Faith: The Journal of the International League of Religious Socialists

Summer 2002 Edition (HTML Version)

Previous Editions
ILRS Executive Committee Meets in Vilnius
Perspectives for Peace:
Opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
A Vision for South Africa Cedric Mayson

ILRS Executive Committee Meets in Vilnius

The Executive Committee of the ILRS met in Vilnius, Lithuania over the weekend of 5-7 April, to discuss the ongoing work of the League, the situation in the Middle East, and the next ILRS Congress in 2003.

ILRS President Evert Svensson opened the meeting with the announcement that he would be making a journey to the Middle East in the coming months to observe the developments in the region since the second Intifada began in September of 2000.

Secretary General Andrew Hammer presented a report which outlined the extensive degree of meetings that have taken place at the international level with representatives of socialist parties and organisations round the world. From these meetings the ILRS has developed new contacts in Argentina, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mozambique, Nepal, Japan, Pakistan, and Portugal. In the coming year the ILRS will continue this level of engagement, as well as investigate our participation in other international forums relevant to our politics and perspective (e.g., Johannesburg Summit, World Social Forum).

Treasurer Johan van Workum reported that all member organisations are in good standing except for the Estonian organisation, which has been inactive for some time since the merger of the Estonian Social Democratic Party with the Liberal Party. Therefore, the Estonian organisation has been dropped from the list of member organisations.

The next ILRS Congress will be held on 15-16 August in Lucerne, Switzerland, with the theme ‘Is God A Socialist?’ Topics will be ‘Who Is Your God?', ‘What Kind of Society Do We Want?’, and ‘Are We Children of God or Children of the Market?’. Member organisations will be invited to make contributions on the topics, and the formal beginning of this process will begin before the end of the year. The Congress will be hosted by the Swiss organisation.

A draft text was presented for a programme involving common actions between ILRS member organisations based upon interfaith activities in our local communities to stress common social bonds between faith groups. The Executive Committee will develop the idea further in the autumn.

A discussion on the events in the Middle East resulted in a resolution on the conflict (see here).

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to Ona Kupriene and her husband Robert for their work in hosting the meeting and providing for everyone’s needs. During their time in Vilnius, the Executive Committee visited a boarding school operated by Ona for children from difficult or broken homes, and were able to meet with members of the local clergy involved in social justice work.

Perspectives for Peace: Opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The articles below reflect three distinct opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are many more, of course, and in our next issue we hope to bring you the comments of ILRS President Evert Svensson, who has just returned from the region, and has revised his book on the Middle East, Two Peoples and One Piece of Earth. You can read the ILRS resolution on the conflict here.

The first article comes from Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli minister of justice and an architect of the Oslo Peace Plan, and Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian minister of information and culture. Together Beilin and Rabbo have been traveling round the globe to discuss their proposal for peace in public forums. The article below started off their efforts.

Our second and third articles come from the IPCRI (Israel-Palestinian Centre for Research and Information). Gershon Baskin puts the challenge of a non-violent movement against the Israeli occupation to the Palestinian people, in light of the spate of suicide bombings in Israel, while his colleague Zakaria al-Qaq describes the troubling state of affairs in Palestinian society.

For An Israeli-Palestinian Peace Coalition
Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo

Israelis ask why the Palestinian intifada broke out just when it seemed we were so close to an agreement. Palestinians ask why Israel responded with such inordinate military power to the uprising, using planes and tanks against a population largely subject to Israel's security control. Each side finds arguments to justify the escalation of the situation; each side explains to its own people, and to others, that "we can't let this incident go without a response" and then escalates the situation by using means that, until then, had not yet been used. The adversaries are like two wrestlers locked in a deadly embrace who continue to inflict wounds on one another, with no benefit to either. If, in two years time, you show film of the present behaviour of both sides, they will not believe they were parties to such stupidity.

This dance of death must be ended now. The hope of returning to talks through informal channels is becoming more and more remote. Israelis are not allowed to enter the areas of the Palestinian Authority except with special authorisation, which the defence establishment refuses to give. Palestinians are prevented from reaching Israel, and their elected representatives have lost their right to freedom of movement. The only way Israelis and Palestinians can meet is at checkpoints or abroad. It is becoming harder and harder for Palestinians to travel abroad, because they cannot get permits from the Israelis.

A number of people on both sides are refusing to accept this progressive deterioration, which is leading to tragedy. Now that the other channels of communication have been blocked, we think it imperative to open an informal channel which will guarantee ongoing communication, even at the most difficult times, and allow continuous response to the debate: a channel that will restore mutual trust and prove to each side that there is a partner on the other side and a common denominator that will enable a peace agreement to be signed.

Soon after Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister in February 2001, a peace coalition was set up in Israel to counterbalance the national unity government. The coalition was based on three main political groups: Meretz; Labour party Knesset Members who opposed their party joining the national unity government; and a group of new immigrants from the former Soviet Union. There were also many public figures and non-parliamentary peace movements.

In July 2001 there was a meeting between representatives of the peace coalition and a similar group on the Palestinian side - cabinet ministers, members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and intellectuals. After that meeting there was a joint declaration expressing the parties' mutual understanding of each other's distress, emphasising the immediate need for a cessation of violence and a return to negotiations, and referring to the outlines of a final status agreement emanating from the Camp David summit (July 2000), the Clinton plan (December 2000) and the Taba meeting (January 2001).

The leading figures on both sides have been negotiators. They have sat opposite each other and made attempts - as yet unsuccessful - to sign a permanent agreement between them; they believe that, instead of blaming one another for the exacerbation of the situation, it would be better, and even possible, to return to the negotiating table and reach an agreement that would bridge the remaining gaps and win the support of the Palestinian and Israeli populations. Both peoples are weary of the continuing, mutual attrition.

In recent months the international press has published joint articles by leaders of the coalition from both sides; we have dispatched joint delegations to countries around the world explaining our positions to national leaders, to legislative authorities, to the media; and we have published calls for a return to the negotiating table.

One of the highlights of our joint actions took place during a meeting in South Africa with President Thabo Mbeki this January. It is now hard to meet on Israeli or Palestinian territory, but both sides were given the chance here to hold an open, ongoing dialogue, learn from South Africa's reconciliation experiences and agree on future actions. Mbeki and 10 members of his government were present throughout the three-day meeting, and played a pivotal role by explaining what had happened in South Africa; they tried to find ways to implement in the Middle East conflict the lessons they had learned at home.

For example, the South Africans concluded that it was in the interests of each side to strengthen the other as much as possible, even though their instinct might be to weaken the opposition.

On 14 January, shortly after our return from South Africa, we decided to set up, as a precedent, a joint organisational framework: the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Coalition. The intention, from now on, is to strengthen the ties between the parties, issue joint responses to the media, meet statesmen and politicians who come to the region and who have until now accepted separate meetings with Israelis and Palestinians. This spontaneous cooperation will be transformed - for the first time since the law preventing Israelis from meeting with representatives of the PLO was cancelled in 1988 - into ongoing coordination between representatives of both sides; they will run the organisation as a full-time job, and put proposals for action to their political leaders. The new style of operation will be based on the joint perspective of both sides.

The main message of our first meeting was a call for a third party to intervene in the conflict and help Israelis and Palestinians return to the negotiating table. We are talking about the United States and Europe, and others too: monitors, observers, mediators, facilitators (although this seems increasingly distant). We have not retracted our call for help from the world, but we felt a need to create a third party for ourselves: the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Coalition is intended to be a do-it yourself third party. The world may be prepared to say "let them bleed", but we will never say that. We call on the leaders of both sides to end their deadly embrace, return to negotiations, take the violence out of the joint process, remove preconditions for returning to negotiations and take full advantage of existing agreements with respect to a ceasefire (the Tenet document), a restoration of mutual trust (the Mitchell report) and a final status agreement (the Clinton plan and the conversations that preceded and resulted from the plan).

It is not easy to maintain an Israeli-Palestinian Peace Coalition. Though we have substantial support from both sides, criticism is intense. People who are prepared to meet and conduct a dialogue while violence continues and innocent people are being killed on both sides are always criticised, accused of playing into the enemies' hands. This is why we need international legitimacy, extensive recognition and help from those who believe in peace.

A Challenge to the Palestinian People
Gershon Baskin

I know hundreds of Palestinians on a personal basis. Many of them I have known for many years. Not one of them supports terrorism.  All of them deplore the acts of suicide bombers and condemn those acts with real sincerity. After each such suicide attack I receive tens of phone calls from Palestinians expressing their condemnation, horror, sadness and even apologies. I believe that each person expressing those emotions and beliefs are sincere and true to their honest beliefs, worldview and value system that terrorism is wrong.

I know many Palestinians who feel the need to explain, not to justify, but to provide reasons behind the suicide bombers actions. I know others who condemn the suicide attacks from tactical positions of damaging Palestinian interests. But there are also many Palestinians who condemn them from a purely moral point of view as well.

Many, in fact,  most of the people I am referring to above, are Palestinian societal leaders, public figures, academics, members of elites, governmental people, political leaders, and teachers. They represent the kind of people who should be leading Palestinian society. After having many long and frequent discussions with these people, I am always dismayed when I receive the weekly public opinion polls of the West Bank and Gaza. For many months now there has been a strong majority of Palestinians who continue to support suicide bombers. When I raise this issue with many of the people I am in contact with, they almost all feel a need to explain – as if I needed to hear their explanation.  They say “end the occupation and the suicide bombers will end”.  That may be true, but what I would like to see and hear is an unequivocal denouncement and a public campaign against suicide bombings because it is morally wrong to kill innocent defenseless  people.

Palestinians must make a decision, it is a difficult one, I recognize – it is the classic dilemma about whether or not the end justifies the means. It is true that the Palestinians have no real army to fight with against the occupation.  It is true that Israel does has an army and makes use of its might in its fight against the Palestinians. There is no way that the Palestinians can win a military war against Israel. The suicide bombers extract great pain from Israel and I suppose one could be pleased when one’s enemy is suffering so deeply. (I cannot celebrate in the suffering of other, but I can see how some people could). The Palestinians feel weak and therefore resort to the weapon of the weak – terrorism.

In today’s Al Quds Newspaper in Arabic a full page advert appeared calling for an end to suicide bombers was published and signed by tens of academics and public figures. This initiative was led by Prof. Sari Nusseibeh, the President of Al Quds University in Jerusalem. I applaud this effort and hope to see it gain a lot of support.  But I am quite concerned because I understand that many Palestinians on the streets of Ramallah and elsewhere are very critical of this public campaign against terrorism. I fear that those who initiated the campaign will be physically threatened or worse from within their own society.  I applaud the courage of Sari Nusseibeh and the others who signed onto this campaign.

Palestinians have had determining effects of Israeli elections over the past years.  Many Israelis believe that the Palestinians are primarily responsible for the election of Sharon as Prime Minister. Palestinians can and probably will have an impact on future elections in Israel as well.  The next elections are scheduled for Autumn 2003. If the Palestinians wish to have a positive impact on those elections and to help assure that a peace government will be elected in Israel, they should take up the challenge that Sari Nusseibeh has once again placed squarely in the center of the Palestinian agenda (the last initiative regarded recognizing that there could be no right of return for Palestinian refugees to Israel – another initiative that I applaud). A loud and clear voice – a moral voice and not solely a tactical one against terrorism, against suicide bombers should ring loudly throughout the land.

The opinion polls in Israel demonstrate that on the substantive issues related to peace, Israelis are more ready than ever before – on sharing Jerusalem, on borders, against settlements.  Even someone like Yaacov Peri, the former head of the Shin Bet came out today with a public statement calling for a return to the June 1967 borders. It should be noted that Israelis are more firmly against any refugee return to Israel proper than ever before as well.  This too is a result of the intifada.  The main reason why the Israeli public also overwhelmingly supports Ariel Sharon is because they don’t believe that the Palestinians want peace and, therefore, do not believe that peace is possible.  The main reason why Israelis don’t believe that Palestinians want peace is because a large majority of them support suicide bombers and continue to celebrate them as martyrs and heroes. This must stop. Palestinian leaders, public figures, academics, politicians, religious and spiritual leaders and others must put an end to tolerating a  society that celebrates the death and the wounding of innocent people – even if they are enemy.

If Palestinians truly wish to make peace with their Israeli neighbors, who seem on their part, under the right conditions, willing to end the occupation (according to the polls), they must first put an end to terrorism and suicide bombers. I know, Palestinians will say that Israel is the stronger party and therefore, it should make the first move.  That may be so, but it will not happen.  There will be no Israeli move towards peace and the Israeli pubic will continue to support the political leaders that convince them that they will hit the Palestinians the hardest until the cycle is broken. Terrorism is morally wrong.  Terrorism damages and spoils Palestinian society by corrupting its morals and value system.  Terrorism is evil and it must end.  It is also in the direct interest of Palestinians to put an end to it.

This is the challenge to all of my many Palestinian friends and to many more who are not yet my friends: Stand up tall and proud and root out the support for terrorism from within your midst.

What’s Happening in Palestinian Society
Zakaria al-Qaq

The effects of the past 19 months of intifada and the last three weeks of war on Palestinian society have been dramatic and have made an indelible mark whose impact will be felt for many years to come. Palestinian society has lost its hope and its faith that peace is a possibility. Palestinian society is wreathing with anger, hatred, and yearning for revenge. Each and every Palestinian feels that s/he has a personal account to be settled with Israel, not only a collective account. Palestinians believe that death – martyrdom, is a desirable option that is being considered or supported more widely than ever before.

Palestinians live with a sense that time is on their side.  Time is perhaps one of the few assets that they have in large supply. Palestinians express that they have a surplus of time.  They have been struggling for 120 years, another 10, 20, or even 50 years is not unthinkable. They are strengthened in this belief by having a sense that they have a surplus of ideology fostered by a deep attraction to religious association that provides them with strength that overcomes their general feeling of individual and collective weakness.  God provides strength. God consoles their souls and has become their “super power” alliance in a world that they believe is against them. God gives meaning to their lives and provides a road map to lead them to their final destination.

Palestinians feel that they have a surplus of history and heritage fostered by the ethos of Islamic history – the Prophet Mohamed and figures such as Salah al Din. Their anger embellished by stories of massacres and brutal death encourages a deep willingness and desire to extract as high a price as possible on the enemy. Palestinian society in general wants Israel and Israelis to feel the pain that they are feeling. They want Israel and Israelis to pay the price for the war they feel Israel inflicted upon them.

Palestinians have lost their faith in political regimes.  They don’t believe that anyone or any regime has the power, the political will or the determination to come to their rescue.  This includes the Arab regimes as well.  They see the demonstrations and popular support around the world for their struggle as a sign that those Arab regimes are isolated from their own people.  They are ineffective and do not represent the popular will of their own people.

Palestinians now identify with Arafat more than ever before as a result of Israel’s attempt to isolate him, yet the struggle of the people is not focused on Arafat or other Palestinian leaders and public figures.  They have moved from a focus on personalities to a wider agenda centering on their own situation and the situation of the people.  They are now looking at events and outcomes – such as Jenin, Nablus, the refugee camps, etc.

Palestinians have lost their faith in political processes and initiatives.  They see a history of agreements and initiatives that have failed and have only worsened their situation.  They don’t believe in regional or international conferences.  They don’t have faith in UN Resolutions.  They see that that the entire world could not even send one Red Cross Ambulance into Jenin to rescue even one single life. Bush, Powell, Prince Abdallah, King Abdallah, President Mubarak, all of them and others can do nothing to help the Palestinians.

Palestinians are left with a sense that there is no hope in this life. Death – martyrdom -  is a real option and provides hope because death brings with it redemption through heroism. Palestinian society is suffering from deep trauma that will impact their lives and outlooks for a longtime to come.  Palestinians console themselves through the construction of a mutual aid and social support system based on telling and retelling the stories of the tragedies and the suffering. This provides them with strength and builds their sense and belief that in time, no matter how long it takes, the surplus of time, religion, history and the construction of their narratives of suffering will bring about a squaring of the accounts.

A Vision for South Africa

Cedric Mayson

From Cedric Mayson, director of the Religion and Socialism Commission of the African National Congress, we have received the following document on the political situation in South Africa.

During recent months many friends have asked questions about South Africa: the Arms deal, AIDS, crime and violence, rape, corruption, poverty, religion, and whether the ANC is fit to govern. They require answers based on the actual facts of the situation, and because I have not been mugged by the media I do not share their cynical pessimism. We face immense problems in 2002, but with immense optimism and hope.

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