The business of law, properly pursued, is concerned with dispute resolution. Lawyers are paid to do three broad categories of work, namely: advising on how clients may arrange their affairs so as to avoid disputes; assisting clients in the event of a dispute; or enabling a client to secure and enjoy the fruits of an award arising out of a dispute resolution process. As a lawyer I can say that I have spent the last 25 years in training for and in the practice of dispute resolution.
Over those years, I have come to recognise the symptoms of intractable disputes and how, given sufficient fuel, disputes can become not only intractable, sucking in parties and surfacing over a wide range of issues. I recall a case of a married couple’s split which generated proceedings in the Family, Land, Commercial and Criminal Divisions of the High Court as well as a reference to the Constitutional Court. There was also disciplinary action against lawyers in the Law Council and a suit over unpaid legal fees.
The war between the ex-spouses only really came to an end when God called time on the life of one of the spouses. Before that they had even ignored the ingenious and wise intervention of the judge in the Family Division, who called the warring spouses’ attention to the irreparable damage that they were doing to each other and themselves irrespective of who was right or wrong.
News coming from the Middle East this week reminded me of that case. I do not think any word better describes the Israel – Palestinian dispute better than “intractable”. The protagonists have fought each other on all levels, directly and by proxy, across time and geography. We know that each side is fighting for the right to exist and to determine its own political, social, cultural and economic affairs in accordance with its own unique view of history.
Judgments of which side is right or wrong on which issue are futile at this point in time because the collateral damage in terms of innocent lives lost, injuries and the destruction of property has become simply too huge to ignore. Too many people are dying, too many people are being maimed physically and psychologically yet all that we hear are all parties – protagonists, international sponsors and the multi-national agencies, like the UN – doing and saying the same things that they have all said and done before.
The blame game is pointless.
The tit-for-tat has been going on for so long and in too many arenas that nobody really knows which is “tit” or “tat” anymore. It is also moot to sit down and try to resolve a dispute that has been raging for 60 odd years on the basis of the rights or wrongs of one particular incident. But what we cannot and must not do is remain silent about is the fact that there is nothing in the world worth the endless loss of life, wanton maiming, mindless destruction of property and, perhaps worst of all, the ceaseless poisoning of young minds. This thing, for I can find no other polite word to call it, must stop!
As Jean De La Fontaine said, “A person often meets his destiny on the road that he took to avoid it.” If Israel is fighting for legitimacy and its existence, the methods that it is deploying now are making it lose its legitimacy and guarantee that it will, in time, cease to exist as a Jewish state. If Hamas is fighting for the liberation of the Palestinian people, then the methods that it is deploying now are guaranteeing the people of Palestine a more bloody oppression.
It’s not time to determine who is right and who is wrong or, indeed, when or how they were right or wrong. It is time to stop killing and maiming people – and the Jews and Arab Palestinians are just that, people.