Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have been re-reading the fantastic Palestine by the graphic artist Joe Sacco. It chronicles his travels through Israel and the Occupied Territories in 1991 and 1992, during the first intifada. Towards the end of the book, he reports an interesting conversation with two young Israeli girls in Tel Aviv:
We just want to live our lives, okay? We have our lives! We have jobs and families and we go out and live just like you do… We don’t think about this stuff all the time, and we get a bit tired hearing about it!
This reminded me of a conversation I had last year, with some young Israelis (a couple of whom were on leave from National Service) in the gents toilets at 3am in a Haifa nightclub.
“We just want peace!”
Yesterday, Israelis reacted to the Hamas parliamentary election victory in a similar manner. As the celebrations and recriminations surrounding the result continue, we hear many such exortations from all sides, and variations thereon. “We just want peace” or “They don’t want peace” or “they must prove they want peace” etcetera. The problem with all these statements is not that they are utopian or simplistic as such, but simply that they are incomplete.
“We just want peace!” Yes, but what kind of peace? The wish is meaningless, unless it is qualified. A ‘peace’ that leaves Israeli soldiers free to harass citizens of people who are apparently part of a different country? A ‘peace’ that allows institutional discrimination against the Palestinian citizens of Israel? A ‘peace’ that allows thousands of people to live in walled enclaves, without freedom of movement? It cannot mean preservation of the status quo, surely.
The flipside is also true. A ‘peace’ that leaves Jerusalem as a tranquil, Islamic holy city might be the vision for some, but it is likely to leave others quite disturbed. This is because ‘peace’ does not simply mean the cessation of violence, but peace of mind too. People need to feel safe, and Israeli ‘strong-men’ like Sharon or Netanyahu are perceived to deliver this safety… by going on the offence. So it is with Hamas: a strong and organised group who stand up to the injustices visited daily upon a subjugated people. A vote for Hamas is a vote for a momentary peace of mind, a protest vote not only against the corruption of Fatah, but against the occupation itself.
“So they voted in a bunch of terrorists” is a kindergarten response to the result. This is the democratic action of an electorate who wish to reassert their humanity. By this act, the Palestinians say: “I am here, and I still resist!” This is essentially a positive sentiment, even if the current outlet is a militant organisation, capable of atrocious acts. It is now up to everyone to channel this sentiment into something practical. If not, the vote will have been a pointless excercise, and the peace of mind it brings will be a transient thing, lasting only as long as it takes another gun to fire or a bomb to explode.
I’ve just found a great blog, Raising Yousuf by a journalist living in Gaza. I’m pleased to see she also speaks of people wishing to throw off shackles of oppression:
‘For 6 months, [the man] has been chasing the PA for some medical compensation, and hasn’t received a penny “while those nobody’s travel around in their BMWs. ” “Is that fair? tell me?” Why did Hamas win? Remember, said the man: “The feeling of oppression is a very powerful factor.” ‘