This was meant to be a Forum for a Just Peace in the Middle East but the uncomfortable, divisive word “Just” sitting next to camera-pretty “Peace” must have set many alarm bells ringing a long time ago.
Then there was the much more irritating issue of all participants having to endorse a Reference Document of Principles that made the whole forum sound like something that actually meant business and wasn’t just some kind of Annapolis-style photo opportunity or joy ride to stylish Madrid.
Two days before the start of the Forum on Friday, 14th December, 2007, the Palestinian Non Governmental Organisations Network (PNGO) received reliable information that a large Israeli delegation was imposed on the organizing committee of the Forum and that this delegation would not abide by the democratically decided rule that they must first endorse the straight-talking Reference Document of Principles.
This led the Delegation from the Occupied Palestinian Territories as well as the Alternative Information Center, the Israeli civil society partner in the international committee that organized the Forum, to withdraw from this Forum. The boycott by PNGO and the PNGO-led delegation meant that all PNGO organized workshops, including the one I had been invited to co-chair about “Sustainable Development, Immigration and Cooperation in the Mediterranean Region,” were cancelled.
On the eve of the start of the Forum, the Palestinians issued a statement to announce their withdrawal. They stated that due to “unprecedented pressure from the Israeli establishment,” a substantial Israeli delegation was undemocratically and underhandedly “invited” to participate in the Forum without endorsing the Forum’s Reference Document. “This is not only a significant breach of the key rule of participation; it is a contravention of the express will of the overwhelming majority of the International Committee, the decision-making steering committee of the conference.”
A Social Forum in Free Europe
On the same day, Mikado Waraschawski, Director of the Alternative Information Center, a non-profit Palestinian-Israeli organization founded in 1984, issued a statement about “Why I will not participate” in the Madrid Social Forum for a Just Peace in the Middle East. He denounced the fact that the Spanish government had interfered in the Social Forum. “Social forums,” as defined in the Porto Allegre Charter, are forums of grassroots and popular organizations, without any involvement of State’s agencies, political parties (and armed organizations). The “Spanish Foreign Ministry established a parallel Israeli delegation, bigger than the official one,” designed to change the “anti-Annapolis” agenda of the Madrid Social Forum. Mikado wrote that the Spanish Government had “the right to sympathize more with Zionist organizations,” but that it had no right to impose its own agenda and interests on this independent Forum.
“The Alternative Information Center, together with PNGO (Palestinian NGOs coordination), Ittijah, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and the Israeli Women Coalition for a Just Peace were much involved in the International Committee that was established in order to assist the local committee in shaping the forum and fixing the list of the invited organizations. Whoever has been involved in Middle East progressive politics is aware that the list is a major political issue: most Arab organizations, including Palestinian ones, do not participate in political gatherings with Israeli organizations that do not support Palestinian Rights as defined by the United Nations and international law, including, obviously, the Right of Return of the Palestinian refugees. This excludes most Israeli Zionist organizations.”
When Mikado Waraschawski heard about the PNGO’s decision to withdraw from the Forum while driving to the Airport on his way to Madrid, he took the decision to return to Jerusalem, “in solidarity with the Palestinian civil society organizations.”
In his statement, Mikado Waraschawski argues that what is really at stake is not so much this or that forum, but “War and Peace in the Middle East.” In Annapolis the United States and their allies finalized their “plans for the next war, not hesitating even to speak about nuclear strikes. It is a war against Iran, against Lebanon and Hezbollah, against Hamas and the Palestinian people, part of the Global war planned by the neo-conservatives of Washington and Tel Aviv.” At a time when the world is divided between the supporters of such a war and those who oppose it, between freedom and oppression, peaceful coexistence and aggression, life and death, our positions in favour of peace based on justice (and not the acquiescence that results from bullying) must be crystal clear.
A Mediterranean Project
The workshop I was asked to co-chair was about “Sustainable Development, Immigration and Cooperation in the Mediterranean Region.” There are “strong causal links between the heritage of European colonialism in the Arab world and the rising instability in the Mediterranean region and influx of Arab immigrants into Europe.” The workshop summary suggested that Europe should invest in sustainable development, support genuine democratic change, and redress historical injustices in the Arab world in order to help build a culture of peace and justice.
The workshop aimed to raise awareness about the organic factors hindering sustainable development in the Arab world and advocate an effective, progressive European role in the political stability, cultural vibrancy and diversity, and socio-economic prosperity of the Mediterranean region.
A week before the Madrid Forum I was in Marseilles for a meeting of the French Anna Lindh Foundation civil society network and there we talked a great deal about the Mediterranean not so much as some kind of geopolitical zone or even culture area with a common identity but rather as a project, what the freelance Algerian journalist Yassin Temlali called a “devenir,” a becoming, or work in progress. He talked about the need not so much for “la rencontre des cultures” but rather “la culture de rencontre,” a culture of encounter, of meeting, of getting to know one another.
Those who are involved in civil society on a regional basis know that the conditions within which people seek to dialogue are crucial for the credibility and success of the venture. That first step towards the realization of a Mediterranean project, as Yassin Temlali suggested in Marseilles, is “connaissance,” getting to know and understanding one other, even we cannot agree. But genuine encounter cannot take place when the playing field is not level, when there are sides who approach that encounter from a position of superiority, or where fundamental values, like truth and justice, are not shared.
The Marseilles meeting of the French network, to which many activists and cultural operators from around the Mediterranean were invited, underlined the ambiguities of the notion of “dialogue des cultures” (dialogue of cultures) – which is why Thierry Fabre preferred “cultures en partage” (cultures that share, the sharing of cultures). The civil society organizations insisted (prophetically, it would seem today) that “cultural exchanges” must be carried out by the operators themselves, “en toute indépendance des stratégies de l’Europe en Méditerranée,” in complete independence from Europe’s Mediterranean strategies (Yassin Temlali, “Le «dialogue des cultures» à l’heure des comptes géostratégiques” on http://www.babelmed.net).
What’s Wrong with Dialogue?
Perhaps the new Israeli invitees did not endorse the Reference Document because it reiterated “the basic principle that only peace built on justice, international law and human rights can be viable, equitable and sustainable.”
In his statement Mikado Waraschawski mentions two organizations, the pro-Iran war Peres Peace Center, and Peace Now, who supported the second Lebanon war (in 2006) until it became a military fiasco, which seem to have been invited by the Spanish Foreign Ministry. “I do not want, today, to be in the same forum,” wrote Mikado, “with such people.”
On the same day that the Palestinians got wind of the “undemocratic coup” by “outside groups” to “impose their will” on the Forum, the Israeli paper Ha’aretz (Wednesday, December 12, 2007) published an apparently totally unrelated piece by Uzi Benziman about how “Only war remains forever.” The writer draws attention to the irony that trying to bring about peace, as in the case of the long history of negotiations with the Palestinians, takes forever, but going to war, as in the case of the decision to fight the Second Lebanon War, takes no time at all.
So what’s wrong with dialogue? Is it boycotting the kind of dialogue that has allowed a military superpower in the Middle East and its complicit allies on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere to occupy, imprison, humiliate an entire people? Or is it the use of camera-ready peace processes, road maps, international resolutions as a smokescreen for land grabbing and apartheid-style policies?
The three-page Reference Document ends with these words: “The Forum for a just Peace in the Middle East will enable social movements and non governmental organizations to demonstrate and express that ‘there is no way to peace, peace is the way’.”
The Forum’s stated aim was to “give voice to the movements and different social actors” that have “fought for years to give dialogue a chance in the region.” The International Organizing committee believes that this dialogue must be solidly based on:
a) Mutual acceptance of international law
b) Mutual agreement on the equality of all humans, regardless of religious, ethnic
or other identity, and therefore to the equal entitlement of all human rights
c) Mutual commitment to ending oppression (colonial and racist policies and their
Perhaps it was this no-nonsense idea of dialogue that jerked the political (and warmongering?) establishment into action and aborted any chance of real dialogue in stylish Madrid. So far nothing new.
What remains, however, and this is becoming increasingly significant, is the clarity with which progressive Palestinian and Israeli peace and justice activists have stated their commitment to a just peace. And nothing short of that.
– Madrid Social Forum for a Just Peace in the Middle East:
– Reference Document of Principles:
– Uzi Benziman, “Only war remains forever,”: