Towards a Better World

You young people in this room are about to inherit a very dangerous, potentially chaotic world.

Most of you are Americans, citizens of the most advanced, the most privileged country.

And those privileges, coupled with your own interest in world affairs and the United Nations, bring with them new and extraordinary responsibilities.

Thank you sincerely for this invitation to speak with you this evening as you begin what I am sure will be a tremendously educational experience at this very special University of Chicago Model United Nations.

Thank you especially as I am well aware my name is not Mary Robinson, or Ramsey Clark, or Ralph Nader, and that few of you may have heard my name before this evening.

Indeed, in past years usually persons working for or with the U.N. in one way or another have spoken to this forum. And they have usually focused on the U.N. system itself, human rights issues, and very frankly matters not very controversial; some might even say "safe".

But in many ways, including psychologically, the world of the roaring 90s -- which is all most of you have directly experienced in your own lives until lately - also crashed on 11 Sept. And I expect there are other crashes of various kinds now ahead of us all - political and economic, as well as military.

There are real and serious reasons our world is in such turmoil and danger today.

There are real and serious reasons there are "suicide bombers" in that great city which represents the focal point of most of our religious faiths - Jerusalem, a marvelous and unique city where I have spent much time.

There are real and serious reasons young people your age in other places are choosing to become what Americans call "terrorists" and what they themselves call "martyrs" and "freedom fighters".

And there are real reasons, real grievances, real and profound struggles, which lie behind 911. For we are not in a new war at all. Rather we are in a new phase of an ongoing war in which millions of people in far away countries have already been killed, in many cases by policies and forces and allies of our own country.

And so, it is with these responsibilities and this new situation in mind that I have chosen to diverge from the "safe" subjects and deal with issues that will be crucial for your futures, and for our country's future, and for our entire world's future.

This evening I want to speak with you not about general human rights but about specific political and economic rights; not about the successes of the United Nations but about its failures and the great challenges it now faces.

And most of all I want to speak with you about the subject I personally know best and first-hand from over 150 visits to the Middle East region and 30 years of conferences and relationships since I was a student like you - about the "Middle East Peace Process" and why it has exploded in an orgy of even greater violence and despair than when it began.

Most of the human rights problems in our world really have deep political, economic and territorial roots. Basic issues of power and wealth are involved, both at the national and international level. How we structure our society, and who is really in control and why, are the truly crucial issues too often not truly discussed?

The most challenging and basic issue of all is how our world's resources are owned and controlled and distributed, because this is what determines crucial things like how people are fed and clothed and housed; how people receive, and in most cases do not receive, health care; how people are able, or unable, to provide for themselves and their families and their futures.

And sadly, unlike for us who are so privileged, the majority of humans on planet earth 21st century are in miserable and desperate circumstances.

In the wake of World War II the victorious powers created the United Nations, just as they had created the League of Nations after the previous "War To End All Wars", then renamed World War I. The U.N. quickly became a world forum that in one way or another had to be. But it did not have to evolve as it has.

For today's U.N. has not lived up to either the dream or the promise of its founders. Most of all it has not fulfilled its primary responsibility to achieve the kind of independence, credibility, and assertiveness on behalf of all of the people on Planet Earth, rather than on behalf of those most powerful and wealthy.

* There have been far too many major Security Council and General Assembly resolutions that have gone unheeded, unenforced, in many cases unremembered.

* The major powers, especially the United States, have manipulated and cowered the U.N. far more than should have been either allowed or tolerated.

* There is a terrible misdistribution of wealth on our planet leaving the majority of human beings in poverty and despair - the U.N. should by now have far more seriously addressed this major dilemma in far more assertive and potent ways.

* There is an unprecedented environmental catastrophe looming. Projections from U.N. bodies warn that in the lifetime of most in this room our planet could experience unprecedented environmental change including as much as a 10 degree temperature rise leading to calamity on a tremendous scale.

* The international arms race is terribly out of control, propelled in fact by the very powers in charge of the U.N. through the Security Council - an international military-industrial complex is fueling future warfare and potential Armageddon.

* And even if these terrible weapons of mass annihilation are controlled and never actually used human kind is squandering the best of its talent and wealth building ever new generations of ever more frightful weapons; rather than schools and hospitals and food for all.

* Nor has the U.N. and its many agencies properly prepared to seriously fight international disease and starvation - two plaques now ravaging the African continent and threatening much of humanity.

By now you may have realized that I have not included any jokes or one-liners to enliven my talk with you this evening. Frankly, the situation we are all now in is simply too dangerous and too tragic for jokes or for pointing fingers at individual political personalities.

What we need urgently to do is to focus our greatest attention on the big political and economic issues and institutions - and to find ways to restructure and manage them for the common good. That in fact was the original United Nations vision and dream. That is what you are challenged to be discussing, debating, and learning from each other about for the next three very intense days.

We need to focus on resuscitating a United Nations which itself is in a difficult predicament desperately needing to find a way to be independent and potent. Though it is an organization of member states it is urgently important it also become a far more democratic forum, and thus a far more respected forum, representing the peoples of our world, not just their often corrupt and self-serving, repressive and deceptive governments.

Very frankly, the world's only superpower has done far too much controlling, manipulating, and badgering. And when it doesn't get its way far too much vetoing.

Just a few months ago, before 911, the U.S. was nearly totally isolated at the important U.N. gathering in Durban South Africa - blustering and bullying everyone nearly about everything relating to history, racism, and basic economic and political rights.

And since 911 the U.S. has once again vetoed a Security Council resolution rightly seeking to provide some protection for the Palestinian people, whom it declared way back in 1947 should have a state of their own immediately.

Indeed, let me turn directly now to that most controversial of issues, the one the U.N. itself midwifed, and the one the U.N. has spent more time and energy and anguish dealing with than any other.

Of course I am referring to the situation in what many still call "The Holy Land", the area that was Palestine until 1947, the area now called Israel and the "occupied territories".

It is this very region which also has given birth to modern-day "terrorism", to airplane hijackings, suicide bombings, truck bombs, and political kidnapping. And today, because of the past wrongs for which the United Nations and the United States are considerably responsible, it is now more fractured and divided and blood-soaked than it has been since Biblical days and then the period of the Crusades.

But that was a world of swords and crucifixions. Ours is a world of nuclear and biological bombs.

Your own schedule of sessions and debates at this Model United Nations has this situation in the Middle East more prominent than any other. And rightly so.

Many of you may find what I will now outline troubling. Many of you, young Americans, will wonder how can what he is saying be true in view of what is usually said about these issues in the popular mass media in our country.

Indeed, I still remember when I was in graduate school how upset and disbelieving I was when Professor Richard Falk at Princeton first used such concepts as "racism", "war crimes", and "apartheid" when discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Then I was a student like you are today. Then I had not yet had a chance to travel the world, meet so many new people, hear so many new views, and ponder these great issues for myself.

Now, more than 25 years later, when I have personally been so lucky to have had such opportunities, what I have to try to do is squeeze these 25 years into less than 25 minutes - now half gone already!

All I can realistically do in the next few moments is share with you my own conclusions; and then encourage you to start reaching your own. And in fact in just a few minutes when I have finished, I encourage you to start with the most difficult and important questions you can come up with to ask of me.

Today the situation in the Middle East is immensely worse than when I represented the International Student Movement for the United Nations at U.N. Headquarters for three years. It has been made worse precisely by the "Middle East Peace Process". And the basic reason is that all along rather than a true peace process it has been, and it is, a domination and subjugation and repression process, and we have all been taken for a ride!

Let me try to explain in the following way: If you had invited any of the following much more distinguished speakers, most of whom I am fortunate to have as personal friends, here is what they would have told you about the realities of the "Middle East 'Peace Process':

If you had invited Professor NOAM CHOMSKY: "The agreements incorporate the extremist version of U.S.-Israeli rejectionism.and are closest to the Sharon Plan of the early 1980s... [They] should be compared to the institution of that monstrous system of Apartheid in the former South Africa.(upon the Palestinian people)."

If you had invited Professor EDWARD SAID: "There is a wanton murder of language evident in the phrase 'peace process'. At a time when people are suffering and shabby leaders are reaping Nobel Prizes that only enable more exploitation, it is crucial to bear witness to the truth. Far from bringing peace [the agreement] will bring greater suffering for Palestinians and an assured threat to the Israeli people.. Every leader involved with the Oslo peace process - Palestinian, Israeli, American or European - has acted without principles and without anything remotely resembling vision and truthfulness. Worse, large droves of intellectuals, scholars and experts have betrayed their vocations, to say nothing of their expertise and knowledge, and this betrayal has contributed to the amazingly compliant attitude of the American media in particular, who have celebrated, extolled, saluted and rejoiced, where there has been neither occasion nor cause to justify such excessive handclapping and jubilation."

If you had invited DR. EYAD SARRAJ - Dr. Sarraj, a distinguished Palestinian, who has his Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard by the way, made these remarks at a Georgetown University forum:

" We are not against the rule of law, in fact we want the rule of law. We want fairness and equality before the law. We want to feel that the people have rights, and they are dignified; after so many years of brutality and repression and humiliation at the hands of the Israelis. This is what the people here are longing for - dignity, and pride.

Dr. Sarraj wrote an important essay titled "Why We Have All Become Suicide Bombers" five years ago now. It was widely published throughout the world, except in the US. In it Dr. Sarraj wrote: "the struggle of Palestinians today is how not to become a bomb and the amazing thing is not the occurrence of the suicide bombing, rather the rarity of them."

If you had invited ROBERT FISK - the Western correspondent longest in the Middle East region, writing for The Independent in London for the past quarter century: He made these remarks in an interview with me also five years ago now, long before recent events proved him right:

"I put 'peace process' in quotation marks when I write about it in my newspaper, it is an American statement, it is definitely not a Middle Eastern statement. All one can say about the 'Peace Process' now is that it is dead, it is finished, it is over, and the most remarkable thing I find in coming now to the States is the degree to which people do not realize that. I have to live the reality of the Middle East and I have not met anyone in the past two to three months including those who originally, wrongly in my view, believed it would work who does not now believe that it is dead, and finished completely."

If you had invited HAIDAR ABDUL-SHAFI - a most distinguished secular Palestinian who was Chairman of the Palestinian Delegation at the Madrid Conference and all subsequent international negotiations until Oslo - and by the way, he refused to attend the White House ceremony in 1993 predicting what was to come:

"How do we view the acts of resistance by Hamas and the Islamists? Palestinians are entitled to resort to all sorts of measures including legitimate armed struggle to try to rid themselves of occupation. The Israeli position, which is based on Israeli military power and with heedlessness toward legality, and legitimacy, and United Nations resolutions, is actually a cause for violence... Israel in the recent time killed so many Palestinians in cold blood, Palestinians that it apprehended and could have arrested, but it preferred to kill them. The world is going to realize that this peace process is not really a peace process, it is hopeless.."

If you had invited PROFESSOR CHARLES BLACK* - one of America's most respected scholars of Constitution and International law who taught his entire career at the Yale University Law School. And yes, here too, no one would publish these views in the USA, the first time in his life Professor Black could not find a publisher for his essay about the U.S., Israel, and the Palestinians:

"They are imprisoned under obscene conditions, after kangaroo trials, or no trials at all. They are regularly shot at; enough of them are killed to make death ever-present. Many are maimed; many are disfigured for life. Yet they come out in the streets again and again, these young people. What name shall we give to the trait of character that produces conduct like that? Why do you hesitate? You know what the word is. Do you hesitate because that word just never happens to be spoken in American in application to these young Palestinians people? Or is it because you fear that a revolution in your thought and feeling will have to follow your pronouncing the word? Well, you're very likely right about that last. That makes you nervous? So let me help you. I'll start things off by saying the word for you the first time. The word is 'courage'"

And finally, though I could go on and on in this vein, had you invited ARUNDHATI ROY - Winner of India's most prestigious literary prize - and again published throughout the world, except in the US. Here she is writing about the World Trade Tower/Pentagon attacks:

"Could it be that the anger that led to the attacks has its taproot not in American freedom and democracy, but in the US government's record of commitment and support to exactly the opposite things -- to military and economic terrorism, insurgency, military dictatorship, religious bigotry and unimaginable genocide (outside America)?"

"Now Bush and Bin Laden have even begun to borrow each other's rhetoric. Each refers to the other as 'the head of the snake'. Both invoke God and use the loose millenarian currency of good and evil as their terms of reference. Both are engaged in unequivocal political crimes. Both are dangerously armed - one with the nuclear arsenal of the obscenely powerful, the other with the incandescent, destructive power of the utterly hopeless. The important thing to keep in mind is that neither is an acceptable alternative to the other."

"With all due respect to President Bush, the people of the world do not have to choose between the Taliban and the U.S. government. All the beauty of human civilisation - our art, our music, our literature - lies beyond these two fundamentalist, ideological poles. There is as little chance that the people of the world can all become middle-class consumers as there is that they will all embrace any one particular religion. The issue is not about good v. evil or Islam v. Christianity as much as it is about space. About how to accommodate diversity, how to contain the impulse towards hegemony every kind of hegemony, economic, military, linguistic, religious and cultural."

Please let me conclude with a startling poem, one which contains the seeds of possible salvation rather than future cataclysm.

For if you had invited Israel's very well-known and respected Israeli playwright and television host DAN ALMAGOR he might have recited this poem to you. He wrote it during the first Intifada after visiting the Palestinian city of Nablus for the first time. Before writing it he went back a second time to make sure, this time accompanied by his close friend, then the Defense Minister of Israel, none other than General Yitzhak Rabin, with whom he then parted ways.

And this poem is not just about Israelis and Palestinians, it's about all of us, especially now.


Most of these people truly desire
To harvest their olive trees
As they have for hundreds of years.
Most of these people truly desire
To raise their kids
Not to throw stones
Or Molotov cocktails;
But to study in peace
To Play in peace

And raise a flag.
A flag.
Their own flag.
And facing that flag, to cry,
As we did, that night, then, excited as we were.
And we have no, have no, have no
Right in the world
To rob them of this desire,
This flag, These tears,
These tears which always, always
Come after all the others.

Let us start preparing our defence.
We will need it soon enough;
Those who actually did it.
And those who still do.
And those who hushed it up
And those who still do.
And those who said nothing
And those who clucked their tongue, saying
"Something must be done really;
(But not tonight, I have a concert.
A gala event. A birthday!)
Indeed, we'll all get our summons one day
For the Colonel's Trials.

The Colonels' trials are coming.
Their time will come, it must be so.
The trials of the generals, the colonels,
And the division, the battalion,
And the platoon commanders.
There is no escaping it.
This is how history works.
What shall we say then?
What will the colonels, the captains, the corporals
What will they say -
Of those terrible beatings, The Brutality.
Of houses blown up.
And most of all, the humiliation, That humiliation.

Of patients forced to wipe off the writing on the
Of old men forced to take down a flag
From an electric pole
Who got electroducted, or fell
And broke their legs.
Of the old water carrier
Whom soldiers ordered off his donkey
And role on his back, just for fun.

We turned a deaf ear.
We turned a deaf heart.
Mean, arrogant, and dumb.
Who do we think we are
To be so deaf, so dump?
Ignoring the obvious: They are as human
As we are, as we are.
At least as we used to be.
Only forty one years ago.
No less diligent, no less smart
As sensitive, as full of hope.
They love their wives and children
As we do, no less.

And our children now shoot theirs
With lead, plastic bullets, and gas.
The Palestinians State will come to pass, it will.
Not a poet wrote this. History will.
And seasons will come and seasons will go
And life goes on as we very well know.
Weddings and birth and death all the same.
But just the shame of it. The shame.

Thank you again so very much for inviting me and for so politely listening to me. Now it is your turn.

Mark Bruzonsky is the publisher of MidEast Realities.

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