Democracy and Peace, Progress and
Setbacks, and Silenced Voices

Date: Tue, 10 Oct 2000 00:57:38 -0400 (EDT)

Dear All,

We have witnessed several remarkable events over the past two weeks. A nation's president who perceived the world as divided into "us" and "them," and displayed a blatant disregard for the lives of "them," fell after more than a decade of misused power, brought down by a people's vote and a people's demand that he accept their vote. A peace process entering its eighth year, a long process that for all its fits and starts, setbacks and impasses, has created its own dynamic that has thus far proved (and may it ultimately prove) unstoppable, has erupted into such violence that the talk is of "cease-fires."
As actors in and not merely observers of the world in which we live, we try to understand this ironic juxtaposition of events, one long awaited for, the other frequently feared. Perhaps the lesson is of the great power of people acting peacefully. In Serbia, people rose up against a dictator who, in past years, they had elected. As happened throughout Eastern Europe a decade ago when Communism fell, streets filled with people who proved determined to remain until their government was, once again, their government. They occupied government buildings -- offices where their work, the work of the people, was supposed to be done.
Of course, it is not this simple, this pure. A year-and-a-half ago, many of these same people supported the same government during its murderous campaign in Kosovo. That people become democrats does not necessarily mean that they will respect the rights of all people of their democracy. Milosevic had been weakened by various forms of pressure from the international community, a series of defeats that left his territory reduced and the economy in shambles. And this was not the first time the people of Serbia peaceably took to the streets against Milosevic, though it is the first time that they obtained their objective.
But the fact remains that the people of Serbia had had enough of their dictatorial president. They elected him out of power, and then they enforced their democratic choice.
In sharp contrast to the end of a criminal's rule in Yugoslavia, seven years of peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which only several months ago in a peace summit saw negotiations at the highest level on the most intransigent issues, is facing perhaps its greatest threat. And here in the United States, I suspect that I speak for more than myself when I say that supporters of the peace process cannot help but feel a numbing powerlessness, seeking to understand both sides and wishing that they might seek to understand each other.
First, to understand the frustrations and pain of the Palestinian people who suffered decades of insults to their dignity, a prolonged peace process whose promise of independence has yet to materialize, and now a growing death toll of those who had enough of the oppression, and of those who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. And then to understand the pain of Israelis, who believe that they have taken significant strides toward peace, made significant concessions, even sacrificed a Prime Minister to the quest for peace, who now see their soldiers -- their sons and daughters -- under attack from both stones and guns, who see a holy site left to the protection of their partners in peace be destroyed.
And wishing, wishing that the guns would stop firing, the rocks would stop flying. Referring to his insistence on pursuing peace even as the costs in Israeli lives lost mounted, Shimon Peres, Prime Minister of Israel earlier in the peace process, said, "My heart was full of turbulence, but my mind did not regret it." He knew that both justice and a better future for all required the pursuit of peace. I hope that Prime Minister Barak does not form a national unity government, which would be yet another obstacle to peace. I hope that the effort to seek a cease-fire, if it must be called that, continues and very soon succeeds. (As I send this, a note of optimism: Prime Minister Barak has agreed to attend a summit meeting if one is called. The peace process lives.) And I hope that both the Israelis and Palestinians remember that this peace process is, as Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak have both called it, a peace of the brave. When trust has fallen as it has over the two weeks, when so many lives have been lost, both Israelis and Palestinians will have to be brave to continue in their pursuit of peace.
The phenomena in Yugoslavia and the Mideast are not inconsistent. It was, after all, not overnight that the people's choice won out in Yugoslavia. Over a decade of divisive, deadly nationalism and ethnic cleansing preceded the fall of Milosevic. In Israel and the Palestinian territories, no one thought that peace could come overnight. Though after that famous handshake on the White House lawn seven years ago, who thought that the road to peace would have been so long, so tortured, so stained with blood, so fragmented by distrust? But that the road is not the road about which we have dreamed does not mean that it cannot be the road to peace. Ultimately, it can still take us to the place of our dreams, a just peace.
I said earlier that we are actors in and not merely observers of the world in which we live. The world, it has often been remarked, is a big place. One injustice in Europe is on its way to being (at least in a sense) righted. Injustice in the Mideast will, it seems, have to wait a little longer before it is righted. But though our media often does not portray this fact, the world is far larger than Europe and the Mideast. Over the past 3 weeks, more than 1000 people have been killed in flooding in India and Bangladesh. Over 20 million people are reported homeless. Twenty million people. See
For every cry of anguish in the Mideast, or cry of joy in Belgrade, the most penetrating sound in most of the world probably remains the sound of silence, the silence of voices that will never be heard again. It is the silence of voices of people who exist beyond the international spotlight, voices that were cherished by family and friends who heard them and will be dearly missed by the same, who will never hear them again.
I am glad that the United States, my country, seeks a constructive role in the Mideast and Yugoslavia. But we are people who, by virtue of the age in which we live, are actors on the world stage.
If the people of Serbia could topple a government with the blood of thousands of people on its hands, surely we can nudge our own government to be a little bit more humane. If Israelis and Palestinians can continue down the road of peace after all that has happened, surely we can forge our own roads destined for a more peaceful and more just world.
I do not know what the U.S. response to the India/Bangladesh flooding has been. I very much doubt that it has been proportionate to the scope of the disaster. Temporary camps housing the displaced do not have enough food or drinking water. See . You might write to the President or your Congressperson or Senator urging them to respond to this situation, both to meet immediate needs, and to work for a lasting solution. (You can find contact information for your Senators and Representatives at , and the President through .)
Before long, I will write again on the single most penetrating silence in the world today, the voices of those who are dying of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.
Thank you for your time.



"I have only dreams: to build a better world, a world of harmony and understanding, a world in which it is a joy to live. This is not asking for too much." -- Yitzhak Rabin "Don't say the day will come. Bring the day! Because it's not a dream." -- Shir LaShalom, Song for Peace

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