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Will the Voices of Peace Be Heard?
By Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

             See also: Open Letter to Yasser Arafat by Jesse L. Jackson

In the Middle East, the Israelis and the Palestinians are locked in lethal embrace. Attack generates reprisal and reprisal generates new attacks. Neither can afford to let the other go. Violence generates more violence; terror generates retaliatory terror.

Yet the reality is that the vast majority of people on both sides of the conflict want to live in peace. The vast majority suffers from the violence. Israel's occupation and offensive has laid waste to what little infrastructure there was in the Palestinian territories. But Israel's economy too is in ruins, crippled by terrorism, fear and the costs of violence. Both sides have become so focused on the means of waging the conflict - terror bombings against assassination policies, suicide strikes against surgical strikes - that they have lost touch with the end that both desire: security and peace. And this end requires, inevitably, that they live next to one another in peace at the end of the day.

In the American South under segregation, the costs of repression and occupation burdened the entire South. Its economy was backward; its education system crippled; its attractiveness blunted. You can't keep a person in the gutter unless you lay there with him.

What saved the South was a non-violent movement, led by a figure from the church, Dr. Martin Luther King. It broke the cycle of violence and hate. It allowed the two sides locked in the gutter of segregation to fund a way out - without killing one another.

Similarly in South Africa under apartheid, repression generated violent reaction that generated more repression. It was a figure of the church, Bishop Tutu, who waging non-violent protest transformed the way the world, and ultimately the South Africans viewed the situation. Again, a non-violent movement pointed the way out. And Nelson Mandela, upon his release from prison, understood and took leadership in that movement of forgiveness and reconciliation. An unimaginable transformation took place without violence.

Now in the Middle East, leaders of the church must be heard, calling for a new movement of non-violence, showing a way out for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Non-violence calls upon the best, not the worst of the opponent. It appeals to the others' humanity, not the others' animal fears. It demands sacrifice, but in the cause of life, not of death. It challenges not the force of arms of the opponents but the depth of their conscience. Non-violence engages world support rather than revulsion.

Too often, the advocates of violence dismiss non-violent as soft, as passive, as an acceptance of the unacceptable. This is wrong. Non-violence involves active resistance, hard discipline, and an urgent sense of "now," as Dr. King put it, of an unwillingness to accept the unacceptable any longer. Violence locks people into hatred and revenge. Non-violence unlocks them and forces them to look within themselves, forces them to see the humanity in those that they hate.

The advocates of violence often dismiss non-violence as ineffective. In fact, non-violence is the most effective way out of the current situation of spiraling horrors. It is far from clear whether the Palestinians could agree to build a non-violent resistance, and have the ability to sustain it. But there is no question in my mind that non-violent resistance to Israeli occupation would build a massive majority in Israel for peace, for negotiating a Palestinian state, and for removing the settlements that are a major impediment to that negotiation.

Non-violence forces the occupier to see the humanity in the occupied, but that is not all. It forces the occupied to recognize the humanity and appeal to the morality of the occupier. It redeems both sides even as it challenges the inhumanity of the current situation. For Israelis, Palestinian recognition of their humanity is vital if there is ever to be sufficient security in Israel to embrace independence for the Palestinians.

After the recent eruption of violence, the Middle East has returned to another cycle of attack and reprisal, of terror and counter-terror. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gains popularity, even as he adds new preconditions to negotiation. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat gains popularity, even as the suicide bombs continue. Another round of destruction and death is unavoidable on the current course.

Now it is time for moral voices to be heard, for the voice of moral leaders to demand a non-violent movement of resistance and protest. Protest against the violence, resistance against the oppression. If they were successful in building a non-violent movement of protest, they would win support from across the world, and from the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians who in the end need the same end: security, independence, economic development and peace.

05-26-02 Tribune Syndicate

Related articles:

Two prominent Palestinian Christians, a Baptist and an Episcopalian, propose non-violence as a Palestinian strategy.
An Open Letter to Yasser Arafat, by Jesse L. Jackson

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