The Peace Process | Sojourners

The Peace Process

Dome of the Rock and Western Wall, Ryan Rodrick Beiler /
Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock and Western Wall, Ryan Rodrick Beiler /

What do you do with critical information on intractable justice issues when reputation, methods, or prevailing propaganda make it difficult for people to believe the truth? How does one find ways to strengthen the fragile line between democracy and the lurking dark social disorder? Limiting or reversing anarchy in the U.S. and abroad may depend on finding ways to persuade and protect the common good.

A current question is in regard to the 20-year Oslo peace process (which was to be completed with separate States after 5 years). When it failed, its successor peace plans promised to bring flourishing democracy and a just peace that would hold back the winds of war and be good for Israelis as well as Palestinians.

The strategy of negotiations with prolonged periods of stalling has only widened the occupation and allowed Israel to strengthen its hold on Palestinian property. It has been conquest by a 1,000 cuts on people (1,500 Israelis and 15,000 Palestinians dead), as well as uprooted trees and bulldozed property. Less than 10 percent of 1967 war land area of Palestine is fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority. It is as though a volcanic cloud blocks the sun. Even with Secretary of State John Kerry’s vigorous efforts to diminish the rumblings and forestall an eruption, those who assure us there are signs of hope declare time is growing mercilessly short.

For two decades many activist Israelis and American Jews have been warning about the methods of geopolitical and diplomatic deflection. One way of denying the use of oppression is to underscore security for survivability. But roadblocks to peace threaten Israel itself. Deflection is clearly counter-productive in the long run even to Israel. Former U.N. Special Rapporteur Richard Falk has said:

“The entire Oslo peace process, with its periodically revived negotiations, has served as an essential instrument of deflection for the past twenty years. It diverts the media from any consideration of Israel’s expansionist practices during the period that the parties are futilely negotiating, and succeeds in making critics and criticism of Israel’s occupation policies seem obstructive of the overarching goal of ending the conflict and bringing peace to the two peoples.”

Just peace and possible democracy have been postponed too long for all peoples. An absence of a verifiable peace threatens a third Intifada firestorm. But nearly all critical players seem to be stuck in dangerous mythology.

Retired ambassador Phil Wilcox gave many activists our first briefings on the conflict in Jerusalem in the mid 1990s. Recently at a Carnegie Foundation for Middle East Peace gathering he said, “There are always people [like conscientious objectors or grieving parents] in unjust situations who stick their necks out to resist the pressures of patriotism” or other narratives used to delay needed change. This truth is well illustrated in American history in regard to slavery, ignoring poverty, voting rights, and unjust wars.

A few suggestions about what to do are emerging from a consensus of peace builders.

1. Be alert to courageous voices in less censored media. Editors are gaining more courage. Even American mainstream news outlets are beginning to report objectively the events in the Occupied Territories. Sometimes in the most creative ways such as by famed CNN food and travel host, chef Anthony Bourdain. Under the guise of extolling the virtues of Palestinian and Gazan cooking he tells of the suffering of people under occupation.

2. Know that the arts prevail when no other avenue is found for exposing “crimes against humanity.” A primary illustration has been Athol Fugard and his truth-telling plays such as “Master Harold and the Boys” and “Blood Knot” at the Market Theater in Johannesburg during 1970s-80s. Palestine Freedom Theater in Jenin whose actors (those still alive or not in prison) had a recent sold-out run here in the States, especially on university campuses. They produced Fugard’s play “The Island” about two men in a cell on Robben Island but contextualized in an Israeli prison where nearly half of all Palestinian men have served time.

3. Search for and trust local Israeli/Palestinian NGOs that are more credible than outside agencies. This is increasingly essential. A recent compelling witness that trumps all of us who have written about the suffering of those in the Occupied Territories of Palestine (and the numerous festering Palestinian Levant refugee camps) is the Israeli organization “Breaking the Silence” (now over 1000 Israeli conscientious objector soldiers). They are altering the equation with their public confessions of violations of the Geneva Conventions in public talks, a book and film titled Our Harsh Logic. Several trusted Palestinian NGOs are Kairos Palestine, Tent of Nations, and Christ At The Checkpoint.

4. Build vibrant partnerships with groups and organizations that may not embrace your particular peace-building strategy or faith perspective but who do share common cause and relationships with the suffering people on the ground.

Today many disagree with indirect approaches. Many NGOs and advocacy groups argue against public critique of government policies for fear of being expelled or breaking valued relationships. Thankfully more recent gatherings have provided a place for more critical voices to be heard as speakers confront violations of human rights. J Street is gaining an appreciative audience in partnership with more overt activists organizations such as Jewish Voices for Peace and Rabbis for Human Rights.

5. And finally, draw on recent books such as Embracing Israel/Palestine by Tikkun’s Rabbi Michael Lerner. It provides new ways to understand the traumatizing history of the conflict for both peoples, and fresh ways forward for all the people of faith to advance reconciliation. He calls it “love oriented emancipated Judaism.” Maybe we followers of Jesus could learn a lesson or two as well. He pleads eloquently for a generally accepted “narrative change’ that reduces oppressive practices and begins a healing and transforming process. The long appreciated Blood Brothers by Melkite Archbishop Elias Chacour is another like-minded, bridge-building volume illustrating models of hope for furthering the arc of justice.

Chic Dambach, chairperson of the interfaith Middle East Peace Working Group, spoke at a recent Peter Yarrow/Arab-Jewish Grieving Parents rally in Lafayette Square. He and his group of Christians, Muslims, and Jews support the present Kerry-led efforts. He stated,  “we may have differences of opinion about what is best … one state, two states or a federation … but whatever is at hand we must all get behind present talks because no one knows what might provide a solution.’”

To underscore this mutually supportive partnership and to build momentum Peter Yarrow will perform with Israeli and Palestinian musician friends. The concert, “Let Your Voice be Heard,” will be at 3 p.m. on Nov. 10 at Georgetown University. This will be an opportunity for many to begin to put into action the above suggestions.

Together we can embrace deeper understanding and action toward a true peace whether the present formal “process” brings a conclusive signing of an agreement.

Tom Getman, a Sojourners board member, served with World Vision for 25 years, including five years as national director in Jerusalem.Conversations in Transitionis not in print in the U.S. but is available online.

Image: Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock and Western Wall, Ryan Rodrick Beiler /

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