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Well Then, Listen to the People

Fawaz Turki, disinherited@yahoo.com, ArabNews
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Opinion polls in the Holy Land indicate that well over 60 percent of Israelis and close to 70 percent of Palestinians, given half a chance, would opt for a peaceful two-state solution of their conflict. So why are these folks, representing clear majorities, not having their voice heard? They are, to be sure, speaking up, but the issue is whether they will ultimately make a difference.

Last Friday, in an interview with the Hebrew daily, Yedioth Aharonoth, four former Israeli chiefs of Shin Bet, added to criticism of Ariel Sharon’s government by Israeli political, intellectual and military leaders when they forcefully asserted that Israel’s actions during the three-year old Palestinian uprising have “damaged the country and its people,” adding that Israel must end its occupation, dismantle the settlements and stop what one called “the immoral treatment” of Palestinians.

They also condemned the 400-mile barrier fence Israel is erecting around, and in places well into, the West Bank, with another bringing up the apartheid ghost, saying, “The Palestinians are arguing, ‘you want two states, and instead you are closing us up in a South African reality’.”

On the Palestinian side, new Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei called on Israel to accept a “mutual and comprehensive cease-fire,” and urged his people to reject the “chaos” created by freelance armed groups in Palestinian society. “Our struggle has never been directed against women, children and civilians,” he said. “We reject it, we condemn it and we repudiate it.” His denunciation, reflecting the sentiment of that 70 percent majority, including the boys from the Geneva Accords — and hats off to them and their Israeli counterparts — was clearly directed at suicide bombers who have foisted themselves on a genuine movement for national liberation much sympathized with around the world. But just as clear should be the assumption that the Palestinians here are the injured party in this dispute.

When the occupied addresses the occupier, he does so with the haughty exasperation of a victim wanting to see the accounts balanced between himself and his victimizer. And an apology here will go a long way in the healing process. Apologies are powerfully symbolic acts that not only set things right, but heal the wounds of the injured party, and remind those who inflicted them that in history human judgment is neither axiomatic nor of lasting validity.

It means admitting that one’s truths always stand in a complex, provisional relation to time and circumstance. It means that you cannot visit oblivion on men you kill for national gain, hoping to turn them into forgotten dust — for even the dust, in a people’s historical archetype, is ultimately gathered and deciphered.

That’s why Germany apologized to the Jews, Japan to China, the Vatican to the Arab world for the crusades it sponsored in the 1090s, Britain to Ireland for the potato famine in the 1840s, and, last week, President Svetozar Marovic of Serbia to Bosnia for the 1992-95 war, in which some 200,000 people died. Israel should follow suit.

For then, even the 1948 refugees will forgive and forget. During the interview, one of the Shin Bet chiefs said the Israeli government’s crackdown on the Palestinians was, beyond being immoral, “a great tactical mistake.” “You are wrong if you think that this is a mistake,” he was countered by another. “It is not a mistake. It is an excuse — and excuse to do nothing.” This is about as close as you are likely to get to what Talleyrand once said to a European king who had made an error of judgment that resulted in a war that killed thousands of people: “Sire, that’s worse than a crime, that’s a mistake.” The same kind of mistake, say, that Palestinians made in 1947 for rejecting the UN resolution that called for a two-state solution.

Would that I were able to say that genuine representatives of those 60 percent of Israelis and 70 percent of Palestinians will get together soon, sit their butts across from each other, take inventory of their two nations’ shenanigans, and end their talks on a rounded note of promise. Otherwise, they are complicit in Talleyrand’s identification of a mistake as being at times worse than a crime.

Thursday, 20, November, 2003 (26, Ramadhan, 1424)

From the Common Ground News Service
hagalil.com 18-12-2003



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