Justice and Peace

Justice is often said to be a necessary condition to ensure a sustainable peace. On the other hand, peace is supposed to be a necessary condition for attaining true justice. Justice and peace, in this view, are symbiotically related, each dependent on the other although they refer to different spheres. Justice, that is social rather than just legal justice, is concerned with minimizing inequality. Peace is concerned with minimizing violence. Inequalities foster violence and violence benefits those who have little interest in human rights.

In the second week of the recent Gaza War, there were protests organized on the front steps of the building in which the Israeli Consulate is located in Toronto. Fake blood was pored down those steps. The organizations behind the protest accused Israel of “brutal occupation, military attacks and ethnic cleansing,” whether the policies and practices applied to Gaza from which Israel had withdrawn, the West Bank in which Israel practiced creeping annexation in Area C, East Jerusalem that Israel had annexed shortly after the end of the 1967 war, and even in Israel itself where Israel was accused of continuing the displacement and eviction of Israeli Palestinian citizens.

In other words, the cause of the violence was not the seven missiles Gaza aimed at Jerusalem, but the continuing violence and injustices Israel perpetuated against Palestinians. The missile attacks against civilian targets in Israel were but justified responses to Israeli violence and unjust treatment of Palestinians. The river of faux blood on the steps was the symbol that Israel had blood on its hands. Jewish Israelis, on the other hand, mostly focus on the injustice of shooting over 4,000 missiles into Israel, even though admittedly at least 25% fell short and fell into Gazan territory.

There is now a cease-fire. The main conviction is that the cease-fire is only temporary. It may last five years. But it is simply a lull in a long-term struggle, no longer between two national groups seeking self-determination in the same territory, but between an oppressed group denied self-determination by an oppressive colonial and apartheid regime that perpetuates injustice both by denying Palestinians the right to self-determination and by the unequal and unjust treatment of even its own citizens who are Palestinian. The logic of this position and narrative is that the only way the rights of the Palestinians can be won is by the end of the colonial oppressive Jewish state. The formulation is a recipe for a fight unto the death until only one group is left standing.

As Khalil Shikaki, a renowned Palestinian pollster, wrote in Foreign Affairs, the recent “Fighting in Gaza Marks the Start of a More Violent Era.” As he subtitled his piece, “The Search for a Two-State Solution is Over.” (19 May 2021) In other words, he pronounced the end of the quest for some justice for both groups, a formula in which the solution might be asymmetrical as well as the justice achieved, but where the goal was not a zero-sum game with only winners and losers. If justice for Jewish Israelis means injustice for Palestinians, there can be no peace other than temporary cessations in open warfare.

Just as there were four different conceptions of peace described in the previous blog, there are four different visions of justice.

Zero-sum games:

  1. Justice for one group and no justice for the other.
  2. More justice for one group and less for the other, but the conception is of a fixed amount of justice to be divided up.

Positive-sum games

  • Even as one group enjoys more justice than the other, the effort is made to raise the degree of justice for the other group even if total equality may never be the result given the history of the conflict.
  • Equal justice for all by making justice rooted only in individuals and equal rights and opportunities are guaranteed to all irrespective of the ethnic origin of that individual.

In the language of can and can’t, the first option is possibly a “can,” but very unlikely given the attitudes and roles of members of the international community. The fourth is almost certainly a “can’t” given the historically ingrained animosity and distrust between the two groups and especially the leaders of each. It has as little chance and probability of a future as the utopian vision of a one-state solution with equal rights for all.

Options 2 and 3 both remain in the “can” category. Most bets currently are on number 2 even as most international efforts are rooted in the effort to pull off number 3, even as the prospects grow dimmer day after day. A good reason for this is the radicals or extremists in each camp believing in and pushing for option 1. That is unequivocally the policy of Hamas which grew in prestige and status among Palestinians in the latest round of fighting. That is true of the extreme nationalist-religious groups in Israel who would easily choose an ethno-nationalist over a democratic outcome if there had to be a choice. Fortunately, these still remain a minority, though a growing one.

These extreme nationalist religious Jewish groups are behind the pressure for evictions of Arab families in Sheikh Jarrrah and in the mixed towns and cities, such as Lod. They are prone to challenge the authority of the Muslim Waqf (under Jordanian custodial responsibility) to which Israel handed back control after the capture of East Jerusalem in 1967. There has always been a tension between Israel, which retains security control over the Haram esh-Sharif, and the Waqf which administers the holy places and the plaza. These extreme nationalists are also the leaders of the settler movement in the occupied territories.

The problem is not simply these extremist pressures, but the role of the state led by “more moderate” right-wingers to foster unequal treatment of Palestinian residents in the occupied territories and even in Israel, even though, in the last ten years, the Israeli government has made a concerted effort to raise the amount of monies invested in Palestinian schools and municipalities. But this gesture was offset by the support for the nation-state bill in Israel which explicitly and formally gave a preference to Jews while reducing the status of Arabic as an official language in Israel. Further, the Knesset defeated a motion to guarantee equal treatment of minorities.

The anti-democratic measures in the Palestinian-run territories have been even much more extreme. Hamas is explicitly anti-democratic, only favouring elections when its election prospects look good. Hamas runs a theocratic government that first achieved power in an election and then staged a coup against the Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA is itself anti-democratic, canceling the planned election ostensibly because of Israeli non-cooperation in facilitating voting in East Jerusalem.  Neither Palestinian government in the West Bank or Gaza supports an independent judiciary or an outspoken civil society, though the PA has shown more tolerance than Hamas that has become more ruthless in its attacks on Israel, risking to its own populace and certainly constitutional rules and norms.

As domestic extremist forces gain strength in each camp, the prospect of option 2 in the justice realm is outpacing prospect 3, though both still remain viable possibilities. The problem is the direction. For as option 2 increases in probability, option 1 moves from the “can’t” camp to the “can” or possibility camp. In that case, diaspora Jews would have to choose between retaining support for an increasingly undemocratic ethno-nationalist state and a decreasingly democratic one. That process is already underway as more Jews raise their voices and participate in  the utopian vision which, in reality, reinforces the extremist number 1 option in favour of the Palestinians. And liberals are torn between resigning themselves to accepting the inevitability of number two while continuing to push for option 3, but are discouraged as option number 1 gradually moves from the “can’t” to the “can” camp.

Next blog on Israel:

The Role of Empathy and Truth in Influencing Probable Outcomes


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