Few people reside on their ancestral land; few live where they believe their religious faith originally preferred. If they did, more Mormons would populate Illinois, and a lot more Native Americans would demand a return of property throughout the state – or country.
So it can be perplexing to see Israel’s reluctance to bargain for a geographic area of the Middle East.
First: People should not launch rockets at residents of Israel who should be able to live in peace. Also, it’s common sense that resentment and resistance occurs when territory is acquired. (If a group of Potawatomi came to my house, pointed out artifacts showing their people had lived here as recently as the 1800s, and demanded ownership, I’d object because I bought my lot and have lived here for decades.)
Also: Most folks are against “internment camps” or “reservations” for some people, against “separate but equal” policies, and against ethnic cleansing, whether horrors committed by Bosnian Serbs in the 1990s or in the Darfur region of Sudan, or more subtle extermination-by-isolation.
Or like in North America.
Still, the long-proposed “two-state solution” for the area – two states, neighbors, living in peace – seems as dead as the Dead Sea. If so, the future seems doomed to have an Israeli democracy that, by definition, could not be theocratic, mandating privileges to Judaism, or to have a Jewish state imposing an apartheid making Palestinians non-citizens (which would surely be exploited to recruit members to terror groups like ISIS – which itself claims territory as ordained by its interpretation of Scripture.)
In and apart from Scripture, Palestine existed for Millennia, according to historians such as Josephus and Herodotus. Along the present area once known as Judah or Canaan, there was peaceful coexistence for centuries. But after the Nazi Holocaust, Zionists, a national movement founded in the 19th century to establish a sovereign Jewish state called Israel (people who had once considered establishing a Jewish state in Africa or the Americas) focused on Palestine, ruled by Great Britain from 1920-1948.
They eventually won global support, but a fair process wasn’t spelled out. In 1948, Jewish fighters killed hundreds of Palestinians in al-Dawayima and Deir Yassin, and some 750,000 Palestinians were exiled. After years of armed conflict, Palestine is scattered, with the Palestinian National Authority managing about a third of the West Bank and Hamas governing the Gaza Strip.
The settlement issue is timely because the UN Security Council in December voted 14-0, with the U.S. abstaining, to criticize Israel’s continuing settlement program, which violates the Geneva Convention of 1949. The 14 nations backing the resolution were China, France, Russia and United Kingdom, plus Angola, Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal, Spain, Ukraine, Uruguay and Venezuela.
The measure also criticized Palestinian violence, and was defended by State Department spokesperson John Kirby, who said, “This was a resolution that we could not in good conscience veto – because it condemns violence, it condemns incitement, it reiterates what has long been the overwhelming consensus international view on settlements – and it calls on parties to take constructive steps to advance a two-state solution.”
In the last decade, Israel has constructed thousands of homes and roads, schools and shops for Jewish settlers, further fragmenting Palestinians between checkpoints and segregated zones.
The U.S. State Department described the ongoing encroachments as “cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation.”
However, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who’s been almost as intrusive in U.S. politics as Russia’s Vladimir Putin – strongly criticized the UN measure, neglecting to acknowledge that Israel’s Right Wing concedes that the settlements are a strategy to block a Palestinian state.
Plus, international law forbids gaining territory by force (although occupied lands aren’t uncommon, sadly). Further, the Old Testament that suggests it is destiny that the Chosen People will inhabit the land from the Euphrates River to the Mediterranean Sea also notes that the land is God’s and humans merely the caretakers, and five times prohibits moving boundary markers (twice in Deuteronomy, twice in Proverbs and once in Job).
Defending the U.S. abstention, The New York Times editorialized, “Nowhere is it written that an American president is obliged to shelter Israel from international criticism that is consistent with decades-old American policy and with American interests.”
Indeed, every U.S. administration for 50 years opposed settling occupied land (Republican Secretary of State James Baker in 1992 threatened to stop aid because of the settlements), and concern isn’t anti-Semitic. Israeli human-rights groups such as B’Tselem, the New Israel Fund and Yesh Din also prefer negotiations, and respected voices such as Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter have criticized Israeli policies.
And in context, the resolution happened just a few months after the U.S. government approved $38 billion in military aid to Israel for the next decade – the largest commitment ever for any U.S. ally.
Isn’t it possible for people of good will to have empathy for a group that suffered the Holocaust and also for those being displaced from their homes or discriminated against?
With at least 20 percent of Israel’s population ethnic Arabs who practice Bahá’í, Christianity or Islam, according to Israeli census figures, how would Israel provide for the common defense or ensure domestic tranquility for them or Palestinians in a “one-state” solution? At best, it would be comparable to democracy in the United States before minorities and women gained rights.
Israel should stop or start: Halt settlements in occupied land or build a democracy with rights for all its residents.