Conflict that could escalate into warfare, especially nuclear warfare, threatens us all. Sabre-rattling is again occurring in the Middle East, where Israel already has nuclear weapons and there is the fear of Iran and perhaps Saudi Arabia following suit. We can’t allow such a nuclear arms race and a new Cold War to happen. To help avert this, our beliefs about what’s happening need to constantly be re-evaluated; we need to resist the trap of thinking if “you’re not with someone you are against them”.
The Harper government is a strong backer of Israel’s practices. Israel is presented as the victim in a hostile Arab world which must be defended at all costs to preserve democracy and civilization. This view reflects an extremist ideological lens with an undertone of Christian fundamentalism that distorts the reality on the ground. In a similar way to how Harper’s government introduced legislation threatening internet privacy without a warrant, with a “you are either with us or with the child pornographers” view, his policy on Israel implies “you are either with Israel or the anti-Semites”.
This is not balanced or intelligent policy and it cannot play any positive role in mediating a lasting peace. Its one-sided approach contrasts sharply with the Canadian policy advanced to help resolve the Suez crisis in 1956, which led to Prime Minister Pearson receiving the Noble Peace Prize.
It is revealing to look at what moderate, mainstream Christians are saying about Israel and Palestine. In 2011 the Canadian Churches’ Forum for Global Ministries issued the document “A Moment of Truth: Kairos Palestine”. It provides well-documented background to the conflict.
ROOTS OF CONFLICT
Due to conflicting claims to Palestinian land, in 1947 the UN decided to partition the territories, with over one-half the land going to the one-third Jewish population. However, this never happened, for in 1948 Israel unilaterally declared its independence. In the ensuing war up to three-quarters of a million Palestinians fled or were expelled from their lands. Over 530 Palestinian villages were depopulated and destroyed and the land used by Israel for forests, parks and kibbutzim. Israel ended up controlling three-quarters of the land and expelling 80% of the Arabs, both Muslim and Christian.
What Israel calls its “War of Independence”, Palestinians call “the Nakba” or the catastrophe. Today it would likely be called “ethnic cleansing”. Those Arabs remaining in Israel are “internal refugees”. Though a 1948 UN General Assembly resolution supported the Palestinian’s “right to return” to traditional lands, this has never been allowed to occur.
THE 1967 WAR
In 1967 there was war between Israel and its neighbouring Arab countries, Egypt, Syria and Jordan where many Palestinian refugees had gone. Israel quickly won the battle with its much superior, largely US-provided military and occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The UN Security Council called for Israel to withdraw, but Israel has maintained its military occupation of these Palestinian lands ever since.
The expansion continued on. Between 1967 and 2010 land and water resources have steadily been taken to create 121 settlements and 100 outposts for Jewish residents in the West Bank. Nearly half a million Jewish settlers have moved onto occupied lands. There is ongoing violence and human right violations against the local Palestinians being displaced.
Palestinians are now isolated in “enclaves” that comprise a pittance of their original land. Palestinian homes are continually demolished in occupied areas. Israel has built a Security Wall that cuts Palestinians off from their land, their schools, their jobs and families. The movement of Palestinians is subject to 500 Israel check-points. Palestinians, including Christian Palestinians, have had their right to travel to places of worship severely restricted. Jerusalem, a holy city for all three Abrahamic religions – Jews, Christian and Muslims, has been forcibly taken over since Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967.
Israel’s military occupation and annexation is illegal under international law. However due to the very powerful Jewish lobby in the US and the US having a veto on the UN Security Council Israel continues to avert international sanctions. Since 9/11 Israel has used the cover and rhetoric of the “war on terror” to justify its military expansion.
Israel’s steady expansion into Palestinian lands went on without much attention in the Western press until the rebellion of youth in 1987, called the first Intifada, which is Arabic for “shaking off”. The second Intifada started in 2000 and by 2008 had led to the death of 1,053 Israel people and 4,789 Palestinians, about two-thirds on each side being non-combatants. Since 2008 the UN estimates 1,500 people, including 300 children, have died in the conflict in occupied Gaza. Nine Israel soldiers were killed, most from friendly fire in Gaza during this period. The World Council of Churches denounces all acts of violence against civilians in this ongoing conflict. The conflict will continue until there is a reversal of Israel’s illegal acts. A Two-State solution will likely not work without the return of land and the right to return.
It may remain a mystery why this has happened the way it has. Is it defensive aggression? Is it post-traumatic aggression? Is it a land grab? I am not sure, but regardless of motives and causes it is wrong. We can never justify victims becoming executioners, as the French writer Camus once put it in his famous essay “Neither Victims nor Executioners”.
Criticism of Israel’s illegal expansion is, however, still being labeled “anti-Semitic”. While there is some anti-Semitism among some opponents of Israel’s practices, opposition to the ongoing injustices does not necessarily involve or imply anti-Semitism. This erroneous notion that “if you’re not with us you are against us” stands in the way of any just settlement of the conflict.
The double standard gets even more serious. While the western, largely pro-Israel press focuses on Iran’s potential for getting nuclear weapons, there’s little or no reporting that Israel already has “the bomb” and that this is a breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Israel (along with India and Pakistan) refuses to sign.
WITH US OR …
Of course we don’t want a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. But we won’t de-escalate the situation by taking a biased, unbalanced view of the conflict. Because authoritarian Arab regimes have manipulated the Israel oppression of Palestinians for their own political purposes does not make Israel right. Because there are some anti-Semites critical of Israel does not make Israel right. It does not mean we should turn our hearts and minds away from the plight of Palestinians. Peace always involves finding a third way.
I grew up aware of the existence of anti-Semitism in my home province. Many of our closest family friends were of Jewish background, and some faced discrimination, such as not being able to join public recreation clubs. From this I got some of my first lessons about social justice and the important role that Jewish people have played in the pursuit of justice. (See Thomas Cahill’s The Gifts of the Jews.) It must be devastating for progressive Jews to witness the injustices perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians. Nothing can be gained by sacrificing truth for fear of being seen as anti-Semitic. The “you’re with us or against us” mentality always squeezes truth out of the picture. Truth was a victim of the holocaust and one of the lessons of the holocaust is to never allow truth to be a victim again. Let us try to get this right so the conflict does not escalate into regional warfare.