How Peace Came To The Middle East
by Austin Repath
During the early decades of the 21st Century, there were
years in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict too painful and discouraging
to count. Like two exhausted fighters unable to disengage, both sides
continued to pound one another. Daily the Palestinians confronted
the Israeli army with stone throwing, or in some cases in pitched gun battles,
accepting with an angry pride the causalities inflicted. As frequently
as they could manage Hamas sent in suicide bombers which in turn took their
toll in human life and suffering. For the Israelis, living in fear
that one’s life or one’s children might be killed or maimed when they least
expected it became the controlling fact of life.
And in seemingly endless unproductive acts of retaliation,
the Israeli army would push its way into the Palestine territory, bulldozing
houses, barricading roads, killing suspected terrorist leaders in the hope
of eliminating this threat to life. Unfortunately such raids more
often than not resulted in the killing or maiming of Palestinians, often
children, and in actual fact only making matters worse. For a while
there was outright war. So it continued for years without end.
Yet all of humanity longed for peace in the Middle
East. For reasons not fully understood the resolution of this conflict
was central to peace itself. In the Western mind, it seemed that
the linchpin for peace anywhere in the world was the reconciling of the
Israelis and the Palestinians. If peace could be achieved here, like
a domino effect it would happen around the world. At least that seemed
to be the unspoken assumption.
And it had almost happened. In that heady
optimistic fall of 2000 the US president had all but nudged, cajoled, bullied
both parties into signing a peace accord. So close, the world held
its breathe, but it was not to be. Always it seemed for one side
or the other, it was not enough. And so the two sides remained gripped
in a soul destroying confrontation that neither could win, but both could
wound and demoralize -- endlessly.
However, there had been one development that had sprung
spontaneously from the people, which, as odd as it seems, sowed the seed
for the peace that was to come. Late in the Twentieth Century some
boys started throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. Stones against
guns, boys against soldiers: it took everyone by surprised. How does
a soldier with a gun respond to a kid throwing stones at him?
However, it was great television: a David against Goliath,
a little guy-big guy drama. Within a day the world press had it on
the front page. For weeks afterwards. every evening news program
opened with stone throwers. Unfortunately, it proved to be a marvelous
piece of propaganda. Even better when the soldiers began shooting
back, killing and maiming Now there was a daily supply of youthful
martyrs to enflame the patriotism of young Palestinians.
It went on for years, the endless ritual of killing
and maiming, mostly of the young on both sides. By the end of the
first year of the 21 Century, the official death count was 600 Palestinian
dead, 250 Israelis dead. This was before the horrors
of the following year. But what was not publicly released was the
untold number of injured and maimed. It has been estimated that even
back then the injured were approximately 15 times the number killed. One
source estimated that the number of wounded was approximately 20,000
Young people in the thousands, wounded by rubber
bullets, limbs torn off by bombs, bodies scared by shrapnel, facial disfigurements,
eyes ripped out, This was the bitter fruit of the Intifada, ignored
by the media, forgotten by the public. Hidden away by their families,
these youngsters grew into disillusioned, embittered adults.
And this number rose year after year until by the
end of the second decade of the 21st Century, their numbers were estimated
at over a quarter of a million people who were now well into their thirties.
Forgotten, despondent souls doomed to live their lives with no honour or
acknowledgment beyond that they had been maimed for the cause. They had
little or no future, except as wards of a bankrupt state or back room inmates
in family homes.
Although I speak mainly of the Palestinians, the
situation was not that much different among the Israelis. So many young
people had been maimed and mutilated by bombs engineered to tear flesh
and disfigured. Although no official count is easy to come by, it
can safely be estimated to be in the tens of thousands. Lives and
hopes and dreams cut short by a suicide bomber. Forgotten casualties of
an endless dispute that had become an accepted way of life, these young
people were the price, paid for one’s principles and beliefs.
Then something happened as unexpected and spontaneous
as the first group of kids throwing stones at armed soldiers. No
one is quick sure how it started. The story is told of an uncle and
a cousin of an eleven year old Palestinian boy, Rahim. One day Rahim
decided he wanted to join the Intifada. His mother talked the two men into
going after the boy. Both had been badly hurt years before.
The uncle had lost an eye. The cousin had had his hip shattered by
a bullet. Reluctantly they had made their way to the place of stone
throwers and soldiers. “Enough, Rahim, come home with us,” they cried
out, trying to make themselves heard above the shouting and the shooting.
The young boy pretended not to hear.
The next day his mother went to the house across
the way and cajoled another Intifada veteran who had lived in a back room
with his brother since his scars had made him prefer his own company. He
agreed to joined the other two.
And so the story went. Rahim was her only
son. She was not going to give him up to any hopeless cause.
And the following day maybe there was half a dozen of these “veterans”
standing on the side lines, shouting to be heard over the din, “Come home.
Your mother wants you to come home Enough of this.” Rahim refused
to listen to them..
People say that his mother went to every household
in Gaza where there were wounded veteran of the Intifada and forced them
to see how the fight had simply destroyed their lives, given them nothing
but misery. And for what good had it done them or for that matter
what good had it done anyone, let alone the cause of Palestine self rule,
she argued. Thus she managed to get a few more to join the group of yesterday
heroes shouting at her son that enough was enough.
Rumour has it that a reporter from a local newspaper
did a story praising young Rahim’s determination to be a front line warrior
despite the efforts of “his relatives” who were described as a maimed
and useless collections of misfits.
This might have been the real beginning. No
one knows for sure. It could simply have been word of mouth or anger at
being described as misfits. However, the days that followed saw the
group swell to hundreds. And in the weeks that followed it was their
voices that dominated the youthful taunts and the sound of gunfire.
These hurt and unhonoured boys now grown into men, these left over remnants
of earlier Intifadas found in their number that grew with each passing
day, a courage they had forgotten they had.
“Enough” became their battle cry. This army of limping,
maimed misfits almost beside themselves with the wasting of life and limb,
with the stupidity of this fighting that had robbed them of any normalcy,
shuffled out into the middle ground between the two sides. They filled
this no-man’s land with a blanket of reproach and demand. Raising
their voices filled with a fierce and righteous anger, they spoke but one
Some Palestinians were aghast that this symbol of
the courageous resistance to Israeli occupation was being smothered by,
of all people, the veterans of that very Intifada. Needless to say
the Israelis did not much like to see paraded in front of them the seemingly
endless causalities that had accumulated over the years from their attempts
to hold at bay an angry and hurt people.
Neither side had any idea of how to deal with this
ragtag army, living witnesses to the pain and suffering of the endless
conflict These misfits now in the thousands would shuffle, mute and
silent, between the two sides, a human blanket smothering the battle.
In the streets they would swarm the tanks, immobilizing them in a sea of
their flesh and blood. Then swaying and moaning until, as if from
some unknown signal, with one voice they proclaimed their truth, “Enough”.
There are moments in human history when the tide
of human compassion drowns out all other voices. This was one of
them. Each night on the evening news, people around the world watched
the drama unfold, watched as more and more people joined in this ritual
of protest. At first it was the wounded and the maimed. Then others
joined with them. Palestine women who had lost children and husbands,
men tired of the endless roadblocks, old people who had lost all sense
of worth and dignity.
Then there was the unexpected appearance of Israelis.
Those who had been maimed and disfigured by suicide bombers came to march
with their counterparts from among the Palestinians. For they too
knew that this was their moment as well. Then came the mothers and
fathers. After that came those who simply wanted to live in peace,
to share the land, to put an end to the violence. The multitude swelled
until the space between the combatants filled with the hurt and pain of
all humanity crying out to be heard.
The evening news telecasts were filled with pictures
of Palestinian mothers walking arm in arm with Israeli mothers. All had
had enough of the violence. They wanted peace, and they wanted it
now. Some commentators called it an Intifada of peace. Whatever it
was it captured the soul of the people and gave voice to the vast majority
who wanted an end to the plague that was destroying the soul of two great
peoples. And they got what they wanted.
For long ago the general terms of an acceptable
peace had been agreed upon, but there had never been the political will.
Now there was the will of the people, and it would not be denied.
And so there came to pass, not a perfect peace, but one that both sides
could live with. Not an immediate end to the bombing, or the retaliatory
attacks, but a beginning of the end of conflict
There was once more hope in a troubled land.
There would be a future where a young Rahim would be schooled in computer
technology rather than stone throwing. A future where his younger brother
might be scolded by an Israeli mother coming home from a visit with a Palestine
friend she had made as she had walked arm in arm with during the "uprising”,
as if came to be called
The following year the veterans of the Intifada
who had initiated the “uprising” where nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In the same year in many of the troubled parts of the world, groups of
people spring up chanting “Enough” and in many cases they were able to
pressure the opposing parties to work out a compromise. This
was enough for some commentators to begin talking about a domino effect.
by Austin Repath
Posted with permission