ownership impossible, accountability within reach

When I asked Elana Shohamy if I could reference her in my talk and blog she said, “I don’t own the words.” Later, when I asked about pronunciation, she carried it even further, “I don’t own my name.” This is true. We say what we say and others do what they will with our words, just as we &emdash; and me, quite explicitly &emdash; do what we will with the words we hear.
There were two points of contention during my presentation yesterday afternoon. A spontaneous dialogue burst out in the middle concerning my use of “we” to refer to participants at both DUO conferences (last year in Chicago and this year in Abu Dis) and my assertion that we need to be in dialogue with the military.
Aide, Shelley and I had quite a conversation about this (interrupting my blogging! Ah, the nerve!) prior to Friday morning’s final plenary. 🙂 We need to be engaging the military argument directly so that we can learn to articulate our own argument. How do pacifists persuade people that another framework for security is possible? We take for granted that we, in attendance, are all in agreement that peace is the answer and non-violence the strategy. We do not have to explain our reasons to each other; hence, we lack the language for persuading others. Even as we describe the dilemma we utilize military terminology. I am reminded of a supremely ironic moment at DUO I, when one of the most vocal advocates for justice mimed hitting me in the face while telling me if those opposing her point-of-view did not hurry up and come around to implementing her recommendations she’d “punch them in the nose.”
Palestinian and Jewish participants challenged my insistence at combining last year’s conference attendees with this year’s, questioning the attendant implication that there is a kind of continuity between what was talked about last year and what has been discussed this year. Obviously the context here in Palestine is radically different than the context in the midwestern United States: this is reflected in the content of the conference program. For instance, “peace” is a much more significant thread of the discourse here than it was in last year’s conference, and the focus is narrower because the urgency of immediate occupation reduces the relevance of many of the topics that were embraced in Chicago. Nonetheless, one aspect of community-building is to claim members: I would very much like to belong with all those who attended last year and this year’s conferences as participants in the task of enacting dialogue under – within, through, despite, and/or because of – occupation.

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How to build these conferences into a movement, into “a small group….that could change the world” as Khader Abu-Alia reminded us with Margaret Mead’s famous quote, is a tangible, material activity. The idea of preparing some kind of “statement” on behalf of the conference was raised; since then I’ve been considering what principles might guide such an endeavor. During my presentation I suggested that we should attend to the ritual functions such a statement might serve: how could a few sentences enhance our sense of membership and belonging with and to each other? What would such a statement celebrate?
I suggest three guidelines:

  1. global application
  2. non-exclusionary language
  3. no military symbolism

First, no identity politics. The act of naming any group or cause necessarily excludes other groups and other causes. A statement from the conference membership of DUO ought to be able to be used to understand a broad range of “occupations” – from the literal and specific to the ideological and subjective.
Second, by refusing to name or list even the most egregious occupations, we shift the focus of the struggle from the conditions of occupation (the symptoms, if you will) to its causes, which are ideological.
Third, by rejecting the terminology of war we establish the foundation for another vocabulary.
In sum, we craft a statement that will lead us into the future we want by claiming that future now. We (and I index “us” on purpose) cannot shy from confronting the ironies in our own efforts to establish non-violence as

  • the only sane and humane way to resolve conflict and
  • a more secure solution than violence.

For instance, I am as “smitten” with Sulaiman Al Hamri as Dahlia but the title of his organization – “combatants” for peace – operates within the monologic of war. (In addition to running his own organization, Sulaiman works with the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, among others. See Viewing the Occupation Up Close.)
Likewise, the challenge of those who “break the silence” is not only to implicate the rest of us as bystanders, but also to situate those who did not/have not confessed their own complicity in contrast with those who choose to tell. The refusers model for us all a higher ethic to which we might seek to strive: especially that small minority who take the ultimate stance of claiming shared humanity as the sole determinant of nonparticipation.
Prior to the closing panel on the last day of the conference, the membership had a conversation about where to hold the next conference. Many people would like us to return here, especially those who live here. Of course they want and need the stimulation, the infusion of energy and attention from the outside. In addition to the cost of travel is the denial of the right to travel. We heard an incredible presentation by Hagit Ofran of Peace Now‘s project called Settlement Watch, in which she detailed the enforced closure of Gaza and the persistent establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank/Palestine. Obviously, if we hold next year’s conference somewhere else most Palestinians – unless there is a seismic shift in the political situation – will not be able to attend.
I argue that if DUO intends to intervene against the monologic of war, then we need both breadth of historical and contemporary content and depth of specific conflict in order to develop the conference as a tool for building alliances across movements and develop a larger rhetoric to counter military logic’s absurd rationale that violence equals security. To this end, the privileges of citizenship must be utilized strategically and the luxury of free movement wielded as a deliberate tool.
The boundary of the contest is ideology itself: the logic of war justifying occupation must be engaged with a comprehensive logic of the nonviolent resolution of all differences, without exception. I offer something like the following as a possibility:

The Dialogue under Occupation conferences establish a temporary haven for critical creation and re-creation of nonviolent strategies and solutions to endemic problems. Members engage intensive self-reflection on the depth of our own complicity within the institutional systems and structures perpetuating war, and renew ourselves and each other to the logic of peace.

2 thoughts on “ownership impossible, accountability within reach”

  1. I wonder at the word “peace” and its connection to the “monologic of war” that you talk about. What is “peace” without “war”? Doesn’t peace necessarily oppose the notion of war, thereby implicating it in a vocabulary of war?

  2. Tary, you ask the crucial question: what IS “peace” taken as itself? Perhaps we need to speak of this as reality, and then “war” will become the outsider, the referent that only makes sense in relation to the norm of Peace.
    Whaddaya think?

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