When I say that violence offers no solution, I always think of the theologian Dietrich Bonhöffer’s inner turmoil in his resistance and complot against Hitler during WWII. What weighs more – the lives of many, or the life of an individual? As my colleague Muhammed Desai said in a workshop where a group of us discussed our essays for a new book on Palestine-Israel:
“The whole idea that one person should end another person’s life is a choice that none of us should have.”
There are different kinds of violence. Right now brutal physical violence disrupts the lives of those in Gaza, in Sderot, in Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Earlier in the week I received the news of Israel’s ordering of thousands of people in the northern Jordan Valley to abandon their houses so that the IDF can conduct military exercises (on occupied Palestinian land). Some of these people may return to their houses (what will be left?) and others may not. They have no choice in the matter. There is also the violence of systemic oppression and the violence of apathy of the international community. In my own country there are the violence of neglect, the violence of greed, the violence of ignorance, and so many more kinds of violence.
When the American Jewish psychologist Mark Braverman (2010:24-25) reflects on his own conscientising process and analyses spiritual and psychological forces that drive the debate on Israel-Palestine, he addresses Jews and Christians alike:
“What is uncanny and tragic is that in the current discourse, the roles of the combatants are turned upside down: the Jews are portrayed as the victims, and the Palestinians as the aggressors.”
He argues that although the acts of terrorism by Palestinians and its impact on Israel should not be minimized:
“Israel’s overall power and security are not threatened by these acts”
and that nothing can excuse the systemic crimes being committed by the state of Israel.
According to another Jewish scholar, Mark Ellis (2011:n.p.):
“(t)he ethnic cleansing of Palestine is among the defining moments of contemporary Jewish history[…]Israel will not stop itself. Palestinians cannot stop Israel. Many Jews and Palestinians want a way beyond this endless violence.”
What does the law say about violence?
The international human rights law (that protects individuals in war and in peace) and the international humanitarian law as specified in the four Geneva Conventions (for war and armed conflict areas) both apply. Although both parties experience and conduct acts of violence, the
“overall right of an occupied population to resist a foreign military occupation, including through use of arms against military targets, is recognised as lawful under international law” (Bennis 2012:3)*.
On the other hand, Israeli civilians are also protected by the two laws mentioned above, so they in turn may also not become targets in an armed struggle.
My hurt is for those who are injured and killed; for their friends and families; for those who conduct the deeds of violence as they too are wounded even though they may sense the pain only later; for those who give the orders; for those who jubilate; and for those who stand by. May God help us all. May we continue to search for another way. And when we do so, may we hold hands.
*Bennis, P. 2012. Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. A primer. Northampton: Olive Branch Press.