Patience

Peace is a process which takes time, a great deal of time, and patience.

I believe it was Adam Curle who said that the process of reconciliation after a violent conflict takes at least as many years as the build up to the fighting. According to that reckoning, reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis will take well over 100 years. And the process of reconciliation cannot really begin properly until there is a just settlement of the conflict, i.e. an end to the occupation of Palestine.

Those of us who seek peace between Palestinians and Israelis – and that surely includes most Palestinians and Israelis themselves – need a great deal of patience. It is hardly surprising that young Palestinians are losing their patience as Israel continues to demolish Palestinian homes and takes the provocative step of closing the Al-Aqsa mosque for a day. Palestinian youths throwing stones and Molotov cocktails are met with rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas. More fatalities are likely.

There is an urgent need for new negotiations which will lead to a just and lasting solution to the conflict. The international community needs to insist on an immediate end to the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law. And there should be an embargo on all arms sales to Israel. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much prospect of that at the moment.

However, more and more countries, now including Sweden, are recognising Palestine as a state. The British government should follow suit, especially after the recent vote in parliament calling for recognition of the state of Palestine. If you live in Britain, you could check out how your MP voted and, according to how they voted, thank them or politely point out the error of their ways.

Quakers here in Brussels are collecting money for kindergartens in Gaza which have been supported by Norwegian Friends for many years. In Britain and Ireland, Quaker Peace & Social Witness, based in London, administers the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) on behalf of the World Council of Churches.

There are things which we can do as individual Quakers and as Quaker meetings. But ultimately we have no control over events in the Middle East. We can only do what we can to sow the seeds of peace and justice and wait for them to grow and bear fruit.

Much patience is called for. Working nonviolently for peace and justice requires a great deal of patience. Indeed, in Latin America peace activists, instead of using the term “nonviolence” or “nonviolent action”, talk about “relentless persistence”.

Patience and relentless persistence are required in personal relationships as well. We need to persist in loving one another, both our nearest and dearest and those who seem to be working against us, until we discover, as Thomas Merton did, that “it is the reality of personal relationships which saves everything”.

This statement is the conclusion of Thomas Merton’s “Letter to a young activist”, which I quoted in my blogpost on “Joy”, published on 21 June. As a footnote to that blogpost I also gave the text of a letter from Isaac Penington to Friends (Quakers) in Amersham, written in 1667. In that letter he tells us: “Watch one over another, in that which is gentle and tender, and knows it can neither preserve itself, nor help another out of the snare; but the Lord must be waited upon, to do this in and for us all.

I’m reminded of a dream which I had quite a few years ago now, at a time when I was suffering from depression. In my dream, I was in a meadow at the bottom of the grounds of a large stately home or castle somewhere in Scotland. I found myself sinking into a bog. I was floundering and beginning to panic. A woman appeared and tried to pull me out, but that didn’t work and she was in danger of being pulled into the bog herself. I then heard someone telling me to stretch my legs down until I felt firm ground beneath my feet. So I stretched my legs down and, lo-and-behold, found firm ground. I was then able to walk out of the bog.

God provides the firm foundation, on which we can stand. No-one else can pull us out of the snare. “The Lord must be waited upon, to do this in and for us all.”

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“Peace!” “Peace!” But there is no peace.

The streets in the centre of Ramallah are crowded and bustling. Cars make slow headway because of all the people in the road. There’s no question of striding out, if you want to walk anywhere. That didn’t matter to me too much when I went shopping this afternoon. I didn’t really have a particular destination. I was just looking for a shop that sold fresh milk. I found a couple of shops that had long-life milk and bought yoghurt and eggs in one of them. I then found a shop selling fresh milk, but it was from Israel and I prefer to support local, i.e. Palestinian, producers. Fortunately I spotted Palestinian fresh milk a little further along the shelf. Mission accomplished! I now have milk for my tea again.

Living here in Ramallah, one might imagine that this land is at peace. But one only has to read the right news sources to realise that there are so many human rights abuses going on daily that the situation cannot be described as “peaceful” by any stretch of the imagination. People have their land confiscated, their houses demolished, their olive groves vandalised. They face lengthy delays and harassment at checkpoints, if they have to go to work in Jerusalem or elsewhere in Israel. Many people are not allowed to leave the West Bank or Gaza at all. This quite often results in families being separated. Hundreds of young men are languishing in administrative detention, i.e. detention without trial, in Israeli jails. Now and then a demonstrator is killed by a “rubber” bullet or dies from injuries sustained three or four years ago.

Three news items have struck me especially today.

Most shocking, perhaps, is the news that the municipal authority of Jerusalem, which rules over occupied East Jerusalem as if it were part of Israel, has posted demolition warrants on 200 apartment blocks in two Palestinian neighbourhoods. The owners of the buildings have 30 days in which to register their objections. If the apartment blocks are eventually demolished, more than 15,000 Palestinians will be made homeless.

Meanwhile, the construction of houses continues apace in Israeli West Bank settlements, which are illegal under international law. One wonders whether the Israeli government is intentionally trying to sabotage the current peace talks with the Palestinians.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is not going out of his way to make a two-state solution viable. On Sunday he announced that once “security fences” have been constructed along the borders with Egypt and Syria, a “security fence” will be built along the border between Jordan and the West Bank. He is reviving plans that were scrapped ten years ago because of international pressure. He claims that Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley need to be protected from Syrian refugees across the border in Jordan. Israel clearly intends to maintain control of the border between the West Bank and Jordan, so that any Palestinian state would not have control of its own borders.

At present the Palestinian Authority (PA) really only has control over Area A, five separate “cantons” in the West Bank, which Palestinians describe as “Bantustans”. The PA is responsible for the administration of Area B, villages and agricultural land around the major towns, but Israel has control of security. From time to time the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) carries out military training exercises in Area B. This may involve “simulating” the taking over of a village. Amidst gunfire and shelling the village is overrun by soldiers, who have no regard for the local inhabitants. It has even been known for soldiers to burst in and take over a house, causing great distress to the people living there. Several villages south of Nablus have been warned that such exercises will take place on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of next week.

Jean Zaru, presiding clerk of the Quaker Meeting in Ramallah, writes in her book, “Occupied with Nonviolence”: “The Oslo Accords presented the world with misleading images of peace and we were left with a difficult and hard reality on the ground. The international media referred to the Accords as historic because they brought peace and reconciliation. I often quote the words of the prophet Ezekiel who speaks of false prophets, ‘Because they misled my people, saying, “Peace”, when there is no peace’ (Ezekiel 13:10).”

Amos Gvirtz: man of passion and compassion

Yesterday (Monday 28 October) was the last full day of the Quaker Voluntary Action project which has taken 12 of us to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nablus, Jericho, Tel Aviv and neighbouring villages. We met for several hours during the afternoon and evening with Amos Gvirtz in his home on the kibbutz in which he has spent all his life.

Amos Gvirtz is a nonviolent peace activist and a passionate proponent of justice for the Palestinians throughout Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He had a lot to tell us. Before the war of 1948 Jews formed 10% of the population and owned 1% of the land. During that war most of the Palestinians were driven out of what is now Israel, so that now Jews make up 80% of the population and own 97% of the land. Whilst Israelis call the war in 1948 the “War of Independence”, Palestinians refer to it as the “Naqba” or “Catastrophe”.

Since 1967 Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) have grown inexorably. The policy of the Israeli government is de facto annexation of Area C, which comprises 54% of the West Bank. Palestinians who own land in Area C or in East Jerusalem have their land confiscated. Many Palestinian families have had their homes demolished. And Israel is taking 80% of the water in the West Bank. Palestinians experience these violations of their human rights as a war of a military power against defenceless civilians.

The population of Israeli settlers in the West bank has grown from 110,000 in 1993 to 204,000 in 2000 and 320,000 in 2013.

As land confiscations and house demolitions continue, there is a “war process”, no real “peace process”.  If Israel were serious about wanting peace, they would stop the demolition of Palestinian homes and the continuing construction of settlements. “On the ground, the one-sided war against the Palestinians is continuing.”

If Israel were “persuaded” by the international community to agree to a two-state solution and settlements had to be evacuated, the settlers would not go quietly. Would the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) remove them forcibly? Amos thinks that such a scenario would lead to a civil war.

The Palestinians have to choose between violent resistance and nonviolent struggle. If they choose violence, Israel will always win because Israel has overwhelming military power. Violent acts by Palestinians are used by the Israeli government to justify the continuing repression of the Palestinians in the name of security. Nonviolent action on the other hand would mean that Israelis would no longer fear for their lives and could no longer justify abuse of the human rights of Palestinians.

Israelis can take nonviolent action through conscientious objection to military service or to serving in the Occupied Territories. And they can refuse to buy products from the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The international community can engage in boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS). Amos agreed that a boycott of settlement products would hurt Palestinians working in the settlements. This demonstrates the willingness of Palestinians to suffer themselves in the struggle for justice rather than inflict suffering on their enemies, the Israelis. There needs to be an escalation of nonviolence on all sides of the conflict. Israelis should be taking part in this nonviolent struggle.

Amos was most passionate when talking about the plight of the Bedouin in the Negev, the southern part of Israel. About 1,000 houses are being destroyed each year by the Israelis in order to force the Bedouin out of about 45 “unrecognised” villages into two densely populated towns. Many acres of crops such as wheat and barley have been destroyed. The highest rates of unemployment and poverty in Israel are to be found in the two “concentration towns”. Amos describes the action against the Bedouin as an act of war. There has, however, been very little publicity. Israel is failing in its responsibility to protect its own citizens, but the international community seems to be turning a blind eye. More people need to visit the Bedouin and demonstrate their solidarity and support.