With the recent rapid development of air strike and now full land based incursion of the Israeli military forces into the Gaza Strip, the need for the international community to intervene and impose a just peace for all parties concerned is more urgent than ever. A long haul stretching into months and perhaps years, the civilian casualty of thousands of innocent civilians including dozens from the Israeli side, along with a few billion dollars of financial burdens on both sides, is inevitable. Here it is yet another opportunity for the U.S. administration albeit the Obama administration to set a new bold "objective" leadership to effectuate the amicable resolution of this conflict, thereby regaining the respectful stature of the Americans they once enjoyed.
On a recent Thursday evening, Pace University hosted two former ranking officers from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). They presented their perspectives, as shaped through on-going dialogues with their former Palestinian counterparts and adversaries. After over sixty years of bloodshed inflicted on both sides, they emphasized the fact that the asymmetric war of "occupation" is lop-sided in favor of Israel, because it benefits so heavily from American aid. The aid is given annually in the form of substantial military hardware, intelligence, training and economic subsidies. The speakers cited the lobbying activities of AIPAC, the American Israeli Political Action Committee, in the United States as counterproductive to peace and the genuine interests of Israel. AIPAC ensures that the United States will continue to provide Israel all the military hardware and money it needs to pursue the path of occupation not the path of peace and thus does a disservice to Israel, they opined.
The "Combatants for Peace" movement in which the speakers Yonatan Shapira and Elik El-Hannan are among the co-founders, has posted its mission as follows: "Combatants for Peace was started jointly by Palestinians and Israelis, who have taken an active role in the cycle of violence and later condemned it; Israeli members are former soldiers and officers in the Israeli army (IDF) and Palestinians are those formerly engaged in the violent struggle for Palestinian freedom. After brandishing weapons for so many years, and having seen one another only through weapon sights, we have decided to put down our guns, and to struggle for peace."
The two speakers shared a myriad of personal stories including Elik's loss of his sister to a suicide bombing in Israel and the dropping of a 2,200 pounds bomb from a helicopter on the home of a suspected leader of Hamas which resulted in the deaths of fifteen innocent Palestinian civilians including nine children and one two month old baby. They referred to this incident in 2002 as a routine daily assassination mission by the IDF forces. Although this is blatantly against international law, they stated such practice as more of a daily routine by the IDF. Both men agreed that the statement by some Israelis that they do not have a Palestinian partner for peace talks is just not true. It has been their experience that there are many Palestinians who would be excellent partners for the establishment of peace in the region.
A recent independent public survey of Israelis has indicated that 20% of the people staunchly favor the vision of a just two–state solution. Other surveys indicate that up to fifty percent of the Israeli population seeks a form of [peaceful] settlement. This peace group, one of many that are said to be sprouting up across the whole region on both sides of the conflict, is committed to peaceful dialogues between Palestinians and Israelis, especially through former soldiers and [freedom fighter] militants, as the means of ultimately empowering both nations, and in doing so, leaving the entrenched politicians with self-centered special interests behind.
The meeting at Pace University was well attended not only by students and professors but by members of the larger Westchester Community. This was mainly due to coverage of the event by the regional daily, Journal News in the NYS Lower Hudson Valley, the co-sponsorship by The United Nations Association of Westchester and The Keys to Peace Class which distributed flyers as well as Pace's own Community Outreach Program.
The two speakers concluded that the occupation and resulting apartheid are the main sources of the injustice and repression which is inflicted on the Palestinian Nation. The audience was alerted to the fact that many times the higher echelons of the military dehumanize their Palestinian foes and that this racist behavior is quite dangerous. They further referred to the political establishment of Israel as a racist system not only when it comes to the [mis-]treatment of the Palestinians and Arabs, but also within the various strata of Israeli Jews, whereby the Ashkenazi's of Austro-Hungarian, German, Polish and Russian ancestries are at the helm, followed by the European Safaradics, and ranked on bottom are the native and immigrant Israelis from the Arab Countries and Persian heritage of Iran - that are always under suspicions.
There was a consensus that Ahmadinejad's rhetoric against Israel, which incidentally is intended to divert the attention of the 75 million Iranians from their own lingering socio-economic dilemma and repression of the democratic reforms, is welcomed by the conservatives and fundamentalists in Israel and the U.S. as they exploit it to create an atmosphere of fear in order to advance the military industrial complex agenda, and their hegemonic presence in the Middle East.
And then there was the issue of U.S.-Israeli bi-nationals that are estimated to be up to a million or more. For instance, President Obama's Chief of Staff Rom Emanuel has served in the Israeli armed forces, the IDF, with much distinction in the 90's. Neturei-Karta, a radical anti-Israeli fundamentalist Jewish orthodox group founded in 1938 in Jerusalem with their American headquarters in Monsey, New York was also cited. According to their website and director David Israel Weiss, "The name-Guardian of the City- was given to their group of Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem who, based on their interpretation of the Torah, refused (and still refuse) to recognize the existence or authority of the so-called "State of Israel" and made (and still make) a point of publicly demonstrating their displeasure . According to the "Torah and authentic unadulterated Judaism", this group believes in the return of the Messiah to establish the "Israel" kingdom of God, and claims to have several hundred thousand members.
Although the speakers reaffirmed their love and loyalty to the sovereignty and integrity of the state of Israel and the high Judaic standards it should be anchored on, Elik and Yonaton asked Americans to divest themselves of corporations which benefit the Israeli military and put pressure on their elected officials not to cave in under AIPAC pressure, as the assessed such support to counterproductive to long-term sustenance of the State of Israel.
They saw the American "Christian's" support as more of self-serving prophecy of the return of the people of Jewry to the holy land as the pre-requisite for the return of their Jesus.
There was even the citation of a parallel debate that if an amicable mutually inclusive and just peaceful resolution is not reached, one inevitable option might be to go back to the drawing board before the partition of 1945, and based on an all out referendum in the region establish a unified non-sectarian and non-religious democratic nation, with one person one vote.
Professor Joan Katen, the hostess of the event suggested the novel idea of a dozen Israeli and Palestinian war turned peace activists to compose a book on the theme of the lecture. Excerpts from the meeting can soon be viewed on www.Youtube.com; check under Combatants for Peace.