Editorial: Don't sit on the fence!

IssueDecember 2000 - February 2001
Comment by Ippy D

Since 1993 the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been responsible for the provision of many services (health, education, social etc) to its population, but it has not had control of the most basic resources such as land and water, or access to international economic markets. Consequently the Palestinians have remained dependent on the state of Israel for economic co-operation (one figure suggests that 25% of Palestinian GDP comes from such co-operation).

Economic separation

The announcement in October that Israel intends to attempt an economic separation with the Palestinian Authority (PA) serves as an indication of how dependent the PA is on Israel. If Israel takes this action it is doing so only because it knows that this is another weapon in its armoury and that such separation will hurt the Palestinians. This tactic of inflicting economic hardship on the Palestinian people can also be seen in the destruction, by Jewish settlers and Israeli soldiers, of Palestinian agricultural land and crops, such as the olive harvest a main annual source of income for Palestinian farmers.

The links between the development of living and working conditions, and peace, must be acknowledged. Back in June the UN (that radical hotbed of dissent!) held a seminar looking at prospects for economic development and the Middle East peace process. Even then, representatives of several international NGOs and country representatives were warning of the volatile situation which was developing, precisely because of the lack of economic and social development in Palestinian areas.

Real security

When anti-militarists talk about security, we know that it cannot be created by having a large and well-equipped military, or by scaring and repressing other peoples. The war in the Middle East is a tragic example of this: how secure do Israelis feel right now? They might have helicopter gun-ships and tanks the Palestinians rocks and Aks -but the walls have gone up around the settlements and people are scared. Peace and security can only be achieved when communities have their basic human needs fulfilled; when their relationships are founded on respect and honesty about issues such as power; when there is justice; when there is space and a desire to develop understanding together.

There are many groups and individuals who are trying, even in these most difficult of times, to continue with dialogue and who are performing acts of solidarity with their Jewish or Arab neighbours. In Haifa at the end of October more than 4,0000 people from both communities, demonstrated together under the slogan For a just peace and full equality. There have been hundreds of small actions, vigils, demonstrations and personal acts of kindness which have reached out across the divide. Peace activists based outside the region must do all they can to listen to and to support both Israeli and Palestinian groups working for peace. The way forward is not to arm the Palestinians but to disarm the state of Israel. On the macro-scale, halting the $1.8bn military aid supplied by peacebrokers the US government, would be a good start.

Who is responsible?

The issue of post-WWII European action in the region must also be acknowledged for its part in the economic and social subjugation of an entire people. The modern state of Israel has behaved disgracefully, but the roots of this, like most other conflicts, are more complex and involve more parties than can be casually digested, or absorbed through media soundbites.

Without supporting or promoting violence, anti-militarists and pacifists must recognise the terribly unequal power relationship between the state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and the impact of foreign powers on Israeli-Palestinian relations. It is hypocritical for those not experiencing the war to sit on the fence and pontificate about both sides being equally to blame. Each individual must be accountable for every personal act, be it an act of nonviolence or violence, but it is foolish for spectators to attempt to judge an act independently of the context in which the act takes place.

And while the PA and Arafat have a lot to answer for (and they experience the same problems as most forms of government corruption, greed, power struggles etc), we cannot expect Palestinians not to defend their lives and their homes against the military might of Israel. After all wouldn't you defend yours? Lets hope the ceasefire holds.

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