Thursday, December 27, 2007

Are We All Responsible for Injustice?

This piece from Ha'aretz shows amazing vulnerability and readiness to show our common humanity. Can we all build on this attitude? Or do we have to perpetuate the (constant) self-righteous front that we are the aggrieved and offended party and the fault lies entirely with "the other side"?

Apology in Kafr Qasem
By Tom Segev
Ha'aretz -- Wednesday - December 26, 2007

On October 29, 1956, a little after 5 P.M., several dozen Kafr Qasem residents were coming home from work, unaware that a curfew had been declared because of the start of the Sinai Campaign. Border police lined them up and shot them dead: 47 people, Arabs, citizens of Israel.

The monument erected for them also perpetuates the memory of an elderly man who suffered a stroke when he was informed that his son was among those killed, along with the fetus that one of the murdered women was carrying in her womb. People were also wounded. The slaughter was anchored in a contingency plan to expel the village's inhabitants to Jordan.

At first, the authorities tried to suppress the news through the military censor. Shimon Peres, now Israel's president, was the Defense Ministry's director general at the time. Only about a half dozen survivors of the massacre are still alive today. Most of the 18,000 inhabitants of the village were born after the slaughter, about 15 percent of them are related to the victims.

They live with the heritage of the massacre as a key element in their identities. Last week President Peres went to Kafr Qasem - his office said it was to honor the Id al-Adha holiday. He carefully phrased his words on the massacre as part of a statement praising peace: "I have chosen to visit Kafr Qasem, where in the past a very serious event occurred that we greatly regret, and today in practice there is cooperation and a life of peace between Jews and Arabs."

Kafr Qasem Mayor Sami Issa interprets these words as an apology. "'We regret' and 'We apologize' are the same thing," he said. Speaking with local leaders, Peres also used the word apology, according to the president's spokeswoman. Peres is the first sitting president to apologize for the massacre.

Ceremonious apologies for historical injustices and gestures of national reconciliation have become a rather common phenomenon everywhere in recent years, from South Africa to Argentina. To evaluate them correctly we must examine to what degree they express sincere remorse and true recognition of responsibility. We must also examine the extent to which lessons have been learned that have shaped policies on the ground. The Israeli case is not unambiguous.

The Kafr Qasem massacre shocked the country and gave rise to a public debate on basic questions of morality and democracy. Twelve years after the end of World War II this discussion took place against the backdrop of the Holocaust. The murderers were put on public trial. Benjamin Halevi, who was later one of the judges in Adolf Eichmann's trial, asked one of the accused whether he would also justify a Nazi soldier who obeyed orders. The trial gave rise to every Israel Defense Forces soldier's obligation to refuse to obey a "blatantly illegal" order such as one to murder civilians.

However, not long after they were convicted and sentenced to prison, the murderers were released, and a few years later the military government was revoked. The IDF is not doing enough to instill in its soldiers the obligation to refuse to obey a blatantly illegal order; it is acting with determination against conscientious objection.

In the decades since the Kafr Qasem massacre, IDF soldiers have killed thousands of innocent Palestinians, the vast majority of them in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. From time to time they have also killed Arab demonstrators, citizens of Israel.

To this day the Arabs of Israel are not citizens with equal rights, and Israel insists that it does not want to be a state of all its citizens but rather a "Jewish and democratic" state. Government representatives do not participate in the annual memorial service for the Kafr Qasem massacre, but the president's apology is likely to be mentioned one day as a first step toward a historic declaration of reconciliation between the Jews and Palestinians.

Most Israelis still find it hard to acknowledge that they bear historical responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. The Zionist vision is based, among other things, on the assumption that its fulfillment need not cause injustice to anyone: If only the Arabs would relinquish their nationalist yearnings and agree to the fulfillment of our dream, it would be good for everyone, including them.

This historical fiction is very harmful because as long as we convince ourselves that we have no part in the responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian tragedy, we have no real reason to try to correct the injustice. This is the importance of acknowledging our responsibility. When the day comes to publish the historic declaration of reconciliation, it will be possible to remember Peres' Kafr Qasem apology and the main lesson that emerges from it: It does not hurt to ask forgiveness.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Challenged to be Peace-Makers!

Christianity Today, December, 2007
Courageous Nonviolence

At the first Christmas, the angels proclaimed, 'Peace on earth.' Just-war and pacifist Christians together can make it happen.

Ron Sider

The 20th century was the bloodiest in human history. In Humanity: A Moral History of the 20th Century, Jonathan Glover estimates that 86,000,000 people died in wars fought from 1900 to 1989. That means 2,500 people every day, or 100 people every hour, for 90 years.

In addition to those killed in war, government-sponsored genocide and mass murder killed approximately 120,000,000 people in the 20th century—perhaps more than 80,000,000 in the two Communist countries of China and the Soviet Union alone, according to R. J. Rummel's Statistics of Democide.

It is ironic, then, that the 20th century also produced numerous and stunningly successful examples of nonviolent victories over injustice and oppression. The best-known campaigns are probably those led by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. King's nonviolent marchers changed American history. (The fact that the police and National Guard sometimes guarded civil-rights marchers does not change the fact that King's movement was overwhelmingly nonviolent.) And Gandhi's nonviolent campaign defeated the British Empire and won India's independence. In contrast to Algeria's violent independence campaign, in which one in every 10 Algerians died, only one in every 400,000 Indians died in India's nonviolent struggle.

One of the most amazing components of Gandhi's campaign was a huge nonviolent "army" (eventually over 50,000) of Muslim Pathans in the northwestern section of India. These are the same people we now know as the Taliban in Afghanistan and along the Pakistan border! Even when the British humiliated them and slaughtered hundreds of them, they remained faithful to Gandhi's nonviolent vision.

There are other examples: In Poland, the nonviolent campaigns of Solidarity, an anti-Communist movement affiliated with the Catholic church, successfully defied and helped defeat the Soviet empire. In the Philippines, a million peaceful demonstrators overthrew the brutal dictatorship of president Ferdinand Marcos. The list of successful 20th century nonviolent campaigns is long.

Considering these successes, one wonders what might happen if the Christian world became serious about exploring the full possibilities of applying nonviolent methods of seeking peace to unjust, violent situations around the world. All Christians claim to believe Jesus when he says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Matt. 5:9). But we have not made much use of one demonstrably successful way of making peace.

Recently, the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), made famous by the kidnapping of four team members in Iraq in late 2005, have been working to apply the nonviolent techniques of Gandhi and King to conflict situations around the world. At Hebron in the West Bank, a few Jewish settlers live in the midst of the overwhelmingly Palestinian city of Hebron. Taunts, anger, violence, and deaths are frequent.

For 10 years, CPTers have lived in Hebron, seeking to befriend both sides, accompanying those oppressed by violence, sitting in houses threatened with illegal demolition, and walking children to school in neighborhoods where gunfire has too often struck down the wrong targets. CPT teams are defending the rights of native Canadians and Latin American peasants, as well.
The team's work made nightly news when four members were kidnapped by militants in Baghdad. Months later, three were released after the body of Tom Fox was found in the city. Last month marked the second anniversary of that kidnapping. One need not agree with all of CPT's political and theological ideas to conclude that now is the time for the entire Christian community to ask: Could we build on and vastly expand CPT's nonviolent approaches to peacemaking?

Just-war Christians—the vast majority of Christians since the 4th century—have always upheld that war must be a last resort. Before we are to go to war, we must have tried all reasonable nonviolent alternatives. But how can contemporary just-war Christians claim they have tried all reasonable nonviolent alternatives in the face of two hard facts: One, even without much preparation, nonviolent approaches have worked again and again; and two, we have never trained CPT-like teams that could explore the possibilities of nonviolence in a serious, sustained way? In order to engage in a serious, large-scale test of nonviolence, just-war Christians do not have to believe that nonviolence will always prevent war. All they must do is implement their own rule that war must be a last resort.

Pacifists have long claimed they have an alternative to war. But that claim remains empty unless they are willing to risk death, as soldiers do, to stop injustice and bring peace.
The theological commitments of both just-war and pacifist Christians demand that they invest serious time and resources in sustained nonviolent peacemaking. Think of what might have happened before Bosnia or Kosovo exploded in carnage if the Archbishop of Canterbury, top Catholic cardinals (or even the Pope), and leading Orthodox leaders had invited Muslim leaders to join them in leading a few thousand praying, peaceful Christian and Muslim followers into those dangerous places to demand peace.

Christian leaders from all traditions should together issue a call for something that has yet to happen in Christian history: the training and deployment of thousands of CPT-type peacemakers who are committed to using the nonviolent teachings of Gandhi and King, inspired by Jesus, in unjust, violent settings around the world.

I know from personal experience that this kind of nonviolent intervention is dangerous. In the mid-1980s, the U.S. was secretly funding thousands of guerillas (called the Contras) who were killing hundreds of Nicaraguan civilians in their attempt to overthrow the Sandinista government. I opposed the Marxist, repressive tendencies of the Sandinista government, but also rejected U.S. funding of the Contras.

So in early 1985, I joined a team from Witness for Peace that visited a Nicaraguan town under attack by the Contras. As we wound our way down the side of the mountain toward the town, we knew a thousand guerillas in the surrounding hills had their binoculars—and perhaps their guns—trained on us. I was scared but believed God had called me to that moment. We arrived safely and the townsfolk told us they slept peacefully that night, believing the Contras would not attack while a team of praying American Christians was there.

If top global Christian leaders (hopefully joined by Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and others) led a thousand trained, praying, nonviolent peacemakers into the West Bank, the eyes of the world would be on them. Hundreds of millions would be praying for peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. Massive media coverage would pressure both sides to negotiate. The same would happen if Archbishop Tutu led a few thousand praying African Christians, joined by people from other continents, into Zimbabwe to demand that President Mugabe call fair elections.

If Christians with both just-war and pacifist convictions truly mean what they have been saying for centuries about war and peace, then they have no choice. Nonviolence has worked. It's time to invest large amounts of money and time in serious training and deployment. We cannot know ahead of time what will happen. But we already know that unless we do this, our Christian rhetoric about war will be both hypocritical and dishonest.

It's time to live what we preach.

Ron Sider is the founder and president of Evangelicals for Social Action, and the author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Thomas Nelson, 2005) and The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience (Baker, 2005).