My Favorite Issue: NVA Looks at the Middle East, 1994

Nonviolent Activist, Middle East Peace: January-February, 1994

How can I choose one issue to call a favorite? Easy. Select one on a subject that continues to obsess me. It happens that I still have a copy of the January-February 1994 Nonviolent Activist (edited by Sharon Seidenstein and designed by Rick Bickhart) stuck in an old folder on the bottom shelf of my bookcase. The cover theme, screaming in red-violet letters over a dramatic line-drawing of a handshake by Dorit Learned, is “Middle East Peace: A Perilous Process.” What could be more relevant?

(Disclosure: Because I had spent so much time in Israel and Palestine, including several trips and a prolonged sabbat- ical stay during the 1989 Intifada, the NVA asked me to find if the Oslo Agreement were celebrated as a breakthrough in the region. My own article is thus among those I am reviewing.)

At the time, the theme was inspired by what appeared to be a significant blip in the on-again-off-again 60-plus-year Israel/Palestine peace process. Middle East junkies were celebrating the Oslo Accords. The handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat had taken place in September 1993 on the White House lawn, hosted by President Bill Clinton in spite of the fact that Americans had had no involvement in the deliber- ations. (Former President Jimmy Carter in Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid noted that Johan Jørgen Holst and Terje Rød-Larsen, the Norwegians who had originated the secret talks, were stuck in the back rows, unacknowledged at the ceremony.)

In the public hoopla about the agreement, it was widely overlooked that critical stumbling blocks were put off for further negotiations. The NVA didn’t overlook them, however. My article listed them as “Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with other neighbors and other issues of common interest.” There was no specific timetable for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank and Gaza. Israelis succeeded in getting rid of responsibility for the welfare of Palestinians living in what were then referred to as the Occupied Territories. That responsibility fell to the new “Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority,” with no mention of where the resources were to come from. It should be noted that all these issues remain unresolved.

The reactions I found disappointed some on the WRL staff. It turned out that the accords were not a big hit, at least in activist and intellectual ranks. As usual, some Palestinians chose to be hopeful. Merchants updated their stores, restaurants were enlarged, and the optimists waited for the tourists to flood back in. But activists on both sides knew that nothing of real consequence had been achieved even though Rabin seemed to have experienced a transformation. He had shed his “break their bones” Intifada personality and seemed to have a new awareness of the urgent need for a resolution to the endless conflict. But the accords had not achieved anything of substance, and even though Rabin was on a constructive path, no breakthrough had occurred. Alas, even this hopeful era was to be cut short by Rabin’s assassination in November 1995.

In my article, Israeli feminist-activist-scholar Simona Sharoni noted that there was no mention in the Oslo Accords that Palestinian statehood was a goal, and that it was significant that those who had long experience working on peace issues had been cut out of the process. She urged the U.S. peace movement not to get excited by handshakes, but to stay engaged and to continue to lobby Congress against the military budget.


Rabab Abdul Hadi, a member of the National Board of Palestinian Women’s Associations in North America, expressed surprise at how much had been extracted from the PLO in the agreement. She bemoaned the lack of improvements for the lives of impoverished Palestinians. She, too, urged, “You must address the question of military aid.”

The semi-gloom of the article and the satirical cover turned out to be a forecast of the future.

And now, after 20 years of U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace initiatives, what has changed? What have we learned?

Except for the most faithful and stalwart members of the left in Israel, there is next to no enthusiasm for the two-state solution that has been the goal since 1948. [Editor’s note: This article was written before the March election that won Benjamin Netanyahu a fourth term as Israel’s Prime Minister, apparently on the strength of his “no Palestinian statehood” pledge, leaving “next to no enthusiasm” an apparent understatement.] All Palestinians want is a better economy, however it may be brought about, and reconstruction and rescue for the people of Gaza. Things have deteriorated so far that the greatest fear for Israelis is that international pressure will finally force Israel into serious negotiations, or the cost will be isolation and sanctions.

All is not lost. Here in the United States, the boycott-divestment-sanctions movement has taken hold. A new generation has taken up the cause, and the words “boycott, divestment, and sanctions” are familiar on college campuses. Every week there are more divestment votes, or news of colleges and uni- versities that are forbidding votes and being met with student uprisings. Jewish Voice for Peace and other Jewish groups have shaken the stalwart pro-Israel camp. Peace and justice organizations have joined the BDS movement. National church denominations have voted in favor of divestment. Even The New York Times, through the voice of op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof, dared to condemn the occupation. It’s finally happen- ing after all these years, and we can gladly claim all those voic- es that spoke out through WIN and the NVA to raise unpopular but necessary issues. It’s impossible to shut us up. It’s that old truth to power story. We’ll keep talking, one way or another.

The rest of the issue proved to be impressive and instructive. In an article on “The Economic Dimension of Nonviolence: Is Rich Pacifist an Oxymoron?,” Charles Gray told us how he lived on his “equal share of a sustainable world income.” In the Reviews section at the back, Simon Meyer favorably reviewed Gray’s book, Toward A Nonviolent Economics, concluding that we read these books but “in large measure we seem to be un- willing to reduce our own lifestyles to achieve the kind of equity Gray hopes for.” Charles Gray represented the ultimate model.

I read the next article at least four times. I wondered how I could have forgotten this valuable source of information.

In the “Hidden Wars” series, professional cartographer Zoltan Grossman wrote an extensive explanation of the “War in the Caucasus,” including a map for clear reference and a chart of the autonomous republics, including their major ethnic groups, history, dates, etc. The 22 republics of the Caucasus have been fought over for centuries by three major powers: the Russians, the Ottomans (Turks), and the Persians (Iranians). As Grossman explained, “The Caucasus region [lies] along the ‘fault line’ between Christianity and both the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam.” Maybe we understand the significance of this better these days.

Three main sections covered the history of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, but the complications of ethnic group struggles, Russian and Turkish takeovers, NATO, and threats of U.S. bombing are mind-boggling. There’s even a list of peace and human-rights groups that were working in the region in 1994. It’s all about the ongoing and eternal question of self-determination.

There are also ads for a trip to Cuba (for $1100) and job openings. A news story describes the release of “shadow painters” Susan Crane and Maxine Ventura after being jailed for painting human forms in the lobby of Lawrence Livermore National Lab in protest against Livermore’s legacy of toxic and radioactive contamination from nuclear weapons design and production. Other news items tell of Selective Service being funded, civil disobedience arrests, war tax resistance, a conference on nuclear war, a people’s fast for justice, a con- scientious objector imprisoned in Croatia, the Balkan Peace Team, and a peace museum in Samarkand. There are photos of WRL staff member (and WWII CO) Ralph DiGia and WRL West staff member Mandy Carter, taken by WRL staff member David McReynolds. There’s an obit for Freedom Rider Jim Peck by historian Bob Cooney, the Organizing Network, and the NVA’s 1993 Index, with Good Reading ads on the back cover.

I love this 20-year-old issue. It stood up to many readings for this summary. Now who will write the nonviolent history of our times from all these published treasures?

Virginia Baron

Virginia Baron is a former editor of Fellowship magazine and has served as president of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. She was a member of the first FOR peace delegation to Iran in December 2005. She has devoted her attention to the Middle East for many years and has focused particularly on the practice of nonviolence in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. She is currently on the board of Palestine/Israel Report magazine.