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Changes…Always Difficult

June 30, 2007

What follows below are two pieces – the first, the 2002 Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice’s position paper on the Israeli-Palestinian Crisis, the second – my response to the current difficulties that the organization is experiencing, which are, the more I think about it, quite common, and happening to peace groups, both local and national, throughout the country

1. Toward a Resolution of the Palestinian – Israeli Conflict
Consensed Statement of the Spokescouncil of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center — January 17, 2002
We at the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center are deeply pained by the ongoing violence, breakdown of peace talks, and loss of respect for the welfare, dignity and lives of both Palestinian and Israeli people. We recognize the complexity of this situation and have struggled for over a year to issue a position statement.

We believe that a legitimate dialogue and effort toward peace is possible when the fundamental interests of Israelis and Palestinians are honored. These include Israel’s desire to exist as a secure state, and also the desire of the Palestinians for a secure state of their own; a plan for Jerusalem that recognizes and honors the spiritual and historical connections of both Israelis and Palestinians to contested areas of the city, such as the Temple Mount; and the difficulty in amending the suffering of Palestinians driven from their homes.

Many news sources agree that during the past 15 months, over 800 Palestinians and 200 Israelis have been killed. Moreover, about 16,000 Palestinians and 2,500 Israelis have been wounded. These estimates are huge numbers in an area that is home to about 3 million Palestinians and 6 million Israelis. In addition, while damage done to Palestinian towns, farmlands and orchards and to Israeli civilian areas pales in comparison to the number of dead and wounded, these economic losses greatly impact people’s lives. This tremendous human tragedy is hard to contemplate, especially given that the sides were close to reaching an agreement in Taba in January, 2001. Unfortunately, the negotiations have not been reinitiated and the already bad situation has since become far worse.

We call for an immediate resumption of the peace talks.

We call for both sides to comply with international law, including the Geneva Accords and all pertinent UN Security Council resolutions.

We support the nonviolence movement in Palestine and Israel and echo the call of numerous groups (including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Rabbis for Human Rights, B’Tselem, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, and A Jewish Voice for Peace) for an end to the violence in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza; an end to deliberate acts of aggression and retaliation; an end to denying statehood to any people.

We call for equal access to basic resources – including water – and freedom for people to walk safely in the streets. All types of violence – from Palestinian suicide bombings to the everyday violence of Israel’s occupation and collective punishment – must cease and the human rights of all people must be respected.

We call for Israel to end its illegal occupation and to withdraw all Israeli settlers from Gaza, the Golan Heights and the West Bank including East Jerusalem. We realize that the end of the occupation and the removal of the settlers cannot be accomplished overnight and that interim steps must be taken to stop the ongoing violence.

Therefore, we call for an international presence to be deployed immediately throughout the area. The U.S. must withdraw its veto and allow UN forces to enter Israel and Palestine and to police the border. The current U.S. position opposing the placement of international forces simply allows the cycle of violence to continue unabated. This position also ignores the precedent of the successful peacekeeping efforts of UN forces along the Israel-Egyptian and Israel-Syrian borders. Until and unless there is an international presence, including U.S. peacekeeping members, the violence is likely to continue and worsen and more innocent lives will be lost.

The United States Government supports Israel both militarily and fiscally. Therefore, as U.S., citizens, we have a responsibility to call for the cessation of the use of U.S.-supplied arms to perpetuate violence in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. We have the responsibility to see that the United States supports only policies and acts of social justice, not retaliation and domination.

2. My response – written in an email to the Middle East Group at the peace center (mailed June 29, 2007). I have modified it slightly as more thoughts came to me last night.

I’d like to share some thoughts with you. I was out of state most of the week and only came back this evening.

Comments on your statement…the pressures on the Peace Center:

A. Although the statement is 5 years old, it remains strategically relevant. i wouldn’t touch it for the moment, perhaps later.

B. The tensions…no surprise..really…it is a result of the fine work the peace center is doing, not only on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also on Iraq, Iran…etc. The reward you get for this is to be subject to constant attacks and pressures which I suspect will continue if not intensify.

Although there are some differences – actually some key ones – between the work of the Peace Center and what was for a number of years the Denver-based organization called Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace – or CCMEP – there are some important similarities:

As long as CCMEP was concentrating their work on opposing the then-sanctions against Iraq, they had a certain amount of support and were not, to my knowledge, attacked in the media, or if so, rather mildly. The work done to counter the sanctions against Iraq was dynamic and creative and reverberated throughout the region.

Once their focus was expanded to include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they were targeted, savaged in the local media, and attacked by local politicians including now Mayor John Hickenlooper.

Many of the members of CCMEP visited Israel and the Occupied Territories…they saw the occupation, were offended by its inhumanity and returned to Colorado determined to expose and address the Occupation’s injustices

Something similar is happening to the RMPJC now…i would anticipate that the attacks will continue and perhaps be more insideous. It happens when the moral legitimacy of the Occupation is openly criticized.

There were other factors at play that resulted, more or less, in the collapse of CCMEP, but let’s leave them aside for the moment.

3. Something else is going on, on a deeper level I believe.The best way I can describe it is as follows: when the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center came together, it did so on the basis of a certain international – and local political chemistry, the local element centering around closing Rocky Flats as a nuclear weapons’ producing plant. Around that chemistry, with an extraordinary team of people, the Peace Center took off. This is a peace center that has built itself from the ground up, with local funding, locally developed initiatives – locally produced spiritual and organizational food. It has been able to maintain itself as a viable, functioning, dynamic organization for a quarter of a century. This is, from the point of view of peace organizations that come and go like trains in the night, that are plagued with financial and factional struggles as a general rule, a most impressive and hopeful sign. Perhaps some day we’ll learn how it was they accomplished this.

Although I have not followed it closely, my sense is that it has been able to maintain a relatively stable base until now. But now, there is a different chemisty because the peace movement is in a new era, a post cold war era. Yes, we’ve been in it since 1989, but social movements don’t always change as quickly as events, even good ones.

How much of the organization’s old base will remain in this new situation? Hard to tell, but it is not surprising that some of the elements of the older/former movement resist the current direction. Some simply find it difficult to adjust with the times – and in these times, one of the global moral issues – it is international and pervasive – is opposition to the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and sympathy and support for the Palestinian aspirations for a viable state of their own. Regardless of the difficulties in addressing this issue here in the USA, this movement is expanding worldwide and will continue to do so in my opinion despite all the twists and turns of the Palestinian movement itself and the overall situation in the Middle East.

You know, on a certain level, peace movements are like people: they have a birth, a life, a death and at certain times, movements go through identity crises and either survive or collapse as a result. What propels the changes? Essentially the new situation – the world or a portion of it as it exists and as it is being shaped.

The question here are:

Can the Peace Center make the adjustment to the new realities

Does the base exist (membership, finances, etc) to sustain the new direction.

In the end, the starting point for good peace work is the current situation: What is going on in the world and why? How can we as peace activists, as a peace movement, address the current situation politically (by this term I specifically mean – on a human level, eliminating the causes of war and oppression) and improve it, eliminate the structural causes of oppression and inhumanity – using at the end of the day – the only tool at our disposal: influencing public opinion as a part through public activities and education – whether we are conscious of it or not – of a global movement for peace and social justice. What organizational/structural forms are relevant to best addressing the current situation?

I am not surprised – and do believe – that the Peace Center is losing some of its former base, but at the same time, look at the new energy…the new participants, the new dynamism. It is not clear if the growth factor is outpacing the losses. In this new turn, will the RMPJC be able to maintain the momentum it has had until now in this transition phase?

Of course I don’t know, but I think – with careful planning, a thoughtful approach and most important, an active political program such as the one it is currently trying to impliment, that it can and will grow again, with a new more vibrant constituency. Further, over time, those who resist the new direction – meaning more open criticism of the Occupation – will come to understand the justice and principle of the position and will join in the effort one way or another.

But then what is organizing about? It is long, hard patient work – learning the truth – that doesn’t happen over night – and sticking to it through hard times and easier ones. And it is about building a base, figuring out how to involved more social forces and individuals to address the issue. At the same time that the Peace Center might be losing some supporters – it has gained new friends and influence. New individuals and social forces are forming. That they do not have politics identical to that of the Peace Center is almost irrelevant to my way of thinking – they are getting on board, involved, in their own way with their own signature. While other factors enter into it, I firmly believe that these developments would not have happened in Colorado without the work of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.

4. Concerning the Peace Center’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is the source of much of the tension, or so it seems:

From what I have seen of its activities, those in which I have participated and others, the position of the Peace Center on this issue is in line with mainstream thinking IN THE WORLD on this issue – that is criticism of the Israeli Occupation – of its injustice, its inhumanity – and support for UN resolutions on resolving the conflict.

This is NOT a radical position. It is a just position although as we all know in this country it is controversial.

Furthermore there something happening, something coming together in the Peace Center, in its Middle East group, that is important: it is a working group that includes Palestinian-Americans, Jewish Americans, Americans that are NEITHER Jewish or Arab…all working together. Key to my thinking about how to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli issue is to base the work within the framework of the peace movement. With its experience, its vision for world peace, its history of fighting militarism and bigotry, its humane vision for the future, there is no better place, no more objective place for this movement to have a spiritual and organizational home. In the end it can whether the attacks and criticism because it is – at its heart and soul – a movement profoundly opposed to racism and discrimination of all kinds, and because its adversaries, hiding behind certain ideological veils, while denying it, themselves, either consciously or not, support and foster bigotry and discrimination. All that will come out in time even if it s vociferously denied.

This is a powerful combination and in the concrete struggles of the past two years the kernel of a working team has gelled. It is the process that has been set in motion of working together, of cooperation, of a certain dynamism that comes from NOT agreeing on every point, but finding common ground that gives the work its vitality. It – the Israeli-Palestinian issue is also a complex issue – and it is being explored from many sides, without illusions and from what i can tell -despite differences in approaches – very honestly, and therefore it is becoming something of a social force in the region on the issue. Thus it will be challenged.

I am not a big player in the Peace Center, but I support it, think I am a member, have worked with the Middle East working group and hope that it will continue. It has become a vital center of peace work concerning the Middle East in this region, a focal point, a lightening rod. It seems some people are upset about the path it has taken. For myself, I have waited for 35 years for a peace organization in Colorado to take up these issues (all the Middle East issues – not just israel and palestine) in the manner in which the peace center has done so.

I very much hope it continues along the path it has embarked upon and if it does, I will continue – time and energy permitting – to work with it. I, for one, think it has been a great beginning.

rob prince/colorado progressive jewish news.

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