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Home arrow Blog arrow October 2007 arrow October 17, 2007

October 17, 2007
WAWA Blog  October 17, 2007: One reason the Holy Land is in pieces and Churches for Middle East Peace Doing Something

Israel's settlers: One reason for the absence of peace

Oct 11th 2007, The Economist Books and Arts Section

How religious ideologues bent the Israeli state to their purpose

http://www.economist.com/research/articlesBySubject/
displaystory.cfm?subjectid=348984&story_id=9941757

TWO months ago Heftsiba, an Israeli construction firm, went bust. One reason for its woes was a court order last year to freeze work on a big housing project on an Israeli settlement just inside the West Bank. The land, it turned out, had in effect been stolen from private owners in a neighbouring Palestinian village, Bilin. Yet after the bankruptcy, the same court ruled that the apartment blocks—and their prospective buyers, who had broken in and occupied them at the news of Heftsiba's impending collapse—could stay.

And thus it has always been. Never mind that Israel has flouted international law by settling its citizens in occupied foreign territory; what is remarkable is how consistently the settlers have thwarted Israel's own laws, in pursuit of what to them are biblical lands inhabited by Palestinian interlopers. The Bilin case was just a variation on a tried and tested method: seize land illegally, establish hard-to-reverse “facts on the ground” and then legalise the claim retroactively through the courts or the government. The result is a West Bank so riddled with settlement that it is hard to see how enough can be removed for a viable Palestinian state to emerge.

In this thorough and eye-opening book, Idith Zertal, a historian, and Akiva Eldar, a journalist, explain how a few tens of thousands of people bent the state to their purpose. Settlements were not on the official agenda after Israel's surprise capture of the Palestinian territories in 1967. But pressure from ardent young religious Zionists found a secular echo among military men, who came to see security benefits to having Israelis live in the West Bank.

Such confluences of interests were what drove the settlements' spread. Only rarely, when a new outpost was too blatantly illegal and too plainly of no strategic use, did the apparatus of the state contrive to force a retreat. With politicians constantly interfering on behalf of the settlers, the army's effectiveness against law-breakers soon bled away.

Over the years, official attitudes evolved. The Labour governments that ruled until 1977 turned a blind eye to expropriations of land for “military” use that then became civilian. The more right-wing coalitions that followed embraced settlements openly, devising ingenious legal veneers. Since the 1993 and 1995 Oslo accords, Israel has avoided building “new” settlements via administrative tricks that expanded existing ones, though it has also ignored innumerable violations. Whatever the government in power, the settlers' genius was in exploiting its weaknesses and co-opting sympathetic officials.

The authors' anger falls mainly on the religious pioneers and their secular allies, especially Ariel Sharon, whose removal of settlements from Gaza in 2005 was, they argue, no more than a way to consolidate the hold on the West Bank. But nobody escapes blame. Shimon Peres, Israel's elder statesman, emerges as one of the settlers' most useful early helpmates. Yasser Arafat, the Palestinians' former leader, and Mahmoud Abbas, their current president, were still exiles in Tunis when they negotiated the first Oslo accord and had no idea how settlements had permeated the West Bank. To the horror of their local advisers, they agreed to no more than a token constraint on settlement growth. Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister who signed Oslo and whom the authors plainly admire for hating settlers almost as much as they do, gets a lashing for presiding during one of their fastest rates of growth and being in a “state of denial” about their influence.

That denial had much to do with an inability to grasp how different religious Zionism, with its messianic belief that Israel's creation hastened Redemption, was to Rabin's traditional, secular-nationalist sort. For the true believers, constant war with the Arabs was essential to avoid “assimilation [of Jews] into the Semitic expanse”. The costs of this ideology to Israel, let alone the Palestinians, have been enormous. Rabin's assassin in 1995 was inspired by a settler, Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Palestinians in a Hebron mosque in 1994. Goldstein's rampage, according to a former adviser to the head of Israel's security service, also prompted Hamas to begin the tactic of suicide-bombings against Israeli civilians.

And yet, the authors conclude, traditional Zionism must take a share in the blame. It was the aggressively secular early state of Israel that repressed religious Zionism in the first place, setting the stage for its violent revival, and for the dichotomy in Israel's nature that it has yet to resolve.


 
October 15, 2007

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
United States Department of State
Washington, DC

Dear Secretary Rice,

Thank you for organizing an international meeting dedicated to progress on a peace agreement that would end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches and agencies, is urging members of Congress to promise bipartisan support for the President's diplomatic initiative. Your bold leadership, with the strong backing of President Bush, can create momentum for continued progress and movement toward the creation of a viable democratic state of Palestine alongside Israel, each sovereign and secure. Now is the time to build on the promise and potential of the Arab League Initiative and encourage the participation of its signers.

Clearly the situation on the ground discourages both leaders and ordinary people in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories as well as international observers. We ask that you, in preparation for the conference, press hard for concrete steps by Israeli and Palestinian leaders to improve conditions, including securing a ceasefire and facilitating the movement of Palestinian goods and people. The generosity of international donors is necessary but insufficient. The Palestinian private sector needs to be able to function for real economic development and job creation to take place and generate hope. As we all know, a healthy Palestinian economy is in the best interests of Israel as well.

The current division in Palestinian governance must not be allowed to thwart the success of the meeting in Annapolis and those that follow. We agree with you that there is one Palestinian people and there should be one Palestinian state and urge you to ensure that Palestinians in Gaza can also find hope in a political solution.

Many observers are making recommendations about a statement or declaration of principles that addresses the final status issues. Churches for Middle East Peace has a particular interest in a resolution of the status of Jerusalem that would allow both Israelis and Palestinians to claim the city as their capital, and for Jews, Christians and Muslims to fully enjoy the profound religious significance of the holy city and its holy sites. While many of the fruits of peace will require considerable time to be evident, small changes in Jerusalem would provide hopeful evidence that the two-state vision will actually become reality. As an example, the United States could launch USAID projects to improve daily lives of Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

It is a grim lesson from the past that violent acts by extremists can be allowed to undermine progress made by peacemakers and public support for peace. We appeal to you to lead all parties to declare that peacemaking is unstoppable, and that violent extremists will not be allowed to achieve their political objectives of disrupting the peace process.

For our part Churches for Middle East Peace will work to generate support among the clergy and members of our churches for your efforts and will encourage congregations across the country to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and for the compassionate wisdom and bold courage that all political leaders in this momentous initiative will need.

Sincerely,

Bishop Wayne Burkette
Moravian Church in America

Jim Fine
Legislative Secretary for Foreign Policy
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Dennis W. Frado
Director, Lutheran Office for World Community
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Sr. Donna Graham, OSF
President
English- speaking Conference JPIC Council
Franciscan Friars (OFM)

The Rev. Dr. Stan Hastey
Alliance of Baptists

Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory
Director, Washington Office
Presbyterian Church, USA

Rev. Phil Jones
Director, Washington Office
Church of the Brethren Witness

Rob Keithan
Director, Washington Office for Advocacy
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos
Associate General Secretary for International Affairs and Peace
National Council of Churches USA and
Representative Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

Rev. Jim Kofski
Maryknoll Global Concerns

Peter E. Makari
Middle East and Europe Global Ministries
United Church of Christ and
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Rev. John L. McCullough
Executive Director and CEO
Church World Service

T. Michael McNulty, SJ
Justice and Peace Director
Conference of Major Superiors of Men

The Very Rev. George Rados
Representative
Antiochian Christian Orthodox Archdiocese
of North America

Maureen Shea
Office of Government Relations
The Episcopal Church

Ann V. Staal
Social Witness/Mid-East
Reformed Church in America

James Winkler
General Board of Church & Society
United Methodist Church



   
 
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