Addressing the violence: My roadmap to peace

Very few people believe that the “vision” of United States President George W. Bush will be realized through the declared roadmap. This is not only because there are many formidable and powerful enemies of peace in all camps, and not only because both publics are in a serious state of mistrust and despair. Indeed, the roadmap has an inherent structural problem because it is missing the primary principles that should guide it and does not spell out the details of the end game.

People on both sides are traumatized by terror and violence and confused and bewildered by the political haggling. Nobody knows what shape or borders or viability the Palestinian state will have. No one knows if there will be refugees returning. And no one knows the fate of Jerusalem.

In order for peace to set sail there should be some guiding principles. The most important is equality. This is not to say that the conflict is between two equals. Overwhelming Israeli power and unconditional United States support have no comparison on the Palestinian side, other than the tragic balance of terror that has been reached with Israel through suicide bombing. But neither side should be treated differently from the other. This principle should be applied in all issues, although Palestinians may willingly surrender their right to have a military because they understand that Israelis are obsessed with the fear that Palestinians will use the arms to take back the Palestinian villages and towns that are now part of Israel.

It is a matter of principle that Palestinian fighters be granted recognition and immunity from prosecution in Israel. They believed they were fighting for their country and people. Both sides’ soldiers should be forgiven and permitted to reenter life as normally as possible, while allowing room for internal prosecution of ranking officers who ordered crimes against humanity.

Israel will recognize the Palestinian right to return and Palestinians will accept the Jews’ right of return. If Jews are allowed to return after 3,000 years, it is only natural that Palestinians have the right of return after less than six decades. In this respect, no nation, group or individual can claim the privilege of being “chosen”. I am, like every other human being, as chosen as any–and no better than any.

The other principle that both sides must accept is that violence will only bring violence, that persecuted Jews have in their own way persecuted Palestinians who in their own way persecuted themselves and others. Both communities today suffer an endemic state of violence. During the relatively quiet seven years of Palestinian Authority governance, violence within Palestinian society rose by 300 percent every year. Israel has seen a sharp increase in all forms of violence and today the Israeli army has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world.

For this reason, the roadmap should include provisions for internal as much as cross-border reconciliation. Peace means creating a way of life, not only scripting a treaty between two politicians. Both Israeli and Palestinian societies must undergo a process of national reconciliation. Palestinians will have to experience a process of grieving for lost land, home and loved ones. This period should also include a process for granting forgiveness and clemency to collaborators with Israel, allowing them to reenter life as usual.

Too, Israel will have to undergo a process of acknowledging its responsibility and apologizing for the hurt caused Palestinians, while taking responsibility for Palestinian compensation. Israel must accept world condemnation of its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as the root of evil. Indeed many Jews have warned against the serious detrimental and demoralizing effects of oppressing another nation and subjugating millions of people who simply want their freedom and rights. Such a brutal and long-standing occupation has produced an inhumane environment for Palestinians, with horrifying results.

The most tragic development of the current Intifada is the invention and use of suicide bombing on a horrific scale. Resulting from the Palestinians’ failure to win over the Israelis, suicide bombing is the ultimate expression of despair, promising not freedom but revenge. Naturally such operations of “terror” have added to the arsenal of Zionist propaganda that states that Israel is the only and ultimate victim, aiding further in the repression of Jewish guilt. It is not surprising that Israel’s propaganda machine has managed to link Palestinian suicide bombing to international terror. Suicide bombing and the killing of civilians inside Israel is all that is needed to convince the world that Jews continue to be slaughtered as victims of racial and religious hatred and of the barbarism of “those Arabs.”

As part of any peace agreement, Palestinians must accept that murdering innocent children and women in buses and restaurants in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is a crime, one that should be made prosecutable by law. While suicide bombing is understandably a brutal form of revenge for the inhumane condition of occupation, this should not justify terror. It is tragic that suicide bombing of civilians has undermined Islam’s message and the Palestinian demand for freedom.

If peace is a way of life then resistance through peaceful means should be the Palestinian method of struggle for liberation. A peaceful resistance would liberate not only Palestine and Palestinians, but also Israel and Israelis. Peaceful resistance will allow Israelis the chance to look inward, release their repressed guilt and accept responsibility. Violence will only force them to look outside for an enemy. And when Israelis apologize for the crimes committed against Palestinians, it will help both.

For the Palestinians, this will be their opportunity to feel dignified by responding with the honorable, “Yes, we accept your apology and we accept you.” On the other hand, apology will help Israelis to feel whole, rehabilitating their injured selves from their grief and loss and repressed guilt.

Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj is Human rights activist & Chairman of the board of Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.

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