Twenty years ago Yigal Amir, an Israeli ultra-nationalist, assassinated then Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin as he addressed a peace rally in Tel Aviv. Rabin was martyred for his support of the 1993 peace agreement, known as the Oslo Accords, which he had signed with the Palestinian Liberation Organization President Yasser Arafat on the White House South Lawn. Coaxed by President Bill Clinton, they sealed the treaty with a handshake.
For fourteen of the twenty years since Rabin’s assassination, right-wing parties, either skeptical of peace with Palestine or opposed to it, have governed Israel. For nine years, those governments have been led by Benjamin Netanyahu, and since he took office for the second time in 2009 the ruling coalition has drifted steadily rightward, its opposition to peace with Palestine only very thinly veiled.
In an electoral campaign last spring, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stirred worldwide criticism when he declared there would be no Palestinian state. Only last week he was reported to have said that the territories would have to remain under Israeli control for the foreseeable future.
Short of a UN vote for independence, blocked until now by the U.S. veto, what might be done to bring Israel to the negotiation table? One Palestinian nonviolent activist has suggested that what Palestinians need is “co-resistance.” That is, cooperation across ethnic, religious and national lines in opposing the occupation with independent initiatives for peace: initiatives by Israelis, Palestinians and Americans, Jews, Christians and Muslims.
When political channels are deadlocked civil society can provide the added impetus to build conditions for negotiation. We have a duty to resist grave public evils, like genocide, ethnic cleansing and the massive violation of the basic rights of entire peoples. The Israeli occupation of Palestine is a long-lasting tyranny that deprives Palestinians of a broad range of rights, and for that reason needs to be resisted — nonviolently.
Co-resistance has already been taking place. Over the years, for example, several waves of Israeli military personnel have refused to serve on the West Bank. In the most recent case this year intelligence officers refused to serve in enforcing the occupation.
Rabbis for Human Rights and the human rights group B’tselem monitor and protest Israeli human rights violations in the territories and have been doing so for years. They do so now, even though the Netanyahu government has passed laws to impede their work. The Israeli Coalition against Housing Demolition works to prevent demolitions of Palestinian homes and to publicize them.
At the village of Ibillin, Israelis joined Palestinians from both sides of the Green Line in weeks of nonviolent protests against the routing of the Separation Wall through the village, and, in a rare victory, they eventually won a court order adjusting the route.
Another Israeli NGO, Zochrot (“Remembering”), staffed by both Israeli Jews and Palestinians, has memorialized the more than 400 Palestinian villages destroyed in 1948, and leads tours of the ruins. The programs of these conscientious Israelis make clear to visitors that Israel was built on the forced expulsion of Palestinians in what historian Ilan Pappe has described, in the book of the same name, as “the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.”
The Parents’ Circle – Family Forum brings together bereaved parents and siblings of Palestinian and Israeli youth killed in the conflict to promote peace, reconciliation and tolerance. Despite the odds, co-resistance and reconciliation already take place in Israel itself. Can it become an international phenomenon?
Opposition by Jews in the diaspora upholds the prophetic tradition of biblical justice against the xenophobia of the militant Israeli ethnocrats. There are already notable figures and movements opposed to the occupation in the United States. Marc Braverman has led the Kairos U.S.A. movement in support of the liberation statement Kairos Palestine. Drafted by Palestinian Christians including Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah, Anglican Canon Naim Ateek, and Fr. Jamal Khader, the former chairman of theology at Bethlehem University and rector of the patriarchal seminary in Beit Jala, the Kairos statement called for the liberation of Palestinians from the yoke of occupation.
Rabbi Michael Lerner publishes Tikkun magazine, an exceptional journal of politics and spirituality. He is a longtime critic of the occupation and has suffered attacks from extremists for his commitment to prophetic justice for Palestine. Jewish Voice for Peace and JStreet are other examples of American Jewish groups opposed to Israeli expansionism.
One senior American rabbi said recently that “The Zionist project has failed.” What he meant was that the dream of a democratic Jewish homeland has morphed into a nightmare of ethno-nationalist extremism led by the settler movement. Zionism can only be saved by people committed to a just peace for the Holy Land.
Fifty years after Nostra Aetate, Vatican II’s declaration on non-Christian religions, Catholics should not allow good ties with the Jewish community to suppress our efforts for justice for the Palestinians.
On the one hand, they need to hear Jewish complaints about their perceptions of anti-Semitism in certain statements and actions. They should respond appropriately when those charges are accurate, and they should be outspoken when those charges are cover for unjust policies and evil acts. They also need to be sensitive to Jewish perceptions of the existential danger which Israel and Jews face, but they must insist they be addressed responsibly in ways that respect the dignity of every human being.
Catholics, however, should not allow closeness to their elder brothers and sisters in the covenant to be manipulated into disregard for the tradition of prophetic justice which we both share and to neglect the defense of rights of the Palestinians.
The guidelines for Catholic relations with Judaism distinguish clearly between interreligious ties to Jews and Judaism, on the one hand, and political relations with the State of Israel and policies of the Government of Israel, on the other.
Catholics must continue to build religious relations with the Jewish community and stand up with them against anti-Semitism. But not everything which is said to be anti-Semitic is so, and fear of such accusations shouldn’t dissuade them from criticism of Israeli policy and the Occupation. Such critique and even opposition is part of the Christian witness to justice for the marginalized and vulnerable Palestinians, who are the recipients of God’s love.