Statement by Southern Africa Yearly Meeting of Quakers on Israel and Palestine

14 December 2023

As Quakers it is both our experience and belief that there is a Divine Light (or “That of God”) within each person, regardless of their faith, creed or race.  From this, stems our commitment to stand against violence in all its forms, and to nurture the seeds of change and the respect for human life to fundamentally transform our societies and institutions through peaceful means.

We are horrified, pained, and saddened by the ongoing war between the Israeli army and Hamas, ordered by the political leadership of both, and inflicting death, unspeakable injury, suffering, and pain on innocent civilians in Israel and in Palestine. This has intensified to hellish levels since October 7, first in Israel and then – and now – in Gaza and, increasingly, the West Bank. 

The stirring up of hatred is both cause and effect of the violence. We are mindful of how we, as humans, habitually ‘other’ groups of people in a multitude of ways, based on language, belief, social status, complexion and more. This ‘othering’ dehumanizes them and their humanness then ceases to exist for ‘us’, so that we visit all manner of violence against them because we no longer see them as human.  The process of rehumanisation means valuing all human lives as equally sacred and resisting all ideologies and mechanisms that subject one group of people to the violence and oppression of another.

We acknowledge the history of violence perpetrated from many “sides” and we do not think that an exercise of accounting all the atrocities committed over the years will be helpful. We do, however, believe that acknowledging the impact that this ongoing violence has had on individual and communal psyches is a crucial step on the path towards peace. The first-hand individual and group experiences of trauma, as well as the intergenerational and epigenetic patterns of trauma that are present in all groups living in the “Holy Land”, are the seeds of the current violence, which promises, in turn, to sow its own seeds to continue the vicious, VICIOUS cycle. Only through the acknowledgment of, and the large-scale communal healing from, this trauma can true, deep peace be realistically hoped for.

War is a choice. It is clear to us as Quakers, that there are always other ways to resolve conflict, that are not reliant on violence and warfare, and we are convinced that the time for truly exploring these alternatives is NOW. We can attest from lived experience that in South Africa’s darkest hour, with civil war imminent, it was possible for negotiations to start, which led eventually to the first democratic elections. We know that there is another way. 

There are many permutations of political solutions that have been proposed. We believe that any number of these could work provided that the leadership on both sides commit and bring their supporters to commit to the peace process. We know that this will not be easy, perhaps may even feel impossible, but it is the only way. Taking this path requires a deep commitment to “stay at the table” even when things get tough. With this commitment, binding agreements that secure the rights, security, and freedom of Israelis and Palestinians alike and the self-determination of both people may be reached.

Amidst the ongoing violence over the last 75 years there have been numerous examples of close friendship and neighbourly living with those on the “other side”, and recognition by Israelis and Palestinians of how much they have in common with each other, how much they need each other. We are also aware of many organisations who have worked over the years to encourage dialogue and to gain a deep understanding of the healing and reconciliation that is needed, and have begun that peace-making together. It is apparent that the seeds of reconciliation are there, and that healing of the divide is possible. We encourage the political and spiritual leaders of both Israel and Palestine, as well as the international community, to draw on the insight and experience of these groups in the proposed peace process.

We believe and we are confident that, if an appropriate path is followed towards reconciliation and healing, a vision for the future which will benefit both Israelis and Palestinians alike will become possible.

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