Hoping for a nonviolence movement in Palestine (Jakarta Post)

Achmad Munjid ,  Philadelphia   |  Sun, 01/18/2009 12:40 PM  |  Opinion

Since I was a small child, I have been taught that the powerless party
always deserves “affirmative action” in any unbalanced conflict before
a true resolution can be settled. As a Muslim who now lives in the
West, I keep trying very hard to understand why the mainstream West
always assumes that the much more powerful Israel is the “good guy”,
while the powerless Palestinian is the “bad guy” in the Palestinian
crisis.

Is it compensation by the West for their “guilty feeling” over the
Holocaust? Is it more about the power of Jewish money? Is it related to
skin-color? How are we to understand that 200 “home-made” rockets sent
by Hamas to Israel during the first week of the crisis deserve more
attention as a proof of terrorism than over 700 lives, mostly
Palestinian civilians, who were taken by sophisticated Israeli weapons
in the same week?

Many of my fellow Muslims and I have never agreed with Hamas who
perceives every single Jew as the villain and whose blood is halal
(permissible by God) to shed. We also disagree with some Muslims,
including Hamas and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who want to
wipe Israel from the map. A true “two-state” solution is the most
reasonable option.

Moreover, I completely understand that any attack on the Jews should
remind all of us of the Holocaust as the most horrible crime against
humanity. Everyone should work to prevent that from happening again in
our history, not only to the Jews but also to every human being. And
surely, let us acknowledge that since 1948 the Palestinians have been
suffering from a deep wound as a displaced and dispossessed people for
a crime that neither they nor their ancestors have committed against
the Jews.  

However, in this satanic circle of violence, arguments for justified
killings by either side or why some people should support one party or
the other are both endless and useless, if not creating an even larger
crisis. Clearly, the situation in Gaza today is much more complicated.

The temptation to continue to use weapons on both sides is terribly
strong, either in the name of self-defense, justice, dignity, revenge
or even God. I have no capacity whatsoever to tell them what is the
right thing to do. For over 60 years, the use of weapons by the
Palestinians has only provided justification for the Israelis to kill
more and to grab more land.

If the Palestinians ceased using weapons, if Arab leaders and the
Muslim world in general could help Hamas and other radical groups to
stop the shooting, then Israel’s justification to kill would cease to
exist.

Let friends of the Israeli tell the same story. Only when Israel as the
more powerful group with many privileges stops using weapons, will
those Muslim radicals, including Hamas that was initially created by
Israel,  have no legitimacy and lose Palestinian support.  Israel
should stop calling Hamas “terrorist” and the Palestinians should stop
thinking of Israel as the “evil people” by definition. Both sides
should agree that the other can change substantially and that they can
change their perception of each other. They can talk and work together
to make peace. 

While every possible step for peacemaking should be taken by leaders
around the world, we — common global citizens — should share the
responsibility. Beside the various efforts that have been made thus
far, from prayer to humanitarian efforts, we Muslims especially need to
react more properly and strategically and let others do the same. So
far, many Muslims around the world have reacted in ways that increase
the violence. Yes, we have been sharing our responsibility through
prayers, fundraising, press releases, discussions, protests, art works
and news exchanges.

However, most actions are shaped within the framework of “justification argument”.  

For example, in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country and where I
come from, Muslim protesters shut down the only synagogue there last
week based on the assumption that there is an automatic connection
between Israel, Judaism and the Jews. Some Indonesian Muslim groups,
such as the Islamic Defender Front, (FPI) are even ready to send
untrained voluntary troops to Gaza to fight back.

Instead of helping the crisis, these kinds of reaction only spill
out and magnify the waves of hate, vengeance and atrocity from Gaza
globally. With Gaza as the epicenter of violence, many Muslims around
the world position themselves with the Palestinians. They identify
themselves as the oppressed Palestinian who is looking for the “evil
Israeli” and their friends to fight.

Whoever identifies as “the other” is the “Israel” and thus the enemy.

Condemnation of the massacre and helping the victims in whatever form
are very important. It is also equally important for Muslim leaders
around the world to present the Gaza crisis not primarily as a conflict
between “us” Muslims against “them” Jews.  Both the Israeli government
and Hamas deserve condemnation and both sides are responsible for the
increasing number of casualties, many of whom are children, women and
the elderly.

We need to speak and act not as a particular national or religious
group, but as an inter-religious global community. Instead of
suspecting every Jew and Christian around us, we Muslims outside of
Palestine need to collaborate with each and every morally concerned
individual — Muslim, Jew, Christian, black, white, color, female, male
and others — to take care of the victims and work effectively for the
same purpose: Peace.

By working together, not only can we isolate the Gaza violence mainly
around its epicenter, but we can also send our greater sympathy,
support and hope by pushing the message of peace from our side.

The writer is President of Nahdlatul Ulama Community in North
America and a PhD candidate in Religious Studies at Temple University,
Philadelphia.

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