Friday, September 26, 2008
Israeli Pacifist: The Life Of Joseph Abileah
For decades the Palestine-Israel conflict has caused innumerable casualties and atrocities on both sides. Amid this violent dispute, numerous proponents of peace have advocated nonviolent alternatives to the bloody skirmishes between the Palestinians and Israelis. Joseph Abileah is one of these advocates for peace and has spent the majority of his life working to end this conflict through nonviolence. In Israeli Pacifist: the Life of Joseph Abileah, Anthony G. Bing carefully outlines the life and works of this persistent peace-maker.
Bing stresses that Abileah was an ordinary man. Joseph Abileah was born to a Jewish couple in Austria, where he lived most of his childhood. Since an early age, Abileah loved music and he later became a skilled violinist. His adoration of musical harmonies drove him to strive for the same kind of harmony in real life. As a small boy, Abileah moved to Haifa, a town in Palestine where Arabs and Jews lived together in peace. These childhood experiences showed Joseph that peace between these two disparate groups was possible and realistically achievable. As a young man, Abileah reveled in sight-seeing and found a new connection with the land. This connection helped him to see the common brotherhood between the Jews and the Arabs, “The fundamental brotherhood of Arab and Jew appeared to him as an almost mystical union, and his experiences with the land on both sides of the Jordan River convinced the young Abileah that the land should be as undivided as the kinship” (19). This belief in the brotherhood of Arabs and Jews strongly influenced Abileah in his future work as a peace-maker.
By an early age, Joseph formed his worldview based solely on his own experiences. He was convinced that fear was intertwined with hatred and once fear was eliminated, hatred could be forgotten. Furthermore, he firmly believed that a Jewish state should not be established on the basis of violence. With this worldview, Joseph embarked on his quest for reconciling the Jews and the Arabs through nonviolent alternatives.
Joseph devoted himself to work camps, where Jews, Arabs, and foreign volunteers worked together to rebuild villages and help bridge the gap between Palestine and Israel. He also made frequent excursions into Palestine to supply homeless Palestinians with essential materials. Soon Joseph began to involve himself in organizations with like-minded people and ideals. These organizations included the War Resisters International (WRI), where he was elected to the International Council of the WRI, the League for Human and Civil Rights (LHCR) and the American Friends Service Committee, to name a few. One of Joseph’s major contributions was his memorandum to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). This memo advocated rejection of the partition plan, the union of Palestine and Transjordan under the ruling of King Abdullah, total disarmament, and multiple other proposals dealing with education, health, and economics. This plan was considered by UNSCOP and Abileah was invited to make an oral presentation to the committee. Although this invitation was withdrawn some months later, Joseph remained true to his memo and advocated these proposals throughout his lifetime, especially the union of Palestine and Transjordan. Another major happening in Abileah’s life was when he was asked by the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights to represent the organization at the UN’s special hearing on suspected Israeli infringements on human rights in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Although Abileah was a little reluctant, he testified in two hearings in front of the UN Committee. At these hearings Joseph, like always, spoke of his own experiences and interviews with Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Joseph was later noted as being especially helpful. Finally, Abileah is particularly proud of his formation of the Society for Middle East Confederation. The establishment of this society had been a dream for Joseph and he successfully accomplished it. The Society for Middle East Confederation is centered around “solving the Middle East conflict by cooperation of Arabs and Jews on the economic and political level. These range from a BENELUX pattern (economic cooperation) to a full confederation of states, providing equal status and representation to each of the member-components” (156). The accomplishments of Joseph Abileah are numerous and his persistent optimism and belief in nonviolent methods is unwavering. Bing portrays Abileah as a true peace-maker and a strong individual who deserves the admiration of Palestinians and Israelis alike.
This book is incredibly well-written and Bing does an extraordinary job at outlining the life and labors of Joseph Abileah. The beginning of each chapter conveniently includes the dates in which the events of that chapter occurred and multiple pictures and primary sources are helpful in understanding the writings and events in Abileah’s life. Furthermore, Bing is careful to explain the historical events surrounding Joseph’s life. By providing a historical context and background to Abileah’s works, Bing shows the hostile environment in which Joseph was advocating peace and nonviolence. The only qualms I had with this book was that there were not enough quotes or opinions from Joseph’s close friends and family. Although there are a few, I felt that it would have been helpful to see his friends’ and family’s perspective on his works and personality. Overall, this book was a very interesting and easy read for anyone interested in the nonviolent life, or even those who wish to learn about a great man that should be admired the world-over.
This book truly made me want to learn more about the lives of other pacifists and nonviolence advocates. This bibliography has shown me the meanings of true courage and steadfast perseverance. I was struck by Joseph’s unwavering faith in the goodness of the human heart and I am interested in reading more about supposedly normal individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to humankind. For me, this book was a launch pad for my journey into learning more about, and hopefully embracing, nonviolence.