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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The plight of non-Jewish communities in Palestine

It’s cold here in Ramallah. It snowed last night. It was still snowing when I got up this morning. But it was wet snow. And by the time I set off to go to Jerusalem it had turned to rain.

Nevertheless, when I arrived at the bus station, there were no buses. A taxi driver offered to take me to the checkpoint at Qalandia for 50 Shekels. I knew this was extortionate, so I turned down the offer. He called me back and went down to 40 Shekels and then to 30 Shekels. I suggested 25 Shekels, but was persuaded to agree to pay 30 Shekels. I probably needn’t have paid more than 25 Shekels, but I don’t like arguing.

The checkpoint was very quiet, just a few men who were probably going to work in spite of the weather. We were soon allowed through the barrier and the security check. The soldier gave my passport a very cursory glance and waved me on. On other occasions my passport has been studied very carefully as I held it up against the glass pane separating the Israeli soldiers from those of us passing through the checkpoint.

A Palestinian who was leaving the checkpoint along with me, asked where I came from. “England”, I said. He complained that the Israelis treat him and his fellow Palestinians like animals. In fact they probably treat animals better, he said. Then, referring no doubt to the Balfour Declaration, he complained about us British giving their (the Palestinians’) land to the Israelis.

The Israeli government seems to have forgotten or, more likely, simply ignored the clause in the Balfour Declaration which states “ it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

In 1948 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and became refugees. In 1967 during the Six Day War many more refugees were created. And the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights were occupied by Israel.

Since then many Palestinians have lost their land where Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law, have been built. Some of their land, especially in the Jordan Valley, is now farmed by Israeli enterprises which export most of their produce, mainly dates, to Europe. And some of their land has been designated as military zones which may be used for training.

There was some good news today, though. The Prawer Plan, which entails the removal of 30,000 to 40,000 Bedouin from 35 villages in the Negev, has been withdrawn from the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. An ostensible reason for the withdrawal is that one of the two authors of the plan told the Knesset that, contrary to what some government ministers were saying, he had not consulted the Bedouin when drawing up the plan.

The vast majority of the Bedouin have made it very clear that they do not wish to have their land taken away from them and their semi-nomadic way of life destroyed. If the Israeli government were serious about consulting the Bedouin, they would know that they want their existing villages to be provided with the same services and infrastructure that Jewish communities are provided with: water, electricity, sewerage, and schools.

The Israeli government encourages and supports the establishment and expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. These settlements are effectively stealing not only Palestinian land, but also Palestinian water. The village of Auja, which I visited with Quaker Voluntary Action a few weeks ago, has suffered especially. Most of the villagers used to work on the land, but the nearby springs have dried up due to Israeli extraction of the water. So the villagers are now unemployed or have to find work in the Israeli plantations where water is plentiful. The “miracle” of making the desert bloom is performed using stolen water.

Benjamin Netanyahu is apparently insisting that Israeli soldiers be stationed in the Jordan Valley for ten years, if a two-state solution is implemented. I wonder whether he would agree to Palestinian soldiers being stationed in the Negev to protect the Bedouin? I guess not, because he wants any Palestinian state to be demilitarised (apart from the stationing of Israeli troops).

I’m all for states being demilitarised. Israel could begin the process by dismantling and disposing of its nuclear weapons.

Settlers and refugees

The milk that I buy in the small supermarket round the corner turns out to be a “Product of Palestine”, as I had hoped. It comes from the Al-Jebrini Dairy Co. of Hebron. So I guess they must have dairy cattle down in the south of the West Bank. I’ll look out for them when I go to Hebron on Saturday.

One of the “attractions” for anyone who wants to see the occupation of the Palestinian territories at first hand is the “settler tour”, which takes place in Hebron each Saturday during the Jewish Sabbath or “Shabbat”. I have yet to witness this ritual, but I’m told that both Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers take part in it.

The venue is the Palestinian market in the centre of Hebron. The soldiers enter first, around 3 p.m., making way for the settlers, who then wreak havoc by turning over the market stalls, scattering produce everywhere. They cause considerable damage, but I don’t suppose anyone compensates the stall holders.

I’m keen to see as much as I can, whilst I’m here in Palestine/Israel, and to talk to lots of different people. Yesterday I went to meet with two women, both of them mothers, in an Israeli West Bank settlement not far from Jerusalem. This morning I visited a small refugee camp just south of Ramallah.

These are two different worlds. But both of them are inhabited by mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. And, so far as I could gather, most people in both the settlement and the refugee camp just want their children and grandchildren to be able to live in peace.

Both the women in the settlement made it clear to me that, if it would bring about peace, they would be prepared to move out of the settlement and find somewhere to live with their families within the 1967 borders of Israel, in spite of having made the settlement their home around 20 years ago.

The three of us agreed that it would need a miracle for the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to agree to a two-state solution to the conflict. Both mothers would accept a one-state solution, so long as the state were Jewish.

I tried to ascertain what it is that would make a state Jewish. High standards of education, health care and social welfare provision were clearly important to both women. But all that could be equally well provided in an Arab state, in my opinion. A Jewish state would be democratic with every citizen having the right to vote. In my opinion, an Arab state could be equally democratic. (I accept, though, that in practice Arab states tend not to be democratic according to our Western understanding of democracy.)

What it seemed to boil down to in the end is this: A Jewish state would have the (military) means with which to defend itself and Jews would be in control of defence and security.

It seems that the average Jewish Israeli citizen wants to be sure that the Israel Defence Forces can keep any enemies at bay and that Israel’s borders can be made secure against the infiltration of terrorists.

One of my favourite songs is a Taizé chant: “Nie par puissance, nie par force, mais par l’esprit du Seigneur.” (Not by power, nor by might, but by the spirit of the Lord.) I’m afraid I can’t quote chapter and verse. But many of the Old Testament prophets said much the same thing: Don’t put your faith in horses and chariots. Put your faith in the Lord your God.

Peace and security cannot be assured by force of arms. Peace will reign when we put our faith in the God of love, who leads us to do justice.

Peace will not be possible in Israel/Palestine until the refugees who were driven out of their villages in 1948 and 1967 are compensated in some way, so that they can escape the overcrowding and poverty of the refugee camps. There is no realistic prospect of them returning to the villages that they came from. Many of these villages have been destroyed. But their “right of return” needs to be recognised and they need to be compensated for the failure to fulfil that right.

Where is the Palestinian Mandela?

It has been reported that a 14-year-old Palestinian boy, Wajih Wajdi al-Ramahi, was shot dead yesterday by an Israeli sniper whilst walking near his school in Jalazun, a refugee camp north of Ramallah.

The boy’s father said that he was shot by an Israeli soldier from a watchtower in nearby Bet El. “He was hit directly in the back, and there were no clashes in the area.”

“Clashes” usually take the form of stone-throwing by Palestinian youths, which is met with tear-gas and rubber-coated steel bullets by the Israel Defence Forces. Perhaps the boy had been involved in “clashes” in the recent past and was singled out by the sniper. His father said that “Israeli soldiers target youths and kill them, in order to amuse themselves”.

Perhaps the soldier who killed Wajih Wajdi al-Ramahi wanted to avenge the death of an Israeli soldier who was stabbed by a Palestinian whilst sleeping on a bus a week or so ago.

Will Wajih Wajdi’s brothers now seek revenge? It is unlikely that anyone will be tried for his murder. Israeli soldiers literally get away with murder, as we have seen in the case of a young Palestinian who was shot dead with a tear-gas canister at very close range two years ago. The soldier who fired the tear-gas canister out of the back of a vehicle claimed that he couldn’t see the young man and has recently been acquitted in court.

I can’t condone Palestinian relatives of murder victims taking revenge on Israeli soldiers, who are mostly young conscripts. But it is understandable that they should want to do so. It is perhaps also understandable that young Israelis should want to avenge the death of a comrade.

So where will it all end? Jesus said, as he was being arrested, that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. I think it was Gandhi who said that “an eye for an eye” and “a tooth for a tooth” would leave everyone blind and toothless.

Jesus had the answer. He advised his listeners, who were suffering under the Roman occupation, to turn the other cheek, to go an extra mile, and to give their shirt as well, when their coat was taken from them.

Walter Wink has explained how each of these actions would have been a form of nonviolent resistance. Roman legionaries, for example, were allowed to force a local peasant to carry their pack for one mile only. If the peasant were to continue to carry the pack for more than a mile, the soldier could get into trouble. I can imagine a soldier pleading with a peasant to give him his pack back. The soldier might begin to question whether it is right and just for him to demand that a peasant carry his pack in the first place. He might even begin to question the legitimacy of the occupation.

Until the time of Constantine Christians were forbidden to serve in the army. If a soldier became a Christian, he had to leave the army. The three historic peace churches (Mennonites, Quakers, and the Church of the Brethren) all sought to revive the discipleship of the early Christian Church. They all promote active nonviolence as the way to overcome injustice and oppression.

In Palestine today it isn’t only Christians who are advocating nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation. Muslims are advocating this too.

Sometimes people ask: Where is the Palestinian Mandela? Well, maybe there are thousands of Palestinian Mandelas. Most of them are probably in Israeli jails. And some of them have been shot dead by Israeli soldiers.

A problem to every solution

During the “Troubles” Denis Barritt wrote a book entitled “Northern Ireland: a problem to every solution”. This seems to apply equally well to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A two-state solution is problematic, because a substantial number of Israeli “settlers” would have to leave their homes, Israel fears a loss of security if it does not control the border between Palestine and Jordan, and the rights of Palestinians within Israel may not be guaranteed. There is also a problem in that, although there are rather more Palestinians than Jews living in Palestine/Israel, the Palestinian state would be in possession of much less than half of the land.

A one-state solution would be seriously problematic from a Jewish point of view, because Palestinians would be in a majority. This would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. This may be desirable from the point of view of many Palestinians (and some secular Jews). But it is anathema to most Jews and certainly to the government of Israel.

How about a three-state solution, i.e. two states within a state? No doubt there would be all sorts of problems associated with that as well.

It shouldn’t be necessary to point out that a continuation of the status quo would not be a solution at all. The on-going occupation of the Palestinian territories is taking a heavy toll on the Palestinians, especially in Gaza. Israelis are suffering as well.

According to what I’ve read, there is a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians in favour of a two-state solution. But if by some miracle both Israel and Palestine agree to a two-state peace settlement, both governments will face considerable opposition within their own camps.

Zionist Jews are convinced that they are called by God to establish Jewish sovereignty over the whole of the Land of Israel. It is no good talking to them about the human rights of Palestinians, because such rights are irrelevant so far as they are concerned. The security of Jews and the Jewish state, eventually covering the whole of the Land of Israel, is paramount.

There are probably relatively few Jews who take quite such an extreme position. I believe most would wish for the rights of Palestinians to be respected as far as possible. Unfortunately a significant number of ministers in the coalition government seem to be bent on extending Israeli control over the West Bank. And they seem to care little that they are sabotaging a two-state solution.

On the Palestinian side I hear a growing number of people saying that there should be a single secular democratic state covering Palestine. Their arguments are persuasive. They say that any Jewish state is by definition racist. Racism and apartheid should not be tolerated in Palestine/Israel any more than it was in South Africa.

Whilst many, perhaps most, Palestinians would be happy in a single secular democratic state covering the whole of Palestine/Israel, Jews would not be. They would be very fearful. They would at the very least lose the privileges that they currently enjoy both as a result of racial discrimination within Israel and as a result of the occupation of the West Bank.

I think most Jews would only be content in a state in which they are in a majority. They need to feel that they have control over their own destiny. Would such a state be sufficiently “Jewish”, if all the citizens, regardless of race or religion, had equal rights? This seems to me to be a key question. If it is answered in the affirmative, I see no reason why such a state should not be acceptable to both Jews and Palestinians.

One problem which has to be addressed in any peace settlement is the right to return of Palestinian refugees. According to BADIL, the Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, “Out of 11.2 million Palestinians worldwide, 7.4 million (66%) are displaced.”

Tens of thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes in 1948 and 1967. They and their descendants are still living as refugees. Not all of them would want to return to their ancestral homeland. But any peace settlement has to address their right to return. They should, at the very least, be given some form of compensation which will enable them to escape the poverty and overcrowding of the refugee camps.

Shabbat Chanukah

Chanukah is an eight-day Jewish festival also known as the Festival of Lights. This year it coincided with the first Sunday in Advent and also with Thanksgiving. I enjoyed the pleasure and the privilege of sharing in the celebration of Shabbath Chanukah, the Jewish Sabbath during Chanukah, with a Jewish family in the settlement of Efrat. The small town extends for a couple of miles along the west-facing side of a long ridge southwest of Bethlehem in the West Bank.

I am, of course, well aware that Israeli settlements, such as Efrat, which lie within the Occupied Palestinian Territories, are illegal under international law. Nevertheless, I make no apology for accepting the hospitality of a Jewish family in their modest apartment in the middle of Efrat. I am keen to hear as many different voices as I can on all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

These people are not evil, any more than my Palestinian friends are. The mother of the family agreed with me that everyone should be treated with respect. The father of the family sometimes exchanges friendly greetings with Palestinians whom he encounters on his early morning runs in the valley below the settlement. I can’t imagine that either of them would condone unprovoked attacks on Palestinian farmers.

Both mother and father were born and grew up in the United States. They came to Israel with two young children 17 years ago. Two more children were born and the oldest daughter is now married, so the family now consists of mother, father and the three younger children, two girls and a boy.

I had a little difficulty finding my way to their apartment because I only had an incorrect phone number and no address. I knew that I had to get off the bus from Jerusalem at Dekel commercial centre, but we had gone well past it when the bus driver remembered that I wanted to get off there. Fortunately I had no difficulty hitching a lift back to Dekel. But I then discovered that the phone number that I had was wrong.

There were quite a few people around and I approached a man who looked as if he might be able to help. He didn’t recognise the family name, but had a very clever phone (it might have been an i-pad or some such gadget) that told him the address that I wanted: just across the road and down the hill a little way.

Father and son opened the door to me. After a moment’s surprise, because I hadn’t rung them to announce my arrival in Efrat, they welcomed me in. I was soon offered a cup of tea, which is just what an Englishman needs, and fell into conversation with the son of the family.

Mother arrived fairly soon and we discovered a shared interest in history. Our conversations – in between the lighting of candles, meals, synagogue visits, conversations with other members of the family, and spending time working on a jigsaw with her son – ranged over episodes in Jewish history and church history. She was particularly interested to hear about the “church struggle” (Kirchenkampf) in Nazi Germany and about Meister Eckhart. We got to talking about mindfulness and Thich Nhat Hanh.

She has taught yoga in a women’s centre in the Bedouin town of Rahat in the Negev, but the centre has been burnt down six times. She has been persuaded that the Bedouins need government help to enable them to leave traditional patriarchal structures (e.g. polygamy) behind and enjoy the benefits of modern society (e.g. proper sewerage). I agreed that there are problems that need to be addressed, but I said that demolishing people’s homes and confiscating their land is not an acceptable solution. She seemed to think that I had a point and said that she would find out more about the Prawer Plan.

On both Friday evening and Saturday evening, shortly before I left, we lit candles in several Menorah. Each Menorah can hold nine candles. One main candle, either the central one or the first or last one, is raised above the others. Only this one candle is supposed to be used for reading or other activities. Over the eight nights and days of Chanukah one more candle is lit each evening, one on the first evening, two on the second evening, etc.

So on Friday evening, the three children and I each had our own small Menorah on a table by a window. We each lit the main candle and three more candles. Then father and mother lit the same number of candles on a full-size Menorah which they had placed outside the door to their apartment.

May light radiate throughout the world and into the darkest corners of our hearts during this wintertime.

A paranoid state

The state of Israel is not evil, although it does evil things. But it does seem to be paranoid.

This is perhaps understandable, given the experience of the Holocaust, the belligerence of neighbouring states, and the hostility of many Palestinians. Israel fought off belligerent neighbours in 1948, 1967 and 1973. Israelis have been subjected to suicide bomb attacks and rocket attacks in more recent years. And only a week or two ago an Israeli soldier was stabbed to death by a young Palestinian whilst he was asleep on a bus.

Most Israelis are so fearful that, whatever happens, they want to live in a state with a Jewish majority, which is able to defend itself against outside aggression. The religious fanatics who want to establish a Jewish state across the whole of the Land of Israel are, thankfully, in a minority, although they have considerable political influence.

Most Israelis want a two-state solution, because Jews would be in a minority in a single state. They want to be in a majority in their own state, so that they can be in control of their own destiny.

A two-state solution may yet come about through negotiation. But it seems more likely to me that when peace talks fail a two-state solution will be imposed by Israel.

There’s an interesting article in today’s English language edition of Haaretz, entitled “The time to prepare for evacuation of the West Bank is now”. The author is Gilead Sher, a former chief-of-staff of Ehud Barak, when he was prime minister. Gilead Sher is now a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies and co-chairman of Blue-White Future, an Israeli organisation which is pushing for the creation of separate Israeli and Palestinian states.

He writes: “Any border that is drawn between us and the Palestinians, whether arrived at by agreement, as a result of negotiations or set independently by Israel, will require the evacuation of settlements inhabited by tens of thousands of people, while retaining the large enclaves where most of the settlers live. …

“It is likely that the current round of talks, and maybe more rounds of talks in the future, will not result in an agreement that anchors the national interests of Israel, which will have to take measures on its own to draw the border and promote the two-state solution, in coordination with the United States.

“We must absorb these settlers who will be returning to Israel’s borders, whether they are determined by an agreement or the lack of one. We must prepare for the eventuality that the army will remain in places we evacuate and in the Jordan Valley until responsibility for security passes to an entity that is acceptable to us.”

So Palestinians in the West Bank can expect to be confined within a nominally independent state inside borders which have been drawn by Israel and over which Israel continues to maintain control. They might not be much better off than Palestinians in Gaza. And if they pose any kind of security threat to Israel they face the prospect of being bombed back a few decades as Gaza was.

If Israel were less paranoid, it might behave differently.

Prevention of another Holocaust need not be dependent on Jews having a state of their own in which they are in a majority. All of us, especially those of us who are not Jewish, need to actively oppose anti-Semitism just as we oppose any kind of racism. And Israeli politicians need to recognise that the oppression of Palestinians encourages anti-Semitism.

Good diplomacy should ensure that Israel is not attacked by its neighbours. In the past few months we have witnessed the success of diplomacy in dealing with Syrian chemical weapons. And now diplomatic efforts have brought us the beginnings of success in dealing with Iran’s nuclear programme.

And we should not forget that Israel, with its nuclear arsenal, is arguably the most dangerous state in the Middle East. And the USA, not Iran, is arguably the most dangerous state in the world. Ask people in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Few Palestinians would be hostile towards Israel, if they didn’t have to suffer so much injustice. Many more Palestinians have been killed by Israelis in recent years than vice-versa. House demolitions, restrictions on movement, and the theft of land, water and other resources in the occupied Palestinian territories all provoke hostility towards Israel amongst Palestinians. The best thing that Israelis could do to improve their security is to do justice to the Palestinians and end the abuse of their human rights.

If you met a paranoid person in the street, would you give them a weapon? Would they then be less paranoid, if they had a weapon with which to defend themselves? Or would they be likely to use their weapon to eliminate the people whom they fear?

Should the USA and other states be giving weapons to the Israelis? Israel’s military is funded to a large extent by US taxpayers. Whatever else might be done, there should be a total ban on arms trade with Israel and an end to all military cooperation, including military research.