Note to the reader: This speech below
was given November 10, 2002, by Henry Lowi at a conference at the University
of Toronto sponsored by Science for Peace, Bloor Street United Church, Jewish
Youth Against the Occupation, and Near East Cultural and Educational
Foundation, as part of a panel discussion of "the peace movement: lessons
learned and the way forward" attended by an audience of approximately 300
Palestine & Iraq: Any Signs of Hope?
The lessons we have learned
My talk today is about the lessons we
have learned and the way forward.
About 10 years ago, many people thought
that there had been a major breakthrough in a "peace process." Oslo was
all the rage, and people were talking about "Jericho first," and other
catchwords for implementation. "Confidence building" became the
foundation of the so-called "peace process." No one really wanted to
talk about the issues.
In my profession, we take negotiation
very seriously. And we learn to focus carefully on what we call
"substantive issues," as distinguished from "relationship issues." Both
are very important, and both must be dealt with, responsibly, and with due
regard for the differences between them. This was not done in the Oslo
process. Substance was totally sacrificed for "confidence building."
In the last 2 years, confidence has totally broken down, between the
negotiating partners, and all out war is being waged, with all the means at
their disposal, and the people are suffering terribly.
Back in the days of Oslo euphoria, I was
invited to speak at a small meeting in Toronto. In those days, the mere
fact, that representatives of the State of Israel were speaking with
representatives of the PLO, was considered a big deal.
At that meeting, I said that I am all
for negotiations, and talk, and confidence building. But all the talk in
the world is pointless as long as the fundamental problems remain. I
said that fundamental, substantive issues would have to be addressed if there
was to be peace. Otherwise, there would be war.
Those substantive issues, preconditions
for peace, then and now, are the following:
1. Removal of all Israeli forces of
repression - police, army, undercover agencies - from all the lands and
communities inhabited by Arabs. There is no way for there to be peace
between an occupying power and an occupied population. This
applies to the areas occupied in the 1967 war and to those occupied by Israel
in the1948 war.
2. Release of all the political
prisoners and detainees from Israeli prisons and concentration camps. As
long as Palestinian political activists are held and prevented from
interacting with their population and competing for leadership, there is no
chance for democratic political development.
3. Recognition of the right of all
Palestine refugees to return to the communities and lands from which they were
expelled and fled. The refugee issue is the big piece of unfinished
business from the war of 1947-48, and the establishment of the State of
Israel. The refugee issue is not going away, and it does not make
sense to defer it indefinitely.
As I said, Oslo was not supposed to
touch on the substantive issues. It was really a mechanism to defer the
substantive issues, and permit a re-organization of the status quo. The
re-organization of the status quo blew up in everyone's faces in an orgy of
human misery that has no end in sight.
My position is that, until the
substantive issues are addressed, front and center, no progress can be made.
Through all the years of Oslo-inspired
conferences and signed agreements, there were some forces in Israel that began
to notice that things were not going well. I will just mention 2 of
a. An anti-Apartheid movement grew
up in Israel in the period before September 2000. This movement
identified the fact that, while the diplomatic "peace process" was ongoing, --
on the ground, in Israel, inequality, separation, and discrimination were
proceeding along ethnic lines. As you know, Israel defines itself as a
"Jewish and democratic state." There is tension inherent in this
definition, and this tension has been dealt with many times by the Supreme
Court of Israel. The activists of the anti-Apartheid movement tried to
alert the peace-seeking segments of the Israeli public that, under the guise
of Oslo, the "Jewish," ethnic, and supremacist aspect of the State of Israel
was progressing, at the expense of its "democratic" aspect. So, you had
this small anti-Apartheid movement trying to point out the limits of Oslo,
insofar as it impacted the Arab Palestinian, and other non-Jewish (or
questionably Jewish) citizens of the State of Israel.
b. At the same time, some people
were monitoring how Oslo was being implemented in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip. Jeff Halper, a professor at Ben Gurion University in the Negev,
developed a theory about what he called the "matrix of control." Halper
pointed out that, throughout the Oslo process, there continued the
expropriation of land, the demolition of homes, the formation and thickening
of "Jewish only" settler-colonies, and the construction of "Jewish only"
access roads. The result of all this would be that no Palestinian
authority, that came out of Oslo, could exercise sovereignty over the West
Bank. In fact, the Israeli Government, the IDF, and the settlers,
had created a "matrix of control," on the ground, that would continue long
after the diplomats had completed their work.
At Camp David in the summer of 2000,
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, did not offer to dismantle the "matrix of
control." What he offered was to recognize Palestinian self-rule over
most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, leaving the "matrix of control" intact.
There is no doubt in my mind that Barak's "generous offer" went as far as any
Zionist politician could ever go. But the result is that the talks broke
down, and violence exploded, both inside Israel, and in the occupied
territories. The violence broke out against the undemocratic apartheid
and the "matrix of control" that the Oslo process was designed to formalize.
By the fall of 2000, it was clear that
this was different from the Intifada that had begun in December 1987.
The pre-Oslo Intifada had a grassroots local leadership, based in labor
unions, student organizations, and women's committees. It had political
demands, it was based on mass mobilization, and it was carefully conscious of
its allies inside Israel.
The so-called "Al-Aksa Intifada" broke
out in very different circumstances. The Palestinian Authority, created
by Oslo, was in place, and was working with Israel. The PA had exercised
repression against the grassroots political leaders, and had left the people
We all recall those images of young
Palestinians, armed with stones, or light machine guns, and confronting tanks.
This goes against all the established rules of guerrilla warfare, where you
are required to avoid any battle that you cannot win. The resort to arms
was totally self-destructive.
Later, the dispatch of suicide bombers
against Israeli civilians, Jews and Arabs, could not and cannot serve any
legitimate political goal. In this case, it targets the very people whom
you should be trying to win over. The handlers of the suicide bombers
have done a very good job of strengthening the hand of Sharon and the Israeli
ultra right wing. Their tactics and their timing could not have been
planned better by the Israeli militarists.
So, the topic of today's panel is
"Palestine and Iraq: Any signs of hope?"
I respond that, with the old
conceptions, there is no room for hope. There is room for hope with some
new thinking, and focusing on the substantive pre-requisites for peace, that I
There are some indications that there is
new thinking. There are some interesting activist responses to the
breakdown of Oslo. I will mention 2 of them.
First of all, there is the movement of
Israeli military objectors. This has 2 aspects. One is the
statement, issued by over 200 Israeli high school seniors, facing compulsory
military service. They have declared their opposition to the Occupation
and the murderous repression carried out by the IDF, and many of them have
already refused to serve in the IDF, and have gone to prison for it.
These young people uphold the best of Jewish morality, that requires us to
love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
The other aspect of the refuser movement
are the more than 500 reserve officers and soldiers affiliated with "Courage
to Refuse." These are Israeli citizens who are called up to serve
several weeks per year in their reserve units. Many of them are veterans
of the invasion and occupation of Southern Lebanon, and of the Intifada.
Many of them have jobs and families and other responsibilities. And many
of these conscientious Jewish soldiers have gone to prison rather than
participate in what they perceive as an unjust war, a war not of self-defense
but of conquest, subjection, and humiliation. Some very interesting
statements have been posted on their website, some by relatively high ranking
So there is a growing sentiment, in the
activist peace camp in Israel, that the "same old same old" vicious
repression, carried out by the IDF, cannot lead to peace and coexistence.
In fact, it damages and delays the possibilities for reconciliation.
Another important activist response,
from inside Israel, is the "Taayoush" movement, that organizes Jews and Arabs
to provide practical support and relief to the Palestinian communities
suffering from siege and curfew. The interesting thing about Taayoush is
that, despite the limits of its political program, it upholds the principle of
equality between Arabs and Jews, and seeks to find a way for them to live
Some academics and journalists, inside
Israel, have begun to openly challenge the justice and the viability of the
so-called "2 state solution," long considered an article of faith in the
Israeli "peace camp." The so-called "demographic identity of the State
of Israel" has forced people to think about the choice they are facing,
between a state in which ethnic nationalism is the bottom line, on the one
hand, and, on the other, a state founded on the principles of constitutional
democracy. The supremacy of one ethnic group over another does not
sit well with modern ideas of democratic political life. Closing the
Jewish community of the Middle East into a well-armed ghetto, or garrison
state, does not sit well with those concerned with Jewish posterity.
Also, the idea of forcibly preventing the return of millions of refugees, who,
generation after generation, are forced to remain in squalid conditions, does
not sit well with our ideas of humanity and coexistence.
On the Palestinian side, too, there has
been some talk recently about the non-viability of the so-called "2 state
solution" in view of the facts on the ground. This will require a
complete re-thinking of the entire Palestinian strategy. Because if
Israeli colonialism continues to dictate the facts on the ground, why are they
persisting in negotiating with Israeli colonialism? If, for there
to be peace, Israeli colonialism must be defeated, then one must come out and
say so, and mobilize the people for that purpose.
On the refugee issue: The refugees
are forcibly prevented from returning, and, in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan,
they are forcibly prevented from being integrated into those societies with
equal rights. The refugees must have a clear choice among options, which
must include the option of return and repatriation. I challenge the
leaders of the Palestinian movement: Speak loudly in favor of the right
of the Palestine refugees to return to their towns and lands, and to live at
peace with their neighbors.
I challenge Israeli peace activists:
Make your position clear and unequivocal. The value of a so-called
"Jewish state" pales in comparison with a state in which Jews can live at
peace with their neighbors. I challenge you to say: "We invite all
the Palestine refugees, who want to live with us in peace, to return
peacefully to the places from which they were expelled or fled."
The UN Partition resolution of 1947 must
be rejected, and the goal clearly stated: a democratic Palestine, with a
constitution that upholds human rights. (By the way, this was the
official position of the Fateh movement, in the early 70s.)
As to political regime, the PLO
leadership, that staffs the PA (a creation of Oslo), has done a terrible job
of promoting the Palestinian cause to Arabs and Jews, and to democratic-minded
people overseas. Maybe they are incapable of doing otherwise. They
have exposed the people to the most disastrous circumstances imaginable.
They have isolated the Palestinian people from democratic public opinion.
Maybe they need to be replaced with people who fully understand the lexicon of
democracy, and who can use it to mobilize the people for their liberation.
I will mention briefly the draft
Palestinian Constitution prepared by the PA. The draft Constitution of
the future State of Palestine says that it is an "Islamic State." This
might be an attempt to mirror Israel as a "Jewish State." Be that as it may,
one must take a principled position. I do not think that many will agree
that ethnically defined states are the wave of the future. We don't need
a 21st century with "Islamic States," "Jewish States," "Hindu States," or
We all know that there is a world-wide
community of Muslim believers, whose beliefs and practices are their own
business. Even in Egypt, under Gamal Abdel Nasser, there was a slogan:
"Al din li'l ullah, wa'l watan li'l muwatinin. Religion belongs to God,
and the homeland belongs to the citizens." That is not such a difficult
concept to grasp.
As all left-wing Middle Easterners will
tell you -- from Morocco to Lebanon to Iraq and Iran, political Islam-- Islam
that aspires to state power -- is the sworn enemy of social progress and
personal liberty. Political Islam will have to be defeated by the
peoples of the Middle East, in their struggle for liberty, equality, and
fraternity. So, I challenge Middle Eastern supporters of
Palestinian rights, and Middle Eastern opponents of American aggression
against Iraq, to make the distinction. Speak out for the separation of
religion from state! Speak out for the people to exercise their power
democratically! Speak out against ethnic nationalism!
Another offshoot of the demise of Oslo
has been the rise of anti-semitism. By this, I mean Jew-bashing and the
dissemination of hatred of Jews. There have been some highly publicized
anti-Jewish attacks, in France, and in Tunisia, and in Canada. There has
been state sanctioned or state tolerated incitement against Jews in Saudi
Arabia and in Egypt. As we all know, some anti-semitism disguises itself
as anti-Zionism. But the 2 are incompatible. The one is
oppressive, sectarian, and exclusive; the other humanist, democratic, and
inclusive. George Bush could care less about anti-semitism. But
those of us, who are fighting for peace and reconciliation between Arabs and
Jews, must know how to identify the poison of anti-semitism, and how to fight
It is critical, for the future success
of Palestinian liberation, and of Arab liberation, that a clear message be
sent to the Jews: "There is a place for you in the Arab East, and in all other
countries. As peace-loving, law-abiding citizens, you are welcome.
Your personal security, and your culture are protected." Without such a
clear, unequivocal message, you drive the Jews into the arms of Zionism.
Which takes us back to square one.
So, the lessons I have learned are quite
simple: There is no sign of hope, for the old prejudices and the old
concepts, and there is no hope for the colonialists, and the supremacists, and
the ethnic nationalists. There is hope for those who proclaim
clearly, and organize diligently, for coexistence between Arabs and Jews under
a democratic constitution that upholds human rights.
Henry N. Lowi