Toward a Nonviolent Resolution of the Israel-Palestine Conflict
by Julia Chaitin
Once again we find ourselves in the all-too-familiar nightmare. Rocket attacks follow rocket attacks, air strikes follow Grad attacks, which follow more air strikes, more Kassam rockets and more air strikes. The scenario is intimately known and the outcome is tears and fears on both sides. It is past time a responsible adult step in and put an end to this unnecessary conflict.
Here in the Western Negev, we have known 10 years of rocket attacks, snipers and attempted terrorist infiltrations. We go to sleep wondering if we will be woken up by the familiar rocket alert, if we will be instructed by the IDF to remain in secure rooms (which many of us do not have), or begin our morning with terrifying booms and close encounters with exploding metal and glass. We jump when we hear a sound that approximates an alert; we dread driving on roads that put us in direct danger.
Many regret living here, and exposing ourselves and our families to a life that knows no safety. The Western Negev has been redefined, at least in regard to rocket attacks. The mortar shells, Kassams and Grad rockets reach communities on the border, those within a 20-km. radius, and those further to the east (Beersheba) and north (Ashdod, Yavne, soon Tel Aviv?).
In Gaza, my friends there tell me they and their families are psychologically drained and their lives and homes physically destroyed by the near constant air attacks, the seemingly never-ending blockade and the physical isolation from the rest of the world. Israel bombs them and shoots at them; the Hamas government terrorizes them and denies them their most basic freedoms and the Egyptians close the borders, erect a wall and ignore their cries for help.
Connections to the outside world are limited and unreliable. For a few hours each day, depending on the restricted supply of electricity and phone service, it is possible to connect to others via email, Facebook and Twitter and cellphones. This is not the human connection that we, outside this small strip of land, need or take for granted. It is a faceless connection, devoid of opportunities to physically meet one another, to shake hands, to smile at one another. For a few hours each day, Gazans are allowed to electronically connect to the rest of humankind.
This is no life for them or us.
I am looking for the parent-leader who understands that punishment only leads to despair, sadness, fear, anger and a learned helplessness. I search for the responsible adult who understands that enough is enough, and who is clever enough to understand that if the endless cycle of attacks and responses has not succeeded in solving the problem, we need to engage in different types of behavior.
I call upon my people to demand that we be put up for adoption, so to speak, so that we can gain worthy “parents” such as Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk, who became responsible leaders for the South African peoples, or Gerry Adams and David Trimble from Northern Ireland, who finally understood that their peoples did not deserve lives of suffering and injustice.
These leaders were far from perfect. At times, they let their people down, and the South African and Northern Irish “families” are still working on the creation of a healthier and safer reality — a process that will take years. But these leaders admitted that their parenting skills needed sharp adjustment. They did not continue to expose their peoples to unnecessary trauma, death and injury. They realized, as our governments do not, that it is unconscionable to play loosely with our lives, and with the lives of our children.
As part of the family of humankind, I demand the basic rights to life, liberty and security of person.
If our leaders cannot, or will not, provide our most basic needs, then we need to disinherit ourselves. We need to become responsible adults, and take concerted steps toward finding good-enough leaders who truly care for their charges.
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An example: Two weeks ago, during intense rocket fire from Gaza on southern Israel and Israeli military attacks in Gaza, we — members of Other Voice, who live and work in the area directly under rocket fire — tried to hold a protest vigil at the Yad Mordechai Junction, three kilometers from the Erez Checkpoint into Gaza. Our call: “Enough of this cycle of violence — the time has come to talk to the Hamas.” We sent out flyers by email to thousands of people. We opened up an event on Facebook. We bought poster boards and borrowed a megaphone.
Because of the increased violence, the police refused to give us a permit. We sent emails to thousands of people announcing the cancellation of the vigil. We closed the event on Facebook. The poster boards remained blank, without slogans. The megaphone was quiet.
This week, marked by numerous signs that the Israeli government and army are planning a large military action in Gaza, and by Judge Goldstone’s article in the Washington Post, in which he expressed regrets about his original report about the Gaza war, we began organizing a new protest vigil to be held at the Yad Mordechai junction. This time we came out with a direct call: “No to Operation Cast Lead #2.” We sent out emails with the revised flyer to thousands of people. We opened up a new event on Facebook. We took the poster boards out of their box. We arranged to borrow a new megaphone.
Because of the renewed violence in the area, after we (Israel) killed three of their Hamas members and they (Hamas) critically wounded a 16-year-old boy when they tried to kill children on a school bus, the police informed us that we could not hold the vigil. Again, we sent mails to thousands of people announcing the cancellation of the vigil. We closed the event on Facebook. The poster boards were already full of dust from lying around. And the megaphone remained quiet.
Our army and their Hamas are destroying us, Israelis and Gazans. Our army and their Hamas think that if they shoot more and more and more and more, destroy life, frighten people and take away our rights to a normal life, we will remain quiet. Perhaps they can keep us from holding a vigil, but they cannot silence our voices.
There is a solution to this conflict, and it isn’t a military option. Neither ours nor theirs. The first step is to negotiate a ceasefire. The longer term solution is for our leaders to talk to one another (yes for the Israeli and Hamas leaders to talk to one another), and to reach a formal agreement that provides basic justice, rights and safety for all peoples, on both sides of the border.
This isn’t a new solution; it isn’t a creative solution. It isn’t even a solution that is new to the two sides. But our ‘leaders’ refuse to do the right thing. The Hamas and Israeli governments and armies refuse to adopt the only real solution.
The voices of war are indeed thunderous. The planes and helicopters and tanks and mortars and Qassams and Grad rockets make a horrific noise. And they cause unbearable damage. But our voice is stronger, and in the end, it will prevail. While they are busy destroying and killing, we are focused on lives of dignity. We will win in the end.
Perhaps it will take some more time before we are allowed to hold a peace vigil at the Yad Mordechai Junction. Perhaps we will need to buy new, clean poster boards. But with or without a megaphone, we will continue to raise our voices in Israel, in Gaza, and in the world.
Julia Chaitin, Ph.D., is a social psychologist who specializes in peacebuilding. She is a senior lecturer in the Department of Social Work at Sapir College, and a member of Other Voice — a grassroots organization from the Sderot area that seeks a nonviolent end to the Gaza-Israel conflict. The first part of this article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post, and is reprinted here by permission of the author; the second part was supplied by PeaceVoice.