Tag Archives: Gaza

“Governments sign treaties, people make peace”: Buma Inbar

Mourning can be paralyzing, a melancholia that never abates. Living with bereavement can

Buma Inbar at the Erez crossing point to Gaza, during the Israeli war on Gaza, 2014. Courtesy of Buma Inbar

Buma Inbar with Turkish aid workers at the Erez crossing point to Gaza, during the Israeli war on Gaza, 2014. Courtesy of Buma Inbar

be no life at all, a life that is entirely absorbed by loss and grief. When the death of a loved one is the consequence of war, it’s easy for those, like me, who have never experienced such loss to imagine some ways to respond to the loss: to seek vengeance against the enemy; to become a bitter cynic about those responsible for the war; to flee to another life, in another part of the world, or in addiction. Harder to imagine is the response of Buma Inbar, an Israeli humanitarian and peace activist who works independently under the slogan “Governments sign treaties (may it come to pass), people make peace.” You can read more about his work and his story in this interview on the Just Vision website, and in this profile of him by the Fund for Reconciliation Tolerance and Peace.

I am on Buma’s email list, and October 10th I read this moving message from him, (which I have translated from Hebrew with his permission) calling on his contacts to attend the annual rally to commemorate the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

On October 15 1995 my oldest son Sergeant Yotam Inbar, a soldier in the Golani Brigade, was killed along with another six soldiers in an utterly unnecessary and preventable incident. To my great sorry, in the last war, “Protective Edge”, once again seven soldiers from the same unit were killed because they were in the wrong APC in the wrong place.

A few days after my son Yotam was killed, I took part in the rally where Prime Minister Rabin was murdered. At the rally, sensing the steps of peace around the corner, arriving any moment, I felt that my son would be the last sacrifice before peace. To my great sorrow, that’s not how things turned out, and the wars and lack of peace continue in our region, along with the awful Occupation.

I lost my faith, but I didn’t lose my hope for peace, reconciliation, and prevention of further bereavement in our region. And so I keep going on my path.

And so indeed he keeps on going, when others are paralyzed. It would be too easy for Buma to connect his own personal grief with the collective grief about Rabin, in fatalistic mourning for the peace that never came, that was killed along with Rabin leadership in that Tel Aviv square in November 1995. Instead, he is driven by his son’s memory to keep going, as he said in an interview: “I wonder sometimes what he would think about what I’m doing. I know he would be proud.”

The Erez crossing point from Gaza into Israel. Courtesy of Buma Inbar.

The Erez crossing point from Gaza into Israel. Courtesy of Buma Inbar.

Unlike many others in the “peace camp,” Buma did not give up hope when the Oslo process failed because his hope is not in what governments can do, but in what he and other people can do. Much (but by no means all) of his humanitarian work has been dedicated to enabling Palestinians from the Gaza and West Bank to access medical treatment in Israel or East Jerusalem. The recent Israeli war on Gaza didn’t interrupt his efforts, working at the Erez crossing point to assist sick and injured Palestinians to travel to Turkey and Jerusalem, even as rockets fell. In an interview on Israel’s Channel 1 TV about his work, his voice almost failed him as he expressed his condolences to the families of the Golani soldiers who had just been killed, like his son, “my heart goes out to them”.

Buma carries on despite criticism. Why does he help the enemy, the people who killed his son? Because their suffering and loss is no different to his, he says. For others, his humanitarian work is not political enough, not sufficiently critical of the occupation and the system of power through which Israel rules and oppresses. He has to cooperate with the Israeli army and security services – or Israeli occupation forces – to get things done, and he doesn’t mind praising their humanitarian procedures. His work can be exploited to show “good” Israelis in contrast to “cruel” Palestinians. By relieving, even to a small extent, the suffering caused by the Israeli attack, he’s making it easier for the unbearable situation to be borne. Perhaps, but more likely he’s doing what he says he’s doing, making peace one sick person at a time, having compassion for the pain of the occupiers while tending the wounds of the occupied.

It won’t stop until we talk

Parents' Circle slogan

Parents’ Circle slogan

Yesterday came the awful news of the breakdown of the 72 hour humanitarian ceasefire in the Gaza war known as Operation Protective Edge, and that an Israeli soldier (Hadar Goldin) was missing, perhaps abducted by Hamas, perhaps already dead. It seemed that there would be no end to the Israeli ground operation and continued attack on built-up areas in Gaza, with the terrible toll in Palestinian civilian casualties as well as the losses of Israel and Palestinian fighters. Today (August 2, 2014) it seems that there is some relief. As I write, the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Security Minister Ya’alon are completing a press conference in which they confirm earlier reports during the day that Israeli forces are withdrawing from built up areas in northern Gaza and that all the known tunnels crossing from Gaza into Israel will be destroyed within hours. The Israeli government is scaling back the war in Gaza unilaterally, rather than trying to arrange another ceasefire with Hamas and beginning negotiations for a longer term agreement through Egyptian (and other) mediation. They will rely on deterrence, the cost of the war for Hamas and Gaza, instead of coming to an arrangement to end the military violence. At the same time, they said that the Israeli government would continue to do whatever it takes to achieve “quiet” and security for Israeli citizens.

But it isn’t over. It’s not over not only for the reasons that the Israeli government gave, namely that the air bombardment or fighting on the ground would resume if it turns out that Hamas are not already deterred. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri had already declared that Hamas won’t be bound by any Israeli unilateral measure: “They either stay in Gaza and pay the price, unilaterally retreat and pay, or negotiate and pay.” Probably, the Israeli government’s latest move has left the cards in the hands of Hamas, who can choose to drag Israeli forces back into full-scale war as they wish.

It’s not over not because nothing has changed. More than 1600 Palestinians have been killed, along with 66 Israelis, and thousands of homes and other buildings in Gaza have been destroyed. The death and destruction has been colossal and dreadful.

It’s not over because we didn’t talk. It’s not over because the underlying issues that led to the violence have not been addressed. It’s not over because there is still an occupation; there is still a siege on Gaza; there are still Israeli settlements throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories; there is still one law for Israelis and another for Palestinians in Area C; there is still a separation barrier running through Palestinian land; there are still checkpoints restricting Palestinian movement; there are still Palestinian refugees. It’s not over because Hamas and Islamic Jihad use murderous military violence rather than nonviolent means to bring the Palestinians an independent state. It’s not over for all the reasons that a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has not been reached yet.

At the root of all those reasons is the refusal to talk. To really talk. To speak and to listen. To hear what is painful and to say what you fear to say. To talk not only to those with whom one feels comfortable, but with those whom you don’t trust and don’t like. To talk to your enemies. There are many reasons why Israel’s government and its citizens distrust Hamas and also the Palestinian Authority, and why talking with them will be difficult, painful, infuriating. And vice versa.

It’s not over in part because the Israeli government has decided that as a matter of policy it will not talk. It will not talk, except by the most indirect means to Hamas at all, and it will not talk in good faith – really talk – to the Palestinian Authority. It will not talk about peace agreements other than as a way to keep talking but not talk at all. And it won’t talk to a Palestinian reconciliation government that includes Hamas. It won’t talk to Hamas other than through the coercive, violent language of Operation Brother’s Keeper and Operation Protective Edge. Hamas talks back with rockets and tunnel attacks. Helluva way to talk.

PCFC.logoIn the midst of the horrific, terrible violence there has been a quiet voice, a voice that talks, that really talks, because it also listens, because it talks for the sake of talking. Not empty talking, but talking for the sake of reconciliation, for the sake of practicing peace long before the politicians get around to talking earnestly about peace. The voice, and the ear, is the Parents Circle Families Forum whose slogan is “It won’t stop until we talk.” During this war, the group of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families has made efforts, such as this video on social media, to keep talking, to turn people away from the violence that breeds bereavement, and to turn them towards the talk that also listens in their “Peace Tent.”  The tent has operated daily throughout the war, in Tel Aviv’s Cinematheque square, offering a space in their words, “to provide an alternative to the propaganda and hatred running rampant in Israel …. [and]  share their stories, their choice for reconciliation.” It’s not over yet, because not enough people are listening.