International Quaker Working Party on the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Epistle to Friends

Jerusalem, 30 June 2002

The International Quaker Working Party on the Israel-Palestine Conflict is composed of members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) along with Jewish and Muslim members who have traveled together to Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt from 11 to 30 June 2002. We set out on this journey under a strong concern for the breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the rise in the level of violence, and the suffering being experienced by both peoples.

After having traveled in Arab countries for one week, and in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories for nearly two weeks, our concern is even more urgent. we have heard much about the current suffering and seen it at close quarters. We witnessed a young Palestinian man being kicked during interrogation on the street by Israeli soldiers. We heard an Israeli friend describe her grief when visiting a colleague whose mother and daughter were killed in a recent suicide bombing. We witnessed Palestinians being humiliated at roadblocks. We saw areas of the West Bank where every village was cut off from its neighbors by Israeli army barricades across all access roads. We saw the effects of systematic legal and budgetary discrimination against the 18% of Israeli citizens who are Palestinian. We heard the distress of an Israeli mother whose children faced the call to military service. We heard an Israeli settler describe the painful impact of lethal attacks against members of her community. We heard the despair of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, whose hopes for an end to their 54-year-old exile have once again been dashed. We witnessed many signs of the heavy burdens and dislocations that the current state of tension places on Israel's social fabric and economy. We heard about, and saw indications of, an impending humanitarian disaster in the occupied Palestinian areas.

Our own plans were significantly affected by Israel's closures and other administrative actions. Our travel and appointment schedules had to be altered or canceled repeatedly. We were unable to enter Ramallah, which was under curfew, to be with Quakers who live there. We felt this frustration and pain very directly through the experience of our Palestinian Quaker colleague, Jean Zaru, who was not permitted to travel with us much of the time, and had great difficulty in reaching her Ramallah home due to Israeli blockades and curfews.

Despite the widespread tension and hardship, everywhere we went people from a variety of backgrounds, positions, and political persuasions received us with warm hospitality and candor. We experienced time and again a deep generosity of spirit, which is alive and well, if under severe threat, amongst the people caught up in this conflict.

This generosity of spirit coexists, however, with a great deal of fear in both societies. Many Israelis fear for the continued existence of their Jewish state. Palestinians increasingly express fear of a new nakba (catastrophe), like the 1948 flight and expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from their homes in areas that became Israel.

From our experiences and the in-depth discussions we had with scores of organizations and individuals, we believe that Israelis and Palestinians are now locked into an escalating, highly destructive cycle of repression and violence. Behind this cycle, however, we discern the existence of a deliberate project that seeks to dispossess the Palestinians from their land. This project is not new, but its advocates are acting with greater boldness now. They use force to implement it and they use the occurrence of Palestinian violence to justify it. We have seen new fences built in the West Bank that expand the land controlled by Israeli settlements to the very edge of Palestinian villages. We have seen dispossessed Palestinians, removed by the Israeli army from their ancestral grazing grounds and forced to live adjacent to a Jerusalem municipal garbage dump. In the Gaza Strip, we saw an Israeli bulldozer overturning Palestinian crops alongside a Jewish settlement near Beit Lahia; the bulldozer was guarded by an Israeli tank perched on a nearby hill.

Throughout our travels we saw evidence that the present Israeli government is intensifying policies that strangle the Palestinians' economy and destroy their physical and social infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza. These policies have already brought many communities in these areas to the brink of a major humanitarian disaster. In the Israeli-controlled portion of Hebron, for example, we saw evidence of a dying community in the deserted markets, vandalized shops and abandoned homes. The Hebron reality demonstrates the effects of policies that some Israelis hope will persuade Palestinians "voluntarily" to leave their homeland. We are concerned that such policies leave Palestinians extremely vulnerable to further pressures, or even to the possibility of mass expulsion from the land in which they have been deeply rooted for generations.

We have been disturbed to find that within Israel the option of "transfer"---that is, the ethnic cleansing of large numbers of Palestinians from the occupied territories, or even of Palestinian citizens from inside Israel itself---is now discussed openly by politicians, intellectuals, religious leaders and many other segments of society. As a Quaker working party, we condemn this idea and any other proposal that fails to respect the equal worth of all of God's children.

In the same spirit, we oppose the use of violence to resolve human conflicts. We grieve for each precious life lost or shattered. We mourn especially the civilians--Israeli and Palestinian--who have been killed and we condemn without reservation the acts of violence that have struck them down in the course of their daily lives. We recognize the grievous harm done to societies who come to rely upon the use of force to solve their problems, as well as the damage done to those they attempt to coerce. As many persons in the region have concluded, there is no solution to this conflict through violence.

We issue an urgent appeal to everyone inside and outside the Quaker community to raise awareness of this deepening crisis and to work for a broad range of mechanisms to ensure the protection and rehabilitation of threatened Palestinian communities. Such mechanisms should include the deployment of a protective force sanctioned by the United Nations drawing on the precedent of East Timor. In addition we urge the dramatic expansion of citizen and faith-based protective activities, such as accompanying Palestinians, riding Israeli buses, monitoring settlement activity, reporting human rights abuses and cooperating with Israeli and Palestinian nonviolent peacemakers and justice advocates. We are convinced that these measures will serve to reduce the threat of violence to both Israelis and Palestinians.

We affirm the need, once international protection is in place, for reform and transparency in Palestinian political and economic institutions. Such reform cannot be fully implemented while the Israeli occupation remains in place. Meaningful elections are impossible when civil institutions are in ruins and people cannot move beyond their homes or neighborhoods. Economic revival cannot occur if people and institutions are under constant threat of destruction. The trust necessary for effective negotiations cannot develop at gun-point.

Beyond the urgent issue of protection, we believe that concerted international action is still needed in two areas. We call for all necessary steps to bring about a speedy end of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. We base this call on a fresh awareness that the Israeli occupation of these areas, which has continued for 35 years, is devastating for Palestinian society and deeply harmful to the moral fabric and
long-term security of Israel. As part of the process of ending occupation, we call for effective actions to end all international support for Israel's continuing expansion of exclusive Jewish settlements and related infrastructure, including construction within the settlements' current zoning and planning areas.

The other objective which requires urgent international response is to secure a final status agreement between Israelis and Palestinians based on all relevant UN resolutions and international law.  We believe this agreement must take into account not only the final status of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, but also the legitimate claims of Palestinian refugees wherever situated; the yearning for dignity and equality that we heard from Palestinians who are Israeli citizens; and the strong desire we heard from Jewish Israelis for a secure existence in the land to which they are deeply attached.

We recognize that this is an ambitious agenda. We do not offer any single formula for how these goals can be achieved, though we shall amplify our analysis and recommendations in a fuller report we plan to issue in the coming months. We share our profound sense of urgency regarding both the humanitarian and the political crisis. Because we believe that there is that of God in every one, we call on Quakers and others to work energetically and nonviolently for a solution based on the equal worth and dignity of each person, and on the power of love, forgiveness, moral imagination, and generosity of spirit to find a way to resolve even those conflicts which may appear intractable.

Kathy Bergen (Canada)
Tony Bing (USA)
Max Carter (USA)
Helena Cobban (USA)
James Fine (USA)
Deborah J. Gerner (USA)
Stephanie Krayer (UK)
James H. Matlack (USA)
Richard McCutcheon (Canada)
Mmereko Emily Mnisi (South Africa)
Ron Mock (USA)
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons (USA)
Hilda Silverman (USA)
Jean Zaru (Palestine)