STUART REES. Israel/Palestine, the Prime Minister and the Language of Peace

Dec 3, 2018

A former Australian Ambassador to Israel, Peter Rogers has described as a fraud Prime Minister Morrison’s claim that moving the Australian embassy to Jerusalem could be shock therapy for the non-existent Israel-Palestine peace process.

If the Prime Minister had paused to reflect on history and had spoken a language of peace, he could have conceived the Jerusalem/Australian Embassy issue in an entirely different manner.

As the home of three major religions, artists, composers and poets have idealized Jerusalem as that cosmopolitan city of peace which can harbor the ideals of a common humanity. The English poet William Blake used ‘Jerusalem’ as a metaphor to represent opposition to a dangerous nationalism and to the restrictions of institutionalized religion. In 1948 the UN decreed that Jerusalem should remain a separate entity, subject to international judgement and control. The architects of the Oslo Accords of 1991 agreed that the final status of Jerusalem should be determined by international negotiation and agreement.

Throughout the Israel/Palestinian conflict, the language of warfare has drowned the language of peace. Yet that language – of respect, reconciliation, reciprocity, even reparation – remains the only means of envisioning a justice which would benefit Israelis and Palestinians.

Negotiations to resolve conflicts usually emphasize the goals of peace with justice. These include the practice of non-violence, respect for universal human rights and the ideals of a common humanity.

Those ideals were written into Article One of the UN Charter, which says, ‘A people have the right to self-determination and by virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.’

The language in that Article provides the international law standard for unravelling the Palestinian conflict. The words are cherished by Palestinians and their supporters and by significant peace advocates in Israel.

Two months ago, when the killings at the Gaza border fence had reached one hundred fatalities, nine Israelis who had won the prestigious Israel Prize, declared themselves horrified by the killings of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators. They said that these shootings by Israeli snipers were reminiscent of the Sharpeville massacre in apartheid South Africa in 1960. The international outrage which followed that massacre became the catalyst for the anti-apartheid movement which ended with the release of Nelson Mandela.

Other Israelis who speak the peace with justice language call their movement ‘Standing Together’. In demonstrations held recently in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem, they have demanded, ‘Instead of war and fear and bloodshed we should lift the siege of Gaza, end the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and actively pursue a comprehensive Israeli/Palestine peace.’

Within Gaza, young people have advocated non-violent protests against their imprisonment. They have influenced the Right of Return demonstrations which have lasted for over six months, yet mainstream media claims that these protests are entirely the work of Hamas.  The voices of these young people are not heard. Under the influence of the USA, the West refuses to have dialogue with Hamas and instead we hear the Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman’s repeated claim that there are no innocent people in Gaza.

The language of peace with justice contrasts with the violence that so fascinates Lieberman and the constituencies which support his views. He has a record of wanting to kill as many Palestinians as possible for any reason. He perceives ceasefires as a submission to terror and has quit the Netanyahu Cabinet because he regarded that government as insufficiently violent towards Gaza.

Wreaking vengeance by wanting to teach the already battered Gazans another lesson continues not only injustice but also this massive illiteracy about non-violence. Instead of the verbs to steal, bomb, kill, destroy, we could hear about dialogue, human rights, humanity and even about love as the way to peace with justice.

It should not take too much courage for politicians of all persuasions to remember that language and feel confident in speaking it. There are many examples they could use.

The German poet Bertolt Brecht insisted that justice is the bread of the people, that just as daily bread is necessary, so is daily justice. In the same vein, political leaders could think of peace with justice policies if they pondered Bertrand Russel’s observation, ‘War does not determine who is right only who is left.’

  • * Stuart Rees AM is Professor Emeritus, University of Sydney and founder of the Sydney Peace Foundation
  • # This is an abbreviated version of Professor Rees’ Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize address given in Queens Hall of the Victorian Parliament on the evening of November 29th  


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