Thursday, November 29, 2007


Gene Stolzfus is the former director of Christian Peacemaker Teams, now retired.
Tue 2007-11-27
This week negotiations are to take place in Annapolis, MD to once again set in motion a final settlement for Israel and Palestine. Annapolis, just outside of Washington DC is the home of the United States College that trains professional Naval officers. In keeping with a long tradition of high profile mediation/negotiation events, this one is named for the place it occurs. Sixty years ago this week the newly formed United Nations voted to establish a divided land of Israel and Palestine on what was formerly the Palestinian outpost of the Ottoman and later British Empires.

I am not overwhelmed with hope that this will achieve more than Oslo, Camp David and other grand handshakes and shadowy attempts to end the conflict.Secretary of State Rice has scurried about trying to collect co-participants who can sign on to the conference and its scripted outcome. No one is using the term peace very often because of the constellation of seemingly intractable issues - Jerusalem, a 700 metre wall (twice as high as the Berlin wall) built largely in what Palestinians believe to be their territory, more than five hundred Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank, millions of Palestinian refugees resulting from the UN decision 60 years ago, Israeli settlements distributed strategically to aid its continuing military presence, conflicting understandings about water rights. These are generally the same issues that were in play at the end of the unsuccessful Clinton Administration's efforts seven years ago. The Palestinians were blamed for that failure. In the real world neither Israel nor Palestine can compromise significantly over any of these without risking a political firestorm from their own constituents.

On my first trip to Hebron 17 years ago I walked among Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the region where King David, my childhood hero, launched his insurgency against King Saul. The energy of hatred was in the air. My guide Zoughbi Zoughbi, then of the Middle East Council of Churches, wanted us to talk to the people. We couldn't find anyone in the newly formed Jewish settlement in the heart of Hebron to talk to us. As I left Hebron, from the window of the van I admired grape vineyards dating back centuries, many now destroyed by West Bank occupiers. I remembered David, the state he built and I reflected on the temptations and contradictions of centralized authority.

I wasn't introduced to the lessons and troubles of statehood in the Sunday School class where I learned to revere David.Unlike the strong man David, the three key political leaders at Annapolis are weak, probably nearing the end of their reigns. Bush, the partial mediator (as a opposed to an impartial and neutral mediator) has just over a year left in his Presidential term. The Israeli government of Ehud Olmert is holding on in the wake of the disappointing outcome of its most recent war in Lebanon. The democratically elected, Saudi supported Hamas in Gaza is cut off from the Fatah ruled West Bank and Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas who leads Palestine to the negotiations.

In Israel, people hold tightly to the vision for and gains of a secure homeland as the answer to persecution and holocaust. The split in Palestinian politics is welcomed by Israel. With limited trust in the non impartial mediator, and a Middle East now skewed by disaster in Iraq, people in the region and the international community do not expect a great break through. Both principal players, Israel and Palestine, rely on the energy of victim hood that runs deep.

Sometimes people just get exhausted from war. Soldiers tire of insulting and victimizing innocent people. People get tired of being insulted. Anger gets frozen into a permanent state of hatred. People even get tired of hating. Tactics that once brought temporary relief or the thrill of victory no longer work. Strategists run out of new strategies. Whole populations or significant parts thereof turn silent, depressed. Social sickness takes a toll on generations who have burrowed themselves into narrow rigid strategies.

The West including Christians once turned its back on the reality of persecution of Jews in Europe and now is often blind to the suffering its ways have brought to Arab and Muslim lands. The interplay of western guilt and regional victim hood alone cannot provide the basic energy to sustain life or war.Wars sometimes end because people get tired of fighting. Exhaustion from generations of roadblocks creates anger that is turned on their families, communities, principalities or national leaders.

Big powers grow tired of paying for the war or using their inherent limits of political capital to make things come out in their interest. Negotiations for autonomy, two state or one state solutions come and go, but the conditions that challenge the balance of justice persist. But tired, weakened actors sometimes do things that strong confident or revolutionary personalities would not imagine possible. Let us remember that Sadat's breakthrough visit to Jerusalem thirty years ago or Ghandhi's triumphs over Empire were based on the collective strength of tired and weakened populations.

"Peace is the collective responsibility of all of us" said my long time Palestinian friend Zoughbi Zoughbi, activist, mediator, and now Bethlehem based politician who recently spoke in Winnipeg, Canada. I know that there are people world wide who are praying for a noble surprise. But in case there is no surprise, let us watch this moment for the inward awakenings that may be coaxed to consciousness within each of us who are skeptics, and doubt the word, the conditions, and the intentions of those who are persuaded to come to Annapolis.

Collective responsibility means that we are all players.As players we have earned the right to understand that wholeness in life need not be curtailed nor subverted permanently by the language of guilt, holocaust and the legacy of two thousand years of separation from Jewish cousins. As players who are susceptible to popularized notions of terrorism we can acknowledge that minority fundamentalist militant Islam received crucial support from the US in the 1980s for its start among the Taliban when it became a frontline member of the crusade to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. And, we can honestly acknowledge that the Israeli Labour government`s support for Hamas in order to weaken Arafat's PLO in the same time period, gave a crucial boost to radical Islam, expressed in Hamas.

Collective responsibility means that those of us in the private world seize every opportunity to honestly observe and demythologize the political and religious superstitions like "Muslims are terrorists" or "Jews will never be satisfied or feel secure". These ideas run rampant in the larger culture and even may be reflected this holiday season of peace when families gather for food and conversation unless we challenge them.

This is a call to action, but a call must recognize our own tiredness with the thought that fairness continues to be swallowed up in the geography of apartheid. As we learn to function out of the better angels within us and allow our anger to be dissolved into thoughtful strategies that overcome the stalemate, we may find a way together. Some of us will use words. Some of us will use the artistry of the streets. Some of us will listen with the strength of imagination. Some of us will organize across the boundaries so evident among the representatives in Annapolis.

We will not be misled by unrealistic expectations of Annapolis. But we will be open to the surprises that the Spirit who also is resident in our world wants to show us. We will be ready to join with the Spirit.
- Gene Stolzfus

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