Category Archives: Conceptions of peace

This is what “conflict management” looks like

Once again the ongoing tension between the Israeli government and Hamas has deteriorated into a massive, asymmetrical exchange of airborne explosives inflicted mostly on civilians. Last time, in November 2012, the Israeli military code for the “operation” was Pillar of Cloud/Pillar of Defense. Then as now the terminology varied between Hebrew and English, so now we have tzuk eitan (steadfast cliff) in Hebrew and Protective Edge in English. Who knows why. The current outburst of violence punctuates the persistent variation of armed conflict between the Israeli state and the Palestinian enclave of Gaza since the first mortar shell was fired from Gaza into Israel in 2001. We’re now up to the seventh Israeli operation to contain the launch of more than 8,500 Palestinian rockets, resulting in 4845 Palestinian dead and 174 Israelis, according to Ha’aretz. Probably somebody could estimate the mass of Israeli ordinance that has landed in Gaza, but the number would obscure the extension of destruction to Gazan property and prosperity brought about the Israeli-Egyptian siege. The siege hasn’t fulfilled its stated purpose of preventing the build-up of rockets in Gaza, only the rebuilding of homes and infrastructure after each explosion of destruction.

The code names of the Israeli military operation are much less significant than the conception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which they occur: conflict management. Sage “realists” who live in think tanks have concluded that the conflict is too intractable to be “resolved,” as the Oslo process has collapsed and subsequent efforts to revive it and the associated “two state solution” such as the Kerry initiative have failed too.  The best we can hope for, they tell us, is that temporary accommodations can be found that minimize the degree of armed conflict. No more wars between states, only “low intensity conflict” between Israel and its chief current enemies, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah and other “non-state actors.” So, you see, peace may be impossible, but war has been rebranded. The logic of conflict management shapes Prime Minister Netanyahu’s and the Israeli government’s relationship to Gaza and its Hamas leadership. Absent the option of a peace agreement with the Palestinians (which is blamed on the Palestinians), the best alternative is to deter the “non-state actor” Hamas from, well, acting other than as Israel wants, which is to disappear. So it’s within the rules of conflict management to punish Hamas as a whole, and any inhabitants of Gaza who are unfortunate enough to get in the way, with a dose of “low intensity conflict” for the murder of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped in the occupied Palestinian territories. And as Hamas responded with some “low intensity conflict” themselves, the conflict requires some more intense conflict management from the Israeli side, and so on, until things calm down for a while. Neither side really wanted the escalation, we’re told, so it’s just a question of time until they manage to find their way out. Sorry about the death and destruction until normal management is restored.

IAF strike on Gaza (Photo: EPA)

IAF strike on Gaza (Photo: EPA)

The “realists” who adhere to the doctrine of conflict management are not realists at all. The reality of conflict management is what is happening now. It is families in Gaza buried under rubble, and a lot more rubble. It is enormous and inevitable “collateral damage” (dead and injured people) of an Israeli operation that treats homes as legitimate military targets (“terrorist infrastructure). It is an Israeli pensioner who suffered a heart attack trying to get to shelter from indiscriminate rockets fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It is civilians in fear of what is falling from the skies. This is what conflict management looks like.

House destroyed by rocket in Beersheva. Photo by Herzl Yoseph

House destroyed by rocket in Beersheva. Photo by Herzl Yoseph

The asymmetry between the Palestinian and Israel casualties is immense, but it’s not a question of arithmetic. This low intensity conflict isn’t tolerable for Israeli civilians. It’s not so easy to manage shock and trauma, let alone physical injury, when you don’t live in a think tank. If you live in the confines of Gaza, there is nowhere to escape. This is what conflict management looks like.

Parents Circle Families Forum - Peace Square, July 2014

Parents Circle Families Forum – Peace Square, July 2014

There are some realists around, among the few voices in Israel that dissent from the mainstream discussion about how much military force should be deployed to manage the “non-state actors.” They might not look like realists at first sight. When everyone else is thinking about shelters that can withstand rockets, they put up a tent in a square. The Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace, also known as The Parents Circle – Family Forum, have created a public space for peace in the midst of the war.

Poster for Parents Circle "Peace Square"

Poster for Parents Circle “Peace Square”

“We, Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones in the ongoing conflict take it on ourselves to be a sign of reconciliation and dialogue.” They invite the public to join them, to listen, to discuss, for support. Based on their own experience of finding a way from their deepest pain to the pain of their enemy, they express their conception of conflict resolution in a slogan: “it won’t stop until we talk” (in Hebrew this rhymes as: ze lo y’gamer im lo n’daber). The horrific episodes of death falling from the skies won’t stop until there is a negotiation peace, a peace that the “realists” have given up on. The Parents Circle enact the difficult, painful reconciliation on the ground that is peace itself and paves the way for negotiation peace. That sounds realistic to me, a reality in which people can live.

 

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Promoting Peace: Peace Now as a Graphic Peace Movement, 1987-1993

This blog post is a link to an academic journal article I wrote that has been published online. I give an outline of what I wrote below, about the graphic work of Peace Now (Shalom Achshav) from 1987-1993. I would like to thank, Marcella Simoni,  the editor of the special issue of the journal, Quest: Issues in Jewish History for her hard work in putting together this collection of papers about ‘Israelis and Palestinians Seeking, Building and Representing Peace. A Historical Appraisal

Peace Now logo, designed by David Tartakover

Peace Now logo, designed by David Tartakover

‘.

Peace Now,’ the leading Israeli peace organization, has mobilized the public to press governments to reach peace agreements, protest wars and oppression of Palestinians, obstruct settlements in the Occupied Territories and develop dialogue with Palestinians. Focusing on 1987-93, this essay conceptualizes the advocacy of peace by ‘Peace Now’ as public relations activity that promotes images of peace. It communicated its ideas by means of slogans in the form of material signs which were figured graphically in print media, on posters, flyers, placards and stickers. The images of peace that ‘Peace Now’ promoted belong to the category of political images, which are not simply pictures or visual images, but condensations of complex ideas, conceptions and experiences of peace. ‘Peace Now’ promoted three main images of peace from 1987 to 1993: peace as negotiation and compromise; peace as the ending of the oppression of occupation; and peace as separation between Israelis and Palestinians. While there are ambiguities within and tensions between all three images, the key trouble for the advocacy of peace of ‘Peace Now’ was that its third image of peace as separation undermined the other two, ultimately creating a recipe for ‘unilateral peace.’

– Pressing for peace, protesting war, obstructing settlements and developing dialogue: an historical overview

– The Medium of Peace: Public Relations and Political Images in the Public Sphere

– Peace Now’s Images of Peace
A.  Peace as negotiation and compromise
B.   Peace as the ending of the oppression of occupation
C.   Peace as Separation

– Conclusion: Dilemmas of action, divergence of images

Cease-force now: practising peace by documenting violence

The big news this weekend about peace between Israel and Palestine is US Secretary of State, John Kerry’s announcement that Israeli and Palestinian leaders have reached an agreement that ‘establishes a basis for resuming direct final status negotiations’. Big news, then, that there might be another breath of life left in the Oslo process, and that if the direct talks actually start, at some point Israel will release some long term Palestinian security prisoners. At present there is much speculation and comment about the character of this agreement, about whether the talks about talks will even get as far as a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and as to whether the discussions will do more harm than good. Earlier in Kerry’s intensive diplomatic process, I suggested that it promotes only pseudo-peace, turning peace into a dirty word.

Rather than focusing on the ‘big news’, I prefer to pay some attention to events over the week that attracted much less attention. During the recent build up to Kerry’s announcement, there were two small achievements in efforts to build a just peace through non-violent action. Video footage of the detention of five-year old Palestinian boy Wadi’ Maswadeh in Hebron, recorded by fieldworker Manal al-Ja’bari for B’tselem, kicked up enough of a storm on conventional as well as social media for the Israeli army to admit that:

“We made a mistake during the event, both in detaining the boy and detaining his father,” GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon told commanders during an operational assessment conducted in the command.

The Israeli army’s acknowledgement of its error, reported in Ha’aretz a week over so after the incident, differs significantly from its initial response to the video:

We regret that B’Tselem has chosen – on a regular basis – to distribute videos of this kind to the media before clarifying the issue with the army first.

The military’s admission of error in this incident also comes after B’Tselem Director Jessica Montell sent a letter to the Legal Adviser to Judea and Samaria, stating:

The footage clearly shows that this was not a mistake made by an individual soldier, but rather conduct that, to our alarm, was considered reasonable by all the military personnel involved, including senior officers.

Border Police statement on Channel 10 news.

Border Police statement on Channel 10 news.

A second small achievement last week was also the fruit of video documentation by activists of the excessive use of force by Israeli occupation forces, which was then circulated more broadly. On July 15th there were protests across Israel and Palestine against the Prawer plan, approved by the Israeli Knesset on June 24th 2013. The plan will result in the destruction of 35 ‘unrecognized’ Arab Bedouin villages, the forced displacement of about 40,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel, and the dispossession of their historical lands in the Negev, in the south of Israel. Most of those demonstrations were met with violence by the authorities, including one held at Damascus Gate. In a video recorded by a Ta’ayush activist, military border police run amok in East Jerusalem, knock over food stalls set up during the Ramadan fast, bust into people waiting in a bus queue, and push into a group of medical workers on stand-by. The video was picked up by Israel’s Channel 10 news, which pressed the Border Police for a response. Not quite an admission of fault, their statement notes that the behaviour of some of the soldiers does not match the values expected of the Border Police, promising a further enquiry.

In both cases, the achievement is quite minor. Despite acknowledgement that detaining children below the age of criminal responsibility is illegal, the army continues to do so in Hebron, as this video shows.  As for changing the intense restrictions on Palestinians in Hebron that stifle civic life – that is not even on the agenda of the occupation authorities. Moreover, as Gideon Levy reports, Wadi’ Maswadeh has already been traumatised by his experience. It is doubtful that the Border Police’s internal inquiry will change how they respond to demonstrations in East Jerusalem. Perhaps coincidentally, B’tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli was shot at close range and injured by a rubber-coated bullet fired by the Border Police while documenting a weekly demonstration at Nebi Saleh, in the West Bank, on Friday July 19th. Nor has there been any backtracking by the Israeli government on the Prawer plan. Instead, on July 16th, the day of the Jewish 9th of Av fast that commemorates the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem, another unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev, Al-Arakib, was demolished for the 53rd time.

In both cases, activist documentation of the use of force by occupation authorities has not only exposed that violence locally and internationally, but has prompted those authorities to admit that something is amiss. The activists, who practice non-violence and uphold human rights, have taken a small step in decreasing state violence. In doing so, they bring peace closer by a small increment, because they open up a non-violent path out of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. They increase the chances for a future peace by practicing and promoting peaceful ways not only of resisting the occupation, but also for the occupation forces to counter that opposition. Non-violent action is an embodiment of the peace that negotiators try to achieve. It is also an education for the occupation forces, a set of small lessons about acknowledging the humanity of the Palestinians and other protestors, about treating five year old boys as children not weapons, and about allowing people on an East Jerusalem street to eat and travel at the end of a fast day.

One would hope that such lessons could be learned and implemented while negotiations about peace negotiations are being held in Jerusalem, Amman, Ramallah and Washington. Just as we expect there to be a ‘cease-fire’ as diplomatic efforts to end the conflict go on, we should expect and demand that all use of force to carry on the occupation – demolitions, expulsions, arrests, travel restrictions – also be suspended. There is no such ‘cease-force’, and hence the small, non-violent steps to peace taken by activists to reduce repression by occupation forces are more concrete steps to peace than those reported in the main headlines.

World War Zion: or Trumpeldor’s Return

Zombies rush the wall in World War Z. Paramount Pictures

Zombies rush the wall in World War Z. Paramount Pictures

(spoiler alert)

By now word is out that the new Hollywood summer blockbuster zombie movie, World War Z, includes a controversial section about Israel/Palestine. In the rapidly paced plot, driven at the speed of an action movie, the world is overrun by a viral pandemic of fast-moving zombies. Gerry Lane, the hero of the film, an American former UN investigator (remobilized for the emergency), played by co-producer Brad Pitt, learns from a former CIA operative in a US military jail in South Korea that Israel knew of the outbreak and had time to quarantine itself behind a wall. Lane flies to Jerusalem, where Mossad agent Jurgen Warmbrunn dispels the hint of a global Zionist conspiracy by explaining that they had intercepted Indian military communications about fighting the zombies, then implemented their survival plan based on prior experience of persecution and attack. As Lane is shown around Jerusalem, the film shows scenes (filmed in Malta) of a huge wall on the edge of Jerusalem that clearly resembles the existing notorious separation wall that encloses and cuts off most of the Palestinian West Bank. As in reality, the film portrays an elaborate military checkpoint through which healthy people of any background may pass into the safe zone, apparently allowing Palestinian Arabs as well as Israeli Jews to enter. But the joyful survivors celebrate together noisily, attracting the zombies outside, who pile on top of each other to climb over the wall, bringing the safe haven of Zion to an end. Lane narrowly escapes by plane, taking with him one of the Israeli military escorts, a woman who calls herself by her rank segen (lieutenant) and whose left arm Lane amputated hastily after she was bitten by a zombie, thereby saving her. Segen becomes Lane’s lieutenant for the rest of the film, a heroine who assists him in discovering and obtaining the medical means to camouflage the survivors from the zombies, namely, injecting the healthy with terminal but curable pathogens.

Al-Jazeera reported that some viewers have interpreted the film (both critically and favourably) to be ‘pro-Israeli’ because it justifies the separation wall as a means to keep out an implacable enemy bent on the annihilation of the Israeli population. Others noted the irony of Palestinians as well as Jewish Israelis being admitted through the checkpoint in the film, while others pointed out that the wall failed to keep out the threat. In a piece published in the Washington Post, Jake Coyle noted the ambiguity of the film’s message about the wall, wondering if it might be a symbol of peace, a haven for Jews and Muslims, which unfortunately is not secure enough. In light of the film’s sympathetic treatment of Israel’s brief, militarized survival as the world’s last civilized state, Jordan Hoffman approvingly takes it to be ‘the greatest piece of cinematic propaganda for Israel since Otto Preminger’s Exodus’, even while noting that it is the ‘joyous cherished vision of unity and peace’ – Israel’s admission of Palestinian as well as Jewish survivors who celebrate together – that leads to its downfall. Jesse Benjamin notes the same point in her critical reading according to which the audience is treated to a ‘not at all veiled justification of Israel’s current and widely condemned Apartheid Wall’ along with the usual (for Hollywood) racial and gender hierarchies.

The ‘message’ of the film regarding Israel goes deeper than whether the wall failed because it was not mighty, high or exclusive enough, or because the survivors were too noisy in their celebration, or because the wall is a failed strategy for security. The real wall itself is often credited by the Israeli government with preventing terrorist attacks, especially suicide bombers. ‘Zuicide’ bombers appear akin to zombies in that they are implacable, irrational, inhuman, and are already dead, or committed to death. Yet, the wall is neither complete yet, nor hermetically sealed, and the Palestinian Authority’s security force’s sustained cooperation with their Israeli counterparts, along with changes in Palestinian attitudes towards such violence, probably explains as much about the reduction in suicide bombings as does the wall itself. Nor is it one wall that encloses Israel, but a series of walls, fences, barriers and checkpoints built around Palestinians in the West Bank, in addition to being a target of protest and resistance itself.

Less significant than the portrayal of the wall in the film is its very character as an action drama infused with the terror of human annihilation by the mouths of the insatiable zombies. If, as I did, viewers suspend all disbelief, mortal fear is rarely more than 30 seconds away. Such existential anxiety in the film has been carried over from the books by Max Brooks on which it is loosely based, who explains in an interview that his books are not horror that conjures up fear but instead a vehicle for ‘a baseline level of just anxiety about the world I live in’ (emphasis added). The child of anxious and protective parents, Brooks enables his readers to ‘metabolize’ their fears about the world – HIV/AIDS, post 9/11 instability, natural disasters – into science fiction. The zombies are not real, but the grounds for fear are.

In the case of Israel and Zionism, such existential fear for survival is rarely far from the surface. For many, probably most, Jewish Israelis, fear of collective annihilation by a ferocious, implacable enemy underlies their felt need for security embodied in armed force and high walls. Zionism’s first military hero was Joseph Trumpeldor, a decorated former officer in the Russian army, who lost his left arm in battle (like Segen in the film), emigrated to Palestine in 1911, and died as the legendary defender of the Tel Hai settlement in 1920. Given Trumpeldor’s fate, I was relieved that Segen survived the movie, but by now Trumpeldor is very much a faded legend in Israel, as much a target of satire as a heroic figure, as Yael Zerubavel explains in her book Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition. Segen, self-identified only by military rank, is always serious. With her shorn head, she appears in the scene in which she and Lane survive a plane crash wrapped in a blanket, looking every inch like a death camp survivor. The connection between near annihilation in the Holocaust and survival through military might is blatant. In the face of such inhuman hostility, much Israeli policy operates under the conviction that ‘the whole world is against us’, and ‘there is no partner for peace’. In World War Zion, Israel faces the zombies alone, and there can be no peace with zombies, or zuicide bombers.

Segen (Danielle Kertesz) with Brad Pitt in "World War Z" (photo credit: Courtesy)

Segen (Danielle Kertesz) with Brad Pitt in “World War Z” (photo credit: Courtesy)

The fear is real, but the zombies are not. The Palestinians are not zombies, but people who want what Israelis have: civil rights, independence, and so on. Not all Israeli Jews see the Palestinians and other Arabs (and Muslims) as zombies, and Israeli perceptions and policies change over time. But the upper hand is with those who see zombies everywhere, build walls to keep them at bay, and disregard the value of their lives. The lives of the Palestinians do not count. Their lives are not, as the American Jewish philosopher Judith Butler puts it in another context, grievable when Palestinians are framed in Israeli discourse as zombies.

The ‘zombies’ that many Jewish Israelis fear came from elsewhere, from another time and place. Like the fears that Brooks channels into science fiction, these Israeli Jews displace their just fears of former persecutors in Europe and other places onto Palestinians and Arabs in general. It is a fear that I carry too, a fear that also allowed me to feel, for a while, in the movie that if only Israel survived, that would be good enough. But in order to avoid the injustice of treating Palestinians as zombies, as ungrievable lives, I and other Jewish Israelis need to understand – and feel- that we are not the only ones who are afraid, whose lives are lived in the shadow of existential anxiety, whose lives are, as Butler says, precarious. Out of concern for own precariousness, we have imposed it on the Palestinians. We have sought to be exclusive and pure in our precariousness, yet in the film it is not purity that immunizes human beings against the zombie threat (by camouflaging them), but self-contagion with pathogens. So long as we seek to be utterly secure at the cost of the insecurity and precariousness of Palestinian existence, we will not be secure, nor will we be at peace. Acknowledging the shared human condition of precariousness, and the unjust imposition of it on those we frame as zombies, is a precondition for a future peace.

Too Late for Two States? A Stale Debate Makes News

Palestinian street scene (Israel Channel 2 news, screenshot)

Palestinian street scene (Israel Channel 2 news, screenshot)

Estimated cost of removing settlements (Israel Channel 2 news, screenshot)

Estimated cost of removing settlements (Israel Channel 2 news, screenshot)

I’m not a fan of Israel’s Channel 2 news, but I watch it online precisely for the reasons that I dislike it. Its broadcasts exemplify wonderfully Israel’s ‘extreme centre’, the mainstream, consensual  prejudices, defensiveness and self-righteousness of Israel’s ‘white tribe’, its Jewish, Ashkenazi, middle class. It is (not coincidentally) the channel on which Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid used to host a talk show, and then the ‘Friday Studio’ news magazine programme. That honour is now held by Danny Kushmaro, who this week (31 May 2013) filed his own extended report: ‘Two States: Have We Missed the Opportunity?’ As one of his interviewees, academic and former politician Meron Benvenisti, pointed out, the significance of the report is that it raises the question of whether a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is possible, and explains to the viewers that this is a stale (literally ‘mouldy’) debate.

It is indeed a stale debate for Benvenisti, who made the case as long ago as 1984 in his West Bank Data Project report that the Israeli settlement project in the Palestinian Occupied Territories is irreversible and that there could be no divided sovereignty between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. However, for Kushmaro this is newsworthy. He framed his recorded report from the studio by presenting  as obstacles to the two state solution the presence of 350,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, along with the lack of political leadership on both sides,.

Ostensibly, the point of the report is to contrast the official Israeli government policy of ‘two states for two peoples’ with its impossibility. The first point is established through a series of clips of footage in which Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, Benjamin Netanyahu, Yair Lapid and Shimon Peres all state their support for the two state policy. Netanyahu does so thrice, once in English for good measure. The case that the opportunity for two states has passed (or that it never existed) is made in three interviews, the first being with Meron Benvenisti, whose skepticism about it predates its adoption by the mainstream Israeli peace camp, especially Peace Now, during the first intifada. Retired politician Yossi Sarid represents the mainstream left, telling us from his living room that ‘the State of the Land of Israel’ has defeated the ‘State of Israel’, that ‘we’ have all been defeated as the settlers are leading us to the ‘end of the Zionist dream’. While he still hopes for another ending, he fears that as far as two states go, ‘the train has already left the station’. For the politically illiterate, he adds that Netanyahu’s declared acceptance of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel was a ‘statement of political charlatanry’. Former Defence Minister Moshe Arens concurs in his interview that the settlers have won, but he has consistently opposed Palestinian statehood. Additional support for the case is made by Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, whose point in a brief interview is that while most Palestinian still support a two state solution, they no longer believe it is a practical possibility, and by leading Fatah official Abu Ala, who in a short clip says that if the two state approach has failed, there will be one state.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, himself a settler, makes a hapless case for the official government line, undermining it by pointing out that it is only a theoretical issue, a matter for Israelis to discuss among themselves, given the condition of the ‘Palestinian side’. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni sounds more convincing when she insists on her commitment to the two state solution as the only way to sustain Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, despite the difficulties and complexities. Yet, she seems to have been interviewed in the lobby of the studio, as if to indicate that her formulaic statements belong in the never-never land of no progress on peace talks, alluded to in Elkin’s interview, so long as there is ‘no partner for peace’. The issue is, she says, to get into the negotiation room, but she is not in a room herself. The most forceful arguments for the two state approach came for the studio pundits, especially Amnon Abromovich and Udi Segal, commenting after the report. The former claimed the naysayers had formed a link between extreme left and right, which is just what someone from the extreme center would say. The latter managed to make it sound as if he was arguing with him, while insisting that there is no alternative to the two state solution, that former rightists such as Olmert and Netanyahu had come to accept it, that when push comes to shove Israel will make the decision and withdraw, that it is unthinkable that a Palestinian from Nablus would become a citizen of Israel, and that those settlers living outside the settlement blocs (which contain about 75% of the settlers on about 4% of the West Bank) who do not wish to leave can stay. Whatever point Danny Kushmaro had tried to make in his report, they were having none of it. After all, how could they be considered experts if they changed their minds after 13 minutes of footage?

There is certainly much missing in the report, such as a graphic telling us what are the cost of Israeli government support for the settlements, and the additional costs of occupation, including building and maintaining the separation wall. The most significant omission is the range of debate within Israel (as well as Palestine) about alternatives to the two state solution. For example, in the summer of 2012 there was a whole issue of the political science journal Public Sphere, published by Tel Aviv University, dedicated to the question of a single state as a utopia or emerging reality. Kushmaro’s report pitted Benvenisti against the Israeli left, but there is a vibrant if small left which since the collapse of the Oslo process has been discussing with some intensity the question of what sort of political entity should replace Israel and its military occupation: a bi-national state, a federal or confederal arrangement, a unitary state of civil equality, or even no state at all. That is not a stale debate, but one worthy of its own Friday evening extended coverage.

Visually, however, the report seemed to be making another case too. Although the number of 350,000 Israeli settlers is repeated in a graph several minutes into the report, the camera favours the physical existence of the settlements as evidence of the irreversibility of the settlement project. Settlements are shown as the backdrop to Meron Benvenisti’s interview, from a viewpoint where he could show how in the area between East Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim known as E1, wherever one can see trees there is an Israeli settlement. Ze’ev Elkin also points out his own settlement and neighbouring ones during his interview from a similar vantage point, as the camera sweepingly takes possession of the land. When the figure of 42 milliard shekels (over $11 milliard) is cited as the cost of evacuating 70,000 settlers, it is displayed on screen against a background of settlements seen from afar and above. When it is suggested at the end of the report that perhaps a new solution to the conflict is needed, we see settlement building activity, to which we return, complete with heavy machinery and then a shot of a multi-storied set of dwellings built on a hillside, at the very end of the report, which concludes that with each passing day the two state solution becomes less possible. Oddly, the report only shows settlers in footage of them being removed by Israeli authorities from the Gaza settlements. Once, we see such scenes during the interview with Moshe Arens who refers to the ‘uprooting’ of those settlements as a national trauma, while patriotic music plays in the background. We see similar scenes, as well as the forced evacuation of a small hill-top settlement, when the report emphasises how difficult it would be to remove tens of thousands of settlers. Settlements appear in the report to be concrete manifestations of possession of the land, scoped from other points of visual mastery of the landscape, not places where people live.

By contrast, on the occasions when we are shown Palestinian areas of the West Bank, we see streets full of cars and people, first when we are told that the Palestinians would not accept the removal of only 70,000 settlers, but at least 150,000, and then as the backdrop to a couple of vox pop pieces in which two Palestinian men from Ramallah state that 19 years of negotiations have brought no progress and that they would prefer rights and equality under Israel (backing up Shikaki’s assessment). The other typical shot of the Palestinian areas is of graffiti-covered walls (not only the separation wall). Twice we see Arafat’s iconic face, once when the commentary says how many more settlers the Palestinians want to go (as if Arafat is the cause of such ‘intransigence’). His other appearance comes at the point in Kushmaro’s voice-over when he says that the Palestinian Authority is on the point of financial collapse. Along with Arafat’s portrait, we see shots of Palestinian flags and maps on the walls. So, it seems that the Palestinians live in crowded streets, hemmed in by walls decorated by nationalist sentiment. Empty Israeli settlements shot from afar; busy Palestinian streets filmed up close. Somehow, the camera (the shots, the editing, the soundtrack) cannot help but reiterate that whatever the political solution may be, what we see before us is alien settlement and an occupied people.

When Peace Became a Dirty Word: John Kerry and the Peddling of Pseudo-Peace

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prior to their meeting in Jerusalem on May 23, 2013. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prior to their meeting in Jerusalem on May 23, 2013. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

Peace is generally thought to be a good thing, conjuring up positive, pastoral images of lions lying down with lambs, swords being beaten into ploughshares, and each person sitting unafraid under their vine and fig tree. Yet, this near-universal and enduring admiration of peace has been perverted in Israel/Palestine, not because of any honest, outspoken preference for war but because ‘peace’ has been contaminated by pseudo-peace. A key trigger for my project on Israeli peace images was a report in Ha’aretz on June 10th 2004 that some 40 Israeli and Palestinian media and public relations professionals would be meeting in Jordan ‘to try and find a way to promote the brand name of peace,’ and ‘to create a ‘local and international campaign to promote the image of peace’. The campaign was initiated by the director of the Peres Center for Peace, Ron Pundak, who was one of the negotiators of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO. He acknowledged that the ‘image of the peace brand …. has been worn down over the past few years,’ but hoped that the public relations experts could achieve what the diplomats had been unable to do, namely ‘to define certain concepts, such as coexistence, in a way that will be acceptable to both sides’. As it happens, the peace branding campaign never got off the ground, because the Israelis and Palestinians participating in it could not agree on a concept of peace to promote. But what had tarnished the image of peace, and how has it been corroded even further since 2004?

The most obvious answer is that by 2004 the Oslo process had lost all credibility, in the wake of the failed Camp David talks between Israeli Prime Minister Barak and Palestinian President Arafat in 2000 and the violence of the Second Intifada. That answer suggests that the image of peace has been eroded because the promise of peace has not been fulfilled, and raised expectations have been dashed. Yet, equally significant in the context of 2004 was the international Quartet’s April 2003 road map for peace, which offered nothing that had not already been proposed under Oslo (It did, however, cover the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the positions they reoccupied inside the Palestinian areas during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002). Ironically, it is pursuit of the pseudo peace of the ‘peace process’ that has tarnished the image of peace among the very people in Israel (and Palestine) that do the most to build peace.

When I visited Israel in the summer of 2009, an academic colleague who has been active in anti-occupation groups and refused reserve military duty in the Palestinian Occupied Territories put it this way – that only a charlatan still speaks about peace. Retroactively, he considered the organization he co-founded, The Twenty First Year, and other groups to the ‘left’ of Peace Now during the first intifada such as End the Occupation, to have been directed against the occupation rather than for peace. Yet, one of our common protest chants at the time was ‘Peace – Yes! Occupation – No’, while the most concrete notion of peace we had in mind was of two states for two peoples, a proposal that was then radical if not unthinkable in Israeli political culture. It seemed clear to us in 1988 that ending the occupation and bringing peace implied each other. However, in June 2009, the charlatan-in-chief, Prime Minister Netanyahu, publicly and cynically endorsed the ‘two state solution’, while his government did as much as it could to ensure that such peace could not be achieved (such as expanding settlements).

It is not surprising, then, that currently Israeli and Palestinian peace-builders often do not identify as peace activists. In her book Struggling for a Just Peace: Israeli and Palestinian Activism in the Second Intifada, Maia Carter Hallward noted an accentuation of this trend between 2004-5 and 2008 among activists in Ta’ayush, Machsom Watch, Rabbis for Human Rights, and other groups (151, 158). For the mainstream Jewish Israeli public disillusion with ‘peace’ deepened because Israeli’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005 was taken to be a step towards peace taken by Israel to which Hamas responded with Qassam rockets. So much, then, for the formula of ‘territories in return for peace’. But for the activist peace camp, following the Israeli withdrawal Gaza was still under occupation, now out of reach for nearly all Israelis and West Bank Palestinians, and in effect under siege. Hallward considers it crucial as a researcher to focus on ‘peace work rather than peace words’ (54), noting how the latter has become so discredited that is has become a dirty word among activists (164).   

Last week saw the end of yet another international effort to ‘revive the peace process’ that further eroded the image of peace. Unable to bring the Palestinian Authority and Israeli government any closer than they had been before, US Secretary of State John Kerry ended a spell of intensive diplomatic toing and froing with an announcement that the two sides needed to think about their positions and a plan to boost the Palestinian private economy (meaning the West Bank economy), so as to reduce the PA’s dependency on the foreign aid that actually supports the status quo. Under such circumstances, I can only agree with Noam Sheizaf of the +972 blog that:

what this moment calls for, more than anything else, is some honesty. Kerry would have done his own cause justice if he simply stated that there is no peace process, nor has there been one in recent times, and that the current trends on the ground are likely to continue in the foreseeable future.

The peace process is a pseudo peace, a ‘peace’ in which there can be endless negotiations  while at the same time occupation continues, settlements expand, a permit system and checkpoints obstruct Palestinian movement, the separation wall is completed, Palestinians can be imprisoned without trial, and the Palestinian economy is subordinated to the Israeli one. There is ‘peace’ and there is just peace, and the peace that Kerry has been peddling is the snake oil of the charlatan.

Obama’s Peace, Our Occupation

Cover of Shimon Peres' book from 1993

Cover of Shimon Peres’ book from 1993

Watching Obama's speech in Rabin square. From Peace Now facebook page.

Watching Obama’s speech in Rabin square. From Peace Now facebook page.

Despite the low expectations about President Obama’s visit to Israel and Palestine, everyone on the Israeli left seems to want to talk about his speech to Israeli students, which was also his direct address to the Israeli public rather than its politicians. Quick off the mark was Moriel Rothman in his Leftern Wall blog, who found five positive points in the otherwise biased, ‘gloop-filled’ speech, such as Obama’s call for an independent, viable Palestinian state to achieve peace, his condemnation of unpunished settler violence, and especially the phrase: ‘Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer’. Similarly, Gush Shalom praised the speech for reminding us ‘that peace is possible and necessary, that we do have a partner for peace, … and that Israel must end the occupation’. Peace Now labelled it a ‘historic speech’. Commentators in Ha’aretz were impressed too. Ari Shavit considered the 18 minutes of the speech dedicated to the pursuit of a necessary, just and possible peace to be ‘a soft admonishment’ to Israelis in what was otherwise ‘a royal visit of love’. According to Barak Ravid, the speech was ‘a combination of a warm embrace and a punch in the gut’, both identifying with Jewish Israeli self-perceptions and also trying to ‘shake their paranoia and their fears’. More critical voices on the +972 blog noted that while the speech contained some ‘niceties regarding peace … the Right proved that the occupation has no cost, that the rift with the U.S. doesn’t exist and that denying the Palestinians their freedom is sustainable policy’. Obama called settlements ‘counterproductive’ to peace, but he did not repeat his 2009call for a freeze. And he endorsed the recent Israeli expectation to be recognized as a Jewish State by the Palestinian Authority, even though about twenty percent of Israel’s population isn’t Jewish but Palestinian Arab.

Obama’s visit to Israel was a successful charm offensive, his speech being a key part of that by taking rhetorical responsibility for the state of mind of the Jewish Israeli public. He did this most clearly when he said first in Hebrew and then in English ‘You are not alone’ so long as the USA exists, a point repeated twice when he said that ‘Israel has the unshakable support of the most powerful country in the world’ and that the USA is ‘a country that you can count on as your greatest friend’. Before first making that point, he had rehearsed the Zionist narrative of Jewish exile, persecution, and longing for return to the promised land, of building the land, of resilient defence in the face of external hatred and military threats to the state’s existence and terrorism, of rebuffed offers for peace to the Arab world. No wonder, then, that for the audience in Ramallah Obama’s speech proved that he’s more Jewish than the Jews, according Amira Hass’s report. And perhaps it’s less surprising, given all this reassurance that Jewish Israeli fears are not only understood but also justified, that the applause continued to punctuate Obama’s speech when he called for justice for Palestinians too, for them to be ‘a free people in their own land’ (echoing the words of Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem, in reference to Jewish nationhood).

In advance of Obama’s delivery of the speech, we were told that its writer, Ben Rhodes, would want to convey messages that ‘that Israel can no longer rely on authoritarian leaders in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world to help guarantee its security’ and that ‘people can make a difference, even if their leaders are stuck’. Those points were made, but what matters more are the grounds of the American appeal to Jewish Israel (overlooking the non-Jewish fifth of Israel) which is based on complete American identification with Israel. The speech also hopes that the reassurance of this empathetic identification will propel Jewish Israelis to identify with what it takes to be the shared hopes of Palestinians. It offers an image of peace in which both Israelis and Palestinians are said to want the same things: ‘the ability to make their own decisions and to get an education and to get a good job, to worship God in their own way, to get married, to raise a family’. The speech asks the audience to imagine ‘a future in which Jews and Muslims and Christians can all live in peace and greater prosperity in this Holy Land’. In the final section of the speech, Obama focused on Israeli prosperity and innovation, echoing the Israeli PR image of the ‘start-up nation’. He figured Israel as the embodiment of that which people across the Middle East ‘are yearning for — education, entrepreneurship, the ability to start a business without paying a bribe, the ability to connect to the global economy’. In other words, Obama asked Jewish Israelis to identify peace with the sort of prosperity offered by neo-liberal global capitalism, the prosperity that some Israelis do enjoy, but most feel excluded from, as demonstrated by the massive social protests of the summer of 2011. Nonetheless, it is a positive image of peace that speaks to Israeli sensibilities, a continuation of the charm offensive. His host, Israeli President Shimon Peres, had tried to sell a similar image of peace at the time of the Oslo agreements, but his vision of a prosperous new Middle East has long since been tarnished by the absence of peace and the failure of negotiations.

Yet, in another key section of the speech Obama identified peace as justice, first insisting on the centrality of Israeli security to any peace agreement, then calling on Israelis to identify with Palestinians, to ‘put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes’. Briefly, Jewish Israelis were invited to see the Israeli military as a ‘foreign army’ in the Palestinian occupied territories, to see themselves as farmers barred from their land and families displaced from their homes. But only briefly, and then peace as justice gave way to peace as prosperity, and the Israeli audience saw itself mirrored again in America’s unconditional love, the favoured child of its Big (M)Other, tied by a relationship that began just ‘eleven minutes after Israeli independence’.

In this speech Obama failed to ‘create the change that you want to see’, if indeed he wanted to picture peace as justice and for Israelis to identify with Palestinians. Instead, he reinforced the prevalent Israeli view that their security takes precedence over justice for Palestinians (in the form of the ending of occupation and independent statehood). The speech reassures Jewish Israelis that they should repeat their hegemonic narrative of victimhood and persecution, according to which the question of justice pertains primarily to righting the wrong of past generations through present force and might. Seeing itself in the mirror of American power, when asked to see the world through Palestinian eyes, this Jewish Israeli narrative can see only that a Palestinian child is being beaten, not that we are beating the Palestinian child.

No justice, no peace.