Peace and justice won’t come to Palestine by simply wishing it

Following my article in last week’s Canberra Times, I’m informed by reliable sources at the paper that Jewish academic Dvir Abramovich demanded a right of reply because I had “unfairly libeled… Israelis as extremists.” Yesterday his piece was published and it’s a masterful piece of saying nothing in 800 words. Empty words and slogans, two equal sides blah blah blah. The word “occupation” is entirely absent:

After the conflict in Gaza, the prospects of peace between Israelis and Palestinians look grim. But as AbrahamLincoln once said, ”˜”˜The probability that we may fall in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.’’

Along with the tears shed for lives lost on both sides, we must refuse to give in to the short-sighted despair that says that force is the only language Israelis and Palestinians speak. War only produces broken hearts, no winners.

A just peace between the two peoples can be achieved but the business-as-usual of blaming and demonising the other cannot continue. Real security for Israelis and Palestinians is ”˜”˜shared security’’. No ceasefire will last without a new collaborative path that involves all stakeholders.

Violence breeds violence, prolongs suffering and holds back the vital work of building a resolution based on sustained dialogue and painful but honourable compromises.

Primarily, the benefits of peace need to be inculcated among those who have only known guns firing and bombs exploding. The silent majorities on both sides, who are ready to make concessions, need to be engaged for any formal treaties to succeed. Inaction and foot-dragging is not an option.

The two peoples will be neighbours forever and must choose mutually secure ways to share this sliver of land. The lie that Israelis and Palestinians cannot reconcile will not last. How many more mothers must bury their children before the bravado of radicals gives way to new solutions without killing? As John F. Kennedy said, ”˜”˜Man will put an end to war, or war will put an end to man.’’

Israelis and Palestinians, traumatised by war and death, have no choice but to work collectively and purposefully to try to forge a feasible deal of a two-state solution. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr, ”˜”˜We have in our hearts a power more powerful than bullets.’’

Yes, there is no quick fix. Previous disappointments have produced many cynics and doubters. Yet, any misgivings about the lip service paid to a slew of formulas must take a backseat to the possibility of resolution, denying madness another victory.

Sanity must prevail because if anything, the implications of failure to find peace should prod Israeli and Palestinian parents into action. Otherwise, their children will inherit their conflict.

The global community must invest in people-to-people diplomacy to break down the emotional and psychological barriers. It must stand behind moderate leaders in Gaza and the West Bank. Palestinians must strive for democracy, settle the costly infighting between Hamas and Fatah which divides them and elect a moderate leadership that is ready to consider a future of coexistence with Israel.

Scholar Mark Mathabane urges Israelis and Palestinians to look to South Africa as a model. Mathabane cites Lincoln’s second inaugural address which was imbued with pleas of charity for all and malice towards none, and which helped restore a frayed nation.

Recall how Nelson Mandela spoke of the Afrikaners’ anguished memories of their own agony at the hands of the British during the Boer War. His appeal was embraced by the resentful black majority largely because he was uttering those words as a human being. Imagine the Palestinians empathising with the Jewish suffering during the Holocaust and Israelis acknowledging the Palestinians’ grief.

True peace includes forgiveness and a willingness to put the past behind, as well as an understanding that both sides have been responsible for the injustice and pain. Palestinians and Israelis must set aside decades of atavistic aggression to find the courage to absolve each other of past transgressions and to admit that there has been tremendous hurt.

Only then will they bear witness to an astonishing milestone that will permit the two nations to live side by side, free from terror, in a relationship dedicated to peace and prosperity.

In 1998, Bill Clinton urged Israelis and Palestinians to leave behind 50 years of cynicism and to unearth within themselves the strength to forgive. ”˜”˜I think the beginning of mutual respect after so much pain is to recognise not only the positive characteristics of people on both sides, but the fact that there has been a lot – a lot – of hurt and harm,’’ he said. ”˜”˜The time has come to sanctify your holy ground with real forgiveness and reconciliation.’’

Today, the following letter was published in response:

Dvir Abramovich’s call for a collective solution to the Palesine-Israel conflict has much that makes good sense – war’s futility, the need for a ‘shared security’ based on a ‘sustained dialogue’, the need to engage ‘the silent majorities on both sides’ and to avoid ‘foot-dragging’.

Regrettably, however, he shows a marked lack of balance in his analysis.

He calls, not unreasonably, for the global community to support ‘moderate leaders in Gaza and the West Bank’ but fails to make a parallel call for Israeli leadership or to mention the longstanding immoderation of Israel’s leaders, from Ben Gurion, via Golda Meir to Netanyahu, whose governments were and remain the primary drivers of the suppression of any semblance of peaceful coexistence.

Moreover, his drawing parallels between the Holocaust and the present suffering of Palestinians is at best an inappropriate and unhelpful slip, or at worst yet another attempt to foster international sympathy for ‘victim Israel’, no longer because of Nazi Germany’s ‘final solution’ more than 60 years ago, but now as an excuse for Israel’s current behaviour.

The collective peace Abramovich seeks can only be based on an honest and balanced assessment of the past and on an outcome that places social, political and economic decency within the grasp of all the peoples of both sides.

Israel’s acceptance of the key findings of the UN-commissioned (Goldstone) report on its incursion into Gaza last December-January would be a good starting point.

Kevin Bray