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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
In one highly-packed week from January 12-19, a Brit Tzedek/Meretz-USA delegation will meet with members of Knesset, top Palestinian leaders, and a variety of peace activists among other activities. Steve Masters, president of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and staffer Anna Freedman will write regular journal entries. We will also provide links to the trip blog of Rabbi Brant Rosen, a member of Brit Tzedek's Rabbinic Cabinet from Evanston, IL.
The peace process, the Roadmap and Dr. Ashrawi
Today we had the privilege of meeting with Palestinian activist, scholar, and politician Dr. Hanan Ashrawi. I have always admired Dr. Ashrawi, especially for her work in the field of academia. As a young woman, she studied under Edward Said, one of the most famous and prolific postcolonialist theorists of the later twentieth century, and has been described as his protoge.
Our meeting with Dr. Ashrawi was extremely engaging, and became emotionally charged toward the end. Her delivery was frank and honest, and she did not shy away from saying things that were difficult for the group to hear. She revealed that, as a population, Palestinians are very skeptical of the efficacy of the peace process as laid out by the Roadmap, and later, at Annapolis. In fact, the prospects for peace are at one of the lowest points in the last seven years, as conditions surrounding the treatment of Palestinians by IDF soldiers at some check points have deteriorated, and due to the failure of the Israeli government to permanently remove settlements – whose residents are notorious for mistreating their Palestinian neighbors - from the occupied lands. There is also the problem of what Ashrawi called the “Apartheid Roads;” roads in the West Bank and Gaza on which Palestinians are not allowed to drive or even walk, depending on the perceived security threat of the population in any given area. Ultimately, these things, combined with several other factors, contribute to a general loss of Palestinian faith in the promise of a two-state solution.
She also criticized the Bush Administration for its recent “too-little-too-late” efforts, in the last year of its administration, to take an active interest in the Middle East peace process. At Annapolis, President Bush made several major mistakes in terms of winning Palestinian support for re-starting a negotiations process. Firstly, he was very dismissive of the UN Resolutions that have been placed on Israel regarding its inconsistent relationship with the people from whose land its political body was created in 1948. Secondly, he apparently made jokes about the checkpoints, which are a major sticking point for the Palestinians, and excused all of them as necessary for Israel’s security. Additionally, President Bush was too lenient in his attitude toward the settlers, and neglected to mention at all their violence toward Palestinians, focusing instead only on the violent tactics perpetrated by Hamas.
Although she was very critical of the current peace negotiation process, Dr. Ashrawi did not suggest that its basic framework was flawed or inappropriate; rather, she advised that certain preconditions must be met for Palestine - with the very crucial popular support of its people - to agree to the provisos of the Roadmap, etc. She hypothesized that the most effective way for the peace process to move forward would be for Israel to 1) remove all illegal settlements and outposts from occupied territories 2) remove checkpoints or transfer control over the checkpoints that are on land that is “outside” the green line to the Palestinian Authority 3) honor the Right of Return as stipulated by UNRES 181. From that starting point, Dr. Ashrawi said, could Palestine fully and confidently participate in a negotiation and nation-building process with the full and active support of its people.
Finally, Dr. Ashrawi expressed her general dislike for nation-building on the basis of identity politics. Specifically, this would mean defining a state solely by one or more characteristic of its people, including race, religion, or ethnicity. She posits that any state, Israel included, should be a state for all its citizens. This statement really called into question the idea of a Jewish state, and elicited a strong emotional reaction from some members of our group. The question called up in me a very difficult question: In a nation where the separation of church and state is written into the First Amendment of our constitution, how can we, as Americans, also be Zionists, believing in the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state?
I left the meeting still questioning, but even as I write this, still loving Israel.