Tag Archives: John Kerry

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.