Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Elik Elhanan, "Another Way for Israel," Informed Comment, January 2007.

This is the message we want to bring to the American Jewish community: Let us try another way. In the eyes of many, the key to this conflict lies in the US. Your support is invaluable just as the lack of it is disastrous. Israel is now refusing to negotiate with Syria, the reason being that Washington wants it so. My question is: What do you want?

For many people in Israel this bleak picture serves to prove that indeed there is no partner and that the formula of land for peace does not work. These attitudes are supported by the political system both in Israel and internationally, and are frequently promoted by the media as undisputable truths. Both societies, the Palestinian and the Israeli, seem to be locking themselves in a violent nationalistic mindset where the needs of the other simply do not exist.

How should one deal with such a situation? The simplest answer would be to play along. The other answer is to confront these false notions, to insist on telling truth to power, to work and expose the contradictions that exist in any black-and-white vision of reality.

Our organization, Combatants for Peace, is trying to do just that. Through our dialogue group, where Israeli and Palestinian former combatants meet regularly, we try to touch the hearts and minds of both societies. We try to help our communities become more aware of the reality of the other side, so that nobody can say "I didn’t know." We want Israelis to comprehend the full scale of the oppression inherent to the Israeli occupation, and we want the Palestinians to know that behind the occupation there are humans, who are also suffering. We want both sides to understand the price of violence. Our message is simple: Peace is possible. The only way to reach peace is through dialogue and negotiations, and the only solution is a two state solution -- an end the occupation, in keeping with UN resolutions.

People frequently respond to us as if we were detached from reality, yet nothing could be farther from the truth. Our Palestinian members were all active in violent opposition to the occupation, serving long prison terms for their activities; the Israelis among us all served many years as combat soldiers on the conflict's front lines. We know the lay of the land, and we know the reality. We know the price we’ll have to pay for peace, and we’ve learned with our very flesh that the price of war is a hundred times greater. We live among our peoples and we see and suffer the consequences of this conflict.

People often say "but you're just a few good people. The majority feels differently." But this is not the case. First of all, we’re not good people. Indeed, until not long ago, we were very bad. As soldiers we killed and maimed, we bombed and tortured. Our Palestinian counterparts stabbed, and shot and planted bombs, killing and maiming as they went.

But we’ve changed. We understood that power has limits and that violence can only lead to more violence; that non-violence is better, as both a tactic and as way of life. Like us there are many more "bad" people who might change, who will change, if they’re given just a bit of hope.

In some cases our members are even treated as traitors. But we have all proven our merits in long years of service. Though we're presented as radicals, we don't contest the national values of our respective peoples; on the contrary, we struggle for them. We don't contest the right of Israel to exist in security and prosperity; nor do we contest the right of the Palestinians to resist the occupation and achieve their own state. We question only the methods that have been employed to achieve these goals in the past. These methods were not only ineffective, they were wrong.. Israel is not safe, Palestine is not free, and only the cemeteries are flourishing. Let us try another way.

It is very easy not to believe in peace. The chances of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian agreement in the near future seem slimmer than ever. The mistaken perception that Israel has “no partner” and that “we gave everything and got nothing” is still widely held. The radical elements currently in play in both political systems, Hamas on one hand and right-wing Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman on the other, combined with the violence between Israel and the Palestinians, between the Palestinian factions, and between Israel and its neighbors can make the search for peace seem at the very least misguided.

Elik Elhanan
Combatants for Peace via The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

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