As some kind of ceasefire inches its way ahead with the help of surrounding interested parties the ‘you started first’ usual rhetoric from both sides involved in the present round of missiles exchange between Hamas and Israel leaves everybody none the wiser about: Why? Why now? What do they expect to achieve? Who else is pulling strings? Will it stop? Is there a long term solution? What can we do?
As for who started it, well, working our way backwards we could go back to October when Ahmed al-Jabari, head of Hamas’s military wing died when his car was struck in Gaza City by a missile following almost a week of rocket fire from Gaza into Southern Israel. And here is where things get strange. On Oct 23 the Emir of Qatar visited Gaza. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani urged Hamas and rival Palestinian group Fatah, which holds power in the West Bank, to reconcile. He pledged $400m (£250m) for building projects in the Gaza Strip, which has been ravaged by conflict with Israel.
Great! That should help. But instead more than 70 rockets were fired into southern Israel from Gaza the day after the Emir’s departure. His visit to the Gaza Strip was seen as a boost for its ruling faction. Hamas, which normally distances itself from rocket fire from Gaza, (blaming it on Islamic Jihad, a more combat drawn group) claimed responsibility for some operations in the following days. And then Israel blew up Jabari, amongst a much wider attack on Gaza.
We can go back ten, a hundred or thousand years and we’ll find this conflict between cousins who do not want to share the same land. In the 19 century largely secular Zionists fed up with wondering through Europe from pogrom to pogrom decided to try to settle somewhere, preferably near their biblical roots. Was it the Holocaust that changed the rules of the game and allowed the creation of the State of Israel instead of a shared multicultural land? Are some Gazans, consciously or unconsciously seeking their own Holocaust at the hands of the Israelis in the fantasy that the outcome will be their own state? If instead of launching into wars the Palestinians had began a campaign of nonviolence to preserve their rights, even in 1948, could we see today a different landscape? Two communities living side by side perhaps? And what if the PLO, instead of becoming a guerrilla movement had studied the methodology of nonviolence, as it is doing now, from its very beginning, and what if the Jewish settlers who arrived with their kibbutzim and ideals, had shared the land instead of occupying it? What if, what if, what if.
One thing is clear, and it is that every action we take sets the conditions for the next one. If we launch violent actions, they will boomerang back sooner or later. At every step. And every step is an opportunity to do something different, creative, humanising, compassionate and nonviolent.
And here it is necessary to repeat what has been said before: Fear is the enemy of Compassion. We may hate people, but as long as we do not have to see them close by, we can allow them to exist. But if we fear them, they are always close by, they are in the shadows that accompany us. They have to disappear, die, be locked in a prison, behind a wall, ‘razed to the ground’.
Both factions in conflict rejoice when they see fear in their enemies’ eyes, the pain goes away a little. But it will come back because fear has killed their compassion, we are no longer human like them. The conflict dehumanises both factions. In the general population it creates profound contradictions. Yes, We fear them, but when we see their children blown apart we need to make mental summersaults to find a justification for what is being done in our name, with the money from our taxes, with the mandate of our votes. Contradictions, the struggle within ourselves between what we think, feel and do, kills the human spirit and produces a suffering that cannot be cured by science or money, only by coherence and by treating others the way we would like to be treated.
Only a Miracle could reconcile those in violent conflict!
Miracles do happen, all the time, and when we see one, our vision of the world changes.
The Northern Ireland Peace Process saw some of the most violent archenemies soften up their discourse and sit down at the negotiating table. It was impossible to imagine the IRA guys, or Unionist Reverend Ian Paisley, who was particularly venomous and vitriolic, say civilised words towards their enemy. But they did, eventually, and although the process is long and hard, it is moving ahead.
The first contacts between Mandela’s ANC and the South African Government headed by De Klerk took place in a country Manor in England, where an astute (and to that date never involved in these type of negotiations) Michael Young, a British Gold Mine businessman, created the conditions for whites and blacks to meet as human beings. The film Endgame based on the chapter – written by Young himself – of the book “The last days of Apartheid” describes this truly inspiring process.
The European Humanist Forum of Milan in 2008 dedicated a session to these ‘Miracles’. Situations where people from different sides of a violent divide came together to describe their profoundly experiences of Reconciliation and the actions that followed. A Palestinian father who donated to a Jewish girl the heart of his son killed by an Israeli soldier, so that one day when she grew up she would know a Palestinian heart was beating in her chest, an Israeli mother whose son had been killed by Palestinians opened a hospital for Palestinian children, and we heard of many more examples from different, equally ‘intractable’ conflicts.
There are now people in just about any conflict who decide to row against the current and offer their hand in friendship to the ‘other side’, in fact acknowledging that there are no sides, only people.
World public opinion generally sides with the victim and as Israel has the biggest guns and has been oppressing the Palestinians very rightly many people demand justice. The Palestinian Authority, heirs to the PLO in the West Bank are using international pressure, attempting to achieve recognition by the UN. Even if someone like Tony Blair (Peace envoy?!) has been sent in to twist the PA’s arm, their strategy is impeccable, more and more nonviolent and stronger by the minute. Hamas’ suicidal strategy may well contain a desire to force the West Bank to abandon its commitment to nonviolence in the face of the outrage felt by bearing witness to the carnage. They could stop the carnage if they stopped shooting missiles into Israel, but then all the international community, the outrage, the big political figures (the US, the UN, and yes, the Qataris also went to Cairo for high level talks on a ceasefire), putting pressure on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to get more involved; it would all go away and leave Gaza where it is: Stuck. But whilst so many people around the world justify their right to violent resistance, it is at the same time difficult to sympathise with a strategy that endangers the lives of their own civilian population. Martyrdom may be a good thing for a strong believer but it should be a personal choice.
Which is all working wonderfully well for Benjamin Netanyahu since fear is what changes potentially nice liberal-leaning Israeli voters into paranoid wrecks that just want an iron fist to protect them. “I’m left wing in peace and right wing in war” they tell you. Contradictions all round. Power and violence make strange bedfellows. We must conclude that Hamas and Netanyahu are the best things that happened to one another.
A testing ground for new weapons
Why, if the Palestinians in Gaza are managing to acquire Iranian longer range missiles, in spite of the Israeli blockade – shooting now into Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – we have not seen more victims in the Israeli side? In fact Israel is perfecting the antimissile missile system and the US is extremely interested in having a testing ground, as its own Star Wars has not completely fulfilled its promise. Iron Dome stops some of the missiles, so ‘it works’. All of them? NO. Where else would they find such perfect experimental lab, hundreds of missiles, almost on demand? Except, if they are letting the longer range in to see how the system fairs they may get a few nasty surprises. Would they also call it collateral damage, for people in their own side?
The Iranians are probably also happy to see how their own missiles are doing.
It’s horrible to watch, but what can we do?
The Arab-Jewish Reconciliation process can start in any country, in any place of the world; we must elevate our strongest and most sincere wishes for the end of the conflict. And it does not matter if we believe or not believe that this connection, this moment of Asking for Well Being, Reconciliation and Nonviolence for our people in the Middle East stays in the room or is taken by the airwaves to the hearts of those who need them, because such Askings will also orient our lives towards helping the process of Reconciliation in the world around us. Many people are doing this regularly, join in if you wish to, Inspiration is free!
“There will not be security for Israelis without Freedom for Palestinians”
Watch the Combatants for Peace demo on 17/11/12
A New Spirituality Rising in the Middle East (Silo’s Message)