A New Book on Palestine and Israel from the "Quakers"
An international group of people from the "Quaker" church has just published a new book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict titled "When the Rain Returns: Toward Justice and Reconciliation in Palestine and Israel." The book describes a fact-finding mission that 14 people, nearly all of them Quakers, made to Israel, Palestine, and neighboring countries in 2002; and it reflects in depth on how Palestinians and Israelis can hope to escape from the deep-seated, dehumanizing violence in which they currently live. It calls for a speedy end to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and urges both sides to find nonviolent ways to pursue their political goals.
I should reveal that I was one of the members of the group. My colleagues came mainly from the U.S., but we did have one Quaker each from Britain, South Africa, Canada, and Palestine in the group. The Palestinian Quaker, Jean Zaru from Ramallah, and Emily Mnisi, a black woman Quaker from South Africa, both brought very important insights to our work.
In addition to calling for an end to the occupation, the book argues that four key principles need to be followed in pursuing or judging any solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict:
"All persons are of equal humanity and are entitled, as individuals, to fundamental human rights" "The rights of all the people who have a direct stake in the situation in the Holy Land should be respected and each of these stakeholders given an equal voice in … determining the outcome to this conflict." These direct stakeholders are specified to be all Israeli citizens; all Palestinian residents of the occupied territories; and all Palestinian refugees. "Only mutual respect can lead to long-term security, and no human community can for long assure its own security by imposing a state of insecurity on its neighbors." "Violence always leads to more violence, and creative, nonviolent ways... to bring about a fair, stable, and hope-filled outcome do exist, and should be actively sought and pursued."
Who are Quakers and why should anyone care they say? The Quakers (also known as "Friends") started out in the religious and political ferment of 17th century Britain as a small group of protestant Christians who believed strongly in human equality and the ability of all people to build a personal relationship with the Divine. Shortly after the group started its activities it added a strong pacifist element to its beliefs; those early Quakers referred back to the days of early Christianity when Jesus had also advocated pacifist beliefs. (It took another 400 years after Jesus before St. Augustine and the existing church organizations started arguing that there could be such a thing as a "just" war.)
In England, Quakers were persecuted for some decades, and then actively discriminated against for another 200 years. Many escaped the bad treatment and went to North America, where they tried hard (but often unsuccessfully) to found their colonies through building good relations with the native people. The founder of the state of Pennsylvania, William Penn, was a Quaker. He and his fellow Quakers named their first city "Philadelphia"-- the "city of brotherly love".
Some of the early American Quakers did hold (and even trade in) slaves. But from the late 18th century on, Quakers dissociated themselves from the institution of slavery and became increasingly strong champions of the rights of the enslaved people. Since then, in the U.S. and elsewhere, most Quakers have been strong social reformers, working and arguing for the rights of all people-and especially, the most oppressed. I have heard many members of other churches say that, on the Middle East and other issues, they frequently look to the Quakers to give a lead on what to do.
In the 20th century, Quakers undertook many significant international campaigns. They always argued against war and oppression! In addition, in the difficult years after the First World War, they ran feeding programs that fed hundreds of thousands of children every day in very impoverished parts of Germany and Russia. Later, they helped refugees from the Spanish civil war, and in the Hitler years they helped thousands of Jewish people to escape the Nazi-held areas and migrate to the U.S. to rebuild their lives.
In 1948, when the infant United Nations was faced with the sudden arrival of 250,000 Palestinian refugees in Gaza, Secretary General Trygve Lie turned to the experienced Quaker relief organization, the "American Friends Service Committee" to organize emergency relief services for them. The AFSC continued to run all the relief services in Gaza for many months, until the UN finally organized its own relief organization, UNRWA. As they worked in Gaza, the American Quakers benefited from their links to the small congregation of Palestinian Quakers that had grown up around the two famous "Friends" schools established in Ramallah in the 1890s. After 1948, AFSC and other Quaker groups continued to run a number of smaller development projects in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel.
In 1970, AFSC published an influential study of the Arab-Israeli situation in the aftermath of the 1967 war. That book, titled "Search for Peace in the Middle East", was one of the first voices in that era that argued explicitly for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, alongside Israel. In 1982, AFSC published a second book, "A Compassionate Peace", that made the same argument in the context of a consideration of the broader Middle Eastern situation.
Our book is the third in this "series" from AFSC. We returned our focus to, primarily, the Palestinian-Israeli situation. But based on what we saw and heard during our travels around the West Bank, Israel, and Gaza, we concluded that it may be too late, now, to continue arguing for a two-state solution. The great and continuing success of Israel's colonial project of inserting Israeli citizens in great numbers into places throughout the whole West Bank may make it nearly politically impossible, now, to see the kind of withdrawal of settlers that would be needed if an independent Palestinian state is to have a viable land base. Therefore, we argued, it may simply be advisable to pursue instead a "South African" type solution in which the colonial population of the whole area of Palestine and the indigenous population are all joined together in a single unitary, though multinational state. (In this case, bi-national.)
We don't say that is our preference. We simply say the other alternative of a viable two-state solution may now be too hard to attain, so it is worth looking at alternative approaches. What we say, also, is that whether the outcome is a one-state solution or a two-state solution, the four key principles I described above will all need to be fully honored.
In connection with the second of those principles, we note in a chart in the book that the total population of Jewish Israelis in 2000 was 5,122,900, while the population of Palestinians-inside historic Palestine and in the neighboring countries-was 7,957,800.
I know that what we say about a one-state or two-state solution in the book is controversial in many circles. So, too, is the attention we have redirected to the Palestinian refugees' longstanding claims. Maybe those claims will not all be met in full, but certainly they cannot be silenced and must be given at least an acceptable degree of satisfaction. During the 1990s, the whole Palestinian refugee issue was largely "swept under the carpet" in the course of the post-Oslo diplomacy (and the PLO leaders largely went along with that happening). So today, many Israelis think it's a surprising and nasty "ambush" when anyone even mentions it again… Well, it will not be the first time that Quakers have upset people in power with our simple argument that "all people are created equal and should have equal rights." So we can deal with that.
The book deals with many aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and includes the voices of many of the Israelis we met during our fact-finding visit, as well as many Palestinians. One of the most distinctive chapters deals with the whole debate-conducted inside both national communities-between advocates of nonviolent political change and people who argue that violence and coercion can win them their goals.
Anyway, I'd better not abuse my position as a columnist by describing the book any further here. I hope you all get hold of a copy.