Saturday, September 17, 2011

Minute on Israel Palestine

The Ann Arbor Friends Meeting wishes to share with you its position on handling the present conditions between Israel and its Arab brothers and sisters. This issue has been a difficult one for us to consider for many years. The fact that we were able to come to unity in this statement is something we are proud of. Please join with us in finding a way to peace in this crucial area of the world.

Bill Riccobono, Clerk, Ann Arbor Friends Meeting
Helen Fox, Convener, Palestine Israel Action Group, Ann Arbor Friends Meeting

Minute on Israel Palestine
Adopted by the Ann Arbor Friends Meeting (Quakers) July 17, 2011

The Ann Arbor Friends Meeting recognizes the complex international dynamics that feed the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, creating fear on both sides and putting both Palestinians and Israelis at risk. We are concerned about the safety and well-being of all affected by this conflict. We wish to ally ourselves with those in Israel and Palestine working to bring peace.

We believe that one key step towards stability and safety for both Israelis and Palestinians depends on a just agreement regarding the Palestinian lands that Israel has occupied, illegally, according to international law, since 1967. Successive U.S. governments have generously supported Israeli military occupation of these lands, and have turned a blind eye to illegal tax exemptions for U.S. charitable organizations that support Israeli settlements.

We urge our government to exhibit equal concern for the well-being of both Palestinian and Israeli people by:

¨ Supporting a United Nations resolution recognizing a Palestinian state

¨ Withholding U.S. tax dollars that support the Israeli military

¨ Enforcing U.S. tax law regarding charitable organizations that support Israeli settlements

We also urge Friends worldwide to unite with Britain Yearly Meeting in its call to boycott products made in Israeli settlements, “not as punishment or revenge, but as an external pressure to achieve change.”

With Britain Yearly Meeting, Ann Arbor Friends Meeting considers that “we should now act publicly, and, well-informed, be able to explain our action to others,” in order to “give hope to Palestinians and support to those in Israel who are working for peace.” We agree with Britain Yearly Meeting that “in the face of the armed oppression of poor people and the increasing encroachment of the illegal settlements in the West Bank, we cannot do nothing.” We too are clear that it would be wrong to support the Israeli settlements by purchasing their goods.

In order to exert more than symbolic pressure on the Israeli government to negotiate a just peace at this critical time, Ann Arbor Friends Meeting joins with religious and civil society organizations throughout the world in a boycott of corporations that support the Israeli military.


Supporting Documentation

Illegal U.S. Tax Exemptions
For more information about the U.S. tax law regarding charitable organizations that aid Israeli settlements, please see:
Tax Exempt Funds Aid Settlements in West Bank. New York Times, 2010, July 5

Israeli settlement products
AHAVA beauty products are produced using salt, minerals, and mud from the Dead Sea – natural resources that are excavated from the occupied West Bank. The products themselves are manufactured in the illegal West Bank settlement Mitzpe Shalem. Please see CODEPINK’s “Stolen Beauty” campaign for action steps.

Other settlement products sold in the U.S. can be found here:

Some corporations that support the Israeli Military
Please join the American Friends Service Committee in divesting personal and institutional funds from these and other U.S. corporations that support Israel’s Occupation.

Caterpillar Corporation
General Electric Corporation
Lockheed Martin
ITT Corporation
Silicon Graphics

The full, annotated list of corporations boycotted by AFSC and the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church can be found here:

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Visions of the Future

As the Palestinian Authority prepares to ask the United Nations for recognition of an independent Palestinian state this month, most of the UN member countries (with the notable exception of the U.S. and Israel) are ready to endorse the bid as a largely symbolic, yet positive step on the road to Palestinian independence.

Even within Israel, some applaud this initiative on the part of Palestinian (or West Bank) President Mahmoud Abbas. Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc, says in an advertisement in Ha'aretz (9-2-2011):


The great majority
Of the world's nations
Are about to
Vote for recognizing
The State of Palestine

If you can't beat them,
Why not join them?

But the Netanyahu government seems to be trying its best to spread fear and panic. Israeli columnist Uri Avnery says that in the minds of the government coalition, dominated as it is by settlers and their allies:

"September is not just the name of a month, the seventh in the old Roman calendar. It is the symbol of a terrible danger, an unspeakable existential menace. In the next few weeks, the Palestinians will ask the UN to recognize the State of Palestine. They have already mustered a large majority in the General Assembly. After that, according to the official assessment of our army, all hell will break loose. Multitudes of Palestinians will rise, attack the “Separation” Wall, storm the settlements, confront the army, create chaos."

To combat the "barbarians at the gates," the Israeli army is training settlers in violent self-defense, which can easily spill over into aggressive offense against peaceful protesters. And since Palestinians will surely continue their nonviolent protests, more tragedy is sure to result.

Avnery suggests that the government's fear-mongering serves not only to block the formation of an independent Palestinian state, but to divert the public from the huge social protests against Israeli living conditions that have taken place over the past few months. The Israeli education system, the health system, and the social services are all in dire need of reform. The billions of dollars that would fund such efforts can only come from the military budget and from the massive economic support the government provides the settlements. Israel cannot build a humane social welfare system for its own people and block a Palestinian state at the same time. How better to resolve this paradox than whipping up fear and paranoia?

Meanwhile, in Gaza, there is widespread skepticism that the PA's bid for independence will bring positive change. Mohammed Rabah Suliman, a 21 year old Palestinian student and blogger, writes eloquently from Gaza that his generation, especially, "does not seek more UN resolutions and international declarations. Not even a declaration of a state. A state itself is rather what we desire. A state that we can touch, see and live in. We long for the reunification of the more than 11 million Palestinians living in the world. We want to see facts on the ground and tangible results. We crave for the land which has been relentlessly ripped apart in flagrant violation of dozens of resolutions already passed — and then promptly ignored — by the very same UN to which the PA now turns."

Palestinian Americans, too, have called on their allies everywhere to reject the PA's plan. "In recent months, a consensus has emerged among Palestinian experts and organizations that the UN statehood bid is useless at best, and highly damaging to Palestinian rights at worst":

Controversy and dissent are to be expected around such a central issue of peace and human rights. But when both supporters and deniers of justice for Palestinians agree for opposite reasons, how should Friends respond?

Certainly we must speak out. But rather than responding with exasperation, confusion, worry, or worst-case scenarios, what if we focused solely on the positive? If you're in favor of UN recognition of a Palestinian state, what good things might come from that -- for both sides? Are you passionate about a one-state solution? What could that look like for all its new citizens? What positive changes in the larger, global order would address the suffering of Palestinians as well as the concerns of Israelis whose social system is collapsing around them? What could the region look like in ten or fifteen years if the peace you envision were achieved?

Focus on the light,

Helen Fox
Convener, Palestine Israel Action Group
Ann Arbor Friends Meeting

Friday, July 29, 2011


Dear Friends,

PIAG's Dispatch for August is devoted to a message that was
meticulously stenciled in large letters on three kilometers of the
"separation wall" between Israel and the West Bank. The "open
letter," written and read aloud on YouTube by South African
theologian Farid Esack, is a beautiful statement of solidarity
between South Africans who lived through apartheid and the
Palestinian people today.

Esack speaks of the similarities between Palestinians and black South Africans during the South African struggle for independence, but points out that the oppression of Palestinians is worse:

White South Africa did of course seek to control Blacks. However it never tried to deny Black people their very existences or to wish them away completely as we see here. We have not experienced military occupation without any rights for the occupied. We were spared the barbaric and diverse forms of collective punishment in the forms of house demolitions, the destruction of orchards belonging to relatives of suspected freedom fighters, or the physical transfer of these relatives themselves. South Africa's apartheid courts never legitimized torture. White South Africans were never given a carte blanche to humiliate Black South Africans as the Settlers here seem to have. The craziest Apartheid zealots would never have dreamt of something as macabre as this Wall. The Apartheid police never used kids as shields in any of their operations. Nor did the apartheid army ever use gunships and bombs against largely civilian targets. In South Africa the Whites were a stable community and after centuries simply had to come to terms with Black people. (Even if it were only because of their economic dependence on Black people.) The Zionist idea of Israel as the place for the ingathering for all the Jews – old and new, converts, reverts and reborn is a deeply problematic one. In such a case there is no sense of compulsion to reach out to your neighbour. The idea seems to be to get rid of the old neighbours – ethnic cleansing - and to bring in new ones all the time.

Esack's letter also touches on profound general questions such as
the nature of morality, the limits to objectivity in situations of
oppression, the irony of resisting evil when it is considered
unfashionable, and why Palestinian liberation represents the
"unfinished business" of South Africa's struggle for a moral society.

If you would like to read or keep the text, it can be found here, on
the site of Jewish Peace News:

Speak out,
Helen Fox
Convener, Palestine Israel Action Group (PIAG)
Ann Arbor Friends Meeting
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Flotilla II

PIAG’s dispatch for July follows the fate of the second Freedom Flotilla to Gaza that is (today, July 5) languishing in the port of Athens, prohibited from sailing out of the harbor by Greek authorities on the dubious premise that the eight ships carrying humanitarian cargo and well-wishes from friends around the world, are “not seaworthy.”

One of the 320 activists from 22 countries who have booked passage on the flotilla is the novelist and poet, Alice Walker. She writes: “Our boat, The Audacity of Hope, will be carrying letters to the people of Gaza. Letters expressing solidarity and love. That is all its cargo will consist of.

If the Israeli military attacks us, it will be as if they attacked the mailman. This should go down hilariously in the annals of history. But if they insist on attacking us, wounding us, even murdering us, as they did some of the activists in the last flotilla, Freedom Flotilla I, what is to be done?”

Alice Walker’s solidarity with the Palestinian people arises from her conviction that Palestinians are facing the same kinds of racist violence that her grandparents suffered in the U.S South two generations ago. In sailing on the Audacity of Hope, she is “paying off a debt to the Jewish civil rights activists who faced death to come to the side of black people in the South in our time of need.”

Israel's right wing government has gone to great lengths to stop the flotilla and to convince ordinary Israelis that the ships pose a grave danger to the state. Israeli news has been filled with fear mongering and lies: that the flotilla is a serious threat to Israel’s security; that the ships are full of terrorists; that the Palestinians are doing splendidly without humanitarian assistance, and so on. Writing in Ha’aretz, columnist Gideon Levy – one of the few voices of calm – reflects that Israel has become “a society of force and violence,” both in its actions and its rhetoric. Simply describing the flotilla passengers as “social activists and fighters for peace and justice” is difficult, Levy writes, “since they have already been described as thugs.” The media and government have employed “all the buzzwords: danger, chemical substances, hand-to-hand combat, Muslims, Turks, Arabs, terrorists and maybe some suicide bombers.” This is a recurring pattern, Levy says, “first demonization, then legitimization (to act violently).”

In addition to its disinformation campaign, Israel seems to have sabotaged at least one of the ships in the flotilla. Apparently, divers cut a piece out of the propeller shaft of the Irish vessel, an act that would have caused the ship to sink, had it not been discovered in time.

In a message sent to news editors around the world, Israel’s Government Press Office warned international journalists to stay away from the flotilla, lest they be banned from entering Israel for up to ten years, a threat that even Israel’s Foreign Press Association called “a chilling message to the international media,” that raises “serious questions about Israel’s commitment to freedom of the press.”

The U.S. government, too, has spoken out against the flotilla, calling the nonviolent action “unhelpful,” “unnecessary,” and a “provocation” to the Israeli military, despite the fact that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is illegal according to international law.

Most recently, the Greek government, which is in no position to defy powerful countries that might help save its floundering economy, has refused to let any of the ships docked at the port of Athens to leave the harbor.

Why does such an innocuous mission so disturb the Israeli government and its allies in the Obama administration? Is nonviolent resistance so powerful that it can strike fear into two nuclear armed nations? Apparently so.

In “Waiting for Godot on the Gaza Flotilla,” Mark Levine writes that the political and strategic implications of the unarmed flotilla are quite real. “They symbolize that Palestinians and their international supporters are refusing to play by Israel's rules, and are forcing the Israeli state to reveal the basic, ugly immorality of an occupation that has always presented itself as a necessary if unfortunate act of self-defense. In short, the flotilla constitutes a provocation, a declaration to Israel that it does not own every aspect of Palestinian existence and that Palestinians too have their international supporters who, if not as militarily and financially powerful as the U.S. government and the various arms of the Israel lobby, are coming into their own as a force to be reckoned with. . . And for Israel, losing power over Palestinians would mean not merely the end of the occupation, but the end of Israel as an ethnocentric Jewish state . . .”

All this drama reminds me of the outrage that George Fox incurred with his simple act of refusal to take off his hat in the 17th century courtroom to the judge -- or in fact, “to any, high or low.” “Oh, the rage and scorn, the heat and fury that arose!” he writes. “Oh the blows, punchings, beatings, and imprisonments that we underwent for not putting off our hats to men!” Jessamyn West explains in her preface to The Quaker Reader: “The dangerous principle [a judge] sees – and fears – is . . . that of the individual who dares question the authority of the state over the person.”

As Alice Walker waits in Athens for the outcome of this small, yet weighty challenge to the violence of the state, she writes to the people of Gaza – and to us:

The whole world
is watching
& it is
wondering how
turn out.

They are making
it hard
for us to move
& sometimes
we are
in despair
but I remind
that you
of all people

They know this place
we are in, I say,

of not
being able to move.
They know it
This place of stalemate
& stagnation, so unbearable
to any heart
that’s free
is where they

They will forgive
if we do not
on time.

© Alice Walker, from “Sailing the Hot Streets of Athens, Greece.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


PIAG's Dispatch for June comments on the recent speeches by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama on current prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Much has been made of their differences: Obama believes that Israeli withdrawl to the "green line" with mutually agreed-upon land swaps is fair, while Netanyahu insists that "Israel will not return to the indefensible lines of 1967." Obama's speech was a bit more inclusive, acknowledging, at least, that both sides have greviences, and that each will have to make compromises.

However, as Uri Avnery, former member of Israel's Knesset remarks, "Netanyahu's message could be summed up in one word: NO. NO return to the 1967 borders. NO Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. NO to even a symbolic return of some refugees. NO military withdrawal from the Jordan River - meaning that the future Palestinian state would be completely surrounded by the Israeli armed forces. NO negotiation with a Palestinian government "supported" by Hamas, even if there are no Hamas members in the government itself. And so on – NO. NO. NO."

For Quakers, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Netanyahu's words is the premise of Israeli exceptionalism that underlies his demands. In his speech to AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Netanyahu reminded his admiring audience that "Israeli innovators help power computers, fight disease, conserve water, and clean the planet." Democracy was a Jewish invention, he told them. Israel has made paraplegics walk and is working on a cure for cancer. Israel has invested more than $50 billion in the US, bringing business, jobs, medicine, food -- even Hummus -- to the American people.

On the other hand (according to Netanyahu), Israel's neighbors have nothing to recommend them except perhaps their longing for Israeli-style freedom and democracy. They do not allow women to drive. They imprison journalists. They bomb churches. They contain a young Israeli soldier in a dark dungeon without even a visit from the Red Cross. They refuse to accept the Jewish state.

In short, "Israel is not what's wrong with the Middle East. Israel is what's right about the Middle East." Since Israel always does exceptional good in the world, and since it can always be trusted to be on the side of the righteous, Israel deserves our exceptional support.

But Quakerism -- and indeed, the U.S. itself -- was founded on a different premise: that all people, not just the "exceptional" people, deserve the blessings of justice, compassion, understanding, and equality. Everyone deserves a fair hearing. Everyone's security is vital to peace. Since there is "that of God" in everyone, claims of inherent superiority cannot be assumed in settling disagreements - or at any other time.

Fortunately, Netanyahu does not speak for all Israelis, much less all Jews. According to Juan Cole, a slight majority of Israelis preferred Obama's speech to Nethanyahu's.

And Jewish Voice for Peace called for grassroots action to counter the "shocking" 29 standing ovations that the U.S. Congress gave to Netanyahu's address.

Add your voice. Work for peace with justice.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

A New Political Landscape

PIAG's Dispatch for May celebrates the easing of Gaza's long isolation, and the empowerment of the people in the region to not only bring greater equality and justice to their own countries, but to their neighbors as well.

Last week the rival factions of Fatah (in the West Bank) and Hamas (in Gaza) reached an agreement to share power -- a deal sponsored by the new, interim Egyptian government that took power after the country's (mostly) nonviolent revolution. Kieron Monks writes in Al Jazeera, "Riding the crest of its own wave, Egypt is a good ally [for Palestinians] to have at the moment. [Egypt's] status is restored as the Arab world's most powerful voice, and the Palestinian issue has assumed priority status surprisingly quickly after the revolution. A new attitude to the conflict is developing, exemplified by new foreign minister Nabil el-Arabi's recent statement: "It is time to stop managing the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, it's time to end it."

What's especially interesting about the shifting balance of power is that Egypt no longer feels any obligation to provide preferential trade agreements with Israel, including "gas deals worth US$700 million more than the current contract. Egyptian politicians have been publicly asserting that they are under no obligation to maintain this disadvantageous agreement, and with the urgent need to introduce a minimum wage, welfare and greater social equality, the country cannot afford it. Should Israel's most essential imports be threatened, that vulnerability will strengthen the Palestinians' hand."

As if to celebrate the new political landscape, the New York Times reports, "Daniel Barenboim, the Israeli conductor, led an orchestra of two dozen elite musicians - volunteers from the Berlin Philharmonic, the Berlin Staatskapelle, the Orchestra of La Scala in Milan, the Vienna Philharmonic and the Orchestre de Paris - into Gaza on Tuesday. They played, on a makeshift stage, with obvious emotion and exceptionally well, before an invited audience of several hundred that rose to cheer not just afterward but also from the moment the players walked into the hall. Organized under the auspices of the United Nations, the free concert . . . demonstrated the volcanic changes overtaking this region. Just weeks ago such an enterprise would have been unthinkable. Gaza's borders with Egypt and Israel were shut tight. But the concert came amid talk by the new authorities in Egypt about permanently reopening the border crossing at Rafah; and at the same time as an Egyptian-brokered pact between Hamas and Fatah - the Palestinian faction heading the West Bank - which promises further easing of Gaza's longtime isolation.

All power to the people.
Helen Fox
Convener, Palestine Israel Action Group
Ann Arbor Friends Meeting

Sunday, April 03, 2011


PIAG's Dispatch for April discusses the confusing and contradictory comments made by Judge Richard Goldstone about his own 2009 report to the UN Human Rights Council on abuses by Israel and Hamas during Israel's siege on Gaza.

In 2009, the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict headed by Judge Goldstone reported, among other findings, that Israel had committed human rights abuses and possible war crimes during "Operation Cast Lead," including indiscriminate and/or deliberate attacks on the civilian population, purposeful destruction of infrastructure, and the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields. The report was condemned by Israel as "biased," and discussion of its findings was largely suppressed in the US media.

Now, Judge Goldstone has entered a retraction of sorts, saying in a Washington Post op-ed that his report would have looked different if Israel had been cooperative and allowed his committee access to information during its fact-finding mission. Now that Israel has conducted its own investigation, he says, it appears that what looked like war crimes were simply unintended consequences. And Hamas has not conducted any investigation of its own behavior at all.

Former AFSC Program Director in Israel/Palestine, Adam Horowitz, finds Goldstone's remarks "confusing" at best. While it is true that Hamas has not conducted a credible investigation by independent experts as the Goldstone Report recommends, neither has Israel. How credible is a country's investigation of its own military's behavior, he wonders. In an incident where IDF soldiers used a Palestinian child as a human shield, Israel's report explained that the soldiers involved were probably fatigued, and that "they had done nothing to degrade or humiliate the boy." The soldiers involved in the crime were sentenced to the minimum -- three months and a demotion. Part of the problem, Horowitz says, is that the Israeli investigators were part of the same office that would be responsible for providing legal counsel to the IDF's Chief of Staff and other top military brass. Judge Goldstone had pointed out this uncomfortable conflict of interest in his report, yet he ignored the issue in his recent retraction. Why?

Meanwhile, amid this flurry of reports and counter-reports, the IDF's recruitment to racist violence continues. Ha'arez reports that Israeli twelfth-grade students took part in a simulated shooting attack in which the targets were figures decked out with the Arab keffiyeh headdress. The incident took place at a military base last week during the annual senior class trip. The students were being escorted to a commanders' base in the Negev as part of an "IDF preparation" project, which is sanctioned by the Education Ministry.

Work for a saner world,
Helen Fox
Convener, Palestine Israel Action Group
Ann Arbor Friends Meeting


1. QUAKERPI is the national website for Quakers interested in PI issues. It is maintained by Anne and Fred Remley in Ann Arbor, Donna Schumann in Olympia, WA, and Roger Conant in Mt. Toby, MA. It is the most comprehensive of these sites.

2. PIAG'S BLOG is a site where I post these dispatches and PI articles from time to time. This site allows responses from the public. Please comment!

3. PIAG's own web page represents much of the work PIAG has done over the past three or four years.

4. In addition, PIAG maintains a presence on the Michigan Peace Network site Many of our educational materials appear in their "Resources" section.

Friday, March 04, 2011

More reactions from Israel and Palestine on the Middle East Uprisings

PIAG's Dispatch for March continues our report on the reactions of Israelis and Palestinians to the uprisings for democracy in the Middle East.

Israeli columnist and former Knesset member Uri Avnery writes, “among ordinary Israelis, there was quite a lot of spontaneous sympathy for the Egyptians confronting their tormentors in Tahrir Square . . .” Yet “even in the few halfway intelligent talk shows, there was much hilarity about the idea that ‘Arabs’ could establish democracies. Learned professors and media commentators 'proved' that such a thing just could not happen – Islam was ‘by nature’ anti-democratic and backward, Arab societies lacked the Protestant Christian ethic necessary for democracy, or the capitalist foundations for a sound middle class, etc. At best, one kind of despotism would be replaced by another.”

The most common conclusion among Israeli pundits, Avnery continues, “was that democratic elections would inevitably lead to the victory of ‘Islamist’ fanatics, who would set up brutal Taliban-style theocracies, or worse. Part of this, of course, is deliberate propaganda designed to convince the na├»ve Americans and Europeans that they must shore up the Mubaraks of the region or alternative military strongmen. But most of it was quite sincere: most Israelis really believe that the Arabs, left to their own devices, will set up murderous ‘Islamist’ regimes, whose main aim would be to wipe Israel off the map.”

Yet within all this fear and uncertainty, Avnery sees political and moral opportunity: “When entire peoples rise up and revolution upsets all entrenched attitudes, there is the possibility of changing old ideas. If Israeli political and intellectual leaders were to stand up today and openly declare their solidarity with the Arab masses in their struggle for freedom, justice and dignity, they could plant a seed that would bear fruit in coming years.”

Palestinian reaction to the events in the Arab world is a mixture of frustration, concern, hope, and pride. In a fascinating article, Hossam el-Hamalawy, an Egyptian journalist, writes that Palestine’s Second Intifada was the inspiration for the uprising in Egypt:

“The Egyptian revolution, rather than coming out of the blue on 25 January 2011, is a result of a process that has been brewing over the previous decade -- a chain reaction to the autumn 2000 protests in solidarity with the Palestinian intifada. . . Mubarak's iron-fist rule and the outbreak of the dirty war between the regime and Islamist militants in the 1990s meant the death of street dissent. Public gatherings and street protests were banned and if they did take place, confronted by force. Live ammunition was used on strikers. Trade unions were put under government control. Only after the Palestinian intifada broke out in September 2000 did tens of thousands of Egyptians take to the streets in protest -- probably for the first time since 1977. Although those demonstrations were in solidarity with the Palestinians, they soon gained an anti-regime dimension . . .”

The obvious, if often unspoken question on everyone’s mind is whether the popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Morocco, and other countries in the region will embolden the Palestinians to rise up again. Reserve Brigadier General Michael Herzog warns in Ha’aretz of a “tremendous earthquake shaking our region. . . Where will the popular revolutionary energy released in our region lead? Israel should take into account that this energy, now directed inward, will at some point be directed at it as well. In the Arab street, there is deep empathy for the Palestinians. . . This is especially true during a protracted diplomatic stalemate. Moreover, because of the stalemate, with the banner of liberty raised in our region, the Palestinian public could embark on a popular anti-Israeli uprising. Israel would then face a difficult test, against the background of serious diplomatic isolation and the wave of international recognition of Palestinian aspirations for statehood.”

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Egypt, Israel and Palestine

PIAG's Dispatch for February reports on Israeli reaction to the pro-democracy uprising in Egypt, and on concerns from Palestinians and US liberals about the new government that might come to power.

Israelis are concerned that in calling for Mubarak to preside over an orderly transition, the US has abandoned its staunch ally in the Middle East. An opinion piece by Aviad Pohoryles entitled "A Bullet in the Back from Uncle Sam" accused Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of pursuing "a naive, smug, and insular diplomacy heedless of the risks." Who is advising them, he asked, "to fuel the mob raging in the streets of Egypt and to demand the head of the person who five minutes ago was the bold ally of the president ... an almost lone voice of sanity in the Middle East? The politically correct diplomacy of American presidents throughout the generations ... is painfully naive."

While the small and tentative concessions offered by the Mubarak regime might signal progress to some, Palestinians and their allies have serious concerns that the new Vice President, Omar Suleiman, has been a willing accomplice in the repression of the Palestinians. According to secret documents leaked to Al Jazeera -- the Palestine Papers -- the Mubarak regime, with Suleiman as its point person, has played a key role in dividing Palestinian factions, pressing the Palestinians for unprecedented concessions during the recent peace process, and sealing the Egyptian border during the Gaza War, trapping 450,000 Palestinians and resulting in the death of 1500, most of them civilians.

As the Muslim Brotherhood emerges as one of the leaders working to resolve the standoff in Tahrir Square, some Americans who support the Egyptian people's uprising have expressed concern that free and fair elections could result in a fundamentalist religious state, much like Iran after the uprising against the Shah in 1979. Juan Cole, a Middle East historian at the University of Michigan, explains why this analogy is incorrect. Although the Muslim Brotherhood developed a terrorist wing in the 1940s, that faction was quashed by both the government and the Muslim Brotherhood itself. In addition, secular opposition groups in Egypt are strong, and all favor human rights and parliamentary democracy.

PIAG urges readers to take *one* action this week to support the courageous demonstrators in Tahrir Square or to advise the Obama administration to take a stronger stance against the dictatorship. A talking point: Every day the U.S. buys nearly $3 million worth of armaments from U.S. companies to aid Mubarak's police state. Tear gas canisters thrown at Egyptian demonstrators last week read, "Made the U.S.A." Is this the way to "keep the peace" in the Middle East?

Monday, January 03, 2011

Conflict Transformation in Israel Palestine

The New Year suggests the need for new thinking. The Israeli Palestinian conflict seems so entrenched, so hopeless, that it might be well to step back and consider what peace-builders with experience in other “intractable” conflicts can teach us.

John Paul Lederach, a professor in the Conflict Transformation Program at Eastern Mennonite University and a trainer and consultant for peace-builders in many conflict-ridden countries, tells us that the most significant challenges in peace-building are the result of three critical factors: first, who talks to whom in behind-the-scenes dialogue; second, how deeply the issues of structural injustice are considered in the peace negotiations; and third, how long the process of conflict transformation is carried on after “peace accords” are finally set in place. Each of these factors is important to consider as we search for ways for Quakers to get involved in a lasting peace-building process.

1. Who talks to whom? Most conflict resolution work involves bringing people together across enemy lines for negotiation, dialogue and/or mediation. But most of the time, people meet others of relatively equal status: top-level politicians and military leaders meet their counterparts; mid-level religious leaders, academics, and heads of NGOs meet others like themselves; and community people meet other community folks as they hear each each other's concerns and hopes, enjoy meals together, and “refuse to be enemies.” The trouble is that political leaders don’t have the benefit of personal dialogue with ordinary people; NGO heads don’t get to discuss their concerns with the military; community people aren’t invited to academic conferences, and so on. Building these kinds of vertical relationships of respect and understanding are critical, especially in efforts to end protracted, violent conflict. Dialogue must go on at all levels, both within equal status groups and between them. Peace-building is an organic system that requires attention to all its channels of communication, not just among people whose interests and points of view are similar. In Northern Ireland, Quakers conducted dialogues with and between politicians in confidential settings that were critical to the emerging peace process.

2. How to address the “justice gap”? Lederach points out that people take up direct, physical violence when they are trying to address perceived injustice at economic, social, cultural, and/or political levels. As the conflict escalates, the direct violence eventually reaches a saturation point. People get fed up with killing each other when they realize that the physical violence has made them worse off than they were before. At this point, peace negotiations begin. However, these talks, and the “peace accords” that eventually follow, rarely address the structural issues that started the conflict in the first place. In the case of the Palestinians, the obvious structural injustice is land, or the right of return, but it also includes the economic gap between Palestinians and Israelis, and the discriminatory attitudes of many Israelis toward their Palestinian neighbors. Even if land claims are one day settled, the income disparities and the racism that so often justifies them must be squarely addressed.

3. How can relationships be transformed after “peace breaks out”? Former combatants too often see peace accords as an “end-game,” without paying sufficient attention to long-term community building and reconciliation. The term, “conflict transformation” suggests that the relationships between groups must be fundamentally reconfigured for peace to be lasting. Relationship-building means that people on both sides must be adaptable, vigilant, and willing to change. Conflict transformation requires support infrastructure that enhances people’s capacity to respond to relational needs, rather than being limited by static events and legal agreements. Regardless of whether the Israelis and the Palestinians settle for a two-state or a one-state solution, they will need to develop relationships that respect and value each other as neighbors and/or fellow citizens. It can’t be done? Just look at Europe -- at each other's throats in two world wars, and before that, centuries of violent conflict. Now we have the European Union.

What roles do Lederach’s insights suggest for Quakers? In our efforts to help resolve the IP conflict, we should not dwell solely on ending the Occupation, pressing for an end to settlement construction, or using the power of nonviolence to force both sides to the bargaining table. While these efforts are important and necessary, they leave out the three crucial areas of conflict resolution and transformation described above. Can Quakers find ways to address the relationship-building necessary in the region, and the political and economic power imbalance at the global level that so often leaves “free” people struggling with poverty, despair, and interpersonal violence?

Work for peace -- with justice, dialogue, and respect,
Helen Fox
Convener, Palestine Israel Action Group
Ann Arbor Friends Meeting