NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES: 36 communions of faith joining hands and voices to express the love of Christ

Home  About the NCC  |  Education  |  Justice  |  Public Witness  |  Unity  |  NCC News  |  Directory  |  Search  |  Make a Gift

An Open Letter to Yasser Arafat
by Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. 

          See also:  Will The Voices of Peace Be Heard? -- an article by Jesse L. Jackson

You know, better than anyone, that another crossroad has been reached in the long struggle for peace and justice in the Middle East. Your call this week for reform and new elections for the Palestinian Authority shows that you realize the need to take the initiative. I urge you now to take an even bolder step -- to call not simply for the end to the terrorist bombings, but for a new commitment to non-violence as the means to achieve Palestinian statehood.

Terrorist attacks can destroy, but they cannot build. They can generate fear, but not hope. They can revenge past injury, but cannot rebuild future prospects. In the end, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, leaves everyone blind, toothless and bloodied.

Palestinians cannot gain a state by terrorizing Israelis. The current wave of terror bombings demonstrates that. The result is that Ariel Sharon and the Likud Party are more popular, and as a fearful people, demand retaliation. The Likud Party votes openly to reaffirm its opposition to a Palestinian state. Sharon defies President Bush in erecting even more conditions, to even entering into negotiations. Israel's "assassination policy" continues to target Palestinian leaders. Israeli attacks on Palestinian cities, launched as reprisal for the terror bombings, caused massive loss of life, and the destruction of a social, economic and political infrastructure. The terror bombings isolate you internationally. No world leader can defend terror attacks on innocent civilians. No one can witness the pictures of death and destruction without shuddering in revulsion. Violence offers no way out.

Non-violence provides a far more effective strategy. The world community recognizes the legitimacy of your aspiration for a Palestinian state. The US has already agreed that it should include part of Jerusalem. World opinion -- indeed the opinion of Israeli military leaders - calls for a rollback of the settlements and an end to Israeli occupation.

Non-violence establishes the moral legitimacy of your cause. Non-violence requires discipline and training. It speaks to hope for the future, not hate of the past. It engages the young, not in individual acts of despair, but in collective actions of hope. Terror bombings appall the world community. Non-violent resistance will engage that community and force it to respond.

Palestinian statehood and Israeli security are two sides of the same coin. The one cannot exist without the other. Terror bombings generate hatred, fear, distrust and insecurity. Non-violent resistance recognizes the humanity of your opponents. It challenges their moral sensibility, not their military capacity. It forces them to recognize your humanity. And because it demonstrates your discipline, your commitment, your love of life - it lays the basis for co-existence rather than co-annihilation.

In the segregated South, blacks lived in a form of occupation. They had no rights. Segregation was enforced by the boot, the club, the sheriff's dog, the terror of the Klan in the night. But after the struggle for equality, blacks and whites still had to live together.

Dr. King argued that non-violent resistance was the only effective way to confront the evil of segregation and racism. It demonstrated the nobility of our people and the justice of our cause. It garnered us allies across the nation and the world. It addressed the better angles of our oppressors, showing them that our willingness to suffer pain exceeded their willingness in inflicting it. It strengthened the voices of decency and isolated the voices of hatred.

Non-violence is not passive suffering. It is an action strategy. It actively resists repression. It actively challenges the occupier. It actively disrupts business as usual. Non-violence is not a coward's path. Non-violent demonstrators must face anger, violent responses, beatings, jailing and worse - and be disciplined enough to not respond in kind. For the Palestinians, non-violence may be the only road to statehood now. It will demonstrate the nobility of your people, and the justice of your cause.

It will win you greater support across the world. It will raise hope among your enemies and lower their fears. It will strengthen the voices of peace and decency in Israel, and isolate the voices of hatred. Non-violent resistance will make it impossible for Sharon to sustain his assassination policy, his no-talk policy, his settlements policy. Over two decades ago, we met and I asked you what you wanted to build. You said then as you say now that you seek "real freedom and complete independence in the state of Palestine, with Jerusalem as its capital."

You said then that you did not want to drive Israel into the sea. I urged you then to speak clearly about Israel's right to exist, that surely was a precondition for international support of Palestine's right to independence. Now, I urge you to go a step further. To turn the passions of your people to bold, non-violent protest and resistance. I assure you it will hasten the achievement of the goal that you have pursued all these years.

05-19-02 Tribune Syndicate

Related articles:

Two prominent Palestinian Christians, a Baptist and an Episcopalian, propose non-violence as a Palestinian strategy.
Will The Voices of Peace Be Heard? -- an article by Jesse L. Jackson

National Council of Churches Home Page