We've heard much about Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories since arriving - an issue always in the news - and today we visited such a place outside of Bethlehem. Thus far the Israeli Jews we have encountered have expressed great frustration with the current government here and both concern and compassion for the Palestinians. Several times it has been said that Israel will never be safe or truly free until the Palestinians are. How to get there and what does that look like - one state, two states, some other unknown option - is the question everyone has failed to answer.
The settler we talked with didn't express much concern for the Palestinians, a group he suggested was fictional. Although he also expressed pride in some social and medical services his settlement provides for Palestinians. This encounter was disheartening for me to say the least. His insistence that the settlement he resides in is in Israeli territory and not Palestinian - and that it was legal despite international which is clear such settlements are illegal - made for a frustrating and emotional meeting. A return to the 1967 borders - which President Obama has insisted on - would never be possible if this settler had his way and that is why such settlements are being built: to prevent peace. The policies of Benjamin Netanyahu put the future of both Palestine and Israel at risk.
President Obama has asked this of Israel:
“[M]y assessment, which is shared by a number of Israeli observers, I think, is there comes a point where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices. Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank? Is that the character of Israel as a state for a long period of time? Do you perpetuate, over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?”
I did share with the settler there is one area of agreement I have with him: that the Palestinians lack effective leadership. We have heard this from Palestinian Muslims and Christians. Yet it is hard to build effective leadership when you are under siege.
Human Rights Watch has noted how difficult the situation is here even for children:
(Jerusalem) – Israeli security forces have used unnecessary force to arrest or detain Palestinian children as young as 11. Security forces have choked children, thrown stun grenades at them, beaten them in custody, threatened and interrogated them without the presence of parents or lawyers, and failed to let their parents know their whereabouts.
Human Rights Watch interviewed four boys, ages 11, 12, and 15, from different neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, and a 14-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy from elsewhere in the West Bank, whom Israeli forces arrested or detained in separate incidents for allegedly throwing rocks from March to December 2014. They and their parents gave accounts of abuses during arrest and interrogation that caused the children pain, fear, and ongoing anxiety. Human Rights Watch has seen photos and marks on the body of one of the children, consistent with the accounts he and his parents had given; the children’s accounts were also consistent with each other.
Denying basic human rights to children isn't Jewish.
With each new settlement, the chances for peace diminish further.
And the news doesn't get much better politically:
Sometime very soon, the U.S. Senate will pass a bill that requires the government to treat the West Bank as part of Israel. Not only that, it will obligate the administration to pressure other countries to do the same. These provisions have provoked no serious opposition as the bill has worked its way through the congressional maze. Instead, Democratic lawmakers raise their hands to do the work of the GOP-Likud axis, in what may be a bizarre act of penance for their own courage in supporting the Iran deal last summer.
The bill's own language says it's aimed at fighting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. In reality, it may actually encourage boycotts of Israel. The bill says it's meant to preserve the “sustainability of peace” between Israel and the Palestinians. In reality, it helps the efforts of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a two-state agreement impossible.
J Street - the pro-Jewish, pro-peace organization, is asking President Obama to examine what executive actions he might be able to take to promote peace in this action alert:
In your final State of the Union you made it clear that you will "not let up" in advancing your priorities.
Achieving a two-state solution has been one of your priorities since day one. And though a final accord will likely not be reached during your last year in office, I am asking you to "not let up" on that goal. There are concrete steps you can take immediately to make life better for Israelis and Palestinians, and to preserve hopes for peace.
I join J Street in calling on you to conduct a review of potential executive actions available to you including (but not limited to): giving force to US opposition to settlements; putting forth US parameters to guide future negotiations; promoting economic development and coexistence programming that move the conflict closer to eventual resolution, working from the ground up.
I signed the letter and invite you to do the same.