Day 2: Suspicion sets in
Day 2 provided a pre-conference opportunity to listen to a lecture setting out a Palestinian perspective on history and experience. The welcome was warm and the lecture was delivered with clarity and good humour. The stories told invoked a certain understanding of the world which drew from me a feeling of suspicion. Whether this is a good or a bad thing remains to be seen. The experience took me back to my attendances at the West Belfast Festival. There, as an Ulster Prod, I found myself sitting in a story which I did not share. But it was always, and it is still so, a story that elicited the sympathy of the world. In that sense the Festival has always had a seductive character to it. I contrast it to my experience among loyalists and unionists when the talk is often more desolate. The contrast is between optimism and despair, between a sense of people being on the same page or people being divided as to the way forward. So in Bethlehem I was glad of the difficult person in the audience who challenged the speaker and took him to task. That person was treated with the greatest respect but I still wondered if that came from a deep sense of the Palestinian perspective being the right perspective.
All of that said there are things happening here, and I write as a learning outsider, which are quite staggering in their capacity to diminish human beings – the loss of land and the building of walls inside the agreed line thus depriving Palestinians of land they were supposed to have, the checkpoints that treat people inhumanely at times, the number of people leaving Palestinian communities to go somewhere where there is greater opportunity, the delays in issuing permits which leave Palestinians uncertain about travel and so much more. I am reminded that unless people can look into each other’s human experience and see it for how it is experienced then there is little chance of embedded peace sustained into the future.
The history is bloody and filled with loss. Whether it be the 1948 catastrophe, the 1967 six-day war, the first or second Intifada, or the 2009 Gaza War or Massacre, there is little to be proud of, it seems to me. I am reminded again that there are no glories in violence. In Northern Ireland we sometimes speak of the rewards for violence and how abhorrent they are, even if they are made in order to achieve peace. But even with that there are no glories in violence. There may be moments that are used to craft a story of identity and success that communicates the lie that these glorious moments give glory to violence. Years on the continuing loss, injury, psychological suffering, community breakdown and dehumanising behaviour speak loudly in voices that tell us there are no glories in violence. Yet we can continue to believe the lie. Hence I have become suspicious of any history or any telling of history which is not significantly critical of violence as a means to achieve an end or of any telling of history that entices outsiders onto one side or the other. And that is not to deny the facts that go with those histories, they have to be respected along with the human stories.
Vera Baboun, the first woman to hold the office of Mayor of Bethlehem, spoke proudly and well about peace. Peace, peace, peace. All that we do has to be about peace. Tell the world Israel has a partner for making peace. Here she took the words of Rabin who, at the signing of the negotiations surrounding the Oslo Accords, said that there was no partner for making peace. Baboun speaks out to grasp the opportunity for making a new history. She invites a response to the call.
Baboun’s call is a reminder that none of us can make peace on our own. Peace is made with enemies and perhaps that is why I am uncomfortable with one history being told. Unless the enemy is present and willing to make peace, unless we are present as an enemy in other stories and willing to make peace there, then peace is not possible. Peace is always made when enemies are willing to partner one another and disrupt one another’s suspicions.