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Work For Peace by Riding the Buses

International Herald Tribune
November 6, 2002
By Gerald M. Steinberg

RAMAT GAN, Israel -- The scenario has become all too familiar: an Israeli bus taking people home, to work, to the doctor, to a movie or to visit their parents is blown up by Palestinian suicide bombers.

Last week the terrorists used a sports utility vehicle packed with almost 200 pounds of explosives to ram a bus. The horrifying results are also familiar: a shattered and smoking wreckage, strewn bodies mangled beyond recognition, ambulances loading the wounded, and the sobbing survivors.

After the charred bodies were finally identified, the funerals began, leaving more innocent lives destroyed, and more fury and anger in response to this demonstration of inhuman hatred.

The strategy of terror and the targeting of buses and other "soft" civilian targets has a long and tragic history. These attacks took place for many years before the 1967 war and the subsequent "occupation," and continued long after the 1993 handshake on the White House lawn and the beginning of the Oslo peace process.

In the terror wave in 1996, buses in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were preferred targets, and more than 100 Israelis were murdered. Since the beginning of the current wave after the collapse of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians two years ago, more than 600 Israelis have been killed and thousands more wounded in terror attacks.

Whatever rationales are provided, there is no excuse for terrorism, whether directed against American cities, tourists in Bali, Russians at the theater or Israeli citizens. Actions that deliberately kill civilians, and in the most brutal ways, are clear violations of all moral principles.

In addition, terrorism and suicide bombings are contagious, spreading quickly across the wired planet. No one can afford to be complacent and say "It can't happen here."

In the past few months, government spokesmen in the United States, Canada, Australia and the European Union have increasingly condemned the strategy of terrorism. Human rights bodies such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have issued strong statements denouncing Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israelis.

Beyond these statements, powerful and visible actions are needed to demonstrate solidarity with the victims and the absolute moral rejection of terrorism and murder. Various groups of peace activists and human rights monitors have rallied in support of the Palestinian cause, and stood firm with Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, but there is no parallel activity on the Israeli side of the conflict.

To many Israelis, this one-way demonstration of support for the Palestinians looks like evidence that the human rights movement is primarily motivated by political and ideological goals. We see a world that is indifferent to terror attacks against Israelis.

To demonstrate a serious commitment to human rights and peace, protesters who claim to support these principles must also become visible on the Israeli side. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate a real and credible moral commitment would be to ride Israeli buses.

This experience will give the human rights community an understanding of the fears that Israelis live with.

In addition, the images of peace campaigners getting on and off the buses in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other places, and taking the same risks that Israelis take every day, will send a powerful message to the bombers and their supporters. By visibly riding the buses, international peace advocates can also contribute to saving lives.

In recent weeks the political environment has begun to change. Some Palestinians are questioning or criticizing the suicide/homicide bombings, both because of their counterproductive political impact and on moral grounds. Faced with the possibility that victims could include international observers, the Palestinian leadership would be pressed to act seriously in order to end these attacks.

Beyond the very powerful message that would be sent by such actions, riding the buses to protest against terror would be a step in building a broader movement against hatred and violence.

One organization, Search for Common Ground, has been carrying out projects aimed at inculcating the principle of nonviolence, particularly among Palestinians. Its polls indicate that these concepts are making some headway, although the definition of nonviolence remains flexible. It is often interpreted, for example, as allowing rock-throwing and similar violence.

In addition, many Palestinians still argue that terrorism is justified against what they call the structural violence of Israels occupation and other perceived injustices. However, through continued discussions and combined international protests against Palestinian terrorism, the principle of nonviolent resolution of disputes has a chance of eventually becoming a reality.

While Israelis are burying victims of terror attacks, the diplomatic discussions and "road maps" for resuming negotiations stand no chance. Every bus bombing, shopping center attack or drive-by shooting destroys more lives and creates more anger, not only against the perpetrators but also against the peace and human rights activists who stand by in silence.

In this bitter environment, simple actions like riding Israeli buses, eating and drinking coffee with Israelis in corner cafe's and restaurants and sharing the life that Israelis live are fundamental conditions for any political progress.

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