If lessons were learned …

On the recent escalation of violence in the Middle East

by Karl-Jürgen Müller

According to official figures, the renewed escalation of the conflict in the Middle East has claimed the lives of 12 Israeli and 243 Palestinian deaths, including more than 60 children and young people. This is reason enough to talk again about the factual novel “Apeirogon”, published in 2020 and written by the Irish writer Colum McCann – as twice before in this newspaper (Current Concerns No 18 of 31 August 2020 and No. 22 of 16 October 2020). The novel has two “heroes” who actually exist: the Jewish Israeli Rami Elhanan and the Arab Palestinian Bassam Aramin. Both have lost a child to acts of violence by the “other side”. Both have joined the Jewish-Arab peace movement, in which both work together.


In the middle of the novel, after the first 500 and before the last 500 chapters, both of them speak at length themselves.
“My name is Rami Elhanan. I am the father of Smadar. [Smadar was killed in a Palestinian suicide bombing]. I am a sixty-seven-year-old graphic designer, an Israeli, a Jew, a seventh-generation Jerusalemite. [...] It may sound strange, but in Israel we don’t really know what the Occupation actually is. We sit in our coffee shops, and we have a good time and we don’t have to deal with it. We have no idea what it’s like to walk through a checkpoint every day. Or to have our family land taken away. Or to wake up with a gun in our faces. We have two sets of laws, two sets of roads, two sets of values. To most Israelis this seems impossible, some sort of weird distortion of reality, but it is not. Because we just don’t know. Our lives are good. The cappuccino is tasty. The beach is open. The airport is right there. We have no access to what it’s like for people in the West Bank or Gaza. Nobody talks about it. You’re not allowed into Bethlehem unless you’re a soldier. We drive on our Israeli-only roads. We bypass the Arab villages. We build roads above them and below them, but only to make them faceless. Maybe we saw the West Bank once, when we were on military service, or maybe we watch a TV show every now and then, our hearts bleed for thirty minutes, but we don’t really, truly, know what’s going on. Not until the worst happens. And then the world is turned inside out.

“Violence is weak. Hatred is weak”

Truth is, you can’t have a humane occupation. It just doesn’t exist. It can’t. It’s about control. Maybe we have to wait until the prize of peace is so high that people begin to understand this. Maybe it won’t end until the prize outweighs the benefits. Economic prize lack of jobs. No sleep at night. Shame. Maybe even death. The price I paid. This is not a call for violence. Violence is weak. Hatred is weak. But today we have one side, the Palestinians, who are completely thrown to the side of the road. They don’t have any power. What they do is out of incredible anger and frustration and humiliation. Their land is taken. They want it back.”

"The occupation is wearing us down"

“My name is Bassam Aramin, I am the father of Abir. [Abir was fatally wounded in the head by a rubber bullet fired by the Israel Police]. I’m a Palestinian, a Muslim, an Arab. I am forty-eight years old. I’ve lived in many places – a cave near Hebron, seven years in prison, then an apartment in Anata, and these days in a house with a garden in Jericho near the Dead Sea. [...] When I was a kid, I thought it was a punishment from God to be a Palestinian, a Muslim, an Arab. 
  I carried it around, a big heavy weight around my neck. When you’re a kid you always ask why, but adults forget to ask why anymore. You just accept it. They smashed up our homes. Accepted. They herded us through checkpoints. Accepted. [...] You see, the Occupation exists in every aspect of our lives, an exhaustion and a bitterness that nobody outside it really understands. It deprives you of tomorrow. It stops you from going to the market, to the hospital, to the beach, to the sea. You can’t walk, you can’t drive, you can’t pick an olive from your own tree which is on the other side of the barbed wire. You can’t even look up in the sky. They have their planes up there. They own the air above and the ground below. You need a permit to sow your land. Your door is kicked in, your house is taken over, they put their feet on your chairs. Your seven-year-old is picked up and interrogated. You can’t imagine it. Seven years old. Be a father for a minute and think of your seven-year-old being picked up in front of your eyes. Blindfolded. Zip ties put on his wrists. Taken to military court in Ofer. Most Israelis don’t even know this happens. It’s not that they’re blind. They just don’t know no idea what is being done in their name. They’re not allowed to see. Their newspapers, their televisions, they don’t tell them these things. They can’t travel in the West Bank. They have no idea how we are living. But it happens every day. Every single day. We will never accept it. Even after one thousand years we’ll never accept it. [...] The Occupation knocks us down and we get up. We are steadfast. We won’t give in. Even if they hang me with my own veins. You see, ending the Occupation is our only real hope for everyone’s security, Israeli, Palestinian, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Druze, Bedouin, it doesn’t matter. The occupation corrupts us all from the inside out. But how do we go about ending it? I knew back then – and even more so now – that we have to do things differently. [...] We had to learn to use the force of our humanity. To be violently nonviolent. To bow our heads to the things that we need to tell one another. That is not soft, that’s not weak, on the contrary, it’s human.”

“Portaitissa to Donetsk”

A multi-award-winning documentary from 2018 about a monastery very close to the embattled and now completely destroyed Donetsk airport – “Portaitissa to Donetsk” – also comes to mind. The abbess of the monastery, which was largely destroyed during the fighting around the airport at the end of 2014/beginning of 2015, says in the film: “At that time, something could probably still be changed. We could have reconciled. Understood each other. Apparently, no one wanted that.”

Not enough, but worth the effort

And finally, another quote from the novel “Apeirogon”. Bassam Aramin, as the novel tells us in one of the last chapters, had the opportunity to speak at a conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee AIPAC. He is always unsettled during his talk and has doubts about whether it makes any sense at all in speaking here, at the Israel Lobby. He perceives unrest and unwillingness in his audience. But in the midst of the portrayal, it reads: “To shift just one mind. It was never enough, but it was worth it anyway.”  •

Outcome of the Special Session of the Human Rights Council on 27 May 2021

The Human Rights Council this afternoon adopted a resolution on ensuring respect for international human rights law and international humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel, in which it established an international commission of inquiry to investigate violations of international humanitarian law and all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law leading up to and since 13 April 2021, and all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions.
  The resolution was adopted at the end of a one-day special session of the Human Rights Council on the “grave human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”.
  In the resolution (A/HRC/S-30/L.1), adopted by a vote of 24 in favour, 9 against and 14 abstentions, the Council decides to urgently establish an ongoing independent, international commission of inquiry, to be appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council, to investigate in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel all alleged violations of international humanitarian law and all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law leading up to and since 13 April 2021, and all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity.
  The Council also calls upon all relevant parties to cooperate fully with the commission of inquiry and to facilitate its access. It urges all States to refrain from transferring arms when they assess, in accordance with applicable national procedures and international obligations and standards, that there is a clear risk that such arms might be used in the commission or facilitation of serious violations or abuses of international human rights law or serious violations of international humanitarian law. […]

Source: https://www.ungeneva.org/fr/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/05/human-rights-council-establishes-international-commission

If you want to find a solution, you have to be prepared to sit down at the table

Statement by Dr Bruno Kreisky* in 1988 on the basic problems of the conflict between Palestinians and Israel

A terrible bloodbath is taking place in the Middle East, every day. I always saw it coming and I am very sad that it has come. Perhaps some of you remember the time when I dealt with these things, as the only head of government in Europe, and warned that this was coming. There was also talk in the pubs and the regulars’ tables: “What is Kreisky constantly doing with the Palestinians?” Of course, because I am of the opinion that they have a right to exist, a right to their lives, and that their land must not be taken away from them, and that above all the Israelis must not do that, they must find a solution as to how two states can coexist. I have fought for this for decades. [...]
  Recently, someone said in a large American magazine: “If the Israeli politicians, the Israeli government are not able to solve these problems, then they should not demand that the young Israeli soldiers solve them for them.” You need a new policy. And again, dear comrades, you see where a wrong policy leads.
  I know the Arabs well, and I know the Palestinians well, and I have been in contact with them, only last Sunday, in London. I was on the phone with Arafat. I know that now, if you only want to, you can find a solution. You just have to be willing to sit down at the table. And the present Israeli government is not ready to do that. And the world’s conscience has to speak up when it wakes up so late, as is the case at the moment. But now it has awakened, and one should not underestimate it. Even a small state that behaves like a crusader state will have to pay for it. And the sooner the people of Israel realise how urgent it is to sit down and [stop] this daily murder. They may throw stones, what else do they have but stones, why shouldn’t they throw stones, I say frankly, when they have been made servants for years.
  The more prudent must be those who have the weapons. Now is the time, and it can often happen that on an issue you go all the way to the top in the opposites, and suddenly the moment comes when people become reasonable. We have experienced it, you will experience it, I am telling you today, many have experienced it. And so I have only hinted at the problem here, for which I have fought all my life, in the last part of my life in particular: For justice and peace among humans. Because weapons only bring renewed misfortune, again and again and again.      


Bruno Kreisky, Austrian chancellor (SPÖ) from 1970–1983, refers here to the First Palestinian Intifada (uprising, revolt) from 1987 to 1993. It was triggered by the death of four Palestinians in Gaza Strip in December 1987 by an Israeli truck. “But the causes of the Palestinians’ uprising lay deeper: they had been living under Israeli occupation since the Six-Day War in 1967. Their own political groups were banned, whether radical or moderate. A state of their own thus became ever more remote. This fuelled despair and anger.” The Oslo Accords of 1993 between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and PLO leader Yassir Arafat ended the First Intifada (Source: Schäuble, Martin; Flight Noah. “The First Intifada and the Oslo Peace Agreement”. Federal Agency for Civic Education, 28 March 2008)

Source: Vienna Film Archive of the Labour Movement, www.wifar.at

(Translation Current Concerns)

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