A Proposal for Peace through Justice in the Middle East:
The Burch-Elberry Peace Initiative
by Michael R. Burch,
an editor and publisher
of Holocaust and Nakba poetry
Is the ongoing conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinians irresolvable? The current wisdom seems to be that "those people" are full of "hatred"
for each other and have been "fighting for thousands of years,"
leaving little or no hope of peace. But before we wring our hands or throw them helplessly
up in the air, we need to carefully consider two things:
First, even people who don't care for each other can live together in peace, if everyone is governed by fair, nonracist laws and courts. During the Holocaust, Nazis
enslaved, brutalized and murdered Jews, Gypsies and other "non-Aryans" in the most despicable
ways imaginable. However, after Germany lost the war and established a much fairer
system of laws and courts, Germans and minorities were able to live together in relative peace, even though there was no sudden outpouring of affection between the victims and
their former oppressors. Some of the Jewish Holocaust survivors I've published still
hate Germans with a passion, but they don't go around
killing them. The same is true for the descendents of black slaves and white slaveowners where I live in Nashville, Tennessee. After the United States finally
abolished Jim Crow laws and kangaroo courts during the days of the American Civil Rights Movement, millions of white Americans soon came to the conclusion that the main
problem all along had been racial injustices on the part of whites, not the
previously-suggested "character defects" of their darker-skinned
victims. If Israel would
establish fair, nonracist laws and courts, the evidence of history is that racial violence would decrease dramatically within a relatively short period of time.
Second, it is a myth that Jews and Palestinians have been "constantly at war" with each other. The New Testament records what life was like in Palestine during
the first century AD, when Roman laws and courts (the famous Pax Romana) governed everyone in the region;
the Bible doesn't record any major hostilities between Jews and
Palestinians at that time. Furthermore, during the Jewish diaspora (which lasted the better part of 2,000 years) there were always Jews who continued to live in Palestine and
elsewhere in the Middle East. For the most part, they lived in peace with their neighbors. As the great Jewish scientist and humanitarian Albert Einstein pointed out, Jews
had historically been treated much more tolerantly by Muslims than by European Christians. It was only
after Jews began to arrive in Palestine in ever-increasing
numbers in the early 1900s, with the stated intention of taking over, that tensions began to mount, nerves began to fray, and both sides began to resort
to violence. (As Einstein and other Jewish intellectuals mentioned in their open letter to The New York Times in 1948, Menachem Begin, a future prime minister of
Israel, was a terrorist who killed Jews, Arabs and Brits.) And let's be honest: if millions of Jews had emigrated to Texas en masse,
planning to turn Texas into a Jewish state, all hell would have broken loose there too. After all, Texans, like Palestinians,
prize their freedom, rights and culture.
If we consider historical facts, it is justice that leads to racial peace, not love. And this makes sense, because fair laws and courts make it too expensive to
practice racism, since lawbreakers on both sides face fines, civil damages and prison terms. Once fair courts have been established, everyone willing to obey just laws can
live together in peace, while everyone else ends up in jail, or broke. Wherever fair laws and courts do not exist, the result is invariably racial violence on both sides,
with the greater violence being on the part of the people in power because the laws and courts are rigged to favor and protect them. This is clearly the case in
Israel/Palestine today. As Nobel Peace Prize laureates Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu and more than 200 Jewish peace, human rights and humanitarian
organizations have pointed out, Palestinians have been subjected to a system of daily, large-scale, systematic,
grinding racism, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. But there is
hope, if only we can persuade Israel to do what Americans, Germans and South Africans did,
and establish justice. If we want peace with the least amount of violence possible,
the first step is to establish fair laws and courts.
But how?, you may be wondering. Sure, it makes sense to say that fair laws and courts are necessary for peace, but what can anyone do, to
Israel to do what other nations have done? I think the answer is surprisingly simple. It can, in fact, be stated in a single sentence:
We need a new U.N. resolution requiring Israel to unconditionally establish equal rights, fair laws and fair courts for every human being under its
jurisdiction, whether civil or military, without exception; the courts must be able to set legal precedents and should be subject to peer review by judges
appointed by the U.N.
Any member nation of the U.N. can submit a new resolution, so we don't have to depend on Israeli or American politicians to "do the right thing." This is the
beauty of this new peace initiative. Unfortunately, to date many Israeli and American politicians have only paid lip service to their stated ideals of equal rights,
freedom, justice and self-determination for all human beings. Politicians are often much better at saying than doing the right things.
Upholding their stated ideals in this case would cost them votes and campaign contributions, so they do what is politically expedient, rather than what is right. But my
idea takes this unfortunate political reality into account and operates through the U.N., bypassing American and Israeli politicians in the early going.
The U.S. Security Council veto has blocked past efforts by the U.N. to bring peace to the region. But how can the U.S. veto the American Creed of equal
rights and justice for all human beings? So the key is a new U.N. resolution based on the American Creed, because the U.S. cannot veto such a resolution.
If Israel complies, then peace through justice becomes possible, and fair laws and courts can resolve disputes over land and water "organically" over time, even
if politicians can't arrive at solutions diplomatically. In the meantime, completely innocent
Palestinian women and children will be protected from their homes being demolished, their
land stolen and their most basic human rights being violated on a daily basis.
This will help reduce the understandable anger the men who love them experience
when they see them being abused.
If Israel does not comply, the U.N. can impose economic sanctions and in due course Israeli voters will "vote their pocketbooks" (a worldwide democratic
phenomenon) and elect new leaders more amenable to establishing peace through justice. But hopefully economic sanctions will not be necessary, once Israeli voters and
politicians understand their new reality. Just the threat of economic sanctions will probably be the catalyst for Israel to finally decide whether there will be one
democratic state, or two fully independent states, or a union similar to the European Union, with citizens of both nations being able to cross borders freely without
visas and customs. (I think the third option deserves consideration because it would allow Jews and Palestinians to own land anywhere, including Jerusalem, and if every Jew
was a citizen of Israel and every Palestinian was a citizen of Palestine, regardless of where they lived, Israel would no longer have a "demographic time bomb"
that threatens its viability as a democratic Jewish state and Palestinians who live in Israel would not be second-class citizens.
Yes, the problems are complex, but the correct path, the right path, the just path is obvious. And while American politicians may never voluntarily do the right
thing, we really don’t need them and they won’t have to risk their jobs or careers. Israel's reform must come from within, just as reform came from within in
the U.S. and South Africa. With this new peace initiative, one way or another the needed reforms will come. Hopefully Israel will see the "writing on the wall"
and voluntarily choose to establish equal rights, fair laws and fair courts. But even if Israel has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, just as many
Americans had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century, the necessary results will be achieved. One way or another, every nation—in order to be
considered civilized—must establish equal human rights and justice. Israel is not a "special case." The Jews are not a "special case." The
Palestinians are not a "special case." And no, Americans, are not a "special case." Americans need to practice what they preach abroad, as well as at
home. When we do, peace through justice in the Middle East will become possible, and when every nation
on earth has established fair laws and fair courts, and abides by international
law as well, world peace will also become possible.
If you think this idea has merit, please feel free to hyperlink to this page and/or to email this page's URL to your family, friends and elected representatives.
Michael R. Burch
Holocaust and Nakba poetry editor