As I read and ponder the constant stream of news and information flowing from people touched by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I try often to listen as I believe someone would listen who has only a limited amount of knowledge and information.

As I read and ponder the constant stream of news and information flowing from people touched by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I try often to listen as I believe someone would listen who has only a limited amount of knowledge and information. Several matters literally jump off the page because of the way they distort or ignore some of the most critical issues and obstacles to peace with justice. It often occurs to me that the speakers, writers, reporters, and editors of such partial truths simply must be aware of what they are doing. Either that or they are not qualified to report on such consequential matters. Here are some examples.

While reading the Washington Post transcript of a “News Conference” held by President George Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert held in Jerusalem on 8 January, I came on the reply of President Bush to a question about illegal Israeli settlements: “: Look, I mean, we’ve been talking about it for four years. The agreement was get rid of outposts — illegal outposts. And they ought to go.” Sounds like he’s getting tough. Right? Actually what Mr. Bush is doing is playing out his role in the well known “diplomatic dance” regarding settlements. The reporter had set the stage by using the words “settlements” and “outposts” as if they are interchangeable. Of course the President chose the one he wanted to use and replied that the “…illegal outposts…ought to go.” The phrase “illegal outposts” refers only to those tiny clusters of trailers a few settlers have erected on fragments of Palestinian land. In most cases they have received electricity, water, telephones, and military protection from the Israeli authorities, even though they have never received permission from those same authorities to be in these outposts. That lack of proper permits is what makes them “illegal.” It therefore sounds as if Mr. Bush is saying that all the settlements must go, when in reality he is merely speaking about a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of Israeli dwellings on Palestinian land—housing enterprises which the rest of the world regards as illegal. In fact this charade has continued for years. Speaking firmly in public about outposts distracts concerned attention from the huge confiscation of Palestinian land that the settlements accomplish. There will be no peace if this confiscation is not addressed and corrected.

Then there is the question of Hamas. As you recall, the Palestinian people, encouraged by the United States to hold democratic elections, voted Hamas into power by giving them a clear majority of the National Assembly. Remember also that the United States uttered not one word of warning about just whom the people should elect. In a democratic process the people decide for themselves. And two years ago the people did. But from that day to this both Israel and the United States have done everything they possibly could to guarantee that these elected representatives of the people would not be allowed to govern. Yes, I am aware of the violence between Fatah and Hamas. Yes, I am aware of the homemade rockets from Gaza, crashing down near or on Israeli villages. I am also aware of the hundreds of millions of Palestinian dollars illegally held by Israel with the blessing of the United States—dollars which were to be used to pay teachers, doctors, nurses, and other public servants. I am aware that, without giving the elected leaders one chance, the United States pressured the entire world to withhold all assistance from the Palestinian people if even one dollar was touched by a Hamas member. I am aware that over one and one-half years ago Israel imprisoned nearly 40 Palestinian legislators. Many of them are still in prison with no charges whatsoever filed against them. They are simply in prison.

Now put all that aside, along with all the rhetoric from everybody about who says what about the other. Put aside what you think you know about suicide bombings and house demolitions and targeted assassinations, and ask yourself these questions: Is there even the slightest hope of a just peace and settlement of the issues if we continue to ignore perhaps one-third of the Palestinian people? If we actively support the isolation and thus the hunger and great medical and employment needs of the people in Gaza? If we negotiate only with leaders in the West Bank? If we keep pushing those same West Bankers toward armed conflict with their sisters and brothers in Gaza? If we continue to send the message to the Palestinian people that we will support their efforts only if we approve of the leaders they elect? This type strategy has never worked for us…and probably not for anyone else either. We have called people communists, terrorists, leftists, and every –ist imaginable, but in the end we sat at the table with them and made our demands while listening to theirs.

I have no way of knowing if there was any kind of agreement between Israel and the United States, but if there were, it could not have worked out better for Israel. Gaza and the West Bank are now separated in all but heritage. The barrier between Palestinians in Jerusalem and those in the West Bank grows stronger and more impenetrable each day. The possibility of a vibrant Palestinian state existing alongside a strong, secure Israel diminishes by the hour.

Then there are the concessions, usually referred to by Israeli politicians as “painful concessions.” When we look beneath this phrase, we find that such concessions include sharing Jerusalem between two peoples and among three faiths; returning stolen land to rightful and lawful owners, ending the illegal occupation, naming borders [There are none now named.] acceptable to the world’s nations, and somehow providing justice to those people who have been refugees from their ancestral homes for almost 60 years.

It is my firm belief that the large majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians will accept a fair agreement which brings justice and security for all. It is also my firm belief that the constant distortion of the issues and disguising of the realities will continue to push away both that justice and that reality.

Russell O. Siler, Retired Pastor