Monday, June 27, 2011

The G20 riots in Toronto: the first anniversary

    This past weekend marked the first anniversary of the riots at the time of the G20 meeting that was held in downtown Toronto. The Canadian government spent more than a one billion dollars on the G8 and G20 meetings.
    Although we live not far from the areas where the riots took place, we were glad that we did not go there. But we were able to watch what happened on TV, since everything was broadcast live.
    More than 1,100 arrests were made. According to statistics released last week by Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General, only 317 people were charged with G20-related criminal offences, but 187 cases were withdrawn, stayed or dismissed. Now a year later, just 24 people have been convicted.
    The province's public ombudsman has called these mass arrests "the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history."
    Public opinion has changed in the meantime. Immediately following the summit, 73% of Torontonians said police were justified in their response to the demonstrations. A year later, that figure has dropped to 41%.
    Three out of four people in Toronto think that it was a mistake to hold the meeting in Toronto. The part of the downtown area where the summit was held was cordoned off by a high fence. Anyone who approached the fence was immediately arrested. But most people were arrested far away from the site where the fence was.
   Many businesses were forced to close for the weekend. Many more were vandalized by the rioters. Only a handful of whom were agitators, known as the Black Block, because of the clothes they wore.
   The majority of those arrested were simply bystanders. This was especially true on the final day when hundreds of people were "kettled," that is surrounded by the police. They were kept like that for hours in the pelting rain, before being either released or brought to a detention center, where those who were arrested were initially processed. Many complaints were made about that detention center.
    More than two thirds of Torontonians now support holding a public inquiry into the G20 policing, and more than half disagree with the actions of the police. And 50% of the people believe that "kettling" was unnecessary.
    What is most worrisome, is that 44% say that their confidence in the police is not as high as it was before.
    The Toronto police chief issued a report last week in which he admitted that there had been a breakdown in communications, especially between all the police forces that had been brought in from all over the country. Yet is was Toronto officers who formed the bulk of the 5,700 police during that weekend.
    The report stated that "kettling" would no longer be used. The damage, however, has been done. Trust with the public has been broken, and it will take a long time to restore it.
    While the rioters did smear the image of Toronto, the police inflamed and exacerbated the problem through their tactics. Only two Toronto police officers have been charged thus far, and even those two were the result of newspaper investigations. The police themselves refused to divulge any information that could identify these two officers. The Special Investigations Unit that is supposed to investigate the police was turned into a comic sideshow.
    Until now only a few cases of compensation for damages incurred by businesses have been completed, but the amounts awarded are negligible. The business community is still seething.
    So are Torontonians, especially as new revelations come out about how the civil rights of many people were violated. One paralegal was arrested and strip-searched by male officers, paraded nude in front of a female officer, and then left naked in a cell for 48 minutes. The charges did not justify such a search. He has now filed a lawsuit against the police.
    Apologies by the police would do much to clear the air, but that will probably never happen. Yet if there is to be healing, apologies are an important part of the process. Restorative justice can help bring about that healing.
    The pending court cases will not bring healing, since they are adversarial in nature. Apologies and proper compensation, not the meager amounts offered so far by the government, will do much to restore relationships between the police and the public. In addition, there must be more transparency when it comes to investigations of the police, but such openness is not exclusive to restorative justice.
    I admit I am an advocate for restorative justice, especially in situations such as what happened in Toronto a year ago and more recently in Vancouver.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Vancouver riots and restorative justice

    By now most people have witnessed the riots that ensued after the Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks in the seventh and final game and thus won the Stanley Cup. Aside from the deplorable conduct of some of the Canuck players on the ice during the series, the even more deplorable behavior of their fans after that game have sullied the once proud name of the city of Vancouver.
    TV images were flashed all over the world of kids setting cars on fire, breaking windows and looting stores. The same scenes were captured on cellphones, unlike the riots in 1994 when Vancouver had also lost the final game of the series.
    For the sake of those who may not have seen these scenes, or have not kept up with the aftermath, I will briefly review what happened during the next few days. I also want to make a comment or two on how the city of Vancouver should respond.
    These riots were not initiated by anarchists, as was first asserted by some in the media, but rather by kids who came largely from well-to-do homes. One 17-year old kid has already apologized profusely to his parents and the general public for setting a police car on fire, but only after he had been suspended from Canada's water polo team. The family had had to go into hiding.
    Many residents of Vancouver were so sickened by what they saw on TV that they rushed downtown and wrote comforting messages on plywood panels that had been installed to cover the broken windows of the Hudson's Bay store. Others helped the next morning to clean up debris from the streets.
    In the following days many people turned themselves in to the police. Some not entirely willingly. Many had been "outed" on the social media by friends and acquaintances. While some were summarily fired by their employers, who were more concerned with the image of their businesses than with legalities.
    Many questions have been asked about the role of the social media in the Vancouver riots. In total, more than one million photos and video clips were provided to the police. Many of these were posted immediately in real time. They are publicly available, and--what is more crucial--can never be deleted. Some have called this vigilante justice.
    What the police and the courts will do with all this evidence still remains to be seen. Whether all of it is admissible is something that only the judicial system can determine. But there is an alternative way of resolving these issues.
    In my opinion, many of those who perpetrated these crimes probably should not be sent to jail, except perhaps one or two ringleaders, if indeed there were any. Most of the rioters admit that they were caught up by the events of the evening. They cast reason aside, and did things that they otherwise would not have done.
    This was the thesis of many speakers on a CBC radio program this morning, who told stories about what had happened to them when they were younger. They admitted that they too on occasion had been caught up in the heat of the moment and had done things they later regretted.
    How should society respond? Throw all these people in jail? No, a much better way to deal with them is by means of restorative justice.
    Restorative justice is an alternative to the dominant adversarial legal system, which is punitive in nature. The latter is concerned especially with legal issues, while the former tries to restore relationships between the parties involved. Restorative justice focuses on the needs of both the victim and the offender.
    Victims play an active role in the process, while offenders are encouraged to repair the damage they have done, by apologizing, returning stolen goods, making payment, or doing community service. It assumes that a crime or wrongdoing is an offence against an individual or the community rather than the state.
    Restorative justice is better able to resolve the many issues raised by the Vancouver riots. Rather than addressing the legal questions, it is concerned with the needs of the victims, such as payment for damages, as well as the needs of the offenders, who in many cases have already been shamed and will not be well served by jail time.
    Restorative justice is increasingly being considered in many jurisdictions as an alternative to the current system. We will see how the city of Vancouver in the near future handles the cases posed by these young kids. It may set an important precedent.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


   The brave women in Saudi Arabia who recently defied their government's ban on women driving exposed a problem that lies much deeper than just this ban. Saudi law, in fact, does not prevent women from driving. It just insists that everyone who wants to drive in that country must possess a local driver's licence. But women, unfortunately, cannot get such a licence.
   The refusal of the Saudi government to issue licences to women is not based on Islam. An iman has praised these women for being more knowledgeable about Islam than many religious scholars. This refusal stems, rather, from the ironclad hold that Wahhabism has on many aspects of life in Saudi Arabia.
    Wahhabism is a puritanical form of Sunni Islam that is practiced especially in Saudi Arabia. The name "Wahhabi" derives from the Muslim scholar, Muhammad bin Abd al Wahhab (1703-1791), who denounced many popular Islamic beliefs and practices as idolatrous. These included praying to saints, making pilgrimages to tombs and special mosques, venerating trees, caves, and stones, and using sacrificial offerings.
    Abd al Wahhab emphasized the unity of God (tawhid). Thus his followers are sometimes called "unitarians." In spite of the popular image of Wahhabism as being anti-female, he was also very concerned about the plight of widows and orphans and how women were denied their inheritance.
   Today Wahhabism is the dominant Islamic tradition on the Arabian peninsula. Adherents of Wahhabi Islam regard it as the only path of true Islam. The term Salifiyya is often used to describe the puritanical Islamic movement that developed independently of Wahhabism at various times and in various places in the Islamic world.
   Most critics of Islam fail to appreciate how diverse and varied Islam is. It would be a grievous error to blame all of Islam for doctrines that are peculiar to Wahhabism. Modern Islamic extremism and terrorism cannot be understood apart from a careful study of Wahhabi Islam, even if it is not the only source of Islamic militancy.
    It is widely acknowledged that the Saudi government and wealthy Saudi individuals have supported the spread of Wahhabi ideas to other parts of the Muslim world, and even to Europe and North America. The Saudi government strenuously denies this allegation, as well as the similar charge that Wahhabism promotes intolerance.
    The bulk of Saudi funding goes to the construction and operating expenses of mosques, madrasas, and other religious institutions that preach Wahhabism. It also supports imam training, mass media and publishing outlets, distribution of literature, and the endowment of chairs in Islamic studies in universities.
    Not surprisingly, other Muslims were the first to oppose Wahhabism. Even the father and brother of Abd al Wahhab criticized him severely.
    Even today, the militant Islam of Osama bin Laden did not have its origins in Wahhabism, but in the ideology of Sayyid Qutb. This militancy was born out of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
    Apart from promoting violent jihad, Wahhabism has managed to permeate nearly every aspect of Saudi society. The founder of Wahhabism, Abd al Wahhab, and the founder of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad bin Saud, became partners in the process of unifying the disparate tribes in the Arabian peninsula.
    This partnership became the basis for a close political relationship between their descendants, and has been welded by intermarriage. Hence the pernicious influence of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia.
    This influence extends beyond the denial of driver's licences to women. Women cannot travel anywhere without a male relative accompanying them. The religious police monitor this rule very strictly. Other regulations prevent churches from being built, and even limit the importation of Bibles to those required for personal use.
   Many years ago I suggested to a Filippino man who was going to work in Saudi Arabia that he should take only one Bible with him, but that he should also import or buy a photocopier.
   Wahhabi ideas form the basis of the rules and laws that govern Saudi Arabia. They also shape the kingdom's judicial and educational policies.
   So you see how extensive and destructive the influence of Wahhabism is. It reaches into every nook and cranny of Saudi society. The imam who criticized the ban on women drivers stated that this is a human rights issue. Indeed, it is.
   Thus I want to praise those women who are speaking out about the denial of their right to drive. Would that their menfolk would display the same courage.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Christian Zionism

    Christian Zionism (CZ) is the belief of some Christians that the establishment of of the modern state of Israel in 1948 is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. CZ is similar to but not identical with a 19th century movement to restore the Jews to the Holy Land that was called Restorationism.
    Today CZ is Israel's best friend and most stalwart supporter. Israel officially acknowledged that by the establishment in 1980 of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
    My concern is especially that CZ plays in the US Congress by lobbying in support of Israel together with Jewish Zionist groups. Many American evangelicals also support Israel, although not all are Christian Zionists (CZs).
    CZ uses many biblical texts to prove their position. Apart from any problems that I have with a proof text methodology, I disagree with their hermeneutics, and I object strenuously with their conclusions regarding Israel.
    In this post I will not debate at length the use CZ makes of the Bible. That would require a major article, or even an entire book. My concern is especially the political stance of CZ regarding Israel.
    Many CZs believe that the return of the Jews to their own land and their conversion to Christianity are necessary parts of the return of Christ. This belief is rooted in the dispensationalism of John Darby and Cyrus Scofield.
    The latter also predicted that the Islamic holy places would be destroyed and the Temple in Jerusalem would be rebuilt. Hal Lindsey is a contemporary popularizer of dispensationalism.
    Other CZs, especially in Britain, reject dispensationalism, yet hold very similar views. While still others reject the idea that the conversion of the Jews is necessary.
    In the US, CZs have heavily influenced the Republican party. CZs typically support a hawkish foreign policy and have little sympathy for the claims of the Palestinians. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are only two examples of the prevalence of this view.
    CZ has met with much opposition, also in the US. In the Middle East, The Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism (August, 2006) was very critical of CZ because of its imperialistic, colonialistic, and militaristic attitude. In the US, the National Council of Churches also published criticisms of CZ, as have several denominations.
    CZs have supported Israel not only by lobbying in behalf of that country but also by adopting illegal Israeli settlements and sending money to them. While this is especially true in the US, CZs in other countries do the same.
    I emphatically reject the sloppy dispensational theology that underlies much of CZ. I am even unhappier about the political stance of all CZs, regardless of their adoption of dispensationalism, regarding Israel.
    CZ is inherently incapable of having a balanced view of the Palestinian-Israeli question. Therefore CZ must be rejected out of hand, not so much for their theology as their politics.
    As I have said many times already in this blog, I want to maintain a balanced view of the Palestinian-Israeli problem; I am neither pro-Palestinian nor pro-Israeli. Therefore my criticisms of CZ should not be interpreted as anti-Israeli, much less anti-Semitic.
    If you feel that I have been unfair in my treatment of CZ or unbalanced with regard to the modern state of Israel, please respond by adding your comments below or on Facebook. Please do the same too, if you do agree with me. I am interested in gaining an idea of who is reading my postings.
    Note: I already have access to statistics about how often people read this blog, and even when.
    Thanks in advance for your comments.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Wizard of the Crow

   The pen is mightier than the sword. I just finished reading a powerful novel, Wizard of the Crow, by Ngugi wa Thiong'o (b. 1938), an exiled Kenyan novelist, playwright, poet, and literary critic. Ngugi has taught at many universities, but now lives in Irvine, California and teaches English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, as well as directing the university's International Center for Writing and Translation.
   Ngugi wrote this novel in Gikuyu, and translated it himself into English. He was baptized James Ngugi, but later in life he renounced English, Christianity and his name as vestiges of colonialism. Today he writes in Gikuyu in order to reject the colonial ties that are expressed in European languages. Instead, he wants to build an authentic African literature using native languages.
   Due to his writings about the dictatorial government in Kenya Ngugi was first imprisoned and later exiled. Wizard of the Crow (2006) was his first novel after almost 22 years in exile.
   Ngugi sets this novel in the "Free Republic of Aburiria," and populates it with a host of fantastic characters, of whom the weirdest, no doubt, is the Ruler, who confuses his own persona with that of his country. He is your typical self-obsessed African tyrant, who is not afraid to use brute force to achieve his goals.
   The Ruler is surrounded by advisors, who constantly vie with each other for his ear and his favor and are obsessed with enriching themselves from the public coffers. They too are typical of Africa, although they not exclusive to that continent.
   The eponymous Wizard, who inadvertently adopts that role, is the hero of the story. He is a spiritual figure who moves the drama forward, without fully understanding the consequences of his actions. His girlfriend, Nyawira, is also gifted spiritually, yet she is the most politically and socially conscious character. Perhaps she is Ngugi's alter ego, or to use a more contemporary term, his avatar.
   There are too many other characters in this novel to list much less describe now. This is not a book review, after all.
   The aim of Ngugi is, in his own words, "to sum up Africa of the twentieth century in the context of two thousand years of world history." With corrosive humor, he attacks African politicians, foreign missionaries, American diplomats and functionaries, and sundry other powerful people who victimize ordinary Africans.
  This novel is a parody, in which the author with his pen sketches these characters, many of whom in the end destroy themselves, vividly and mercilessly. At 766 pages it is long, yet it is a very powerful and effective tool. Tyrants and their sycophants,whether in Africa or elsewhere, ought to quake in their boots. Their end is coming. Even the Emperor, who replaces the Ruler at the end of the novel, must realize his mortality.
   The Wizard represents a reality that is unfamiliar to most people from the West. In Africa, and indeed in much of the world, people believe that spirits are real. He uses his knowledge of herbs to heal people, but he also utilizes their fear of spirits to influence events.
   Ngugi condemns much in this novel, everything from greed to Western paternalism. But he does not pick any one cause as the chief source of the continent's misery. There is no happy ending to this novel, yet it is suffused with hope.
   The strongest characters are women. In a culture that condones wife-beating, they turn the tables. Nyawira, especially, typifies the African woman in her search for justice. She is revealed in the end as the head of the opposition movement in Aburiria.
   Women will save Africa. Not that they cannot be as ambitious and greedy as men, but they are closer to the earth and do the  bulk of the work. As the Chinese say, "Women support more than half the sky."
   These observations are my personal take on this magisterial novel. Even if you never been to Africa, you will enjoy it immensely. I have spent many years there, and revel in the opportunity to introduce African literature.
   It is too bad that Ngugi has not yet won the Nobel Prize for Literature, in spite of being nominated numerous times. Please do yourself a favor and borrow it from your local library.
   The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Christians in Israel

     Jerusalem is a sacred spot to all three Abrahamic religions. In the Old City one finds the Western Wall, which is a remnant of the ancient wall that once surrounded the courtyard of the Jewish Temple. The Temple Mount is also the location of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the third-holiest site in Islam. because of its connection with Muhammad. And the Church of the Resurrection marks the place where Christians believe Christ died, was buried, and rose again from the dead. No wonder that these three religions have repeatedly disputed possession of the city, and have shed much blood in the process.
    Jerusalem is also the home of the first Christian church. James, a brother of Jesus, was the first leader of this church, which was disbanded after the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. Yet today there is still a strong Christian presence in the city, although greatly diminished from what it was in its heyday.
    Israeli law recognizes five religions. The Israeli population today is about 76% Jewish, 16% Muslim, 2% Christian, and less than 2% Druze.  Baha'i, the other recognized religion, as well as other minority groups or people who are not classified, account for the rest.
    The law also formally recognizes ten Christian "sects." Catholics (five different rites) constitute about half of the Christians at present. The Orthodox are divided into nine groups and account for a little more than a quarter of the Christian population. And Protestants and Independents (about 70 denominations and individual congregations) make up the balance.
    But the Christian Church in Israel is very fragmented, although there are now the beginnings of unity. About 80% is Arab, 12% are expatriates, and 8% is Jewish.
    Even though the Christian population of Palestine is steadily declining, the Christians in Israel are growing in absolute terms, largely because of immigration and conversion. The annual growth is about 5%, but this is exceeded by the immigration of Jews from all over the world.
    Since Israel was founded to give a national home to people who are Jewish, it gives preferential treatment to Jews and their relatives who immigrate to Israel. As a result, no non-Jewish Israeli enjoys the full civil rights promised by Israeli law.
    This is especially true of Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. Christian Palestinians are not excluded. In fact, because of emigration, Christians now form an ever smaller proportion of the population. Israeli leaders are only too happy to see these Christian Palestinians leave.
    Israelis assert that this Christian exodus is the result of a growing Islamic extremism. They claim that these Christians are the victims of a "clash of civilizations."
   The idea of a clash of civilizations is often attributed to the late Samuel Huntington, but it grew originally out of a world view that was shaped by Israel's interpretation of its own experiences. Now is not the appropriate moment to discuss Huntington's much debated thesis any further, except to note that it provides a theoretic basis for the war on terror that Muslims interpret as a crusade against Islam.
    In an age when we ought to build bridges between Jews, Christians, and Muslims, another crusade is the last thing the world needs. Instead of fighting over these holy sites, why can these three religions not learn to share the city of Jerusalem in a way that respects each other's rights and traditions?
    Although there are not many Christians in Israel, they can and must become models of how these religions should interact with each other. As followers of the Prince of Peace, they should strive for a lasting and just peace between Israel and Palestine.
   Israeli Christians are a small enough group not to pose a threat to their fellow Jewish and Muslim citizens. Let us pray that Christian Zionists from elsewhere, through their strong pro-Israeli stance, will not undermine this attempt to build bridges.
   I will write more about Christian Zionism in a future post.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Christians in Palestine

     (This is the first in a series of posts about the situation of Christians in Palestine and Israel.)
     The first Christian church started in Jerusalem shortly after the day of Pentecost. Thus Christians have lived in what is now Palestine and Israel for almost 2000 years. Christianity was the major faith of the region from the 4th century until sometime after the Arab Muslim conquests in the 7th century. Islam then replaced Christianity, but Christians have continued to live there until today. While  the relationship between Christians and Muslims has not always been harmonious, the Christian faith has survived for almost a millennium and a half.
    At the beginning of the 20th century, it is estimated that 20% of population of the Middle East was still Christian. But today Christians constitute no more than three to four per cent of the population of the Palestinian territories.
    Now the majority of Palestinians Christians live outside of Palestine, especially in Jordan. It is estimated that almost 70% of the Jordanian population is of Palestinian descent. Outside of the Arab world, about 500,000 Palestinians live in Chile, while sizable numbers can be found elsewhere in the Americas as well as in Europe.
    Christians form about two-thirds of the latter group. Some Palestinian Christians had emigrated already almost a century ago because of drought and for economic reasons. The more recent exodus was largely in response to the wars in 1948 and 1967, as well as pressure from Muslims, but there is by no means unanimity about who should receive the blame. The Palestinians still blame Israel, as does the Catholic Church.
    It is difficult to get precise figures about how many Christians are left in Palestine. According to Operation World, which is probably the most reliable source for such information, less than 2% of the Palestinians are Christians. A majority of these are Greek Orthodox, but many other traditions are represented as well, including Catholics, Protestants, and Copts.
    Both Bethlehem and Nazareth used to be overwhelmingly Christian, but now have Muslim majorities. Even Jerusalem was slightly more than 50% Christian as late as 1947, yet today it is less than 3% Christian. In Gaza there are only about 10,000 Christians, concentrated especially in the city.
    In spite of the small number of Christians in Palestine, they play a significant role in politics, the diplomatic corps, and the arts. Sula Arafat, the widow of Yasser Arafat, is a Christian, as was George Habash, the founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Hanan Asrawi, a legislator and scholar, is another prominent example.
    Palestinian Christian leaders have been vocal in support of the Kairos Palestine document, "A moment of truth" (December 2009), which calls for the boycott of Israel by Christians all over the world. The document wants Israel to abolish what it terms their "apartheid" laws, which are similar to those that existed in South Africa, that discriminate against Palestinians and non-Jews. (I will return to this document when I contrast this stance with that of Christian Zionism in a future post.)
    The Canadian government shortly after the publication of this document cancelled support for Kairos Canada, a human rights organization, because of its association with this boycott. Kairos Canada refuted this accusation. All the opposition parties objected to this decision of the government.
    Christians in other parts of the world should support their fellow believers in Palestine. Not all Palestinians are Muslims, nor are all Palestinians terrorists.
    While there are not as many Christians there as there used to be, nevertheless, their numbers and influence are sufficient that we cannot disregard them. Even if they were not fellow believers, they deserve our support in the name of justice.
    Instead of condemning all Palestinians, we must encourage the efforts that many Palestinians are making to achieve a just and lasting peace between Palestine and Israel. Such a peace will not be possible if we only support Israel. An even-handed approach that recognizes the merits of both sides of the conflict is needed.
   We must speak out especially when the Canadian and American governments take a pro-Israel stance that is heavily influenced by domestic politics in both countries.
   As I wrote earlier, being pro-Palestinian does not make one anti-Israeli. Our goal is peace between all the inhabitants of both Palestine and Israel, whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. That goal does not allow for partiality. Instead, it demands justice.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A one-state or bi-national solution?

    Some time ago in a mosque I asked a young Palestinian what he thought about the two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He immediately dismissed it, stating that he preferred the one-state solution. It is too late for the two-state solution, he explained. When I probed further, he added that many Palestinians agreed with him.
   Although the two-state solution is still the official Palestinian position, an increasing number of Palestinians, especially the younger generation, have rejected this option. Of the many reasons they offer, perhaps the most important is that the growth of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank has reduced the land available for a future Palestinian state to a series of enclaves that will never be viable.
    Historically, the one-state solution was proposed as early as 1917. Even in 1948, when Palestine was partitioned and the modern State of Israel was established, there were even Jewish voices that questioned this decision; they would have preferred a bi-national state. This was the original goal of the PLO as well; only later did the PLO support the two-state solution.
   After 1999, support for bi-nationalism grew among Palestinians. It become the subject of academic debate. A series of articles argued that the two-state solution was unworkable and the settlements in the West Bank had made it impossible. Since then, many conferences have issued declarations favoring the one-state option.
    Support for one-state is apparent even among Israelis. Even though two-thirds of them prefer two states, the rest, divided equally among right- and left-wing voters, favor a single state. Most reject one-state because of the demographic threat posed by the Palestinians who already constitute 20% of the Israeli population. With the return of many Palestinian refugees to an enlarged Israel, Palestinians would soon outnumber Jews. In addition, the birth rate among Palestinians is much higher than among Jewish Israelis. No wonder so many Israelis are opposed.
    The two-state solution as proposed in the Oslo Agreement has not led to peace but only to increased violence. Bi-nationalism, on the other hand, can lead to a lasting peace, even if the road will be a tortuous and difficult one.
   At this point, I should explain that the one-state option and the bi-national solution, although I have used them together, are not identical. There are probably as many variations of each as there are individual proponents. I prefer to see bi-nationalism as a variant of the single state. But some may argue that bi-nationalism is an expression of the two-state solution. That depends on which variant is chosen and what one calls it.
   The Alternative Palestinian Agenda ( is a well-developed and detailed proposal that envisions two states in a federal union called Palestine-Israel, with Jerusalem as the capital. This city would be a separately administered territory. See two maps below that accompany this proposal.


   This proposal is definitely bi-national. For this reason, I would prefer to call it two nations in one state. Let me give one example of this from elsewhere. In Canada, the House of Commons approved a motion in November 2006 to declare the Quebecois as a nation.within Canada.
   I do not want to debate the merits of the APA proposal now. This is a Palestinian proposal, although there was input from other sources. This proposal and these maps are merely illustrative.
   But the merit of the one-state or bi-national solution is that it is based on the de facto situation that exists currently in Palestine. Not only are the territorial enclaves there not contiguous but the sovereignty of the Palestinians is also seriously impaired.
   There are numerous articles available online that advocate or criticize the one-state solution. I will not discuss the arguments presented there now, except to note the wide gulf that exists between the Palestinian and Israeli views on this topic.
   Although I have been a long-time advocate of the two-state solution, I think it is now appropriate to consider other options. The one-state or bi-national solution is certainly worth our consideration. There are many variants, and one day we may see one of them become reality.
   The two-state solution seems to be a zero-sum game. The one-state or bi-national solution may yet become a win-win situation for all concerned. Great sacrifices will be required from both Palestinians and Israelis. But the prize of a lasting and just peace will surely be worth it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict a zero-sum game?

     A zero-sum game is one in which a participant's gains results only from another participant's equivalent losses. Dividing a pie is one example. This definition also seems to describe the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
    The land that is claimed by both Palestinians and Israelis is finite. If one party in the end gets more, the other will have to make do with less.
    The same thing will happen with East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians insist is their future capital, but large parts of which are already settled by Israelis. Both parties cannot have that part of the city in its entirety.
   Water, a scarce and diminishing resource in the region, is more easily divided, but it must be shared as well with surrounding countries, such as Jordan and Syria. The scarcity of water may lead to war. Thus it too can be subsumed under the zero-sum category.
  The main issues between the Palestinians and Israelis are refugees, settlements, borders, security, Jerusalem, and water. Each of these issues is still largely perceived by most of the participants in terms of conflict--a zero-sum game, in other words.
   This attitude needs to change if Palestinians and Israelis are ever to live together in peace. As long as both groups regard the problem as a zero-sum game, a sustainable and just peace will be impossible.
    If the two-state solution is to become a reality, what is needed is a willingness to divide the land and everything else on an equitable basis. That will not be easy. A true and lasting peace will require major sacrifices on both sides:
    1. Since the present condition of the Palestinian population in areas occupied or controlled by Israel is untenable, unjust, and dangerous, Israel must change and create conditions to permit Palestinians to thrive in their new state. That seems highly unlikely if the Palestinian territory is divided into umpteen pieces.
    2. Israel’s right to exist must be recognized by all nations, especially the Arab nations, resulting in a country with internationally recognized borders and committed to the pursuit of peace. While not impossible, it may be difficult for all Arab nations to accede to this condition.
    3. Both Palestinians and Israelis must renounce violence and armed conflict and the threat thereof must cease. Unfortunately, there are still too many extremists on both sides for whom violence is second nature. To renounce violence would mean that these groups lose their raison d'etre.
    4. National security must be provided for both Israelis and Palestinians. This will require international guarantees. But such guarantees will not be enough for many Israelis, who will want to defend themselves in order to prevent another Holocaust, while the Palestinians will not be satisfied with a demilitarized state.
    5. The killing of all non-combatants must be stopped. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done. Modern urban warfare makes such casualties inevitable.
    6. The Palestinians will need to establish an acceptable National Authority capable of providing good governance. The recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas is a step in this direction, but Israel and the US both remain suspicious of Hamas.
    The two-state solution that both sides officially acknowledge as the only viable option will require major historic compromises:
   1. An end to Israeli territorial claims in West Bank. The building of new settlements must stop and some may have to be dismantled.
   2. An end to Palestinian claims inside Israel. This would mean that the 1967 border, even with some minor adjustments, cannot be the starting point for negotiations. Many Israelis regard that border as indefensible. One can argue in response that no border is defensible today using modern weapons.
   3. The Palestinian recognition that refugees from 1948 war who choose to return would do so largely to a new Palestinian state rather than to what is now Israel. Israel simply cannot accept such a huge influx of Palestinians nor would it be possible to return the property of the refugees after more than sixty years.
   4. The Israeli recognition that fulfillment of the right of refugees to settle in the West Bank would be either to the Palestinian state or to what is now still Israeli territory as part of a negotiated minor land swap. But the Palestinians would find this difficult to accept. They want to retain the right to return to their original land.
   5. A formula to divide and share Jerusalem as the capital of the two states. But the building of numerous Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem make this more difficult with every passing day.
   6. A formula to divide and share resources, especially water. Any agreement would also have to involve some of the surrounding countries. Already there is not enough water for either the Palestinians or the Israelis.
   The question is not whether the two-state solution is theoretically attainable, but whether the Israelis and the Palestinians have the political will to make it happen. This solution may require international involvement and pressure, which will not be well received.
   Another solution, which would be the product of maintaining the status quo, is the binational- or one-state solution. These two do not necessarily mean exactly the same thing. Many Palestinians increasingly favor some form of this. But that is a separate topic which I will examine in a future posting.