As I walked recently along the Israeli separation barrier, being constructed inside the 1967 borders between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, my attention was brought to one of the many slogans daubed on the Palestinian side of the wall. It read, “Peace, Not Surrender”. Giving it further thought the statement got me thinking about how we think about peace and justice and how these two terms, while related, can often be very much opposed depending on interpretation. What the statement “Peace, Not Surrender” urged was peace as understood correctly, that is, not just the absence of immediate physical violence but a real peace born from justice. For the person that daubed the slogan on the wall, peace is not merely the silencing of guns, bombs, tear gas and stun grenades. Peace is the freedom of the individual to what is rightfully theirs. Where an individual, or group of individuals, have resigned themselves to the denial of their rights under threat of force there is no peace.
Though such relationships between ruler and ruled can give the impression of tranquillity in the absence of violence, when we look closer and analyse the underlying relationship we see a very different story. We see a peace not mutually agreed upon, not marked by a relationship of mutual cooperation, but one of unilateral aggression, of the resignation of the vanquished to their situation. Not peace, but only the absence of self defence by one party in the face of violence by the other.
The statement “Peace, Not Surrender” is challenging for many of us because those of us who find peace to be fundamental are often unwittingly willing to forgo justice for the sake of “peace”. Many of us may have written “Peace is Not Surrender”. However, our clamour for an end to immediate hostility can often result in our simply burying that hostility, of regularising it or giving it sanction through peace treaties or legislation. In turn, future generations who seek to break out of the prisons imposed on them in the name of peace are accused of breaking the contract or of ripping up the agreement. The Israeli Palestinian conflict is instrumental in highlighting the effect on outcomes those opposing interpretations of peace can have.
A total of 700,000 Palestinians were exiled from their homes during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence and a further 300,000 during the 1967 “Six Day War”, as part of a pogrom of non Jews from an area that was earmarked for a Jewish homeland by Zionist political thinkers. Human rights law as well as international law are explicit on the right of return of these Palestinians to their property in Israel, for which many of the original Palestinian owners still have ownership deeds and the keys to the front door.
Israel, however, refuses to allow those refugees and their descendants return to those properties. The repercussions of Israel allowing right of return would undermine Israel as a Jewish state. A return of what is today 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their properties in Israel with full voting rights to Israeli parliament would be the death knell for the Israel those in the Zionist political movement fought for.
Of course Israel, in the current political situation, holds all the cards. With multibillion dollar annual unconditional military aid from the United States, Israel can impose any solution they see fit. Given this, in lieu of a just solution, many who wish to see peace in the Middle East have resigned themselves to the “realistic solution”. That is, an Israel and Palestine based on 1967 borders with no right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Such a “peace” was outlined by President Obama in his recent speech to the State Department on the topic. According to Obama there was to be no return of refugees who lost their homes in Israel; Israel is the homeland of the Jews and its character as a Jewish state should be recognised as such by Palestinians. Israel, for its part, was to return to its 1967 borders and Palestinians were to get “their” state.
In his later speech to AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee) Obama relented further to the Israeli position and said that there did not, in fact, have to be a return to 1967 borders. “Mutual land swaps” would dramatically alter any future borders. Obama seems to have forgotten, or ignored, that “mutual” has never been a characteristic of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. A precondition that any settlement of the conflict would involve “mutual land swaps” essentially gives veto power to Israel to any change in the current situation. After all, why agree to mutual land swaps when you already have all the land?
In recent documents leaked to al-Jazeera there was a small glimpse at the concessions Palestinian leaders are themselves willing make in the hunt for that all elusive “peace”. The 1,600 leaked documents showed the Palestinian Authority, in their desire to secure their own Bantustan state, were willing to make massive concessions on all issues including Israeli settlements, control of Holy Sites and, of course, the right of return of Palestinian refugees. The papers showed that Palestinian negotiators were willing to cede that only 10,000 of the some 5 million Palestinian Refugees living abroad could return to their homes in what is now Israel. By all means it would have been “Surrender, Not Peace”. Despite this, Israeli negotiators still threw the concessions back in the Palestinian’s face.
It seems that, much to the fear of the individual who painted his message on the wall the world, the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli state is seeking to impose the “realistic” solution on Palestinians in Israel, the Occupied Territories and those living abroad; surrender. The only thing such a peace agreement will serve is to regulate and normalise force against Palestinian refugees and repackage it as peace. The Palestinian Authority has no authority to sign away the rights of Palestinians to their homes in Israel for the sake of any “peace” agreement. Such a peace is not peace for those who are excluded from their homes. For them, it is simply perpetual force that keeps them from what is rightfully theirs, sanctified by their “leaders” and “representatives”. Though Palestinians may accept their fate it does not change the reality that their rights are being trampled on.
Violence and force have becomes so regularised in our thinking regards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that we have begun to lose sight of where self defence and aggression begin and end. Israel has been so successful in moving the goalposts of justice that the media often fail to recognise self defence by Palestinians when they see it. This was clear in media reports regards the Nakba Day events on May 15th of this year in which thousands of Palestinian refugees marched from their current homes in Syria and Lebanon in an attempt to return to the homes they left in 1948 and 1967 in Israel. Sixteen people were brutally killed by live gunfire from Israeli troops that day; supposedly defending the state of Israel, from what the media were happy to report as infiltration and aggression. But the protesters actions, given their right to return to their property, were nothing but peaceful self defence, an attempt to return to what was theirs. Given the historical and moral context it was the fences, the barbed wire and the Israeli thug state that was aggressive and continues to be so long after the gunfire has quietened down.
Palestinian refugees will once again rally in protest against the future being handed down to them from a high this coming June 5th with marches marking the “Naksa”, or “setback”, the expulsion of Palestinians in 1967. Refugees will return to the border of Israel in an attempt to return to their properties. The protests are seeking to build on the events of Nakba Day this year as well as the “Arab Spring” uprisings in the region. Worldwide solidarity protests are being organised to coincide with the marches.
Palestinian refugees must be allowed to return to their property and must be recognised as equal citizens in an Israeli state. The fences that keep people out of their homes must be taken down and the guns lowered. The Palestinian Authority and their negotiators have no right to sign away the rights of Palestinian refugees to return and any peace treaty that does so is illegitimate. We must not flinch from demanding justice in the face of what seem like insurmountable odds. We want real peace, not surrender.