May 15 marked the sixty-second anniversary of the Nakba—the Day of Disaster for the Palestinians. Nakba coincides with Israel’s Independence Day. Both sides are still fighting over land. It is not about religion or racism. The conflict is over real estate.
The present boundaries came to be over time. After Jewish Independence and the Nakba in 1948, Israel fought to gain control over more of the land. Israeli historian, Ilan Pappé, says that 531 Palestinian villages disappeared in the Nakba. Over 750,000 Palestinians became refugees. The war of 1967 allowed Israel to recapture parts of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. These all became occupied territories. Governments are prohibited by the Geneva Convention and the United Nations Charter and Resolutions from settling on occupied territory. Nonetheless, Israel has refused to withdraw to the 1967 borders and has adopted an aggressive policy of building settlements on the West Bank. The West Bank is becoming a series of isolated ghettos (bantustans). Gaza is already an “open-air prison.” The United States and the United Nations have repeatedly asked Israel to withdraw from these territories. The Palestinians are mainly Muslims but we must remember that there are a significant number of Palestinian Christians. Their numbers are dwindling as the Christians emigrate.
Succumbing to Zionist pressures after the horrors of the Holocaust, the United Nations gave Jews the right to settle in Palestine. The Zionists proclaimed that “it was a land without people for a people without land.” There was one problem with this colonialism. Arabs had populated the land for millennia.
The United States has been supportive of Israel—a democracy in the Middle East. We have contributed on the average of 7 million dollars a day in aid to Israel over the years. Whenever I contact my senators and my congressman about the plight of the Palestinians, they always conclude by reminding me that the Palestinians are terrorists. Security justifies every action.
There is no recognition that over the years Israel has terrorized Palestinians. The cleansing of the land resulted in 33 massacres, including the ferocious massacre at Deir Yassin. Menachem Begin, who later became Prime Minister, gloated over the massacre in his diary (http://www.ifamericansknew.org/history/ref-qumsiyeh.html).
The Israeli occupation continues to terrorize Palestinians today—road blocks, check points, detention, torture, reprisals on noncombatants, Israeli-only highways, and the Wall. An international investigation, which was summarily dismissed by the U. S. Department of State, documented atrocities in Gaza.
By the same token, Israelis have documented repeated acts of terrorism. The American media tends to spotlight the Israeli side of the story. Israel justifies the continued occupation on the grounds of security, especially against suicide bombers. Recently, Roger Cohen, New York Times Columnist, reported, “Netanyahu, in a 20-minute interview, told me of ‘the physical and psychological reality’ of a nation whose experience is that ‘concessions lead to insecurity.’” (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/23/opinion/23iht-edcohen.html?ref=opinion) Security remains a concern but many believe Israel overstates its case.
My wife and I participated in a study mission to Israel Palestine two years ago. As I view the situation today, I think back to three encounters we had. The most recent turmoil in Gaza was erupting.
We visited a settler in Efrata who welcomed us warmly into his home. He explained that he had graduated from the University of Wisconsin and what it meant to him to live in Israel. Shortly after we returned to America, I read that a student from Efrata was among those killed at a yeshiva in Jerusalem. I emailed our host and told him I was sorry to hear about the death of the student. I concluded by telling him that I was saddened by the many deaths that were occurring in Gaza. He replied, “Please do not compare the death of the student with the death of terrorists in Gaza.” This is the statement of a man who feels his family’s safety is threatened by Palestinians.
Later in our visit, we had lunch with a Palestinian family in Beit Sahour near Bethlehem. The entire family greeted us. As we ate lunch, the daughter looked at her fiancé and then said to me, “His father was killed by the Israelis.” It was a matter of fact statement and the conversation went on without any further discussion of it. This statement reflects the resignation of a people who are powerless under oppression.
In Ibillin, we met a remarkable man—Archbishop Elias Chacour. He and his family were refugees from 1948. He recounted how they had been forced to abandon their beloved village. They were allowed to return only to witness the village being destroyed by the Israeli air force right before their eyes. Yet, this man spoke with no hate in his heart. He said, “I love the Jews but I hate what they are doing to my people.” Over the years, in spite of Israeli opposition and threats of demolition, Archbishop Chacour has built the Mars Elias educational complex which educates Muslims, Christians, and Jews. The students and their families are learning how to live together. This is the statement of a man who believes people can learn to live together.
Chacour recounts how the Jews and Arabs lived side by side peacefully for many years prior to 1948. As the U. S. presses the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to work toward a solution, there may be signs of hope on the horizon. Maybe they can live peacefully together again.
On April 19, 2010, according to AP reports, Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, said that “the world will not put up with decades more of Israeli rule over the Palestinian people.” Barak spoke on the eve of Israel’s Memorial Day which is dedicated to fallen soldiers and civilians who have died in terror attacks. The next day is Israel’s 62nd Independence Day celebration. Barak identified three major issues which need to be resolved: the status of contested Jerusalem, determination of final borders, and a solution for the Palestinian refugees. Whether these words will lead to a resolution of the conflict remains to be seen. Barak’s words were more conciliatory than the Prime Minister’s. The same report stated that, in an interview on Good Morning America, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not stop expansion of settlements in Jerusalem. (http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2010/04/israeli_defense_minister_ehud.html)
Wrongs have been perpetrated by both parties. If we know the history and facts, then it may be easier for us to follow Chacour’s advice. He asks us to be aware of the plight of the Palestinians but not to become haters of the Jews as a result. We have to offer dignity on both sides if we are to overcome the barriers to peace. Offering dignity, alay dangal, is the Filipino understanding of nonviolence.
As we remember the events and hurts and death and destruction of the past, we need to follow the lead of Elias Chacour. Offering dignity to both sides will lead to common ground. Justice will lead to right order and right relationships between Israelis and Palestinians.
Barak’s comments may signal a new receptivity to a two-state solution on the part of the Israelis. Recent reports of the use of nonviolent resistance strategies on the part of the Palestinians may signal a new willingness to work toward a solution.
In the meantime, let us promote a peaceful solution by being in solidarity with both Jews and Palestinians. Abraham was not a Jew but we—Jews, Christians, and Muslims—are all his spiritual descendants and we can work together for peace in the Middle East. We can urge our government to pursue policies that serve the best interests of Israelis and Palestinians.