A Decolonial Framework for Justice and Peace
When Canada’s acclaimed aboriginal poet Lee Maracle first met Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, she remarked, “He spoke to something so old inside my body, it felt like floating on a sea of forever.” She composed “Remembering Mahmoud 1986” to mark his death in 2012. The opening lines of the poem read:
Mahmoud’s poems are beads of sweat
Dripping from stressed and weathered foreheads
To fall near silent amid the incessant Israeli bombs
To rise—pearls of blood—from between the bits of rubble
Clutched by Palestinians chasing a livelihood
From a shrinking land base
They become desperate word flowers
Blooming nonetheless from a land
Occupied by settlers
Chronically stealing the lives of children
What Maracle expressed when she met Darwish was a validation of her own condition as an indigenous woman forced off her land, stripped of her cultural memory, and struggling to thrive in a system designed to eliminate her people. The lines of verse describe the political reality known as settler colonialism, illustrating its distinct feature: the replacement of indigenous populations with an outside settler society. Both Israel and the United States—as well as Canada, Australia, and others—are settler colonial societies. One of the lessons we have learned from organizing for justice for Palestinians and other marginalized people is that native history must be centered. The decolonial discourse of indigenous struggles for land, self-determination, and sovereignty is the necessary lens through which to articulate and pursue visions for collective liberation.
Israel’s privileging of Jews over non-Jews ensures that it cannot be both Jewish and democratic.
The situation in Palestine and Israel is often described as complicated. Declaring the issue as complicated is a way to avoid coming to terms with our own responsibility; confusion; and inability to support the rights of a colonized, indigenous people. Understanding the nature of settler colonialism clarifies the struggle over Palestine. A settler colonial lens puts the focus on the root cause of the injustice and, thus, the path to justice and peace among Palestinians and Israelis. Those genuinely interested in the fate of the peoples of this land need to reckon with the reality of Israel’s foundation, reject myths, and commit to decolonization.
Grasping the full truth of Israel’s foundation requires examination of the Palestinian Nakba, the Arabic word for “catastrophe.” The Nakba refers to the events of 1948 that led to the establishment of the state of Israel, the destruction of hundreds of Palestinians villages, and the ethnic cleansing of over 750,000 Palestinians. Displacement of Palestinians by Israel continues today. The logic of Zionism, the ideology of Jewish nationalism that defines Israel, requires acquiring the maximum amount of land with a minimum number of Palestinians. Jewish supremacy in Palestine is central to the Zionist project.
Israel’s own leaders openly talk about the settler colonial foundations of the state. Moshe Dayan said in 1969:
We came here to a country that was populated by Arabs, and we are building here a Hebrew, a Jewish state; instead of the Arab villages, Jewish villages were established. You even do not know the names of those villages, and I do not blame you because these villages no longer exist. There is not a single Jewish settlement that was not established in the place of a former Arab village.
Israel’s privileging of Jews over non-Jews ensures that it cannot be both Jewish and democratic.
Quakers do not acknowledge the settler colonial nature of Zionism and Israel’s subjugation of the Palestinians. The minutes and statements of Quaker meetings and organizations focus on competing national narratives, “cycles of violence,” and “two irreconcilable claims to the land.” This discourse is deeply flawed and damaging as it gives cover to oppression. How can we move forward for justice and peace if we don’t understand the root of the violence?
The “two narratives” myth brings with it a peculiar set of problems in Quaker circles.
The violence of settler colonialism can only be addressed through decolonization, a process which begins with the rejection of myths. Philosopher Karl Popper said, “True ignorance is not the absence of knowledge, but the refusal to acquire it.” Palestinian scholar Yamila Shannan clarifies this notion by adding, “Ignorance is the presence of myth.” Taking into account the catastrophic results of the creation of Israel from Palestinians debunks the myths that surround use of terms like “Holy Land” and tropes like “two peoples for one land.” Just as no person is “illegal,” all land is holy.
One oft-repeated myth is that any critique of Israel is anti-Semitic. Palestinians have the unfortunate reality of facing oppression at the hands of the victims of European anti-Semitism. Edward Said spoke to this condition when he said, “To be the victim of a victim does present quite unusual difficulties.” Many Quakers condemn Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). They see BDS as refusing to see the humanity of Israeli Jews and, thus, as anti-Semitic. Understanding settler colonialism and decolonization clarifies that resistance to forced displacement would exist, regardless of whom the oppressor is.
The “two narratives” myth brings with it a peculiar set of problems in Quaker circles. Quakers promote dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians an an avenue for reconciliation. As Palestinians, we are constantly invited into spaces to sit opposite Zionists to engage in “dialogue.” In such settings, we are basically being asked to justify our own humanity. How do you dialogue with those who espouse an ideology and policies that are premised on a denial of your people’s humanity and its ongoing dispossession? To appear with those who insist on maintaining Jewish supremacy in our homeland is to normalize our own oppression. We don’t believe it is enough to end the military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. We cannot separate the military occupation from the fate of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who are subjected to at least 50 discriminatory laws, home demolitions, and police brutality. Nor can we abandon millions of Palestinian refugees to permanent exile. It is not unreasonable for us to demand full dignity, equality, and freedom.
Finally, a settler colonial framework requires solutions rooted in decolonization. Quakers must advocate for solutions that dismantle Israel’s racist foundations. That means any logic which supports settler colonialism must also be rejected. Quakers are compelled to take an introspective look at the ways in which they contribute to colonialism in Palestine. Quakers are complicit in unjust systems through programs, policies, and institutions that act as tools of oppression. We offer these critiques to bring the Quaker community into a full keeping with its rich legacy of seeking justice.
[quote]What shift in thinking about Palestinians would take place in a decolonization of the school?[/quote]
Quaker institutions contribute to the dehumanization of Palestinians by imposing outside norms on Palestinian society and making judgments about who is fit to lead Palestinian liberation. The Ramallah Friends School and the principles guiding the work of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) are two examples of Quaker colonialism in practice.
The Ramallah Friends School was originally opened in 1889 as the Girls Training Home of Ramallah, a boarding school teaching Western and Quaker values. While today the school is praised for its legacy of producing Palestinian intellectual, social, and political leaders and for its rich tradition of antiestablishment politics against the Israeli occupation, the origins of the school and its history are reminiscent of “Indian” boarding schools, as the Ramallah Friends School is a product of U.S. educational imperialism. Otherwise, why is it that the head of school for such a prominent Palestinian institution is appointed by Friends United Meeting (FUM) of Richmond, Indiana? Further, the school boasts that its graduates attend top universities around the world. Of these top universities, 106 of the 123 schools on the list are Western universities. There is a subconscious (or perhaps conscious) emphasis that Western institutions are inherently better than others. Institutions like the Ramallah Friends School are tools of colonialism because they package and impose what is idealized by Western Quakers on an indigenous Palestinian population. What would decolonization of Ramallah Friends School look like? What shift in thinking about Palestinians would take place in a decolonization of the school?
An essential part of decolonizing Quaker spaces and actions means that Quakers must acknowledge and respect that Palestinian communities have immense knowledge and resources, which predate the establishment of Quaker institutions in Palestine.
American Friends Service Committee also perpetuates colonialist tendencies. For example, there are no Palestinians in leadership positions on the organization’s Israel-Palestine Coordinating Committee, and the country representative for Israel and Palestine is European. It is not that those currently in these positions are ill-informed on the subject or unqualified to lead others. We also acknowledge that the current program leadership has inherited staffing structures that have been difficult to remedy in times of budget crisis. Rather, this observation illustrates that AFSC, as a non-governmental organization, exercises colonialist practices by excluding Palestinians from leading their own struggle for liberation. The decision to put white Americans and Europeans in positions of power implies that Palestinians are not fit to govern themselves or to have agency over their own liberation work. An essential part of decolonizing Quaker spaces and actions means that Quakers must acknowledge and respect that Palestinian communities have immense knowledge and resources, which predate the establishment of Quaker institutions in Palestine.
AFSC’s “Principles for a Just and Lasting Peace Between Palestinians and Israelis” has largely remained static since 1999. The principles are outdated and present a problematic framework for understanding the situation in Palestine. The document attempts to lay out solutions for Palestinians and Israelis including a section on self-determination that reads in part:
AFSC affirms the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to live as sovereign peoples in their own homeland, a right that encompasses the possibility of choosing two separate states. We acknowledge that other options such as a bi-national state and confederation are being discussed.
Quaker process can be slow and biased toward a continuation of the status quo.
Quaker process can be slow and biased toward a continuation of the status quo.
The “Principles” document goes on to say that “the issue here is of one land and two peoples” and that “no one’s right to self-determination should be exercised at the expense of someone else’s.” This framework is problematic in that it makes permanent the subjugation of the Palestinians. Jewish self-determination in the form of Zionism, an ideology as we explained earlier espouses Jewish supremacy on the land, is not justice. This principle essentially condones the existence of a Zionist (read white supremacist) nation. While a decolonial solution does not necessitate the expulsion of the colonizers, it does require that settler mentalities be expelled. Jews living in the land must concede power and supremacy over Palestinians. Maintaining Jewish supremacy in the interests of self-determination ensures continuing Palestinian oppression. What does Jewish self-determination mean on stolen land? What does self-determination for Palestinians mean when millions of Palestinians remain in exile to maintain a Jewish majority?
Quaker process can be slow and biased toward a continuation of the status quo. Given these hurdles, we challenge the AFSC board to take bold moves to adopt principles for a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis that is grounded in a decolonial framework guided by the indigeneity of the Palestinian people.
Melanie Yazzie, Dine (Navajo) scholar and artist, defines the decolonization nation-building process this way:
Decolonization is a future-oriented project that requires imagining, building, and fighting for forms of nationhood and self-determination not premised on the relations of exploitation, dispossession, elimination, and extraction that define liberal nationalisms and capitalist, imperial, and colonial formations.
Palestinians have the right to sovereignty simply because they are human and fully deserving of the same dignity and respect to which all other humans are entitled. AFSC’s “Principles” document says, “The surest road to peace is the path of empathy, where self interest can give way to shared interest, where separateness can give way to reconciliation, where domination can give way to justice.” We need much more than empathy for a “just peace.” The issue is one of land and control. The ability of Palestinians to empathize with and reconcile with Israelis is dependent on decolonization.
Quakers have a long history of standing up for justice, speaking truth to power, and railing against the status quo. We are calling for a more prophetic, courageous, and unapologetic Quaker position on justice for Palestinians. What prevents us from acknowledging the roots of this conflict? A settler colonial lens gives us insight to see clearly the way forward. This framing is vital for justice for Palestinians and Israelis, but it also is essential for coming to terms with this country’s settler colonial origins. It should inform how Quakers engage on issues of saving our environment, justice for indigenous peoples, and eliminating anti-Black racism. Decolonization promises freedom for us all.
22 thoughts on “Palestine and Israel”
This comment is from Joyce Ajlouny for AFSC as an organization.
The article by Tabitha Mustafa and Sandra Tamari raises many important and challenging points for Quakers and others to consider.
We particularly appreciate the importance of always considering the colonial history and context of U.S. and European relationships with other parts of the world and how that reality can shape both organizational and individual understandings and approaches to work. This recognition must lead to a commitment to internalizing and working within anti-racist and decolonial frameworks as we engage in programming. We acknowledge that there is always space for growth or improvement.
While appreciating Sandra and Tabitha’s challenge, we also think it important to offer additional context regarding AFSC’s work related to Palestine and Israel and how we hold ourselves accountable to Palestinians and Israelis as we do our work.
Considering who leads work and how priorities are determined is important. While many of our staff are Palestinian, European and white American staff are serving in several key roles. Particularly in the U.S., AFSC would benefit from more Palestinian representation. However, the current staff structure did not result from a decision-making process that excludes or devalues Palestinian candidates and AFSC maintains a commitment in its hiring to non-discrimination and inclusion.
And, while acknowledging staffing gaps, we also believe that the identities of staff alone cannot be the measure by which organizational accountability, relationships, and work are judged.
AFSC’s Palestine and Israel work globally is guided by a set of priorities developed collaboratively by all AFSC staff working on Israel and Palestine programming, key Palestinian and Israeli partners, and outside advisors. That includes AFSC work on the issue in the U.S., which is coordinated with close communication with AFSC staff and partners in the region.
These relationships are what have led us to organize the No Way to Treat a Child Campaign in partnership with the Palestinian organization Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Gaza Unlocked Campaign with staff and partners in Gaza, and to respond to the Palestinian boycott, divestment, and sanctions call.
Through all our work we strive to use our privilege and access as an American international organization to provide needed support to Palestinian led initiatives and to open spaces that might otherwise be closed. AFSC never seeks to tell Palestinians how to approach their own liberation.
Working to address the impacts of colonial and racist legacies and structures is part of an ongoing process at AFSC, not only within AFSC’s Israel and Palestine programming but also in the organization’s wider US and international work. Appointing a Palestinian American General Secretary and an African American board clerk, prioritizing hiring international staff from the countries where they work, and pushing forward anti-racism training for staff and board members are all steps in this ongoing process of change.
In our Palestine and Israel work specifically, we remain committed to working for freedom, justice, and equality, recognizing that we can always be working closer to our principles and have room to grow.
Joyce Ajlouny, General Secretary
This article misquotes Moshe Dayan as saying in 1969:
“We came here to a country that was populated by Arabs, and we are building here a Hebrew, a Jewish state; instead of the Arab villages, Jewish villages were established. You even do not know the names of those villages, and I do not blame you because these villages no longer exist. There is not a single Jewish settlement that was not established in the place of a former Arab village.”
However, the quote edits out a key phrase: “…”we purchased the land from Arabs…”
Also, the last sentence in the Dayan quote has also been seriously altered to change the meaning. What Dayan actually said is: “There isn’t any place that was established in an area where there had not at one time been an Arab settlement.”
The translation of the actual statement by Dayan is as follows:
“We came to a region of land that was inhabited by Arabs, and we set up a Jewish state. In a considerable number of places, we purchased the land from Arabs and set up Jewish villages where there had once been Arab villages. You don’t even know the names [of the previous Arab villages] and I don’t blame you, because those geography books aren’t around anymore. Not only the books, the villages aren’t around. Nahalal was established in the place of Mahalul, and Gvat was established in the place of Jibta, Sarid in the place of Huneifis and Kfar Yehoshua in the place of Tel Shaman. There isn’t any place that was established in an area where there had not at one time been an Arab settlement.”
There is also a more general problem with this article by Tabitha Mustafa and Sandra Tamari , ie it presents the claim, that Israel is a colonialist entity, as an established fact, when that claim is actually a highly biased prejudgment and counterfactual. I have found ALL the articles in this issue of Friends Journal to present that same general biased claim about the nature and history of modern Israel. The only difference is that the other articles try to balance things out a little with some Friendly expressions of sympathy for those few Israelis who are decent people but are stuck with a government that has behaved viciously toward the hapless Palestinians. In this article, by Mustafa and Tamari, simply things by just presenting Israelis are vicious thieves, and Israel as an historic catastrophe for well meaning Palestinians.
This gives occasion for Quaker pause and re-set. Quaker values of empathy and nonviolence are indeed worthy, and we hold to them. Yet when they are applied in a context of great injustice and violence, the effect too often comes out validating the status quo. Palestine being a prime example.
Quakerism was born and raised in a culture of conquest and subjugation of non-Europeans. It’s in our DNA, even when we try our best to do good. We have internal things to work on, even as we continue using our best discernment on what we do in the world.
Mustafa and Tamari give us critical information.
Friends Journal is to be commended on providing cutting edge insights.
I find the arguments of Tabitha Mustafa and Sandra Tamari very compelling and feel they should receive every element of consideration. We who come from the western European tradition tend to view world events through the lens of our own regional history, religious convictions and mythologies that have risen out of them.
When speaking to Israelis and Palestinians I have been concerned with the natural tendency to focus on the desire for immediate redress of continuing injustices. What could more natural? Clearly, Palestinians have a history of centuries of occupancy of this region. So the practical resolution of territorial conflict could, and perhaps should, be based on a clear path of ownership and usurpation.
A useful discussion for Quakers might be examining the religious traditions that are based on a conviction that God himself has ordained ownership or colonization of lands and indoctrination of people. It seems to be forgotten that, no matter the inspiration, scriptures are written by human beings; humans beings with a particular agenda. Scripture may ‘contain’ divine truth, aka ‘the word of god’ but it is not, in its entirety, the word of god. What is, and is not scripture, has been decided by fallible human beings. If people decide that someone else is ‘without the law’, ‘an infidel’, ‘saved’ or ‘not saved’, the decision is based on their own desires and not some divine approval or rejection.
Another useful activity is to imagine possible final resolutions to conflict in this region. Do Zionist Israelis dream of an Israel in which all Palestinians and Arabs have gracefully evaporated and the entire region is presided over by like-minded Jewish people? Do Palestinians imagine a world in which all Israelis have evaporated after paying substantial reparations and being punished for the pain and suffering they have caused? Do Christians believe that the spirit of Christ will sweep across the middle east causing all its citizens to come to the true faith? How realistic are any of these scenarios?
One thing appears to be certain; If we try to destroy our enemies by war, colonization and absorption, or exile, we will guarantee that we will have more enemies and new enemies.
So let me get this straight. Dialogue between Palestinians and Israeli Jews shouldn’t take place??? Just talking to your adversary is validating the status quo?
Quakers have given the world a unique witness to peace and non-violence for 350 years. Violence can come in many forms. The BDS movement whose specific intent is to cause harm can only inflame the passions,anger, and sense of being threatened that many Israelis feel. Non-violence is not a temporary strategy to be used by the weak against the strong. It is a way of life founded on spiritual principles. Early Friends knew that. The state of Israel may have many deficiencies but let us be clear it is not an apartheid state. Check the facts: Arab judges, Arab members of Parliament, Arab doctors, etc.
Empathy, to me, means equal human right for all residents of Palestine/Israel, regardless of race or religion. To coerce the Israeli government to change their supremacist laws, we the international community need to Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel. It worked in South Africa, and it will work in Israel. Peace will appear when justice is implemented.
What I would suggest instead is for the Palestinians to accept Israel’s right to exist. They could have had their own state decades ago. The state they could have now is not what they could have had in 1947. If they continue on their present course then the state they may eventually get is not the state they could have now.
Is getting half a city (East Jerusalem) really worth the entire country they could have if they negotiated in good faith? There has been much suffering that could have been avoided. But of course, there are forces and special interests at work that simply will not allow peace to happen no matter what suffering it causes.
As a Palestinian Quaker, I was disheartened while regarding the article “A Decolonial Framework for Justice and Peace.” It is hard to disagree with the premise of the article. White Quakers as well as many Quaker institutions still have a lot of work to do to build anti-racist, and decolonial organizations and beloved communities. These dilemmas we face are not only limited to the plight of Palestine, and encompass an array of intersectional issues. What was perplexing to me was the authors’ choices for Quaker organizations that they describe as ‘colonialist’ and silencing to Palestinians: the Ramallah Friends School and the American Friends Service Committee. It was strange to read these accusations against these two institutions, especially since they are committed to social justice and the Palestinian cause in their own ways. The fact that the authors singled out RFS and AFSC from all other Quaker organizations, even though both institutions have overwhelmingly clear track records of supporting Palestinians, is irresponsible. Charging them with perpetuating the two narratives myth (that there is symmetry in power and narratives between Palestinians and Israelis) is unwarranted and unjustified.
As an alum of the Ramallah Friends School I was very frustrated and even offended at the claims made by the authors of the article. First of all, the farfetched juxtaposition of the RFS schools with Indian boarding schools is hurtful to both the Palestinian communities at RFS, and also to the history and trauma that the Indian boarding schools inflicted on Native American communities. The insinuation that the experiences of Native American children, who were taken away from their families and communities, and spent their entire childhoods at boarding schools far from their reservations is akin to the experiences of Palestinian children at a Quaker boarding school in Palestine is a farce.
In addition to the false narrative that the authors of this article provided about the school’s history, the authors also chose to decontextualize the facts they write about to serve their argument, without examining how the pieces they are looking at fit into the overall landscape. The Ramallah Friends School is a Palestinian school for Palestinian students. The vast majority of the teachers at the schools are Palestinians, and it is the same for administrators, as well as students. All of the individuals on the school’s board are Palestinians as well. Even though Friends United Meeting is in charge of the search for the school’s director, no director would have been appointed if they were not approved by the Board. My parents chose the RFS community for me and my sisters because it is a forward thinking, tolerant, and diverse environment. It was also a school that provided a stellar, values-based education. The values which are espoused by the school are universal values that are rooted in Quakerism and Christianity. They are not values imported from the West; if anything these Christian values were imported to the West from Palestine.
The Ramallah Friends School is not merely an excellent educational institution. It also provides support, experience, and most importantly opportunity. It was through RFS’s relationship with Guilford College that I was able to receive a full tuition scholarship for my undergraduate education at this Quaker college. My parents enrolled me at RFS not only because RFS would prepare me for my college education, but because it would give me access to institutions and resources that they never had the privileges of accessing. My parents did not encourage me to study at Guilford because they think Western education is inherently better. They wanted me to study at Guilford because they know institutions abroad not only offer safe and secure learning environments where I wouldn’t face checkpoints on my way to class, or face being kidnapped from campus in broad daylight the way Birzeit University student Omar Kiswani was recently kidnapped by undercover Israeli soldiers on his campus in Palestine. My parents wanting me to have the access they never had, and a safe learning environment does not make them Orientalists, or conspirators to the idea that Western education is superior to Palestinian education. In a world with a free Palestine, my parents would not have to send their children to study thousands of miles away from them.
The article wants to center how Quaker institutions dehumanize Palestinians but at the same time the authors completely disregard the agency of Palestinians in wanting to send their children to the schools of their choice. The article disregards our voices, the authors did not quote any Palestinian students, faculty, or otherwise from Ramallah Friends, nor have they attended the schools themselves. This is not to say that the Ramallah Friends School is perfect. There are many valid criticisms of the schools. However, the singling out of the school as a Quaker institution and leveling the serious accusation of perpetuating colonialism and the dehumanization of Palestinian is both ludicrous and achieves nothing but the admonishment of an institution built by and for Palestinians.
It is also surprising to see the article berate the American Friends Service Committee as an institution, also accusing it of contributing to the dehumanization of Palestinians and an example of “Quaker colonialism in practice.” This is particularly ironic considering that it came following the recent decision of the Israeli government to place the AFSC on a ban list to Israel/Palestine for the organization’s support of the BDS movement to practice boycott in solidarity with Palestinians. The authors make a blanket statement that the lack of Palestinians in leadership positions for Israel/Palestine programming is somehow a direct indication of Quaker colonialism. They completely disregard mentioning that the current General Secretary of AFSC is Palestinian (the highest position at the organization) or that AFSC staff in the Holy Land are Palestinian. It is not that I disagree with having more Palestinians hold more leadership positions, especially on Palestine/Israel programming, on the contrary. However, it is that I disagree with the implicit accusation that AFSC is systematically overlooking and denying Palestinian applicants from such positions. At the Friends General Conference Gathering last summer, AFSC celebrated its 100 years of history, and in the Gathering Plenary dedicated to AFSC, the organization chose to highlight its Palestine/Israel work above all us. AFSC featured a panel with two Palestinian Quakers and an anti-Zionist pro-BDS Jewish Israeli. All of this is completely missing from the article featured in Friends Journal.
Being Palestinian and Quaker are among the greatest blessings in my life. And I am deeply thankful to the institutions such as the Ramallah Friends School and the American Friends Service Committee for their long histories of supporting Palestine and the Palestinian people. It is genuine solidarity, not colonialism, that should be the central framework through which we understand their work.
Walid Mosarsaa wrote: “At the Friends General Conference Gathering last summer, AFSC celebrated its 100 years of history, and in the Gathering Plenary dedicated to AFSC, the organization chose to highlight its Palestine/Israel work above all us. AFSC featured a panel with two Palestinian Quakers and an anti-Zionist pro-BDS Jewish Israeli.”
As is noted by Matan Peleg in his monograph, The Battle for the Zionist Idea, there has been since 1948 a two pronged attack on Israel:
1. The physical threat, involving physical attacks, war, and terrorism.
2. The ideological threat, involving as it does the effort to delegitimize the existence of Israel in the eyes of the world.
Walid Mosarsaa’s statement describing the Gathering Plenary dedicated to AFSC of last summer makes it clear that the American Friends Service Committee has in fact joined in the fight to destroy Israel, and is a combatant in the ideological war against Israel. He obviously thinks what he perceives as for his benefit is a general good for the Society of Friends. I doubt that is so.
In the discussion of the four articles in this issue of Friends Journal, there have been a few who spoke who are uneasy about this state of affairs, and who think it is inappropriate for the Society of Friends to enter into war against Israel. But the majority who spoke have obviously signed on as combatants in the ideological war against Israel. So be it. But there will be, I predict, in time to come regret that choice.
“Since its establishment, the State of Israel has been faced with
two central threats: a physical threat and an ideological threat.
The former is expressed via bloody attacks, war, and terrorism,
and has but one purpose – to wipe Israel off the map. The latter is
expressed via efforts to convince the world that the Jewish state
has no right to exist. Therefore, the goals of both these tactics are
one and the same.
“In order to negate the State of Israel’s right to exist in the eyes of
the world, international propaganda organizations spread blood
libels and lies claiming that the State of Israel was founded in sin
and carries out heinous crimes against humanity, including ethnic
cleansing, genocide, and an apartheid regime for its Arab citizens.
They strive to rally the nations of the world to condemn, boycott,
and impose sanctions on Israel.”
Matan Peleg: The Zionist Idea
From both my personal experience and study, it seems that there is not a country in existence today, that does not have a history soaked in bloodshed, genocide, ethnic cleansing and stolen land. International law is important, though necessarily flawed, because the humans and nation states that write and legislate them are also flawed. It would be interesting to consider that all countries should revert to the inhabitants from 5000 years ago, or that anyone whose ancestry does not go back that long or cannot prove at least a remnant was in continuous habitation, cannot lay claim to it. but not particularly useful in transforming the current conflicts in the Middle East.
Yet, all people of good intentions, must at least think about these things, particularly in relation to what our own actions or inactions as individuals and as political entities, do to maintain the status quo, or to transform it. My personal history and the history of humans and our political entities are littered with unintended consequences. Much of what has gone wrong in the Middle East goes back to the scapegoating, oppression and ethnic cleansing of Jews throughout European history as well as the Crusades. And so much also to the human capacity to forget, or rather not remember what has happened, re-write what has happened and then do the very things that were done to us, to others.
We are, in some ways, such a young and adolescent species, but with such destructive capacities! How we treat each other is so completely related to how we treat the very Earth that sustains us. We are one species; for those who experience the Divine Presence, we are all sisters and brothers, all children of God. While there will never be an end to conflict, if this marvelous, little corner of creation is to flourish with humans as part of the kin-dom, then we must learn, as a species, to do conflict without killing each other, and that can only happen if we embrace love as the force more powerful, and transformation of conflict, rather than elimination of conflict as a given, because the idea of eliminating conflict leads to elimination the perceived source of the conflict: other human beings.
I am advocating for the most creative (rather than destructive) perspectives and consequent actions, the ones that allow for the most creative transformations. This means not knowing for sure what the outcome might be, allowing for the mystery of things beyond our control. But it also requires empathy for those we are in conflict with- though not denial of the actual conflict/s. For me, this does lead back to trying to understand and remediate European conquest and colonialism. It also goes much further back to equating civilization (which I tentatively define as the impetus to create ever larger structures of human relationship for the maximization of peaceful conflict resolution and the flourishing of beauty and culture) with empire (domination), the acceptance of the myth of redemptive violence, e.g. in the end, it is only violence that will protect us. This also means looking to cultures that have been around for a very long time, e.g. indigenous people and cultures. It does not mean venerating them entirely, because (to paraphrase a mentor of mine, Woman Stands Shining) all indigenous cultures have been disrupted to some degree.
While I realize that this does not address the immediate suffering, oppression and genocide that many are experiencing at this very moment, we must each of us be guided by something greater than ourselves as we take actio, it only makes sense to find and address the ultimate causes to the extent that we are able. Another Indigenous mentor of mine (medicine Story) tells us, when you want to know what to do, listen to your heart, when you want to know what to do about it, use your head.
There is much to ponder in this article, and still more to work with from the responses that follow.
The first thing I liked in the text was the authors’ encouragement for us to not allow complexity serve as an excuse to avoid the issues. Complexity does not absolve us from the effort of honouring the truth and acting on it.
However, the comments that follow highlight the nature of the complexity, and the effort it really takes to manage the material.
There is much to know, and often that knowing is contested. There is much to feel, and sometimes that feeling becomes part of the complexity itself, reaching into places, perhaps, that may be a long way away from Galilee. And there is much to wrestle with spiritually, for in encountering strongly-held positions, what does nonviolence mean in practice, if it is not to seek to connect with those who hold love at the centre, and prepare to win over the adherents of hate with an even greater love?
Despite the undoubted urgency for engagement and action, patient curiosity has its uses for me to thoughtfully encounter the issues and demands raised. I do not want to make matters worse. I do not want to leave the work for others.
There are a few things we can agree on. Genocide is wrong. Dispossession is violent. Promises should be kept. Peace is worthwhile. Children need protecting – and yes, all people need safety and wellbeing, all people need protecting. And wider creation needs protection.
In all wars and conflicts, often the values at stake are starkly obvious. But closer to the lived experience, edges can grow murky and confound. Sometimes, heroes’ clay feet disappoints. Outside the script, villains find their humanity, challenging our own prejudice. Allies on whom we relied will betray. Not always, but sometimes the pacifist picks up a gun, the soldier throws away a rifle. And even when the sides make sense,I am dismayed by the cruelties, and wilful destructiveness. The moral compromises can happen in a moment, but they take a lifetime to work through. And while this processes, history is lived a marches, and the answers and questions mesh into this sticky complexity. While I ponder this, the houses are knocked over, and the cemeteries and unmarked graves grow fuller.
How to enter into the complexity? A comprehensive briefing is both necessary and impossible. One should become conversant, but the fractal contestations of *what really happened* cannot instruct absolutely, because they just lead me away into small libraries with arcane scripts. I will try and learn the language. I will become more knowledgeable. Meanwhile, the guiding principles of Quakerism are the best I can work with. To approach a situation with Simplicity, (handling the complexity with grace), Peace (seeking out the nonviolent steps), Integrity (upholding truth to establish pockets of shared reality), Community (staying connected with the “enemy”, the “traitor”, the “soldier”, the “pacifist”, the ideologue and the complacent), Equality (insisting on equal rights) and Earthcare (for the earth is often a neglected stakeholder in war, and resources suffer because of violence). It is to work conscientiously with complexity, but not be lost to it; to walk cheerfully despite the desolation; to be held by the Light, and to share that Light with others, despite the grief of darkness all around.
The debate is also a running proxy about subjectivities and identities, about privilege and colonialism. Each of us might plot out various contradictory points where we enjoy privilege or feel its crushing weight on us. Is there a place on earth that is decolonised? Is it a useful destination to aim for but less meaningful location? For the absence of colonisation gives us… what exactly? Those exact things – should it be those things we set our sights on? Some may questrion the achievements of the West, but amongst the many damaging mistakes there are rich gifts to the world, offering at least as much as any other culture.
How will I act? I move from complexity to a place which asks many questions: “is this action now bringing us closer together or is it encouraging us to disown each other? How can I bear the suffering? How can I help others move away from this suffering? How can I own justice and mercy? What does love require of us?” “How do I meet that of God before me, in this liar, thief, or brute, one who on deeper reflection looks just like me?”
We might do this because there is no perfect place of knowledge about this problem. There is no haven from the confusing and sometimes highly alarming playing out of violence. We need each other to move through this together.
One of the most important questions might be: who are the peacemakers? If a school or committee with a Quaker name is fostering peace, I welcome their work. I want more of the best of it. To the extent that they like me are unconsciously perpetuating oppression, I ask for their self-reflection and openness, and seek to do the same. But while they endeavour, I ask that their work continues, too. For there is something about identity discussions, and locating the oppressor and oppressed, that loses sight of us all starting from where we are, rather than we would like to be. How am I to stop getting in my own way, and the way of others, so I may be in truer community? The answer might be to pull back, but rarely to pull away.
Trapped in the runaway argument, I find nonviolent communications (NVC) pioneered by Marshall Rosenberg a very useful habit of tongue to elicit connection through these conversations – to surrender judgement, leave out unintentionally inflammatory adverbs and adjectives, to make and explore requests rather than set down demands, to find ways to communicate from goodwill, and endure when it is disregarded. To live with the false accusations, and the hurtful repudiations, and be surprised by a heart opening, and possibilities for peace emerging..
But what I want is to hold the heart tenderly, while opening my eyes to the other.
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