It’s been a long time since I visited this topic. The delay stems in part from too much else going on in my life, and from continuing to worry about the topic. Can I say what it seems I must say?
Based on what I have written in prior installments in this series, as well as ongoing research and reading, here is what I believe:
- Palestinians deserve a true and secure homeland, and Israel must be safe
- Israel can be safe and Palestine, too, if Israel, the United States and others will work with the Palestinian Authority (and even Hamas) to end the occupation of the West Bank and the isolation of Gaza
- Rigid, rightist Zionists and their allies in the Netanyahu government must be stopped from their plan to obtain all the land they claim they have from God, often called Greater Israel (meaning in contemporary terms the current State of Israel plus the Palestinian territories), and at other times more expansively historical Israel (relying on biblical texts which extend the claim into other sovereign nations)
- The United States should spend as much on helping the Palestinians develop their economy, government and social institutions as it does sustaining the Israeli military (Israel will be far safer with this nation-building than with more arms)
In other words, the land in the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories belongs to both people, and a way must be found for both to live there.
It seems clear to me that two forces are making this impossible. One is the ineffective leadership of the Palestinian Authority, called corrupt by many. This is not the focus of this series, but is an important element in the ongoing failure to bring peace and justice to the land. Of course, it is not simply corruption or ineptitude that bogs down the PA, it is also that in reality it exists at the sufferance of the Israeli government and the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). Despite declarations by some bodies, one can hardly call Palestine a state because its government does not have typical governmental authority over its own territory.
Indeed, the question of land management reveals how the PA lacks what would be ordinary authority for any government–to issue building permits and enforce land management regulations duly adopted by the civil authority.
Instead, what is happening in the West Bank–about 60% of which is under full Israeli control (Area C), 28% which is under joint PA/Israeli military control and PA civil control (Area B), and 11% of which is under PA control but subject to Israeli military incursions–seems to be the gradual settlement by Jewish persons in settlements designed to bring about a de facto control the land by Israel.
It is impossible for me to look at these facts and conclude that Israel is not an occupying power. Most of the rest of the world, including the United States and the United Nations, say it is so. Israel denies this. And many Jewish settlers and organizations that support existing and future settlements argue that Israel is not an occupying power but is instead the legitimate government by virtue of God’s grant of all the land of Judea and Samaria to Israel. It is, in the view of settlers, the Palestinians who are out of place, who are interlopers and invaders.
In a recent article in the Washington Post, Yochi Damari, who heads a regional council representing Jewish settlements in the Hebron hills, claimed that those resisting demolition of the village of Susiya represent an insidious Palestinian encroachment onto lands the Jewish homesteaders believe were given to them by God.He called the residents of Susiya “invaders” and a “criminal tribe.”
This is in spite of the reality of generation upon generation of Palestinian families who have resided in that village, farmed and otherwise made their living on the land surrounding it. The effort by the government to push the inhabitants out of their village, and other villages, too, is one part of the process by which it appears that Israel seeks to displace as many Palestinians as possible–to create a modern-day, quiet but effective nakba (the Arabic term for the events of 1948, when many Palestinians were displaced from their homeland by the creation of the new state of Israel–either through military action by Israel and/or the Arab nations who invaded to stop the creation of Israel, or through flight brought about by fear after the massacre at Deir Yassin (see “Deir Yassin, Where Are you?”).
But forced removal–by governmental action or by settler intimidation and violence–is not the only way the local Palestinian population is seeing the land vanish before their eyes.
The other method, one that seems far more effective in the long run, is the establishment of Jewish settlements in various parts of the occupied West Bank territories. Another factor, not for discussion now, is the low, almost non-existent, rate of approval by Israeli authorities for Palestinian homes to be built.
I have noticed a common theme in conversations with many U.S. people who oppose BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) and groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (which supports BDS as a non-violent citizens movement centered in Palestine) and others who are critical of Israel. Most say, as they make judgments about the motives and intelligence and ethics of those who they see as anti-Israel (and some who claim anti-Semitic views as the cause), “Israel makes mistakes, of course; for example the settlements are wrong.”
But no one seems to have figured out a way to stop more of them, let alone what to do with existing ones–no one, except the settlers themselves, with the helping hand of the Netanyahu government.
If you doubt this, I invite you to read the New York Times article, “Israel Quietly Legalizes Pirate Outposts in the West Bank.“ The Times is generally very uncritical of Israel, both in its reporting and on the editorial pages, so this report is important. The Israeli daily, Haaretz, also reports formal approval of more new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank (see “Israel Approves Hundreds of Homes in West Bank Settlements”). .
The Times article traces what happens when settlers move into an area without authorization and establish homes: eventually, the government recognizes realities and gives the settlers legal permission to be in their homes. What I learned during my visit to Israel and the West Bank in October, 2014 is that once a settler or settlers have a home set up, the IDF generally provide them protection, a de facto recognition of the legitimacy of unauthorized, or illegal, settlements.
Haaretz outlines how the Netanyahu government is trying to move forward with settlement construction without incurring the wrath of the U.S. government. So far, that government is doing quite well. U. S. protests seem to carry not penalty, the language feeling more like a plea to stop doing something rather than an action to stop it.
So, whose land is it, anyway? If possession is nine-tenths of the law, as I was taught in childhood, then increasingly it appears the land belongs to Israel. The Palestinians are losing ground, day by day.
Will this bring peace? No! Of course not–it will only bring more unrest.
Many say, with some accuracy in a legal way, that there never was a nation called Palestine. They say this means that Israel’s claim is paramount (not to mention the view of biblical literalists) and must carry the day.
However, these people, whom we have come to call Palestinians, are a people of the land. This land. They did not emigrate from Eastern or Western Europe or the United States or Latin America or Africa in order to create a homeland. They had a home, they had homes here for generations. Now their homeland is occupied.
Their claim to this land is as legitimate as Israel. Some would say more. I might agree, except that we must work within the legal decisions by the League of Nations and the United Nations.
And Israel, as the occupying power, had best learn the lesson every occupying power in history (including the British whose mandate from the League of Nations to govern this land was a violent episode that drove them out)–namely that the local people will use whatever means is at hand to drive out the occupier.
It is time for settlers and others, including the government, to give up the dream of a Jewish state within the borders of the current legal territory of Israel and the occupied West Bank–to give up the idea of Greater Israel without Palestinians–and to make peace with the reality on the ground.
God’s ground, the ground belonging to several groupings of God’s people.