Israel, Palestine, the US, & Peace

Ten days ago, the United States joined Israel and just seven other countries to vote against the U.N. upgrading Palestine to a non-voting observer state. This decision has made it clearer than ever before that the U.S. is a major obstacle to any progress towards a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. American officials had the audacity to castigate the Palestinians for their request to the U.N. and urged them to return to the peace talks. The Palestinian Authority has understandably lost faith in the U.S. sponsored “peace process” that over the past two decades has resulted in the settlement of over 600,000 Jews on Palestinian land in Jerusalem and on the West Bank, and Israeli control of more than 60 percent of all the land on the West Bank. Every day, more land is appropriated, more settlements planned and built. It is this Israeli expansion with the full support of the United States government under the cover of a “peace process” that led the PA to launch its U.N. initiative.

In October, I saw the reality of Israeli occupation and expanded Jewish settlement when I visited the West Bank with an interfaith delegation, sponsored by the Dorothy Cotton Institute, that included several leaders of the civil rights movement, younger civil and human rights leaders, Christian clergy, academics, and several Jews. We were all shocked by what we saw. Several black members of our group, including those who participated actively in the civil rights movement, remarked that what they saw was “frighteningly familiar” to their own experience, a systemic pattern of discrimination that privileged one group (in this case, Jews) and denigrated another (Palestinians).

Wherever we went, we saw Jewish settlements built on Palestinian land. From the porch of a house in Nabi Saleh, one of the villages we visited, we looked out at the red-roofed villas of the settlement of Halamish, built on land that belonged to the village. The settlers have also taken over Nabi Saleh’s spring, using some of the water to fill their swimming pool. While Halamish has abundant water, Nabi Saleh receives water only 12 hours a week.

We visited Bilin and other villages on the West Bank, where land belonging to the village has been expropriated by the Israeli government. Their unarmed protests against this injustice are met with rubber bullets and “made in the USA” tear gas. We saw many empty canisters of tear gas made in the U.S.

We also saw the rubble of Palestinian houses demolished by the Israeli authorities. Every day, we heard about egregious human rights violations: the arrest of children in the middle of the night, administrative detainees held in prison for years without any right to due process, massive land confiscation, separate roads and grave restrictions on movement.

Given this reality, it is not at all surprising that the Palestinian Authority will no longer participate in an open-ended “peace process” that has become a cover for a massive Israeli land grab and a brutal occupation. It is not prepared to negotiate endlessly while the land is systematically taken over by Jewish settlements. To use an analogy: you cannot negotiate how to share a pie, while one of the parties is eating slice after slice. Most observers believe that Israel has already taken over so much land that a two-state solution, the goal of the peace talks, is no longer a possibility.

Israel is “eating slice after slice,” but it acts with impunity because its actions are financed and protected by the United States, that provides over 3 billion dollars in military aid to Israel every year and provides diplomatic cover against any criticism. Even when Israel announced the expansion of settlements following the U.N. vote, U.S. officials issued standard mild criticism of the actions as “counterproductive” or “unhelpful” in terms of peace negotiations. “Unhelpful” indeed! The U.S. has never insisted that Israel end settlement expansion. Nor has it withheld aid in response to these “counterproductive” actions. The opposite: last year it vetoed a draft U.N. resolution condemning settlements even though the building of settlements violates official U.S. policy.

As long as Israel receives this unconditional support from the United States – in President Obama’s words, “there is no daylight between Israel and the United States,” or in the words of Secretary of State Clinton, “we have Israel’s back” – there is no reason for Israel to reconsider its policy. As long as the United States continues to provide this unconditional support, it has lost all moral and political credibility in terms of playing a positive role in solving this conflict.

While there is not much hope for change from the government, there is hope on the ground. Thankfully, more and more American citizens who care about justice and security for all in Israel and Palestine are speaking up. One important example: shortly after we returned, fifteen church leaders called on the U.S. to condition aid on Israeli compliance with international human rights standards and American law. Their initiative and others in communities across the country challenging the issue of unconditional American aid are hopeful signs. The members of our delegation came back shocked by what we saw, inspired by the Palestinians and their Israeli allies engaged in nonviolent resistance, committed to tell their story and to challenge our government to become part of the solution, not the problem.

—Rabbi Brian Walt

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