Of all the current global conflicts, none seems as intractable as the Israeli-Palestinian one, pitting an occupier government against its occupied residents. The dire situation was recognized at Assembly 2016 in Saskatoon this past summer, when a resolution was passed to support the “boycott, divestment, sanctions” (BDS) movement as a way of taking the “few remaining options to end the occupation and facilitate a just peace with the Palestinian people.”
The resolution came as a result of a plea by Palestinian Christians to the Mennonites of North America to “please help us” because, as Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian attorney specializing in international law, said in a recent luncheon meeting at Mennonite Central Committee Ontario offices in Kitchener, Ont.: “It is in your DNA. It should be a no-brainer.” He asked us to shift our nonviolent efforts in the region from relief and development, to advocacy.
This is a delicate and complicated issue. Two competing narratives on what’s really going on in this conflicted land makes any resolution impossible. Things are at a complete impasse. The two-state proposal is dead, says Kuttab. The Israeli narrative, aggressively perpetrated by a powerful Jewish lobby backed by Christian Zionists, tells the world that the Palestinians and other Muslim-populated countries in the region are “terrorists” bent on their destruction. Backed with more than $5 billion in foreign aid this year from North America (U.S. and Canada), Israel has the military might to quash any resistance from the Palestinian occupants of their land.
Add to that the religious fervour of Christian Zionists, some of whom are in our own Mennonite constituency, and we have the toxic mix of politics and religion that is a powerful, persuasive force on public opinion.
On the opposing side is the Palestinian narrative that cries out to the world that Israel’s ongoing and increasingly entrenched military occupation and settlement of Palestinian lands is in contravention of international law. More specifically, they are calling world attention to the breaking of a United Kingdom-drafted and UN-approved treaty that gave 44 percent of the land to Palestinians and 56 percent to Israel.
Since the Israeli narrative is so powerful, such things as two million Palestinians living in an “open-air prison” in Gaza is hardly known to the world, says Kuttab, not to mention that the inhabitants are kept on the “edge of starvation” with a carefully calculated calorie count that gives just enough nutrition to keep them alive.
Criminal justice hardly exists for the Palestinians, with the slightest infraction bringing down the heavy hand of punishment by the Israelis. When we visited in 1985, a family in Bethlehem had just had their home bulldozed because the couple’s nine-year-old son had thrown stones at an Israeli security Jeep driving through the neighbourhood.
The dynamics of this conflict quickly become personal, but the response must be Spirit-led and wise. In his book My Promised Land, Rabbi Art Shavin writes, “Intimidation and occupation are the two pillars of our condition. Most observers and analysts deny this duality. The ones on the left address occupation and overlook intimidation, while the ones on the right address intimidation and dismiss occupation. But the truth is that without incorporating both elements into one worldview, one cannot grasp the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
We are amazed how quickly, in a few generations, the oppressed have turned to the oppressor. In this case, we must apply the words of Micah to “do justice,” and take the words beyond theological rhetoric. And the onus is on the Jews to carry out the justice that their Torah instructs.
Kuttab, a Palestinian Christian and chair of the board of Bethlehem Bible College, makes no bones about it: “Zionism is heretical; Jesus taught us something else.” This is strong language, but it comes from someone who, for more than 20 years, has been working in nonviolent ways for the cause of justice in his homeland.
If Rabbi Shavin is right, making room for Palestinians to live side-by-side peacefully with Israelis is in the state’s best interests. The present trajectory is doomed to fail in the long run.
We ask our church members unapologetically to support the BDS movement, one that “avoids investing in or supporting companies that do business with Israeli settlements and the Israel Defense Forces, and companies profiting from the occupation of Palestinian territories.”