experimental post

June 27, 2007

This is to thank all those who helped me get this blog started, Marwan, George, and Anees.


Still Hoping for an Honest Broker

November 9, 2006

By Samia Khoury
Thursday, November 9, 2006

Amidst all the frustration, the anger, the sadness about the general situation, I have found it very difficult to write anything lately. Yet watching the U.S. Secretary of State hopping from one place to another and showing at our door step once again, made me realize that U.S. diplomacy seems like a “bad penny” — worth nothing, having failed dramatically in the Middle East, and yet still coming back again and again.

For many Palestinians, especially those who studied in American universities, the U.S. has for a long time been a symbol of freedom and democracy — both in short supply in the Arab world, where Palestinians had to take refuge after their dispossession of their land and identity in 1948. To them, the U.S.A. was a haven with great opportunities. The sad reality is that “U.S.A.” evokes few of those feelings any more among Palestinians; instead, the phrase evokes hurt and pain for us as we see the double standard by which the U.S.A. continues to deal with the Middle East.

The rhetoric about freedom and democracy to justify the war against Iraq sounds so hollow now. The large sums of money that flooded the Palestinian Territories for training the population in democracy, elections, and statehood have dried up. Because we had a democratic election that surfaced a party not to the liking of the U.S.A. and Israel — not to mention some Palestinians — families do not have money to feed their children, and schools are closed because teachers are not getting their salaries. Even Eid el Fitr (the feast after the month of Ramadan) this past week was no celebration for the majority of people, especially in Gaza.

What, then, was the purpose of the visit of the Secretary of the State to the Middle East? She certainly did not pressure Israel to curb the aggression and to ease the siege on the Palestinians. If anything, it may have been intended to mobilize a moderate camp in the Arab World that would help impose U.S. policy in the region, and to coerce the Palestinians to topple the newly elected government, who already has a large number of its members in the Israeli jails.

Was all this hoopla about the results of the elections justified? The Palestinians had voted, and the will of the people for “change and reform” should have been respected, even though some Palestinians were worried about the effect of the ideology of Hamas on the shaping of the future Palestinian state. But the issues raised for the new government to endorse should never have been brought to the forefront. Why? Because already the Palestine Liberation Organization with the ruling Fateh faction have met all those conditions, including the recognition of Israel and the amendment of the P.L.O. charter, in order to get the peace process rolling. Yet despite that, and so many other concessions made on behalf of the Palestinians, nothing was achieved — except, that is, for further loss of land and rights, and increasing oppression, closures, and walls making life almost impossible. By the time the elections were to take place, all those agreements were practically dead with no hope of resuscitating them. So when Hamas won the elections, powers never supportive of a free Palestinian state seized upon the results as justification to impose sanctions against the Palestinians. To our misfortune, we never seem to have much choice; living under a military occupation, we are almost powerless over our destiny.

And still we are continuously urged not to blame the U.S.A. or Israel for our predicament. How can we do otherwise when the U.S.A. and Israel are blocking our liberation and independence despite U.N. resolutions condemning their actions? It is very sad to realize that in this era of international law and human rights conventions, the language of “might is right” still so often prevails, and our leaders are expected to accommodate endlessly — or else.

That is why we as Palestinians must not waste our energy on internal fighting which is absolutely unjustified and unacceptable, regardless of ideological differences between factions. It is bad enough to be oppressed and under siege. We certainly do not need anything more to placing a wedge between us on both the political and religious levels; doing so will only please our adversaries. Indeed, it may not have been wise in the first place to establish a Palestinian Authority or elect a legislative council with little power under Israeli occupation to make a difference — and now it has become more clear than ever that Israel has no serious interest in talking peace.

Shulamit Aloni, an Israeli from the Meretz party, writes in “Time to talk peace: Israel’s leaders must change mindset, engage in dialogue with Palestinians” that “many peace-making windows were opened over the years. We hindered all of them, because we coveted the whole of the Territories. We had the Oslo agreements. Twenty countries, which in the past had no ties with us, recognized Israel. We had welfare, international ties were blossoming, peace was at our gates — but we didn`t want to make concessions.”

To be a staunch supporter of Israel is one thing, but it is another thing entirely to utilize the power that the U.S. has as the only super power to run the world in accordance with Israel’s interests while defying U.N. resolutions. Such a policy will eventually boomerang and hurt the innocent civilians of the U.S.A. and the Middle East. The effects of the war in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories under occupation testify to this, and I hope and pray that there will be enough sense to avert more destruction that would come from repeating these mistakes with Iran, Syria and North Korea. The drums of war and threat of sanctions are beating as if the U.S.A. had already achieved the freedom and democracy that it has set out to achieve in Iraq. Such provocations can only bring back the sad memories of the atmosphere that prevailed before the Iraq war. Despite tens of thousands in peace marches all over the world at that time, lust for domination prevailed, and the resultant suffering has been seemingly endless.

In biblical terms, “this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes” (Acts 28 :27). Is it possible that none in the administration have learned from the quagmire in Iraq? Are not the bodies of those young Americans carried home everyday not enough of a lesson to those in power and living comfortably, while so much suffering, deprivation, despair and hopelessness encompass the region?

It is high time that Israelis and Palestinians start searching for something innovative outside the box. In his new book One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada, is suggesting a single state shared by Palestinians and Israelis. I always thought that would be the ideal solution. It was possible before 1948, and with good will it could still be possible if the people of the region are genuinely interested in ending the conflict and bringing peace to their home land. Such a single, secular state would be a place where Jews, Christians and Muslims can finally call home. And despite all of the discouraging developments, we continue to hope that the U.S. administration will be an honest broker to help make this dream come true.

Once Again, Double Standards

April 21, 2006

By Samia Khoury
Friday, April 21, 2006

“No contacts with the Palestinian Authority.” These were the instructions of the U.S. administration and the European governments. How brutal and unfair! Once again, the double standard by which the U.S. deals with the Palestinians vis a vis Israel creates more ill feelings and bitterness and pushes away the possibility of peace in the region.

This past week, “The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” a study by Professors Stephen Walt from Harvard’s Kennedy School and John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago, was widely circulated. It confirmed what we have been saying for years. In the study, the professors conclude that the flagrant, longstanding pro-Israel bias in U.S. Middle East policy benefits Israel, but works to the disadvantage of U.S. national interests. One of their most significant conclusions is that the U.S. has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel. Indeed, Paul Findley in his article “Silence of the Poodles” quotes George W. Ball (1909-1994), the distinguished diplomat, author of The Discipline of Power, and champion of human rights who had served as Undersecretary of State and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.: “When Israel’s interests are being considered, members of Congress act like trained poodles. They jump dutifully through hoops held by Israel’s lobby. … The lobby’s most powerful instrument of intimidation is the reckless charge of anti-Semitism.”

It is no surprise, therefore, for the U.S. to take this stand. But for the Europeans not to have the moral courage to stand independently from the U.S. was the biggest disappointment. What happened to the “Liberty, equality, and fraternity” of France? What about the moral obligation of Britain, a nation that played a significant role in the root causes of our dispossession? By what moral values and sense of logic and justice can an occupying authority which has been oppressing a whole population for the last 39 years, flaunting U.N. resolutions with impunity, continue to be rewarded both financially and morally? Should the people of Palestine be oppressed further because they voted for change and reform in a democratic election after exhausting other options for achieving liberation and independence?

When Mr. Arafat was president, the U.S. forced him to relinquish his powers to the prime minister; but now that the prime minister is from Hamas, the demand is that he relinquish his powers to the president. What does the world community think we are? Pawns on a chess board to be moved by the U.S. and their European poodles as they may please? And will we be moved off the board entirely when foreigners declare a checkmate? This policy rife with double standards will not force the Palestinians to kneel and relinquish their rights. It will only lead the whole region into a disaster.

Yesterday we were at the YWCA to bid farewell to the General Secretary.
One of the women arrived so angry and frustrated after crossing the check point that she told us that we should not be surprised if she ends up a suicide bomber. I could not believe my ears, but this is a sign of how bad the situation has become, and it certainly will be a new phenomenon for Christian Palestinians. If a woman from a comfortable home feels that way, what do you expect from a starving population in Gaza, Nablus and Jenin and other refugee camps? Or the plan to make the situation so hopeless that either the Palestinian Authority will be forced to kneel and acquiesce or the frustration and violence of the jobless and hungry population will be directed against the occupation itself? Israel would then have the perfect justification for boosting its oppressive measures of ethnic cleansing to “face the demographic threat” and call it security.

All this is happening under the silent watch of the international community, which continues to demand that Hamas recognize Israel and stop the violence. Why has nobody ever demanded that Israel stop the state violence and recognize the rights of the Palestinians in accordance to UN resolutions? And besides, which Israel is Hamas supposed to recognize when Israel is constantly and unilaterally moving its borders by confiscating more land and by building more walls on Palestinian territory? Why were the results of the Israeli elections accepted with a blessing despite the new prime minister’s stated policy of such unilateral shifting of borders? For heaven’s sake, you good people out yonder, stop being naive! If Israel were truly interested in peace, Hamas would not be an obstacle. The peace process started with the Madrid Conference in 1991 when Hamas was only four years old, and was being encouraged by Israel as an alternative to the PLO. So Israel had plenty of time prior to Hamas’ rise to abide by peace agreements if Israel were serious about peace. But instead it has deferred their implementation by claiming that it had no peace partner. Please help put an end to this disastrous situation that is killing us all! Is there any hope for your governments to serve as honest brokers and to speak out for justice despite intimidation so that peace will eventually prevail for all the peoples of the region?

Are You Surprised?: A Reflection on the Palestinian Elections

January 29, 2006

By Samia Khoury
Sunday, January 29, 2006

On January 25 — ten years after the first elections, which the Palestinians held in 1996 under the terms of the Oslo Accords — the Palestinians held their second elections for the legislative council. All went well, and 77% of the people who had the right to vote went to the polls. The Elections Central Committee was commended on its professional and transparent work, which guaranteed a smooth election day. The results were announced twenty-four hours after the closure of the polling stations with a landslide victory for Hamas, which won 76 seats out of 132. That Hamas would score highly in the elections was no surprise, but that Fatah, the ruling faction of the PLO and of the Palestinian Authority since its establishment in 1993, should get only 43 seats was shocking to many Palestinians, and certainly to Fatah itself.

Those results reflect voters’ frustration at Fatah’s failure to arrive at a political solution for Palestine’s problems and disappointment in the performance of the Palestinian Authority. They furthermore reflect the will of the people to maintain their threatened identity amidst an onslaught of foreign hegemony. Religion, being an integral part of the ethos of any community, becomes a natural refuge under these circumstances.

Fatah should not be surprised at the results of the elections, since it is partly to blame for the disappointment and frustration prevailing in the Palestinian Territories. Everybody on the political scene realizes that we are still under a brutal Israeli military occupation, but people still were hoping that the Palestinian Authority would improve everyday life for Palestinians. They were looking forward for law and order, for discipline and security, for solutions to poverty and unemployment. And most of all, they were yearning for restored human dignity, respect, and public welfare which had been eroded and trampled upon by the long years of military occupation. Unfortunately, the nine other political slates besides Hamas and Fateh could not succeed in joining forces to run as single alternative to both Hamas and Fatah.

Before the results were out, we kept hearing official voices from the USA and Israel announcing that there will be no peace process if Hamas wins, and that there is no chance for the Road Map under Hamas. The Europeans sounded worried as well, realizing that a Hamas government in Palestine would force them to face serious change. Yet none of those official voices had the courage to admit that the peace process was already on hold due to the Israeli intransigence.

How ironic that Mr. Shimon Peres has joined the chorus of those expressing grave concern about making peace with Hamas. We all recall how as prime minister he dismally failed to carry out the legacy of peace for which he, the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and the late President Arafat got the Nobel Peace Prize. Peres and his woeful chorus pretend not to understand the source of the Palestinian people’s frustration, but they have been witnessing Israel violating U.N. resolutions and international law as well as using sophisticated and extensive weaponry to wage a relentless war on the Palestinian civilian population, and they share the blame for Fatah’s failure, as they stood by passively or offered resources and encouragement to Israel’s attempts to erode Fatah’s authority.

The Road Map that Israeli spokesmen said would not be possible to implement under Hamas was never fully accepted by Israel, which has consistently blocked its implementation and the establishment of a Palestinian State through means such as building an illegal concrete wall eight meters tall to divide the Palestinian territories. So let us not pretend that peace was around the corner before Hamas’ electoral victory, which at most heightened the already astronomical odds against peace barring a major shift in Israeli policy.

Hamas was not part of the PLO when Oslo was signed, and it did not participate in the first elections in 1996. Neither did it participate in the presidential elections in January 2005 after the death of President Arafat. And though it is a resistance movement, Hamas agreed to a period of calm to give Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, the newly elected president, a chance to pursue his political agenda after Arafat, who had been considered redundant by Israel and the USA. But Israel did not appreciate that gesture and did not abide by any agreement, choosing instead to persist in provoking the Palestinians, raiding their homes and camps, targeting their activists, and doing so with impunity.

While the USA turned a blind eye to Israeli violations, it considered Mr. Ariel Sharon, the leader of the right wing Likud party of Israel, a man of peace despite his actions and bloody history. I am inclined to think that in claiming that they would not deal with a Palestinian government including Hamas, Israel and the USA were using a strategy of reverse psychology, secretly hoping that a Hamas win would justify whatever actions they wished to take against the Palestinians and their new leadership, and that members of the international community who endorse Israel’s labeling of Hamas as a terrorist movement would support further crackdown on Palestinians under a Hamas government.

The Palestinian Authority has long experienced external and internal calls for reform. Hamas responded to those calls, and won the elections with a platform promising reform. Their victory at the polls demonstrates just how deeply voters wanted change. But how much of that change will happen — and how much of it will be positive — remains anyone’s guess.

Dare We Hope?

November 15, 2005

By Samia Khoury
Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The story of Ahmad El-Khatib, the 12-year-old Palestinian child who was shot and killed by the Israeli occupying forces, and whose organs were donated to Israeli and Druze children, hit the local and international media this week.

It’s striking that this story of compassion is set in Jenin, the Palestinian town subjected to grievous atrocities from invading Israeli forces in April, 2002. Many journalists and witnesses reported the events of day as another massacre of Palestinians. Scores of people were killed; buildings were blown up before being evacuated, burying victims in rubble and leveling vast areas of the town. A United Nations team which was assigned to investigate the incident was barred by the Israeli forces from entering the area. The file was closed, but the scars remain. Jenin has yet to recover from that onslaught; normal and peaceful life has yet to return.

Again, one cannot help be astonished at the inequities in the Middle East. Although the UN team headed by Mehlis to investigate the assassination of Rafiq El-Harriri, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon, was welcomed in Syria, the team did not seem satisfied with the answers they got from the Syrian authorities. For that, the United Nations called an urgent Security Council meeting which ordering Syria to cooperate with Mehlis, or risk economic sanctions, among other possible penalties. It seems the UN can only find effective means to enforce its resolutions when the offending party isn’t Israel, toward whom the UN either turns a blind eye or claims powerlessness. While Israel has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, I can’t recall Israel ever facing the kind of ultimatum issued to Syria. When Israel resists UN mandates, the UN simply does what its fact-finding team, convened by the Secretary General in response to Security Council Resolution 1405, did when Israel turned them away from Jenin: they shrug their shoulders and comply with Israel’s wishes.

The Israeli soldier who killed Ahmad claims that he thought that the toy gun the boy was carrying was real. But did he really think as well that the boy was a grown man and a soldier? Could he not have shot a warning in the air to deter the child? It was the first day of the Al-Adha feast after the month of fasting honoring the holy season of Ramadan. Young Ahmad was enjoying a gift he’d received for the holiday. Toy guns are popular, not only because of the influence of Western movies, but because their play with you guns helps them reenact and cope with harsh realities they face daily. My own eleven-year-old grandson often walks in the house like Gary Cooper in High Noon, pulling his hands out of his pockets and pointing his fingers at me in a gesture of drawing a gun.

Very recently he acquired a toy gun. I was very upset when I saw it, and I immediately told him the story of Ahmad. He looked at me in disbelief, but then he seemed touched and scared. Without hesitation he went to his room, got his toy gun and broke it into pieces throwing them in the dustbin. Perhaps Ahmad’s story will inspire Abla, his mother, and other mothers and their children to campaign against toy guns, as well as violent games and movies which flood in from the West.

But Ahmad’s story doesn’t end there; it continues to defy both stereotypes of “Palestianian terrorists” and despair that peace is possible. In 1994, members of Hamas abducted and killed Israeli Erik Frankental, but his father, Zvi, became a peace activist rather than retreating into bitterness. Local papers now carry a photo of Zvi offering condolences to Ahmad’s father, Ismail El-Khatib, and one grieving father’s reaching out to another is a sign not only of the terrible toll the occupation taken on both Israelis and Palestinians, but also a sign of hope that peace is possible despite many and deep hurts. As much as I have been discouraged lately when peace seems unattainable, stories like those of Ismail, Zvi, and Ahmad encourage me with the hope that someday all peoples of the Holy Land, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, will create a safe and peaceful haven here.

But as I was reflecting on this meaningful and hopeful story, news broke of the suicide attacks on three hotels in Amman, Jordan, and my feelings turned to rage, frustration, sadness, and absolute shock. Who would want to do something so brutal to innocent people, and to a wedding party? Who benefits from such an action? And what kind of a memory would this young couple have of their wedding day, which claimed the lives of the fathers of both bride and groom? Hopes as well as lives died in the explosions that day.

For a long time now, the Middle East has been coveted and targeted, and its leaders manipulated and intimidated. Powerful forces seeking domination have colonized it, partitioned it, toppled its regimes and used it to barter as if it were their own. The people of the region look at shocking incidents such as the setting up of Syria and Iran as another indication that those who see their interests as vested in the region will continue to work to destabilize it. That is why we are very skeptical about anything that is being imposed by the military forces that Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye calls “hard power,” in contrast to the “soft power” of moral influence. “Soft power” should deal with issues in the region justly, with one set of standards applied to all, and such treatment would be welcomed by many. However, no one will welcome a kind of “democracy” that must be imposed by force and devastates the country.

There is never a dull moment in this part of the world, and hope fluctuates wildly with every news cycle. The end of the era of Shimon Peres as Labor leader might bring about substantial change. Peres lost a great opportunity of forging peace after the assassination of Itzhak Rabin, and his lack of resolve also cost him the election victory won by Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party. Peres accepted a seat in Sharon’s government as deputy prime minister, but he made no substantial progress toward peace, and so the peace centres built in his name seem an empty gesture pointing more toward the difficulty of peace than the possibility. However, Corinne Heller of Reuters reports that Amir Peretz, used his first major public appearance since becoming Labor leader to tell the crowd that Israel needed to leave West Bank land it occupied in the 1967 Middle East War and move toward a permanent peace agreement to carry on Rabin’s legacy. Dare we hope that at last an Israeli leader is speaking about ending the occupation? Only time will tell — and in the meantime, hopes will wither and rise again with every explosion and every act of compassion.

The Forgotten Faithful

July 25, 2005

By Samia Khoury
Monday, July 25, 2005

When I committed myself to writing a monthly column for The Witness back in the fall of 2001, I shared with my friend Cedar a deep sense of worry. How, I asked Cedar, will I be inspired to write regularly? She assured me then that the occupation and the Israeli measures would provide me with enough material. How right she was. Since then, she has seen each of my more than 30 articles before I have submitted them to The Witness.

But since writing my last article, “The Dough of Peace,” I started to realize that the gleam of hope that had always prevailed in my articles was fading away. The situation has become more hopeless than ever, and I was beginning to feel that it was meaningless to write anymore. All that needs to be written has been written; all that needs to be said has been said; and all that needs to be shown has been seen, “though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand” (Matthew 13:13). More and more, I began to realize that our president, Mr. Abbas, will need that magic wand that I wrote about in my February 2005 article.

All those handshakes and agreements in Sharm El-Sheikh were a repeat performance of past agreements which Israel did not honor. Even the period of calm which Mr. Abbas was able to get the Palestinian factions to abide by was continuously violated by the Israeli army. Provocation has been one of the Israeli military policies so that the Palestinians will be forced to react, and then the Israeli military forces can justify retaliating by whatever measures they see fit. And strangely enough, the media does not see the provocation; it simply sees Israel defending itself. So the shelling of civilian areas and demolishing of homes and targeted killings are simply “collateral damage” in the process of self-defense. How long will Israel be allowed to get away with all those atrocities?

What makes the whole situation even worse is that the USA and Britain refuse to make a link between the oppression of the Israeli occupation, the Iraqi war, the continued presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, and the rise of “terrorism.” So maybe it is the leaders of those countries that I need to address.

To Mr. George W. Bush: Have you been listening to the voices of the American mothers who are losing their sons for your war? Yes, Mr. Bush, it is your personal war, and that of Tony Blair. The masses from around the world who demonstrated against the war could not possibly have been that stupid or naïve to misinterpret your intentions. You better start planning to get those soldiers back home.

And if you are serious, Mr. Bush, about the establishment of a Palestinian state, why have you not forced Israel to abide by the United Nations resolutions? On the contrary, you have encouraged it to violate those resolutions with impunity, and allowed it to continue to create realities on the ground that are complicating the so-called peace efforts. You have turned a blind eye to the continuous expansion of the settlements ( all of which are illegal) and to the separation wall; that evil wall that has disrupted the lives of a whole population. It is ironic to hear Dr. Condoleezza Rice reiterating the stand of the U.S. regarding the settlements and the wall. What good is the stand if the USA is unable to force Israel to abide by it?

May I remind you that “The High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, the U.N. bodies and civil society each have their own responsibility in the aftermath of the ICJ [International Court of Justice] Advisory Opinion. This document serves as a timely reminder that international law requires implementation and that Israel is still being granted impunity by the international community.” Having one set of laws for the whole world and a special one for Israel, you have turned the world into a jungle because you set the model of “might is right” and encouraged your allies to do likewise. It is precisely because you have the power that we expect you to use it justly with wisdom and compassion.

To Mr. Tony Blair: I would like to begin by expressing my deep condolences to the families of the victims of this brutal and irresponsible act. But then when you allied yourself with the U.S. administration, Mr. Blair, you acted just as irresponsibly as Mr. Bush. You both went against the will of your peoples and waged a brutal war under false pretexts. You said then, “You can only imagine what would have happened if I’d ignored the intelligence and then something terrible had happened.”

Well, Mr. Blair, something terrible did happen now, but not because of weapons of mass destruction. It was because you went on board with Mr. Bush when you had no business doing so. What did you expect from desperate people? To be wiser than you, or act more responsibly?

Unfortunately, it is innocent people who will continue to suffer as a result of your double standards in dealing with issues of the same nature. The shelling of civilian homes in the Gaza strip by the Israeli air force is just as much an act of terrorism as the underground explosions in London. With your policies of supporting oppression and injustice, you have led more people to desperation. And you have made the world less safe by bringing an unpredictable war to every doorstep in your country.

If the mayor of London himself could see through the problem, why can’t you? At least listen to what he had to say, for it might help you shake off the unnecessary burden of allying yourself with the White House. Here are some excerpts of what Mr. Ken Livingtone, the mayor of London, said:

You’ve just had 80 years of Western intervention into predominantly Arab lands because of the Western need for oil. We’ve propped up unsavoury governments, we’ve overthrown ones we didn’t consider sympathetic.

He continued:

If, at the end of the First World War, we had done what we promised the Arabs, which was to let them be free and have their own governments, and kept out of Arab affairs, and just bought their oil, rather than feeling we had to control the flow of oil, I suspect this wouldn’t have arisen.

On Israel and Palestinians:

[T]hose governments which use indiscriminate slaughter to advance their foreign policy, as we have occasionally seen with the Israeli government bombing areas from which a terrorist group will have come, irrespective of the casualties it inflicts, women, children and men.

On occupation:

Under foreign occupation and denied the right to vote, denied the right to run your own affairs, often denied the right to work for three generations, I suspect that if it had happened here in England, we would have produced a lot of suicide bombers ourselves.

However, it was refreshing to hear you at the G8 meeting sounding serious about finding a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. After all, your country is morally responsible for creating that problem. So we hope you will feel morally obliged to pursue justice and peace to solve the problem. But may I remind you, Mr. Blair, that this Holy Land is for two people of three religions, and not for two people and two religions, as you announced. For after all, this Holy Land is the cradle of Christianity, which the Western Christian world seems to have forgotten.

It is we who sent you the message of hope and peace — the good news which has been used and abused to justify all the oppression against the indigenous people of Palestine. And yes, it is we — the “forgotten faithful” — who are still holding the fort for the Christian world community, while struggling at the same time alongside our Muslim compatriots, for justice, peace and liberation.

The Dough of Peace

March 15, 2005

By Samia Khoury
Thursday, March 17, 2005

I remember the first time I heard of volleyball was in 1952, when I signed up for the sport during registration at Southwestern University in Texas. Every semester we had to have one course of physical education. I had no idea what it was all about, for all we had played in my high school was netball (for girls) and soccer (for boys). It was the influence of the British mandate, I suppose. Anyway, wearing shorts and tennis shoes, there I was in the gym.

I watched one of our team members pass the ball to another one, who passed it on to me, and then I proceeded to pass it backwards to another player on our team. It was only then, when everybody on the team started shouting at me for making such a stupid move, that I realized they had been setting up the ball for me to slam it over to the other side of the net. I learned fast, and could not afford another embarrassment, especially being a foreigner.

I thought of that volleyball experience as I listened to the news this past week concerning U.N. Resolution 1559. This is the resolution pertaining to the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. It is right that Resolution 1559 should be implemented, for U.N. resolution should be implemented, in general. But the pressure put on Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, “or else,” seems very ironic in a region where the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories and the Syrian Golan Heights in 1967 still prevails. Israel has never been confronted or threatened with the similar possibility of sanctions or forced military action to end its occupation.

The USA has been setting up the scene for some time now to slam Syria. It has been accusing it of opening its borders for infiltrators, for harboring “terrorist organizations,” for meddling in Lebanese internal affairs, and for strengthening its ties with Iran. We watched closely the U.S. prelude to the Iraqi war, and the many reasons it presented to justify that war despite all the protests and mass demonstrations. It started with the issue of weapons of mass destruction (which after all the devastation, turned out to be a fallacy). Then there was the need to abide by U.N. resolutions, and of course the need to topple a dictator and provide democracy to the people.

So Syria was aware of the repercussions if it was to defy U.N. Resolution 1559, especially after the assassination of Rafiq Harriri. It was perfectly timed to prepare for the final set-up before the slam — which makes one wonder who the real assassins were and what the real motive was.

A very similar situation came about with the events of September 11, 2001. How could the Americans have empathized with Israel and its security phobia if they were not made to get a taste of “terrorism”? Again, the timing was perfect, and indeed a blessing in disguise for Israel to justify its war against “terrorism.” Not only did the U.S. administration give its full support to that “war against terrorism,” it actually became its champion, and just as obsessed with the security of Israel.

Unfortunately, the whole issue of “terrorism” and security has been used to derail the peace process, and will continue to be used by Israel despite the many handshakes that have been taking place between Palestinians, Israelis, Egyptians and Jordanians. With every handshake Israel grabs more land, making it literally impossible to establish a Palestinian state, let alone a contiguous one.

Israel’s actions certainly do not indicate peacemaking. We have a saying in Arabic: “The one who does not want to knead the dough keeps sifting the flour.” It is becoming very clear now that Israel has been sifting the flour for too long, and might not be capable of kneading the dough of peace.

As a Jewish state with so many different ethnic groups, as well as different political and religious factions, it seems Israel cannot really survive as a state except based on the “lack of peace.” Therefore it is high time for the international community to actually challenge Israel on its intentions for peace. The implementation of U.N. Resolutions 242, 338 and 194 could be a starting point.

Ironically, and impudently, Mr. Sharon is calling on the international community to pressure Syria to abide by U.N. Resolution 1559. Israel has defied 60 U.N. resolutions, and furthermore, it has been protected by a veto by the USA in the Security Council about thirty times. Maybe it would be appropriate for King Abdallah, who thinks “the ball is in our court,” and Mr. Mubarak, who has been hosting so many meetings, to call on the international community to pressure Israel to implement U.N. resolutions and to abide by international law. After all, the peace agreements which each of those countries forged with Israel before its implementation of U.N. Resolution 242 encouraged Israel to continue defying U.N. resolutions and international law, and to get away with it.

Why 1559 and not 242? Why 1559 and not 194? WHY? Can Mr. Bush genuinely and honestly and morally — since he is so concerned about morals — justify why? And can Mr. Annan continue to turn a blind eye to Israel’s defiance of U.N. resolutions and international law, and maintain at the same time his own personal credibility and that of the United Nations? Mr. Annan has graciously accepted the invitation to participate in the inauguration of the new Holocaust museum in Israel. Commendable, but unfortunately a visit to the new Palestinian ghettos trapped behind the apartheid wall, considered illegal by the International Court of Justice, was not worthy of his visit. Yes, the U.N. has a credibility gap, as some in the West argue, but it is for other reasons than they argue. Just as the Syrian occupation of Lebanon should end, Israel must cease its occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Will Abbas Need a Magic Wand?

February 4, 2005

By Samia Khoury
Friday, February 4, 2005

Ever since 1948, when my family had to leave our beautiful cozy home in Upper Baka’a in West Jerusalem, my dream as a young person was to have a magic wand to carry me back there just to see what had become of our neighborhood. When I watched UN cars driving through the Mandelbaum gate, which separates the east side of Jerusalem from the west side at a point right behind the East Jerusalem YMCA, I wished I were invisible so that I could hide in one of those cars. I wanted so badly to see home again, especially since I was in boarding school at the moment that my parents left, and I did not get a chance to have a last look and collect whatever I thought was precious at that time.

How ironic that my dream was realized not by a magic wand, nor by the mystery of the “invisible creature,” but by the war of June 1967, which created a new reality for us overnight. That war further dispossessed us of our rights and cut us off — through bridges and checkpoints — from the rest of the Middle East region. Yet at the same time, it opened up the borders that had been placed between us and the Palestinians who had stayed in Israel after the creation of that state on Palestinian land — and also opened up a path between the West Bank, where we lived, and the Gaza. These were bittersweet connections and it was ironic that the occupation made them possible, I thought, and comforted myself by thinking that it would soon be over and we would have a state for all the people of the land.

In the excitement of checking out the country and the different cities, the Palestinians who lived in the Galilee assured us that we were still in the “honeymoon” stage. They knew what they were talking about, since they had gone through all that before us. They knew what it meant to lose their property under the absurd and illegal “absent present law.” They knew what it meant when property was seized for security reasons, and they knew how frustrating it was to try to get a permit to move from one town to the other. They knew how it felt to be strangers in their own country, due to the racist laws that were passed by the new state to legalize all action against them as aliens in a Jewish state.

Sure enough, it did not take long for our “honeymoon” to be over. The Israeli colonies started mushrooming all over the Occupied Territories, and my dream for one secular state for all the people of the land soon diminished. The so-called “security wall,” which is still snaking through more Palestinian areas, has not only deprived people of more land, but it has made it almost impossible for them to have access to their basic daily needs and services.

Yet in spite of all that we have been subjected to, we seem determined to make the best out of a bad situation. One more time, the Palestinians wanted to give peace a chance, after the passing away of Mr. Arafat. Seven men ran for the presidential elections. Although it was very clear from the start, and from the polls, that Abbas was going to win, it was a democratic process, and the runner-up had a very professional campaign. Despite the occupation, and the obstacles imposed by the Israeli forces to disrupt the whole operation — especially in Jerusalem — the elections did take place as planned on January 9, 2005. Except for minor infractions, which did not spoil the excitement, the elections went smoothly. About 71% of those eligible to vote actually voted, and the newly elected president Mahmoud Abbas got 62.5% of the vote while the next candidate Mustafa Barghouti got 19.5% of the vote. The international observers were very impressed and vouched for the transparency of the whole process, and the ink on our thumbs, an added security against possible repeat voting, is still a reminder of that historic day.

The new president was determined not to let the people down, and he meant to make peace his business right from the beginning. He was elected shortly before Eid El-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, yet he announced that he would not be receiving people on that occasion. He was too busy reconciling the various factions of the Palestinian population and putting the Palestinian house in order. Another welcome gesture was a request not to publish congratulatory wishes on his election in the local newspapers. If he could set a model, it would be a blessing to do away with the over-exaggerated phenomenon of “congratulations, thanks and condolences” through the papers.

Will this round of talks with Israel be a repeat performance of previous endless talks, or will there be genuine goodwill gestures to get a serious process going, with the purpose of ending the occupation? The Palestinian people might be oppressed and might be helpless, but we are certainly not naïve. We have a saying in Arabic: “A person cannot be bitten twice from the serpent’s pit.” That is why the Palestinian factions are apprehensive about committing themselves to a period of calm. Yet after serious negotiations with the new president they did commit to this calming period, but Israeli aggression did not stop. Every night there is an invasion somewhere. Curfews continue to be imposed, and land continues to be confiscated for the wall and settlement colonies. It is probably part of a provocative plan, to foul up any possibility of peace talks.

Not only humans are being harassed, but lately the dead as well. Families who have relatives buried at the cemetery of Arab El-Sawahrah have been ordered to remove their remains because an Israeli company claims it owns the property of the cemetery. That should be just as embarrassing for Israel as the law that was passed in July 2004 considering the property of Jerusalemites living in the West Bank as “absentee property.”

Indeed, it was not a wise step on the part of Israel to revive that law at this moment. Even the U.S. administration, despite its unwavering support to Israel, could not turn a blind eye to it when all the focus is on a new era of peace talks. So perhaps the Israeli Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz did not have much choice but to admit the error, to apologize and cancel the expropriation decision which he claimed had gone through the cabinet without being brought to his attention. Of course, we all know by now that Israel goes ahead and does what it pleases and gets away with it. I was inspired at one time by the famous song “Whatever Lola wants Lola gets” to write an article about Israel’s attitude regarding UN resolutions and international law. Let us hope that this “land grab” incident will be an eye-opener for the U.S. administration and a starter to stand up against Israel when it defies international law. Dare we raise our hopes again? Or will Mr. Abbas need a magic wand to bring peace to the region and an end to the occupation?

Arafat and the Mirage of Peace

November 15, 2004

By Samia Khoury
Monday, November 15, 2004

It certainly was a new experience for me to have been in the U.S. during President Bush’s reelection. I could not have envisaged the extent of the power of the media there until I read the papers and watched the TV during that period. What bothered me the most was when so-called “moral issues” seemed to have played an important role in such a close fight between the two parties — and I was especially bothered by what was not said or written about that theme.

As a Christian from the Holy Land, the cradle of Christianity, as well as Judaism and Islam, I was unable to relate to those “moral issues” because they actually lacked honesty, truth and justice. How moral is it to wage a war based on false information and in defiance of the international community? How moral is it to support an occupation when all the rhetoric focuses on democracy and the right of people to self-determination? That is why I have the feeling now more than ever that it is hopeless to look to the U.S. administration in search of justice and peace in the Middle East. As long as justice is not a basic “moral value,” but going to church and judging others is, it does not necessarily mean that one’s faith is being translated into honest and honorable action.

But then, soon after the elections, it was officially announced that the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, had died. Of course I spent all night listening to commentaries on his struggle and on the “missed opportunities, and failure to deliver a state to his people.” Not once did I hear a comment pointing a finger at Israel for not implementing United Nations resolutions or for not abiding by the Oslo Accords. Never was it mentioned that despite all the concessions that Arafat made to accommodate for peace, including the amendment of the PLO charter, Israel continued with its oppressive measures of confiscating more land and of building more colonies in violation of the Oslo Accords.

“Arafat is an obstacle to peace” was the buzzword. As long as Israel thought so, then its master’s voice — the U.S. administration — was bound to see it that way. And so this myth, just like all Israeli myths (the first one having been “a land without people for a people without land”), took root in the ground of politics and became the “de-facto” understanding despite all the Palestinian explanation about “Ehud Barak’s generous offer.”

Prior to that point, Palestinians had already relinquished their right to 78% of historic Palestine for the creation of the State of Israel. The “generous offer” from Barak called on the Palestinians to relinquish a further 30% of the remaining 22% of the land. That certainly was no generous offer, but because the Israeli and the American media played a big role in making that platter of peace look so sumptuous — when it was only a platter of pieces and crumbs – Arafat had to pay the price for the rest of his lonely and marginalized life. To add insult to injury, Arafat was blamed for all the “terrorism” in the Occupied Territories, when the state terrorism of Israel was justified in the name of security. It was that latter form of terrorism which was the root cause of the violence in the Occupied Territories, which erupted after 37 years of military occupation, when Palestinians had nothing more to lose.

I think Arafat genuinely believed that he could achieve his goal if he were to accept the step-by-step peace, and to settle for “Gaza and Jericho first.” He was so anxious to have a foothold in Palestine that he could not, or did not want to envisage that Israel had no intention of relinquishing the land – that which was the basis for engaging in a “land for peace” peace process. Those of us who had been living in the Occupied Territories since 1967 were already aware that unless Israel was forced to withdraw from the Palestinian Occupied Territories no lasting peace could be achieved. Even when his peace partner Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli extremist, and it was very clear that Israel was not interested in peace, Arafat still thought it would be possible to resurrect the already dead peace process.

Israel, which accuses Arafat of having been an obstacle to peace, could not have found a better partner to make all the concessions that were made under the pretext of peace. It has used the peace process as a steppingstone to the Arab World and it changed its image as an occupier, oppressor, and colonizer into a peacemaker. In the meantime, the biased media helped in developing that image and in creating the “terrorist” image of the Palestinian. For Israel, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, could not have come at a better time, as it forced the U.S. to empathize with Israel and to consider the security of Israel a top priority, irrespective of what it did.

It is too late now to say that Arafat should have resigned after Israel made it impossible for the peace process to go on. His pursuit of a mirage of peace was futile, and only his death has saved him by the grace of Allah from further humiliation. But now that Arafat is dead, let us watch and see what pretext Israel is going to come up with to avoid making peace, and how that pretext will be endorsed by the U.S. Of course, it is not beyond Israel to already start creating wedges between potential new Palestinian leadership, just as much as they have encouraged between Palestinian Muslims and Christians.

But if Israel is genuinely interested in peace, it does not have to look for pretexts. It can try, for a change, to abide by United Nations resolutions. It can accept the generous offer initiated by Saudi Arabia at the Arab League meeting in Beirut in March 2002, which guaranteed full acceptance of Israel in the Middle East if it were to withdraw from ALL the Arab territories occupied in 1967. That should be the test for Israel now, and it is a much cheaper one than the cost of Israeli and Palestinian human lives.

The Wall

August 12, 2004

By Samia Khoury
Thursday, August 12, 2004

“Good fences make good neighbors” is an old English saying. Unfortunately, the so-called “Security Fence” that Israel is building is neither good nor a fence. It is an evil barrier that will exacerbate the dehumanization of a whole population. Israel uses the word “security” because it has very skillfully put its security as a priority for the world’s conscience. This way Israel averts being challenged under the pretext of security.

Humans erect psychological and legal barriers between themselves simply on the basis of looks, religion, race, or social class. The separation wall might be the first physical barrier which Israel has erected, but in reality the process of putting up walls and barriers started with the establishment of the Sate of Israel in 1948, and continued with the military occupation of the Palestinian Territories in 1967.

The decision for the Israeli state to be a Jewish state, rather than a state of all of its citizens, was in itself a decision to establish a wall between the Jews of the new state and the non-Jewish population, the indigenous Palestinians. Those Palestinians who were dispossessed of their land and identity found themselves to be either stateless refugees or second-class citizens. Through “legal” legislation many more walls were erected within the State of Israel — laws that tightly restricted Palestinian access to land and that limited the possibilities of developing Palestinian cities and towns – turning Israel gradually into an apartheid state with two different sets of laws for Jews and Arabs. Using biblical texts to justify confiscation of more land after the 1967 conquest to build exclusively Jewish settlements spelled another chapter in the building of walls and barriers. The separation wall now being built is but the latest, and most obvious, of Israel’s discriminatory walls.

It is amazing how the world community can stand helpless against this new reality of the separation wall. Despite the fact that the European countries were critical of Israel for constructing the separation wall, they abstained when the UN voted to take the case to the International High Court of Justice at The Hague. How hypocritical! The UN resolution did pass, but its impact was watered down by those abstentions and by the usual American vote against any resolution condemning Israel.

Regarding the separation wall, I cannot help but recall the words of Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” For that is exactly the story of our dispossession as a people as well as the story of this wall. Good and responsible people can understand discriminatory realities, but are so often afraid to expose the truth for fear of being labeled anti-Semitic. The truth of the wall has nothing to do with anti-Semitism, and it is the duty of good people not to allow the triumph of evil. “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).

Will the world community continue to be hostage of intimidation? Some refuse to be intimidated: think of the many activists, Israelis and Palestinians, as well as members of the international solidarity movement, who, with their relentless efforts, have been able to expose the truth regarding the separation wall. They have been putting themselves in places of danger to emphasize the gravity of building such a wall and its impact on the soul of the people on both sides of the wall.

Israel claims to want this “security fence” in order to separate the Palestinians from the Israelis, and to prevent the infiltration of Palestinians to Israel. This justification might have been acceptable if it were erected on the 1967 borderline in conjunction with a full withdrawal from the occupied territories in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. But as it is now, and with Israel defying all UN resolutions, the wall is actually separating Palestinians from Palestinians. It is also separating Palestinians from their land, work, hospitals, schools, churches and mosques; and from their families and the centre of their lives. The wall, in brief, makes normal life impossible for Palestinians.

I sincerely hope that Israel will realize that to guarantee its security, it has to see the other as a human being. It was the inclusive theology of Jesus and the face-to-face encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well that pulled down the walls between Jew and Samaritan when Jesus asked for a drink of water.

Putting up a barrier and excluding the Other might provide temporary security for Israelis, but it does not solve the long-term problem, and it increases Palestinian insecurity. Healing and reconciliation will not be possible from behind walls and barriers, for each will only see a monster on the other side, and it will only exacerbate the animosity and create physical ghettos for Palestinians as well as psychological ghettos for Israelis. It is ironic that Israeli power is leading the Jewish people back to psychological ghettos, when there would be other options. The Israeli soldiers who are refusing to serve in an occupying force have certainly made their choice rather than compromise their humanity.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

How can the two peoples destined to live side by side in this Holy Land overcome the wall of hostility and live in peace? Certainly not through a reinforced concrete walls eight metres in height or through barbed wire and electrified fences. Nor will it be achieved by military occupation, oppression, and harassment at checkpoints and roadblocks.

If only we could reflect on The Golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12), a common ethical code amongst practically all faiths. If this code could be adopted as the principle for all human relationships, then no walls would be necessary and security and peace would prevail. Dare we hope! Or will power and greed continue to govern the actions of political leaders, losing all humanity in the process?

This article was originally published in the July-September 2004 issue of the Mennonite Central Committee’s “Peace Office Newsletter.” Republished with permission.