Israel has jumped into the deep end of crazy. This is the scorecard of death as of last week, when the death toll was less than half of what it is today.
We hear that Israel has a right to defend itself. Of course it does. Equally so, the people of Gaza have a right to defend themselves. Do they not? There is a back story. This is not about two equal sides fighting it out. This is about an occupation, an imprisonment by a powerful nation with advanced weapons over and against an oppressed people who have no escape except death.
The United States keeps this going. As Illan Pappe, has pointed out:
"Israel has chosen to be a 'racist apartheid State' with U.S. Support."
Each year our tax dollars, three billion of them, are given to Israel to pay for this injustice. This is what we are getting for our money:
At the Presbyterian General Assembly, I cast my vote to divest from three American corporations who profit from the occupation. It was a close vote that required a lot of compromise including a statement in which the Presbyterians distanced themselves from the BDS movement:
This action on divestment is not to be construed or represented by any organization of the PC(USA) as divestment from the State of Israel, or an alignment with or endorsement of the global BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions) movement.
BDS was "the dirty word" this year as "occupation" has been in the past. Now that Israel has once again shown the world its colors, BDS doesn't sound so bad, does it?
My Religion For Life interview with Jonathan Kuttab of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center and chairman of the Holy Land Trust, was perhaps the most important of the four interviews I conducted leading up to the General Assembly. I asked him about the BDS movement and this is what he said:
The movement itself is very clear--a non-violent attempt to respond to this situation of oppression we are in. Many people feel that Palestinians have the right of armed resistance. So they pick up the guns; they shoot at Israeli soldiers, settlers, civilians, you name it. I happen to believe of course in, uh, Sabeel and other organizations I'm involved with happen to believe that violence is not the answer--that we must seek an effective, non-violent, but real, not just nominal response to the occupation.
So, of course we want to see peace there and we want to see a just solution. But if the dominant, powerful party refuses to provide that peace, refuses equality or freedom or liberation, then we must work for it and we call on others to help us in that direction. That's where boycotts, divestment, and sanctions come in.
I encourage you to listen to that interview on podcast if you haven't already. In addition to that, take 35 minutes and listen to his keynote address to Friends of Sabeel in Pasadena, California in April 2013. He lists four signs of hope. The second being Israel's shift to the right wing. He says this is a sign of hope, paradoxically, because it is alienating itself from the rest of the world. Israel's brutality is waking people up.
It is obvious that the dominant, powerful party is not seeking peace. I cannot support the rockets from Hamas. I cannot support the Israeli military. The best course of action is to resist non-violently the occupation. This means for me and perhaps for you, too…
- Learning the truth and exposing spin and misinformation.
- Countering the myths and misperceptions.
- Calling up the U.S. President and saying no more military aid for Israel.
- Getting involved with the BDS movement. Here are nine suggestions.
- Supporting the Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the PCUSA.
Finally, I will close with some bullet points from The Holy Land Trust, of which Jonathan Kuttab is president. This organization is about peace.
- First: all acts of violence and aggression must cease, as well as the language of incitement and hatred used by the political, religious and economic elite as well as the media (locally and internationally). Peace, security, and freedom will never come from killing or terrorizing others. No matter how just a cause might be, violence undermines it.
- Second: Leaders (no matter what party they represent, what nation they belong to, and what ideology or religion they adhere to) must acknowledge their failure to bringing any sense of peace to the land or to its people (even their own). If they were true leaders–with courage and vision–they would repent publicly, to their peoples and then to others for having failed all these years and decades.
- Third: Civil society organizations need to acknowledge our own entrapment in the “political illusions” and thus our inability to create any real change at the grassroots level. For years, millions of dollars have been spent in programs, training, and activities that have barely scratched the surface. We have convinced ourselves that we have been creating change by highlighting the few (but limited) activities that take place but have never reached (for whatever reason) the masses on both sides who continue to be swayed by the language of victimization, hatred, and fear. Grass roots organizations now need to develop programs to address these issues–rather than looking into “political solutions” only. Politicians need to follow their communities and not the other way around.
- Fourth: It is time that a nonviolent movement emerges which transcends political processes and illusions: a movement of Palestinians and Israelis as communities addressing all aspects of injustice in this land; to work together in building a new vision and model for what peace, justice and equality mean in the Holy Land (socially, economically, environmentally, spiritually) and link it with a strategy that breaks down all the physical and psychological barriers that perpetuate hatred, anger and thus separation and violence–even if the removal of such barriers challenges the core political assumptions and ideological beliefs we carry and whose existence we think we need for our own survival.
- Finally: a core component of the movement will need to focus on working internally and separately within each community in order to create the space for healing and transformation: to address the challenges from within. Peace work is not what happens between two as much as what happens within one.