Palestinian Peacemaker Hanan Ashrawi Comes to Town
Palestinian Peacemaker Dr. Hanan Ashrawi Comes to Town to Build Peace in the Middle East on Humanitarian Grounds
By Genevieve Cora Fraser
Sign waving Zionist protesters congregated outside the Cathedral at St. Paul's on Tremont Street, Boston. They came to harass supporters of Dr. Hanan Mikhail Ashrawi, renowned Palestinian human rights activist and winner of numerous international peace, human rights and democracy awards. But the audience was in a festive mood on this spring evening in May, delighted with the opportunity to hear Ashrawi, the Founder and Secretary General of the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy- MIFTAH.
The cathedral was packed to overflowing. Soon the main doors were closed and people were issued upstairs to the balcony and finally to the overflow section in the basement. I was stuck downstairs with about fifty others who had come to hear this remarkable Palestinian peacemaker who since 1996 has served as an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council for the Jerusalem District. Without the visuals, we were left to concentrate on the power of her audio presentation, "The Context and Imperatives of Peace."
Ashrawi began by focusing on the emerging militarism, the negative intervention of the American and Israeli policy of pre-emptive strikes. "Double standards have mutated into multiple standards which undercut the rule of law replacing it with illogical, simplistic dogmatism. This is creating a mythic 'clash of gods' of competing religions in this post neo-colonial colonialism era that is in no way conducive of peace."
The suspension of human rights as part of the alleged war on terror has created an unapologetic and unprecedented level of lethal force subscribed to by the US and its strategic alliance, Ashrawi asserted. "The US is seeking to become the overriding power in the Middle East. Are they expecting to be given a seat on the Arab League?" she asked wryly. The audience responded with laughter and applause.
Ashrawi spoke of how US Middle East policy is subsumed by Israel's perpetual state of self defense in which Sharon undermines the peace and lives above the law by creating facts on the ground as an unarmed population is held captive. "A strategy for peace involved sustained programs," she stated. "Meanwhile, anything Israel does to Palestine is legitimate because of their claim of self-defense against terrorism. And of course all Palestinians are terrorists. Men and women are caught in the crossfire between militants and the IDF and children are used as human shields."
Israel is the supreme inventor of unilateralism, Ashrawi affirmed. She described conditions of life under occupation where settlers hold the power of life and death with impunity and racism feeds this power. "Sharon exploits fear and keeps people in a survival mode. Yet he has failed in all his promises except one. He has developed a close alliance with the United States. And there is no one emerging to oppose him," she continued.
"The Peace Process is in disarray. There is more settlement activity than ever which is legalized as 'facts on the ground.' The land continues to be confiscated for the racist Wall and for the purpose of stealing our water resources," she said, continuing disdainfully that as a 'humanitarian' gesture Israel talks of installing more gates to the cities, gates that are locked and opened once a day. "There is an erosion of justice and legality. Assassinations are a blatant political tool, a policy that bypasses the due process of law of judge and jury, and they are destroying the possibility of a Palestinian state," she stated bluntly. "Fragmentation has guaranteed that there is no freedom of movement."
Ashrawi spoke of a systematic regression, a state of siege on the economy where poverty is at 50-60%. "The people of Palestine feel vulnerable, abandoned, isolated. The Palestinian Authority has failed the people and is under siege. Their security forces are shelled and bombed. The infrastructure is destroyed and there is a break down in law and order."
Stressing that it is time for change Ashrawi noted that prior to the Intifada there was no crime. "The IDF would break open shops, but no one took anything. Now there is stealing and regression into local vengeance, tribal systems and young men walk about with arms." The young are disenfranchised and the old guard has been leading for two generations, she said noting that elections are needed but made nearly impossible because of the roadblocks and checkpoints.
"The Quartet was formed for peace, but the United States is complicit in the Occupation. The Roadmap has been high jacked. It's implementation compromised by Sharon," she said. "The younger generation is traumatized. They see gunships, F16s; brutality is all they know of Israel. And within Israel there is an increase in racism. It is natural for them to see Palestinians and Arabs killed. This distorts Israeli values. It is lethal and unhealthy. The political challenges from the left have become more extreme."
When asked by a member of the audience how she retains her sense of hope, Ashrawi answered, "The Palestinian people are more responsible than they are given credit for and people are resilient. They recognize that they are being victimized but they are not held captive to victimization." When asked about suicide bombings she stated that they are not justified.
According to Ashrawi, democracy and reform are the prerequisites to peace as well as intervention by UN Peacekeepers, because a third party must take over and get Israel out. If that is accomplished, the two-state solution is still possible, she acknowledged.
"Governments fail, but not people. Human beings may have religion, but the value of each human life is the same regardless of religion," she said. "We are suffering under the longest military occupation in modern history. But there is still tremendous hope despite the captivity, because our spirit is not destroyed. What Palestinians really want is to be ordinary and boring, not tragic heroes," Dr. Ashrawi concluded.
Dr. Hanan Mikhail Ashrawi's appearance was sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the American Diaspora Alliance for Israeli Palestinian Peace (ADA), and Sabeel, an ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians.