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.

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.

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.