Yalla Peace: Put the civility back into civil rights

The goal is peace; you achieve peace by embracing one consistent policy of human rights, law, ethics, morality and principle.

April 17, 2012 22:09
4 minute read.
refugees in Myanmar protest in India

refugees in Myanmar protest in India_370. (photo credit: Reuters)


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Pro-Palestinian activists organized a “Welcome to Palestine” protest to put a spotlight on what they charge are Israeli violations of civilian rights in the occupied West Bank.

The protests were peaceful and far different in nature from the 2010 protests organized using boats in which nine civilians including one American were killed by Israeli soldiers who stormed the ships.

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But like everything in the tragedy of Arabs and Israelis, the issue of justice was thrown out the window and each side had their defenders who took issues to an extreme to justify what their side did and to exaggerate what the other side was doing.

The Israelis responded on several levels. On one hand, the Israeli Ministry of the Interior provided foreign airlines a No Fly List and threatened them with sanctions if they allowed any of the identified pro-Palestinian activists to board their flights to Israel.

The IDF was placed on alert and confronted the protesters. In one case, an Israeli soldier was videotaped slamming a Danish protester in the face with his M16 rifle. The act of violence was unprovoked, although maybe the protesters expressed some words the soldier did not like.

Israeli officials quickly condemned the soldier’s actions, which was good. But will that soldier really be punished or are the Israeli condemnations just for show?

The incident immediately became the focus of an international debate with both sides calling each other names and trying to excuse their own actions.

Unlike the “flotilla” protests, these protests were far better organized and were inherently peaceful. The protesters entered Israel through Israeli security, while the boats were boarded in international waters, causing the clashes and the deaths.

Protesters in the video were seen being pushed back by the police, a common tactic anywhere and not just used by the IDF. The soldiers were grabbing the protesters’ bicycles, and arrested some of them.

The Israelis immediately tried to compare the Welcome to Palestine protests with the flotilla protests. And they began describing the protesters as “anarchists” and people who are there to cause trouble.

The Palestinians used their usual provocative language, calling Israel an “apartheid state” even though in my opinion the term does not apply. It’s an exaggeration of Israel’s policies toward non-Jews, which are discriminatory but not excessively so in the context of a conflict that has been ongoing for more than 64 years.

Both sides are demonstrating actions that do not encourage peace. Their actions are driven by confrontation.

The protesters can’t claim to be adherents to the practices of civil rights protesters like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi. King and Gandhi both insisted that no one resort to any form of violence even as a defense or form of resistance.

That included refraining from using incendiary language to provoke the governmental abuse they faced in America in the 1960s and in India in the 1940s under British control.

The Palestinian protesters may be working toward that goal, but they are not there yet. The language they used was incendiary and intended as a form of provocation. You cannot claim to be peaceful protesters seeking civil rights when part of your goal is to provoke.

Israel’s response is no better. You can’t claim to be a democracy and then enact policies that, one after another, deny basic human rights. Many of the Palestinians in Israeli jails are dissidents jailed because of their views. There is no qualitative measure that distinguishes between one imprisoned dissident and 1,000 imprisoned dissidents.

I want to see the Israelis back off and monitor the protesters, not harass or confront them. They have an absolute right to protest against Israeli government policies.

I want to see Israelis stop making excuses for the actions of soldiers. So many Israelis I know condemned the soldier’s actions only to insist he was an exception to the rule, when we all know that not to be true. They always point to someone else, saying that they have done worse. That’s not an excuse.

I want to see Palestinians protest with true civility, with the leaders setting the precedent before the protests, eliminating the incendiary language and name-calling. They should set aside anger and declare their goals more clearly.

Are they fighting to “destroy” Israel or to achieve compromise with two states? Seeking one state given all that we have gone through is on its face a provocation, and that doesn’t just apply to Palestinian extremists but to Israeli fanatics, too.

The goal is peace. You do not build peace using violence. You achieve peace by embracing one consistent policy of human rights, law, ethics, morality and principle.

Still, these protesters are moving in the right direction. The Israelis should support them.

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