Russell O. Siler, Retired
This day there is neither. Today is the day that Israel elects its Knesset or parliament. One hundred twenty men and women will be named from 33 [!] political parties’ lists. Then the President will ask one of them–virtually always the leader of the party winning the greatest number of seats–to form a new government. The maneuvering begins. Bargains are struck; this group aligns itself with the majority while that one opts out; there is constant mention of center, left, right, of liberal, moderate, conservative, of religious and secular. Finally a coalition emerges. It must have 61 members, but can scarcely function without 65 or more. Then the work of government gets underway. Comparing this process to what takes place here in the United States is like comparing a well-officiated “winner-take-all” boxing match to “Wrestlemania” where ten or twelve wrestlers are put in the ring together to battle it out until only one remains. Both are interesting and entertaining to watch, but they differ from each other dramatically. The real suspense comes at the end of the drama when real life intrudes and we watch how bills are paid, wars are waged–or not–children are educated, rights are upheld or trampled, and the sick and needy are cared for. We rarely know in advance how political pronouncements will translate into policy and governance.
Except in this case!
There are three contenders for the post of Prime Minister, the one who will form a governing coalition. You may know their names, you may not. You may be able to name the top three parties and match the candidate with his or her party; you may not. You may know which ones have pledged to continue the “peace process” and which ones oppose it. Or not. And it doesn’t matter. For the history of nearly 42 years of occupation and control have been characterized by one dominating phenomenon: the construction of illegal Israeli settlements, built on Palestinian land, has continued in one unbroken chain of oppression. Regardless of how the ruling party has presented itself on the matter of a Palestinian state…regardless of whether it has thrust forth an olive branch or a white-phosphorous fist toward the people around it…regardless of how benevolent or munificent its policies…the taking and taking and taking of land by building a house and then another and another has continued unabated throughout those years. Nothing leads me to believe that this time will be different. Certainly the person who heads the government will determine something of the tenor and tone of relations with Palestinians, as well as those with the U.S., Europe, et al, and other Arab nations. If Livni, it will sound as if the talking loosely referred to as the peace process will continue. If Netanyahu, that is less likely. If Lieberman [and the early exit polls indicate that his right-wing nationalist party will be the third strongest in the Knesset.] we will see more of his measures which can only be characterized as efforts in “ethnic transfer/cleansing” of Arabs. If a compromise candidate, who knows what will be articulated as national policy. But we do know that the settlement enterprise will go on and on. It always has.
Last month I was speaking with an Israeli government official who implored me to tell my friends in Palestine that Israelis really want peace. I replied that many may have that desire, but it is impossible for Palestinians to believe it when each passing day sees more and more of their land taken illegally and arbitrarily and given to others. Remember, the land we speak of is not some disputed tract in the middle of nowhere. These are the farms and hills and villages which families have loved and have passed on to their children. Now they are taken from them; the grandchildren will have only a sad, bitter memory.
Perhaps now is the time that the whole world must come to a point of decision, a point of principle, of justice. Perhaps it is time for us to put the old religious stories in the 21st century where we no longer believe we can take the homes of others and label that taking a manifestation of a divine proclamation. Perhaps it is time we all resolve that the only path to justice and peace is the one that leads to respect for each other and a commitment to sit around the same civil table and grow to the point where we live together and share a common heritage.
Perhaps? No. It is time! Tell the President. Tell the Congress. Tell your pastor.
Russell O. Siler, Retired