Category Archives: coexistence

Before two states

Cross-posted on Engage.

In two weeks Sudan will become two states. Its last ever president, Omar Al-Bashir will continue to dodge an arrest warrant for crimes against humanity issued by the International Criminal Court. Tonight China (not an ICC signatory) is his host.

Meanwhile the disputed oil-rich border territory of Abyei represents an economic reason for north-south conflict. Yesterday the South Kordufan village of Kurchi was reported to have been strafed with rockets from Khartoum in the north, killing 16 including a three-year-old and a baby, and seriously injuring 32. This is one of many ongoing attacks, and the number of internally displaced people is currently estimated at around 80,000. Today the UNSC voted to deploy 4000 Ethiopian peace-keeping troops.

There is more to the Abyei conflict than oil. Khartoum is targeting people on ethnic and political grounds, but there are some who defy these categories. A Sudan analyst interviewed on BBC Radio 4′s The World Tonight views the conflict as between those who want to impose Khartoum’s sharia law and those – Nuba SPLA, a northern opposition group of Muslims and Christians together – who are fighting for basic economic and social rights in a pluralistic, religiously tolerant society, resisting the fundamentalist policies of Khartoum.

The analyst also expressed deep regret at the “depressingly little” international attention paid to this conflict:

“This struggle is particularly important because it is offering one of the few alternatives to division between north and south, between Christian and Muslim, or black and Arab, so the lack of international support is really shocking at this stage, even if we put aside the immediate suffering of innocent people.”

Sudan will split on 9th July.

Challenge

Here’s a 2004 New Internationalist piece by Asma Agbarieh, a political organiser based in Jaffa. She writes against antisemitism and against antisemitism as moral justification for acts of oppression by the Israeli government. The piece is full of historically-grounded insight and never blames the victims, Palestinian or Israeli:

“Because Israel purports to represent Jews in general, the hatred it arouses is readily extended to Jews in general. Yet not so long ago, we should remember, the attitude on the Palestinian street was different. Through the period of the first Intifada, most Palestinians were careful to distinguish between Zionists and Jews, because they related to the conflict as a political one as opposed to a religious or racist one.”

Following up on Asma Agbarieh (now Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka) brought me to Challenge magazine, a 17 year-old Tel Aviv-based periodical of socialist perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where I found this from the Israeli workers’ party, Da’am – The 1967 lines or apartheid – yes to the democratic Arab revolution! alongside Asma’s own class analysis:

“We believe that apart from the fence that separates Jews and Arabs, there is a very different kind of fence. This new fence positions on one side all workers of the world, the victims of neoliberal economics: Arabs, Jews, Americans, Greeks, Spaniards, Egyptians, Iranians, Indians, Chinese and more. On the other side stand the wealthy of all nations, backed by their governments, who exploit, oppress, and make profits. Here is a large space for action, because the forces that unify are stronger than those that divide.

The task is not easy. The hatred is abysmal, and each side clings to its narrative. Such division is influenced by the atmosphere of religious and nationalist extremism in both camps. But the common denominator is bigger. The Jewish worker is beginning to grasp the fact that he or she is being transformed into an “Arab”—that is, one who has no privileges in the Jewish State, which itself has become a State for the Rich. This new reality confronts Jewish workers with a major challenge: Will they go on risking their lives in Israel’s wars—for the sake of sixteen families?

But there is also a challenge for Arab workers. Will they realize at last that the national-religious agenda leads to ruin, and that the only way out is to find their class partners on the other side?”

And this from Michal Schwartz on racism against Israel’s African asylum seekers, again with analysis relevant to any wealthy country which seizes upon cheap labour (though the final sentence about legitimacy is a shame).

There is plenty of analysis on why Oslo failed.

Based on the pieces I have read, Challenge doesn’t essentialise, demonise, or single out. Its arguments penetrate and are based in principles which extend. Jews, Israelis, Palestinians, Muslims, Arabs and others reading Challenge may respond strongly, but that response will be on political grounds rather than because their identity has been attacked. For this reason Challenge’s trenchant criticisms stand out from the dross about Israel and Palestine we wade through on a daily basis, and deserve to be widely read by those interested in a better Middle East.

Notes – Friends of the Earth Middle East in London

This post is for Richard at Mabinogogiblog and his enduring vision of a Middle East peace which floats.

On 24 March 2011, the New Israel Fund UK hosted three venerable speakers from Friends of the Earth Middle East – Palestinian Director Nader Al-Khateeb, Israeli Director Gidon Bromberg, and Jordanian Director and Chair, Munqeth Mehyar, mainly talking about the region’s shared water crisis.

Notes follow.

Munqeth Mehyar gave a summary of FoEME’s work to date. Together, the three offices have been taking a dual approach in their response – top-down research and lobbying and bottom-up work within 29 communities. This includes initiatives like Good Water Neighbours which began in 2000 and survived as one of the few cooperation projects which withstood the Second Intifada. Good Water Neighbours is such a recognisably beneficial social enterprise that communities exist even between Israeli settlements and neighbouring Palestinian villages in East Jerusalem and Abu Dis.

Work like this has brought FoEME international recognition, including TIME magazine’s Environmental Heroes award in 2008, the Aristotle Onassis Award for the Protection of the Environment and a EuroMed award for dialogue work.

Munqeth Mehyar talked about the eco parks at Ein Gedi in Israel, Auja in Palestine and Sharhabil bin Hassan in Jordan’s Ziglab basin where a dam gives a vantage point from which it is possible to fully grasp the water source and the vast tracts of land it is required to irrigate.

Nader Al-Khateeb began with some statistics on Israeli and Palestinian water use. Israeli use averages 250 litres per person per day, excluding agriculture and as a population, 2 billion cubic metres per year in total. Palestinians use 50-70 litres per person to day, less that the 120 litres the World Health Organisation holds to be the minimum amount for adequate hygiene. The total Palestinian consumption including agriculture and industry is around 170 million cubic metres per year.

Israel controls the water in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Nader Al-Khateeb emphasised the constraints this has imposed – no legislature, no jurisdiction over the water courses, and limited funding – that is, no real control on the part of Palestinians. FoEME’s Model Water Accord, to which we have drawn attention in a previous post, records the demise of the previous approach to cooperation established in Article 40 of the 1995 Oslo II accords. Cooperation didn’t flourish, as evidenced by the great discrepancy in availability, the under-provision to Palestinians and the contamination of ground water. There is no access for Palestinian to the waters of the Jordan and so it is drawn from the other main source, the mountain aquifer. Because extraction is slow, much of the Palestinian water supply is intermittent and stored in rooftop tanks where any breaches leave it vulnerable to contamination.

Nader Al-Khateeb showed a freshwater map of the region which made a very strong point without any commentary being required that the problem of water is a shared problem which cannot be solved without cooperation. Water doesn’t recognise borders. A final picture showed a large and happy group of mayors from cities and towns in the three countries wallowing in, I think, the Jordan. You couldn’t tell who was from where and – again – where water is concerned it doesn’t make any difference at all.

Gidon Blomberg spoke next about the circumstances required for cooperation. He pointed out that Israelis could not unequivocally welcome the unfolding revolution in Egypt because the decades-old peace treaty was very little to do with ordinary Egyptian people – there had been very little action either between Israelis and Egyptians or between Israelis and Jordanians, with whom there is also a peace treaty. The peace is a peace of strong leaders and cannot be taken for granted as a peace of peoples. On all sides of the conflict there are spoilers who exert pressure to end cooperation between Israelis and their neighbours.

Gidon Bromberg believes that water can contribute to peace because it is so tangible and undeniably shared. Water shows its shared nature when it flows from place to place irrespective of borders. However, FoEME have observed that the politicisation of water by which it is treated as a bargaining chip in the final status settlement, badly undermines cooperation. Consequently FoEME are lobbying to have it removed from the list of issues to be resolved. In a region in its 7th year of drought, Cooperating over water can then be treated as what it is – not an issue of privilege or charity, but of self-interest.

Self-interest is very important. Gidon Blomberg observes that water creates unlikely peacemakers, and holds up self-interest as means for Israelis and Palestinians who, in cooperating over water, are forced to defend themselves against their respective spoilers – those who perceive any cooperation as an unwarranted concession. When Israeli and Palestinian school-age students meet together to discuss water, their parents must sign a release form indicating their consent for the exchange. When school teachers are attacked for fraternising with the enemy, as they frequently are, they are able to make a convincing argument of self-interest in response. So instead of focussing on the sometimes-other-worldly vision of a peace deal, Israelis and Palestinians can focus instead on improving their freshwater reality, with tangible results which are sometimes beyond the immediate remit of the projects. For example, the cooperation between the Israeli village Tsur Haddassah and its lower-lying Palestinian neighbour Wadi Fukin has not only improved water quality, but is also one of the few examples of successful opposition to Israel’s security barrier.

Questions followed.

Somebody asked about veganism, and sadly everybody changed the subject to tropical fruit cultivation; in effect these countries are exporting their water in the form of bananas and citrus, whereas dates are far more appropriate, forgiving of a dry climate as they are. Munqeth Mehyar talked about sheep, the main animal eaten in the Middle East, pointing out that over-grazing and water consumption was not currently calculated in the cost of this meat.

I was going to ask whether the prospect of desalination was perceived by some as a silver bullet which removed the necessity be careful with water. Gidon Blomberg brought this up in a response to another question. Currently Israel is content to expend fossil fuel desalinating water, and membrane industry breakthroughs have enabled desalination at costs which compete increasingly favourably with extraction methods. The hope is that the crisis will stimulate further innovation in solar technology.

Somebody asked how the water situation had changed since the occupation. Gidon Blomberg responded that it was better to compare Palestine now to Jordan now rather than Palestine now to Palestine then, since infrastructure has undeniably improved since the occupation. However, whereas before the occupation, both Jordanians and Palestinians outside the main cities tended to rely on springs for water, the water realities in Jordan today are far better than in the OPTs. At the same time there is mismanagement across the Middle East, and even in Damascus where water is relatively plentiful there are times of intermittent supply. And while Israel may be very efficient, it is a mistake to confuse efficient use with sustainable use. Nader Al-Khateeb pointed out that whereas Israeli quality of life is on a par with that in Europe, Palestinians fare much worse, and Israel should expect to invest significantly in Palestinian water conservation and quality, again for reasons of self-interest.

Somebody asked why there was such low uptake of solar power given good elevation, around 3000 sun hours, and recent innovations in efficient CPV sun-tracking solar panels yielding shorter investment times. The reason is the Saudi oil lobby, and the Israeli and Egyptian natural gas lobbies. Munqeth Mehyar spoke eloquently about the ‘cash now’ mentality the Saudi rulers have adopted with respect to their oil. When we emerged from the stone age, he said, stones didn’t stop being useful to us. FoEME are lobbying for oil to be regarded as something precious to future generations which our children should have the chance to benefit from.

Postscript – for a party which appears, on the face of things at least, to take such a very keen interest in the Middle East and particularly Israel, I found it sad that the audience didn’t contain any members of the Green Party International Committee, nor any other Greens who have indicated their interest in various fora. My hunch, backed up by some references to “spoilers” from the panel, is that this kind of cooperation is absolutely incompatible with their hopes that Israel will fail and disappear. Fortunately for the residents of the region, the cooperation is strengthening because it is in everyone’s best interest that it does.

And because contaminated water does not recognise security walls, there may yet be an eco peace in the Middle East. Seven years of drought and 20 million mouths to feed along the banks of the Jordan says there must.

A model water accord between Israelis and Palestinians

“There is an urgent need to replace the current framework of the Joint Water Committee (JWC). The JWC has failed both peoples, first, by not providing sufficient water to the Palestinians and second, by not preventing largely Palestinian pollution of shared waters reaching Israel.” (Model Water Agreement)

“Treaties and institutional arrangements cannot remain static. Factors like water requirements, use patterns & efficiency of management change with time, as do water management paradigms, practices and processes. … It may not be an easy task to formulate dynamic treaties, but one that must be considered very seriously in the coming years.” (Oral presentation)

If water isn’t political where you live, it soon will be. Israel and the Palestinian territories are no exception. There is a need to cooperate on de-nationalising the region’s fresh water and to manage demand by considering current usage in the light of needs. The Bilaterial Water Commission and Water Mediation Board proposed by Friends of the Earth Middle East would have policy-making powers and include equal numbers of Israeli and Palestinian members, and one non-regional chair.

See Friends of the Earth Middle East’s A Water Agreement Cannot Wait’ conference for the proposal, co-authored by hydrologists and social scientists, in which there is a short chapter on ‘Moving fresh water from last to first in the peace process”.

Hat tip Bob.

“How can we create a new conversation about Israel & Palestine?”

Received by email, this may be of interest to those of our readers who identify as Jewish, Muslim or Christian.

St Ethelburga’s is recruiting a group of Jews, Christians and Muslims to undergo an innovative process of co-operative inquiry exploring the Israel Palestine issue.  The group will spend a weekend away together in October, followed by an 8 day study and encounter tour of the Holy Land in November.  Followed by futher meetings to reflect on learning.

The programme will adopt the co-operative inquiry approach, which is a reflective action research model in which participants set an agenda and inquire together into a key research question.  The question in this programme will be focused on how to create productive dialogue around the highly divisive and polarising issue of the Middle East.

Our intention is to select a very diverse group of individuals, reflecting as wide as possible a range of perspectives, who have a strong connection to the issue as well as an interest dialogue processes.  We will fund air fares and hotels for successful applicants.

This is a very special opportunity to undergo an intensive learning experience with a diverse group.

Application forms and background information can be found at http://stethelburgas.org/israel-palestine-inquiry

Applications need to be with us by 30 August and selection and interviews will be in the second week in September.

Please forward this email on to anyone you think would be interested.

Please do not reply to this email.  For more information contact justine@stethelburgas.org

Warm wishes,

Justine Huxley
Interfaith Projects Co-ordinator
St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation & Peace

Netanyahu, freeze the settlements

By email:

OneVoice counters Yesha Council by calling on Netanyahu to extend settlement freeze

The window for a two-state solution is rapidly closing. Renewed settlement building will devastate the trust being built during the proximity talks and any chances of returning to high level negotiations. The stakes have never been higher.

This is why OneVoice Israel (OVI) published on Monday an advertisement in the Hebrew language daily Maariv asking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stick to the principles of the Bar Ilan speech and maintain the settlement freeze.

“If they want to build they can’t speak of two states,” said OVI Executive Director Tal Harris. “We wanted to highlight their contradictions.”

OVI strategically highlighted the negative implications of settlement building, such as an increased isolation of Israel, a confused education system, and the unfortunate realities of a shared one-state nation.

The advertisement was a counter response to one from the Yesha Council, a group of municipal councils of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (the biblical names for the West Bank), which called for Netanyahu and other Israeli government ministers to continue building settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories after the moratorium is lifted in September.

Translated Text of Advertisement

Leader Needs to Lead

The freezing must continue!

On the eve of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama, the OneVoice Movement and the moderate majority in Israel remind the ministers of the government: a word is a word, stick to the principles of the “Bar Ilan Speech” of Netanyahu.
An end to the freeze is the end to the two-state solution!
For this you were put in office by the moderate majority (not just by the Judea Samaria Council), because you promised to lead to peace and security.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: I said in Washington to President Obama, loud and clear: We will be ready, in a future peace settlement, to reach a solution with a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state.

Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon: Is it not strategic enough for you to separate with an agreement from the four million Palestinians who live among us?

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman: Is it not better for you to be accepted amongst the nations of the world as the one who ended the historical conflict, rather than being denied entrance as a persona non-grata?

Internal Affairs Minister Eli Yishai: Already today 35% of Jerusalem’s residents are Palestinians. Is it not better for you to draw clear borders between us and the Palestinians rather than banishing children from the state?

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz: Is it not better to invest in roads which we know for certain will be a part of the state of Israel, rather than investing in more bypass roads all over the West Bank?

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar: The people want to return to the values of Zionism on which the state was founded: with a separation between Israel and the Palestinian nation. If the construction is renewed, could you also educate millions of Palestinian children into loving Zion?

Communications Minister Moshe Kachlon: Is your next battle against the fees that cellular companies charge going to be against the companies that are behind Palestinian cellular companies in a state without clear borders?

Minister Benny Begin: Are you ready to accept the case of a bi-national state?

Citizens of Israel the choice is in your hands! Imagine Israel in 2018.

OneVoice is an international grassroots movement that aims to amplify the voice of Israeli and Palestinian moderates, empowering them to seize back the agenda for conflict resolution and demand that their leaders achieve a two-state solution.

This is a true test for the two-state solution. You can ensure this opportunity is not missed by adding your voice: forward this e-mail to a friend, join OneVoice on Facebook, or make a donation.

Your actions today can change the events of tomorrow. Imagine 2018.

(By the way, in case it wasn’t obvious to our Green pro-boycott readers, OneVoice is hurt by boycott campaigns like the Green Party’s.)