The dream they had dreamt of being free and separate people, with their own right to self –determination in their own national state in southern Africa was the ideal to which I myself had clung until I finally concluded, after a long process of deep introspection, that, if pursued, it would bring disaster to all the peoples of our country, including my own.
Ideas of nationalism and racism have long been ingrained in the very essence of humanity. History has shown us the horrors created when one ethnic or religious group claims themselves to be in some way superior or more righteous than another. Across the globe, indigenous people fight for basic necessities, equality, and the right to freedom. As this historical story repeats itself and unfolds, the voices that speak for justice are the strongest, yet they are rarely heard.
This horrific story of oppression and violent resistance is repeating itself now in Gaza where day to day control of Gazan borders belongs to the Israeli government (Human Rights Watch 2008). Control of these borders has left Gazan residents impoverished as the ability to export and import goods and services has been severely limited. These limitations have led to 80% of Gazan residents dependent on aid from the United Nations, 79% of the population living in poverty, and to the collapse of 90% of Gazan businesses, simply furthering hardships for civilians. Human Rights Watch has condemned the Israeli Government citing numerous violations of the Geneva Conventions and calls Israel’s actions collective punishment. In combination with this condemnation, Human Rights Watch has warned militants that the relentless rocket attacks raining down on Israeli civilians are in clear violation of international law. However, in sharp contrast to 10 Israeli injuries, over 40 Palestinian deaths have been reported in the past few days alone.
As these populations live in fear of retribution and continued violence, the situation is deteriorating. One Gaza resident recently wrote, “As anyone living under military occupation at any time I am awaiting my death, any time maybe the helicopter can bomb any place, I don’t know it…” and yet in spite of this fear, he goes on to recognize that living side by side with those he is at war with is the answer, “The best thing is for there [sic] to be one multinational state…and to let the people live in peace, far from all things political [sic]…believe me, Palestinians and Israelis want to live in peace.” And as the situation in Gaza becomes more unstable, so does civil strife. Hundreds of thousands of Gazans crossed the Egyptian border last week in an attempt to restock essential food and fuel supplies constituting almost half of the entire population of Gaza.
Regardless of the continued violence there are many who speak for reconciliation and peace; however, these voices continue to be marginalized by mainstream media and those who seek to profit from war. In a recent interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, members of the group Combatants for Peace described in detail their reason for seeking reconciliation through non-violence. As former fighters for both the Israeli military and the militant faction of Fatah, members of this group have come to understand how their continued violence against each other has only resulted in more violence with both sides losing life and freedom. In an open letter written by Yonatan Shapira, he, along with other Israeli soldiers, expressed their refusal to participate in what they considered to be war crimes. The expression of this sentiment has joined forces with the non-violent Palestinian movement creating a viable option for peaceful resolution.
Sadly, these voices, which represent the majority of Israeli’s and Palestinians who wish to live in peace are continually stifled. Yonatan Shapipra states, “I don’t think you have to be a military expert or have a Ph.D. in political science and to be one of these fancy scholars in Washington institutions to know that the results of this scientific experiment that we have in Gaza, for example, locking millions of people-million and a half people without food, electricity, medicine-no one can go out, no one can go in…It’s obvious that you’re going to have people resist. And I grew up, you know, learning the history of my people and how they resisted in Warsaw Ghetto, where they didn’t have any choice…I’m against what Hamas is doing…people are getting killed…all of us in our group are against that. But what can you expect from people when you treat them like that, in such a brutal occupation, such a brutal situation. What do you want them to do?”
Apparently the answer to the question of how the Palestinians living in Gaza should respond to occupation will remain elusive, especially as long as the word terrorist is equated with Palestinian, and violence is seen as the only solution. Sadly, as noted by F.W. DeClerk this can only lead to the destruction of both.