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Zoughbi Zoughbi, the director of Wi'am, the Palestinian Conflict Resolution Centre in Bethlehem, is touring the UK this month. We talked to Zoughbi shortly before he left Palestine, first asking him to describe his activities in the previous 24 hours.
A Voice from Palestine
ZZZ: We try to walk the walk, whether we are challenging the Israeli occupation or resolving conflicts locally.
We're living in a pressure cooker. When you are confined to your home or your bantustan, when the economic situation is deteriorating, unemployment is skyrocketing, and trauma among children is increasing, abnormal conditions create abnormal relationships among people. They create displaced anger against each other.
Yesterday we were mediating conflicts between families in the area, and between groups - up till 4am. Every day we are doing nonviolent conflict resolution. Any misunderstanding can lead to big fights. And this is why I say using weapons is not healthy, because when you're not using them to liberate yourself, you'll use them against each other.
Thank heavens no weapons were used yesterday, but every day we have conflicts on different levels. And women and children are victims of the situation, on the Palestinian side, and on the Zionist side.
At Wi'am we have a ministry of reconciliation, to sort conflicts nonviolently among our people. I hope we can resolve conflicts nonviolently at a national level, but at this moment we are doing it on the ground among our people.
But we are not short-sighted and we do not lose sight of the bigger picture, which is the cause of what is going on the ground.
We cannot ask the Palestinians to struggle nonviolently at a time when Israel is telling the world “might makes right”.
They build a wall that divides the West Bank, under the slogan of “security”. They let us live in bantustans, under the justification of “security”. We are notable to travel freely, because of “security”.
I believe it is time for the world to exert pressure to bring Israel to its senses.
Peace News: What's your response to suicide attacks?
ZZ: All the suicidal attacks have not helped any cause, rather they have demonised our people, demonised Islam, demonised our culture, and we should be able to talk about our cause and be on the high moral ground.
Violence has put us in an awkward position, despite the evil of the occupation, and the way Israeli repressive methods are demoralising the Jews generally, even demoralising humanity.
By working for restorative justice we will be able to disarm those extremists, because otherwise they will use what is happening in Palestine or Iraq as a catalyst for extremism, to kill indiscriminately, and think they are martyrs.
We oppose suicidal attacks.
I also believe the right-wing Israeli government is an icon of suicide attacks. In the long-run they are suicidal. What we need now is the Israeli government to release prisoners, alleviate the suffering of the people, remove the check-points, allow the people to move freely. This can create confidence, and build trust, and lead to an agreement reached by both sides.
Then we can move into the realm of peace. Otherwise we are doomed to kill each other.
PN: Palestine is an occupied and oppressed nation. How can you persuade your fellow Palestinians that nonviolence is an effective way of achieving liberation?
ZZ: Through action, and not preaching.
Through being on the ground and taking the risks, modelling nonviolence in front of everyone.
There is a price for nonviolence, from all sides. We are ready to pay it, and we are paying it. Many times we are going to be breaking bad news to families, or the bullets will move here or there.
I'm talking about an experience that led me to jail, like others.
This is not “pacifism”. I am not talking about an emotional or just intellectual approach to being oppressed, or to those who are oppressed.
I am talking about an active participation in the struggle to change the system.
Sometimes there are some groups talking about nonviolence, in the South or the North, who are perpetuating the status quo.
Our struggle does not perpetuate the status quo. For us, nonviolence is about challenging the system, working to change the system, working for the people to have different views. It is a total engagement to address people's needs through civilized approaches.
I don't want people in the Middle East or elsewhere to think of nonviolence as a Western method. No! Gandhi used it, Bishop Camara in Brazil did it, Dolci fought the mafia in Italy, there is Abdul Ghaffar Khan [the Pakistani Muslim pacifist].
When you look at Martin Luther King or Gandhi or Mandela, when they were challenged to condemn some of their people who were fighting against oppression by violent attacks, they would not condone violent action, but they said that racism, poverty, injustice - and occupation - were the causes for people to be extreme.
Many Palestinians will say: “Listen, the United Nations has given us the right to resist by all means possible, and violent struggle is legitimate.”
We are not going to argue about that. We are arguing that justice should be achieved and that evil - the occupation, the colonisation and the enslavement - must be ended.
That's why we talk about nonviolence as a movement of struggle. We call it “nonviolent struggle”, not “pacifism”.
I don't want to be saying things that don't make sense to people. How would you go to a family that has lost three or four children, and say, “You need to be converted to nonviolence and then struggle.”
I need to be with them, work for their justice, and then they will see that there is a difference. And then the blood which was shed is transformed into justice.
And I am talking about restorative justice, justice that redresses the wrongs rather than avenging it.
We are saying to people that to get rid of this deadlock we need three dimensions of struggle. The Palestinians must continue their struggle nonviolently to get rid of the occupation.
People in Israel must work to stop being occupiers.
And, thirdly, there is the collective responsibility of the international community.
When we talk about nonviolence, we are not talking only about grassroots nonviolence, we are also talking about political and diplomatic channels.
As a student of history, I look to the national liberation movement of South Africa. As Palestinians, we can see what the ANC was able to achieve through nonviolence. The world was in support of their movement and imposed sanctions on South Africa, and there was divestment from companies who invested in South Africa, and so collective responsibility was at work.
Without collective responsibility, the nonviolent movement does not happen. Also we see that in our own history, the first intifada achieved more than the second intifada. In the first intifada we were able to enjoy the support of the world, because it was a relatively nonviolent struggle, and we lost this support in the second intifada.
I am connecting the nonviolent movement to issues of justice, to collective responsibility. Otherwise we are not moving anywhere. It will just be wishful thinking.
Zoughbi's UK tour
- 20-22 July. Derbyshire “Called to be Peacemakers - Who Me?” The National Justice and Peace conference, Swanick, Derbyshire. Details: 01865 748796 “>http://www.for.org.uk/njpn
- 22 July. Wolverhampton. Preaching at Evening Service. 6.30pm. Wombourne Methodist Church, Common Road, Wombourne. Details: 01902 895585
- 24 July. London “Persistent Peacemaking: Keeping Faith with Nonviolence in a Time of War”. With Zoughbi and Fr John Dear from the US. 7.30pm. St Ethelburga's Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. Details: see p20
- 25 July. Bath. “Journeying in Hope - Peacemaking in Palestine”. 8.00pm. Friends Meeting House, York Street. Details: 01225 480782
- 26 July. Bishop's Castle “Journeying in Hope - Peacemaking in Palestine”. 7.30pm. Methodist Hall, Station Street, Bishop's Castle, Shropshire. Details: 01588 620 470
- 28 July. Edinburgh “Journeying in Hope - Peacemaking in Palestine”. 2pm. Quaker Meeting House, Victoria Terrace, Edinburgh. Details: 0131 552 2567