DevMode
On March 4, 2003, the Palestine-Israel Journal held a roundtable discussion at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem on the subject of violence and its alternatives. The participants were Mr Mohammad Abu Harthiyyeh, a human rights activist and director of the Jerusalem Center for Human Rights; Giora Goren, a member of the Council for Peace & Security, who served in the Israeli Air Force for 30 years and was director of the Rabin Center and the Diaspora Museum; Nura Karmi who coordinates women's programs for Sabeel, the ecumenical liberation theology center in Jerualem; and Gaby Lasky, a lawyer, former director general of Peace Now and currently legal adviser to the Public Committee Against Torture. The moderator was Susan Collin Marks from Search for Common Ground.

Ms Marks: The violence of the past two and a half years has had a profound impact on both Palestinian and Israeli societies. It has not led to peace and the cycle of violent conflict has escalated. The purpose of this roundtable is to examine the impact of the violence and to explore alternatives to get out of this mess. I know all of you feel passionately about the situation - I'd like to ask you how the violence of the past two and half years has affected your community and your own perspectives.

Mr Abu Harthiyyeh: In the past four or five months, I've heard of many groups coming to the occupied territories to propose alternatives to violence, especially those who believe this violence has only led to bloodshed with no political results, pacifists and those who advocate civil resistance. I have always believed that resorting to violence should be the last option, the last tool, for resistance. I read Gandhi a long time ago, when Palestinians were working in political parties advocating armed struggle, and questions were raised about using other alternatives. I thought Gandhi was a pacifist who did not believe in any form of violence. But I read a sentence of his that has stayed in my mind, stating that if he had been asked to choose between oppression and slavery or violent resistance, he would have chosen violence.
About two years ago, I met his Holiness the Dalai Lama and had a long discussion with him. The topic was stereotyping Palestinians as terrorists, and whether he considered the Palestinians' armed struggle to rid themselves of occupation as terrorism. At the end of the conversation, he said, "It's very difficult." I think he meant if any people were as oppressed as the Palestinians, and if the resistance had no other tools, they might have chosen violence.

Ms Marks: What you are saying is absolutely key to this discussion. However, I think we need to look first at the violence and its impact before we go to the alternatives.

Mr Abu Harthiyyeh: The most important thing is to define violence. To define it by blood alone is unfair. Violence, for me, is not only the tanks, it's also the bulldozers.
You spoke about the past two and a half years of violence. But the previous seven years of peace also contained violence. If you see the bulldozer as a tool of violence, then you see the expansion of settlements and the doubling of the number of settlers and settlements as the greatest violence. The occupation didn't start two and a half years ago. It started in 1967 and there has been this kind of violence ever since. And, since 1967, the Israelis have not allowed any political movement to use non-violent means to resist the occupation. We were never allowed to resist the establishment of a settlement without coming home with a body or two, or 10 people injured and 20 in prison and then the demolishing of houses. A peaceful demonstration, a march towards the tanks in Ramallah, is met by soldiers who don't try to stop you with civilian tools geared towards a civilian population. They use rubber bullets that kill and have taken out many eyes, tear gas that has long-term effects and tanks that instill fear in adults and children.

Ms Lasky: I want to go one step further with regard to the definition of violence. Everything that derives from occupation is violence - closures, seizures of land, deportations, closing schools, not allowing teachers to reach schools, letting the settlers harvest the Palestinians' olives, illegal settlements, by-pass apartheid roads, etc.

Ms Marks: How has this affected you and your community?

Ms Lasky: Within Israeli society, we see the erosion of legal, moral and democratic rules and values. Take a soldier as the symbol of Israeli society. When he crosses the Green Line, he also crosses into a new set of rules and moral values that he's allowed to use. For example, illegal assassinations can be carried out. This is something that is not considered permissible inside Israel but is permissible when you cross the line. When this soldier crosses the line and returns to Israel, he brings with him this new immorality, this new anti-democratic thinking that implies that the rule of law does not exist for non-Jews, that there is apartheid, that there is a difference between Jews and non-Jews. As a result, Israeli society is losing its moral ground and democratic values, and there is no rule of law.
When there is a party [Likud - Ed] whose primaries were conducted under the gross shadow of criminal activities and people still vote for that party, that means the moral ground of Israeli society is eroding in such a way that these things are not taken into consideration anymore.

Ms Marks: I am hearing some sadness and real passion in your voice when you speak about these things. Tell me what it feels like to you, to have that happen to your society.

Ms Lasky: When we think about violence, we think about blood. Of course I am sad about the blood shed by Palestinians and Israelis. But the living are left with things that are very deep-rooted in society. Israeli society's moral and democratic rules are deteriorating. There is no respect for the rule of law anymore. That means that, if the day comes when there will be peace with the Palestinians and a Palestinian state beside the State of Israel, I no longer know what kind of state Israel will be. Will it be a democratic state?
We always talk about the democratic reforms the Palestinians have to undergo. Don't the Israelis also have to undergo democratic reforms? If we allow the construction of illegal settlements in occupied territory (for me, all settlements are illegal) and even this very right-wing government recognizes some settlements as illegal - and we send soldiers in to guard those illegal settlers, then what are we teaching our children and our society? That everything is allowed and that violence is the only way to solve conflicts?
That's why we see more violence against women today. All violence within Israeli society derives, in a way, from what we are doing in the occupied territories.

Ms Marks: You expressed a lot of anger and passion here. What do you feel about this, about your country?

Ms Lasky: I feel that all the energy we are now putting into trying to fight the Palestinians should be redirected inside our own society to try to make it a better place.
I am the legal adviser to the Committee Against Torture, and we know that torture is once again being allowed against Palestinians. It's also used against Israeli Arabs. And then it's going to be used against leftists or women. Israel is becoming a society where only very few people are going to be able to live as free citizens.

Ms Marks: Nura, again, the question is - how has this violence affected your community and your perspectives over the past few years?

Ms Karmi: First, I'd like to thank Gaby because she spoke as I would have spoken. It is very true that occupation is violence - I call occupation evil, which is even worse than violence.
Violence is a new phenomenon in Palestinian culture. As an educator, this is one of the things that really bothers me. During the non-violent resistance of the first Intifada, I clearly remember the soldiers and the horses trampling us when we were just marching very peacefully. There were many sit-ins when the army came in with tear gas, etc. I rescued small children in refugee camps when they were shot at by Israeli soldiers.
So violence is definitely part of the story. But when does violence begin? Is it when civilians respond to harm done to them by an army? We have lived under oppression for the past 36 years, and we know that the violence did not start in our society.
Violence is a new phenomenon in our culture, and I would hate to see it dehumanize the Palestinians. We have been forced to accept this dehumanization, forced to become violent. I'll give you a concrete example. Last week, while we were standing on a site where land was confiscated, we called Reuters to film how the bulldozers were working away quietly on the Israeli election day. And, because it was election day, the response from the media was that, since the event did not involve Palestinian violence or the Israeli election, they didn't care.

Ms Marks: Don't you think that the violence of the suicide bombings is having that dehumanizing impact on your society?

Ms Karmi: Suicide bombing - I know if it is seen from a different perspective - it can be seen as the main cause we don't have peace today. But the Israeli, Professor Avishai Margolit, wrote an article about this and said that suicide bombings constitute just half a percent of Palestinian resistance. That half percent is shaking both Israeli and Palestinian society today.
When any Palestinian expresses joy at the killing of others, this is a warning sign for us to question what we are doing and where we are going. This is a genuine concern of Palestinian society today. Do we exist only when we commit acts of resistance that are the same acts the Israeli soldiers use against us? Acts that cause us to be labeled terrorists?

Ms Marks: Giora, the same question - the impact on your society and your perceptions of this violence?

Mr Goren: You get different answers when you ask that question immediately after a suicide bombing or after a clash in one of the cities or settlements, on either side of the border. I think the most important question is the impact of violence on society, not from a personal point of view, but from a political point of view.
Just recently, we had the greatest poll possible - an election. And the reaction to this violence - and Israeli society looks at it, rightly or wrongly, as a strategic tool to reach strategic goals - has been to move toward more extreme positions. The left was nearly crushed, and Israeli society moved toward a harder line.
I can't accept that any other definition of violence equals the violence of killing people. I know there is a lot of evil in this world, and in democratic countries we have poor people, we have injustice, etc. But we try to set rules about unacceptable behavior. We have political struggles, all kinds of means for dealing with a situation. Even the Oslo process was a means of dealing with the situation, to try to solve this conflict, to start a process that might take a decade or a generation, to bring us all to a different destination.
For years, I have advocated pulling out of the West Bank and dismantling settlements and so on. But taking all this into account, I am not able to judge the occupation on the same level.
The use of violence, of killing people, was an earthquake in the peace process, in Israeli society and in Palestinian society. Palestinian society has to ask itself whether this method was right or wrong and I'm sure there is a bitter debate about what kind of approach to take, violence or civil resistance.
I think this is the main question. There is no doubt that Israeli society - even many on the left - interpret the use of violence as a strategic tool rather than as a necessary step. Israeli opinion is that it is not used for the sake of a two percent difference in the negotiations. It is used for achieving major strategic goals, though there was no clear declaration of what they were. There was a bitter discussion within Israeli society - not only between Palestinians and Israelis - about the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and there was a clear trend toward more concessions. When I say concessions, I'm not talking about concessions to the Palestinians, but concessions by the Israelis with regard to their dream. There was, and is, an Israeli dream and a Palestinian dream. By concessions, I do not mean that I am doing the Palestinians any favors. I am trying to find my way in this place and to make concessions in my dreams, and this is probably even more difficult to achieve.

Ms Marks: With regard to the strategic aspect of violence, would you articulate how you see the Israelis using violence as a strategic tool?

Mr Goren: Occupation was a wrong strategic decision but it didn't necessarily have a direct connection to violence. Israeli strategy was to reduce violence. If the occupation had functioned easily, there would have been no need for violence. I am not saying the decision was the correct one, but the Israeli strategy was not dependent upon violence. On the contrary, the rejection came from the Palestinians, and I would say rightfully so.

Ms Marks: Nura, taking this conversation a bit further, what is the impact of this violence on the conflict and the chances for peace?

Ms Karmi: There is something much deeper than violence in the conflict, a lack of justice that cannot be denied - there is an occupation, there is everything that Gaby mentioned that we are living daily, and that is the root cause that has led to this violence.
The chances for peace are becoming smaller and smaller. There is no goodwill. Unfortunately, we have not seen goodwill from the Israeli governments so far about a willingness to continue to the end of the process. The process did start, but, simultaneously, Israeli plans and strategies continued. The minute you start speaking about peace, why do you need new by-pass roads and new settlements? They are still being constructed today.
The balance was tilted from the very beginning. As long as the Israelis do not see the Palestinians as equal partners, as human beings who have the same rights in this land - and maybe some of us even more so, if you go back to the roots - as neighbors to be respected rather than to whom everything has to be dictated, all these so-called concessions will not lead to peace.
The equation started out on the wrong footing. Thank God there are people who can today sit and talk to each other - or even shout at each other if we have to. But there is also a tendency to ignore things.
As an educator, I always feel there is a need for re-education. So much harm has been done to both societies, so many mistakes have been made that now our children only know Israelis as soldiers. This is the truth. There is no other way for the Palestinian child to perceive the Israeli behind that mask of the man who harasses his parents at the checkpoints, throws down his mother, destroys his home, and then says it's all justified because the Palestinians are resisting. I say the ball is in the Israeli court and not the Palestinians'.

Ms Marks: A very strong feeling has come out again and again that the occupation is the source of the violence. I don't think this conversation will have enough credibility if we don't also talk about the impact of suicide bombings on Israeli society. If we want this conversation to have an impact, we need to talk about that, as well.

Mr Goren: A few months ago, I met a =group of Israeli Arabs from Nazareth who are going to be traveling to Auschwitz, and I was very impressed by their spirit. I know it might be a naive way of dealing with the situation, but their spirit was very interesting. Their core philosophy is to try to understand the roots of the pain of the other side. Why did the Israelis, after 1967, move in this direction and not another?
As a young pilot just prior to the 1967 war, I remember the great existential fear in Israeli society, even among the pilots who were well trained and very confident. Israeli society was not in a panic, but close to it.

Ms Marks: But what's the impact of Palestinian violence on Israeli society today? What is its impact on you, on people in general, on the community? What are people feeling?

Mr Goren: I think the first reaction is sadness and anger. The second is to wonder, what are the real reasons behind this struggle? Is the real reason the 1967 border, or something far beyond that? The Israeli interpretation is that the real reason is far beyond the 1967 border. This means there is a lack of trust between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and every explosion serves to further diminish trust.

Ms Marks: What I am hearing from you, Giora, is that the violence is bringing out an existential fear in people about the survival of Israel. You said, "They want more than 1967." What did you mean by that?

Mr Goren: That the overall Palestinian goal doesn't end at the 1967 borders, but far beyond that. We're talking about the existence of the Jewish state, a return of the refugees.

Ms Marks: So there is a real profound fear here.

Mr Goren: Of course. There's a one-to-one connection. I cannot say that all those who send these suicide bombers really think in this terminology. But it doesn't matter what they think. What matters is the interpretation. It doesn't matter what I think about the Israeli use of power against the Palestinian side. What matters is the Palestinian feeling about it. And I understand that. I have a great sympathy with those feelings, even though I'm not able to experience them. And if I'm not able to experience it, that means I'm not fully able to understand it. I can use my imagination and try to understand, but I'm not able to experience what it is like to live in the Occupied Territories.

Ms Karmi: What the Palestinian suicide bombers are doing with these acts is telling the Israelis that we can reach anywhere. We are there. As long as you don't recognize us and don't want us to have a state, Israel can claim that it's establishing security, but they must also know that we can reach them anywhere.
This is what the Palestinian suicide bombers are demonstrating by their actions. They are not saying that they want to take over all the land. In 1988, we already said we accepted the State of Israel. But Israelis will not have security as long as they don't want to give us our state.

Ms Lasky: One of the things that happened to Israeli society because of the suicide bombers is that the trust the Israelis had in the Palestinian people during the peace process was completely shattered. The perspective of the Israeli woman or man in the street - not of activists - is that, "We accepted the Oslo process. We went with Barak and accepted whatever he wanted to give at Camp David. But Arafat was the one who didn't accept Barak's offer, and then, strategically or tactically, started the Intifada, answering with violence the offer presented by Barak."
Of course, there are a lot of problems with this argument. I don't agree with most of it. But you have to understand that this is one of the main issues for the Israeli public - the issue of trust. We went a very long way. The Palestinians didn't like it. And instead of continuing the talks, they started the violence. Again, the Israeli peace camp had a very big problem because we didn't know how to explain what really happened at Camp David. President Clinton didn't help us, but the Palestinians didn't help us, either, when they opened fire.

Ms Marks: How do we move beyond this to stop the violence?

Mr Abu Harthiyyeh: It's very easy. We should not start from scratch. Going back into history is starting from scratch. We have turned this page. For them, there was a dream to take Palestine. For us, there was the reality that we lived here. We recognized two states for two peoples. We recognized each other as people. We said these are international borders that are agreed upon. Jerusalem should be the capital of two states or two capitals for two states.
Let's start from law. I agree we should end occupation. The way I understand international humanitarian law is that occupation is usually in order to achieve a political gain. You occupy a country to push the other side to sign an agreement. This is why you do it - one month, two months, six months, two years. But this is a prolonged occupation of 35 years.
Second, if you respect the protections set out in the Geneva Conventions, then you won't see illegal settlements, collective punishment, exploitation of natural resources, a Palestinian economy totally attached to the Israeli economy by force, and 400,000 Palestinian workers - not laborers, but slaves - on the other side. By putting an end to all these violations, you put an end to the occupation.
Law should be respected. But how do you make Israelis respect international law? Without international protection, beginning with monitors who will say after their first report that there is a need for protection, the Palestinians will continue to send suicide killers into Israel and Israelis will send tanks into refugee camps.

Ms Marks: So international law is one way.

Mr Abu Harthiyyeh: The first important measure is to give both sides the feeling of security again, to give both sides the feeling that the international community is again interested in solving the conflict in the region.
The second thing is that someone should say that war criminals will be punished so we will not see another soldier killing someone in their car who is just trying to find a way to work, claiming he was escaping from the checkpoint. You have to teach the soldiers on the Israeli side that they can't just shoot anybody. They will be criminalized not only in Israeli courts, but also in France, Belgium, Canada.
The third thing is a feeling among Palestinians that the international community cares, via the solidarity groups that come here. Why do people resort to violence? Because they want to achieve their goals. If they can be achieved easily, without bloodshed or violence, why resort to violence? Give Palestinians the hope that they will achieve their aspirations for an independent state.

Ms Marks: Let's talk about these alternatives. You mentioned particularly civil responsibility and non-violent action. What about non-violent action?

Ms Karmi: What we have seen so far, both in Palestine and Israel, are sporadic non-violent movements, whether it's the Israeli peace groups or on the Palestinian side. There has not been a really structured non-violent movement. There has been a lack of planning on both sides, and this requires planning. We lack leaders on both sides. We lack a Nelson Mandela, a Mahatma Gandhi. Not that you can't find such people on both sides, but I don't think anybody has the courage yet to take the lead.
Personally, I am a very non-violent person. I believe in resistance against occupation, but totally non-violent resistance. I could give a thousand examples of non-violent actions that Israelis perhaps don't think of. The courage to stand at a checkpoint for hours, every day, to improvise ways of continuing life every day, these are examples of non-violence.
Another example that nobody thinks about is the thousands and thousands of Muslims who stoop down and pray in the middle of the streets. Maybe the world does not see that as non-violent action, but it is. So the seeds of non-violence are definitely there in our society. I think a non-violent movement is a greater threat to Israel than the violence. They would not know how to deal with non-violence. I think that could be our strongest weapon now.
Ms Marks: What do you see as the advantages of non-violence? You are personally non-violent. What do you see as the advantages to society of adopting a non-violent, as opposed to a violent, strategy?

Ms Karmi: To start with, you do not destroy the structure of your society. You do not become immoral. If you care about preserving principles and moral values, they are there. You could cultivate a better, saner, safer generation, and a place where people would not only claim to be democratic or hold democratic values, but would really live those values.

Ms Marks: Very clearly put. Thank you. Gaby, what do we do to end the violence and what are the alternatives?

Ms Lasky: I agree with Nura that non-violence would be much more threatening to Israel. We can see that the first Intifada, which was non-lethal, led to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and many people in Israeli society, to completely change their way of thinking and to accept the necessity of a Palestinian state beside Israel. So I do accept that a non-violent movement on the Palestinian side would pose a very difficult threat for Israelis. They would not know how to cope with it.
One of the most important things that can be done, without waiting to change the entire society, would be to immediately bring international troops into the occupied territories. International troops would have two different tasks. One is reforms and democratization, as in East Timor. There, in addition to military personnel, civilian personnel were sent in by Australia to help develop a civil society. International assistance could be provided that would help with reforms and democratic transition inside the Palestinian Authority.
Second, if there would be some kind of non-lethal technology, as well, that could pose a barrier between Israel and the Palestinians, Sharon could not insist on the cessation of all violence before Israel will begin talking. The international troops would have the task of not allowing any kind of violence from either side. That is one of the most important things that can be done, and quickly.
Militarily speaking, Israel is much stronger. When violence is used against Israel, Israel feels it's fine to use violence back. And Israel knows how to use violence. It knows how to fight violence with violence. And since Israel has more power than the Palestinians, it means, in that sense, that it is winning.
But if the Palestinians stop using violence towards Israel, Israel could not easily return non-violence with violence. How could Israel retaliate? The only way would be to go back to the negotiation table and make an agreement. But if the government did not want to take that path, and would continue to use violence to respond non-violence, it would result in terrible pictures on CNN of peaceful Palestinian demonstrations in Nablus and Israeli tanks responding with lethal force against those demonstrators.
Then the world will try to force Israel into an agreement that Israel could have agreed upon on its own before using force against peaceful demonstrations. Israel is a macho military society. It knows how to use macho military talk. If somebody were to come to Israel using a different language, a non-violent language, I'm not sure Israel would know how to respond.

Ms Marks: If we are looking at alternatives - and non-violent action is an alternative - do you see Israelis embracing this, adopting this, engaging in non-violent action themselves?

Mr Goren: It was probably impossible for Yasser Arafat to motivate people towards non-violent resistance after Camp David. Nobody would have understood him. He had to mobilize people into the street. For what? The only reaction that was brought into the equation was the use of violence, the use of military means.

Ms Marks: Do you think Israel would adopt non-violence?

Mr Goren: I think non-violence would reenergize parties in our society that were just recently crushed. And the security fence that we talked about before, some people may look at it as just a measure to reduce violence. But it also has very offensive elements to it. It would create another pattern of irreversible steps between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
I understand this is a major threat for the Palestinians, but it's a reaction to violence. If there was no violence, there would be no reason to do it.
So there is a very complex equation between Israeli society and Palestinian society. Using only violence as a measure to gain strategic goals has not proven successful in our short history. The greater success was during those years when Israelis began to open their eyes, with the rise of Palestinian national unity. Now that the Palestinian Authority has been nearly crushed, in a way, what we have is a violent conflict between a country and militias. Both we, and the Palestinians have to deal with this situation.

Ms Marks: But if the Palestinians were to adopt non-violence, how do you see the Israeli people responding to that?

Mr Goren: We would then have to deal with the real problems of the relationship between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the problems of demography, the economy, international law, international borders, secure and recognized borders. These are the real problems.

Ms Marks: Very nicely said. Can we now have some final thoughts on the theme of alternatives to violence as a way of ending this mess?

Ms Lasky: After two and a half years of Israel using enormous firepower and arms against the Palestinians, we have seen that we have not been able to solve the conflict. Almost 700 Israeli lives and almost 2,000 Palestinian lives have been lost, and each of them one too many.
So I believe we have to accept the fact that military force is not going to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We have to go back to the only way we know how to solve conflict, and that is through negotiations.

Mr Abu Harthiyyeh: An enforced solution is the only solution. Forget it. We can't sit down again and reach peace alone. Trust has disappeared. You can't turn back the hands of time. We are not an isolated society. I wish we could have this peaceful resistance movement, and there is room for such a movement that would grow very quickly.
The whole issue of suicide bombers was to bring disequilibrium to this ratio, whether it's five-to-one or 100-to-one. It was a big mistake on both sides when we started to look at the number of deaths on each side. The most dangerous thing that happened in this Intifada was the rise of personal hatred and the loss of trust. There is no trust that Ariel Sharon will not crush even non-violent demonstrations. So, what is really pertinent is not how many people get killed but how to reach a settlement and political aims.

Ms Karmi: The future looks extremely bleak because the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not separated from whatever is happening globally. Israel is not held accountable to any international law that it has signed onto. It gets away with everything it does.
Unfortunately, the greatest power in the world today is the US, and we see the US committing exactly the same mistakes, if not more, as the Israelis.
We spoke here about international protection, but it's more than that. It's really about abiding by international laws. Since the Palestinians do not have a state, we are not signatories to most of the international laws. But Israel is. And there is no doubt about who is weaker and who is stronger.
The problem is not going to be solved between the two parties themselves and we do not have an honest broker who can be totally objective. Yet any peace process without outside supervision, which ensures that both sides are abiding by the agreements, will not work.
Palestinians have made concessions for the sake of peace and we are still willing to be partners without giving any more concessions. We have done our bit. We want a two-state solution. We want the occupation to end today, not tomorrow. We will work towards it with any means we have, reducing the violence as much as we can for the sake of the generations to come.

Ms Marks: What I've heard from everybody here is deep outrage at the violence. But what has also touched me so deeply is that, from the very different perspectives of your individual lives, I've seen a commitment and a passion to finding another way, and a willingness to explore practical ways of doing that. I feel very honored to have been with the four of you in this conversation. I am very touched and moved by it, and by who you are, and I want to thank you.

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