Jean Zaru In the search for peace in the Middle East some people begin with the Camp David agreements, others with a new status for Jerusalem. There are those who begin with the Road Map, while others speak of the Saudi Initiative. Still others see peace primarily in Israel's withdrawal, in whole or in part, from lands it militarily occupied in 1967. Palestinians will always begin with the loss of our lands and our rights.
"If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes." Luke 19:42
In the search for peace in the Middle East some people begin with the Camp David agreements, others with a new status for Jerusalem. There are those who begin with the Road Map, while others speak of the Saudi Initiative. Still others see peace primarily in Israel's withdrawal, in whole or in part, from lands it militarily occupied in 1967. Palestinians will always begin with the loss of our lands and our rights.
I am one of nearly nine million Palestinians worldwide. Fifty-seven years ago, more than half of us were uprooted and made refugees - some of us displaced multiple times. We were cast outside the course of history, our identity denied, and our very human, cultural and historical reality suppressed. We became victims of the cruel myth: a land without a people for a people without a land.
Those of us who came under Israeli occupation in 1967 in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem have since been subjected to a unique combination of military occupation, settler colonization and systematic oppression. The infrastructure of occupation continues to entrench and expand with the building of more settlements, more by-pass roads and more sections of the Wall. All the while, United Nations Resolutions, the rulings of the International Court of Justice and International Law as they pertain to Palestine, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, continue to remain unimplemented.
And so I come to you today from the heart of Palestine, a land besieged and violated and from the midst of an indigenous people - a nation held in captivity. We continue to be victims of a colonialist program, that is, an exclusivist agenda, one that usurped our rights, our lands and confiscated, as well, our historical narrative.
As someone who has lived all her life in Ramallah, and more than half of it under Israeli military occupation, I can assure you that life has never been as difficult as it is today. While Israeli military incursions into the occupied territories continue, the apartheid wall continues to be built on confiscated land, separating people from their lands, families, schools, hospitals and houses of worship. There is a policy of both systematic and direct violence that is making life unliveable for us all, at almost all intersections of our lives.
Chaim Weizman, who was to become the first president of Israel, remarked long before the establishment of the Jewish state that the world would judge Zionists by the way they treated the Arabs of Palestine.
It was a wise prediction, but half a century has passed and still the world has made little headway in understanding and nurturing those things that make for peace between Jews and Arabs in Israeli-occupied Palestine.
In the West there exists only slight awareness of the depth of the injustices we Palestinians have suffered in terms of the denial of our rights and self-determination. Indeed, despite the courageous advocacy of growing numbers and the justice-oriented statements of many Christians that have been passed within the general manifestations of their denominations, there remains much misinformation. And, quite significantly, there is the absence of effective political will on the part of the international community to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or even to view the resolution of the conflict as in the best interests of their nations.
There are several reasons why, I believe, everyone should be concerned with this conflict and work toward peace in the Middle East:
The Arab-Israeli conflict is the cause of an explosive situation that could become a threat to world peace. It now affects the lives of millions of people in the Middle East; if it widens, it could affect the lives of tens of millions of people elsewhere.
Several governments, especially the US, support Israel militarily, politically and financially. Each individual has the right, if not the duty, to know the facts in order to judge whether the support his or her government extends to Israel is given for a legitimate cause and whether in the long run it will end occupation and promote peace for the two parties.
The Palestine Question has been on the agenda of the United Nations since 1947. Many resolutions have been adopted but not implemented. Therefore, every individual has a responsibility directly or indirectly for the action or inaction of his or her own government.
The struggle for human rights all over the world is a struggle in which all must engage, including the Christian community, if we are to be faithful to the demands of the gospel in our time.
In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the concept of a divine nature existing in harmonious relationship with human nature and the natural order has been dominant. The teachings of these religions helped undergird the belief that human beings have rights. Our value comes from the belief that we are created in the image of God. God is loving, free and just. God's purpose is to liberate human life from inhuman conditions, which exist because humans of free will have chosen behavior that disrupts the intended harmony of peace, justice and freedom for all.
As a Palestinian Quaker woman of the Holy Land, I have been confronted all my life with structures of injustice. These political, cultural, economic and social structures have been at work in a destructive way throughout our community and have caused both spiritual and physical suffering for many, including myself. I started to think about the following: "If there is something of God in every person, why is there so much evil and darkness in the world? Why is it hard for us to see God in others?"
My inward struggle made me aware of the suffering that reflects the evils plaguing the human race, but it also opened me to God's redeeming love and activity.
Involvement in any action has a price. The question is, am I ready to pay the price to share the suffering of others? Suffering for me is bearable, if it is for the cause of liberation, if it helps to find a new community with others and with God. I realize that those who operate the structures of oppression are dependent on the people they oppress and are equally in need of liberation and God's grace. Yet, it seems to me that too often the will and strength to end the oppression comes from those who bear the oppression in their own lives and very rarely from privileged and powerful persons and nations.
What do we do to preserve the dignity of human life? What do we say to the arms race and nuclear weapons? What do we say when arms sold by the industrialized nations to others are used for internal repression, violation of human rights and wars within a country and between neighboring countries? What do we do when our style of life, or our silence, is the cause of war without arms, war in which the victims are millions of people dying from hunger and poverty?
What about social justice? Can there be peace between the starving and the affluent? Between the oppressor and the oppressed, occupier and occupied? Can arms bring security or keep peace? Are we concerned when the Bible is abused in a way to worship the false gods of money, material wealth, race and other idols? What do we do when individualistic interests are justified by biblical passages quoted out of their historical context? What are we in our particular countries called to do?
We are called to conversion, to be converted to the struggle of women and men everywhere who have no way to escape the unending fatigue of their labor and the daily denial of their human rights and human worth. We must let our hearts be moved by the anguish and suffering of our sisters and brothers throughout the world. How can we bear the pain, and where do we look for hope? Is there anything we can do to solve the political chaos and crisis in the world? Is there anything we can do to stop wars of all kinds?
Let us take a look into ourselves. The outward situation is merely an expression of the inward state. It requires great self-denial and resignation of our selves to God to be committed to peace and to nonviolent action to bring about change. This technique may have no positive effect, and it may lead to outward defeat. Whether successful or not it will bring suffering, but if we believe in nonviolence as the true way of peace and love, we must make it a principle not only of individual but of national and universal conduct. We should try, however, to avoid feeling moral superiority, because we know how soon we may stumble when we are put to the test. We may talk about peace, but if we are not transformed inwardly, if we still are motivated by greed, if we are nationalistic, if we are bound by beliefs and dogmas for which we are willing to destroy others, we cannot have peace in the world.
Living under military occupation has forced me to go through deep self-searching. I have been confronted with three loyalties. The first loyalty is to Christ, who calls us to love our enemy. The second loyalty calls us to aid fellow humans in need or trouble. The third loyalty calls us to love our country, its people and its way of life. This last loyalty prevents us from being willing to aid our invader. In our situation, no one can set rules for us to follow, but what we can do is testify that in our experience the spirit of God leads us into the truth and gives us the guidance we need in every situation.
We have gone through circumstances of great privation, anxiety and suffering. All these seemed at times to weaken my dependence on God, but what joy and hope I gain when I know, wherever I am, whether in affluent circumstances or in poverty, whether I have personal liberty or not, that I am under the guiding hand of God and that God has a service for me to render wherever I am.
I call myself a Quaker or Friend, and Friends throughout history have maintained a testimony for peace. War, we say, is contrary to the mind of Christ, and it is laid upon us to live in the virtue of that life and power that wins through love and not war. This is not an easy testimony, and it has three aspects:
To refuse to take part in acts of war ourselves;To strive to remove the causes of war;To use the way of love open to us to promote peace and heal wounds.
But how can I interpret this pacifism to my children and my students when we are all victims of violence? How can I have peace within when I worry so much about life in general and the lives of my family members? How can I have peace within when others call my people terrorists and justify our oppression by quoting the Bible? How can I have peace within when our movement is restricted in our own country; when walls are built to imprison Palestinians from one another?
Can we have peace without self-determination and sovereignty or without land and water that are essential for survival? How can we have economic development without the right to our land, our water resources, and the right to freedom of movement? How can we have self-determination when more than half of the Palestinians are outside of Palestine? Many are still in refugee camps and are denied the right of return and compensation.
Commitment to the search for universal values, however differently they are expressed, which may enable the individual and the community to overcome greed, power and self-seeking;
Affirmation of the presence of a spirit of hope and compassion available to all by which our lives may be more whole, more creative, more harmonious as we draw directly upon that power around us and within us and within all life.
We cannot live a day without saying yes or no to death or to life, to war or to peace. The choice is ours. There is no compromise in this matter. To postpone or evade decision is to decide, to hide is to decide, to compromise is to decide. There is no escape; this is our challenge.