Celebrating a new year is an entirely sentimental decision, relevant to some, extraneous to others, and can indeed serve a greater purpose than random festivity and excess. It could actually be, and it is for many, an occasion to reflect on the successes or the failures of the past year, a timeline for a renewed commitment to a worthy cause, a brief moment to pause, and reflect, or even regret.
It has been an old habit of mine to sign off my messages in the days preceding the new year by saying: “I hope that the coming year will bring peace and justice to our troubled world.” Despite disappointing experiences, I persist.
For me, hope is essential. It is like air and water.
At first glance, the 2005 events in Palestine and Iraq, among other troubled spots, may evoke hopelessness and despair. In the West Bank, the giant and encroaching Israeli wall continued to swallow the remains of the state that Palestinians hoped to embrace. The livelihood of Palestinian farmers was squandered with every new mammoth section of Israel’s separation wall erected illegally on their land. The number of Palestinian casualties, especially children, broke new records daily. Yet one would read in the American media that it was solely the fault of the victim and that Israel yearned for peace. The problem, we were relentlessly reminded, lay in Palestinian political culture; thus only democracy and transparent elections would bring peace and an end to the conflict. To fulfill this vision, Palestinians would be expected to elect a semi-president, a shadowy political body and a parliament having neither the full legitimacy nor the territorial sovereignty to carry out the will of the people.
Although it defied all logic, we were expected to believe that democracy under military occupation was possible, that it would be a splendid opportunity for peace. But with every uprooted tree, there was a farmer clinging tightly to its roots; with every inch of confiscated land, there was an old man kneeling to the ground, thrusting his hands deep into the earth and refusing to part; with every fallen child, there was another child coloring a flag.
Just when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hoped that his policies had forever silenced every call for peace and reconciliation, Arabs, Jews and international peace activists from all over the globe flocked to Palestine, shielding schoolchildren with their bare chests, defying curfews and chanting for peace and justice. Some lived to tell the story. Others did not. Because of this and more, I am hopeful.
I am hopeful because the rules of the game are changing. The war on Iraq, which was designated to ravish, plunder and slice up the land and the people, has espoused a sense of collectiveness among peace activists around the world. Nearly three years after the March 2003 invasion, one can confidently speak of a true peace movement that embodies millions of committed individuals from all walks of life united around one banner, one chant, even if their ideologies vary.
I am hopeful because a new balance of power is emerging, where peoples are making their voices heard. Cindy Sheehan, the grieving American mother who lost her son to Bush’s lost war in Iraq, is a testament that the will of the people is making a difference: with a tent, a few banners and thousands of committed supporters, she has proven that even awesome lies can be exposed and once prevalent arguments for war can falter in a fleeting moment.
I am also hopeful that the corporate media’s attempt to dictate the discourse is increasingly challenged by the growing desire to confront the deception of the spin-doctors, the warmongers and the like. With violations of women’s, children’s and labor rights, there is an equally robust desire to restore them. Even the seemingly infallible New York Times was exposed for its true worth, a hub for misguided ideologues like Judith Miller. Instead, alternative publications such as AntiWar.com, CounterPunch.org, CommonDream.org and numerous others are growing in value and relevance, offering a rare perspective that was hardly accessible before the advent of the web.
But hope can be found everywhere: in the chants of Bolivia’s poor lauding Evo Morales and his people-centered agenda, in the tenacity and the spirit of the Asian tsunami survivors, in a Palestinian family donating the organs of their own child who fell victim to an Israeli soldier’s bullet to save an Israeli child’s life, in the valor of the four members of the Christian Peacemakers Team taken hostage in Iraq, and in the millions who are praying and acting for their liberation.
True, there is an abundance of reasons that would justify our sense of anguish and fear as we cast our eyes towards 2006, but there is certainly ample hope to carry us through the turmoil and trial of another year.
-Ramzy Baroud teaches mass communication at Curtin University of Technology. He is the author of the forthcoming book “Writing on the Second Palestinian Uprising: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle.â€ (Pluto Press, London). He is also editor-in-chief of PalestineChronicle.com.