On March 4, 2003, the Palestine-Israel Journal held a roundtable
discussion at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem on the subject
of violence and its alternatives. The participants were Mr Mohammad
Abu Harthiyyeh, a human rights activist and director of the
Jerusalem Center for Human Rights; Giora Goren, a member of the
Council for Peace & Security, who served in the Israeli Air
Force for 30 years and was director of the Rabin Center and the
Diaspora Museum; Nura Karmi who coordinates women's programs for
Sabeel, the ecumenical liberation theology center in Jerualem; and
Gaby Lasky, a lawyer, former director general of Peace Now and
currently legal adviser to the Public Committee Against Torture.
The moderator was Susan Collin Marks from Search for Common
Ms Marks: The violence of the past two and a half years has
had a profound impact on both Palestinian and Israeli societies. It
has not led to peace and the cycle of violent conflict has
escalated. The purpose of this roundtable is to examine the impact
of the violence and to explore alternatives to get out of this
mess. I know all of you feel passionately about the situation - I'd
like to ask you how the violence of the past two and half years has
affected your community and your own perspectives.
Mr Abu Harthiyyeh: In the past four or five months, I've
heard of many groups coming to the occupied territories to propose
alternatives to violence, especially those who believe this
violence has only led to bloodshed with no political results,
pacifists and those who advocate civil resistance. I have always
believed that resorting to violence should be the last option, the
last tool, for resistance. I read Gandhi a long time ago, when
Palestinians were working in political parties advocating armed
struggle, and questions were raised about using other alternatives.
I thought Gandhi was a pacifist who did not believe in any form of
violence. But I read a sentence of his that has stayed in my mind,
stating that if he had been asked to choose between oppression and
slavery or violent resistance, he would have chosen violence.
About two years ago, I met his Holiness the Dalai Lama and had a
long discussion with him. The topic was stereotyping Palestinians
as terrorists, and whether he considered the Palestinians' armed
struggle to rid themselves of occupation as terrorism. At the end
of the conversation, he said, "It's very difficult." I think he
meant if any people were as oppressed as the Palestinians, and if
the resistance had no other tools, they might have chosen
Ms Marks: What you are saying is absolutely key to this
discussion. However, I think we need to look first at the violence
and its impact before we go to the alternatives.
Mr Abu Harthiyyeh: The most important thing is to define
violence. To define it by blood alone is unfair. Violence, for me,
is not only the tanks, it's also the bulldozers.
You spoke about the past two and a half years of violence. But the
previous seven years of peace also contained violence. If you see
the bulldozer as a tool of violence, then you see the expansion of
settlements and the doubling of the number of settlers and
settlements as the greatest violence. The occupation didn't start
two and a half years ago. It started in 1967 and there has been
this kind of violence ever since. And, since 1967, the Israelis
have not allowed any political movement to use non-violent means to
resist the occupation. We were never allowed to resist the
establishment of a settlement without coming home with a body or
two, or 10 people injured and 20 in prison and then the demolishing
of houses. A peaceful demonstration, a march towards the tanks in
Ramallah, is met by soldiers who don't try to stop you with
civilian tools geared towards a civilian population. They use
rubber bullets that kill and have taken out many eyes, tear gas
that has long-term effects and tanks that instill fear in adults
Ms Lasky: I want to go one step further with regard to the
definition of violence. Everything that derives from occupation is
violence - closures, seizures of land, deportations, closing
schools, not allowing teachers to reach schools, letting the
settlers harvest the Palestinians' olives, illegal settlements,
by-pass apartheid roads, etc.
Ms Marks: How has this affected you and your
Ms Lasky: Within Israeli society, we see the erosion of
legal, moral and democratic rules and values. Take a soldier as the
symbol of Israeli society. When he crosses the Green Line, he also
crosses into a new set of rules and moral values that he's allowed
to use. For example, illegal assassinations can be carried out.
This is something that is not considered permissible inside Israel
but is permissible when you cross the line. When this soldier
crosses the line and returns to Israel, he brings with him this new
immorality, this new anti-democratic thinking that implies that the
rule of law does not exist for non-Jews, that there is apartheid,
that there is a difference between Jews and non-Jews. As a result,
Israeli society is losing its moral ground and democratic values,
and there is no rule of law.
When there is a party [Likud - Ed] whose primaries were conducted
under the gross shadow of criminal activities and people still vote
for that party, that means the moral ground of Israeli society is
eroding in such a way that these things are not taken into
Ms Marks: I am hearing some sadness and real passion in your
voice when you speak about these things. Tell me what it feels like
to you, to have that happen to your society.
Ms Lasky: When we think about violence, we think about
blood. Of course I am sad about the blood shed by Palestinians and
Israelis. But the living are left with things that are very
deep-rooted in society. Israeli society's moral and democratic
rules are deteriorating. There is no respect for the rule of law
anymore. That means that, if the day comes when there will be peace
with the Palestinians and a Palestinian state beside the State of
Israel, I no longer know what kind of state Israel will be. Will it
be a democratic state?
We always talk about the democratic reforms the Palestinians have
to undergo. Don't the Israelis also have to undergo democratic
reforms? If we allow the construction of illegal settlements in
occupied territory (for me, all settlements are illegal) and even
this very right-wing government recognizes some settlements as
illegal - and we send soldiers in to guard those illegal settlers,
then what are we teaching our children and our society? That
everything is allowed and that violence is the only way to solve
That's why we see more violence against women today. All violence
within Israeli society derives, in a way, from what we are doing in
the occupied territories.
Ms Marks: You expressed a lot of anger and passion here.
What do you feel about this, about your country?
Ms Lasky: I feel that all the energy we are now putting into
trying to fight the Palestinians should be redirected inside our
own society to try to make it a better place.
I am the legal adviser to the Committee Against Torture, and we
know that torture is once again being allowed against Palestinians.
It's also used against Israeli Arabs. And then it's going to be
used against leftists or women. Israel is becoming a society where
only very few people are going to be able to live as free
Ms Marks: Nura, again, the question is - how has this
violence affected your community and your perspectives over the
past few years?
Ms Karmi: First, I'd like to thank Gaby because she spoke as
I would have spoken. It is very true that occupation is violence -
I call occupation evil, which is even worse than violence.
Violence is a new phenomenon in Palestinian culture. As an
educator, this is one of the things that really bothers me. During
the non-violent resistance of the first Intifada, I clearly
remember the soldiers and the horses trampling us when we were just
marching very peacefully. There were many sit-ins when the army
came in with tear gas, etc. I rescued small children in refugee
camps when they were shot at by Israeli soldiers.
So violence is definitely part of the story. But when does violence
begin? Is it when civilians respond to harm done to them by an
army? We have lived under oppression for the past 36 years, and we
know that the violence did not start in our society.
Violence is a new phenomenon in our culture, and I would hate to
see it dehumanize the Palestinians. We have been forced to accept
this dehumanization, forced to become violent. I'll give you a
concrete example. Last week, while we were standing on a site where
land was confiscated, we called Reuters to film how the bulldozers
were working away quietly on the Israeli election day. And, because
it was election day, the response from the media was that, since
the event did not involve Palestinian violence or the Israeli
election, they didn't care.
Ms Marks: Don't you think that the violence of the suicide
bombings is having that dehumanizing impact on your society?
Ms Karmi: Suicide bombing - I know if it is seen from a
different perspective - it can be seen as the main cause we don't
have peace today. But the Israeli, Professor Avishai Margolit,
wrote an article about this and said that suicide bombings
constitute just half a percent of Palestinian resistance. That half
percent is shaking both Israeli and Palestinian society
When any Palestinian expresses joy at the killing of others, this
is a warning sign for us to question what we are doing and where we
are going. This is a genuine concern of Palestinian society today.
Do we exist only when we commit acts of resistance that are the
same acts the Israeli soldiers use against us? Acts that cause us
to be labeled terrorists?
Ms Marks: Giora, the same question - the impact on your
society and your perceptions of this violence?
Mr Goren: You get different answers when you ask that
question immediately after a suicide bombing or after a clash in
one of the cities or settlements, on either side of the border. I
think the most important question is the impact of violence on
society, not from a personal point of view, but from a political
point of view.
Just recently, we had the greatest poll possible - an election. And
the reaction to this violence - and Israeli society looks at it,
rightly or wrongly, as a strategic tool to reach strategic goals -
has been to move toward more extreme positions. The left was nearly
crushed, and Israeli society moved toward a harder line.
I can't accept that any other definition of violence equals the
violence of killing people. I know there is a lot of evil in this
world, and in democratic countries we have poor people, we have
injustice, etc. But we try to set rules about unacceptable
behavior. We have political struggles, all kinds of means for
dealing with a situation. Even the Oslo process was a means of
dealing with the situation, to try to solve this conflict, to start
a process that might take a decade or a generation, to bring us all
to a different destination.
For years, I have advocated pulling out of the West Bank and
dismantling settlements and so on. But taking all this into
account, I am not able to judge the occupation on the same
The use of violence, of killing people, was an earthquake in the
peace process, in Israeli society and in Palestinian society.
Palestinian society has to ask itself whether this method was right
or wrong and I'm sure there is a bitter debate about what kind of
approach to take, violence or civil resistance.
I think this is the main question. There is no doubt that Israeli
society - even many on the left - interpret the use of violence as
a strategic tool rather than as a necessary step. Israeli opinion
is that it is not used for the sake of a two percent difference in
the negotiations. It is used for achieving major strategic goals,
though there was no clear declaration of what they were. There was
a bitter discussion within Israeli society - not only between
Palestinians and Israelis - about the future of the West Bank and
Gaza Strip and there was a clear trend toward more concessions.
When I say concessions, I'm not talking about concessions to the
Palestinians, but concessions by the Israelis with regard to their
dream. There was, and is, an Israeli dream and a Palestinian dream.
By concessions, I do not mean that I am doing the Palestinians any
favors. I am trying to find my way in this place and to make
concessions in my dreams, and this is probably even more difficult
Ms Marks: With regard to the strategic aspect of violence,
would you articulate how you see the Israelis using violence as a
Mr Goren: Occupation was a wrong strategic decision but it
didn't necessarily have a direct connection to violence. Israeli
strategy was to reduce violence. If the occupation had functioned
easily, there would have been no need for violence. I am not saying
the decision was the correct one, but the Israeli strategy was not
dependent upon violence. On the contrary, the rejection came from
the Palestinians, and I would say rightfully so.
Ms Marks: Nura, taking this conversation a bit further, what
is the impact of this violence on the conflict and the chances for
Ms Karmi: There is something much deeper than violence in
the conflict, a lack of justice that cannot be denied - there is an
occupation, there is everything that Gaby mentioned that we are
living daily, and that is the root cause that has led to this
The chances for peace are becoming smaller and smaller. There is no
goodwill. Unfortunately, we have not seen goodwill from the Israeli
governments so far about a willingness to continue to the end of
the process. The process did start, but, simultaneously, Israeli
plans and strategies continued. The minute you start speaking about
peace, why do you need new by-pass roads and new settlements? They
are still being constructed today.
The balance was tilted from the very beginning. As long as the
Israelis do not see the Palestinians as equal partners, as human
beings who have the same rights in this land - and maybe some of us
even more so, if you go back to the roots - as neighbors to be
respected rather than to whom everything has to be dictated, all
these so-called concessions will not lead to peace.
The equation started out on the wrong footing. Thank God there are
people who can today sit and talk to each other - or even shout at
each other if we have to. But there is also a tendency to ignore
As an educator, I always feel there is a need for re-education. So
much harm has been done to both societies, so many mistakes have
been made that now our children only know Israelis as soldiers.
This is the truth. There is no other way for the Palestinian child
to perceive the Israeli behind that mask of the man who harasses
his parents at the checkpoints, throws down his mother, destroys
his home, and then says it's all justified because the Palestinians
are resisting. I say the ball is in the Israeli court and not the
Ms Marks: A very strong feeling has come out again and again
that the occupation is the source of the violence. I don't think
this conversation will have enough credibility if we don't also
talk about the impact of suicide bombings on Israeli society. If we
want this conversation to have an impact, we need to talk about
that, as well.
Mr Goren: A few months ago, I met a =group of Israeli Arabs
from Nazareth who are going to be traveling to Auschwitz, and I was
very impressed by their spirit. I know it might be a naive way of
dealing with the situation, but their spirit was very interesting.
Their core philosophy is to try to understand the roots of the pain
of the other side. Why did the Israelis, after 1967, move in this
direction and not another?
As a young pilot just prior to the 1967 war, I remember the great
existential fear in Israeli society, even among the pilots who were
well trained and very confident. Israeli society was not in a
panic, but close to it.
Ms Marks: But what's the impact of Palestinian violence on
Israeli society today? What is its impact on you, on people in
general, on the community? What are people feeling?
Mr Goren: I think the first reaction is sadness and anger.
The second is to wonder, what are the real reasons behind this
struggle? Is the real reason the 1967 border, or something far
beyond that? The Israeli interpretation is that the real reason is
far beyond the 1967 border. This means there is a lack of trust
between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and every explosion
serves to further diminish trust.
Ms Marks: What I am hearing from you, Giora, is that the
violence is bringing out an existential fear in people about the
survival of Israel. You said, "They want more than 1967." What did
you mean by that?
Mr Goren: That the overall Palestinian goal doesn't end at
the 1967 borders, but far beyond that. We're talking about the
existence of the Jewish state, a return of the refugees.
Ms Marks: So there is a real profound fear here.
Mr Goren: Of course. There's a one-to-one connection. I
cannot say that all those who send these suicide bombers really
think in this terminology. But it doesn't matter what they think.
What matters is the interpretation. It doesn't matter what I think
about the Israeli use of power against the Palestinian side. What
matters is the Palestinian feeling about it. And I understand that.
I have a great sympathy with those feelings, even though I'm not
able to experience them. And if I'm not able to experience it, that
means I'm not fully able to understand it. I can use my imagination
and try to understand, but I'm not able to experience what it is
like to live in the Occupied Territories.
Ms Karmi: What the Palestinian suicide bombers are doing
with these acts is telling the Israelis that we can reach anywhere.
We are there. As long as you don't recognize us and don't want us
to have a state, Israel can claim that it's establishing security,
but they must also know that we can reach them anywhere.
This is what the Palestinian suicide bombers are demonstrating by
their actions. They are not saying that they want to take over all
the land. In 1988, we already said we accepted the State of Israel.
But Israelis will not have security as long as they don't want to
give us our state.
Ms Lasky: One of the things that happened to Israeli society
because of the suicide bombers is that the trust the Israelis had
in the Palestinian people during the peace process was completely
shattered. The perspective of the Israeli woman or man in the
street - not of activists - is that, "We accepted the Oslo process.
We went with Barak and accepted whatever he wanted to give at Camp
David. But Arafat was the one who didn't accept Barak's offer, and
then, strategically or tactically, started the Intifada, answering
with violence the offer presented by Barak."
Of course, there are a lot of problems with this argument. I don't
agree with most of it. But you have to understand that this is one
of the main issues for the Israeli public - the issue of trust. We
went a very long way. The Palestinians didn't like it. And instead
of continuing the talks, they started the violence. Again, the
Israeli peace camp had a very big problem because we didn't know
how to explain what really happened at Camp David. President
Clinton didn't help us, but the Palestinians didn't help us,
either, when they opened fire.
Ms Marks: How do we move beyond this to stop the
Mr Abu Harthiyyeh: It's very easy. We should not start from
scratch. Going back into history is starting from scratch. We have
turned this page. For them, there was a dream to take Palestine.
For us, there was the reality that we lived here. We recognized two
states for two peoples. We recognized each other as people. We said
these are international borders that are agreed upon. Jerusalem
should be the capital of two states or two capitals for two
Let's start from law. I agree we should end occupation. The way I
understand international humanitarian law is that occupation is
usually in order to achieve a political gain. You occupy a country
to push the other side to sign an agreement. This is why you do it
- one month, two months, six months, two years. But this is a
prolonged occupation of 35 years.
Second, if you respect the protections set out in the Geneva
Conventions, then you won't see illegal settlements, collective
punishment, exploitation of natural resources, a Palestinian
economy totally attached to the Israeli economy by force, and
400,000 Palestinian workers - not laborers, but slaves - on the
other side. By putting an end to all these violations, you put an
end to the occupation.
Law should be respected. But how do you make Israelis respect
international law? Without international protection, beginning with
monitors who will say after their first report that there is a need
for protection, the Palestinians will continue to send suicide
killers into Israel and Israelis will send tanks into refugee
Ms Marks: So international law is one way.
Mr Abu Harthiyyeh: The first important measure is to give
both sides the feeling of security again, to give both sides the
feeling that the international community is again interested in
solving the conflict in the region.
The second thing is that someone should say that war criminals will
be punished so we will not see another soldier killing someone in
their car who is just trying to find a way to work, claiming he was
escaping from the checkpoint. You have to teach the soldiers on the
Israeli side that they can't just shoot anybody. They will be
criminalized not only in Israeli courts, but also in France,
The third thing is a feeling among Palestinians that the
international community cares, via the solidarity groups that come
here. Why do people resort to violence? Because they want to
achieve their goals. If they can be achieved easily, without
bloodshed or violence, why resort to violence? Give Palestinians
the hope that they will achieve their aspirations for an
Ms Marks: Let's talk about these alternatives. You mentioned
particularly civil responsibility and non-violent action. What
about non-violent action?
Ms Karmi: What we have seen so far, both in Palestine and
Israel, are sporadic non-violent movements, whether it's the
Israeli peace groups or on the Palestinian side. There has not been
a really structured non-violent movement. There has been a lack of
planning on both sides, and this requires planning. We lack leaders
on both sides. We lack a Nelson Mandela, a Mahatma Gandhi. Not that
you can't find such people on both sides, but I don't think anybody
has the courage yet to take the lead.
Personally, I am a very non-violent person. I believe in resistance
against occupation, but totally non-violent resistance. I could
give a thousand examples of non-violent actions that Israelis
perhaps don't think of. The courage to stand at a checkpoint for
hours, every day, to improvise ways of continuing life every day,
these are examples of non-violence.
Another example that nobody thinks about is the thousands and
thousands of Muslims who stoop down and pray in the middle of the
streets. Maybe the world does not see that as non-violent action,
but it is. So the seeds of non-violence are definitely there in our
society. I think a non-violent movement is a greater threat to
Israel than the violence. They would not know how to deal with
non-violence. I think that could be our strongest weapon now.
Ms Marks: What do you see as the advantages of non-violence? You
are personally non-violent. What do you see as the advantages to
society of adopting a non-violent, as opposed to a violent,
Ms Karmi: To start with, you do not destroy the structure of
your society. You do not become immoral. If you care about
preserving principles and moral values, they are there. You could
cultivate a better, saner, safer generation, and a place where
people would not only claim to be democratic or hold democratic
values, but would really live those values.
Ms Marks: Very clearly put. Thank you. Gaby, what do we do
to end the violence and what are the alternatives?
Ms Lasky: I agree with Nura that non-violence would be much
more threatening to Israel. We can see that the first Intifada,
which was non-lethal, led to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and many
people in Israeli society, to completely change their way of
thinking and to accept the necessity of a Palestinian state beside
Israel. So I do accept that a non-violent movement on the
Palestinian side would pose a very difficult threat for Israelis.
They would not know how to cope with it.
One of the most important things that can be done, without waiting
to change the entire society, would be to immediately bring
international troops into the occupied territories. International
troops would have two different tasks. One is reforms and
democratization, as in East Timor. There, in addition to military
personnel, civilian personnel were sent in by Australia to help
develop a civil society. International assistance could be provided
that would help with reforms and democratic transition inside the
Second, if there would be some kind of non-lethal technology, as
well, that could pose a barrier between Israel and the
Palestinians, Sharon could not insist on the cessation of all
violence before Israel will begin talking. The international troops
would have the task of not allowing any kind of violence from
either side. That is one of the most important things that can be
done, and quickly.
Militarily speaking, Israel is much stronger. When violence is used
against Israel, Israel feels it's fine to use violence back. And
Israel knows how to use violence. It knows how to fight violence
with violence. And since Israel has more power than the
Palestinians, it means, in that sense, that it is winning.
But if the Palestinians stop using violence towards Israel, Israel
could not easily return non-violence with violence. How could
Israel retaliate? The only way would be to go back to the
negotiation table and make an agreement. But if the government did
not want to take that path, and would continue to use violence to
respond non-violence, it would result in terrible pictures on CNN
of peaceful Palestinian demonstrations in Nablus and Israeli tanks
responding with lethal force against those demonstrators.
Then the world will try to force Israel into an agreement that
Israel could have agreed upon on its own before using force against
peaceful demonstrations. Israel is a macho military society. It
knows how to use macho military talk. If somebody were to come to
Israel using a different language, a non-violent language, I'm not
sure Israel would know how to respond.
Ms Marks: If we are looking at alternatives - and
non-violent action is an alternative - do you see Israelis
embracing this, adopting this, engaging in non-violent action
Mr Goren: It was probably impossible for Yasser Arafat to
motivate people towards non-violent resistance after Camp David.
Nobody would have understood him. He had to mobilize people into
the street. For what? The only reaction that was brought into the
equation was the use of violence, the use of military means.
Ms Marks: Do you think Israel would adopt
Mr Goren: I think non-violence would reenergize parties in
our society that were just recently crushed. And the security fence
that we talked about before, some people may look at it as just a
measure to reduce violence. But it also has very offensive elements
to it. It would create another pattern of irreversible steps
between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
I understand this is a major threat for the Palestinians, but it's
a reaction to violence. If there was no violence, there would be no
reason to do it.
So there is a very complex equation between Israeli society and
Palestinian society. Using only violence as a measure to gain
strategic goals has not proven successful in our short history. The
greater success was during those years when Israelis began to open
their eyes, with the rise of Palestinian national unity. Now that
the Palestinian Authority has been nearly crushed, in a way, what
we have is a violent conflict between a country and militias. Both
we, and the Palestinians have to deal with this situation.
Ms Marks: But if the Palestinians were to adopt
non-violence, how do you see the Israeli people responding to
Mr Goren: We would then have to deal with the real problems
of the relationship between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the
problems of demography, the economy, international law,
international borders, secure and recognized borders. These are the
Ms Marks: Very nicely said. Can we now have some final
thoughts on the theme of alternatives to violence as a way of
ending this mess?
Ms Lasky: After two and a half years of Israel using
enormous firepower and arms against the Palestinians, we have seen
that we have not been able to solve the conflict. Almost 700
Israeli lives and almost 2,000 Palestinian lives have been lost,
and each of them one too many.
So I believe we have to accept the fact that military force is not
going to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We have to go back
to the only way we know how to solve conflict, and that is through
Mr Abu Harthiyyeh: An enforced solution is the only
solution. Forget it. We can't sit down again and reach peace alone.
Trust has disappeared. You can't turn back the hands of time. We
are not an isolated society. I wish we could have this peaceful
resistance movement, and there is room for such a movement that
would grow very quickly.
The whole issue of suicide bombers was to bring disequilibrium to
this ratio, whether it's five-to-one or 100-to-one. It was a big
mistake on both sides when we started to look at the number of
deaths on each side. The most dangerous thing that happened in this
Intifada was the rise of personal hatred and the loss of trust.
There is no trust that Ariel Sharon will not crush even non-violent
demonstrations. So, what is really pertinent is not how many people
get killed but how to reach a settlement and political aims.
Ms Karmi: The future looks extremely bleak because the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not separated from whatever is
happening globally. Israel is not held accountable to any
international law that it has signed onto. It gets away with
everything it does.
Unfortunately, the greatest power in the world today is the US, and
we see the US committing exactly the same mistakes, if not more, as
We spoke here about international protection, but it's more than
that. It's really about abiding by international laws. Since the
Palestinians do not have a state, we are not signatories to most of
the international laws. But Israel is. And there is no doubt about
who is weaker and who is stronger.
The problem is not going to be solved between the two parties
themselves and we do not have an honest broker who can be totally
objective. Yet any peace process without outside supervision, which
ensures that both sides are abiding by the agreements, will not
Palestinians have made concessions for the sake of peace and we are
still willing to be partners without giving any more concessions.
We have done our bit. We want a two-state solution. We want the
occupation to end today, not tomorrow. We will work towards it with
any means we have, reducing the violence as much as we can for the
sake of the generations to come.
Ms Marks: What I've heard from everybody here is deep
outrage at the violence. But what has also touched me so deeply is
that, from the very different perspectives of your individual
lives, I've seen a commitment and a passion to finding another way,
and a willingness to explore practical ways of doing that. I feel
very honored to have been with the four of you in this
conversation. I am very touched and moved by it, and by who you
are, and I want to thank you.