Just Peace considerations in Gaza
Q: In a statement Monday, Vice President Biden said the U.S. is consulting with other nations "on new ways to address the humanitarian, economic, security, and political aspects of the situation in Gaza." What are the religious and moral considerations in determining those "new ways," especially in light of Israel's raid on an aid flotilla from Turkey bound for Gaza.
Violence is a labyrinth with no exit. It is a Catch-22. Violence is a violation of human dignity. It is a desecration of the imago dei, the image of God that lives on the face of every human being. The blockade of Gaza is structural violence. It is not the violence of bombs and bullets until the killing of peace activist aboard a ship filled with humanitarian aid on its way to Gaza with intent to break the blockade. Yet, it is violence against the people of Gaza nonetheless.
Israel says the blockade is necessary for its national security, to keep materials that can be used to make rockets from entering Gaza. Israel sees Hamas as a terrorist organization bent on its destruction. Hamas says it fires the rockets in retaliation against the blockade. It sees Israel as an occupying power and as an oppressor. The cycle of violence continues.
Just Peace theory is both a moral and a religious mode of being, thinking and acting that can break the tragic cycle of violence that has trapped the peoples of Israel and Palestine since 1948. Just Peace theory deploys truth, respect and security to bring an end to violent conflict. First, regarding the current cycle of violence in the name of both justice and security, we ought to ask the Dr. Phil question: "How's that working for you?"
It is not working for Israel whose policies regarding the Palestinians both in Gaza and on the West Bank are causing it to be ever more isolated in the international community. It is not working for the Palestinians who continue to live under occupation, and, in Gaza, live without decent housing, clean water, or schools. They exist in an open-air prison without all the basic needs of life. It is this kind of humiliating violence that causes people such as Hamas to strike back with any means at their disposal.
Nelson Mandela, once considered both a criminal and a terrorist, in his book "Long Walk to Freedom" helps us to understand why people take up arms to fight their oppression. He quotes an African proverb; "The attack of wild beasts cannot be averted with only bare hands" (271). In the mind of Hamas, Israel's blockade is an attack. Mandela says further of the South African government's insistence that the African National Congress (ANC) renounce violence as a precondition for talks:
"I responded that the state was responsible for the violence and that it is always the oppressor, not the oppressed, who dictate the form of struggle. If the oppressor uses violence, the oppressed have no alternative but to respond violently. In our case it was simply a legitimate form of self-defense. I ventured that if the state decided to use peaceful methods, the ANC would also use peaceful means. 'It is up to you,' I said, 'not us, to renounce violence'" (537).
Eventually the ANC did suspend armed struggle for the sake of moving negotiations forward. The purpose of the violence had been to force the state to the negotiating table. For Mandela, "men and women by their very nature required some kind of negotiated understanding" (529).
Just Peace theory recognizes the basic human need for respect. Justice grows from the recognition of the legitimate expectations and claims of a people. Respect for the enemy requires the face to face encounter. It requires negotiations. The truth is that, no matter the history of violence between adversaries, at some point, they will have to sit down together, reason together and negotiate peace.
Thus, the moral thing for Israel to do is to negotiate peace directly with Hamas even if Hamas does not recognize its right to exist. Hamas ought to take a lesson from the ANC and suspend rocket attacks into Israel for the sake of peace talks. It ought to release any Israelis they are holding as a sign of good faith. Each side ought to be willing to take an independent initiative for the sake of peace. This is a just peace principle.
The blockade ought to end. It cannot lead to the security of Israel. It may keep some military equipment out of Gaza, but it will not make for the positive peace. The positive peace is the peace where enemies no longer want to fight each other. It is the peace that comes from the establishment of justice. The blockade denies economic justice for the Palestinians in Gaza. It retards economic development and the restoration of the country from the devastation of the most recent war. Sustainable economic development is also a Just Peace principle. There can be no peace where there is no justice in its legal, political, economic and social iterations.
The international community ought to stop supplying the weapons and the money to buy weapons to both Israel and to the Palestinians. At the end of the day, it is the plough and building equipment and not the gun or fighter jets or more lethal bombs and rockets that will be the instruments of peacemaking. In peace theory means and ends cohere. Peaceful means bring peaceful ends.
The three Abrahamic religions that were born in this land all have traditions of nonviolence. In Judaism the word "shalom" means wholeness, health, welfare, safety, friendship, prosperity, restoration, happiness and peace. This can only come for one people when it comes to the enemy as well. Thus to make peace, is to work toward all that "shalom" means together. It is the conjoining of steadfast love and faithfulness, of righteousness and peace. (Psalm 85:10)
Islam has a tradition of nonviolence where the greater jihad is the struggle with oneself to overcome one's base instincts, and the lesser jihad is the struggle for social justice. We find peace in our personal righteousness and that righteousness compels us to work for justice in the world. The Qur'an teaches that God commands justice. Rabia Terri Harris in an essay "Nonviolence in Islam: the Alternative Community tradition" published in Subverting Hatred: the Challenge of Nonviolence in ReligiousTraditions quotes the Qur'an to say:
"The good and the evil are not the same. Repel (evil) with that which is better; then the one between whom and you was enmity shall become like an intimate friend." (Surah Ha Mim, 34)
This is not unlike the Christian command to overcome evil with good. "If your enemies are hungry feed them; if they are thirsty give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12: 20-21)
Israel and Palestine are two nations living on a little bit of land. If they are going to live in peace they will necessarily have to begin to work together for the prosperity, happiness and security of each other. A two-state solution is possible, but it is an interim step to some kind of federated state. This is so because there is so much these two peoples will have to share - water, arable land, security, economic cooperation, a capital city and a city holy to billions of people across the globe. And the further truth is that they all, Israelis and Palestinians alike, want all the land from the river to the sea.
There is no way a two-state or a single federated state solution will work without trust and friendship. However, such is possible with time, patience, hope, faith, love and justice.
Valerie Elverton Dixon
June 9, 2010; 11:15 AM ET
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