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No justice, no peace — in Gaza or Ferguson

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Protester holding up a sign, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. (Photo: AP/Charlie Riedel)

Protester holding up a sign, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. (Photo: AP/Charlie Riedel)

In response to the masses of Americans protesting the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson’s streets, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon recently pronounced, “If we are going to have justice, we must first have, and maintain peace. This is a test.”  Like so many other leaders who have uttered this phrase—Nixon fails to realize that a peace whose foundation is not justice is not real peace: it is a falsity peddled by ingenuous leaders to pacify and quell justified rage, to lull an oppressed people into complacency, and is not an option for those seeking justice. [1]

Calling for peace before justice is a tired technique used by those in power to delay addressing the demands of the disenfranchised and oppressed.  It is a tactic Israel has used for decades in delaying Palestinians’ demands for freedom and an end to Israeli colonization.  The 1993 Oslo Accords implemented a ‘peace’ void of justice—deferring the ‘hard’ issues of Right of Return, the status of Jerusalem, and permanent borders for five years.  Today, 21 years later, Palestinians have seen their rights further violated and their land stolen at a higher rate than ever before—actions that directly contradict any stated intent by Israel to address Palestinian demands.

Nixon’s language also begs the question: What is he testing? Whether Black Americans can behave well enough to be rewarded with respect? Whether they can follow directions to stay home during curfew, and thereby merit the rights they are accorded as fellow humans? Whether they can be ‘good’ citizens and stop vocalizing their outrage, and then the police force might address its trigger-happy tendencies? The problem with all these scenarios (aside from being nauseatingly condescending) is that they predicate the implementation of rights on ‘good’ behavior—a behavior determined by those in power.  This is a tactic frequently used by Israel against Palestinians—most recently during negotiations to lift the seven-year blockade Israel and Egypt are imposing on the Palestinians of Gaza.  Israel maintains that there must be ‘quiet’ and their security needs met before beginning to discuss Palestinian demands of opening the borders, rebuilding Gaza’s economy, and prisoner release.  The contingency of justice on good behavior is a dangerous thing.  This predication moves a ‘right’ from being a set of conditions granted to everyone, by virtue of their being human, to a set of conditions that are awarded, conferred, earned, and given.  They are debatable; a privilege to be taken away due to bad behavior.  They are conditional.

A peace not built on a foundation of justice is a synonym for concessionary quietude, while rights continue to be violated and people continue to be dehumanized.  It patronizingly calls on the outraged to hush up and swallow their rage before the issue of justice can be discussed.  As John Oliver brilliantly put it, Nixon’s address to the people of Ferguson was reminiscent of  “a pissed off vice principal trying to restore order at assembly.” But the people protesting in the streets of Ferguson are not high school students, upset they have been assigned homework over winter break.  Rather they are people who are angry that black bodies are casually gunned down by an overly militarized police system—that their lives are viewed as less than those of others, and treated with suspect and violence.  From the rage over the stratospheric killing and destruction in Gaza to the rage over the killing of Michael Brown in Missouri and everything it represents—there is a general reaction by the public for those outraged to ‘calm down’ and ‘quiet down’.


When we live in a world in which one country can systematically commit genocide and war crimes against, and ethnically cleanse, an occupied people, all while implementing a system of apartheid, with complete impunity, it is appropriate to rage. [2]  When wearing a hoodie on the wrong day can get you killed, it is appropriate to rage.  When children are slaughtered by the hundreds—some in their sleep, some while playing soccer on the beach, some dead due to a lack of electricity, never knowing a day of freedom in their precious lives—it is appropriate to rage.  When an unarmed teenager is shot six—SIX—times and left to rot in the brutal August sun, it is appropriate to rage.  When some opportunistic and violent techie develops a Google app game through which players can simulate bombing Gaza, it is appropriate to rage.  When Palestinians and Black Americans (among many, many other disenfranchised peoples) need to continuously work to convince the world of their humanity and their deserving of dignity, equality, and value—it is appropriate to rage against these systems of systematic oppression and dehumanization.

In fact, it is healthy to rage—it demonstrates that one is human and aware of his/her humanity.  That one is aware of one’s worth. The act of raising one’s voice with others in a group setting gives rise to a feeling of belonging and positive mental health, reinforcing an understanding of self worth.  Knowledge of self-value is of utmost importance in the face of daily dehumanization.  From a collective, holistic viewpoint of humanity—understanding where systems have failed to respect people on an individual and communal level is vital.  Just as a sore throat might be your body’s signal that something is not quite right with your health, so outraged, protesting groups signal that something is not quite right in our world.  Protest and vocal outrage are visible reactions to visible violence—however most disenfranchised groups suffer from less legible, daily violence such as routine humiliation and verbal abuse. Suppressing this rage is to suppress reclamation of and expression of humanity and self-worth.  To not feel outrage in the face of such unrelenting dehumanization and disregard for human life is to lose touch with one’s own humanity.

To accept the status quo of peace without justice is to accept a reality in which one’s life is valued less. And this is never acceptable. Those of us who seek justice know that rights are never readily conferred from those in power to the oppressed.  They must be wrested through continuous struggle—through an unwavering determination to be treated as equal, as a human deserving of dignity and freedom.  As the old protest chant goes—no justice, no peace.


[1] In an attempt to stay focused, I use the term ‘justice’ here to mean the meeting of an oppressed people’s demands, within a framework of human rights and dignity, to redress the wrongdoing at hand.

[2] I use ‘rage’ as a term encompassing all manners of self-expression of anger which do not violate the rights and/or dignity of others.

Shireen Tawil

Shireen Tawil is a public health professional specializing in mental and reproductive health based in Milan.

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14 Responses

  1. just on August 20, 2014, 4:52 pm

    Fantastic article– perfect in every way.

    The constant traumatic stress of the Palestinian people is terrible in every way. I worry about that. Yes, they are resilient– amazingly so. Those wounds that are mostly hidden need to be tended as much as the physical wounds and deformities from this massacre. Justice will go a long way toward healing. The end of the Occupation, the end of the grind of violence and attempts at dehumanization will as well. I could go on…….

    Thank you Shireen.

    • American on August 20, 2014, 11:12 pm

      ” Fantastic article– perfect in every way.”>>>>

      Ditto, Excellent.

  2. seafoid on August 20, 2014, 4:59 pm

    ‘Hamas says in an official statement that Israel “failed” to kill the group’s military wing’s commander Mohammed Deif, and that he will continue to lead the Palestinian struggle. Earlier, Fox News reported that an Israeli intelligence source said Deif was killed in an Israel airstrike on Tuesday.

    “The leaders of the enemy were behind their offices looking at the screens and their intelligence and apparatuses made them believe that the moment of celebration was imminent,” the Hamas spokesman said. “You have failed and you have missed.” “

    • just on August 20, 2014, 5:04 pm

      He lives to resist another day. I am sorry for his loss of his wife and baby.

  3. seafoid on August 20, 2014, 5:06 pm

    It doesn’t seem to be going so well for Israel

    “Answering a reporter’s question, the prime minister denied that ties between Israel and the United States have become strained during the Gaza operation, and commended the U.S. for its support of Israel’s “right to self-defense” and for approving more funds for Iron Dome batteries.

    The prime minister discussed the Gaza operation, Operation Protective Edge, and said that though it was not over, Hamas has been dealt a “heavy blow.”

    “In recent weeks we’ve dealt Hamas a harsh blow. We’ve prevented, via Iron Dome, thousands of rockets from hitting our communities, and we destroyed thousands of rockets.

    “We’ve dismantled its abilities in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] and its attempts to stage a coup there. We’re determined to pursue the campaign with all means at our disposal and we won’t stop.” ”

    And there is a lot of discontent in southern Israel – Israel won’t declare the massacres a war as to do so would open the floodgates to compensation claims (for Jews only, of course, but enough to damage the economic numbers) .

    • rpickar on August 20, 2014, 6:21 pm

      Every word about rockets was a fraud. With the Israelis, its all Orwell, all the time.

      • jd65 on August 21, 2014, 12:33 am

        Agreed Robert. When speaking about their relationship with the Palestinians and the countless lives they’ve ruined and snuffed out, Israeli spokespersons tell us, at best, quarter truths. They’ve spent so many decades perfecting their language of aphoristic lies and obfuscations (“only democracy in the Middle East,” “right to exist,” “right to defend itself,” “most moral army in the world,” “we made a very generous offer,” “they want to wipe us off the map [ie: kill all the Jews]” etc etc etc…) that they now can’t see that people are starting to (slowly) recognize their language for what it is: Gobbledygook. They just keep spewing it in hopes that nobody will notice. Some noticed right from 1948 and earlier. A few more started noticing after 1967 (USS Liberty, anyone?). More noticed after Lebanon, 1982. Now, after Operations Cast Lead and during Protective Edge (there’s more of your Orwell observation right there in the namings of their operations, Robert. Truly a grotesque perversion of reality) it’s possible that a majority of Americans may notice. Notice what?, you ask. Notice that the problem is Israel. Israel is the problem. That can’t be said enough times: Israel is the problem. Israel is the problem. Israel is the problem. Israel is the problem. For the love of Pete, how long can they get away with it?

      • Justpassingby on August 21, 2014, 3:04 am


        What do you mean with the word fraud?

    • AbigailOK on August 21, 2014, 10:44 am

      @seafoid They all of a sudden though denying the existence of the Palestinians, an enormous interest for the Kurds to get their own country. So Irak, Iran (…), Turkey and Syria (…) will be fractured.
      Don’t see it happen but the neo-cons of which nutanyahoo is one and surely not him alone have set this as their goal long ago and I guess also other American institutions.

      Another link to haaretz with a plea from Archbishop Desmond Tutu. For the mob and masses of Israel: They don’t read haaretz though.

  4. Linda J on August 21, 2014, 12:16 am

    Thank you for this eloquent reminder of something we chant all the time: “No justice, no peace.” It is literally true and you have proved it above.

  5. jd65 on August 21, 2014, 12:41 am

    Bravo Shireen Tawil. One of the best pieces I’ve read here in a while. Thank you. This sequence was particularly powerful (referring to Nixon’s ‘This is a test’ phrase), “Nixon’s language also begs the question: What is he testing? Whether Black Americans can behave well enough to be rewarded with respect? Whether they can follow directions to stay home during curfew, and thereby merit the rights they are accorded as fellow humans? Whether they can be ‘good’ citizens and stop vocalizing their outrage, and then the police force might address its trigger-happy tendencies?” Damn straight. Those four sentences should be printed as a letter to the editor in every paper in the country…

  6. on August 21, 2014, 1:16 am

    Thank you – great article. I feel that because of Ferguson the average American will now expect a much higher standard of behavior from the average US policeman. The MSM tonight are analyzing the inadequate articles in the NYT that take the right wing police position against the protesters. These articles are exactly like the pro-Israel, hopelessly biased rubbish the NYT writes about Israel/Palestine. In the future I think that that we will expect the US police to avoid violence against protesters and to exercise non-violent restraint when arresting suspects. In my opinion these new standards will also be applied to the Israelis in dealing with the Palestinians. There is a remarkably positive side to the unrest in Ferguson. It is as thought the entire US populations has just been educated about Gandi and peaceful protest. The effect has been dramatic and tens of millions of Americans who had forgotten the civil rights era have been forced to think about justice for oppressed and protesting minorities. In response to this, Bibi is trying desperately to equate Hamas with ISIS so that normal standards will never be applied to the people of Gaza. Bibi has already lost the battle. All we have to do now is remember to mention Ferguson in the same sentence as the West Bank, Gaza, Fatah and Hamas.

  7. on August 21, 2014, 9:49 am

    There is one more very important lesson that can be taken from the Ferguson incident that has garnered so much positive national attention. The US has a gun problem – huge numbers of guns and often there are untrained people who accidentally, needlessly or thoughtlessly kill other people. We seem to be unable to control these excesses by national will or legislation, due to the activities of organizations like the NRA and others. My thought is that if we cannot get rid of the guns then we should demand more advanced training for the people who fire the guns, using the most sophisticated methods that the world has produced. By making a science out of gun training and gun restraint we could ensure that people are forced to think seriously about the gun as a deterrent without endangering the public. We expend huge resources teaching people how to kill. We should be teaching them how not to kill, indeed how to avoid killing anyone, starting with the military, police and the gun owning public. In other words we need to think about the techniques that can be used to deal with those people who usually end up being shot by an officer with a gun, as happened recently in Ferguson and for that matter numerous times every day in the USA. We need to realize that these people would not be shot in the UK or in other European countries due to enlightened policies of training and law enforcement. And as we also realize, such people in the territories illegally occupied by the Israelis would be even more likely to be shot than in the USA. But currently Israel is falsely cultivating a reputation as the expert in dealing with terrorism, crowd control and local insurgencies and US police chiefs are often invited to Israel for advanced training. In other words the USA is bad and Israel is much worse and Israel is trying to set our operational standards using their own distorted logic and criminality. If Israel can ensure that the USA is as bad as Israel then Israel can continue with impunity to take over these territories. Perhaps, despite Israel’s malign influence in the USA, gun culture can be changed from a culture of shooting people to a culture of avoiding the shooting of people without threatening the owners and collectors of guns. It is a very simple concept. Basically, to mention an extreme case, if there is a crazy person with a knife, do you need to shoot him in the head or heart in order to solve the problem? Is a swat team necessary ? Thankfully, Ferguson is changing the landscape in how we are starting to analyze these issues. The key is training and more training in how to avoid fatalities. At the moment this training is entirely dominated by training in using technology to kill and maim people as in the Israeli occupied territories.

  8. Exceptionally stated and entirely true.

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