Article by Ogarit Younan.
Ogarit Younan is the co-founder, with Walid Slaiby, of the Academic University for Nonviolence and Human Rights (AUNOHR) www.aunohr.edu.lb in Lebanon. Ogarit was the recipient in 2006 of Pax Christi International’s peace prize.
She publishes this article Gaza Now at CNI where she presents 8 points to reflect in relation with the conflict.
Beirut, October 15, 2023
Under the weight of pain, and without any introduction, I present you with these eight points, so that we can reflect on them together.
This is not a plan of action, although it specifies the urgencies of the moment, nor is it an innovative strategy more than necessary in this historic conflict, but rather a text of reflection, written during the first week of the October 2023 war.
- Our humanity, our humanism, above all
“Remember your humanity and forget the rest”. This quote from Bertrand Russell reminds us of our morality and ethics. Politics, for its part, must combine ethics and efficiency. But the further efficiency moves away from ethics, the more it tips over into violence, and even begins to justify it.
We’re talking here about our conscience, which the nonviolent thinker Henry David Thoreau – pioneer of the concept of “civil disobedience” – describes as the “supreme law”, which is radically incompatible with violence. So it’s how we position ourselves in the face of violence, of all violence, that remains the fundamental question of our humanity.
In a conflict, how is it possible to take into consideration the victims of one side and not those of the other? How can the opposing sides each count their dead, while rejoicing in the losses inflicted on the other? Are human beings schizophrenic when it comes to murder? Our humanity is one and indivisible. The principle of conscience is paramount; then comes political analysis, so as not to sacrifice the former for the latter. But during the Gaza war, human beings the world over did not always live up to their conscience.
- An Immediate Ceasefire. Urgent common goals
We demand an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, the complete lifting of the siege of Gaza, not just permission to deliver humanitarian aid. At the same time, the Israeli hostages must be released, the bodies of the deceased handed over to their families and, at the same time, all Palestinian prisoners held in Israel for years must be freed immediately.
These objectives must be achieved jointly and urgently, before it’s too late. To this end, we need to put pressure on both sides to show good intentions: it’s not just a question of ending this war, but also of working together to find a lasting solution to this conflict.
For Israel, the United States and their allies, freeing the hostages is an absolute priority, whatever the cost. As a father in search of his son, sure of his right, will enter Gaza with indiscriminate and murderous bombardments as do the heroes of ruthless Hollywood movies, find the hostages, and the whole world will justify the deluge of fire that has fallen on the Palestinian enclave and turn a blind eye.
As for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and their allies, they claim to carry out their actions in the name of Palestinian resistance, with the aim of saving Gaza and freeing Palestinian prisoners. But wisdom would dictate that they should be thwarting Israel’s designs and goals of destruction, preventing it from massacring civilians, taking new prisoners and displacing the population of Gaza, whose only horizon is day-to-day survival.
Our role is to transform the justification for war into a human cause to stop the war, on behalf of the hostages and prisoners.
Insist on a ceasefire, without any conditions; human life is beyond all conditions. Stop the evil. Seize the moment.
It’s not a question of raising the banner of victory, especially as that would be over a heap of corpses! Louis Lecoin (1888-1971), the French nonviolent activist, declared: “If it were proven to me that by waging war, my ideal had a chance of being realized, I would still say no to war. Because you can’t build a human society on heaps of corpses.”
- Let’s not forget that the occupation of Palestine is at the root of the problem
We are at the beginning of the eighth decade of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and no just solution has yet been found. Aware of what is at stake, Nelson Mandela once said: We all know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians…Palestine is the greatest moral issue of our time.”
The supporters of the creation of the State of Israel – namely the West and its allies, who have allowed it to establish itself in place of Palestine, its land and its people – support its constant expansion and do not recognize its status as “occupier”. This is an immense denial of justice. They have, moreover, been joined by certain Arab countries. By giving supposed justice to the Jews, they have given injustice to Palestine. This state of affairs, the fruit of British colonial policy, of European guilt over the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis, but also of base economic interests, has led to the disaster we know today. Crushed by Israeli expansionism, the Palestinians have paid a heavy price: murders, arbitrary arrests, humiliations, population displacements, expropriations, fragmentation of what was left of their land… And today, Gaza!
The only solution is by going to the root of the problem.
What ignited the conflict on October 7 was not a military breach, a new group of prisoners, a hospital whose groans shook the world, nor “Hamas” or “Yoav Gallant and Benyamin Netanyahu”, nor even the siege of Gaza… It was the occupation that was the fundamental cause.
As for today’s horrors, it’s clear that violence can only beget violence, and each time leads to a further decline in the prospect of peace and a fragmentation of the problem. Can’t we see that, since 1948, no solution has been found, and that the conflict and its violence continue unabated? This is an existential and strategic question. It calls for an innovative idea.
- War on and “by civilians”.
The scene is lost between the thirst for violence, its exploitation and the aversion to it. Unfortunately, despite all that has happened, the thirst for violence persists and grows. Fortunately, and perhaps because of the horror of all that is happening at the moment, the refusal of violence persists and is growing.
In the logic of war, civilians are used as “tools” and are no longer human, but mainly “weapons “and targets for the adversary. No matter if they are destroyed, human beings are no more than “things”, as the French nonviolent philosopher Simone Weil denounced: “Violence is that which turns anyone who is subjected to it into a thing. When it is exercised to the end, it turns the human being into a thing in the most literal sense, because it turns him into a corpse.”
There are so many supporters of the just cause of the liberation of Palestine all over the world who are left to struggle nonviolently. If we don’t, we’ll be accomplices in this strategy that turns civilians into things. Especially since “violence believes it destroys evil, but it is itself evil”, as Jean-Marie Muller (1939-2021), the French philosopher of nonviolence, pointed out.
- The political result is the question
The political result is both the question and the goal. In nonviolent struggle, “The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree”, as Gandhi put it. Whereas in violence and Machiavellian politics profess that the end justifies the means, and take cruelty to the extreme.
Israel’s supporters assert the country’s right to defend itself, to strike and destroy Hamas. They are ardent promoters of the idea that it is the political outcome of the battle that counts, despite monstrous events such as the invasion of Iraq based on lies, despite al-Qaeda, the Taliban, September 11, ISIS etc.
Hamas and Hezbollah supporters claim that, once again, they are drawing the line of force between the main players, the USA and Iran, that they have brought the Palestinian question “to the forefront” in an unprecedented manner and so victoriously. The reality is that the death toll in Gaza is rising daily, and these horrific losses will determine the political outcome. It’s true that the Palestinian question is front-page news in every media outlet, but at what cost and to whose benefit?
As for Iran and the USA, have we paid attention to their measured parallel statements and balanced tone!? “They are in an existential partnership, within a cross-fertilization of evil“, wrote Walid Slaybi, the nonviolent Arab thinker, in his book Forces of Death, Forces of Life. We trust neither the parties of violence nor those violent powers whose real aims we do not know. The political outcome we aspire to is one that will restore rights, justice and peace for oppressed peoples.
- Two violent camps, based on religious ideology, currently lead the ring of combat.
How can we accept the existence of a state based on occupation, apartheid and a religious doctrine that claims “superiority”? Israel’s early circles included extremist politico-military organizations and militias, such as the “Haganah” and successive Zionist organizations, even if today the country defines itself as democratic. How can we support the existence of Palestinian politico-military organizations, such as “Hamas” and other similar organizations, based on a fundamentalist religious doctrine, even if it defines itself as a national resistance?
It is these two camps that are now waging the war of October 2023, backed by the USA and Iran.
So we are faced with yet another dilemma, namely the violent theocratic nature of the policies pursued by the protagonists of the conflict: on the one hand, the rise of extremists in Israel, and on the other, the control of the Palestinian resistance by extremist forces. This in itself is an obstacle to any possibility of a just peace solution.
For our part, we reject the violence of all parties and the terrorism they exercise, we reject violent ideologies in the name of religion or any other doctrine, and we reject the perverse manipulation – by hegemonic countries, Western and non-Western – of peoples and their aspiration to just causes.
- We cannot equate the violence of the oppressor with the violence of the oppressed. We do not justify any violence.
Here are a few quotes from Walid Slaybi, who has written extensively for nonviolent resistance in Palestine:
*”The oppressed look ‘equal’ to the oppressor the moment they use violence and allow themselves to be unleashed.”
* “The fact that the violence of the oppressed results from anger and despair, in the face of oppression and humiliation, is something we understand, without justifying it. But for violence to be ideologized and become a policy, an approach to thought and life leading to its glorification, is an extremely dangerous matter.”
* “I don’t see violence achieving a just goal. For one simple reason, not because it can’t win in one battle or another, but because it first defeats the one with the just cause. A noble cause requires noble means. It can be said that the moment of maximum military victory over the adversary is the moment of maximum defeat of the resister by violence. The adversary has been defeated militarily, the resister has been defeated humanely, violence has triumphed.”
* The violence of the oppressor serves the oppressor’s purpose. The violence of the oppressed also serves the oppressor.”
*YES TO RESISTANCE, NO TO VIOLENCE.
- We are not doomed to unilateral violence. The responsibility of the nonviolent.
Violence exists. Nonviolence exists. We are not doomed to unilateral violence. So there is hope.
We lose all logic if we describe each side as though they follow absolute direction. For example, “All Israelis are violent racists who reject peace, favor occupation and the elimination of the people of Palestine”; or “All Palestinians are violent militarized extremists who reject peace and advocate the disappearance of Israel.”
Our prime duty is to bring together the nonviolent forces, both individual and collective, in Palestine, Lebanon, Israel and throughout the world, to highlight their voices and to accelerate this process, so that the image that is most widespread is not that of violence. We know that the majority who await solutions other than through means of destruction, including those who are currently suffering the destruction, prefer a nonviolent solution, and at least, disfavor a violent solution.
The moment is now crucial. Walid Slaybi asserted: “We are not in a world where violence has won, we are in a mode where nonviolence has not won enough yet.”
The Palestinian cause continues to falter, even regress. Until now, the Palestinian territories have been referred to as “occupied Palestine”, and we hope that a situation of peace will put an end to this appellation, in favor of “Palestine” for short.
The Palestinian people have, of course, the right to revolt against injustice. But we want it to be nonviolent. As Albert Camus wrote in L’Homme révolté: “ I rebel, therefore we exist. The rebellion is limited to refusing humiliation for the self without asking for it for the other.”