Towards a non-vacuous concept of “Just Peace”

All parties in conflict want peace. Oppressed groups want peace in the sense of the end of their oppression, which they interpret as a continuation of war, whereas oppressor groups want peace and quiet, in the sense of the absence of any rebellion against the oppression they instituted through mechanisms of pacification. Calls for “peace” without reference the context, or the terms of peace have, politically speaking, no content, and certainly cannot be assumed to contain anything like “justice”. At best they are context-poor expressions of a desire to see the end of the most extreme forms of human suffering, at worse, they are affirmations of mechanisms pacification towards oppressed people who refuse to let oppression be carried on in an atmosphere of peace and quiet. Worse, the concept of “justice” has no special relationship with “peace”, because a “just war” is only as far away as some example of rebellion you consider justified.

Generally, the problem with both these concepts, “peace” and “justice”, is that there is a tendency, we might even speak of an incentive to call for their implementation without specifying their content. The more we say what we mean by “justice”, the more we specify the terms for “peace”, the more we risk division, disagreement. In other words, there is an incentive, especially in online environments where the gladiatorial nature of the public space is more explicit than usual, to avoid saying what we mean by things, to avoid conflict by allowing each to interpret a value such that the appropriateness of that value obtains for them. Baudrillard talks about this in terms of his concept, (or his interpretation of Reagan’s concept) of the “silent majority”:

Microgroups and individuals, far from taking their cue from a uniform and imposed decoding, decode messages in their own way. They intercept them (through leaders) and transpose them…contrasting the dominant code with their own particular sub-codes, finally recycling everything passing into their own cycle…

We perhaps should see the incentive to speak in a way that avoids conflict as the object side of a coin to the tendency to re-interpret in terms of a particular sub code forms the subject side. And “flame wars” are perhaps just one kind of symptom that manifests when our normal agreement to sustain this two-sided mechanism of non-interaction, breaks down. No one wants flame wars, but also, none of us should want rhetorical exchanges based on false manifestations of agreement, from the perspective of the desire for the genuine interaction of interpretive perspectives, these are both disasters.

Instead, I would suggest, and I think is especially relevant for philosophers desiring to influence the public discourse, that when we assert the need for “just peace”, to be as explicit as possible concerning which prescriptions we believe must be implemented in order for a state of affairs to qualify as both just and peaceful, and also to be as thoughtful as possible concerning the mechanism for instituting of those prescriptions, including the contradictions and conflicts that can be predicted to arise from their implementation.

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In Gaza, I can hear the rumble of victory

Since 1982, Israel has responded to every Palestinian “peace offensive”, i.e. any suggestion that the Palestinian leadership was prepared to resolve the political conflict on the basis of international law, in the same way: provoke, create a pretext, go to war, destroy the political institution with which they otherwise would have to negotiate. Hamas’ unity with Fatah is, like the 1981 ceasefire agreement between the PLO and Israel, an implicit granting of recognition of Israel’s existence. More importantly, it is an implicit recognition of the existing political framework between the PA and Israel, and therefore of the “peace process”, at least from the Palestinian perspective. From the Palestinian point of view, the political logic in the peace process, the Oslo Accords, the 1988 statehood declaration, all the way back to Breshnev’s “September Plan” in 1982, is not “land for peace”, but “law rather than war”; it is explicitly about resolving the conflict not on the basis of the balance of military force, where Israel enjoys a clear advantage, but through recourse to international law.

Since Israel enjoys such a superiority over the Palestinians in force but not in law, we should perhaps not be surprised that Israel uses war not as a continuation of politics, but as a means of avoiding politics. Rather than engage in politics, Israel inflicts pain, today they even use “pain maps”, that map the “pain that the enemy sees, we create a lot of pain so that he will have to think first to stop the conflict”. ¬†Using this tactic, Israelis have many times achieved military victories that leave Palestinians physically and politically weakened. The expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon, and the Abbas-Dahlah coup at the end of the al-Aqsa intifada were both important Israeli victories, which took pressure off Israel and allowed it to continue settlement construction while preventing Palestinians from achieving an independent, unified, and internationally recognized political representation committed to their rights under international law. Every day the Palestinians do not go to the ICC, similarly, is one day longer Israel enjoys immunity from the law on the basis of its domineering power relationship against the Palestinians.

This time the resistance is strong, however, much stronger than for instance in ’82, or in 2008-2009. ¬†Israel is responding to the success of the Palestinian resistance with brutal shelling of people in their homes while ambulances can’t move, and many ambulances have been hit directly (I see these reports constantly on my facebook feed, from activists who are on the ground in Gaza). But by all accounts the people of Gaza are fed up, they will not life on their knees but would rather die on their feet, or as Israel prefers, in their homes. Moreover, and perhaps just as importantly. Hanan Ashrawi has announced that the decision has been made to go to the ICC. So this time it may not only be “allegations” of Israeli war crimes, there may be real political pressure for Israeli politicians to stand trial for the crimes they have committed over the past weeks.

When people tell the story of the liberation of Palestine, perhaps the steadfastness of the people of Gaza and the heroism of the resistance in Gaza in 2014 will be story of the decisive blow. It feels like it could be the key moment, when time stood still, and resistance forces both on the ground by arms and around the world’s airwaves finally forced ideas to change and political forces to re-aligned and make Palestinian rights a reality. Inshallah Palestine will soon be free, and Israel in defeat will be forced to re-interpret itself, so that it can become something other than what it has been for the first 67 years. Maybe one day, a day long after decolonization, something called “Israel” could become something like a light among nations. In that Israel, perhaps Israelis would respect and salute the martyrdom of Palestinian heroes.

In Gaza, the Palestinian Revolution is alive. In Gaza, they are still holding down to the ground.