Where do we go from here?

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Jaffa Gate, Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: Rennie Coit)

By Mary J. Pneuman / Bishop’s Committee for Justice and Peace in the Holy Land

[Ed. note: After returning from a recent trip to the Holy Land, the author has updated her previous writings. We offer The Promised Land or the Land of Promise Revisited here in serial form.]


A PRAYER FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE

Pray not for Arab or Jew,
For Palestinian or Israeli,
But pray rather for ourselves,
That we might not divide them
In our prayers, but keep them
Both together in our hearts.

— Based on a prayer by a Palestinian Christian


The dollar cost of supporting injustice and oppression in the occupation of the residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza is in the billions. In “The True Cost of Israel,” Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer who is executive director of the Council for the National Interest wrote in April 2017, that according to the Congressional Research Service, Israel has been “the largest recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II.” The US has given Israel financial aid averaging about 3.6 billion dollars per year since 1948, not including extra defense appropriations, and this calculation of funding is an underestimate because US appropriations are redeposited in the US treasury, which operates on a deficit. As Israel draws down its account, the US taxpayer pays about $100 million more in interest per year. Furthermore, loans have been made that are not repaid, and Israel enjoys preferential trade status with the US. This year, congress approved $3.8 billion to begin on October 1.

In addition to “public assistance” to Israel, private foundations and tax-exempt charities, covered by “religious exemption,” are raising billions of dollars in donations that benefit Jewish settlements. Says Giraldi, “money being fungible, some American Jews have been surprised to learn that the donations they had presumed were going to what they regard as charitable causes have instead wound up in expanding the illegal settlements on the West Bank.” Not long ago, it came to light that a foundation of the family of Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law, had made contributions to an Israeli settlement. In his report, Giraldi cites additional ways and means that AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) raises US funds for Israel.[1] Continue reading

Why Palestinians are leaving, part 2

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Israeli security checkpoint. (photo: Mary Pneuman)

The facts on the ground.

By Mary J. Pneuman / Bishop’s Committee for Justice and Peace in the Holy Land

[Ed. note: After returning from a recent trip to the Holy Land, the author has updated her previous writings. We offer The Promised Land or the Land of Promise Revisited here in serial form.]


Israel has the distinction of being the only country in the world that each year detains and prosecutes in military courts between 500 and 700 children, some as young as 12 years, most often for throwing stones, In February 2016, 440 children were in the military system, a quarter of them between 12 and 15 years. The Israel Prison System stopped releasing data after May 2016.


Restrictions on economic development and trade

Many Palestinians now work for the Israelis — most often in construction. About 60,000 of an estimated 100,000 have work permits that allow them to work in the settlements or over the Green Line. Most of those who do not have permits work in menial, low-paid jobs and take the risk of working illegally because unemployment is now so high in Palestine. As such, these workers have little control over their working conditions or compensation.

The productive sectors, including agriculture, manufacturing and tourism are on “artificial respiration” according to Ha’aretz (Nov. 2016). Agricultural and industrial output was now only about 15% of the economy. Because of Israeli restrictions on development, control of land and water resources as well as transportation and trade, regulation of the import and export of materials and goods, Israel has significantly impacted the sustainability of the Palestinian economy. Amira Haas writing in Ha’aretz in 2013 on restrictions that weaken competitiveness of Palestinian business vis-a-vis Israeli farmers, manufacturers and hi-tech companies quoted an outgoing World Bank director saying that “. . . unleashing the potential from ‘withheld land’ — access to which constrained by layers of restrictions and allowing the Palestinians to put these resources to work would provide whole new areas of economic activity and set the economy on the path to sustainable growth.” Continue reading

Why Palestinians are leaving, part 1

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Israeli security checkpoint. (photo: Mary Pneuman)

The facts on the ground.

By Mary J. Pneuman / Bishop’s Committee for Justice and Peace in the Holy Land

[Ed. note: After returning from a recent trip to the Holy Land, the author has updated her previous writings. We offer The Promised Land or the Land of Promise Revisited here in serial form.]


Not too long ago, I rode with a priest who had such a permit to visit Bethlehem, about five miles south of Jerusalem. His mother and the mother of his fiancée planned to ride along to visit the Church of the Nativity. We were stopped at the checkpoint and refused entry because the women, who lived near Nazareth, were Israeli citizens — no other reasons given.


A comprehensive report published in December 2016, by B’tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) lays out the various ways and means that Israel has continued to appropriate and transfer Palestinian lands to Jewish settlers. Established in 1987 by prominent Israeli academics, lawyers and journalists to educate the Israeli public and members of parliament about human right violations in the occupied territories, this organization conducts in-depth research and publishes well documented reports about the “devastating repercussions [of] the fragmentation of Palestinian space into isolated enclaves, cutting communities off from essential land resources that are vital to their development.” The report concludes that “the forced separation of the Palestinian villages from their farmlands, pastureland and natural water resources [has] severely infringed upon their rights, devastated the local economy and propelled them into poverty and dependence on external bodies” at many levels of insecurity — social, economic, food and water. An encyclopedia of human and civil rights abuses must include an expanding array of restrictions on land use, water access, freedom of movement of people and goods, educational and economic development, and civil and political rights that have been imposed upon the Palestinian population.

For hundreds of years, Palestinian villages have been largely self-sufficient, depending on sustainable dry-land farms and orchards, livestock and shepherding for a living. Conservation of rainwater that has seeped into the limestone and the use of cisterns to collect surface runoff have provided a sufficient water supply. Most of the produce was consumed by the people themselves, but road access to larger towns and cities allowed them to reach bigger markets for agricultural surplus and the products of small business. Continue reading

Palestinians struggle to stay on their land, part 2

palestinian-loss-of-land-1946-2010

A brief history of 50 years of Israeli occupation.

By Mary J. Pneuman / Bishop’s Committee for Justice and Peace in the Holy Land

[Ed. note: After returning from a recent trip to the Holy Land, the author has updated her previous writings. We offer The Promised Land or the Land of Promise Revisited here in serial form.]


Now, about 62% of the West Bank is now under full Israeli military and civil control, but even within Area A, Israeli can and does conduct military raids at any time. This means that since 1948, the 22% of historic Palestine that was left for a Palestinian state has shrunk to less than 10%, and this remainder is now chopped up by numerous bypass roads and military security perimeters and checkpoints constructed to protect the settlements.


To an impartial observer, there can be little doubt that the single most significant impediment to peace between Israel and Palestine has been the construction of Israeli settlements, a long-term enterprise which began within a year of the 1967 war. In addition to the illegal acquisition and use of Palestinian land, the settlements have created a whole host of related problems for the Palestinians, including limits on water, urban development, housing and agricultural production, restrictions on travel and trade, access to employment, education, and places of worship, and the imposition of military, rather than civil law on Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The international community deems the settlements to be illegal — a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits the transfer of an occupying power’s civilian population into the occupied territory. Israel disputes this claim by arguing that the Palestinian lands had not been legally held by a sovereign power prior to Israel’s occupation of them. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has issued a series of resolutions challenging the legality of the settlements and declaring them to be a serious obstruction to a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the landmark UNSC Resolution 242 of November 1967, which addressed the “right of the Palestinian people to self-determination” and was adopted as a provision of the United Nations Charter. Most recently, in December 2016, the UNSC reaffirmed that settlements have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of international law. Fourteen member states voted in favor, but the US abstained.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict over land ownership has its roots in the rise of the Zionist nationalist movement of the latter part of the 19th Century and the decision by the United Nations in 1947 to partition historic Palestine. From the late 19th Century, a growing Zionist movement had as its goal the creation of a Jewish national state in historic Palestine and was encouraging Jews to emigrate from Europe and the Middle East to their historic homeland. Jewish communities had begun to purchase land from the Ottomans, who controlled much of the Middle East for 400 years, and while the movement was largely secular, there were religious undertones associated with some of the British and Jewish proponents who believed that this land had been promised by God to the Israelite Jews.

After the defeat of the Ottoman empire in World War I — the Ottoman Turks had fought on the side of Germany — Palestine fell under British administrative and military control in 1917 and would be administered under the British Mandate of Palestine, which extended from the Mediterranean on the West to the Jordan River on the East, and from Lebanon on the North to the Red Sea on the South.

In 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour issued his “Balfour Declaration,” which essentially stated that the British government looked favorably on the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, but that nothing should be done which would “prejudice the civil and religious rights” of the existing non-Jewish population. Very recently (October 2017) there was a move in Great Britain on the part of judges and clergy to acknowledge responsibility for the unjust legacy of the Balfour doctrine and address the neglected moral and legal mandates of defending Palestinian rights (Balfour Project).

Throughout the 1920’s there was a rapid increase of emigration from Europe and concurrent resistance from indigenous Palestinians over Jewish acquisition and use of Palestinian land. Christians had been a presence in Palestine since the 1st Century and Muslims since the 7th. Especially onerous were Jewish policies and practices that prohibited the employment of Arabs in Jewish industries and farms as well as the perception that British policies favored the Jews in dispute resolution. Riots and armed confrontations ensued that persisted for over a decade and resulted in the loss of many lives.

By 1931, 17 percent of the Mandate were Jews, and immigration peaked during the rise of Nazi power in Europe, almost doubling the Jewish population in Palestine. In an effort to quell a major Arab revolt (1936–39) Britain reduced the number of emigrants allowed permanent entry, and this policy remained in place during the Mandate, which coincided with the Nazi Holocaust and the flight of Jewish refugees from Europe. At the end of the World War II, armed conflicts immediately resumed, and Britain was eager to withdraw from costly diplomatic and peace-keeping efforts, ceding these responsibilities to the United Nations. At that time, only about 7% of the land was under Jewish ownership, and resident Jews represented only about 33% of the population.

In 1947, in a desire to keep the peace and provide a safe homeland for Jewish refugees and immigrants, the UN developed a partition plan that distributed 57% of Palestine to the Jews and 43% to the Palestinians. Israel would receive three fertile plains and two-thirds of the Mediterranean coastline, along with the Negev desert and sole access to the Red Sea. Palestine was to receive the highlands of the West Bank and the Jordan valley and one-third of the coastline, namely the Gaza strip. At the epicenter of the three Abrahamic religions, Jerusalem was to become an international city administered by the UN.

Because the proposed allocations strongly favored the Israelis, even though they clearly had the least land ownership and population, the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors were understandably opposed to this plan and in May 1948, when the Mandate expired and Israel announced the formation of an independent State of Israel, war broke out between the two sides. By the time an armistice was agreed in 1949, Israel, with a much stronger and cohesive military force had prevailed over the Palestinians and their Arab allies. Almost overnight, Palestinians found themselves becoming refugees in their own land, as nearly 750,000 of them were driven from their homes, many at gunpoint, and forced to find safety in other parts of Israel or another country, never to return to their homes. Entire villages were bulldozed, as homes, businesses, and orchards were either destroyed or forcibly acquired by new Jewish occupants. Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian and academic now living in England to preserve his academic freedom, forthrightly refers this forced migration as “ethnic cleansing” in his seminal work The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (One World Oxford, 2006). The Palestinian people refer to it as al nakba, or “the catastrophe.”

We are personally acquainted with Palestinians whose families were forced to leave their homes and businesses in 1948, taking nothing but the clothes on their backs. One Muslim family of twelve from Jaffa was forced to flee to Gaza — the father owned and lost his profitable farm supply store. The youngest daughter eventually obtained a scholarship for study in the US and lived in our home for almost two years while she finished a Master’s program in public administration. She returned to Gaza to help her people and now heads an after-school arts program to teach children non-violent ways to express their frustration and anger. Another family of twelve, Christians from the town of Beisan (renamed Beit She’an), were forcibly evicted with no time to gather their belongings or papers and had to flee, eventually finding refuge in Nazareth. The father lost his successful jewelry business, and the Israelis moved three Jewish families into the family’s three fully furnished homes and gardens. Their valuables were stolen, and important papers, such as deeds and birth certificates, were burned. One of the sons eventually became a theologian and influential author and peacemaker.

By the time of the armistice, Israel had conquered and incorporated nearly 50% more territory, moving the balance of land distribution to 78% for Israel and 22% for Palestine — inclusive of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip. Jordan and Egypt were granted custodianship over the West Bank and Gaza, respectively. Unrest continued, and in 1967, at the close of the Six Day War, Israel took full military control of all Palestinian lands, including East Jerusalem. The complete military occupation of Palestine had begun.

Efforts to address the illegal occupation and establish Palestinian rights have waxed and waned, with the most hopeful prospects immediately following the Oslo Accords, signed by Yasser Arafat for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in 1993. The Oslo accords were supposed to mark the beginning of negotiations toward a permanent peace treaty between Israel and Palestine. The basis of the final status agreement was the UNSC Resolution 242 condemning the occupation of territory acquired by war and calling for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from those territories occupied during the 1967 war, namely the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights (part of Syria). This resolution has been the cornerstone, and sticking point, in the Israeli/Palestinian dispute since 1967 and the basis for efforts to define borders and territorial integrity for the Palestinians.

The Oslo “process” was expected to address the most important issues to be determined: borders, settlements, the status of Jerusalem, the Palestinian right of return, and a negotiated balance between Israeli military control and Palestinian autonomy, (denoting areas “A” under full Palestinian civil and security authority); “B” under Palestinian civil control and Israeli security; and “C” under full Israeli military and administrative control.) These areas do not have mutually agreed territorial borders.

The Oslo accords did not create a Palestinian state, and left for future negotiation were the Israeli military withdrawal and transfer of responsibility to the Palestinians. Even then, by excluding the settlements and Jerusalem from the agreement, Israel would maintain full military control over all borders and airspace, as well as the territorial waters of Gaza. By the time the Oslo negotiations began, in addition to land and border control, Israel had already gained control over the largest share of the water resources of the West Bank, according to a report by the European Parliamentary Research Service (1.16).

Following the signing of the Oslo agreement, there was a brief period of Palestinian optimism that Israel would eventually turn over control of the West Bank to Palestinian self-rule, but by any standard, the Oslo agreement has failed miserably in fulfilling the right of Palestinians to self-determination and a secure and peaceful existence for either Israel or Palestine. Under Oslo, Israeli has consolidated vast territorial gains, and now has military control of about half of the West Bank. In 1967, Israel expanded Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries to include newly settled territory, an act of annexation never recognized by the international community. Now, about 62% of the West Bank is now under full Israeli military and civil control, but even within Area A, Israeli can and does conduct military raids at any time. This means that since 1948, the 22% of historic Palestine that was left for a Palestinian state has shrunk to less than 10%, and this remainder is now chopped up by numerous bypass roads and military security perimeters and checkpoints constructed to protect the settlements.

Read the full paper here →

Palestinians struggle to stay on their land, part 1

palestinian-loss-of-land-1946-2010

A brief history of 50 years of Israeli occupation.

By Mary J. Pneuman / Bishop’s Committee for Justice and Peace in the Holy Land

[Ed. note: After returning from a recent trip to the Holy Land, the author has updated her previous writings. We offer The Promised Land or the Land of Promise Revisited here in serial form.]


Mainstream Israelis now take it for granted that Israel should take over the West Bank as a legitimate claim related to their deep historical roots.


A visitor to the West Bank needs little time “on the ground” to observe the damaging effects of the 50 years of Israeli military occupation on the lives of the Palestinian people. Nowhere have these “facts” been more dramatic than in the towns and rural villages near Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron and Nablus. During our stay in the spring of 2016, we saw a proliferation of new red-tiled roofs on the hills around Ramallah, and nearly every hilltop encircling the city now had trailers denoting yet another new settler “outpost.” In February 2017, Israel approved the retroactive legalization of scores of illegal Jewish outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land (The Guardian, 2.17). This law stipulates that the original landowner should be compensated either with money or alternative land — even if they do not agree to give up their property.

Over half of some hundred outposts are home to ultra-orthodox Jewish settlers who believe that the land is and has always been theirs since God gave the land of Palestine to the Israelites, and they are becoming increasingly hostile to their Palestinian neighbors, committing violent acts that are creating a strong incentive for Palestinian families to consider leaving for fear of their lives. Attacks by settlers take the form of destruction of olive groves, orchards, and vineyards, threats or physical attacks on Palestinian harvesters, damage to homes and vehicles, and hate graffiti and arson on Christian and Muslim places of worship (Americans for Peace Now, 7.17). Continue reading

Christians in the Holy Land today, part 2

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The separation wall in Bethlehem. (photo: Mary Pneuman)

By Mary J. Pneuman / Bishop’s Committee for Justice and Peace in the Holy Land

[Ed. note: After returning from a recent trip to the Holy Land, the author has updated her previous writings. We offer The Promised Land or the Land of Promise Revisited here in serial form.]


“The future is guaranteed by reaffirming the best in our Palestinian past and present, celebrating our humanity and overcoming the prejudices that come with narrow identities that lead to violence and the exclusion of others.”
— Bernard Sabella, PhD, professor of sociology at Bethlehem University


Population statistics that are both current and reliable are hard to come by because of the shifting demographics now taking place. In his detailed status report A Place of Roots (2014), Dr. Bernard Sabella[1] states that Palestinian Christians in both Palestine and Israel numbered below 2% of the overall population. Inside the State of Israel, the number of resident Christian citizens stood at about 120,000 or about 1.4% of a total Israeli population of 8.3 million. More recent reports seem to indicate that the number of Christians in Israel is actually growing. According to Dr. Sabella, Israeli Christians comprised about 7.1% of its Arab citizenry, and together, Arab Christians and Muslims numbered about 1.7 million or roughly 20% of Israeli citizens. In Palestine, as of his report, the number of local Arabic speaking Christians stood at about 50,000 or 1.1% of a population of about 4.5 million Palestinians. The Christian population of Jerusalem had fallen from approximately 32,000 in 1945 to about 8,000 today. As of 2015, it was estimated that about 38,000 Christians live in the West Bank, centered primarily in and around Bethlehem (down from about 50,000 less than 10 years ago). The National Catholic Reporter (12.16) reported that in 1950, the Christian population of Bethlehem and surrounding villages was about 86% of the total; presently, the number stands at about 11,000 Christians, or 11.7%. Once a predominantly Christian town, Ramallah is now home to 7,000 Christians out of a population of just under 60,000. Figures from 2013 estimate 1,000–1,300 Christians in Gaza (pop. 1.7 million). Continue reading

Christians in the Holy Land today, part 1

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Sabt al Nour parade on the Sunday before Easter in Ramallah. (photo: Mary Pneuman)

By Mary J. Pneuman / Bishop’s Committee for Justice and Peace in the Holy Land

[Ed. note: After returning from a recent trip to the Holy Land, the author has updated her previous writings. We offer The Promised Land or the Land of Promise Revisited here in serial form.]


“Often permits [to travel to Jerusalem] are issued for only some members of the family — the wife, or the children. Some permits are issued for dead people . . . even if people have permits, they often cannot travel because of closures due to military restrictions or Jewish holidays, when only emergency medical vehicles are allowed through the checkpoints.”
— Yusef Daher, secretary general of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Center


All was calm in Bethlehem’s Manger Square as I stood with my husband Fred among hundreds of Palestinian Christian and Muslim families while they gathered together around a 30-foot lighted Christmas tree to sing carols and enjoy the beginning of the Advent season in 2013. Throngs would come again and again over the next four weeks to share the spirit of Christmas as they prepared to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. As visitors enjoying the festivities, we understood that many Palestinian Christians would not be allowed to come to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Jesus at the Church of the Nativity or able to travel to Jerusalem for Good Friday or Easter at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, revered as the site of the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Jerusalem is off-limits to most West Bank Christians unless a special permit can be obtained. In fact, many of the Christian holy places, such as Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee — the locations of churches that commemorate the Annunciation, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Feeding of the 5,000 — fall inside the boundaries of the State of Israel. Tourists can come and go, but without special permits, West Bank Palestinians are not allowed to enter or travel freely inside Israel. Continue reading