Gaza, the Green Party, and Non-Violence

Another digression from theology – this one’s for the Greens.

The current round of violence in Palestine and Israel is, as always, completely out of hand. I recently wrote about the fact that I have no real answers about that whole situation, and about how it’s not at all helped by self-righteous justice advocates who don’t really know what’s up – which is why, as a self-righteous justice advocate (or slacktivist) I tend to not say much about it. I’m just not in much of a position to say anything.

In politics, saying nothing is a privilege. Parties are expected to have a stance on an issue, and as the now-former president of the Green Party of Canada found out, it’s not possible to be involved with a party in any official capacity and maintain the right to a personal opinion. Paul Estrin wrote a blog post that contained a view of the situation that many claimed was pro-Israel (it was certainly anti-Hamas), and some took it to mean that Estrin himself supported the genocide of the Palestinian people. As absurd as those claims were, they were enough that Estrin had to step down.

One of the claims against Estrin was that he was going against the party’s stance on the issue. He wasn’t – at least, not explicitly, and not much in his blog post was clear. It was far from a position paper, more of a sad monologue of frustration about the conflict. The party’s actual stance on the issue is excellent though, and it shows several of the main reasons I’m Green:

G14-P58 Israel – Gaza Conflict
Be it resolved that the GPC urges the immediate cessation of hostilities between Israel and Palestine. The GPC will adopt a posture of engaged neutrality, opening all available diplomatic avenues in both Palestine and Israel to press for a peaceful resolution to the conflict consistent with the GPC’s commitment to justice and custom of speaking truth to power.

Elizabeth May’s speech also hits home for me:

“I want to at least touch on what’s happening right now in Israel and Gaza, and the Palestinian people and the Israeli people and say, from the bottom of my heart, that Israeli children and Palestinian children have an equal right to be free of bombardment.”

“And I condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization for sending missiles into Israel, but the Israeli retaliation and the invasion of Gaza violates international law and humanitarian norms, and any Prime Minister of Canada worth his or her salt would say that as a friend and ally of Israel, “you’ve gone too far – you must move to peace talks.”

Many people take the stance of neutrality to be a cop-out. In a conflict in which both parties have innocent blood on their hands, what other stance could be taken? Many people say that pacifism is unrealistic and ineffective, that it doesn’t hold up when you have irrational and militant neighbours trying to conquer you. But when your neighbours remain human beings, and you value human life, will killing them actually solve the problem? These neighbours have been at war with each other for nearly a century now – perhaps we should say that war is unrealistic and ineffective. Jesus had people criticizing him for his neutrality and commitment to non-violence during a Roman occupation of that same territory; his legacy is far greater than the zealots who launched an insurgency against the Romans shortly after his death, which ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews.

I’m proud of the fact that non-violence is one of the foundational views of the Global Greens movement. I’m proud of the fact that the Green Party makes policy based on evidence rather than partisanship, that we look at the facts rather than choosing sides. In an international conflict like this one choosing sides, even implicitly, only further ensnares us in the conflict itself; it blinds us to the presence of good on the side of our “enemy” and the presence of evil on “our” side. Elizabeth May’s comments get to the heart of the issue: children in both nations are being bombarded, human rights are being infringed upon, and all such hostilities are illegal under international law. Those are the facts, and choosing sides has nothing to do with it. The Party’s official policy is likewise straightforward: we urge both parties to cease hostilities, and we offer ourselves as diplomatic partners to both sides to work toward peaceful resolutions.

This isn’t saying nothing. This is a positive and powerful statement, cutting to the core of the issue without getting caught up in all of the justifications for violence. Yet it’s neutral and non-violent. We need more political statements like this, that speak up on issues where wise people choose not to say anything, yet that do so with great wisdom.

I write this as a member of the Green Party, to others (including other Green Party members) who may be confused about the stance of the party on this issue. As a party, we’re not going to choose a side. We’re not pro-Israel, or pro-Palestine; we’re also not going to sugarcoat what either side is up to. Speaking truth to power doesn’t mean witch-hunts for people who disagree with us on the internet, and it doesn’t mean using words like “genocide” and “aparthied” freely and without justification as if they were self-evidently well-applied to this complex situation. Feel free to dissent from the party policy in your personal views – we also don’t whip votes, let alone opinions – but recognize that when you’re calling down your president for his views being contrary to party policy, you’re actually going against party policy yourselves. Principled, non-violent neutrality doesn’t need to raise hell, or even raise its voice; it provides space for both sides to speak, and doesn’t hinder anyone from doing so, facilitating discussion for the sake of greater understanding leading to peaceful resolution. If we can’t model it, we should stop holding it up as our official position.

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