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 word, “Enough.”

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
March 2002

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