BALTZER: Palestinians’ human rights key to peace October 19, 2010

by Anna Baltzer  -  The Australian -  19 October 2010

ALL hope is not lost for the negotiations.

AS US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian negotiations break down, the prospects for peace in the Middle East may seem more dismal than ever.

On the outside, it might appear that both sides are digging in their heels, refusing to compromise, but the reality on the ground is different.

As a Jewish-American who grew up believing Israel could do no wrong, I felt that aggressive, anti-Jewish Arabs were the obstacle to Middle East peace.

When I met Palestinian refugees for the first time on a backpacking trip, I heard a different narrative.

Unsure what to believe, I visited Israel-Palestine, and my perception was transformed.

In the West Bank I found a system of segregation: separate roads for Jewish and Palestinian residents. I found a welcoming, non-violent, and educated people separated from their schools, orchards, water sources, hospitals and each other by a US-funded concrete barrier twice the size of the Berlin Wall.

I watched government-backed Israeli settlers force Palestinians from their olive groves to make way for Jewish-only settlements. Palestinians are not allowed to live in such settlements built on their own land because they are predominantly Christian or Muslim.

I, on the other hand, could move there next week if I wanted to, simply because I happen to be Jewish.

For nine months, I worked alongside Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals dedicated to a peaceful and just solution based on equality rather than ethno-religious nationalism.

But the segregation, wall construction, settlement expansion and other human rights abuses continued whether Palestinians resisted or not, and whether the resistance was violent or non-violent.

The institutions I had once assumed existed for Israel’s safety no longer made sense within the context of security.

If Israel wants to protect its citizens, why encourage them to move on to more and more Palestinian land, surrounded by the so-called “enemy”?

Why build a wall between Palestinians and their land? Does that make Israel safer?

Ceasing settlement construction is a basic first step towards peace.

Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists he will not stop moving Jewish Israelis on to more Palestinian land.

To borrow an analogy from Palestinian-American lawyer Michael Tarazi, how can you negotiate how to split a pizza, while one side is simultaneously devouring piece after piece?

Rather than digging in their heels, the Palestinians are again being backed into a corner, confronted with demands to forfeit their rights, with nothing in return. Rather than digging in its heels, Israel is marching forward, continuing construction over the land and livelihoods of the Palestinian people, and simultaneously asking why Palestinians aren’t willing to compromise more.

The question of compromise is an important one. Surely, compromise is a good thing in any negotiations, but is there anything that should not be compromised?

International law is very clear on this: there are things that people should never have to compromise on, namely their human rights. These are not debatable or controversial. They do not need to be earned and they cannot be taken away. They are non-negotiable.

Unfortunately, the premise of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks through history has been that Palestinians need to “compromise” on everything. Translation: Palestinians, be reasonable. You can have some of your rights, but you can’t have all of them.

This is unacceptable. The Palestinian people know this and, to their credit, have not given up on their fundamental human rights in spite of decades of demonisation and ongoing oppression.

I am always struck when I meet a young Palestinian who has lived her whole life under occupation but knows, as clear as day, that this is not what life is supposed to look like.

All hope is not lost, even though the US pressure on Palestinians to surrender certain rights – as it passes an annual $US3 billion ($3.04bn) in unconditional military and economic aid to Israel – is not going to foster a just peace.

Ongoing efforts by Palestinian, Israeli, and international peacemakers illustrate the potential for peace every day. Just recently, a boat of Jewish activists set sail to break Israel’s paralysing siege of Gaza.

The boat was intercepted by the Israeli navy, but the military’s efforts are futile. With each thwarted boat, handfuls more are being organised. Like the Palestinians, the global community of people of conscience will not give up.

There are many ways to support peace beyond joining a boat to Gaza. In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions on Israel until it complied with international law and human rights.

Supporting this call, along with genuine peace talks based on prioritising security, equality, and human rights for everyone, is something that anyone who cares about a lasting peace in the Middle East can do.

Anna Baltzer is an award-winning human rights activist, the granddaughter of Holocaust refugees, and author of Witness in Palestine: A Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories. She will be on a speaking tour of Australia October 18-30. Visit

If you liked this article, please consider making a donation to Australians for Palestine by clicking on the PayPal link
Thank You.
Bookmark and Share

Add a Comment

required, use real name
required, will not be published
optional, your blog address