Tag Archives: peace activist

“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.

Israeli Election Results Bring Peace No Closer | Ceasefire Magazine

Israeli Election Results Bring Peace No Closer | Ceasefire Magazine.

Opinion Polls and Imaginary Peace

On December 30th 2012 the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz published a report by Barak Ravid on some seemingly surprising opinion poll results (followed the next day by an English version of the report). Two parallel polls in December asked the same question about voting intentions in an imagined referendum on a peace agreement along the lines of a two-state solution. What made the poll results newsworthy was that they showed that “most Likud-Beiteinu and the further-right Habayit Hayehudi voters would support a peace agreement establishing a demilitarized Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, Israel’s retention of major settlement blocs and a division of Jerusalem.” Not surprisingly, support among the general Israeli public was higher, being significantly higher among voters for the centre-left parties.

As Israeli peace activist Adam Keller writes in his Crazy Country blog, these poll results present a puzzle: “Half of the voters for both these parties are willing in principle to support a peace agreement with the Palestinians, but in practice they are about to fill Knesset seats with dozens of extreme right Members as well as those from the even more extreme right, who are completely opposed to even the most petty and cosmetic of concessions.” What are we to make of these people who in an opinion poll say they want one thing (peace) but at the same time declare their intention to intensify occupation? Are they subject to some sort of cognitive dissonance, or suffering from sort of neurotic ailment whereby they deny their own desires by fulfilling the demands of a nationalist super-ego?

Adam Keller’s answer is that “they believe what they had been repeatedly told over the past twelve years: there is no partner, the Palestinians do not want peace, there is no chance for peace, and all talk of peace is a pipe dream.” So, the poll asks the polled to engage in a game of “fantasy peace-making”. It’s not a problem to say you’d agree to a peace agreement when you’re asked to imagine a series of qualifying conditions, as in this case, where support was given to an agreement “whose implementation would take place only after the Palestinians would fulfil all their commitments with an emphasis on fighting terror, and the implementation would be monitored and verified by the United States”. The poll was also conducted in a way that sweetened the deal even further by offering “a number of additional favorable (from an Israeli viewpoint) elements” such as building a strong security fence along the border, disarming Hamas, and a US security guarantee, which increased support for the imagined agreement by about 8%. The basic principles of the agreement without these additional enticements already excluded any Palestinian right of return to Israel (only to the future Palestinian state), as well as consideration of Israel’s security needs in any territory exchanges based on the 1967 lines. (The full details of the polls can be found here).

As reflected in the Ha’aretz headline – “Most rightist Israelis would support Palestinian state, dividing Jerusalem” – the polls were conducted as part of a well-meaning effort to convey a message that most Israelis really do want peace, and so there is still hope for a two-state solution to the conflict, so long as Israelis’ security concerns are addressed. The polls were commissioned by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, which “works with leaders and policymakers in the United States and the Middle East to help reach a just and comprehensive peace that will bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.” It’s not a grass-roots peace organisation bringing Israelis and Palestinians together to understand and trust each other. The opinion polls are produced for the benefit of the policymakers.

So, what can the policymakers learn from such polls? Not that most Israelis have a deep desire for peace, but that they are happy to play fantasy peace negotiation, in which they deal with themselves about what the right conditions would be to vote “yes” in an imagined referendum. As the Dachaf poll organisation states in its report, among the polled public there is significant “disbelief that the Palestinians will uphold the conditions of peace and especially those elements dealing with security.” The solution then is to present those polled “with a peace plan that fortifies security elements.” The poll doesn’t actually show that most Israelis want peace: it shows that they want “security”.

It is this pursuit of security that is the real fantasy. It is a pursuit of security that seeks solutions in technical, instrumental notions of security: fences, counter-missile missiles, demilitarized zones. It’s the pursuit of security without building peaceful relations with one’s enemy. It’s security that does not secure, because it addresses the needs of only one side. Somehow the Palestinians, most of whom have known Israelis only as military conquerors and occupiers, are supposed to feel secure without the means to defend themselves. It’s a pursuit of security that will bring no peace, because it imagines the enemy will always be an enemy, always need to be held at bay, in check, in a vice. It’s a pursuit of security that will bring no peace to Israel, because it does not bring Israel to be at peace with itself, with its past, with the deep trauma that underlies its insecurity. So, yes, in the meantime it’s fine to be distracted by polls about imaginary peace agreements, so long as nobody asks too closely about what would really make Israelis feel secure, or about what peace really means.