Kevin P Clements
National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies
University of Otago.
We are constantly being told that the world overall is getting more peaceful. Stephen Pinker ( The Better Angels of our Nature) does have convincing arguments for this assertion. So too the Uppsala data base on armed conflict has been able to document declines in the total numbers of wars being fought over the past 30 years. What these positive conclusions do not reveal, however,is what is happening to the grinding intractable conflicts that persist in different parts of the world. The Horn of Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Iraq and now the Ukraine and Israel-Palestine are far from peaceful. On the contrary war crimes are committed on a daily basis in all these places.
The levels of gratuitous personal and organised violence remain unacceptably high. In the recent cases of the Ukraine and Israel the antagonists seem to have forgotten their own humanity in the rush to assert their own self interests; their right to self defence, their right to hegemony their right to do whatever it takes to defend their own security and their own power privilege and prestige. In the case of the Ukraine –even though there may have been some initial confusion between the rebels and the OSCE about who was in control of the murder site-there wasn’t any obvious respect for the bodies of those who had been so arbitrarily killed. They were left to decompose for three days before salvage teams went in and picked them up. We know that the cause of humanity is in very bad shape indeed when there is no basic empathy for the dead or for those that are mourning the dead. Similarly in Palestine/Gaza Hamas have not helped their cause by constantly shooting rockets into Israel, even though each one can be seen as a cry of the unheard. Israel, on the other hand has, at a single stroke, subverted and undermined that long tradition of Jewish humanism and replaced it with a military barbarism that is disproportionate to the threat it claims to be facing and which violates critical rules of war. In fact its inability to distinguish between civilian and combatant ( despite the most sophisticated surveillance capacity in the world) means that it is committing war crimes every hour it continues the occupation and its assaults on civilian targets.
The reality is that two wrongs never make a right. The constant use of violence by both sides will result in the moral and physical destruction of both . There is no future in violent solutions in Israel, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, the DRC or anywhere. Violence and the instruments of violence have even less legitimacy in the 21st century than they did in the 20th. If we are going to develop peaceful people in a peaceful world non violence is the only alternative . In all these conflicts, even if they are initiated by criminal elements, it is vital to look for conciliatory gestures, initiate ceasefires, separate the warring parties and bring everyone to negotiating tables. The reality is that none of the armed conflicts over the past 65 years in the Middle East have generated real security for anyone. Violent options always generate more misery, cynicism and despair than the nonviolent. There is never any justification for violence again civilians. There are no security gains only losses for both sides. So what do we need to do to make the shift from violence to nonviolence?
In the first place all violent rhetoric on both sides must cease. Naming , blaming, dehumanising and demonising the other side will never generate conditions conducive to a nonviolent solution.
Second,it is vital that Palestinians and Israeli’s rediscover the olive tree and make conciliatory gestures towards each other so that they might be able to meet together and initiate a different , more generative conversation about their needs, interests and fears.
Third, it is vital that there be a radical rediscovery of a common humanity so that each side might begin rehumanising the other, reminding each other of the fact that each one of them is precious in their own right. It is vital that Jews and Moslems rediscover the humanity that lies at the heart of all Abrahamic faith.
Fourth, it is vital that there be an immediate verifiable ceasefire and a disengagement of all warring parties so that civilians can begin to reconstruct their homes, their lives and think about living again.
Fifth, what is becoming clear is that the P5 in all these conflicts are both poachers and gamekeepers. It is hypocritical, for example, for the United Kingdom to urge the EU to tighten sanctions against Russia when it continues to export 1.1 billion pounds worth of arms transfers to Russia. It is equally hyprocritical for the United States to call for an Israeli-Hamas ceasefire when it continues to arm Israel and when the US senate votes a 100 to zero in favour of the Israeli right to self defence. The big powers are not acting as custodians of global peace they fund and support war with their arms exports and their mistaken belief in the power of violence to resolve complicated human problems. Its time for a change. Its time we acknowledged that unless the world resolves its problems non violently in the 21st century we will not have a stable and sustainable peace.