Timothy Seidel provides a context for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The terrible situation in Gaza continues. Gaza is one of the most vulnerable, densely populated places on earth, referred to by Israeli human rights organizations as the world’s largest open-air prison.
With decades of limited economic access and opportunity due to Israeli closures, today some 80 percent of Gazans receive international food assistance, 60 percent of households are food insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity. Palestinians do not have control over borders or movement in and out of Gaza, and live constantly under the threat of Israeli military incursions, shelling and extrajudicial, targeted assassinations that terrorize Gaza’s population.
The vulnerability of this population is evidenced these past weeks—as it was in 2006, 2008-09 and 2012—with over 1,000 Gazans killed, thousands more wounded and tens of thousands displaced in Israel’s ongoing military operation, and in which more than 50 Israelis have been killed. This military operation only hurts Gaza’s civilian population and unmasks this campaign of collective punishment as a predictable and uncreative display of Israeli military might over and against 1.8 million poor people.
The damage to civilian infrastructure, schools and hospitals, raises serious medical concerns.
The main reason the humanitarian situation in Gaza is such an issue is because the Palestinian people there live as prisoners, creating a situation that does not provide the opportunity for a prosperous future but only just prevents Gaza from slipping into humanitarian disaster on a daily basis.
In response to the distressing situation in Gaza, the Mennonite Palestine Israel Network (MennoPIN) has gathered resources for prayer, education, advocacy and action.
To learn more, visit the MennoPIN website at mennopin.wordpress.com/gazaunderattack. For example, you will find a “Prayer and Action for Gaza” bulletin insert in English and Spanish that you can use as a template for your own congregation this Sunday.
For example, the MCC Washington Office issued an action alert to call on Congress to stop U.S. complicity in suffering and to support a just peace in Palestine and Israel by addressing underlying causes.
Mennonites in the United States have been building relationships in Palestine-Israel for more than 60 years. Mennonite Central Committee has worked alongside Palestinians and Israelis for decades. An important expression of this work is education and advocacy, drawing attention to the suffering in Gaza and communicating the stories of Palestinian and Israeli peacebuilders to U.S. audiences and Washington policymakers.
This also includes lifting up the voices of Palestinian Christians, for example, in the Kairos Palestine call. The Kairos call understands peacebuilding as a shared work for justice and challenges us to work for justice at home, addressing root causes of violence: a work that requires attention to the U.S. role in this conflict, through our financial and military support of Israel’s occupation of Palestine; a work that recognizes seeking justice in Gaza must be complemented by seeking justice at home, actively dismantling structures of oppression such as racism and poverty as well as militarism; a work that requires hope, courage and risk.
The Mennonite Palestine Israel Network (MennoPIN) is a grassroots, U.S. network working for peace with justice in Palestine-Israel. Learn more about MennoPIN, including more information on Kairos Palestine and the call to boycotts and divestment, at mennopin.wordpress.com. To join the network conversation, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Gaza Strip: context
The Gaza Strip is a narrow strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea in the Middle East, bordered by Egypt to the southwest and Israel to the north and east. The majority of Palestinians in Gaza are Muslim, with less than 1 percent of them Christian. And the majority of Gazans are refugees, living in refugee camps across the Gaza Strip.
Following the British Mandate over Palestine and the 1948 war that saw the creation of the state of Israel, the Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt. After the 1967 war, Israel gained control over all of historic Palestine and implemented a military occupation over those remaining territories, including East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
In August 2005, Israel unilaterally “disengaged” from Gaza, evacuating its settler population as well as redeploying its military forces to its border. This ostensibly gave Palestinians total jurisdiction over Gaza. However, Israel maintained complete control over the Gaza Strip, leaving Israel still an occupying power over Gaza.
That same year, the Israeli human rights organizations B’tselem and HaMoked jointly published a report describing the Gaza Strip as “one big prison.” Almost 10 years later, this report remains relevant. With decades of limited economic access and opportunity due to Israeli closures—leading to a debilitating process of what one scholar has labeled “de-development.”
The recent Israeli attack on Gaza has created incredible uncertainty. The military strategy that has marked Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” only hurts Gaza’s civilian population. With much of the water supply and sewage system dependent on electricity and the impact on hospitals and limited supplies, the damage to civilian infrastructure raises serious medical concerns and unmasks this campaign of collective punishment of the Palestinian people—actions clearly in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory—as a predictable and uncreative display of Israeli military might over and against 1.8 million poor Palestinians. And with the thousands dead and dying, tens of thousands wounded and homeless, Gaza’s children severely traumatized, and Gaza’s population without reliable water or electricity, the obvious disproportionality of the Israeli military response only underscores its unacceptability.
As the occupying power, Israel has certain obligations under international law in regard to the Palestinian people. Israel has completely shirked this responsibility and left the burden of responding to the needs of one of the most densely populated areas on earth—the great majority of whom are refugees—to the international community, creating a situation that does not provide the opportunity for a prosperous future but only just prevents Gaza from slipping into humanitarian disaster on a daily basis.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict: context
Many would have us understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in abstract religious terms, such as Christian Zionism, or as part of a broader “clash of civilizations” or “global war on terror.” It could be argued, however, that Palestine is best understood as an encounter between a settler colonial movement—looking for liberation, for a land without a people for a people without a land, seeking to extend control over particular territory—and the indigenous population already inhabiting a land that turned out not to be empty after all. What was independence for one was catastrophe for the other.
For example, for most Israeli Jews, May 14, 1948, is Independence Day—a heroic story of freedom, liberty and success in overcoming great difficulties. No longer would Jews live the uncertain life of minority communities; rather, they would be masters of their own fate in their own land.
But for Palestinians, May 15, 1948, is known as the “Nakba,” an Arabic word meaning “catastrophe.” Nakba refers to the massive dispossession of the majority of the Palestinian people during the period of 1947 to 1949. Between 750,000 and 900,000 Palestinians became refugees, either having been expelled by Zionist militias or having fled for their lives during the fighting. Meanwhile, Israeli military forces destroyed more than 500 Palestinian villages.
Even Palestinians who remained inside what became Israel experienced dispossession, with tens of thousands of Palestinians becoming internally displaced people, alienated from their land. “Naksa,” another Arabic word, is used to refer to the expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza during the 1967 war, with some 400,000 Palestinians becoming refugees. It also marks the beginning of Israel’s illegal military occupation of these territories.
Despite the optimism that has accompanied the various peace processes over recent years, the expansion of Israeli domination over Palestinian life and land and the story of Palestinian dispossession have continued. Whether it is more land being expropriated for the construction of a 430-mile wall or separation barrier, the dramatic growth of illegal settlements, including in and around Jerusalem, the proliferation of a closure system of checkpoints and roadblocks that obstruct mobility, the demolition of homes and other forms of collective punishment, the one-big-prison-status of Gaza, or the continuing state of dispossession of 7 million Palestinians refugees worldwide, Palestinian livelihoods are devastated by military occupation, and their experience of dispossession continues unabated.
It appears that the separation barrier—though condemned as illegal in 2004 by the International Court of Justice—will become Israel’s de facto border, leaving a Palestinian quasi-state composed of several isolated islands of land on roughly 40 to 50 percent of the West Bank. Palestinians will be confined to what some have called “reservations” or, evoking South Africa under apartheid, “Bantustans,” which will be partially connected by a network of tunnels controlled by Israel. Industrial zones will be established at the edges of these areas so that businesses can take advantage of a cheap, imprisoned labor pool.
In this version of the language of “two states,” “the state of Israel” essentially equals annexing all major colonies in the West Bank, including “greater Jerusalem” and the Jordan Valley, with control over all of historic Palestine, fulfilling the vision expressed in the 1967 Allon Plan and shared by Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and others, of “maximum territory, minimum Arabs.”
Subsequently, “the state of Palestine” will essentially equal those isolated islands of land on the West Bank—completely unrealistic, completely unviable and completely lacking any sense of human security for them. Ilan Pappé describes the goal of this Israeli unilateralism thus: “a strong Jewish state dominating a small Palestinian protectorate, without a solution to the refugee problem or a significant Palestinian presence or sovereignty in Jerusalem.”
For many, this destroys any hope for a two-state solution to this horrible conflict.
Timothy Seidel, a member of Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster, Pa., serves on the steering committee of the Mennonite Palestine Israel Network.