[As the Gush Shalom email team was in Malaysia attending the "Peace in Palestine" conference you only now get Uri Avnery's weekly column & the weekend Gush ad. But first, the press release about the conference.]
Pressure rather than violence
Press release, originally published by Gush Shalom spokesperson Adam Keller from Kuala Lumpur, March 31, and quoted on the Israeli radio.
What made this conference different was that it wasn't just a gathering of NGO representatives, but that there was serious governmental interest on the part of the host country: "The government of Malaysia considers the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the continuation of the occupation a phenomenon endangering not only the Middle-East, but the entire world, as it tends to deepen the hostility and suspicion between the United States and the Muslim World. Therefore, Malaysia is going to take a high profile involvement in an effort to end the occupation and the conflict" said Abdullah Badawi, the prime minister of Malaysia, in a conversation with members of the Israeli delegation. The occasion for the conversation was the festive dinner given by the Malaysian PM to more than 500 civil society delegates from 34 countries, gathered at the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur for a three-day conference on peace in the Middle East.
The five representatives of the Israeli peace movement at the conference - Adam Keller and Beate Zilversmidt of Gush Shalom, Adi Dagan (Women's Peace Coalition), Gershon Baskin (IPCRI) and bereaved father Yitzhak Frankental of the Arik Institute - received tremendous interest from the moment of their arrival at the conference, both from delegates, and from the Malaysian media and several days there were appearing interviews on the main Malaysian newspages and TV broadcasts.
Since Malaysia is a Muslim country which has no diplomatic relations with Israel and usually does not accept Israeli visitors, a special procedure was needed for the five who were met at Bangkok airport by representatives of the Malaysian embassy to arrange visas.
The participation of Israelis at the conference was said to be one of the reasons for hardline Muslim opposition groups not to attend. The issue was also raised in a press conference where the Foreign Minister answered that the government of Malaysia distinguishes between the Israeli peace movement and the government policies. The government of Malaysia is committed to a peace agreement involving an end of the occupation, and the creation of an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as capital, and the representatives of like-minded Israeli groups are welcome in Malaysia, but diplomatic relations are out of the question as long as Israel continues to occupy and oppress the Palestinians.
At the conference itself there was an intensive discussion of the ongoing plight of the Palestinians, especially the disastrous effects of the wall, with experts providing maps, diagrams and photos. The conference hall also saw some fierce debates on issues such as the one-state against the two-state solution, and the armed struggle vs nonviolence.
Dr Mahathir Muhammad, who was prime minister of Malaysia until a year ago, invited the Israeli delegation to meet with him at the research foundation he heads. During an hour-long meeting he told them that he had met with the late PM Yitzchak Rabin in 1994, and that during the Oslo period he had planned on a gradual warming up of relations with Israel, but that these plans were shelved with the collapse of the peace process.
The conference set out a Plan of Action with the double aim of pressuring the Israeli side to fully end the occupation and not let the Gaza Disengagement be an end in itself. On the other hand the Palestinian side is also urged to fully adhere to the norms of international humanitarian law in the conduct of its resistance to the occupation. This point was underlined by a keynote speech by Dr Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi who mentioned ways in which his grandfather's experience is applicable to the Palestinian cause.
The conference resolved to set up a Malaysia-based institute to coordinate activities of civil society Palestinian solidarity groups, focussing on the Third World. Among the causes of action was mentioned: boycott of such multinational companies as Caterpillar, which produces the D-9 bulldozers which weare used by the IDF to demolish thousands of Palestinian homes in the past four years. Also considered were campaigns and popular pressure in Third World countries to stop their governments from buying Israeli arms and military equipment nor invite Israeli instructors to train their armies and security services. Such selective economic pressure was considered a better means than violence for the Palestinians to achieve their liberty.
Adam Keller +972-3-5565804
Adi Dagan 972-52-3575526
Beate Zilversmidt +972-3-5590321
Gershon Baskin 972-2-676-9460
Yitzhak Frankental 972-54-6602369
Jinn in the ballot box
April 2, 2005
Hebrew / עברית
We were gazing over the roofs of Cairo through the windows of an elegant, modern office. My companion was a scion of the local aristocracy and one of the founders of Egyptian Marxism.
“We must ally ourselves with the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.
I was amazed. “But you are a completely secular person!” I exclaimed. “You are striving for a modern society. What do you have in common with those religious fanatics?”
“We Marxists have no roots among the masses,” he sighed. “The Muslim Brothers do. We must ally ourselves with them in order to reach the masses.”
I remarked that this had already failed in Iran, where, for the very same reason, the left-wing Tudeh party had allied itself with Khomeini before the revolution, only to be liquidated by him once he was in power.
“We have no choice,” he said.
This conversation took place more than twenty years ago. I was reminded of it this week, when I saw what is happening in Egypt now.
The Western (and, of course, Israeli) media publish enthusiastic reports about the demonstrations for democracy and against the regime of Husni Mubarak. Some of the demonstrators are leftists, but most of them are Islamic militants and their sympathizers. The police have made extensive arrests of political activists, most of them Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
There are no signs that the Mubarak regime is about to fall. He did promise that in the coming presidential election other candidates may stand, but that was said mostly to placate President Bush, who is desperately claiming that his invasion of Iraq inspired a democratic awakening throughout the Arab world. In practice, there is no chance at all that the situation in Egypt will change. No serious candidate will be allowed to stand against Mubarak.
But let us assume for a moment that Mubarak is compelled to give up his intention of having himself reelected, and that truly democratic elections take place. In this hypothetical situation, who would win?
One of the plausible answers: the Muslim Brotherhood. They have, as mentioned, deep roots among the people. Their infrastructure has a history of fifty years and more. The Egyptian upper class, which is secular, liberal and open to the world, may find itself suddenly under the yoke of religious fanatics.
This dilemma exists in most of the Arab countries: in truly democratic elections, the Islamic forces will win – forces that completely reject the vision of a secular, democratic and liberal state that Bush talks so much about.
Such an experiment has already taken place. Algeria had democratic elections. In the first round, it became clear that the Islamic forces were poised to win a resounding victory. The army intervened and prevented the second round. This resulted in a vicious civil war with hundreds of thousands of victims. Now, years later, some compromise is being sought.
In the Iraqi elections, of which Bush is so proud, the Shiite-led Alliance has achieved an impressive victory. It is under the authority of a religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Hussaini al-Sistani, who is in total command. Fortunately, he is very different from his colleagues in Iran, the neighboring Shiite (but not Arab) country. Unlike the Iranian Ayatollahs, who rule their country, al-Sistani believes that the religious leadership would suffer damage if it were directly involved in political life. But he, too, wants the state to be subjected to Islamic law.
For the time being, this objective is meeting with resistance. In order to attain the required 2/3 majority for the election of a president and the promulgation of a constitution, the Iraqi Shiites need the support of the Kurds, who are overwhelmingly Muslim Sunnis. The Kurds want autonomy verging on independence, and they object to the imposition of Islamic law. The result so far: no president, no constitution, everything hanging in the air.
In neighboring Turkey (another Islamic but not Arab country) some years ago, an Islamic party won the elections. When it started to enact Islamic laws, the army intervened and kicked it out. The Turkish army considers itself the guardian of the secular teachings of the great Ataturk, the founding father of the modern, very secular Turkish state. In the last elections, a much more moderate Islamic party won. It is moving very cautiously, partly because it wants to be accepted by the European Union, which is rather wary of its first Muslim candidate for membership. The enactment of religious laws might result in the gates of the EU being slammed in Turkey’s face.
In almost all Arab and many other Muslim countries, there is a real possibility that in free elections more or less extreme Islamic parties would win. The present dictatorships in so many Arab countries – Libya, Jordan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, among others – present themselves as a bulwark against fanatical Islamic forces.
We have already seen that democratic elections do not necessarily result in the election of democrats. The classic example is Germany. The Nazi party came to power through the democratic process (even though it never achieved 51% of the vote). A party like the Afghan Taliban could come to power through free elections, and then impose an extreme Islamic regime, oppress women and persecute opponents.
The elements of democracy – multi-party elections, free election campaigns, unimpeded access to the media – do not, in themselves, assure the victory of democracy. That necessitates a proper social environment, the strength of democratic values in the public mind, acceptance of majority rule and the safeguarding of the rights of the minority. In the absence of such a reality, elections are an empty vessel. The jinn of Islamic fundamentalism may emerge from the ballot box, much as the demon of Christian fundamentalism leapt out of the American ballot box.
What is the situation in Palestine? There is a great enthusiasm for democracy. It was not born after the death of Yasser Arafat, as many seem to believe. Already nine years ago, truly democratic elections took place in the territories of the Palestinian National Authority, as attested by international observers led by ex-President Jimmy Carter. But the dominant personality of Arafat and the concentration of executive power in his hands reduced the visibility of that huge achievement.
Now, new elections for the Legislative Council (the Parliament of the Palestinian Authority) as well as local councils are about to take place. For the first time, the religious Hamas movement will take part and is expected to do well. As in many Muslim countries, the religious party appears as a body with a strong social commitment, untainted by corruption. To this must be added, of course, the aura conferred by armed resistance to the Israeli occupation. (The name Hamas is formed from the Arabic initials of “Islamic Resistance Movement”.)
I believe that the participation of Hamas in the elections is a good thing. Palestinian society itself must decide whether it wants a democratic-secular or a religious future. I hope, of course, for the victory of the secular forces. But I am convinced that the Turkish example is preferable to the Algerian one, that the integration of religious forces in the democratic process is preferable to their violent suppression. Integration can moderate religious movements, oppression will radicalize them.
(That was proved in our country, too: the integration of the orthodox Shas party in the democratic system was beneficial, while the rebellion of the Jewish fundamentalists - the settlers and their allies - against the democratic system may have grievous results.)
The outcome of the entire process in the Arab countries may be very different from the picture painted by superficial Western “thinkers” like Bush. Arab society is different from Western society and Arab democracy will not be a carbon copy of Western democracy.
To quote a great Prussian monarch on the subject of religious tolerance: “Everybody must seek salvation in his own way.”
English online version:
Gush ad in the weekend Ha'aretz
The Gush Katif settlers who are willing to leave are unable to do so.
Because as of now – 115 days before the date set for the withdrawal -
there is yet no one to decide upon their compensations, and no one to pay them.
On the other hand, everything is done to enable the opponents of the withdrawal to
gather their forces and increase their threats.
It seems that Sharon is interested in creating as menacing an atmosphere as possible.
In order to “prove” to the Americans that it is impossible to dismantle the outposts
and freeze the settlements in the West Bank, as he promised President Bush.
SHARON REMAINS SHARON.
March - April
TEDDY KATZ - New Historian / Gush Shalom Peace Activist
to speak in different towns in Canada, US and Mexico
23-city schedule + contact data at:
photo Halifax, Nova Scotia:
(if you have good eyes you can see Teddy wearing the Gush Shalom t-shirt)
Truth against Truth - reconciling opposite views on the history of the conflict in 101 steps
Hebrew / עברית
An Arab translation exists and will soon be available from the Gush Shalom site
Contacts where to obtain a translation into Spanish, Dutch, Finnish or German [and please tell us about more!] via
Boycott List of Settlement Products (newly updated)
Now also with list of settlements
Hebrew / עברית
Billboard for Israeli peace activist speakers abroad
--you would like to make a speaking tour?
--you need an Israeli speaker for your peace organization?
--your itinerary is final?
Send your ad and find the right contacts
This could also facilitate joint invitations.
Palestinian olive oil, new harvest - contact Hava Keller
!שמן זית איכותי
מיוצר באזור חברון. המחיר, לשני ליטר - 50 שקלים
(תרומה נוספת תתקבל בברכה)
חווה קלר - 03-5227124
High quality olive oil!
Produced in the Hebron area. Two liters - 50 Sheqels
(additional donations appreciated)
Hava Keller - 03-5227124
Weekly updates from the peacenewsletter The Other Israel (TOI-Billboard):
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http://www.gush-shalom.org/arabic/index.html (selected articles in Arabic)
http://www.gush-shalom.org/russian/ (Russian site started with flash presentation)
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\\the weekly Gush Shalom ad
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