new doctrine was applied: to avoid losses among our soldiers by the total destruction of everything in their path. The planners were not only ready to kill 80 Palestinians to save one Israeli soldier, as has happened, but also 800. The avoidance of casualties on our side is the overriding commandment, which is causing record numbers of civilian casualties on the other side.
That means the conscious choice of an especially cruel kind of warfare – and that has been its Achilles heel. A person without imagination, like Barak (his election slogan: “Not a Nice Guy, but a Leader”) cannot imagine how decent people around the world react to actions like the killing of whole extended families, the destruction of houses over the heads of their inhabitants, the rows of boys and girls in white shrouds ready for burial, the reports about people bleeding to death over days because ambulances are not allowed to reach them, the killing of doctors and medics on their way to save lives, the killing of UN drivers bringing in food. The pictures of the hospitals, with the dead, the dying and the injured lying together on the floor for lack of space, have shocked the world. No argument has any force next to an image of a wounded little girl lying on the floor, twisting with pain and crying out: “Mama! Mama!”
The planners thought that they could stop the world from seeing these images by forcibly preventing press coverage. The Israeli journalists, to their shame, agreed to be satisfied with the reports and photos provided by the Army Spokesman, as if they were authentic news, while they themselves remained miles away from the events. Foreign journalists were not allowed in either, until they protested and were taken for quick tours in selected and supervised groups. But in a modern war, such a sterile manufactured view cannot completely exclude all others – the cameras are inside the strip, in the middle of the hell, and cannot be controlled. Aljazeera broadcasts the pictures around the clock and reaches every home.
The battle for the TV screen is one of the decisive battles of the war. Hundreds of millions of Arabs from Mauritania to Iraq, more than a billion Muslims from Nigeria to Indonesia see the pictures and are horrified. This has a strong impact on the war. Many of the viewers see the rulers of Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority as collaborators with Israel in carrying out these atrocities against their Palestinian brothers.
The security services of the Arab regimes are registering a dangerous ferment among the peoples. Hosny Mubarak, the most exposed Arab leader because of his closing of the Rafah crossing in the face of terrified refugees, started to pressure the decision-makers in Washington, who until that time had blocked all calls for a cease-fire. These began to understand the menace to vital American interests in the Arab world and suddenly changed their attitude – causing consternation among the complacent Israeli diplomats.
People with moral insanity cannot really understand the motives of normal people and must guess their reactions. “How many divisions has the Pope?” Stalin sneered. “How many divisions have people of conscience?” Ehud Barak may well be asking.
As it turns out, they do have some. Not numerous. Not very quick to react. Not very strong and organized. But at a certain moment, when the atrocities overflow and masses of protesters come together, that can decide a war.
The failure to grasp the nature of Hamas has caused a failure to grasp the predictable results. Not only is Israel unable to win the war, Hamas cannot lose it. Even if the Israeli army were to succeed in killing every Hamas fighter to the last man, even then Hamas would win. The Hamas fighters would be seen as the paragons of the Arab nation, the heroes of the Palestinian people, models for emulation by every youngster in the Arab world. The West Bank would fall into the hands of Hamas like a ripe fruit, Fatah would drown in a sea of contempt, the Arab regimes would be threatened with collapse.
If the war ends with Hamas still standing, bloodied but unvanquished, in face of the mighty Israeli military machine, it will look like a fantastic victory, a victory of mind over matter. What will be seared into the consciousness of the world will be the image of Israel as a blood-stained monster, ready at any moment to commit war crimes and not prepared to abide by any moral restraints. This will have severe consequences for our long-term future, our standing in the world, our chance of achieving peace and quiet.
In the end, this war is a crime against ourselves too, a crime against the State of Israel.
HEBRON LIKE YOU NEVER IMAGINED IT
Source: YNet News, 27 November 2008, www.ynet.co.il., in Hebrew, Translated and distributed by CGNews with permission from YNet News for publication.
A new way needs to be carved out that will allow Israel to express its nationalism in Hebron without conceding land or creating an apartheid state.
In many ways, the dilemma posed by Hebron embodies the ongoing struggle of Zionism since its inception over the biblical territories of Israel. Hebron, however, presents this dilemma in starker, sharper, and more violent streaks.
The basic argument presented by the settlers in Hebron is entirely justified. More so than Tel Aviv, Raanana, Sderot or Kiryat Shemona, in fact any other city in Israel aside from Jerusalem, the Jewish ties to the city of Hebron are greater and less questionable.. The continuous Jewish presence over the ages, the The Tomb of the Patriarchs, the 1929 Arab assault on the city’s Jews and the city’s sanctity ˆ all of these render the thought that Jews may no longer live, visit or pray in Hebron unbearable. In the midst of a discourse centred on historical, religious, ethnic and national rights ˆ there is no settlement more legitimate than the Jewish settlement in Hebron.
In the current situation the Jewish presence in Hebron is made possible only by means of violent occupation and harsh discrimination (that may be termed apartheid). The situation in Hebron today is such that basic values of equity, civil and human rights, and the recognition of another nation’s historical and national rights are all being denied ˆ an unacceptable and irrational position for anyone with basic moral sensitivities.
The grave mistake of Hebron’s Jewish settlers and their supporters is that they are not seeking to resolve this dilemma. Many of them do not even recognise its existence. They only recognise one point of reference for any discussion over Hebron and that is from the ethnic, historical, religious and national rights of one, and only one, side. For this reason they feel justified forging documents (as has been intimated not only in the most recent controversial acquisition of a house in Hebron but also in other cases such as the Shapiro House), committing daily violent acts against Palestinians and assaulting Israeli officials.
To them Palestinians are not entitled to property rights in the Land of Israel and this is the reason a court decision, which would seem just and reasonable any other place in Israel or worldwide, was seen as vicious and scandalous and warranting violent opposition.
Those familiar with the political discourses prevalent among many of the settlers and their affiliated circles such as the Bnei Akiva youth organisation know that they envision an apartheid state in its true form. According to their plans, the Palestinians in Israel (or Hebron for that matter) will be granted residency rights and not citizenship ˆ similar to the legal status of the blacks in Apartheid South Africa or Jews in Germany under the Nurenberg laws. This option seems unacceptable to me as well.
So where can we compromise in order to try and foster a solution to the problem? Maybe the concept of sovereignty, which lies very much at the heart of the conflict, should be redefined. We know that this concept has been undergoing radical changes in recent years, for example in Europe following the European Union. Maybe we too can bend the concept of sovereignty in our region to suit our needs.
We have become accustomed to viewing only full sovereignty, which is by definition exclusionary, as the realisation of the national rights of the Jewish people and its aspiration for a national home. But perhaps Hebron requires a different kind of national aspiration, one that will not equate national territorial rights with violent and exclusive sovereignty.
A bi-national mode of thinking may be more appropriate for Hebron, one that will recognise both the Jewish and Palestinian claims over the city. Likewise a settlement should recognise some sort of joint sovereignty both on the municipal and national levels. Moreover, perhaps this is the best settlement not only for Hebron but for all of Israel.
Any settlement along these lines will require us to entirely revamp the way we view our relationship with the Palestinians and it will of course need to be outlined through negotiations with them so that it will address their national, historical, religious, and economic needs as well.
Ironically, it seems likely that giving up exclusive and exclusionary sovereignty as a way of realising national rights will be easier than any alternative that will present us with a choice between an apartheid state or conceding valuable parts of Israel and displacing hundreds of Jews from their homes.
*Amos Goldberg is a fellow at the Scholion Institute of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and a member of the Children of Abraham peace organization.
THE ONE STATE SOLUTION
Source: Newsweek, 29 September 2008, www.newsweek.com. Distributed by the Common Ground News Service with permission from the author for publication.
In a recent report, peace now (an Israeli NGO) revealed that since President George W. Bush convened the Annapolis peace talks last October, the number of construction tenders issued in East Jerusalem has increased by a factor of 38 compared to the previous year. Since 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, and especially since the Madrid peace negotiations of 1993, Israel has built almost 13 new neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, which is now home to more than a quarter million Israelis˜almost the same number as Palestinians allowed to reside within the city. If you recall that most plans for a two-state solution envisage East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state (alongside the Israeli capital in West Jerusalem), it’s easy to understand why many Palestinians are losing faith in this project.
There is another reason the two-state solution is losing support: Washington’s attitude. On a recent trip to Ramallah, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, when reminded that Palestinians have already shown willingness to concede 78 percent of what they consider their rightful territory to Israel, reportedly shot back, “Forget the 78 percent. What is being negotiated now is the remaining 22 percent.” The message was clear: Palestinians must be ready to give up more land.
Israelis have long described their West Bank settlements ˆ long fingers of territory that stretch along the north-south and east-west axes, serviced by highways, electrical networks, etc. ˆ as organic extensions of the Israeli community. But Israeli construction has (again according to Peace Now) increased by 550 percent in the past year. This building, combined with that of the nearly complete separation wall or barrier, and reports that Israel wishes to maintain security control along the eastern edge of the Jordan Valley, sends another message: that Israel plans to hold onto the land for good. Combine this with the still unaddressed refugee problem, and it’s no wonder many former two-staters are giving up hope.
It is important to remember that the Palestinian national movement only began to endorse the idea of a two-state solution 20 or 30 years ago, as a practical compromise. Realising that Israel wasn’t going anywhere, moderates decided that their best hope for a state was one alongside Israel, not one that sought to replace it. Yet the 15 years of negotiations that have followed have produced little, and thus it’s no surprise that faith in this supposedly pragmatic option is waning. The lack of progress, as well as the unmistakably expansionist reality on the ground and the growth in popularity of Hamas, have left little room for anyone seeking a positive future for Palestine. Except, that is, to rejuvenate the old idea of one binational, secular and democratic state where Jewish and Arab citizens live side by side in equality.
For some, such as the intellectuals and activists who make up the Palestinian Strategy Group (which recently made this case in Arabic newspapers), talk of a one-state scenario is meant to warn Israel of the dangers posed by its expansionist policies. This group would still prefer a two-state solution to emerge. Others, however, are returning to the one-state vision first espoused by Fatah (the mainstream Palestinian nationalist movement) back in the late ’60s. The first group believes that one-state talk might help knock some sense into the heads of Israeli decision-makers. The second prefers a one-state solution because it would create a government they would eventually control as a demographic majority. Although even Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has lately recognised the danger Israel faces, it is not clear that other decision-makers in Israel do. They may try to defer the problem through some diversionary tactic, such as throwing control of the West Bank’s population centres to Jordan under continued Israeli military supervision. Such a ‘solution’ was first floated by Israel back in the ’70s. According to this scenario, Gaza would also be thrown to Egypt.
But even if Jordan and Egypt could be persuaded to accept such burdens and they couldn’t be neither tactic would bring lasting stability in the region. And serious proponents of the one-state scenario seem not to realise how much more human suffering it would take to attain. As for sounding alarm bells, this might have made sense 25 years ago, when settlement building in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank was just starting. Today, with over half a million Jews living across the 1949 Armistice Line, it’s almost too late to reverse the process. It is therefore time for action, not words.
Practically, this means pushing within the next few months for a fair deal both parties can live with. And that means a two-state deal; the Israelis will never agree to anything else. Many Palestinians think a single state might be ideal since it would involve the defeat of the Zionist project and its replacement by a binational country that would eventually be ruled by its Arab majority. But many ships have been wrecked on such rocks before. And the one state likely to emerge from a cataclysmic conflict is likely to be anything but ideal.
*Sari Nusseibeh has served as president of Al-Quds University since 1995. He has been a prolific writer on the Arab-Israeli situation for nearly thirty years.
A FAIRY TALE
Uri Avnery,* October 11, 2008
Recently I was asked by the German Else-Laker-Schueler-Gesellschaft, which commemorates the German-Jewish-Israeli poetess, to describe how peace would look like. On the eve of Yom Kippur, the day of reconciliation, I would like to distribute it instead of my weekly article.
A Fairy Tale
“If you want, it is no fairy tale!” Theodor Herzl, founder of Zionism
“You don’t want? Forget it!” Hebrew graffiti with Herzl’s picture in Tel Aviv
SEPTEMBER 10, 2015.
It has happened.
In a solemn ceremony, on a stage bedecked with Israeli and Palestinian flags, the peace treaty between Israel and Palestine has been signed.
Negotiations did not take long. The essential elements of the treaty had been known for a long time. The document held no real surprises.
Israel agreed to recognize the State of Palestine. The border between the two states was based on the so-called Green Line (the pre-1967 line), but both parties agreed on a limited exchange of territory. About 5% of the West Bank, including several “settlement blocs”, were joined to Israel, in exchange for an equivalent area alongside the Gaza Strip. Both sides expressed the wish to keep the border open for the movement of people and goods.
In Jerusalem, the Arab neighborhoods, including al-Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount) became part of Palestine, while Jewish neighborhoods and the Western Wall stayed in Israel. The two halves of Jerusalem remained physically united under a joint municipal authority, with equal representation. Israel agreed to remove all settlements from the territory of Palestine.
On the refugee problem, a complex solution was found. A Committee of Truth and Reconciliation (CTR) was set up to investigate the events of 1948 and 1967 which led to the displacement of the refugees. Both sides agreed to abide by its findings. The CTR was composed of respected Israeli, Palestinian and international historians.
Israel recognized in principle the Right of Return, but both sides agreed that only a limited and mutually agreed-upon number would be enabled to return to Israeli territory, while all the others would be compensated and settled in the State of Palestine or elsewhere, according to their wishes, with international assistance. Another committee was appointed to see to a just distribution of the water resources, and especially to the large-scale desalination of sea water, with international help, for the benefit of both sides.
After the Presidents of Israel and Palestine shook hands, all present shared in a minute of silence, in memory of all those who died in the generations-old conflict. The secretary of the Arab League declared the treaty to be in conformity with the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, and confirmed that all member states of the League would establish normal relations with Israel.
The historic event was preceded by far-reaching changes on both sides. After a long and painful rift, the new Palestinian President had succeeded in uniting the warring Palestinian factions in a rejuvenated PLO and a Provisional Government of Palestine. After some recriminations, both Hamas and Fatah supported the treaty.
In Israel, a charismatic new leader, who enjoyed much public respect, had succeeded in alerting public opinion to the dangers of the ongoing state of war in a region full of missiles and weapons of mass destruction. His new party, which attracted not only leaders and members from all the discredited old parties, but also a whole generation of young people who entered politics to bring about a change, had won a resounding election victory. The peace movement, which had long been dormant, played a major role in this upheaval. When the two new Presidents shook hands, the whole world heaved a sigh of relief.
But the signing of the document by the politicians was only the beginning of the struggle. As everybody knew, a decisive confrontation between the Israeli government and the settlers was looming. The settlers and their allies had spent years preparing for this test. Supported by major elements of the army and the various ministries, they had access to large resources of arms and money. Many of them were determined to wage a civil war, if it came to it.
However, when the clash came, it was much less dramatic than had been feared. As agreed with the Palestinians, the settlers were allowed a year to leave voluntarily in return for very generous compensation. After initial hesitation, about half of the settlers accepted the offer and actually left the occupied territories. The rest were demoralized by the solid support of the great majority of the Israeli public for the peace treaty.
In the end, actual fighting was sporadic. In the hour of crisis, Israeli democracy stood the test and the army remained solidly loyal to the government, despite the efforts the settlers had been making for years to infiltrate the officers’ corps. The comparative ease with which both governments overcame the often violent opposition in their respective countries was also due to the active support of the international community.
Many commentators doubted whether the peace treaty would have been possible without the profound change of US policy in the Middle East. After the 2012 elections, the President announced that America’s basic interests demanded an even-handed approach in order to overcome the hatred millions of Muslims felt for America. “We shall support both Israel and Palestine in their valiant quest for peace,” he declared. The pro-Israel lobby did not dare oppose this, sensing the fundamental change in American public opinion and fearing an anti-Semitic backlash. Europe followed suit, as always.
In Israel, the public was quick to realize the practical benefits of peace. New joint Israeli-Arab ventures attracted large foreign investments. Following the earlier peace treaty with Syria, Israeli entrepreneurs were already busy in Damascus, making lucrative deals in a Syrian economy that was springing to new life. The Syrians, by the way, allowed the Israeli wine industry on the Golan Heights to continue operating. “Let’s go and eat Hummus in Damascus” became an Israeli slogan. And indeed, Israelis crowded the famous bazaars of that ancient city, turning the trip to the Syrian capital into an exciting experience.
While Arab businessmen were filling the hotels in Tel Aviv, looking for joint ventures, their Israeli counterparts were flocking to Riyadh, Baghdad, Doha and Dubai. Stories of their successes filled the television news programs and eclipsed the sight of settlers trying to repeat the scenes of the Gaza “disengagement” ten years earlier.
Owing to their position between Israel and the Arab world, Palestinians became sought-after middlemen. Former inmates of Israeli prisons, speaking excellent Hebrew, were especially successful in creating business connections. So were Arab citizens of Israel, with their intimate knowledge of Israeli political and economic processes. Their standard of living rose steeply to about that of Jewish Israelis. Their birthrate fell, as is usual with increased prosperity.
In this atmosphere, the return of several thousand Palestinian refugees to Israel passed almost without comment. Since the rapid growth of the Israeli economy had attracted many Jews from abroad, the “demographic balance” hardly changed.
Politicians and economists on both sides started to raise the idea of a “Middle Eastern Union”, a political, economic and security organization on the lines of the European Union. Others were talking of a confederation of Israel, Palestine and Jordan, perhaps also including Lebanon, where Hizbullah was by now a well established government party.
The Israeli army remained a powerful instrument for protecting the state. But as in the U.S. and Western Europe, the best and the brightest were drawn to high-tech, science and business. Soon the old conflict was seen as a thing of the past.
In the end, the old adage that “peace is not made between governments but between peoples” was proven once more. Human relations, economic interests and the passage of time completed the process that started with the formal peace treaty.
*Uri Avnery is a journalist and peace activist. He is the founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement.
SYRIA AND IRAN: AN ALLIANCE OF CONVENIENCE
Alon Ben-Meir,* August 26, 2008
Syria’s relationship with Iran, though largely asymmetrical, tends to be viewed as a robust alliance that many political observers believe is only getting stronger. Underneath the showmanship, Iran’s ties to Syria are largely based on perception rather than reality. Both countries have been systematically engaged in mutual deception to create a myth of a solid alliance that rests on economic, political and military collaboration when in fact much of it exists on paper only. Syria is hardly benefiting from its relations with Iran while it is in dire need for economic reforms and massive capital investments that only the West can provide. The new American administration will be in a strong position to lure Damascus out of Iran’s orbit and dramatically improve the political climate in the Middle East which could lead to regional stability and even peace.
For all intents and purposes, Iran and Syria have very little in common: whereas Syria is a secular state, Iran’s regime is theocratic, and there is also Persian culture versus Arab culture with two entirely different national identities. Although Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite—an offshoot of Shi’ism–the Sunnis make up the majority in Syria while the Shiites are predominant in Iran. The two nations also have no shared border to foster great trade or security relations. Their economies differ in that Iran is overwhelmingly oil-based while Syria is by and large an agrarian society. Furthermore, Iran needs advanced technology that Syria is unable to provide and Syria needs capital investment that Iran cannot offer. And on a crucial policy matter, Syria is supportive of the Arab Peace Initiative with Israel, whereas Tehran continues to oppose any peace talks with Israel, including the Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations it is actively trying to undermine. Moreover, Syria views itself as the intellectual center of the Arab nation in quest of rejoining the Sunni Arab fold and reinstates its position as an independent leading Arab state. Iran seeks regional hegemony and nuclear weapons while trying to subordinate the Sunni Arab states. The gulf between these two nations is deeply reflected in their day-to-day relationship, but their political collaboration and the tentative nature of their strategic objectives creates a smoke screen that covers the precariousness of their alliance.
It is clear that the main catalyst behind Syria and Iran’s close political collaboration is the Bush administration’s campaign to isolate both nations. The imposition of American and some Western sanctions against Syria and the accumulative international sanctions against Iran have provided further impetus for their political alliance. In addition, their mutual disdain for Israel’s policies has brought them further together. Adding to this mix, both countries feel threatened by United States’ professed intention of regime change. As a result, Tehran and Damascus sought each other for political support and agreed, at least from a tactical perspective, to join hands by actively opposing American and Israeli interests in the region. Iran skillfully used Syria to buttress its position in Lebanon by supporting Hezbollah and aiding Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories, while Damascus benefited from the political and limited financial support that Iran provided.
That being said, Damascus and Tehran have yet to translate political and strategic convenience into a meaningful economic and security cooperation. While Iran is boasting to have invested and concluded deals worth billions of dollars in Syria and dozens of agreements have been signed covering tourism, banking, health, the environment, agriculture, and education, most of these agreements are effectively collecting dust. The trade between the two countries is minuscule reaching a mere $200 million in 2007, nearly $180 million of which was Iranian exports to Syria. In fact, the U.S.-Syrian trade for the same period, even under the constraints of American sanctions, was more than double that amount while Syrian-Turkish trade exceeded $1.6 billion for the same year. A CIA report from March of 2008 indicates that while “The Syrian economy grew by 3.3%in 2007 nevertheless, the economy remains highly controlled by the government. Long-run economic constraints include declining oil production, high unemployment and inflation, rising budget deficits, and increasing pressure on water supplies caused by heavy use in agriculture, rapid population growth, industrial expansion and water pollution.” Moreover, billions are needed to improve infrastructure, education, health care, social services and housing.
Regardless of an apparent political collaboration, the lack of compelling economic relations, absence of shared ideological fervor and the divergent long-term strategic interests have rendered the alliance between Syria and Iran basically empty of real substance. Based on what I know first-hand and supported by the current negotiations, it is clear that Syria has made peace with Israel a strategic choice. Not only because the Syrians want to recover the Golan but because Damascus seeks to normalize relations with the United States. Damascus is fully aware that only normal relations with the U.S. will bring Western and especially American capital investments, trade, new technology and over time even the prospect of procuring modern military equipment. Damascus, however, no longer hopes that the Bush administration will normalize relations in its waning days. This, to a large extent, explains why Syria refuses to conduct direct talks with Israel and prefers to continue to negotiate through Turkey as an intermediary. Direct talks with Israel are Syria’s trump-card and it does not want to use it without getting something in return. As one Syrian official told me recently, only through direct involvement will the United States have stakes in the success of the negotiations and only then will the peace be solidified and Syria can expect to benefit financially as well as politically.
As the Russians have started to flex their mussels again, Damascus, perhaps out of necessity or as a warning to the U.S., is renewing its flirtation with Moscow. The new American administration should waste no time signaling to Syria that it is willing to start a new chapter in their relationship. As the international pressure continues to mount against Iran due to its nuclear program, President Assad realizes that his alliance of convenience with Tehran is becoming increasingly less convenient and less useful. He also knows theprice he must pay for the Golan and for normal relations with the U.S. which in one form or another must result with the following: a substantial reduction in cooperation with Tehran, efforts to weaken and eventually disarm Hezbollah, a cessation of support for Palestinian militants Hamas and Islamic Jihad, full support of American efforts in Iraq, and finally cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
Syria is eager to change course and the new American administration must make this possible. The fact that Assad has made the peace talks with Israel public attests to his willingness to shift alliances. A realistic plan of engagement coupled with incentives by the next U.S. president will deal a major blow to Iran’s regional ambitions which explains why Tehran was and still is so alarmed about the Israeli-Syrian peace talks.
Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. email@example.com. http://www.alonben-meir.com.
BUILDING PEACE THROUGH HEALTH IN THE MIDDLE EAST
This article is part of a special series on cross-border medical practices written, October 16, 2008, for the Common Ground News Service, who distributes it with permission to publish.
For over two decades, international health organisations have offered their services to people in regional conflicts throughout the world. While health initiatives alone have not and cannot achieve peace, especially where political, cultural or religious tensions might abound, they often serve as the last point of contact between conflicting parties.
Health programmes also serve to increase understanding between divided peoples, demonstrating the power of sustained cooperation in hostile political environments. During the 1980s, violent clashes between Nicaragua’s Contras and Sandinistas impressed upon the conscience of the international community, rousing the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), the regional office of the World Health Organisation (WHO), to initiate „Health as a Bridge for Peace,‰ a plan aimed at providing healthcare to populations living in war-torn areas in Latin America.
Their work resulted in so-called Days of Tranquility for El Salvador and Peru, during which thousands of children were vaccinated against polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and measles. Most notably, PAHO’s activities enjoyed the backing of both the government officials and the rebel guerrilla forces. Concern for public health was a common ground.
The same approach was later used in other regions of the world. Since its founding in 1988, the Association of Israeli-Palestinian Physicians for Human Rights has created two funds to address the normalised medical neglect of Palestinian and migrant workers’ children: The Palestinian Children’s Medical Care Fund and The Children of Foreign Workers Medical Fund. The organisation also conducts training activities for Palestinian health professionals, and has become a leading advocate for health and human rights in the region.
Many new health groups began developing and providing health services to the Palestinian people in the years after Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat signed the 1993 Oslo Accords.
In 1995, the late King Hussein of Jordan invited officials from the Canada International Scientific Exchange Programme to conduct a series of activities to foster better collaboration between Arab and Israeli doctors. The high incidence of hearing loss shared by Jordanians and Israelis was the basis of a project to provide audiology tests for infants, which to date has screened and habilitated more than 145,000 infants. The programme has now expanded to promote youth health, maternal nutrition, and infectious disease management.
As a result, Canada, Israel and Jordan have enjoyed a healthy amount of scholarly discourse, and Israelis and Palestinians have worked together on publications and scientific symposiums. In December of 2004, the first issue of Bridges was published under the auspices of the WHO. The magazine features articles written by Israeli and Palestinian health experts, and is a model of success for building bridges of understanding between Israelis and Palestinians.
These are just a few examples of what up to now has been a highly active and inspiring collaboration among Palestinian and Israeli health workers. Despite their obvious value, these activities are not universally supported. In 2005, numerous medical groups and health service professionals working in the Occupied Palestinian Territories strongly objected to what they consider an undue pressure to enter into Palestinian-Israeli healthcare cooperation.
According to the dissenters, there is a political agenda behind the “scheme” to force Israelis and Palestinians to cooperate. In addition, they do not believe that professional and academic collaboration can truly contribute to reconciliation “when justice for Palestinians has not been achieved.”
Although there is some validity to this position, peace between Israelis and Palestinians will not be achieved overnight. It is only through an incremental approach that reconciliation can occur between both peoples. In the words of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, „Peace will be built slowly, day by day, through modest deeds and countless spontaneous details.‰
What better way is there to build peace between Arabs and Israelis than the living testimony of thousands of women, men and children? In any region plagued by lack of confidence, mistrust, and violence, building health bridges is the best antidote to war.
*Dr. Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant and a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award for an article on human rights. He is also the foreign correspondent for the Middle East Times International (Australia).
KOUCHNER AND THE PALESTINE-ISRAELI STRUGGLE
Source: Dar Al Hayat, 8 October 2008, http://english.daralhayat.com. Distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from Dar Al Hayat.
After his visit to Jenin accompanied by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner became more optimistic, despite the existing tribulations in the Palestinian territories. Fayyad is a trustworthy official. He has undertaken many reforms despite the tragic conditions under occupation. Kouchner has had the chance to see on the ground in Jenin how France and the international community are helping to create better conditions, despite the very difficult existing ones.
Kouchner’s trip to the Palestinian territories and Israel highlighted how important it is to ensure a continued involvement by Europe and the new US administration in pushing the peace track forward in order to solve the Palestinian-Israeli struggle. The French minister wants to push his European colleagues, before the end of France’s presidency of the EU, to produce a united paper that refers to the promises made at the Annapolis Conference. This would be relayed to the new European presidency, which goes to the Czech Republic, at the beginning of the year. France wants to speed things along, pressing the new US administration to promote the peace process at the soonest, instead of waiting until the last year of its term or its second term.
Kouchner is enthusiastic by temperament and says what is on his mind; he refuses to surrender to the status quo. He wants to move things along, and Salam Fayyad is amenable to such a policy. Despite the doubts about the establishment of a Palestinian state, Fayyad has been striving to show his persistence about “removing the occupation and defeating the obstacles,” something he has always supported.
Certainly, ever since French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, French policy has always been balanced vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. This is despite Sarkozy repeating, during every meeting with Arab officials, that he is a friend of Israel.
And Kouchner is Sarkozy’s friend; he manages French diplomacy based on the belief that, sooner or later, a Palestinian state will be established, despite the obstacles and daily human rights violations from which Palestinians suffer. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti laid this out in realistic terms for Kouchner when he showed him pictures of Palestinian children wounded by the Israelis.
However, Paris is aware that the difficulties are tremendous, and that the Israeli policies of expanding settlements and increasing roadblocks are unacceptable; however, Kouchner refuses the claim that nothing is improving in the Palestinian territories, or that on the contrary, things are getting worse. He wants to present a better picture of this situation that remains extremely dire, despite all his statements to the contrary. As a matter of fact, the majority of Palestinians are 15 or younger; they do not know the Israelis as a result of the roadblocks and closures, and live under tragic conditions. So, how can there be a future of coexistence under such conditions?
At the same time, Israeli practices boost the popularity of Hamas in Gaza, amid a discouraging situation in the region, due to the fear of an Israeli strike against Iran. Paris is aware of this danger and the risk that Iran will use Hezbollah in Lebanon in such an eventuality.
Paris is making huge efforts to tell Syria it must stop the flow of weapons to Hezbollah. Kouchner and his team were told by their Israeli interlocutors that they were anxious about the weapons reaching the resistance group in Lebanon, hence the need for Syria to interrupt this flow.
Despite the paralysing conditions with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, and on the Iranian nuclear front, Paris is making huge efforts to ensure that America’s concern with pushing the peace process forward in the coming period is not a side-issue. France believes that a solution to this struggle should be a priority for all sides in the region and the world, especially the new US administration.
*Randa Takieddine is the bureau chief for Dar Al Hayat in Paris. This article is
A BRIDGE ACROSS THE RIVER
This article first appeared in The American Muslim and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews), September 25, 2008, and distributed by CGNews with permission to publish.
Israel and Jordan co-exist side by side on the same, relatively small area of terrain, on either bank of one narrow river. However, despite being geographically contiguous neighbours, within the borders of Jordan, Israel seems very far away. Although the peace treaty signed between Jordan and Israel in 1994 officially permits Israelis to travel to Jordan, and vice versa, few do. Of the Jordanians who travel to Israel, few go beyond the Palestinian territories, and of the Israelis who travel to Jordan, few travel beyond Petra and Wadi Rum. Having little basis for associating with the other, Jordanians and Israelis are afforded few opportunities to dispel stereotypes or allay fears of each other. Their perceptions are often formed by images on television and stories in newspapers, which ˆ in Jordan in particular ˆ are frequently negative and politicised.
These two countries and peoples should be inseparable (if only by their geographic locations), and the existent cultural and political alienation presents a dangerous prospect for the future. In the region’s current political context, there is neither a foreseeable settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor much optimism that one will be reached in the near future. It would therefore be unrealistic to expect most Jordanians (approximately 70 percent of whom identify as Palestinian) to view Israelis favourably.
The notion of the State of Israel as a neighbour is in itself sparse, and Jordanians are largely unfamiliar with Jewish Israeli citizens as more than just faceless ‘others.’ So initiative must be taken to increase awareness and mutual understanding among all peoples.
Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians share common foods, common notions of hospitality; both exhibit strong commitments to national pride and religion, albeit for different national identities and religious beliefs. Environmental conditions ˆ including the lack of potable water and the rapid shrinking of the Dead Sea ˆ threaten peoples and places across Jordan and Israel˜indiscriminately.
Friday in Amman is much like Friday in West Jerusalem, though time progresses in opposite directions. In Amman, the city is quiet and shops are closed from the morning prior to the mid-day Friday prayer, until the afternoon, when many slowly open for the evening. Friends gather for late-morning brunches, and families gather for meals and picnics. In West Jerusalem, crowds fill the streets and stores in the morning, rushing to do all that needs to be done before mid-afternoon, when shops close and transportation stops prior to the entrance of the Sabbath, at sundown. In Amman, the adhan, or call to prayer echoes around the city in the middle of the day; in West Jerusalem, a siren sounds to mark the beginnings of the Sabbath approximately one hour before sundown, and Sabbath evening prayers can be heard wafting into the streets throughout the evening.
The Jordan-Israel peace treaty and the existence of Qualified Industrial Zones reflect the fact that politicians recognise the necessity of relations between the two countries, even if superficially. Nonetheless, relations between individual businesses within each country have wavered, and relations between citizens are lacking. If there is ever to be a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or improvement in broader Arab-Israeli relations, Jordan and Jordanians must be on board and involved. Despite the volatile and often hostile political context, businesses should be encouraged to actively cooperate and interact, and channels of communication should be opened between Israelis and Jordanians, even through tourism and informative educational initiatives.
Technology can now facilitate cross-border exchanges while participants sit in the comfort of their own homes. Although Israeli visas are sometimes difficult to obtain, the Jordan-Israel peace treaty legally enables cross-border excursions. Israelis and Palestinians have embarked on peace treks across North Africa and North America, so why not include Jordan on a journey to circumvent the Dead Sea, or through the southern deserts of one country to the other? Despite the physical and emotional challenges, Israeli and Palestinian youth co-publish magazines and articles across the divide between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. News outlets with worldwide circulation could commission articles by Jordanian students that address issues pertinent to youth across societies.
I do believe that cultural exchange is often the first step towards resolution and reconciliation. Each generation raised to hate without knowledge of, or exposure to, the other postpones the potential for future coexistence and understanding. Any initiative that encourages openness and understanding in such a tense political and social context could well bring about lofty hurdles and seemingly insurmountable challenges. However, this should not discourage us from trying∑before it comes too late.
*Rachel Brandenburg is a graduate student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington DC, where she concentrates on foreign policy and international security. Rachel is a former intern at Search for Common Ground’s Middle East office, a Fulbright Scholar to Israel, and a recent recipient of the US Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship, which brought her to study Arabic in Amman, Jordan.
ISRAEL AND IRAN HAVE MUCH IN COMMON
This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews), October 2, 2008, who distributed it with permission to publish.
On its 60th anniversary, Israel is still concerned about survival. Even with nuclear weapons and the strongest military in the Middle East, the Jewish state remains anxious. Iranian leaders are similarly concerned about the future of their administrations, even as the country approaches the 30th anniversary of its Islamic Revolution.
Israel fears any potential threat, whether it comes from Hamas, Hezbollah, or political Islamic groups. Israel also has begun to fear its shifting demographics, where birth rates are significantly higher among Palestinians than Jews. But above all, Israel perceives a threat from Iran.
In a similar vein, Iran is threatened by an outside force that would roll back its revolution. The religious conservatives in Iran are resistant to perceived reformists, which at various times have been supported by the United States, and stands alone as one of the only Shia majority countries in the region.
Yet the conservatives of Iran, heirs to Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution, also face the possibility of seeing their regime replaced by the followers of former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami.
Iran and Israel share a sense of isolation: Israel is comprised of an ethnic and religious minority (Jewish) in a largely Arab and Muslim Middle East. Likewise, Iran’s government is an ethno-religious minority (Shi’a Persians) surrounded by Sunni countries.
Few know that Iran is home to the largest number of Jews in the Middle East outside of Israel. There are 80 synagogues (11 of them in Tehran), many with Hebrew schools. And over 25,000 Jews, most of whom are determined to remain, because they are as proud of their Iranian culture as they are of their Jewish roots. Iran and Israel should stop writing the narrative of the other as “enemy”. Ahmadinejad is perceived by Israel as a threat, while Israel’s extremists believe that the world’s evil emanates from Iran.
These views are too black and white, and too polarising. Both are spreading fear to their people when indeed they should be promoting solidarity, first by turning down the aggressive rhetoric. The countries should work to build better communication between their societies, so that the two peoples might find a common ground of understanding.
The Iranian people are less concerned with the rhetoric of Ahmadinejad than they are with the country’s pressing domestic issues. In his latest statement, Hasan Rouhani, Khatami’s security advisor, strongly criticised Ahmadinejad’s policies, and attacked him for “destroying the dignity of Persian people as well as making them poor.” These criticisms are likely to become more frequent as the presidential election in Iran approaches in June 2009.
The economy is now the Iranian people’s top priority, not Palestine. The younger generations of Iran and Israel, who are looking toward a better future, do not support the drum beats of war.
They would only lead to a war that would destroy countries and stifle development throughout the Middle East. No country can win, but all countries stand to lose.
What can save Israel and Iran from destroying each other? Only the seeds of peace lying dormant in both countries. These seeds lie in the Iranian and Israeli people. They need to be cultivated with civil society exchanges ˆ between students and intellectuals, scientists, doctors, engineers, university professors, and even clerics ˆ where both sides share their experiences in fighting common challenges.
Leaders in both countries need to care for these seeds so they can spread and grow. This is the role for those who want to save their people and heritage while building a future for the next generation.
*Anthony Zeitouni (<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>email@example.com) is a Washington-based conflict resolution researcher.