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October 3, 2001

Broken Lives

Last week, Eyad Sarraj, veteran Palestinian advocate of non-violence, called for an end to the violence of the Intifadeh. He said, among other things: "The moment that we started to shoot was a tragic mistake." He noted that the "Israeli peace camp has been shattered by Palestinian bullets."

It may not be an accident that Eyad Sarraj is a mental health worker. He has been trained to know the difference between sanity and insanity. His statement should have caused some rethinking on both sides of the Green line. It has not. It caused scarcely a ripple, lost in the headlines and the calls for demonstrations and news of more violence and war plans.

This week's Time Magazine has a poignant article on the injured Palestinian victims of the Intifadeh, apparently written by a Palestinian correspondent. After the cheering is done, the thousands of seriously injured find that they have ruined their lives for nothing, in a society that is unable to take care of them, and are bitter about their loss. They will not find work, they may not even have paved streets where they can ride their wheelchairs. They may not even have wheelchairs. Their pain and their wounds will remain with them forever. They will never be whole again. The article did not touch on the bereaved families of those who died. They will never be whole again either.

The PNA invests a large portion of its budgets in arms and fancy automobiles and perks for privileged officials. A tiny trickle goes to developing health services. Donations for health facilities evaporate. Officials are indifferent. Health problems are used for propaganda purposes, and the few that are helped became showcase victims.

At the beginning of the Intifadeh, an Israeli peace activist wrote "The Palestinians needed the Intifadeh." Palestinian NGOs, even those dedicated to dialog, encouraged the Intifadeh. But the Intifadeh only proved once again the futility and immorality of violence.

It is obvious to all of us, that it is not possible to be for peace and for the Israeli occupation at the same time. It is not possible to condone, overlook, excuse, "explain" or encourage house demolitions and land confiscations. When the Intifadeh induced Israeli reactions, we all understood that we could not overlook, excuse or "explain" settlers beating up Palestinians, soldiers shooting little children, tank shells killing babies.

It was obvious to only a few from the start, that it is equally impossible to be for peace and to condone, excuse, overlook or "explain" the Intifadeh, the violence done to innocent Israelis, the cynical manipulation of children and defenseless civilians.

The Palestinians needed the Intifadeh like they needed a hole in the head. It did not bring, and cannot bring, justice, dignity or real hope to the Palestinian people. It is, at best, an expression of frustration. At worst, it may be the product of a cynical manipulation by a ruthless leadership.

One year after the start of the Intifadeh, and in the wake of the terrible attacks in the US, we have to take time out from business as usual and do some thinking. We, all of us - but especially those who are dedicated, at least in name to peace and coexistence, need to examine very carefully what we support, what we condone, and on what points we remain silent. The way to peace is not through violence, hate, and terror attacks. Sharon will not bring peace through violence, and neither will the Tanzeem and the Hamas.

We cannot undo what has been done. We will not bring back the bright hopes of yesteryear in a moment. It may take generations to erase the damage done by the Intifadeh. For some, the damage is personal and permanent.

We need to stop listening to terrorists and to those who advocate violence for political gain. We need to start listening to those who don't talk much, don't have their own newspapers or parties, the silent sufferers on both sides, and the people with broken lives - those who have paid and are paying the price for the madness of the Intifadeh, the madness of the occupation, the madness of the 80 year old chips on the shoulders of two peoples.


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