The Arab Reform Initiative was set up in 2005 in the aftermath of the disastrous US invasion of Iraq. Our mission was and remains to develop a home-grown agenda for inclusive democracy and social justice in the region. We believe that a different regional order is needed and possible: one that is based on rights, freedoms, and justice. Such a regional order is not compatible with Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestine and daily violations of Palestinian rights.
The latest war in Gaza – the fifth major military attack by Israel on Gaza since 2008 – is another stark and tragic reminder that Israel’s approach of containing/dominating/subjugating the Palestinian population is not only a moral and legal disaster but also a failed policy that leads to never-ending cycles of violence. The wars in Gaza are just the dramatic manifestations of a violent and routine system of domination put in place by Israel since 2007 to control Gaza and its population. Policies – from restricting calorie intake to regulating the movement of people and goods (by air, land, and sea) – have made Gaza an “open-air prison” for 2.2 million Palestinians.
As another round of devastating violence erupts – which looks like it will be even more dreadful than previous ones – it is worth recalling some basic principles to navigate through the tumultuous days ahead.
- Palestinian Lives Matter. It is a basic statement but worth repeating given the discourse dehumanizing Palestinians in the last 10 days. The Israeli Minister of Defense talks about “fighting human animals” while the Israeli President, says that there are “no innocent civilians in Gaza”. These statements are not just rhetorical – they justify military tactics that violate Palestinians’ basic rights and lead to large-scale deaths and massive destruction. Western media have been quick to adopt and perpetuate this discourse. In too many media reports, Palestinians die while Israelis are killed. Palestinian civilians are faceless and nameless. This erasure of Palestinians is not accidental. It is the outcome of deliberate policies that have for too long crushed Palestinians’ dreams and yearnings behind checkpoints, barriers, and other facets of Israel’s ongoing occupation. To state Palestinian Lives Matter doesn't mean other lives – notably in this case, Israeli lives - don't. Just like supporting the Black Lives Matter movement does not mean indifference to other groups. It is a call to recognize that the suffering of Palestinians has been erased and marginalized for too long and any way out must re-center the rights of Palestinians.
- No regional peace is possible without addressing Palestinian rights. We have critiqued the Abraham Accords in the past for adopting a transactional approach that did not address the issue of Palestinian rights. We were skeptical of a new regional order that was being promoted based on the convergence of capital from the Gulf and military technology from Israel. We believe that a different regional order is possible: one that is not simply to the benefit of Israel, Iran, Turkey, and the Gulf countries or the many autocrats ruling our countries. We strive for a regional order that takes into account the aspirations of the region’s new generations for more inclusive democracy, social justice, and environmental sustainability. For such a regional order to exist, Palestinian rights must be respected and recognized.
- International law is not à la carte. Impunity generates more violence. In the case of Palestine, violence is embedded in the structures of occupation. To only see the violence of Palestinians is to choose to deliberately ignore the forms of violence that Palestinians live through daily. We call for accountability – accountability for all crimes committed in the region. The International Criminal Court has been procrastinating on its investigation about crimes in Israel/Palestine. Let it finally proceed with its investigations and hold all those responsible – from all the different sides – accountable. Double standards have been the norm for too long. We need efforts to recommit to respect of rights.
- Counterterrorism as a lens to approach the conflict in Israel/Palestine is a disastrous approach. Since 2001, two decades of looking at the region through the lens of counterterrorism have brought invasions, destruction, and ultimately more violence. From justifying the illegal invasion of Iraq to legitimizing widespread torture, counterterrorism has not only led to more human rights abuses, but it has also been counterproductive. It has failed in addressing the region’s many security issues while actually feeding cycles of violence and radicalization. Western adoption of this lens – in the US post 9/11 and Europe in recent years – has led to alliances with autocrats and the securitization of their foreign policy (with ever more exports of weapons and surveillance technology). The net result of these policies? More insecurity and misery.
What way forward? The first step is to pull back from the brink and provide time and space for a new approach. It starts by calling for the immediate cessation of hostilities and insistence on respect for international law by all parties. This includes a call to all warring parties to protect human rights and respect international humanitarian law (including the rights of hostages) as well as a call for the immediate resumption of access to basic necessities and aid in Gaza. A temporary respite should then be used to finally start imagining a different approach to the conflict that starts by addressing the root causes of this conflict, notably the ongoing occupation and the siege of Gaza. Any solution must be based on granting Palestinians their rights.