The language of peace and the language of justice
Hasan Abu Nimah, 29 September 2010
Introduction by Racheli Gai of Jewish Peace News:
Hasan Abu Nimah describes how judicious distortion of language, based on “imported terminology, often crafted in Israel and disseminated by influential Western media, officials and think tanks, and by some Arab quarters and media under their influence”, has distanced people from real understanding of what the Arab-Israel conflict is about.
Since, writes Abu Nimah, “Israel has never stopped “begging” for peace and for unconditional negotiations with its “enemies” to reach it, it must be the Arabs who obstruct peace, because they put preconditions, such as a stop to settlement building and insistence on the right of return for Palestinian refugees which, according to Israel, is tantamount to ending its existence.”
“Peace talks”, in search of “peace”, don’t only replace efforts to find justice, but actually help hide the fact that while endless talking is going on, the land in question keeps disappearing from under Palestinian feet, to be used for further building of settlements.
Following the signing of the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty, and while serving as Jordan’s ambassador to the United Nations, I was invited to talk to a group of students in Manhattan. After the talk, I was approached by a young man who asked if he could follow up on some of the ideas I had presented.
“Why should Israel give the Arabs parts of its land in exchange for peace?” he asked quite sarcastically. I immediately realised that he was referring to a phrase that had gained much popularity at the time, “land for peace”, and which I must have used in my presentation.
It was not that easy for me to explain that the land Israel was supposed to give in exchange for peace was actually Arab land occupied by Israel and the “land for peace” formula simply meant that if Israel agreed to withdraw from just the Arab lands it occupied in 1967, a comprehensive peace settlement of the historic conflict would be accomplished.
“You should have said it that way,” my questioner said quite sternly, and added: “I think most of those who were present needed such an explanation.”
He was absolutely right.
That happened 14 years ago, during which I have largely refrained from using the misleading term “land for peace”. Its popularity, however, has remained. The term sounded, and still sounds, appealing, but in reality it is dangerous.
The departure from accurate terminology and the adoption of misleading formulas has been quite systematic and deliberate – a way to change perceptions of what the conflict in Palestine is about and how it can indeed be solved.
With the passing of time, the desired results were largely realised. Large sectors of people worldwide have been safely distanced from the real attributes of the conflict; and so have many Arabs, especially the youth.
The adoption of imported terminology, often crafted in Israel and disseminated by influential Western media, officials and think tanks, and by some Arab quarters and media under their influence, has contributed substantially to allowing such deceptions to take root.
One barely detects these days much mention of the need to end illegal Israeli occupation of Syrian or Palestinian land, in accordance with the strict provisions of international law as a necessary (if insufficient) condition for reaching peace. This kind of language is considered dangerous and harmful because it correctly places the blame and responsibility on Israel as the illegal occupier of Arab lands for decades.
So instead of clear language, we hear vague, comforting terminology such as the “search for peace”. This language suggests that the problem is the missing peace – which perhaps was accidentally misplaced – not the missing justice and the missing rights, not the expulsion and near-eradication of Palestinian society to make way for the Zionist state, not the violation of international law and total disregard for all UN resolutions affecting Israel, not the constant violence and threats Israel has used to impose its will for so long.
The “search for peace”, like the “peace process”, disguises and ignores all such aspects, leaving one goal to be achieved: “peace”. And since Israel has never stopped “begging” for peace and for unconditional negotiations with its “enemies” to reach it, it must be the Arabs who obstruct peace, because they put preconditions, such as a stop to settlement building and insistence on the right of return for Palestinian refugees which, according to Israel, is tantamount to ending its existence.
We have reached a state where facts and history have been turned upside down. Israel, which continues to illegally occupy large areas of Syrian territory since 1967, a great source for water supply and precious real estate for colonisation, tourism and wine factories, is viewed as the victim of Syrian aggression. Syria should not be allowed to import arms or to take any action in the direction of regaining its lost territory. This would be considered by the “international community” as a threat to Israel, a call for terrorism and a punishable crime under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.
This constant emphasis on the values of peace simply suggests that we do not want peace because we are not yet aware of the advantages and the great benefits of peace. We need to be taught such values, so that we appreciate the meaning of peace, just like the “civilised” Israelis do, so that we, Arabs, stop obstructing it.
On this basis, we have heard the constant refrain that if only Arabs taught their children “peace” instead of “hate” and “anger” towards Israel, everything would be just fine. The problem, we are told, is within us, and not with Israel’s brutal aggression towards us.
Many speeches are often full of praise for peace, full of commitment to spare no effort towards achieving peace “that would benefit all the peoples and the states of the region with no exception”. Our emphasis on peace is the password for getting into the good books of Western supporters of Israel, not because they themselves are so concerned about peace but because this is the safe language that replaces any talk about Israeli occupation and aggression.
Praising peace as a detached slogan is the litmus test for assured acceptability. It also is an easy escape. Similarly, everything that suits and serves Israel is labelled as “pragmatic” and “realistic”, while anything that fulfills the rights of Palestinians or Arabs is termed at best “idealistic” and “unrealistic”, but more usually “radical” or “extremist”.
So, nowadays asking for Israel to respect human rights and comply with international law is considered a very “extremist” position. This is why those blessed as “moderates” by Israel and the United States rarely make any mention of international law.
The departure from accurate language has travelled so far that it has even led to the replacement of the United Nations by the ad-hoc Quartet (US, EU, Russia and the UN ), and by various peace plans and summits: “Annapolis”, the “roadmap”, “Camp David”, the “Bush vision”, “Sharm El Sheikh”, the “Geneva Accords”, the “Clinton parameters”, the much awaited and so far empty Obama vision and the many other “understandings” along the long road of a “peace process” which will never be allowed to conclude.
The current “direct negotiations” have been resumed on the same vague and meaningless basis. And they will end like the others, in failure, because they do not address the need for justice; indeed they have been designed to avoid the requirements of justice. And on the ground, things will continue to worsen.