Israel's Road to Peace:
The Role of American Jews

Plenary Address by Sumaya Farhat-Naser
A Palestinian Perspective
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom's 2nd National Conference, November 2 , 2003

It is an honor and a pleasure for me, to be invited to join you at this conference. I wish to thank you for your willingness to listen to my voice, although my words may be heavy, uncomfortable, or may even hurt. Be sure that I do not intend to hurt or to accuse or to justify what is wrong. My intention is to express my thoughts and feelings, aiming at reaching out to you, appealing for actions and networking to rescue our peoples from catastrophes. The applied politics are destructive for both peoples. They promote animosity and war. There must be an alternative path to go. If we follow our common values we shall find the options.

The occupation instilled fears, mistrust and the belief that Israelis and Palestinians could only be enemies. We were kept apart by political barriers and exclusive ideologies. Walls and buffer zones separate our villages and cities in our own land and prevent any joint work.

It is an imperative to face reality and to name things by name, even if it hurts and is bitter, so to confront and try to find a way out, rather than to escape. Palestinian and Israeli women decided to work together not because we like each other but out of deep concern for the future of our peoples.

We realized that we could achieve peace only when we acknowledge each others as partners, having parity in every thing: equal rights, the right of both peoples to live free in peace, dignity and security, and accepting the notion that we both belong to this piece of land. Jerusalem belongs to both, as an open city that can serve as two capitals for two states. Occupation is the source for suppression, killing and war, and that settlements are illegal, violate human- and peoples rights and thus prevent peaceful co-existence. These political principals lay the ground for a political dialog leading to a just peace. We learned to look into each other’s eyes with respect, to listen, understand, and heal, yet also to be sensitive for the wording and attitude. The aim was not to hurt but to convince, not to list right and wrong, but to reach consensus, which is acceptable for both sides. The pain, disappointments and the set backs, while retaining willingness to continue our dialog, pushed us steps forward.

It is not enough to have good intentions and the desire to meet and claim peace. A suitable infrastructure must be put in place. When we have lived more than fifty years knowing each other only as enemies, in pain and with bitter experience, it is then very difficult to say, lets sit together. One word could explode the discussion and vanish the few points achieved during hours because every one is usually prepared to defend or to attack. To avoid this, we conducted programs to learn how to respect one another’s views, how to listen and how to acknowledge that there are at least two versions, not one, to every story. Although meeting together is painful, we must learn to bear this pain, to protect our selves and cross this painful stage. Encouraged and legitimized by the peace process, we started addressing our fears, speak about our hopes and formulate our political visions. As long as ideas were set in general terms, a political consensus was reached easily. Yet, as soon as details were discussed, we noticed the huge differences in our understanding of the same issue. It is exactly the same weakness, which accompanied the peace process beside the asymmetry of power that led to its failure.

Since two years no joint work is possible, and it is limited to Internet connections and to protest activities of hundreds of people, mainly women, who watch the roadblocks, give humanitarian aid, write and voice out the human rights violations. Recently we have heard of the soldiers refusing military service in the occupied Land and the pilots who declared their refusal to attack civil targets. We acknowledge and praise their courage and hope that this attitude infects others and aspires us all to learn resist peacefully.

The rejection of the officials to admit the unjust done and to acknowledge responsibility for restoration, mutual recognition of rights and aspirations, brings understanding and reconciliation efforts to a halt. The people are in a state of despair and hopelessness, because the political process did not end occupation, but manifested it. Peace initiatives between the people seemed to be an illusion. Many people lost faith in the idea of peace. Nevertheless, I believe no one step was for nothing. Peace must remain the only option. We have to believe that we are able to cross this terrible phase, a matter we will definitely achieve, if we decide to do so, in order to reach peace for the survival of both peoples. There are many, not yet enough, wonderful people on both sides who care and do believe that peace, security and development can only function if both peoples are equally included.

We had many wars, with both peoples remaining losers. The Palestinians have lost enormously so that today they have nothing to loose, but also nothing to give. The Israelis have won almost all wars, occupied all the land of Palestine and managed to suppress and control a people for 35 years. But this did not make them winners because they, as well the Palestinians, are loosing humanity, values, security and perspectives. Today the Israeli people have much more to fear about their future and survival than ten years ago because their political leaders don’t want to admit that they can never control a people forever, despite the military and political power they posses. As long as occupation exists, resistance will take place, intensifying year after year. Attacks and killings have become part of our daily life. Both peoples alike lose moral, human values and humanity. Their suffering is culminating.

While talking of peace, facts on the ground were created to prevent implementation of signed agreements and thus prevent peace. In occupied Palestine, we are living today in 48 enclaves, separated from each other through the established two-road systems: one road system is only for Israeli settlers who live on confiscated public and private Palestinian land, and the other road system is only for Palestinians. Wherever these roads cross, the Palestinian roads are destroyed or blocked with 2-3 meters high blockades of rocks and soil.

In the West Bank, there are about 175 “Checkpoints” (Roadblocks), many of them constitute a buffer street of two km, starting and ending with another blockade wall. Every few kilometers we have to walk on these destroyed roads, extending a 30-minute way into two or three hours, instead. While Palestinians are shadowed by feelings of anger and rage, the roadblocks give free way to Israelis who fear to be attacked and are being attacked. This regulation was created along with the peace process under the pretext of security measures. If the security of one side is the suppression of the other side, then this will turn back as a source for insecurity. Real security is achieved through satisfaction of the people, giving them perspectives for a normal secure future, through acceptable solutions for peace.

Never should oppression, inhumanity and humiliation be accepted as justified. Damaged streets, blockades and military checkpoints prevent our society from functioning. Education and culture, health care, work and economy are blocked or destroyed. Tanks surround every city and village. On a daily basis, helicopter or tank strikes are expected at anytime. Horror accompanies us when knowing one needs urgent medical help and is prevented to reach the hospital. Palestinian women are terrified knowing that giving birth is shadowed by the risk that they may be shot, while being carried by men hundreds of meters to cross a destructed road or through the fields to bypass a roadblock. Horror shapes our daily atmosphere, also for the people of Israel, because they too must calculate that a bomb on the street, in the bus, anywhere will kill anybody.

Actually it is the people who should have the power to change the direction of politics. Yet, our dilemma lies in that our peoples are captured by the severe bitterness and fear, so that they feel paralyzed, give up responsibility to act, and play blind. People realize the necessity to act only after thousands of people have been killed. How could we skip this phase and save lives?

Military options never solve problems, they rather create more disasters. The assassination of political leaders prevents the maturation of democratic processes necessary for accepting any peaceful political solutions. Destroying homes and infrastructures, as well as, killing is a crime and does escalate violence, nourish hatred, anger and fatalism. The failure of achieving peace encouraged radical and fundamentalist thinking on both sides. It is a disaster for both peoples and especially for women. Besides the struggle for independence and freedom as Palestinians, we have tremendous duties and we face huge obstacles in building a democratic civil society, especially because of the plaque of revolution and occupation since decades. We started to build institutions of the civil society, lay guidelines and laws for legislation to reach the rule of law. We wanted to honor and foster human rights, women rights and human dignity and manifest mechanisms for transparency and accountability. Although it is very difficult, yet we were on the right track and results in small steps pushed us forward. Today, the process of democratization and manifesting human rights cannot be developed and thus has been pushed back for years. Survival in daily life became the priority. Peace work in the own society is crucial for daring peace work with the other side.

PNA: Our society is undergoing a crucial struggle for survival and democratization. Instead of appointing a prime minister complying with Israel Military and US-demands, our people should be the party entitled to elect and approve their representatives through free election, so as to back up their elected politicians and save the appointed ones from being accused as undemocratic or collaborators who must be pushed away. Freedom of speech and freedom of movement must be granted, access to schools and universities must be guaranteed, security and normal daily life must prevail, and the rebuilding of infrastructure and national institutions must start immediately. A regular government must be formed, approved by the parliament, in order to share responsibility and ensure accountability. An emergency government is feared because the possibility of adopting illegal measures, when it comes to dealing with the people, comes to exist. The younger generation in parliament is the group who now struggles to end dictation and to achieve true democratization.

The radical groups in Palestine thrived as the peace endeavor failed. Their claim that “violence can only be faced with violence” filled the emerged vacuum due to the destruction of state institutions and state security systems. The powerful party adopts this phrase too, thus promoting escalation of violence. The rule of law, a functioning state security system, as well as, progress in peace negotiations that point towards ending occupation and ensuring a life in freedom, sovereignty and security, are the basics for achieving control and security for all. The road to freedom and peace cut off the hinterland for radical movements and prevent new generations to follow. The demand of dismantling these groups can never be achieved while the current Israeli politics remain in act. Dismantling armed groups by force will lead to terrible bloodshed within families. We rather opt for convincing most of them to join a political process that satisfy the people and spare lives through bringing forward a peaceful alternative program.

I recall a joint statement, that we, Israeli and Palestinian women wrote at the Women waging peace Colloquium in Vienna in July 2001:

In light of the destructive developments of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the lack of a productive political vision and effective intervention, and the on-going occupation, we are more than ever convinced, that women must be included as equal partners seeking solutions. As powerful and active players at the grass root level, with expertise in cross-community action and analysis of the root of the conflict, women can bring different perspectives on security for both sides. At the political level, women can be a reminder of the human rights and human values, which creates a bridge between both peoples. Effective strategies for peace at the international, regional and local levels, must be designed to include women in critical mass, so that their ideas and vision be integrated in both planning and implementation.

How many people have to die until we realize that with each crashed generation of fighters, new generations of resistance would follow, creative to bring forward much more hurt? The history states it: End the occupation, and seek a just solution, complying with international legitimacy, which constitute a genuine peace for both peoples.

Our both societies suffer and are increasingly sick of the loss in humanity, moral and values. We need effective intervention, which forces us back into rational thinking and behavior. All kinds of attacks and hurts of civil people must be condemned and stopped. No justification, what so ever, should be accepted. Meeting violence with violence promotes the spreading of violence and its justification.

Each incident of killing, each hurt, and each injustice deepen the furrows of animosity and inhibit our healing, rehabilitation and reconciliation of our both peoples. We must hold ourselves accountable, we have to admit our mistakes and failures, and hold responsibility. We have to protect our humanity, win back our conscience and our common sense.

Experience: I decided to have the youth as my target group for social and political peace education and activation. Since two years, I am working on a program called: “We learn to survive, learn to live together”. It is a conflict management and peace education program for youth at schools and university in Birzeit. We learn to express feelings, address taboo-issues, learn to face fears, hopelessness, violence, depression, torture, loss and death.

We learn non-violent communication and dialog skills, and speak out problems, concerns and hopes in order to heal and survive also psychologically. It is seeking peace in our own family and society that enables us to approach peace with the other side. About 300 students participate.

Vision: We need to join, all who believe in a just peace for both peoples as equals. We need to stick to human rights regulations, as well as, the international legitimacy and decide to reach a just settlement. A dictated and forced settlement of the conflict, based on military power within an occupier-occupied relation, will never work out. No tanks or bombs, neither walls nor arrests will bring security. Peace and security for Israel must include equally peace and security for Palestine. The wall planned and being built does not separate Israel from the occupied Palestinian land, but leaves scattered enclaves, as cages for Palestinians on only 42% of the Palestinian land. Such a land, without continuity and contiguity, captured between walls, wires and electronic- controlled towers would never lead to a viable Palestinian state and would never bring peace. While the borders of Israel with the West Bank are about 360 km, the wall is about 950 km, engulfing large areas of the West Bank, capturing 12 villages between wall and green line borders, depriving and separating thousands of people from reaching their work place, schools or farms. The wall endangers our existence, and is a destruction of our society and the basis for a normal life. There are 6 main iron gates and 26 smaller gates, through which people can cross, if they get a permit for each intended crossing-time, in the first place. There is a huge loss of agricultural land and water wells. The wall is about 8 m high with a width of 60 to 100 m, including barbed wires, tank roads, and on both sides two parallel so called security zones, and this structure alone engulfs 10% of the West Bank.


We have enough statements and speeches about peace. We need actions. The conflict is so complicated and is getting brutal because too many people don’t have the courage to name things by name and because peace groups have been left alone with little support, limiting their outreach out to thousands of people. It is not enough to fund structures and activities in Israel. It is much more important to question the ideology of state politics, which is based on taking the land from the Palestinian people, humiliating them, and wanting to control their lives and future for ever. The settlements are a key problem. Dismantling them is basic for a peaceful solution; yet, more important is to prevent the violation of people’s rights and human rights at all levels. The political prisoners are those who could lead the society. Winning them into the path of peace is much easier and human than trying to destroy their lives and souls. I would like to point out here that 1800 Palestinian men are held in administrative detention. They sit in prison, being tortured several times, sentenced to few months, yet just before the supposed release date nears, the detention period is prolonged again and again without allegations, court or legal procedures of a democratic system. My son-in-law is one of them and has been in prison since 14 months now, his sentence being renewed for the fourth time, without knowing why. We planned the wedding for April, then for June, then September, and then in November. NOW we stopped to plan. One prisoner is kept in administrative detention for eleven years now, with continued prolongations. And you wonder how rage, anger, hate and hopelessness are created? We have to stop all the cruelty and brutality to which both our peoples are subjected. We have to ensure that our youth meet as partners and equal teenagers, share their songs and parties, share their laughter and pain. We have to find ways to enforce the common values and vision. Education is the key and political activism is the mean. We have enough psychological barriers of fears, sufferings, pain and bitterness. We could break them down if we decide to do so. We have to prevent new barriers and walls, psychological and physical ones. We have to learn to listen to the narratives of the other people, to understand and reconcile. Everyone has to acknowledge responsibility and to act immediately to change the politics in Israel and in Palestine. Questioning the ideology does not mean to drop the dream, but to adjust it to assure humanity and avoid harm to the Palestinians. What ever is done to save lives and secure the future of the Israeli people must be understood to include the Palestinian people alike and equally. Other wise, the dream becomes a nightmare.

Your voice counts and your actions affect the change of politics much more than others, because you care for your people and they care for you. You know your capabilities and could know how to reach out to policy makers.

The land belongs to both of us, we have no other option but to share, love and develop it for the benefit of both peoples. If we decide to do it, then we shall achieve it.

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The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
P.O. Box 180175
Chicago, IL 60618-0175