Peace and other discontents

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Friday, August 8, 2014


IT WAS a sight to behold, one that happens rarely on the staid and antiseptic broadcasts of CNN. Palestinian scholar Hanan Ashrawi and a CNN news anchor were trapped in a debate regarding the unforgivable violence that Israel has brought upon the citizens of Palestine. Between the attempts of the CNN broadcaster to steer the conversation to ahistorical terms bereft of critical analysis, Ashrawi chewed her down by providing the anchor a veritable lesson on the origins and dynamics of Palestinian conflict.

The current play in Western media it seems is to recover the lost legitimacy of the US and Israel before the world stage by reducing the events in Gaza to a tit-for-tat trade of violence between the two groups where both are equally accountable to the carnage that took place the past weeks. In these terms, Hamas and its armed wing are singled out as the culprit for enticing the Israeli army to undertake its offensive. Elided are the root causes of the conflict, as Ashrawi passionately argued, that create the conditions of resistance.

It should be pointed out that Israel has usurped Palestinian territory by force, imposed an economic blockade against the occupied people in their own land, and created conditions for the Palestinian people akin to the concentration camps of World War II where the movement of goods and people are severely restricted but this time for decades.

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The result is a territory of contrasts. On one side of the wall, the gleaming new Jewish settlements on former Palestinian land, while on the other are cramped decrepit spaces where poverty, a kind that is imposed by a more powerful neighbor, thrives. The bombs that Israel let loose obliterating whole communities the past weeks are merely the final touches to the systematic economic and political oppression the Palestinian people have been subject to for decades.

In this context, Hamas, who may not have the popular support of many Palestinians before the recent conflict, has achieved new life as the symbol of resistance. When you see women and children die in torrents of bombs, destroying the homes and communities they have built through painstaking labor, and especially since they have been subjected to this system of apartheid prior to recent conflagration, the distinction between militants and normal citizens become even more porous and fluid.

These are significant points that many Filipinos should consider before they find affinity with the Zionists thinking that these types of Jews are their religious cousins as Christians. The fact is there are more commonalities between us and the suffering people of Palestine.

The social debate that is raging on the crisis between Israel and Palestine provides us an occasion to revisit very similar conflicts in our own backyard. Muslim Mindanao has been our Gaza strip and so are the various communities all around the country under siege by a government that systematically oppresses people to forward elite interests. Following the Western approaches to peace which can be reduced to counter-insurgency tactics actually, many advocates of non-violence in our country endeavor to wish away the root causes of the conflict by assigning equal blame on those who have learned to resist.

But just like the issue of Palestine, the systemic and historical contexts of conflict cannot be wished away. So much blood and anguish have been spilled that is why resistance as a way of life has taken root in many of these communities.

The issue of child soldiers, for instance, has been used to denigrate armed movements without a sober appreciation of the contexts where children are forced to take up arms in defense of their families and communities. However, children cannot be divorced from the condition of their communities and it would not be a surprise that in the wake of the recent violence in Gaza for example, they will surface in a few years as the new generation of Palestinian fighters who will fire rockets and dig tunnels anew against their perceived oppressors.

It is for these reasons and more that the road to peace remains slippery and fraught with many dangerous detours here, in Palestine, and elsewhere. Instead of regarding peace as the mere absence of violence, there is a need to have a deeper appreciation of how violence has become the only recourse of those who have decided to resist.

Much as we would like to end the cycle of violence here and elsewhere, peace cannot be imposed in a regime of systemic violence and oppression. Peace can only be achieved with justice and this, as Ahsrawi and many other activists have pointed out, requires addressing the root causes of armed conflict.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on August 08, 2014.

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