Earlier this evening a close friend sent me these comments:
“Thank you for recording your observations, thoughts, insights. As an outsider, I find the situation in Israel/Palestine truly tragic. The picture you have drawn has done nothing, I’m afraid, to make me feel more hopeful about the future and makes me even more convinced of the basic evil of the Israeli policies. I’m grateful to you for the regular reminders in the midst of this of the core values that must be present if there is ever to be a way out of this.
“I dare say that you will never be the same after this sojourn.
“I was glad to see that you had visited Amos Gvirtz. He really is an inspiration. … Jean Zaru and Kathy Bergen are also known figures to me. Thank goodness there are such people, and the many others you have mentioned, in the midst of this apparent madness.”
I met Jean Zaru today at long last. Our paths haven’t crossed before now, although we have both been involved in the Friends World Committee for Consultation (the network of Quakers around the world), and in the World Council of Churches. Whilst Jean served on the Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches, I have only attended the WCC Assembly in Harare in 1998 and the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Kingston, Jamaica, a couple of years ago.
We are both ecumenically-minded Quakers with a commitment to working for justice and peace through active nonviolence. So we share fundamental core values. But there the comparison ends. I am a white anglo-saxon male and have lived pretty much all my life in northwest Europe. Jean is a Palestinian woman living in Palestine.
It is one thing to talk and write about peace, justice, and nonviolence whilst sitting at home or in an office in Evesham or Brussels. It is quite another thing to practise active nonviolence whilst living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
If I get upset about the local college hosting an Armed Forces Day event, I can go along to the event and distribute an open letter to the principal of the college, without fear of being arrested or punished. Jean has done nothing as provocative as that, nor committed any crime, but she cannot travel to Jerusalem, which is little more than ten miles away, without a permit. Although she is due to speak at the Sabeel conference this coming week, she has been refused a permit and has had to put in a second application. If she succeeds in obtaining a permit, she will still face questioning at the checkpoint at Qalandia.
If Jean wants to visit her children and grandchildren in the USA, she cannot travel via Tel Aviv. She has to make an arduous and stressful journey to Amman and fly from there.
Jean is fortunate compared with many of her compatriots. Many young Palestinian men are sitting in administrative detention in Israeli jails. Palestinian families in East Jerusalem and in Area C in the West Bank risk having their homes demolished. Bedouin families are being forcibly removed from their villages and put into “concentration towns” in the Negev. Palestinian farmers are subjected to harassment and are sometimes attacked by Israeli settlers who are rarely brought to justice. When boys throw stones, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) respond with tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets.
Part of the madness is the damage done by the occupation to the Palestinian economy. This has been quantified in a recent World Bank report. If the Palestinian economy were allowed to thrive, the Israeli economy would flourish as well.
Israelis as well as Palestinians would benefit economically as well as enjoying greater security, if there were a just peace agreement, bringing an end to the occupation, and recognising the rights of both Palestinians and Israelis. How long must we wait until the majority of Israelis wake up to this and demand that their government agree a fair peace deal? How long will the Palestinians have to suffer under occupation?
How long can the international community acquiesce in Israeli oppression of the Palestinians? Not long, if more and more of us demonstrate our solidarity with the Palestinians who are suffering under occupation and the Israelis who would also benefit from a just peace.
Meanwhile, we should thank God for all those people, Palestinians such as Jean Zaru, and Israelis such as Amos Gvirtz, who are maintaining core values in the midst of this madness.