Justice First, Peace Later

The conference for which we’ve gathered today must focus on human rights and injustice. It must tell the stories of people. Otherwise, it’s pointless.

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Israeli Peace Now activists protesting in Jerusalem on May 15, 2010.
Israeli Peace Now activists protesting in Jerusalem on May 15, 2010.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

The conference being organized by Haaretz in Tel Aviv on Tuesday is about peace, but I’d like to train the spotlight on a different subject. As the cliché goes, I want to talk about justice.

“Peace” has been the mantra of the Israeli left for over 30 years. The left even took to calling itself “the peace camp.” That camp fell apart because the idea of peace is an empty one, and it isn’t the solution to the conflict we find ourselves embroiled in.

Peace is a term from the world of international relations – war and peace. As in: Yesterday our peoples were enemies, but today, thanks to some people who convened at some conference in a European capital, we now have peace.

This is a bourgeois utopia, trying to settle every unpleasantness with respectable lawyers. Peace turns everything into a business transaction: You give me the Nakba and I’ll give you the Wailing Wall; let's cede Ma’aleh Adumim in exchange for cash.

I want to speak about justice. Justice is a term from the world of human rights. After a 100 years or more, the solution here must come in terms of justice. The "knights" of peace were never too interested in the victims of the conflict on either side.

I had the opportunity to be present at a press conference with Tzipi Livni just before the last election. She spoke of her two-state vision, of the need for a Jewish and democratic State of Israel – otherwise, she said, we’d be just one state with all that implies. Someone present asked her why she didn’t use the word "occupation." She said that wasn’t her way. Since then, I’ve been attentive every time I hear her talk about the peace process. She has yet to let that word slip.

Justice, for example, would be Benjamin Netanyahu, as prime minister, recognizing that Israel is an occupier. Time and again, Netanyahu demands that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state. But is he willing to recognize what has been going here for the past 47 years? Is he willing to recognize that three to four million Palestinians (forgive my inexact demographic data) have been subjugated to the whims of the Israeli army? Is he willing to pay reparations for the thousands of dead and injured, for many of whom death was far more unjust than what occurred on the deck of the Marmara, which took part in the 2010 flotilla protesting Israel's siege on Gaza?

There are perhaps historical reasons for the conflict, but it has been fueled in recent years by human reasons. There is virtually no one in Israel without a friend, or brother, or colleague, or distant acquaintance of some sort who was killed or injured in a war or terrorist attack. There is no one who hasn’t feared for their life, either from a suicide bomber or a rocket. Among our neighbors, there probably isn’t a single town square without names of the departed carved into stone memorials, or a single person without a friend or relative who was jailed in Israel, or beaten by a police officer.

In order to achieve peace, first we must achieve justice. The following immediate steps must be taken. Settlement lands must be returned to their owners. Massive amounts of funds must be allocated to improve infrastructure in Palestinian areas, to make it comparable to Israeli infrastructure. Injustices done in the name of Israel must be recognized. War criminals must be put on trial. Palestinian political prisoners must be released. All Palestinian acts of violence must be stopped.

Reconciliation councils got to work after apartheid ended in South Africa. People were given space to tell their stories. To recount their injustices, their negative acts. Black and white, police and prisoners – all documented their deeds. They put extended their hand to the other side. They didn’t hide behind free elections or the new president.

Reconciliation in South Africa has held strong, because there was a real process there. Here, without recognition of the suffering, without such work and summit meetings, without differentiating between justice and injustice, sinning and making amends – there won’t be peace.

A peace made by politicians’ agreements will end up like the peace made with Lebanon in 1983.

The conference for which we’ve gathered today must focus on human rights and injustice. It must tell the stories of people. Otherwise, it’s pointless.

The articles that appear in this section have also been published in Hebrew and Arabic

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