Dear Friends (an Open Letter)

The Oslo Accords have presented the world with misleading images of peace [between Israel and the Palestinians], and now we are left with a difficult and hard reality on the ground. The international media speaks of the accords as historic because they brought peace and reconciliation. I often quote Ezekiel 13:10, "Because they mislead my people saying peace when there is no peace" or the words of Isaiah 59:14-15, "Justice is turned back and righteousness stands at a distance, for truth stumbles in the public place and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking and whoever turns from evil is despoiled." To have peace we must tell the truth; without truth-telling there is no peacemaking.

It is not easy for me to analyze the peace process and its shortcomings, because the local and international media have made it seem as if whoever is against the process is against peace, is not rational, is not moderate, and furthermore, is often labeled a fanatic or terrorist. I recall September 1993 in Selly Oak Colleges and 1994 in Sweden, when I spoke about the Oslo Accords, that some could not understand why a Quaker, a peace activist, would warn of a sad outcome rather than rejoice. Why? There is poor coverage and a misreported Middle East process in the United States and Europe. Palestinian and Arab views are rarely included in the mainstream media. For that reason, there has been unanimity in the public discourse of the West that the peace process is a good thing.

"Oslo can only be genuinely understood as an economic, political, and disciplinarian restructuring of Israel’s relationship with the occupied territories, based on the unanimity of given Zionist agendas within Israel." (News from Within, October 1999) Or, according to Edward Said, "How do you spell apartheid? O-S-L-O."

During the past three months, over 360 people have been killed and over 10,000 wounded. Reports of these and other incidents of torture and killings of Palestinians are seldom connected to the deeply flawed Oslo Accords nor with the Israeli policy that maintains hundreds of settlements on our land—a policy that continues to increase and enlarge them, even during Israeli Prime Minister Barak’s government. Many rejoiced for Barak’s election and hailed him as a man of peace, including Arab leaders. According to a report released on September 26, 1999, by the Israeli advocacy group Peace Now, the so-called "growth" during the first three months of Barak’s government includes the issuing of tenders for the construction of 2,600 new settlement units. This may be compared to an annual average of 3,000 settlement units under Netanyahu. Coupled with the army’s closure of 23,000 dunums [568 acres] of Palestinian land west of Hebron, it becomes clear that Barak is not at all interested in international law that states that settlements are illegal.

When the military attorney warned him about this, Barak answered, "No international law can change our approach. Our decisions are not made according to international precedents but according to our needs and interests." Neither is Israeli law his frame of reference when it comes to deciding the legitimacy of any settlement, despite the fact that the rule of law was a central issue in Barak’s election campaign. Only seven "strongholds" out of 42 built after the Wye River Agreement were declared illegal by Israel—that is not having permission from the Israeli government to exist. And only two of the seven illegal settlements have been evacuated.

Settlement growth is driven by political and ideological considerations that serve the strategic military and economic interests of Israel as well as its scheme of national assertiveness. The number of settlers has reached a total of 349,327, of whom 180,000 live in Jerusalem and 6,166 in the Gaza Strip. These settlements are united by a system of highways or bypass roads and industrial areas that prevent continuity between Palestinian towns and villages and have also been built upon confiscated Palestinian land. There are 177 settlements in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and 18 settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Israel has permitted these settlements to cause environmental degradation to adjacent Palestinian communities. Untreated sewage, for example, is often allowed to run into the valleys below settlements, threatening the agriculture and health of neighboring Palestinian towns and villages. The very existence of these settlements is a direct violation of internationally binding agreements and regulations, as international humanitarian law explicitly prohibits the occupying power to make permanent changes that do not benefit the occupied population.

Not only is our land being confiscated, but also our water resources. Israel controls all the water resources of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, pumping 85 percent for its own use and leaving us Palestinians with only 15 percent of our own water for all our needs, domestic and agricultural. While Israelis enjoy the annual per capita use of 344 cubic meters, Jordanians are limited to 244 cubic meters, and Palestinians have to survive on a mere 93 cubic meters. In terms of domestic use, the average Palestinian is limited to 39-50 liters per capita per day, while Israelis consume more than 220 liters per capita per day. In Jewish settlements, each settler is provided with 280-300 liters daily. And thus, Palestinians have become less and less able to use water for irrigation or even to water backyard family vegetable plots, let alone flower gardens, trees, and basic needs at home. All the while, Jewish settlers water their grass lawns and fill their swimming pools.

In the Gaza Strip, one million Palestinians use 25 percent of the water, and the remaining goes to a settler population of fewer than 6,200. In Hebron, 70 percent of the water goes to 8,500 settlers, and only 30 percent is allocated to the city’s 250,000 inhabitants. Israel remains in grave violation of the Hague Regulations, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and the International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

Israel continues to confiscate and build on Arab land in East Jerusalem as part of the "judaization" of the city, while Arab Jerusalemites not only are deprived of their land but also are often denied building permits. Furthermore, many suffer from house demolitions and the loss of their Jerusalem residency rights and accompanying social services. Since March 1993, Israel has closed off the city of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. Palestinians who are not officially residents of the city are not allowed to enter Jerusalem without a proper permit issued from the Israeli military authorities. This closure essentially divides the West Bank into north and south cantons and has greatly increased the fragmentation of the Palestinian community.

I am a pacifist and declared publicly, as early as 1975 at the Nairobi 5th Assembly of the World Council of Churches, my aspirations for peace and reconciliation based on the mutual recognition of the rights of both Palestinians and Israelis, including a two-state solution according to international law and United Nations resolutions, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and equality for Palestinians living in Israel.

I was a lonely voice then, and I was asked by dignitaries and church leaders (all men) not to stick my neck out and make any suggestions. However, I did not stop. I continue until this day because the cries of my people for peace with justice are loud and clear, and my will to resist injustice has not been defeated. I do admit that often I feel tired, frustrated, and drained and that it is people like you, who still care to be open to the truth, who empower me and give me courage and hope to go on.

What Israel offered the Palestinian leadership (and this includes the Nobel Peace Prize winners, Peres and Rabin) was restricted to overseeing the Palestinians living in the occupied territories as it relates to matters of internal security, health, education, sanitation, tourism, and postal services. Israel still controls the land, water, overall security, economy, and borders. Thus, Israel gave Palestinian president Arafat responsibility for the people without the land, without sovereignty, without a commitment to end the occupation, and in addition to that, the responsibility to discipline and control anyone who resists the occupation or the Oslo Accords.

Can we have peace without self-determination and sovereignty? Without land and water that are essentially a question of survival? Can we develop our society economically while Israeli-imposed restrictions remain in place: roadblocks; closures; isolation; unemployment; economic marginalizaion and exclusion; exploitation of water, land, and people’s work; and in addition, no protection whatsoever?

How can we have peace when millions of Palestinian refugees still live in refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon? The refugees had hoped that the Oslo Accords would address the issue of their right of return—which is a basic human right—and compensation, or at least improve their economic situation, but have been disappointed again and again.

Refugees suffer from overcrowding, poverty, scarcity of water, lack of sanitation systems, and unemployment, as well as a decrease in the services offered by UNWRA, the United Nations Works and Relief Agency for Palestinian Refugees. The situation of refugees in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip is worse than those in refugee camps in Jordan and the West Bank, but all share the frustration of growing unemployment and the lack of progress on the refugee question in the political negotiations. The Palestinian refugees would like to participate in setting the agenda in defense of their rights according to UN Resolution 194 and international law, which supports their right to compensation and property rights.

Your values, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, do not allow for racial, ethnic, or religious segregation. You call that racism. You are alarmed if right-wing political or religious leaders encourage racism and exclusiveness. But what we Palestinians cannot understand is how, in our own country, on our own land, can we be denied water or land or building permits, or the right to free movement, or right of return, or self-determination, all because we are not Jewish? And how can this be tolerated by the enlightened world in light of the hundreds of UN resolutions that have been passed condemning Israel for its practices and demanding justice for Palestinians?

Why are Palestinians living in the occupied territories forced to live in bantustans without the right to resist (because this will be interpreted as terrorism)? And why is this not called apartheid? Is this racism or is it a peace process? Why should we have to drop our priorities for independence, statehood, or human rights just to improve Israeli security? Is this really democracy? Is this equality? Is this a mutuality that will discourage all forms of direct and structural violence and bring about peace and reconciliation?

Can we go on endorsing the Oslo Accords and the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations assuming a type of symmetry that views contending parties in conflict as equals? After all, the conflict is there because of the incompatibility between the two parties. Can we go on with these arrangements while Israel dictates rather than negotiates and does so without regard for the deteriorating day-to-day reality of Palestinian life, where insecurity, unemployment, poverty, and frustration have become almost unendurable?

Can the world continue to be indifferent, as is President Clinton and his government, to the daily abuses of Israeli power and never say a word in public expressing the slightest understanding of our Calvary? Can the world go on distorting truth so that even these bad agreements, which do not offer much to Palestinians, are not even applied by Israel itself? Can we and you continue to be silent when Palestinians are killed by U.S.-made weapons, such as the apache attack helicopters?

As you know, our misfortunes are not few. Our country is becoming one gigantic prison and one vast cemetery. As a result of this recent Intifada, one-third of those injured have been permanently handicapped and 100 of those killed have been children. The people, land, houses, and trees have been brutally treated. Fear and insecurity have replaced compassion and trust. Relations have become hard and tense. The situation has called on all our resources—mental, physical, psychological, and spiritual. And at times, we feel drained. People need time to mourn, to heal their wounds, to pacify their children, and to find their daily bread.

War and violence are rooted in untruth, as is all sin. And the truth here should be known. For there is no plan, no deal, and no imposed peace process—no matter how powerful—that can completely destroy our alternatives. We must have faith in our rights and in the signs of hope in our midst. Understanding structural violence enables us to consider our situation not only at the level of symptoms, but more importantly, at the level of underlying and systemic causes.

Structural violence is silent. It does not show. Television captures direct violence and, most often, the violence of the powerless and hopeless, which is then usually qualified as terror.

We must work hard to find nonviolent ways of overcoming political, social, economic, ecological, and religious violence and to join hands with all those who are committed to not give in to the forces of darkness. In order to hope for justice and to hope for peace, we must work for peace.

Now the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoners, to rebuild the nations, and to bring peace to the world.

Jean Zaru

Jean Zaru, presiding clerk of Ramallah Meeting in the West Bank, wrote this letter in December 2000 to describe conditions in the West Bank from her point of view as a Palestinian.