Settlers and refugees

The milk that I buy in the small supermarket round the corner turns out to be a “Product of Palestine”, as I had hoped. It comes from the Al-Jebrini Dairy Co. of Hebron. So I guess they must have dairy cattle down in the south of the West Bank. I’ll look out for them when I go to Hebron on Saturday.

One of the “attractions” for anyone who wants to see the occupation of the Palestinian territories at first hand is the “settler tour”, which takes place in Hebron each Saturday during the Jewish Sabbath or “Shabbat”. I have yet to witness this ritual, but I’m told that both Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers take part in it.

The venue is the Palestinian market in the centre of Hebron. The soldiers enter first, around 3 p.m., making way for the settlers, who then wreak havoc by turning over the market stalls, scattering produce everywhere. They cause considerable damage, but I don’t suppose anyone compensates the stall holders.

I’m keen to see as much as I can, whilst I’m here in Palestine/Israel, and to talk to lots of different people. Yesterday I went to meet with two women, both of them mothers, in an Israeli West Bank settlement not far from Jerusalem. This morning I visited a small refugee camp just south of Ramallah.

These are two different worlds. But both of them are inhabited by mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. And, so far as I could gather, most people in both the settlement and the refugee camp just want their children and grandchildren to be able to live in peace.

Both the women in the settlement made it clear to me that, if it would bring about peace, they would be prepared to move out of the settlement and find somewhere to live with their families within the 1967 borders of Israel, in spite of having made the settlement their home around 20 years ago.

The three of us agreed that it would need a miracle for the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to agree to a two-state solution to the conflict. Both mothers would accept a one-state solution, so long as the state were Jewish.

I tried to ascertain what it is that would make a state Jewish. High standards of education, health care and social welfare provision were clearly important to both women. But all that could be equally well provided in an Arab state, in my opinion. A Jewish state would be democratic with every citizen having the right to vote. In my opinion, an Arab state could be equally democratic. (I accept, though, that in practice Arab states tend not to be democratic according to our Western understanding of democracy.)

What it seemed to boil down to in the end is this: A Jewish state would have the (military) means with which to defend itself and Jews would be in control of defence and security.

It seems that the average Jewish Israeli citizen wants to be sure that the Israel Defence Forces can keep any enemies at bay and that Israel’s borders can be made secure against the infiltration of terrorists.

One of my favourite songs is a Taizé chant: “Nie par puissance, nie par force, mais par l’esprit du Seigneur.” (Not by power, nor by might, but by the spirit of the Lord.) I’m afraid I can’t quote chapter and verse. But many of the Old Testament prophets said much the same thing: Don’t put your faith in horses and chariots. Put your faith in the Lord your God.

Peace and security cannot be assured by force of arms. Peace will reign when we put our faith in the God of love, who leads us to do justice.

Peace will not be possible in Israel/Palestine until the refugees who were driven out of their villages in 1948 and 1967 are compensated in some way, so that they can escape the overcrowding and poverty of the refugee camps. There is no realistic prospect of them returning to the villages that they came from. Many of these villages have been destroyed. But their “right of return” needs to be recognised and they need to be compensated for the failure to fulfil that right.


An asymmetrical conflict

I’m now receiving news of events in Palestine/Israel from a variety of sources, including Mondoweiss, which describes itself as “a news website devoted to covering American foreign policy in the Middle East, chiefly from a progressive Jewish perspective”.

This week’s summary of events in Palestine/Israel included the following news items, which I have summarised:

Monday 4 November, East Jerusalem. A building owned by the Roman Catholic church, which housed a family of 14, was demolished. Israeli forces and bulldozers arrived at 5 a.m. with a “previously unseen demolition order”, which claimed that the house had been built without a permit. One of the occupants stated that the house had been built before 1967 when Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank as a result of the Six Day War.

Wednesday 6 November, Tulkarem. Israeli Defence Forces raided two villages near Tulkarem. They fired live ammunition, tear gas, and a sound bomb at young protesters.

Wednesday 6 November, Ramallah. Shots were fired from a Palestinian car at Israeli soldiers in Ni’lin, a village near Ramallah. Another car tried to run over an Israeli army commander, who then fired shots at the vehicle as it sped away.

Thursday 7 November, Hebron. Israeli settlers set two cars alight in a village near Hebron.

Thursday 7 November, Bethlehem & Nablus. Two Palestinians were shot and killed in separate incidents at roadblocks near Bethlehem and near Nablus.

Friday 8 November, East Jerusalem. A 16-year-old was hit in the face by a stun grenade during clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces at a road junction near Abu Dis. He lost consciousness and suffered from internal bleeding and a skull fracture.

Friday 8 November, Bil’in. Dozens of Palestinian and international activists were injured as Israeli forces fired tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets, and stun grenades during protests in Bil’in and three other villages which had been sparked by the killing of two Palestinians at roadblocks the day before.

Friday 8 November, Bethlehem. There were clashes in Bab al-Zawiya, a neighbourhood of Bethlehem, following the funeral of a 23-year-old Palestinian who had been shot at a roadblock near Bethlehem the day before. Palestinian protesters threw rocks and empty bottles. Israeli soldiers fired tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber-coated steel bullets.

Friday 8 November, Efrat. Two Israeli settlers were injured when a Molotov cocktail was hurled at their car on a road near Efrat, a settlement south of Bethlehem. The car was burnt out.

Both Israelis and Palestinians are responsible for acts of violence which cause suffering and cannot be condoned. But: “In the asymmetry of relations between the growing state of Israel and the shrinking non-state of Palestine, doing nothing is a deeply partisan act.” (Anon)

I guess I’m doing my best to be bipartisan here, which means being willing to talk to – or, better still, listen to – anyone and everyone. We were reminded during Meeting for Worship this morning of Britain Yearly Meeting’s Advices & Queries no. 17, which begins with a query: “Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern?” And we are advised: “Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you.”