Synopsis of Mr. Solomonow's Talk
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Allen Solomonow
American Friends Service Committee
Project on the Middle East

10 July 2004
Speaking before the Alameda Public Affairs Forum
on the topic, "Palestine and Israel; What Can Be Done to End the Conflict?"

The two weeks prior to Allan's talk are significant because three things

1) The U.S., trying to impose democracy on Iraq, has transferred some
powers to an interim government.

2) The Israeli supreme court that the Wall (the separation boundary for
Israeli security) must be placed in a manner that balances Israel's
security against the rights, homes, and needs of Palestinians.

3) And after that, on Friday, the International Court of Justice at the
U.N. has found the Israeli Wall illegal.

These two decisions raise the question: What does security mean and how is
it achieved?  Are violence and walls the means to achieve security?

Thirty years ago when Allan visited the Middle East, he found tension,
rigid attitudes, and no dialog.  Joint speaking tours by Israelis and
Palestinians didn't happen.

From the Israeli point of view, Palestinian self-determination (a separate
State was unthinkable) was a code word for the physical dismemberment of
Israel.  The PLO was the epitome of terrorism.  Palestinians were called

From the Arab point of view, Israel was illegitimate and did not exist.
Mentioning the name of Israel in a Arab country was the same as announcing
that you were a spy intent on toppling that Arab government.

There were no voices for peace in the U.S.

Over a generation, mutual recognition was achieved, negotiations held, and
even Yassar Arafat and his critics returned to Israel.

The lesson: Peace is possible is there is a will.  Another, it is not
necessary to finish a task, but it is vital that you not stop working on

The Oslo agreement was signed in 1993.  Most of the world rejoiced.  But no
State, including the U.S. would press for a full and lasting peace.  Yassar
Arafat failed, for his part.  Israelis elected a 'Hawk's Hawk' for Prime
Minister, Arik Sharon.  After the 1983 massacres at Schober and Shatilla
for which he was at least indirectly resonsible, many Israelis felt he
should never hold a post of public responsibility again and he was
dismissed as Israeli's Defense Minister.

Two trends exist now.  

1) We have never been closer to peace.  The Geneva Accords came out of
negotiations continuing after Camp David II. Though national leaders
Clinton and Barach had turned away from a settlement, the negotiators
continued until they were stopped, completing between 2/3 and 80% of a
final peace agreement.  Oslo ushered in a new era.

2) Conversely, the lack of support from the highest levels of government
has allowed the situation to degrade and now the region's conflict
threatens peace as never before.  In addition to the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, every State in the region has potential for violent conflict,
especially Iraq.

Why should we confront the possibility of change in the Middle East?  Why

The Arabs see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as clear evidence of U.S.
intentions for the Middle East.  The conflict is a statement of the kind of
democracy the U.S. wants and how it will achieve it.

After the billions spent by the U.S., how much closer is Palestine to
democracy when it is the most democractic and secular region in the Middle
East?  How secure have we made the region?

The Israeli repression of Palestinians and the vicious response of
Palestinian militants create a vicious circle of violence that must be

Suicide bombing and violent repression must stop.  Halting one or the other
will not be enough to bring peace.  Each side feels justified.  Each
demonizes the other.

Anti-semitism is preventing many Americans from asking questions that
Israelis and Palestinians ask every day. H'Aretz and Gush Shalom offer
exciting discussions that can't be found here. 

How will America pursue democracy?  As demonstrated in Iraq?  Is America
pursuing a course of action advocated by the right wing government in
Israel?  Will Iraq become a caricature of occupation: corrupting, vengeful,
draining, self-defeating?  Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza for
37 years, to achieve security through militarism and intense political
pressure.  No Israeli I know, right or left, feels secure.

More and more Israeli are finding that their government's policies are
reprehensible and do not work.  Were the same policies applied against Jews
in Israeli, Israelis would move to stop it as quickly as possible.

There were far more deaths in the Holocaust but when 3 million lives are
held hostage as they are in Gaza and the West Bank for 37 years, one has to
wonder whether the policy is one of State sponsored terrorism.

Allan details the facts of daily life for Palestinians and the poor
economic circumstances the entire nation of Israel faces and as result of
the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.  The nation is
traumatized by the number of deaths, 1000 Israelis, 3000 Palestinians.

The status quo now only favors the smallest minorities who are those most
opposed to peace and meaningful accomodation, those who have most actively
encouraged violence.

Most Israelis bitterly resent the occupation.  So do the overwhelming
number of American Jews.  But they don't understand how to end it.

Any approach to negotiation is hampered by rigid attitudes.  Allan tells
annecdotes that highlight the problems.  There are peace groups forging
relations between Israelis and Palestinians.  Allan describes some.
Palestinian interest in non-violence is stronger than ever.  Allan names
some of the organizations.  Allan details the case of Rabbi Asherman who
was arrested and prosecuted for protesting the beating of a Palestinian
youth by a soldier.  The trial brought advocates and opponents of the wall
together, both sides drawn from the Israeli military.

A big problem is that ordinary people don't know what the politicians will

Our voices are important.  We can have an effect.  What to do?  Do
something, anything.  Your voice will be heard.  Don't be cowed because
you're afraid some will disparage you.

What about U.S. leaders?  Bush has announced he won't force Sharon to pull
back to the Green Line.  (Since Allan's talk, Sharon has announced that he
will ignore the U.N. court decision that the wall is illegal.) And the
Democratic Party has supported the Republican stand.  Lobby your
Congressman.  All voices, all challenges are important.  Invite one of the
Palestinian community to speak.

The issue must be resolved.  The denial of Palestinian identity means no
less to the Palestinians than does anti-semitism to the Jewish people.
Jews must resolve this problem if they are to oppose their own repression
in history.

"I do not believe there will be peace in the Holy Land until both of its
people enjoy a State of their own, a viable State living in peace, justice,
security, and hope.  Nor will there be peace in Iraq until the United
States learns that there are no good occupations and no involuntary
democracy.  And we will not know security around our globe until the United
States and everyone else understands that the pursuit of justice and peace
cannot be expedited at the barrel of a gun or a pile of nuclear weapons."

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