These are the days that many Palestinians and Jews prayed would never come. Days of sadness. Days of rage. With gunfire still sounding on the streets of several West Bank cities, global pressure mounts for an end to violence on both sides.
And if history has darkened lines of hatred between some Arabs and Jews, it is now uniting others — like Marque Brill and Ayah McKhail — in shared hopes for peace.
Israel began a new military offensive into the West Bank on March 28 to “root out terrorists.” The escalation followed new suicide bombings by Palestinian militants that have now claimed the lives of at leave 256 civilians. Since March 28, at least 200 Palestinian fighters have died, another 1,500 have been wounded, and at least 1,000 men have been detained. Israeli soldiers have also suffered losses: thirty dead and at least 150 wounded.
Controversy over Israeli incursions into the refugee camp at Jenin has dumped fuel on fires of mistrust. While Israel claims its forces killed militants only, the Palestinian Authority says hundreds of civilians perished. Amnesty International has castigated Israel for blocking a United Nations (UN) fact-finding mission into those allegations. And while Human Rights Watch has since declared that there was no massacre at Jenin, the group did say that human rights abuses were committed by Israeli soldiers.
The world, increasingly, is saying, “enough.” Canada and the European Union (E.U.) have led global calls for a general de-escalation in the Occupied Territories. This request follows through on UN Resolution 1402. The UN Security Council has boosted pressure on Israeli by calling its military offensive “unacceptable”.
The U.S. has been, at best, an ambiguous leader of the Western consensus. Although George Bush did endorse the UN resolution, he at first hesitated to condemn the Israeli attacks.
Israel has now pulled back forces from some West Bank cities, but has not withdrawn from the Occupied Territories altogether. And a new suicide attack, killing sixteen on May 7, has stoked fears that Israel may soon renew its military offensive.
Allies in Hope
Marque Brill and Ayah McKhail, two Canadians, are both active in the Middle East peace movement. Brill, an older man, identifies as Jewish. McKhail, a younger woman, identifies as Palestinian. While they have never met, they did both attend a Palestinian solidarity demonstration in Toronto in late April.
On that that same day, a pro-Israel demonstration took shape just blocks away. Police were careful to keep the two demonstrations apart. That caused both Brill and McKhail to remark that they hadn’t come to perpetuate the violence on Canadian soil.
Brill, the Jew, sounded wary of American involvement in the Middle East: “The U.S. has verbally backed the call for peace. But that’s only because of the public outcry.” Questioning the U.S. role as peace-broker, Brill advocated sending international or E.U. mediators to the region instead: “I think people are finally waking up to the fact that maybe the U.S. is not the best country to be mediating this dispute. Historically, we’ve seen where the U.S. has stood on this issue, so we can’t trust them.”.
McKhail, the Palestinian, said much the same thing: “I think Spain and the E.U. should be given a chance to intervene. Unlike the U.S., they’re more likely to enforce international laws.”
Recent weeks have seen many pro-Israel rallies throughout Europe and North America. But Brill cautioned Canadians against assuming all Jews or Israelis support the occupation. Many, like Brill, do acknowledge the roots of Palestinian resistance:
“While I do state my opposition to anti-Jewish sentiment expressed by Palestinians, I take into account their direct oppression by a country claiming to be a Jewish state. When it comes to North Americans making outrageous rank generalizations about Jews — such as statements suggesting that Jews ‘own the majority of wealth’ here, or control ‘eighty per cent of Hollywood’ — I take much greater exception.”
If understanding Palestinian anger is essential, he implied, it can also be difficult:
“It all comes back to what we learned in school. It’s much like what you learn in Canada about how we came to this land. In both cases, it’s colonialism. Textbooks imply we just arrived here; there’s not much talk about who was here first, no recognition of who we might have displaced … Why the Jewish country is being so oppressive in light of its own history is a mystery to me.”
McKhail also wanted to view the conflict in a balanced way. There are victims from families on both sides, she said, and acknowledging that shared anguish is a step toward a solution: “This is the only way we’re going to stop the violence; we have to go about solving this crisis in a new way.”
She sounded more bitter when talking about faltering international attempts to broker piece. Here’s what she had to say about the aborted fact-finding mission at Jenin:
“The UN patted Israel on the back and told the sponsors of state terrorism not to worry, that the investigation would be called off — and voila, it was done. The investigation team should have been sent to Jenin immediately. Never mind asking an illegal occupying power for their approval, or for their blessing to enter a devastated refugee camp.”
At another recent demonstration, McKhail found herself surrounded by Arab youth who shouted slogans like “No Justice, No Peace” and “Down with Israel.” But she remained confident: “The majority of us want peace.” She cited Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. as models of resistance for her fellow Palestinians to study. “I think it’s important for Palestinians, especially those who want to go out and resist the occupation, to adopt a more non-violent way.”
Meanwhile, guns still fire on both sides in the West Bank. But Brill and McKhail are committed to showing solidarity, to strengthening each other’s calls for peace. They attended the same demonstration against the Israeli occupation, and although they still haven’t met, they do seem to be on the same side.