I realized how angry I was about what was taking place. The Israeli army does not recognize our humanity. The Arab world does not really know what we’ve been through. They see it all as black and white, good and evil. They are not attuned to the shades of grey, to the times when there was potential for a different sort of relation with our enemies.
Raja Shehadeh, When the Bulbul Stopped Singing
There was a protest march in Wellington yesterday from Cuba Street to the Rabin memorial by the Wellington Public Library. I watched it, but I didn’t go on it because I have an aversion to large groups of people chanting things. This extends to joining unions and belonging to political parties. As I get older I have overcome some of my inbuilt aversion to belonging to groups and joined a union and a political party, but I find large organisations are only as good as their leaders, and under middling or poor leadership they quite often say or do stupid things that don’t make me a fan.
I think the main reason that I didn’t go on the march though was that it was centered around the Rabin memorial (it’s the little stone ball in the bottom left of the photo above). One of my favourite people from modern history is Robert Kennedy, and one of the main reasons that I like him is that he went on a moral journey in his life. The Robert Kennedy who started out as a rather unappealing, privileged oik in his twenties was a very, very different man from the Robert Kennedy from the assassination of his beloved older brother until his own death in 1968. People can change, and I think it is important to realise that.
Rabin’s past is not palatable reading. Then again, neither was Arafat’s. The important thing in both cases might be this:
It’s hard to look at this photo now without bringing in a sense of the failures, lost opportunities and tragedies that were to come after it, but at the moment it happened it felt like watching the Berlin Wall come down. Neither man is uncomplicated or altruistic even at this moment (never mind the American standing with them), but right then it was pretty remarkable, and for that handshake alone, and the potential in it I was not prepared to go on the march yesterday. Part way through the first speech about the memorial I left. To the speaker the fact that the memorial was made from a Palestinian rock symbolised oppression, but I feel it could be taken to symbolize something else. It is, at the very least, open to interpretation.
Anyway, I think it misses the point to talk about the Rabin memorial in Wellington.
Few are showing concern for the plight of ordinary people, whose needs are not being met, whose lives are being destroyed. It is well and good to be concerned with the poetics, the representation, the rhetoric, but we are all in need of fresh bread, which we have not been able to get for three days.
Raja Shehadeh, When the Bulbul Stopped Singing
After the watching the protest I went to the library to get some books about Palestine and Israel. The remarkable thing about protest marches is that if you turn the corner they don’t exist anymore. Around the corner the police were reopening the road they had cordoned to allow the protesters through. A well-dressed older woman was complaining to her daughter as she watched the traffic begin to flow again: “It’s a major road through Wellington for god’s sake”. In the library there was no sign of the protest, and the loud haler feedback didn’t even penetrate the walls.
If you want to know what’s happening in Gaza now you can read any number of books about previous Israeli attacks. The one I am reading now – When the Bulbul Stopped Singing – will do. It was written in 2002 when the IDF invaded Palestine including Ramallah and put Arafat under siege. The writer of this book, Raja Shehadeh, was involved in advising the Palestinians during the Oslo Accords but became frustrated with all sides and withdrew from the process. For those wondering about how the destruction of Gaza in general fits with the supposed military aim of disabling Hamas tunnels and rocket attacks, it seems pertinent to quote this section in which Raja speculates on why the IDF would be targeting even well-organised and pro-Israeli representatives of the Palestinian Authority in its 2002 invasion:
The only answer I could find was that the army wanted to destroy all aspects of the Oslo deal. Israel was not looking for partners among the Palestinians, not on security, not on any other matter. It wanted to assume fall and sole control over all aspects of Palestinian life.
Which rings the same note of isolationism and control that has been struck today in the papers regarding ceasefire talks in Egypt:
Israel has rebuffed attempts to negotiate an end to the Gaza conflict amid signs that it may be moving towards unilaterally declaring a halt to fighting without an agreement that would involve concessions to Hamas.
Climbing down from the poetics, and rhetoric on all sides would help. Concentrating on the well-being of the civilians on both sides should be the aim; always keeping in mind that the civilians on both sides are equally entitled to the rights laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Even this “simple” basis for negotiation is incredibly complex, and a road strewn with the difficulty of compromising with an “enemy” responsible for the deaths of your people, but it remains – I think – the only possible way forward. How to do that without involving the military wing and charter of Hamas, or Netanhyahu and the IDF is something for people of tolerance and compassion to figure out from within the civilians of both sides. I often think New Zealand has a tremendous amount to offer in these conflicts as a third-party. What we could take from our protracted, on-going and problematic Waitangi Tribunal process to the table of these two countries to forge some kind of way to go forward could be invaluable. If we had the humility to acknowledge our mistakes and the courage to act as a world citizen for the brother and sisterhood of all.