My comment a week ago on the Israel-Gaza situation occasioned considerable comment, supportive and critical. No surprise; on such an important and sensitive issue, personal opinions run deep, including mine.
Comments in support take the long view – advocate a political re-alignment that reduces the US role as biased mediator; strengthen in various ways the UN capacity to take and enforce decisions and act as mediator; encourage judicial settlement; and explore the avenue of non-violence (Gandhi-style) and reconciliation (Mandela-style).
Critical responses take the short view – stand in protest against the atrocities that are occurring from the Israeli rain of death; protect the right of Hamas to fight against occupation and suppression.
Both views are fair, and they are not necessarily inconsistent. The criticism that has been advanced is not only from the Palestinian side but also the Israeli side. The 4th principle in the Green Charter is non-violent conflict resolution. This requires a preparedness to maintain dialogue with all parties to a dispute, irrespective of the competing merit of their claims.
A few years ago, I commenced the formation of NZ-Palestine MP friendship group, and am in regular contact with the Palestinian ambassador to NZ (in Canberra). I remain a member of the NZ-Israel MP friendship group, and have asked the Israeli ambassador (in Wellington) to meet me to explain what he takes to be the moral-political-legal justification for his country’s actions.
Over the past week, what has occurred? Some 223 Palestinian deaths, 1 Israeli death, a failed ceasefire agreement. Hamas rocket attacks and Israeli bombing, both in violation of international law.
And now, overnight, an Israeli ground invasion.
Not even this is new. Israel invaded in January ’09. That occasioned a UN report headed by esteemed South African jurist, Richard Goldstone. The report’s findings are worth revisiting:
– Israeli forces potentially committed war crimes when they launched attacks on civilians with no justifiable military objective.
– Israel has potentially committed the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, by denying Palestinians in the Gaza Strip of their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water, limiting their freedom of movement, and limiting their access to a court of law and an effective remedy.
– There have been serious human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial executions of Palestinians by the authorities in Gaza and by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
– As a result of the attacks, Gaza inhabitants have suffered materially (because of the destruction of food supplies, water sanitation systems, and housing) as well as from immense trauma.
– Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity, in their repeated launching of rockets and mortars into southern Israel
So, not much has changed. There will be no end in sight to this conflict as long as there is a relationship of oppressed – oppressor in Israel and Palestine. Israel has a right to exist, peacefully and securely, but they will not find this in the sustained brutal and dehumanising oppression of Palestinians.
There will be no end in sight as long as the only options open to Hamas are surrender or resistance. The accord between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas went some way to recognising the legitimacy of discontent of each. I say this not to offer support for all policies of each, but to reiterate that, although the struggles and opinions of some might stir distaste, the grievances of a people deserve to be heard with open ears, and engaged with respectfully.
Hamas has articulated three demands: the release of political prisoners who were released in a prisoner-swap last year, but subsequently rearrested; the opening of border crossings between Israel and Gaza to allow movement of civilians and goods; international supervision of the Gaza seaport, in place of the current Israeli blockade.
None of these is extremist; none would harm Israel. But they would require that Israel give up some power and control, and it is this to which Israel clings in its hopes of being a secure nation. That is an illusory stance, disproved by historical experience.
I do not think that power over others will ever lead to lasting peace for Israel. Work needs to be done to build mutual respect for the lives and livelihoods of Palestinians, and Israelis. This will need an abundance of empathy, and a re-humanising of each in the other’s eyes.
I have personally heard abusive language of each other from both Palestinians and Israelis in my time living in Jordan. The world has an obligation to fight these sorts of perceptions.
I do not condone violence by anyone, ever. But we must recognise the violence of Hamas for what it is – a desperate attempt at resistance by an oppressed people. And so following, we must recognise Israel’s violence for what it is – not the right to self-defence, but a continuation of oppression and systemic violence.
Both are crimes, and both require condemnation. But in the longer term, it requires a political realignment, and refashioning of mind-set perhaps on all our parts, before a settlement is achieved, and peace finally secured.
07/18/2014 – 00:00