Today several friends forwarded to me an email from a Palestinian Boycott group called PACBI and from a gentleman named Haithem El-Zabri, one of the people that are core organizers for the anti-OneVoice efforts. They said that the postponement of the OneVoice Summits was a "Victory." And in the same statement they indicated support for "peace."
It is hard for me to understand how anyone who sincerely wants peace can think that any setback in sincere efforts at mobilizing moderate voices to support an end to the conflict can be seen as a victory.
As I am trying very mightily to stick to my personal pledge not to let hatred seep into me again, not even from those who intentionally or unintentionally distort what OneVoice is about, I will do my best to be rational and positive and to seek as much as possible to counter extremism (as an ideological position) as opposed to counter people I would have considered extremists (thereby labeling them as they label me, and affixing them into a static and permanent position as an enemy). I will of course address why positions that amount to extremist positions have to be re-thought, and encourage their re-thinking.
In fact, today I am making Haithem El-Zabri into my friend. He above many had angered me so much over the last few weeks. And I am sure I have angered him also (I’ve seen a few of the emails he’s sent out about me, quite angry, but none violent, and for the record I never stated he made violent threats, but I saw and showed that others did, as reported in earlier blog entries, and as artists and staff reported to the authorities; just on this point, I encourage Mr. Zabri, I mean Haithem, and PACBI, to be careful not to assume that because OneVoice Palestine or artists supporting them receive threats they have to necessarily come from their groups; I do know that at least one person that belongs to Another Voice made a violent threat to blow up the OV office online, and I also know that artists personally complained to me about the threats and intimidation they were facing, not just from Palestine but also from Lebanon, and I also know that serious threats were reported to the authorities and need to be dealt with by them, not by public discussion).
But instead of continuing this path of increased confrontation with a group that opposes OneVoice, and instead of placing OneVoice into the negative us-vs-them mentality that has kept this region in such pain for so long, I will welcome them to understand us better. If they choose to, maybe they will come around. If they don’t, then the hatred will be theirs to deal with, not ours.
Anyway, what puzzles me is why PACBI, Haithem, or anyone else would take so much energy to oppose a mobilization of citizens demanding an end to the conflict. OneVoice is at its essence a civic movement here to amplify voices of moderation, to propel leaders to the negotiating table to end the conflict.
Is there a reason why they oppose negotiations? Is it that any negotiation is in and of itself wrong because it acknowledges the other side? If that is the answer, then the word "peace" has no place in their lexicon, if we are to be earnest. Let’s then just acknowledge then that they do not support peace, but an absolute imposition of a position from one side on the other, whether through war or otherwise. So do they oppose negotiations? I would appreciate understanding this.
Another argument PACBI and Zabri advance is that OneVoice was not specific enough about what a two-state solution or any solution would entail. But this is disingenuous because as I have explained in the past, OneVoice does NOT advance a concrete solution because that is not its mandate, and its 600,000 signatories thus far do not have to agree on the specifics – that would be pretentious because that is not their job but the job for their elected representatives.
This does not mean there are no answers out there. As most polls demonstrate, as the Clinton parameters demonstrate, as the OneVoice citizen negotiations we organized in 2003-2004 demonstrated, and as Chairman Arafat’s endorsement of the Taba agreement demonstrate, this is not an intractable conflict – there are answers out there, if we really want to recognize that TWO peoples are destined to live in this land and must come to terms with their mutual rights to freedom, dignity, respect, security, etc.
Again, all of the above are provided as examples for skeptics that believe that there are no answers out there and we are destined to live at war. But they are not official positions of OneVoice because OneVoice is a civic movement to amplify the voice of moderation and not a political party.
OneVoice does NOT take specific political positions on how the conflict has to be resolved – it cannot pretend to, when its 600,000 signatories and its 60 dignitaries span a spectrum of politics and beliefs and don’t agree on all issues. What OneVoice emphasizes, and the only thing that all of its members are asked to sign on to, the OneVoice Mandate, is that the two heads of state must immediately resume negotiations, and continue in an uninterrupted fashion till they strike an agreement.
Now, you can make arguments why negotiations could result in undesirable results – for example, what if the Heads of State propose something that the people don’t find acceptable? But really, does this warrant not trying to get the leaders to agree? If so what would be the way that Haithem or PACBI suggest we should further an end to the occupation – I assume that they don’t want a solution imposed on them, so what precisely will be the mechanism they recommend, presuming they don’t want war or violence?
And again, why would anyone, even if they are skeptical about what can negotiations bring about, exert such assertive opposition to the efforts of ordinary citizens to demand progress in the negotiations?
Sometimes we lose sight of the mission and group start furthering an institution rather than a vision to better the peoples’ lives.
The "Boycott" group takes a very firm stance against cooperation between any Israeli and Palestinian groups or NGOs – they are here to Boycott Israel. Well, first of all OneVoice is designed to build parallel but totally separate mainstream nationalist movements, one with Palestinian leaders advancing the will of the Palestinian people and working in Palestine, and a totally separate one with Israeli leaders advancing the will of the Israeli people and working in Israel. While these are separate groups with different narratives, they do both share the aspiration for an end to the conflict.
In this case, the parallel work that the Boycott group was opposing was the mutual (though expressly not joint) manifestation of moderates on both sides to end the conflict through a two state solution.
OneVoice Palestine clearly wants and works to end the occupation (as do I of course, and as should do every Palestinian and every Israeli that want an end to the conflict, it’s the only way – just like recognizing the right of Israel to exist is also the only way out of this, and if any Palestinian hasn’t figured that one out, well, then I address that below).
So, is a "Boycott" group so driven by its narrow focused vision that it will celebrate when these moderate voices, when its own people, are not heard?
This was such a sad setback not just for OneVoice – that is less important – but for the people of the region. Our vision is to show that both sides have a partner on the other side in the people. Why would any Palestinian oppose showing the positive face of the Palestinian people, which is so critical to overcome dangerous bias that prevents progress towards ending the conflict? This is why I was so disappointed, not because there wasn’t a concert, which is just a tool, but because this was a setback to our mission of showing the moderate voices to all, to inspire citizens to become more active towards pushing to end this conflict once and for all.
To go further than that, to blindly oppose cooperation between Palestinians and others is just shortsighted and unwise. Palestinians who want to end the occupation should welcome partners who agree with that, and frankly the best counterpart Palestinians can find are Israelis who out of their enlightened self-interest recognize this because it is Israelis that are the ones they are destined to find a settlement with. Same with the opposite argument, of course, that Israelis need to engage Palestinians as their counterparts.
I will go further. Another Voice and PACBI criticized that OneVoice Palestine was associated with a movement that on the other side in OneVoice Israel included hawkish voices. BUT THIS IS THE MAGIC OF ONEVOICE. That OneVoice Palestine itself is not made up just of liberal dreamers, but includes fiery Palestinian nationalists like Sheikh Taysir al Tamimi, the Chief Palestinian Islamic Justice, and that OneVoice Israel is not made up only of people from the left, but also of Generals, and Knesset members from Kadima and Shas and Mafdal who in spite of all their differences join together as OneVoice for an end to the conflict.
It is a strength that the movement includes people and leaders from all walks of life, as this is what it will take to end this.
Indeed, the same logic applies to my reaching out to PACBI and Haithem, as I have often done to right-wing Rabbis. I find that some times the most entrenched hawkish people, the most doubtful of the others’ rights or intentions, once they see that there is a way we can get there together, become the most ardent supporters of our movement.
Now I am not naive, here. I have read a lot of what Haithem has written in the past, and he opposed President Arafat’s negotiations, so I don’t have much hope he will support Abbas, let alone a movement that encourages Abbas and Olmert to advance the negotiations process. But if Haithem is sincere in his beliefs that he wants "peace" then perhaps we can establish some understanding – perhaps he can explain to me his vision of peace is. And if it recognizes the rights of both peoples to freedom, dignity, respect, security etc, maybe we will get somewhere.
On an international front, by the way, I also strongly think that anybody who wants Palestine to rise up as a nation, and anyone who wants Israel to live with security, should welcome all the allies that can bring momentum to this cause – and the OneVoice Movement is a formidable tool to raise awareness about the imperative of moving here. So again, I don’t understand why anyone who sincerely wants "peace" would take the time to attack OneVoice. Is this really the best use of someone’s time? Why would this upset them so much if they don’t harbor extremist ideologies?
Another argument I saw PACBI and Another Voice make is that OneVoice engages in moral equivalency – comparing the duties of the occupier and occupied. First of all, I have no idea how they draw this conclusion. OneVoice doesn’t engage in any moral assessments – that is the role of Imams or Priests or Rabbis or Judges or international arbitrators or human rights activists or diplomats, etc, but not ours. We focus on working solutions to move beyond the past and the present, with all of its suffering, and to move to the future where answers do lie.
What is interesting about the "moral equivalency" argument is how frequent it comes from BOTH SIDES. Jewish leaders often ask me, "Daniel, by using the OneVoice language, aren’t you risking putting us in the same basket as terrorists?" [Here is the most recent example, hot off the press, from the Jerusalem Post, and unfortunately it comes from the producer of one of my favorite movies, Central Station] And Palestinians often ask me, "Daniel, by using the OneVoice language, aren’t you risking putting us the occupied in the same basket as the occupier?" Again, DO NOT MISQUOTE ME. These are verbatim the question I hear over and over again from others. As far as OneVoice is concerned, we are not in the business of putting people in baskets and evaluating the righteousness of each side. I am sure that OneVoice Palestine members feel they are in general more righteous and OneVoice Israel members feel they are in general more righteous. Let each side say what it may in their narrative, but they join as OneVoice in the Mandate to end the conflict.
This brings me to a big and unfair attack claiming that OneVoice gives different information to different sides. The fact is that the common language that all agree to at OneVoice is the OneVoice Mandate, and that IS the fundamental document that is identical and has no differences. But we WANT OneVoice Palestine to be motivated by Palestinian interests, and we WANT OneVoice Israel to be motivated by Israeli interests, so of course their language on the "WHY" they do what they do will be different.
It seems a bit hypocritical to complain that OneVoice Palestine is not nationalistic enough, and then to complain that it works with the other side, and then to complain that the other side doesn’t share the same identical narrative that OneVoice Palestine does! Each side is driven by its own motivations: OneVoice Palestine wants to achieve a vibrant Palestinian State; OneVoice Israel wants to achieve permanent security; but they BOTH JOIN ON THE MANDATE.
So if all of the above "reasons" are not real satisfactory reasons to garner all time and energy to attack an organization that seeks to amplify the voice of moderation, what is the reason to oppose OneVoice?
My guess, all along, has been that the real reason why Haithem and PACBI oppose OneVoice is because they oppose the concept of a two state solution and are threatened by the fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians and Israelis – 76% consistently on both sides – support this as the only real way to end the conflict.
First let me explain why anything other than a two state solution is not going to achieve peace. Simply, because the overwhelming majorities do not want it. Jews in Israel will not accept the destruction of Israel as the State of the Jewish people. This is the only State in the world where someone persecuted as a Jew can find a haven. Palestinians in Palestine have nowhere else to go and want and have the inalienable right to build a nation in Palestine. Neither side is going anywhere else. Neither side wants to be ruled by the other. Each side, overwhelmingly, wants its own state, and let the others have theirs too, because that is the only way out.
I often get people telling me that of course they want "peace" but then they go on to provide a version of absolutism that denies the right of the other side. I have Israeli friends that tell me that of course they want peace but since the Jews only have one State and Arabs have 22+ States, why can’t Palestinians just go to one of the Arab countries? Well, that is not ever going to happen, and Palestinians also don’t have anywhere else to go. I have Palestinian friends who sincerely tell me they want peace but that a condition to this must mean that every single Palestinian who was displaced from Lod or Haifa or elsewhere in present day Israel must be given all of the land they had and all Palestinians and "Israelis" can then live in one binational state. Well, again, this is not ever going to happen. PLEASE DO NOT MISQUOTE ME. I am NOT taking any positions on any of these issues because in my OneVoice role I cannot do so. The OneVoice Movement includes many people that hold a variety of beliefs on all of these issues. BUT WHAT THEY ALL RECOGNIZE IS THAT ULTIMATELY THIS THING IS NOT GOING TO BE RESOLVED IF BOTH SIDES DON’T COME TO TERMS WITH THE FACT THAT A COMPROMISE MUST BE MADE.
So why is a One State "solution" no solution at all? Because it cannot come about, period.
Anyone who pretends otherwise is either not privy to correct information or otherwise harboring the hope that they will one day impose an absolutist solution on the other.
But EVEN if I couldn’t convince PACBI or Haithem that a two-state solution is the only way forward, is attacking this movement dedicated to mobilize both sides towards personal responsibility to end the conflict really the best way for them to invest their energies?
So to PACBI and Haithem, and to all others who have opposed OneVoice in the past, including by the way also a lot of right-wing groups on the Israeli side who have similarly attacked OneVoice Israel among similar lines, based on misinformation or principle, please ask yourselves:
What is better, to hold on to impractical absolutist visions that will only protract this conflict and keep this beautiful region hostage, or to find a way to end the conflict through a two state solution? Shouldn’t we all be better if we can work a way to move forward recognizing both sides?
Can we dare dream even of a day when the children of this region will transcend all this hatred and suffering, including the toils of occupation as well as the toils of violence and insecurity?