I believe in a just peace
by Alex Rosen, IPPNW-Germany
Dear friends in Israel and Palestine,
When I say that I believe in a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians you say that I am naive; that I do not know what I’m talking about; that I don’t know the reality on the ground.
When I say that the leaders of Israel and Palestine have to take on responsibility for the lives and safety of all of their citizens and end this war, stop the shooting, extend their hands and discuss ways out of this misery you say: “You are crazy! Look at this video of Israeli soldiers shooting innocent children!” or “How can you be so foolish! Look at this video of Hamas fighters shooting Israelis from behind!” You show me statements by Hamas politicians calling for the annihilation of Israel, or of Knesset members calling Palestinian children snakes and wishing death to their mothers. Photos upon photos you send to me of brutal murders, burned corpses, trigger-happy soldiers and masked men with blood on their hands.
Some of these are fakes, made up in order to spread hate, fear and anger. Sadly, though, many are authentic and document the growing callousness and inhumanity on both sides. They frequently drive me to tears and I cannot look at some of them. I know you feel the same. But you are mistaken if you think that they are reasons to continue fighting. They are not obstacles to peace. No – they are the most compelling arguments why a just and true peace is more necessary than ever.
There will always be hate, fear and anger. There will always be angry, fearful and hating people – in every society, in every country, in every life-time. But these people can only thrive and live out their phantasies of violence in a culture of violence – in a culture, where mass media and politicians promote violence, where no one tells them: “Stop! Enough is enough!”. Sadly, right now, neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have enough people willing to shout out these words.
I think the problem is that people on both sides are exposed to so many negative stereotypes of the other side that it becomes easy to forget the simple and self-evident truth that we are all human beings.
How can a Palestinian child, who has seen Israelis only in uniform, holding large guns and shouting at them, imagine the same people, sitting at home with their family as loving fathers, brothers and sons? How can it forget the images of houses being torn down, olive orchards razed, people being degraded at check-points and soldiers pointing guns at them and replace these with images of the fun-loving, easy-going, loveable people that Israel is so lucky to be filled with?
How can an Israeli child, who has seen Palestinians only on TV, wearing masks, shouting threats and holding guns, imagine the same people, sitting at home with their family as loving fathers, brothers and sons? How can it forget the images of burned-out buses and restaurants after suicide attacks, of the fearful hours spent in shelters with sirens warning of rocket attacks and replace these with images of the fun-loving, easy-going, loveable people that the West Bank and Gaza are filled with?
How difficult must it be to realize, how similar the people on the other side actually are; how their dreams and aspirations are the same as one’s own. In a culture of fear, anger and hate it is so hard to see the other side behind the façade of demonization; to see the human faces and the humanity of the other side.
I have been to Gaza City; I was welcomed there and greeted by enthusiastic people, like the old lady, whose greatest dream it was to get a passport, to travel to Paris and see the Eiffel tower, by teenagers, surfing and hanging out on the beach, by devout Muslims, praying in the mosque that their children would have a better life than them. I have been to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and was welcomed by the enthusiastic people there, like the American immigrant, who told me that his greatest dream was to see the pyramids in Cairo.
I have sat on the shore of the Nile in Aswan and spoken with boys, whose greatest dream it was to visit Jerusalem once in their lives and see the historic sites of this fabled city. I have sat on the shores of the Sea of Galilee with Israeli friends who dreamt of visiting the grand bazar in the old city of Damascus or walk the narrow alleyways of Aleppo – cities that their parents told them about when they were kids.
I have walked through the wine-covered cobble-stone streets of Damascus and through the desert ruins of Palmyra, talking with Syrians, who wanted to know everything about this mysterious land of Israel and what life was like there; I have hitchhiked with Iraqi truck drivers through Jordan, who showed me their collection of Israeli music tapes and have spent nights with Israeli friends, listening to sad Egyptian songs on old vinyl records.
I sat in the old Roman amphitheater of Tyre in Southern Lebanon and talked with people who wanted nothing more than peace with their southern neighbor and stood before the white cliffs of Rosh Ha’nikra on the Israeli side of the border, talking to people, who wanted exactly the same…
Whether in a café overlooking the pigeon rocks in Beirut or on a camp-site in Eilat, an old mosque in Cairo or a Kibbutz in the Negev, a Muslim wedding in Abu Dis or an Orthodox Jewish wedding in Mea Shearim, evenings spent with Palestinian friends in Nablus or Ramallah, Jerusalem or Jericho or evenings spent with Israeli friends in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Eilat or Jerusalem – so many great memories, so many stories, so many human faces, so much humanity… and oftentimes I said to myself: “If only my friends from Palestine and Israel could be here now.”
If only people would see beyond the hate, the fear and the anger, they would be able to rid themselves of this culture of violence and begin building a culture of peace. But what is that really – a “culture of peace”? I think you will not find it in the Hamas headquarters, or in the office of the Israeli prime minister. You will not find it in the posters on the Palestinian streets, praising martyrdom, or in the Israeli morning newspaper, whipping up support for a continued bombardment of Gaza.
But go to Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, that small “Oasis of Peace” between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where Muslims, Christians and Jews are living together side by side, raising their children with an understanding of what makes us all humans and how our difference in belief or ethnicity enrich our relationships and our society. Or visit the Physicians for Human Rights, who are helping Palestinian patients with no access to health care; talk with the brave veteran soldiers from Breaking the Silence, who are trying to inform the public about the truth of the occupation; take a trip on the Peace Bus, which leaves Jerusalem every week for a day-trip to the Gaza border, visiting mourning families of Israeli and Palestinian victims of this war; join the activists of B’tselem or Ta’ayush; mourn with the bereaved fathers and mothers of the Parents Circle-Families Forum who have lost their children to this conflict, but refuse to be enemies; help the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, as they are trying to oppose unlawful land-grabbing and the destruction of livelihoods in the West Bank; listen to the wonderful music of Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra or watch a show of the mixed Israeli-Palestinian theater group Combatants for Peace; witness Jewish and Arab medical students learning side by side at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem or subscribe to the Palestine-Israel Journal to hear the whole story behind the headlines.
I know all of these are just small groups, hardly noticeable with rockets flying, people dying, tanks advancing and bombs exploding. But their vision is so much more human, so much wiser, so much saner than anything leading politicians on both sides have to offer. Unlike the political leadership and the extremists on both sides, they have the life and safety of all Israelis and Palestinians in mind. They offer glimpses of a better world, where neighbors can look each other in the eye, voice their differences and find ways to solve their problems.
Writing these lines, I am sitting on the banks of the Spree River in Berlin, a place that has seen more bloodshed and injustice than most places in the world. When I was a child, young German soldiers, barely 18, were ready to shoot at other Germans, merely for attempting to cross this river. Before I was born, giant wars ravaged the entire continent twice within just thirty years. At the beginning of World War I, people in Europe were also not able to look each other in the eye and find other ways to solve their problems except with the gun and the tank. The war not only destroyed cities and killed human beings, but also reduced the value of each single human life and spread hate, fear and anger. The destruction of humanity and sanity was so great in this country, that men, women and children in this city were rounded up and sent to concentration camps merely for being Jewish, communist, homosexual or unwilling to join the violence around them. A culture of violence had tainted people’s human senses and they were unable to look beyond the façade of hate, fear and anger. It took almost 6 years of death and destruction to end this nightmare.
Today, on this sunny day in August of 2014, this spot on the riverside is populated by smiling teens, talking about their favorite bands, there is a bunch of Israeli kids running past me with ice-cream in their hand, a German man playing the accordion, a group of Arabs sitting across the river, smoking Nargilah in the grass, and Russians, Americans, Indians and Japanese taking photos of the nearby remnants of the Berlin Wall. Sure, we still have our share of problems, of violence and hate and fear here in Germany and in Europe – but we have learned a way out. We have tried to build a culture of peace. When our president wants us to go to war, the majority of the population says “No!” and when our politicians are fueling a conflict in Ukraine for political and economic gains, there are demonstrations on the streets – of people who do not want to be told only one side of the story, who do not want to meddle in other country’s affairs.
The situation in Germany is in no way comparable to that in the Middle East. But it shows how people and societies can change over time. In Germany, we have had to learn the hard way. We have seen that it takes millions of people admitting that they have been wrong and agreeing to shoulder the burden of guilt; that it takes a chancellor, bowing down in shame to the victims of his country’s aggression in the very place that saw his country at its moral low point. It takes decades of young people getting to know each other, learning each other’s languages, travelling to each other’s countries and falling in love with each other’s culture. It takes forgiveness and humility, gestures of goodwill, lots of time and understanding. It is difficult and painful and drives millions of children to tears every year, when they learn in school what their ancestors did. It takes strength and endurance and millions of people’s efforts, but in the end, it is worth it – for just one day of peace like this one. With tears in my eyes, I sit on this riverside and thank the men and women who made this day possible for me and I hope that you will be able to sit down together on the Mount of Olives, look down on the beautiful city of Jerusalem that belongs to both of your people and do the same.
Dear friends in Palestine and dear friends in Israel – have courage and try to look beyond the façade of anger, hate and fear. Don’t wait for a “victory” that your leaders are promising you but that can never be achieved. Be honest: you know what true victory looks like. You know what it feels like to see your country’s leaders, former enemies, standing hand in hand at a peace conference, vowing to build a better future for all their citizens – that this is a victory, much greater, than any land-gain, conquered rocket-launcher or captured enemy combatant. You have made the experience that even a cold peace is better than a hot war. You both have too much to lose and in a war like this, there are only losers. You know that. If you are honest with yourself, you see the downward spiral that your leaders’ policies have led your countries to. You know that only the extremists have something to gain from this war.
You know that this war will not make your lives safer or better. Instead, with every day of this terrible conflict, more lives are lost, more families torn apart, more of your beautiful countries destroyed by barbed wires, bomb craters, fences, walls and checkpoints – and more of your humanity tarnished by violence. It will not become easier, but harder, to find a way out of this, the longer you wait. Love and peace are the only things in the world that become more when you share them. Have courage and extend your hands. It is the only way.
Your good friend ,