Creating people's geographies
Sunday, August 20, 2006
|Stacy Innerst, Post-Gazette
Click illustration for larger image.
As physicians/scientists studying and treating severe and often lethal diseases, we are trained to be habitual optimists. We are trained to hope that the next experiment will lead to a new therapeutic breakthrough, trained to look for a sign of improvement in the condition of patients fighting for their life.As sons of the Middle East, we have often applied our expertise in habitual optimism to our countries, always trying to find signs for a better future. The last four weeks required a stretch even for our habitual optimism. A destructive, cruel war was waged in which civilians and civilian infrastructure were targeted.
Now that a fragile cease-fire has been achieved, all sides including Hezbollah and Israel, the United States, Syria and even Iran are claiming this senseless eruption of violence as their victory. A pandemonium of propaganda, hate and violent images dominates the discussion about the Middle East and even the seemingly balanced learned analyses of pundits on all sides press us to believe that this war was justified and thus the next round is inevitable.
In contrast to this surprisingly coordinated multilateral chorus we would like to pose a completely alternative view of the recent war.
We would like to highlight the fact that nobody living in Southern Lebanon or Northern Israel had anything to gain from this war. They had everything to lose and many in Lebanon and Israel did indeed.
With the images of violence fresh on everybody’s mind, it is almost impossible to recall how things were just a few weeks ago.
In a small Southern Lebanese border town, Zeinab (Dr. Tawbi’s mother) looked at the blooming garden of her new home and said, “This feels like paradise.” She was drinking her morning coffee with her recently retired husband, savoring a dream come true, a house in their little village that took over 25 years to materialize. Some 30 miles to the South, in Haifa, Bluma (Dr. Kaminski’s mother) was baking busily, preparing for the yearly summer visit by her children and grandchildren who live abroad.
Our mothers were not the only ones who had great hopes for the summer; many Israeli and Lebanese people were experiencing unprecedented stability. For once, they felt, they could have longer-term plans.
During the first quarter of 2006, Lebanon posted a 37 percent growth in tourism with expected full occupancy of its hotels throughout the year. Israel had similar expectations and some analysts predicted the arrival of 2 million tourists and unprecedented economic growth and stock exchange returns.
Politically, the signs of improvement in the Middle East were evident: Lebanese leaders having a round-table on how to build a new Lebanon after the Syrian forces left the country; civilians leading the government in Israel; a “political dove” (turned hawk during the war), Amir Peretz, as defense minister; and the “champion of unilateral withdrawals” Ehud Olmert as prime minister. And most impressively — despite continued oppression, poverty and the aftermath of four years of constant beating — there was a democratically elected Palestinian government which, despite their extremist ideology, was considering negotiations with Israel.
On the grass-roots level, after years of struggle, local human rights activists seemed to gain ground through a combination of nonviolent resistance and litigation. A new initiative of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons seemed to open a new channel for negotiations.
So … how did everything go wrong?
In the wake of a devastating war that killed 1,400 civilians, injured 4,500, and wasted over $7 billion, it pains us to hear claims of victory, on either side. We cannot but remember a surgeon coming out of the operating room to say: “The surgery succeeded … but the patient died.” This is a war in which everybody lost: we lost family, we lost friends, we lost property.
However, there is still one thing that we will not lose: hope.
On both sides of the borders, politicians use hopelessness as their most effective weapon: “There is no hope that Hezbollah will ever give up their weapons”; “there is no hope Israel will ever stop being an aggressive nation”; “struggle of existence.”
Still, having spent most of our lives in the region, we cannot ignore a basic reality that is always overshadowed by the news of violence and the voices of politicians: Our peoples want to live in peace, freedom and safety. Arab or Israeli, our people are happy when a child is born, suffer when a disease hits, laugh when they hear a good joke and love to see blooming flowers every morning. They do not deserve to be dispossessed, killed or hunted like animals. No human does.
When we spoke with each other, we expressed our concerns for each other’s families who still live in the region, and shared our prayers for the immediate end of this futile criminal violence. That was a sign of hope.
Another unmistakable sign occurred here in Pittsburgh, where in a few days, with no public relations help, more than 400 people — Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese — gave up their distrust, prejudice and anger and joined to sign a petition calling for an immediate cease-fire, an international peace conference and a full international investigation into the targeting of civilians. (See www.middleeastpeace.pghfree.net.)
The cease-fire, albeit delayed, finally happened. The road to peace, however, must not be further delayed.
Instead of declaring victory for one side or the other, the United States should assume the role of an impartial mediator in the Middle East and, together with the international community, must call for an immediate peace conference to start rebuilding what was destroyed: rebuilding homes, lives, economies, but most importantly, rebuilding hope and trust.
While governments and leaders confer to negotiate the details, we the citizens have a critical role in creating the peace they negotiate for. For this purpose we call on Jews, Muslims and Christians, on people from all walks of life, here and in the Middle East, to reject the inevitability of war, to stand up and tell our leaders, “Enough is enough! War is not the way!”
If we build on hope and trust, on recognizing our shared humanity, we will be able to recover from the previous war. We will be able to prevent the next war.