Where do we go from here?

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Jaffa Gate, Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: Rennie Coit)

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.]


A PRAYER FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE

Pray not for Arab or Jew,
For Palestinian or Israeli,
But pray rather for ourselves,
That we might not divide them
In our prayers, but keep them
Both together in our hearts.

— Based on a prayer by a Palestinian Christian


The dollar cost of supporting injustice and oppression in the occupation of the residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza is in the billions. In “The True Cost of Israel,” Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer who is executive director of the Council for the National Interest wrote in April 2017, that according to the Congressional Research Service, Israel has been “the largest recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II.” The US has given Israel financial aid averaging about 3.6 billion dollars per year since 1948, not including extra defense appropriations, and this calculation of funding is an underestimate because US appropriations are redeposited in the US treasury, which operates on a deficit. As Israel draws down its account, the US taxpayer pays about $100 million more in interest per year. Furthermore, loans have been made that are not repaid, and Israel enjoys preferential trade status with the US. This year, congress approved $3.8 billion to begin on October 1.

In addition to “public assistance” to Israel, private foundations and tax-exempt charities, covered by “religious exemption,” are raising billions of dollars in donations that benefit Jewish settlements. Says Giraldi, “money being fungible, some American Jews have been surprised to learn that the donations they had presumed were going to what they regard as charitable causes have instead wound up in expanding the illegal settlements on the West Bank.” Not long ago, it came to light that a foundation of the family of Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law, had made contributions to an Israeli settlement. In his report, Giraldi cites additional ways and means that AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) raises US funds for Israel.[1]

Israeli journalist Gideon Levy argues persuasively in April 2016 (Ha’aretz) that increasing military aid to Israel, which he calls “armed to the teeth” actually benefits the arms industry as well as “one of the world’s largest weapons exporters” and its army, when “10’s of millions of Americans still have no health insurance,” and he offers the opinion that our senate is “tightening its purse strings despite the challenges of climate change.” Why not condition aid to Israel on appropriate behavior, Levy asks? How can the US look the other way when our resources are being used to destroy homes in Gaza?

The human cost of the occupation is incalculable. To date there has been no progress in ending the dislocation and suffering of the Palestinians. Serious efforts are made in the US by a number of Christian denominations and ecumenical organizations such as Churches for Middle East Peace, Friends of Sabeel-North America, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation; Jewish organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Peace Now; secular groups, such as the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights and Institute for Middle East Understanding; and a large number of international advocacy and humanitarian groups that work tirelessly to educate and motivate action from US legislators and the citizenry.[2]

The moral cost of US support for Israel is obscene and indefensible as it continues to support an increasingly racist regime that discriminates against close to one half of the population under its control, including the Palestinian citizens of Israel as well as the West Bank and Gaza. It is impossible to ignore the complicity of the US in looking away as Israel continues its illegal occupation of Palestine and defies international law. There is indigestible hypocrisy in the joint statement from Jason Dov Greenblatt and David Friedman, co-chairs of the Israel Advisory Committee to President Trump as they tout the “unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel based upon shared values of democracy, freedom of speech, respect for minorities, cherishing life and the opportunity for all citizens to pursue their dreams.” In their appeal to the president they argue, among other actions, that the US should cut off funds for the UN Human Rights Council, oppose the UN Security Council; view the efforts to promote boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as “anti-Semitic,” and recognize Jerusalem as the “eternal and indivisible capital” of the Jewish state.[3]

One must ask if our leadership, including congress and legislators at all levels are aware of what is going on. Are their actions guided by a lack of knowledge or understanding? To what extent are decisions influenced by campaign coffers and hopes of re-election? Do they think about ethical implications? What has happened to the values of a nation that once claimed to be founded on Christian teachings?

As he argues for prophetic justice, the Rev. Naim Ateek, a Palestinian-born Anglican priest, theologian, and founder of Sabeel, an international justice and peace movement initiated by Palestinian Christians, dedicates his latest book, A Palestinian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict (Orbis Books, 2017) to “Jews, Muslims Christians and all people of good will who believe in the power of non-violence and possess the courage to stand and act for justice and peace for all people of the land, and especially for the liberation of the Palestinian people.” Applying his knowledge of the Bible in this book, Fr. Ateek provides an understanding of Palestinian liberation theology and points out how seeking justice requires each one of us to confront the inequities of power structures of oppression. To do this, we must go beyond feeding the poor and hungry, we must confront political systems that perpetuate suffering.

Fr. Ateek calls attention to the heart of the biblical message and to “what God wants to do through us in the world that God loves” as seen in the life and teachings of Jesus. In his forward to the book, Walter Brueggemann of Columbia Theological Seminary (4.17) states that in challenging the claim that God’s promises are for “some” but not “all,” this book is a “venture in truth-telling advocacy” that “speaks the truth in the face of the charade of Israeli ideology.”

How can we do this, we ask? For suggestions on how to become involved in the search for truth, justice and peace, go to the website of the Bishop’s Committee for Justice and Peace in the Holy Land, Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, and look for ways that you can help further this moral mandate (holylandjustice.org). Go to “How to Help” for a comprehensive listing of local and national organizations, as well as international bodies that advocate for Palestinians.

On the “Library” tab, call up the recent and very important UN report entitled “Israeli Practices toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid, March 2017,” and read the following conclusion and call for action:

Civil society institutions and individuals also have a moral duty to use the instruments at their disposal to raise awareness of this ongoing criminal enterprise, and to exert pressure on Israel to dismantle apartheid structures and negotiate in good faith for a lasting peace that acknowledges the rights of Palestinians under international law and makes it possible for the two peoples to live together on the basis of real equality.

Apartheid in southern Africa was brought to an end, in part, by the cumulative impact of a variety of measures, including economic sanctions and sports boycotts, undertaken with the blessing of United Nations bodies and many Member States, and with grassroots support in States with strong strategic and economic ties with South Africa. The effectiveness of the anti-apartheid campaign was in large part due to the transnational activism of civil society, which reinforced the intergovernmental consensus that took shape in the United Nations.

Read the full paper here →

[1] For more, go to http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/46865.htm.

[2] See a comprehensive list compiled by the Foundation for Middle East Peace in 2015 at https://fmep.org/resource/links-to-peacebuilding-organizations/.

[3] https://medium.com/@jgreenblatt/joint-statement-from-jason-dov-greenblatt-and-david-friedman-co-chairmen-of-the-israel-advisory-edc1ec50b7a8.