Israel and Palestine: There is Hope
Imagine living in a United States of America where every single citizen over the age of 18 is required by law to serve 2-3 years in the Army, Navy or Marines—not the reserves—regular combat service. Imagine the impact on the American psyche if every single citizen over the past 65 years was shaped by the theories and experiences of war. Imagine the impact on the average citizen’s view of everyday life and citizenship when shaped by the paradigm of war.
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In a war paradigm, Israel’s June 2002 decision to erect a separation barrier seems sane. In a war paradigm, it is sane to cut through the heart of West Bank Palestinian communities with an electrified fence or barbed-wired wall that stretches 709 km. and permanently divides Palestinian families and separates farmers from their lands and livelihoods. In a war paradigm, Israel’s 520 check points are not so heartless.
After all, every Palestinian is a potential enemy—or so every Israeli is taught. And in war enemies are a threat to the self, and self-preservation is the highest goal.
In war, the systematic deprivation of the enemy seems sane. It comes as no surprise, then, that Israel would block most of the West Bank Palestinian’s water supply, as they did in 2009, or threaten to block it in Gaza as they did in late 2011. Nor is it a surprise that Israel would block passage of 60 percent of mundane supplies like cement into areas of the Gaza strip. Cement, after all, could be used to make weapons. In the war paradigm, it does not matter that as of September 2011 Gaza had a shortage of 250 schools and almost 100,000 homes, according to a January 2012 Human Rights Watch report.
Likewise, it seems a reasonable expectation in a war paradigm that armed Palestinian groups would launch hundreds of rocket attacks into the heart of their “enemy’s” territory killing two civilians and injuring at least nine others in 2011. For, in a war paradigm there are only friends and enemies; those who are like the self and those who are threats to the self.
But, according to international law, the war paradigm requires legality and legitimacy to be invoked. Legality requires adherence to the international rules of war as outlined in the Geneva Conventions and their additional Protocols. These rules have been breached on both sides.
The Geneva Conventions Protocols I and II prohibit indiscriminate attacks. Thus, the Palestinians’ launching of rockets into Israeli civilian territories breached the Protocols. And nearly 110 suicide bombing attacks carried out by Palestinian between 2001 and 2003 represented a grave breach.
Likewise, the Geneva Conventions prohibit the use of torture, an inhumane method of information extraction documented on both sides of this conflict. Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of the World Organization Against Torture, recently published an Open Letter to Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel that called him to reject a draft bill currently under positive consideration that would exempt Israeli security from its international obligation to record interrogations. Staberock notes that credible accounts of “methods amounting to torture” have been used by the Israeli Security Agency (ISA), and he calls on Netanyahu to reject the current legislation because it would only exacerbate the problem.
Similarly, credible allegations of the use of torture by the Palestinian Authority have been cited in connection with the unlawful arrest and detention of journalists who were critical of the authority.
But the question of legality only matters if the war is legitimate in the first place. International law requires that a legitimate war involves the active participation of at least two recognized nation-states. In the case of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, there is only one nation-state and several armed non-state actors. The Palestinian people have not been recognized as a sovereign state by the United Nations. Thus, the war paradigm in this conflict is not legitimate.
The war paradigm is not the paradigm of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It is not the paradigm of the Cross. And it is not the paradigm of shalom, a Hebrew concept grounded in the book of Genesis and woven throughout every book of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. For more on these biblical paradigms, please see my chapter on War and Terrorism in Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics.
I was asked recently, is there really any hope for Israel? The answer is yes, there is.
First, the state of Israel has lived its entire existence in the foxhole of the war paradigm. It is time to come out of the foxhole. It is time for Israel to exercise profound concern, not only for its own security and its own peace, but also for the security and peace of its neighbors—the Palestinians.
It is time for the state of Israel to look into the faces of every Palestinian and see itself. There was a time when Israel was a people without a land. There was a time when the Hebrew people had their property confiscated and families were separated. There was a time when they were disowned by the world. How beautiful it would be for Israel to look on the Palestinians today with compassion, empathy, and the determination that they will not be party to the perpetuation of violence in our world.
Second, It is time for Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to be secure. Israeli mothers should never have to worry if their daughters and sons will return from a walk to the market. Every Israeli should not have to live in extreme fear and the ever present threat of war.
I read a story recently about a group of women living into this vision. A growing movement of Israeli and Palestinian women is beginning to say “no” to the war paradigm through non-violent resistance to the laws that separate them. They are defying the powers by going to the beach … together.
Surrounded and contained by the separation barrier and checkpoints, most landlocked Palestinians are never permitted to leave their cramped quarters. Only 60,000 permits to visit Israel were issued in 2011, twice as many as 2010, but still a far cry from the total population of 2.5 million. As a result, most Palestinians have never seen the beach.
Ilana Hammerman, an Israeli woman heard her Palestinian friend say she just needed to get out of the West Bank, even for a day. Hammerman smuggled her friend past the checkpoint guards and took her friend to the beach. She wrote about it and the idea caught on. Now a movement of Israeli and Palestinian women are defying the trenchant loyalties drawn by illegitimate lines of war. They are joining hands across these lines and walking into the deep together; splashing in the waves by day and singing music and dancing together in the evening.
New York Times reporter, Ethan Bronner reported:
In a newspaper advertisement, the group of women declared: “We cannot assent to the legality of the Law of Entry into Israel, which allows every Israeli and every Jew to move freely in all regions between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River while depriving Palestinians of this same right. They are not permitted free movement within the occupied territories nor are they allowed into the towns and cities across the green line, where their families, their nation, and their traditions are deeply rooted.
They and we, all ordinary citizens, took this step with a clear and resolute mind. In this way we were privileged to experience one of the most beautiful and exciting days of our lives, to meet and befriend our brave Palestinian neighbors, and together with them, to be free women, if only for one day.”
Hanna Rubinstein shared with Bronner: “What we are doing here will not change the situation. But it is one more activity to oppose the occupation. One day in the future, people will ask, like they did of the Germans: ‘Did you know?’ And I will be able to say, ‘I knew. And I acted.’ ”
There is hope.
Lisa Sharon Harper is the Director of Mobilizing at Sojourners. She is also co-author of Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat.