Promised land or the land of promise revisited

cover photo
The separation wall between Israel and Palestine. (photo: Mary Pneuman)


By Mary J. Pneuman / Bishop’s Committee for Justice and Peace in the Holy Land

[Ed. note: After returning from a recent trip to the Holy Land, the author has updated her previous writings. We offer The Promised Land or the Land of Promise Revisited here in serial form.]

Only a small percentage of the American public has much understanding of the root causes of the conflict or the correlation between a peaceful resolution to this conflict and peace in the greater Middle East — indeed, the ultimate security of the United States and the West.

In reporting the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, American media has tended to focus on periods of intense military conflict between the Government of Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian faction in control of Gaza. In an effort to put an end to largely ineffectual home-made rocket fire from Gaza into Israeli towns and villages by Hamas militants, Israel launched three major military strikes deep into Gaza between 2009 and 2014. In these attacks, over 2,100 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians; 73 Israelis were killed, seven of them civilians (BBC News).

Since then, intermittent rocket launches from Gaza (pop. nearly 1.8 million) have prompted disproportional retaliations from Israel, most recently in May through October 2016, and February 2017, two of them resulting in civilian casualties. While Israeli airstrikes were reported by many British and Israeli media outlets (The Guardian, Telegraph, Reuters, Israel Times, Ha’aretz, and Al Jazeera), US media reports were hard to find in an on-line search. In general, US news on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where 2.9 million Palestinians reside,[1] tends to highlight the military defense needs of the Israel and tarnishes the image of the Palestinians with a broad-brush of terrorist. In the West Bank, under the governance of the Palestinian Authority, no military actions have been seen.

While increased breadth of coverage in the mainstream media has been seen recently, less attention has been given to the human costs of the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967 on the lives of ordinary Palestinian people. There can be no doubt that the vast majority of both Israeli and Palestinian people want what we all want — the right to life and liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and peaceful relations with our neighbors. Yet, 50 years of military occupation have denied the Palestinian people many of the basic human and civil rights that we all take for granted — freedom of movement and assembly, political representation, equal educational and economic opportunity, and freedom of expression and worship. And the occupation has denied the Israeli people that which we all seek — freedom from fear and the promise of a secure future. With few exceptions, little media attention has been given to the peacemaking efforts of the Christian churches and Palestinian and Israeli nongovernmental organizations that quietly work behind the scenes to seek common ground to bring the two sides together.

No one can dispute the right of Israel to protect its citizens or the right of the State of Israel to exist. Many Americans believe that prolonged conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is inevitable and beyond their control. Some Americans believe that that struggle is ordained to continue until Biblical prophecy is fulfilled and Israel reclaims the lands that God promised to the Jews. Others are confused or at least conflicted in their sympathies.

Only a small percentage of the American public has much understanding of the root causes of the conflict or the correlation between a peaceful resolution to this conflict and peace in the greater Middle East — indeed, the ultimate security of the United States and the West.

Judging from the continued failure on the part of Congress to take effective steps to encourage the conditions needed for a just and peaceful resolution, one would conclude that the opinions and decision-making of American political leaders are more heavily influenced by military or economic interests and the powerful Israeli lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) than by accurate knowledge or understanding of the “facts on the ground.” To date, decisions and actions by the US government have typically maintained the status quo or tipped the scale toward Israel, although these do not necessarily serve the best interests of either county.

In 1967, Israel imposed a military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Now there remains only 22% of historic Palestine, what is left of the 55% originally set aside for the Palestinians by the United Nations in 1947. Presently, Palestinians have civil control of only about one half of this remainder, and Israel has total military control of all borders. NPR (12.16) reported that nearly 10% of Israel’s Jewish population now lives in settlements in the West Bank.

The construction or expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land (or “colonization” in all but name) continues to be a bedrock issue. A hopeful note was sounded in December 2016, when the US representative to the United Nations Security Council did not veto, but abstained from an otherwise unanimous yes vote on Resolution 2334. This resolution affirms that all measures aimed at changing the demographic composition and status of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967 — including settlement construction and expansion, transfer of populations, and land confiscation — are flagrant violations of international humanitarian law as defined in the 4th Geneva Convention. Yet, on January 4, 2017, a resolution was introduced in the US House of Representatives (HR 263) to render UN Resolution 2334 “null and void as a matter of US law and for other purposes.” At the time of writing, this resolution has been sent to the House committee on foreign affairs.

Additional obstacles to peace posed in the early weeks of the Trump administration included consideration of relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, appointment of a longtime pro-settlement activist as US ambassador to Israel, and a failure to condemn the plans recently announced by Mr. Netanyahu to build between 5,000 and 6,000 more housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the latter effort now linked to the possibility of annexation.

All Palestinians, Christians and Muslims alike, whether they live in the West Bank or the State of Israel, suffer to varying degrees the loss of basic human and civil rights, as well as the economic and educational opportunities that are accorded all Jewish citizens who live in either Israel or the West Bank. Promised Land or Land of Promise Revisited will focus on the effects of the most recent three years of the 50-year military occupation on Palestinian life and, especially, how rising tides of Israeli nationalism and religious fervor are making a just peace and reconciliation more difficult. An update on the Christians of Palestine is included.

Read the full paper here →

[1] Population figures to the end of 2015 reported in Ha’aretz (1.16)

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