Tag Archives: John Kerry

Without Palestinian Susiya, what would be Peace?

I cannot imagine what any sort of peace in Israel-Palestine would look like if the planned demolition of the Palestinian village of Susiya by Israeli occupation forces and the displacement of its residents to outside of Area C of the West Bank goes ahead. The case of Susiya is by now well known and has been a focus of sustained legal and grass-roots campaigns by Rabbis for Human Rights and B’Tselem (click on the links for detailed information). But it is astounding that the village is now facing its third destruction and dispersal. It began with the establishment of the Israeli settlement of Susiya in 1983 on Palestinian land, followed in 1986 by the eviction of the villagers after their land was declared a Jewish archaeological site. That says a lot about how occupation works – the justification of Jewish presence of the land in the past comes at the cost of Palestinian presence on the land (documented since Ottoman times) in the present. The Israeli settlement project in the West Bank (and elsewhere) entails an exclusive Jewish right to settle on the land, and hence the dispossession of the Palestinians who are already settled.

Since 1986 the villagers have been trapped in a Kafkaesque Catch 22. They relocated to other agricultural land and built temporary structures in addition to using caves, but the occupation authorities never approved any plans for reconstructing the village, meaning all construction was technically illegal. In 2001 the occupation authorities demolished the village as revenge for the murder of an Israeli settler in Susiya, and since then there have been a series of demolition orders, petitions to the Israeli High Court by the villagers, and temporary stays of demolition. Since 2001 the villagers and their property have been attacked repeatedly by settlers who have also blocked access to their land, Despite numerous complaints filed with the Israeli authorities, there has been almost no redress. In 2013 the occupation authorities rejected a plan for the village, proposing instead to relocate the villagers into Area A, which the villagers have petitioned against. The Israeli High Court is due to consider the case again on August 3rd 2015, but on May 4th the court denied a request for an interim injunction against demolitions, and occupation authorities announced that the destruction would go ahead between July 20th and August 3rd.

susya mapI have posted previously about how the relocated village of Susiya is itself an archaeological site that tells the story of occupation. Now it has become the site of an intensive campaign to save Susiya. As usual, there is an online campaign: the hashtags #savesusiya and #standwithsusiya; the Facebook page Stand with Susiya; a Thunderclap petition; an email campaign by Jewish Voice for Peace to John Kerry; a letter campaign by the International Solidarity Movement to EU officials and Israeli embassies; and no doubt some more. The impending demolition has already attracted international attention. Spokesperson for the US State Department John Kirby said on July 16th that the demolition “would be harmful and provocative,” and Israeli Channel 2 TV news broadcast his statement. The Guardian newspaper was among the international press that had already covered the story in June.

Yet, what will matter more than all of this will be non-violent direct action on the ground. Rabbis for Human Rights are trying a last minute intercession through their lawyer, who referred to the planned eviction as transfer. At the same time, they and other groups, such as the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee have called for action in the village, including a demonstration on Friday 24th and a constant presence of Israeli and international supporters. Maybe all together, the campaign will halt the demolition until August 3rd, but even then there is no guarantee that the court will spare Susiya from destruction.

area cWhy does Susiya matter? What difference would it make if a couple of hundred Palestinians moved a few kilometers? The case of Susiya is clearly a part of a pattern in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel retains full civil and military control, and where the “Civil” Administration’s planning powers are used cynically to enforce the creeping annexation of the area. As Area C is 60% of the territory of the West Bank, that would leave very little space for Palestinians to live, work and build on. It is not only a question of leaving no place for a Palestinian state, should the “two state” solution ever come to fruition. Whether there be one state, two states, or seven, there can only be peace if there is room for everyone to live. If there is demolition, eviction, displacement, transfer, and even if then there is no more violence as there is nobody left to oppress, but “quiet instead, there will not be peace. What follows victory is not peace but the shadow of war. The peace that might come, however, will be prefigured by the activists resisting occupation together.

Picturing the peace procession

Photographs of the signing of negotiated peace agreements are among the few conventions of the limited iconography of peace. Representing the partners shaking hands, perhaps even smiling at each other, often in the encouraging embrace of a mediator, such photographs are typical images of the sort of peace made between political leaders. Pictures of Arab-Israeli peace agreements follow an established formula, a seen in this vertical triptych printed by the New York Times on December 2, 2007.

Top, middle, Associated Press; lower, Doug Mills, New York Times.

Top, middle, Associated Press; lower, Doug Mills, New York Times.

The series is telling in itself. The top image shows Egyptian President Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Begin smiling and holding hands upon signing the 1979 treaty between their two countries under US President Carter’s close watch. The middle picture shows PLO Chairman and Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Rabin shaking hands, but without much warm body language, in the frame provided by Bill Clinton’s open arms, as they sign the 1993 Oslo Accords, which was a ‘Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements’ (to establish the Palestinian Authority) rather than a peace treaty. The Oslo Accords envisaged a full and final peace agreement within five years, but the lowest picture records the unfulfilled promise of the one above. In 2007, with President Bush’s hand’s off encouragement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert allegedly came close to a final agreement, but not close enough. Bush holds the hands of his two guests, who do not (in this image) shake each other hands or exchange looks.

livini.erekat.iftarThe current round of discussions, brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry, about how to restart direct talks between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority has already generated its own set of images. In a first series, the two chief negotiators, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat sit side by side opposite John Kerry at the dinner table, in a suitably posed impression of diplomatic relaxation before the hard work begins. Another series of pictures were published after it was announced that the talks about talks have produced the desired outcome of more talks that will begin in the Middle East in two weeks, aiming for a comprehensive peace agreement within nine months. These photos follow the generic convention of the mediator framing the two partners shaking hands.

erekat.livni.shakeIt may be more appropriate, though, to show here an image captured by CNN, before the two hands meet. The whole process seems so uncertain that all three participants have their eyes not on each other’s faces but on their hands. Will they or won’t they successfully grasp hands? At least the outcome of this encounter is much more certain than the achievement of a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The sense of uncertainty and justified scepticism about reaching a final agreement in such a time frame, and to some extent the corollary cynicism about repeated, unsuccessful peace processing, is reflected in a non-conventional image by T.J. Kirkpatrick in the New York Times. The shot captures the procession of diplomats, none of whom seem to be looking forward to a destination. Ereket looks at his watch, as if time is already running out. Livni looks down, uncertain of her ground. Kerry seems ready to reach out to Livni if she stumbles along the way. In the photo, the peace process has become its own goal, not peace itself.

kerry peace processThere is a part of me that was cheered by the news that this very first hurdle in the arduous process has been overcome. But that is the same part of me that expects to win the lottery, a part which indulges in wishful, if not magical, thinking. Once the procession begins, our attention switches to the success of the process, to the drama of breakthrough or breakdown in which the media frames peace diplomacy. For one thing, we lose sight of the peace for which we – and not only the suited diplomats – strive. Is a two-state solution the goal we should seek? Too late to ask, the race is on again. Our eyes are on the finishing line, not on the ground of the present, the ground on which the Israeli Housing Ministry today proposed to build an exclusively Jewish neighbourhood, in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, and the ground on which the Israeli occupation continues to operate by force. The peace that must be achieved is one that begins today, not as a photo-opportunity for but as practice of partnership. Perhaps, I hope, my suspicion about the pseudo-peace offered on John Kerry’s table will be proved groundless (and perhaps I will win the lottery). In the meantime, I place my modest hopes for peace with the activists against the occupation, not with the peace procession.