Editorial : Wherein Lies Peace?

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 30, Spring 2004

Such is the nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict that few refuseniks ever come to public notice through the mainstream media. Yet they represent a continuing stream of young men and women who through the centuries have refused to take up arms against their brothers and sisters. More and more Israelis are declining to fight in the occupied territories and are facing the penalties for that. Within Israel itself there is a growing peace movement seeking to confront the Sharon government with the reality of the systemic violence perpetuated against the Palestinians on a daily basis.

At our Wednesday night liturgies in recent weeks, we have been lighting candles for the victims of the ongoing violence in Israel. In particular, we have highlighted the plight of the Palestinians, imprisoned as they are, in their own towns and camps. On a recent Wednesday, Margaret Ingram visited and spoke to us of Israeli soldiers who have refused to serve in the Israeli army and have been imprisoned for this act of conscience. She named six and we prayed for them and their families. They were Matan Kaminer, Shimri Tzameret, Hagai Matar, Adam Maor, Noam Bahat, all aged 18, who have refused to enlist in the Israeli Army, and Dani Brightman, a reserve soldier refusing to serve his tour of duty in the occupied territories.

Margaret writes: Sometime ago in a US-brokered agreement between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority it was agreed that the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories would be removed from the map. Since then public discussion has centred around how these 200,000 men, women and children will be evicted from their homes, with what compensation and who will carry out this mass deportation. It has just been decided that the Israeli army will organise and implement this policy.

Many settlers are experienced in non-violent action techniques to respond to evacuation orders. Others are prepared for violence and even armed resistance.

The soldiers for their part are being used as instruments of government policy (what else is new?). They are at the very least compatriots of the people they are evicting. Also they may be individually supportive of the settlers cause or have family in the Occupied Areas. Who WOULD serve in a military operation like this? Not the left (who are refusing to set foot in the Territories anyway both overtly and covertly) and not the Right who are disproportionately represented in the officer ranks. Perhaps we will see a second wave of National Religious refusal.

It doesn’t matter who’s right because everybody is. So we have to look at it in terms of people. The settlers and their ideologically and religiously based occupation of land that has been returned to the Palestinian Authority are a major stumbling block to a lasting peace in the region, No doubt about that. However we have to acknowledge that their government is destroying their homes. Those who simply took advantage of cheap government mortgages will “take the money”. But those for whom their residence is part of an ideology will fight to the bitter end. They do not see that a retreat from part of the Land of Israel will ensure peace and security for the People of Israel and the people of Palestine. For them the land is the issue and people are but passing creatures and temporary custodians. (Can’t argue with that either can we?)

The familiar Middle East dynamic – we can’t go on like this but can’t find another way to go on either. The governments aren’t providing an answer. The US and the International community aren’t either. People are tired and increasingly coming to realise the enormous costs of the ongoing conflict.

We still live in hope. We are two warm, loving hardworking and resourceful societies that have been through hell. We want our children to have a bright future full of options and a real chance to implement their choices.

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