An emotional seminar in Gaza reminds me of my Solidarity daysby Konstanty Gebert / October 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
The sea is panting. A warm, sticky, salty mist rises from the hot waves and creeps towards the land. The forecast promises 34 degrees centigrade in the shade, but there is no shade. The mist makes the the desperate landscape of Gaza-grey concrete buildings, badly laid roads, carts drawn by mangy horses-seem slightly out of focus, as if unreal. Everyone hopes for the evening desert wind.
Why are we here? Thanks to Wendy Luers. Her Foundation for a Civil Society used to support dissidents in eastern Europe. When, after 1989, they all became ministers and parliamentarians, she decided that they should share their experience with those whose countries had not yet negotiated the transition. Other countries joined in: the 1990s were full of democratic breakthroughs, as if history was making up for time bloodily wasted. And so the flying circus, called “The Project on Justice in Times of Transition,” came into being, and was even adopted by Harvard University. The circus, which includes South Africans, Northern Irishmen, Poles, Salvadorians and Czechs, arranges a seminar in a pre-transition country at which the natives, who have yet to bridge their own divide, are supposed to learn from our experience. This time the circus, at the invitation of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), hit Gaza.
Except that, of course, it does not work that way. Experience is not readily transferable: the knowledge of how to, say, set up a newspaper in martial-law Poland is not of very much use in Palestine. None the less, awareness of the fact that others were able to negotiate the transition, and end a bloody conflict, can be an inspiration. Further, someone fresh out of jail will not listen to the advice of a foreign do-gooder who has seen prison only on television. But if the argument that violence is unacceptable is made by a man who has spent 11 years in jail for terrorism and eventually changed his mind about violence, or if the argument about the futility of revenge is advanced by someone who lost his right arm to a secret police letter-bomb-they get listened to. They do not need to provide proof of their arguments. They themselves are proof. When David Ervine, a former terrorist turned member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, or Albie Sachs, a former white ANC activist turned judge in Johannesburg, spoke, you could hear a pin drop in the hall. (And…