Dec 31 2001

International War Tribunal Needed for Mideast

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

By Ilan Ziv and Daoud Kuttab*

In 1993, following the signing of the Oslo accords, we collaborated on a joint Israeli-Palestinian documentary. By giving video cameras to three Palestinians and three Israelis, we set out to document the first year of the implementation of the ” peace process”.

Our “Peace Diaries” unfortunately became a record of the early violence that followed the signing of the Israeli /Palestinian accord. Among the scenes was the first suicide bombing in a small town, Afula, in the North of Israel and the killing of 29 Palestinian worshippers in a Hebron mosque by a Jewish settler.

Now almost eight years and many more deaths later, we realize that unwittingly our cameras captured the beginning of yet another vicious cycle of Israeli and Palestinian attacks, counter attacks, suicide bombings, assassinations and collective punishment.

This cycle of violence has served as a cover for the extremists in both societies to torpedo the peace process in which they never believed in the first place. Settlements have been built, Palestinian land has been an expropriated, and weapons have been stockpiled. Militant organizations were given free hand to grow and propagate their ideology of hate and revenge. Killing became cheap. Neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority has bothered to investigate or prosecute his or her own killers in what has retracted into a tribal conflict. The only victors have become the extremists, whether in or out of governments.

This apparent victory of the extremes in both societies is a Pyrrhic one indeed. It does not only promise a blood soaked future but threatens to roll back any achievements of the past 50 years. The Palestinian dream of statehood is being equated with terrorism, and Israel, envisioned as a Jewish safe haven, is probably one of the unsafe places for Jews to live today.

The international communities, which have supported the peace process, have watched this unfolding tragedy but for obvious reasons have been reluctant to forcefully intervene. We think this inaction will come with a price. As the conflict in the Balkans or the chaos left in Afghanistan following the departure of the Soviet troops proved, these oozing wounds in our interconnected world turn to contaminate and infect the entire international body politic. Ethnically based political conflicts like the Israeli-Palestinian one are rarely resolved by the parties themselves. The historic memories, traumas, and tribal instincts are just too deep, being nurtured and sustained by continuous cycles of violence.

But if the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia is an example of intractable ethnic conflict, it is also proof that with the active engagement of the international community this process of self-destruction can be arrested and possibly reversed. The West ‘s success in Bosnia and Kosovo could provide us with a road map.

The first step is the establishment of an International Tribunal for War Crimes. The tribunal, as the example of the former Yugoslavia teaches us, can become a powerful force in managing the conflict. It helps to establish an objective historical record. It holds a mirror to both societies, revealing how self-righteousness and indulgence in their own sense of victim hood has led to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity. Let an international body of jurists examine the self-serving rhetoric that labels suicide bombings against civilians “military actions “, and assassinations and collective punishment against towns and villages “necessary defensive measures. ”

Indictment and prosecution of those responsible, whether political leaders or local military commanders would send a powerful deterring message to others. An international tribunal could prove to be much more successful in ushering the illusive “cooling off” period envisioned in the Mitchell Report, than dozens of American and European mediation missions. The establishment of such a tribunal must not be a substitute for negotiations.

Concurrently, intensive political engagement to create an internationally supervised peace conference must take place. Rather than another Camp David, this should be another Dayton Peace conference, like the one that ended the conflict between Bosnians, Croats and the Serbs. Compromise must be found or it will be imposed. It then needs to be enforced and protected by an armed international force. We believe, despite the rhetoric from both sides, that the majority of our people would welcome these peacekeepers as liberators from terror and occupation.

The road from a single car bomb in Afula to the carnage of the past weeks was paved with lofty rhetoric and high hopes. Left to their own, the extremes in both of our societies that so “successfully” led us to the present abyss will continue in their relentless pursuit of the apocalypse. In the process, they will debase our respective cultural, religious and national heritage and mock every international law.

Our documentary, which began with the Arafat-Rabin handshake in the White House, ended with the violence that preceded the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. What we envisioned as “Peace Diaries” turned into a documentary we called “On the Edge of Peace.” We are tired of being on the edge of peace or on the edge of war. We still hope for a genuine peace process that can lead to an independent Palestine alongside a safe and secure Israel.

* Ilan Ziv is an Israeli documentary producer currently living in New York City. Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and TV producer living in Ramallah and Amman.

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