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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Issue 159: May 2008

Also in this editorial:

Palestine, Israel and the journey to peace
This year sees the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the state of Israel. Ireland knows something about intractable conflicts but the conflict in and between Palestine and Israel is not only a tragedy for the people of that small region, it also has repercussions around the broader Middle East and globally.  But it also has its origins elsewhere, particularly Europe; British imperialist promises in 1917 of a homeland for Jews, and Nazi persecution and extermination of Jews in the Shoah in particular, are at the root of the current situation and conflict.  And, as the Holocaust Museum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem rightly points out, anti-Semitism has substantial roots in Christianity, much of which has been shaped in this regard by Europeans. If we are looking at causality, Europeans have been in the thick of the problem.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Jewish population of Palestine was only 28% (Yad Vashem figures).  The Balfour Declaration of 1917, referred to above, was not meant to give Jews a homeland at the expense of those already there, but that is what has come to pass. The Jewish diaspora, however tenuous its link to Judaism or Israel, has the right of 'return' whereas the growing Palestinian diaspora, forced out by Israeli occupation and repression, has no such right.

All people have the right to live in peace and security, whatever their ethnicity, nationality or religion.  But if we take the generally recognised 1949 'Green Line' demarcation of Israel/Palestine - which itself severely truncates Palestine, then it is Israeli occupation and settlement, in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank, which is preventing real progress.  The fact that Israel is a democracy can blind people in the West as to what is happening; obviously democracy is 'a good thing' and something to be supported but evil things can be done by democracies as the example of the USA's imperialism in Latin America and elsewhere throughout the twentieth century - and into the twenty-first - clearly shows.

What is security? The Israeli state has gone for security at the barrel of a gun, and Israel has plenty of guns, including big ones and even nuclear weapons. But security which depends on guns in this fashion against another, oppressed, people is not true security.  Real security can only come when there is justice and peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians and that cannot come until the Palestinians get their rights, and the violence of Israeli state oppression is overcome.  Of course the small scale Palestinian violent resistance provides an excuse for Israeli repression but it certainly does not justify it. Rockets emanating from Hamas in Gaza have killed a number of Israelis over recent years but is mainly disruptive and dangerous rather than death-delivering; it is a pathetic military effort which is totally counter-productive. Nonviolence could do much more than violence but with 'critical distance' between the two sides even nonviolence has its limitations.

Comparisons of what the Israeli state is doing to Palestinians with the Holocaust/Shoah are a step too far; while the Israeli state exercises a bloody revenge for violence, with a large multiplier effect on the number of Israeli deaths, it is not extermination of a people or genocide. But it is an attempt to control another people which goes far beyond the bounds of what is reasonable; the level of both overall and petty control, including economic subservience, is reminiscent of apartheid-era Bantustans in South Africa, or, dare we say it, the Nazi-imposed Jewish ghettoes of the Second World War era (please note we are not saying they are the same thing but have some similarities). The result is economic stagnation and an incredible sense of powerlessness accompanying gross lack of human rights - and this has led to massive numbers of Palestinians in exile.

What solutions are there? In conflict resolution terms, a real deal has to come out of discussion and negotiation between the sides and this is not an easy matter, given the divisions on the Palestinian side (in particular between Fateh and Hamas) and within Israeli Jewish society, let alone negotiating between the sides. Fortunately there are Jewish Israelis who reject and oppose the occupation of Palestinian lands.  If 'the people' on both sides are involved in this it may be more difficult, in some ways, but it will be more meaningful and there will be a greater chance of any peace agreement lasting. Some people say that there is a need to focus on 'common interests' but in reality some of the common interests, such as land and water, are what divide the two.  These have to be dealt with but it may be more productive to focus on the particular interests of each side; for Israelis, to live in peace, real security and with international recognition, acceptance, and even goodwill, and for Palestinians, the chance for economic, national and cultural development which is currently denied them.

As to whether there is a one state or two state solution, the best that can be hoped for at this stage is probably a reasonably just two state solution at this stage. Many Palestinians would support a one state solution because, in a small land, they see no other way of getting justice. But it would seem that most Israelis would not, in any circumstances, give up the state of Israel. One can only hope that, with a just solution, relations will develop and, in the longer term, extensive cooperation or even confederalism might be possible, but this is a beyond the end of the current tunnel that the people of the area currently inhabit.

What needs to be done?  Clearly existing policies, including UN condemnation of Israeli occupation, are totally ineffective.  With the support of the one global superpower, the USA, and no real pressure from it, and Europe's guilt over Nazi era extermination, the Israeli state has safely ignored international pressure to date. Given the need to bridge the substantial misunderstandings and gaps which exist, and the common lack of real communication between Israeli people and Palestinians, and between Israelis and the international community, a total ban on communication, a boycott on all contact, would not be advisable.  But some forms of selective economic and other boycotts or action are necessary, and if needed, pressure on the USA to stop propping up a grave injustice. 'Rolling' boycotts or fraternisation could be a feature (different sectors to be subject to boycott or fraternisation - friendly contact with a purpose - at different times).  It was economic pressure that forced the ending of apartheid in South Africa, not by itself, but it provided the lever to prise open the problem and lead to a negotiated settlement. It is hard to see how the injustice to Palestinians can be resolved without a similar international effort.

Israelis and Palestinians are both creative and intelligent peoples. They deserve better than the realities of the conflict today. The solution, unfortunately, is not going to come without a certain amount of pain and a lot of work. But it is up to the international community, and especially the USA, to push for a meaningful settlement and that means pushing Israel out of its comfort zone.  It may also mean pushing Hamas and Fateh, in due course, to go for a deal which will stick. The longer Jewish settler policy continues unabated (in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank) the more difficult any solution is going to be, and the more 'the facts on the ground' will mean 'Palestine' has ceased to exist, pushed into non-existence by Israeli expansionism.  That would be a huge tragedy for Palestinians but it would also be a tragedy for the soul and identity of Jewish people who have given so much to so many parts of the world, and have often suffered because of their identity. To be the perpetrators of such a cruel fate on another people would be a bitter and twisted irony.

Cluster bombs
The Dublin conference on cluster bombs this month presents an historic opportunity to make warfare that little less barbaric, and less dangerous for civilians and survivors. Banning these nefarious weapons is a completely logical, and necessary, step following on from the banning of landmines (and the latter still continue to kill and maim where they lie). The Irish government is doing something worthwhile in the international arena - and that is to be commended. Unfortunately there are governments which reject a ban on cluster munitions; the British Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence have announced their intention to continue using at least a couple of these kinds of weapons ('Guardian', 29/4/08). The Irish government, and the others behind the process, need to stand up strong and tall to push for a complete ban.

In INNATE we are, of course, opposed to war - internally or externally - and to war as a means of political policy (as utilised by the USA, UK and others in Afghanistan and Iraq).  But our stand against war should not prevent us backing moves that mean when war happens it is less barbaric.  The USA's policy on torture (it's for it when it happens on 'its' side) makes the world a less civilised place. The more the accepted 'rules of war' constrict what is possible, and the more countries are held to account for their military exploits through the International Criminal Court and otherwise, the more constrained countries will be in thinking they can get away with warfare and mass murder (which is nothing less than what the USA and UK have supported and facilitated in Iraq).

We hope that those reading this will, in whatever way possible (see lead news item) support the Dublin conference and work with the movement to get cluster munitions banned, once and for all time. If there is a strong treaty then perhaps those who would persist in their use can be shamed into acceptance of this humanitarian measure.

Food security... in Ireland
Food security in the poor world has been in the news much recently, as it should be, with prices of basic foodstuffs going through the roof, commonly having increased 80% in about three years. The struggle of the poor to survive, primarily in urban areas, has become much more difficult. And in the so-called developed world, food prices are also increasing rapidly, through not as steeply, and we may be seeing the end of an era of cheap food.  In the world context, if the urban poor can be supported through the difficulties they face, increased prices for food may over time provide an opportunity for their even poorer rural cousins to lift themselves out of their gross poverty, but it is certainly a difficult balancing act (getting, and where appropriate setting, a fair price for food so that buyers can afford it and sellers get a reasonable living).

But we in the West should not get out of it so lightly, morally speaking, and if we did get out of it so lightly we would be doing extremely well in terms of our own selfish interests.  One contributing factor to food price increases is the demand for cereals and soya to feed cattle for meat and dairy produce since producing meat drives up the price of the foodstuffs animals are fed, as well as being a very inefficient means of producing protein. The 'Western' diet has global repercussions. The switch to biofuels production, now gravely questioned, is another contributing factor.

But there are other important issues at home in relation to food security which have not received the same attention.  Ireland obviously produces much food but is dependent on imported foodstuffs for a much higher proportion of its diet than, say, thirty years ago.  Variety in diet has made eating in Ireland a transformed experience but it has arrived at a price in terms of its contribution, currently, to food price increases and, through transport costs, to global pollution and warming.  And food production today is almost all dependent on the use of fossil fuels - from powering tractors, processing foods, transportation, and indeed artificial fertilisers.  There has been some thought and work by the likes of Feasta and Cultivate regarding food security in Ireland; this would be an appropriate time for those with responsibility in this area to read the thoughts emanating from these sources and get cracking on thinking of food security in a post-peak oil world.

There are two thoughts immediately spring to mind.  The first is that provision for garden allotments should be included in any future urban developments whenever possible (the onus should be on developers to prove it is not possible). As the price of food increases, growing your own is going to become more popular (as it has already been doing) and it is also likely to be the least carbon-dependent basis of production.  For many new urban areas it is already too late, there is no green space to 'allot'. While it has cost implications for future development if allotments are to be made available at low cost and therefore subsidised by the state (directly or indirectly), it is an opportunity we would be exceedingly foolish to miss.

The second thought is that fruit trees and bushes should be used in 'ornamental' settings.  Perhaps no one is going to want to eat from an apple tree growing in the O'Connell streets in our city and town centres but in suburban and parkland settings there is no reason why this approach cannot be adopted immediately. From planting to 'fruition' obviously takes time so an immediate response would be wise.

Planning ahead on food security is essential.  Planning for a low-carbon world in this case dovetails with what is required to guarantee food for the people of Ireland in the not too distant future. And in planning food security for ourselves we may also be helping food security in the poor world. For all our sakes we should not be forsaking international trade but becoming much more selective in what we do import, and being prepared if we cannot import food at any price or at the right price, economically and morally (in terms of depriving others or in excessive food miles).

Unfortunately the issue of food security is not going to go away, rather it is an issue which will be staying with us for a long time to come. As with all green issues, action now will prevent further pain later on.

Cluster bombs in Dublin By Tony D'Costa
Raytheon is one of the companies associated with the production of cluster munitions. Those who took protest actions against Raytheon as members of civil society in Derry are going to trial in Belfast. But there is no trial or action against those producers and users of cluster bombs who have been responsible for the killing and maiming of children, women and men and destroying their livelihoods for decades. 98 per cent victims of cluster bombs are civilians, not soldiers. Cluster bombs have proven consistently to violate international humanitarian law and a comprehensive ban on these weapons is over due. 

Ireland as a member of the core group of countries of the Oslo process to ban the production, stockpiling, transfer and use of cluster munitions will host a Diplomatic Conference to negotiate a treaty on the subject from 19th to 30th May in Croke Park in Dublin. Representatives from over 100 governments and NGOs from various parts of the world will attend this meeting.

Ireland will not only host the conference but also chair it. There are serious concerns as to the final outcome of the treaty. Will Ireland live up to its strong tradition on disarmament? Will Ireland deliver a strong treaty banning all cluster bombs? Or will it accommodate those countries that would like to ban some, retain the others and produce some new ones?

The concerns in this regard are related to three main areas: Definition, transition period and interoperability.

Definition: The article related to the definition will define what is to be banned. If it catches all types of cluster munitions in the definition, those who wish a partial ban will negotiate exemptions to be included in the definition.

Transition Period: There are a few countries that would like to join the treaty on cluster munitions but would like to continue their right to use some of the weapons for a certain number of years despite knowing the harm they cause to the civilian population. The real ban on those weapons will come after a certain number of years have passed.  This is totally unacceptable. Those countries seeking this provision should join the treaty at a later date.

Interoperability:  US, Russia, China and many other countries are not part of the process and it is most unlikely that they will join the treaty at a later date in the foreseeable future. These countries will have the right to produce and use these weapons. The issue of interoperability relates to the issue of joint military operations e.g. NATO operations,  involving some of the states that have banned the weapons and others who have not. Assistance in the use of a banned weapons by a defence force personnel of a country that has banned them, is normally illegal and is violation of law.  It becomes difficult for a country to use these weapons in joint military operations.  The weapons get stigmatised and their use drops as has happened with the use of anti-personnel landmines.  The user country would like some kind of accommodation of their concern in this regard.

Ireland is hosting and chairing the conference but it is also going to negotiate the treaty as a state. In the statements made by the government  in Dáil debates fail to clarify clearly what is the government's position in relation to specific aspects of the issue. Does it stand for a ban on all cluster munitions including sensor fused weapons? What is the government's position in relation to the issue of interoperability?  Is it the case that the government's position will be what will come of the conference rather than having its own clarified position beforehand? If there are loopholes in the treaty at the end, will Ireland make a stronger legislation banning all cluster munitions like Belgium and Austria? Will Irish Defence Forces be prohibited from participating in joint military operations where cluster munitions will be used? As the government has consistently resisted to enact a unilateral ban on cluster munitions as it had done in the case of landmines, it raises serious concerns for many.

More on our site this month...

We are gradually adding additional materials (from 'Dawn', 'Dawn Train' and elsewhere) to the INNATE website - suggestions welcome.  New to the website this month are the following pamphlets/broadsheets which are in the 'Pamphlets' section as PDFs .

Christian nonviolence - A study pack
Produced by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (Northern Ireland) and Pax Christi Ireland (Belfast branch) in 1993, this 26-page, A4, publication covers a variety of aspects on the topic; starting off looking at the issue, bible studies (Cain and Abel, the Beatitudes, Jesus and his teaching), personal nonviolence, Christians and war, resources (now somewhat dated, e.g. there is no longer a Fellowship of Reconciliation organisation in Ireland), and a liturgy. It is suitable for group or personal use.

Michael Davitt, Land War and Non-violence
Michael Davitt was an important figure in 19th century Ireland and in the transformation of land ownership patterns which began then, and in various socio-political movements. This short, 8-page pamphlet from 'Dawn' magazine No. 50 (1979) looks at Davitt and the Land War, Davitt and Non-violence, and Davitt and Penal Reform.

Bishopscourt Peace Camp 1983-1986
In the Co Down countryside, beside Bishopscourt Radar Base, there was a peace camp from 1983-1986 and this short 4-page broadsheet (which appeared in 'Dawn Train' No. 6, 1988) reflected on its work. As Bishopscourt Radar Base became technologically outdated and unnecessary from the point of view of the British war machine, it subsequently closed, but the peace camp experience was a fascinating one in terms of organising in opposition to nuclear weapons and for peace.

Eco-Awareness Eco-Awareness
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column

Climate Change and Sanity

According to Collins Senior Etymological Dictionary (1934) 'sanity' means sound of mind, sensible, and 'sensible' means reasonable, wise. On the basis of this definition of sanity our collective approach to the various environmental problems we have created is insane.

Most people would feel offended if they were called insane. Yet, this is how Robert Watson, the chief scientist at the UK Department for the Environment, recently described the European Union's biofuel policy. Jean Ziegler, the United Nations' spokesperson on the right to food, called the move to biofuels as "a crime against humanity". The European Union is a part of the body politic we belong to, and there is no washing our hands of any of its policies.

An insanity, that is the foundation of our global economic system, that remains largely uncontested, is the idea that we can have unlimited consumption in a finite world. E. F. Schumacher had a lot to say about this in his now classic book Small is Beautiful (1973). Another insane idea, one that gets people out of bed even on cold wet mornings, is that the more we have the happier we will be. Thus we are schooled, and ever encouraged, to spend the most energetic years of our life working in order to have more, with the 'more' ending up in those grand monuments to our insanity - landfill sites, and in the atmosphere as global warming gasses.

An insanity few are probably aware of is that many loving parents knowingly undermine the ability of the Earth to provide their children with the means of living a long and healthy life through its bounty of clear air, water, and fertile soil. An example of this is parents driving their children to and from school when they could enter a car sharing arrangement with other parents, avail of bus services, or accompany their children by bicycle or on foot. Through acting as if the environment is of no consequence we are condemning our children to lives of utmost misery. A sense of the bleak future that may well await them, one we have engineered, can be found in Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winning book The Road.

A remedy to our collective insanity might lie in interpreting the biblical credo of 'love your neighbour as yourself' to include not only all members of the human family, but the community of living things. As children need loving parents and a caring community, humanity needs a healthy Earth replete with its wondrous biodiversity and the ecosystems we have adapted so well to over the last 10,000 years. More than this we need to feel connected to the Earth, for as Erich Fromm (1955) wrote: "The necessity to unite with other living beings, to be related to them, is an imperative ... on which man's sanity depends."

A notable point about insanity is that when everyone around us is insane our insanity is not apparent to us. In other words, our treatment of the environment is insane but we don't know it.
Copyright INNATE 2021