BEARING WITNESS FIRST STEP TO PEACE IN THE MIDEAST
BY JOHN BACHER
APRIL 25, 2002
It was quite a bombshell that former Ontario NDP leader Bob Rae lobbed last week in his far-ranging missive in the National Post, entitled Breaking Company With The NDP [See other statements by Bob Rae]. Among other matters, he took careful aim at NDP foreign affairs critic Svend Robinson and his recent trip to Ramallah, at one point calling him "a histrionic crank."While Robinson may suffer from a lack of diplomatic grace and a surfeit of rhetoric, his voyage to the West Bank earlier this month signals that at least someone in this country understands the foreign-policy potential of artful non-violence.
Essentially, Robinson booked an airplane ticket because our government is committed to the most outmoded forms of global diplomacy, signalled by the fact that it couldn’t find its way even to deploy observers.
Contrary to Rae’s argument, the federal NDP is actually more sophisticated and current in its foreign policy understanding than either the feds or the much vaunted "third-way" British Labour party. The NDP understands that there is now a whole body of experience that says peace-building exercises always begin with the bearing of witness. It’s shocking that our foreign affairs department has ignored its own history in this matter.
Take, for example, the outcome of earlier Mideast wars. After the ceasefire that stopped the 1947 war, reports from Canadian members of a UN observer team provided the information needed by Lester Pearson to establish the first UN peacekeeping force in 1957.
This is the force that kept the Gaza Strip from once again becoming a base for terrorism against Israel, as it had been for nine years before the Suez War through the connivance of Egypt’s dictator, Gamal Nasser. The force kept the peace until Nasser stupidly had it expelled as a prelude to the Six Day War. If peacekeepers had been in place right from the start of Israel’s independence in 1947, the ensuing war and the tragic creation of refugees might not have unfolded in the way they did.
But monitors are only one strategy for a government serious about minimizing violence. As U.S. Army General John R. Galvin, formerly supreme allied commander of NATO in Europe, eloquently puts it, "Non-violent resistance has created the power to overcome even the most extreme suppression of human rights, even the most dictatorial invasions of private right, even the most authoritarian rule."
Yet there is no focused government program aimed at assisting the marginalized pacifist community among both Israelis and Palestinians to develop skills in non-violent resistance so they can oppose Israeli military aggression, protect homes from demolition, stop the expansion of settlements and weaken the "moral authority” of suicide bombers.
Canada, unlike the U.S., doesn’t even target the state sponsors of terror against Israel with economic sanctions. That’s probably because the feds fear howls of protest by Canadian oil companies currently investing in Libya, Iran and Sudan — all countries on the U.S. terror list.
Of all the NATO countries, Canada has been one of the slowest to develop a conscious approach to non-violently aiding the spread of democracy in states promoting global terror. We don’t even support such efforts in Iran, where there is a flourishing opposition. Wherever possible, policy objectives should include supporting training schools, manuals and agents to assist those planning strikes, protests and occupations in autocratic, violent regimes.
It’s a strategy that was wonderfully successful in the former Yugoslavia, where the United States and its European allies funded the youth organization OTPOR (Resistance), independent media and monitors to the tune of $25 million, and non-violently destroyed the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic. OTPOR trained using the translated writings of Gene Sharp, the non-violence tactician from the Albert Einstein Institute in Cambridge.
In America, Great Britain and Europe, political parties contribute some of their funds to support international democratization. In Canada there is none of this. There should be a policy where each registered political party is required to undertake such efforts in exchange for contributions being tax-deductible.
The relationship between building democracy in terror states and fostering non-violence in Palestine becomes clear in a comparison of the African National Congress and the Palestine Liberation Organization. While Rae in his article contends that Arafat is not up to the role played by Mandela, one has to remember that oppressive dictatorships have had a field day funding hatred and violence in Palestine — a factor not nearly as important in ANC history. Consider that forces backed by Iraq proxy Abu Nidal assassinated 26 PLO negotiators in the 70s and 80s.
Commentators like to describe Arafat as veering wildly from terror to non-violence and back again. But the great African leader was not always the peacemaker he eventually became. Mandela played a major role in persuading the ANC in 1961 to embark on a bombing campaign, though within a few years ANC miliary commanders viewed it as ineffective. Steve Biko helped foster non-violent strategies in South Africa, while in Israel-Palestine this role was assumed by an American Palestinian, Mubarak Awad. Biko was assassinated in prison for his efforts, while Awad, more genteelly, was expelled.
Non-violent protests and sanctions in South Africa hit the pocketbooks of powerful industrialists, who by 1985 gave up on apartheid and began talks with the ANC leadership in exile. Awad’s considerable success in fostering a non-violent discipline over the intifada encouraged similar talks between Israeli officials and the PLO.
Backing Mandela in the international community was the Communist bloc that, after the inspired leadership of Mikhael Gorbachev, supported pacifist strategies for change in southern Africa. Mandela did not face enemies in foreign dictatorships willing to goad more extreme anti-apartheid groups such as the Pan African Congress (PAC).
And in the end Mandela was offered a bigger prize than Arafat — the leadership of the entire country. Arafat instead is contending with land fragments whose borders are themselves the source of vexing negotiations.
It’s not so much Arafat’s sins that exacerbate the current crisis as it is the Western world’s unwillingness to take seriously the fostering of non-violent revolutions in corrupt, murderous regimes