Israel and Palestine

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I thought this was anti-Semitic fake news. Then I saw it confirmed on the Amnesty International website! Surely the world will not tolerate this sort of blatant race discrimination? Surely the people of Israel will not tolerate this? 

The following details come from an article by Ramzy Baroud, first published on Countercurrents.

There is no legal or moral justification for Israel’s action. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 asserts that an Occupying Power has the “duty of ensuring and maintaining … the medical and hospital establishments and services” with “particular reference” on taking the “preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.”

Even the Oslo Accords, despite their failure to address many crucial topics pertaining to the freedom of the Palestinian people, oblige both sides “to cooperate in combating epidemics and to assist each other in times of emergency,” the New York Times reported.

Not all Israeli officials deny that Israel is legally compelled to provide Palestinians with the help required to contain the rapid spread of the pandemic. This admission, however, comes with conditions. Former Israeli Ambassador, Alan Baker, told NYT that, while international law does “place an obligation on Israel” to help in the provision of vaccines to Palestinians, Palestinians must first release several Israeli soldiers who were captured in Gaza during and after the 2014 war.

The irony in Baker’s logic is that Israel holds over 5,000 Palestinian prisoners, including women and children, hundreds of whom are imprisoned without trial or due process.

The captured Israelis are held in Gaza as a bargaining chip, to be exchanged for the easing of Israel’s hermetic blockade on the densely populated Strip. One of the Palestinians’ main demands for the release of the soldiers is that Israel allows for the transfer of medical equipment and life-saving medication to the two million people of the Gaza Strip. International and Palestinian human rights groups have long reported on many unnecessary deaths among Palestinians in Gaza because Israel deliberately prevents Gazan hospitals from acquiring cancer medications.

Long before the onset of the coronavirus, Israel has weaponized medicine, and Gaza’s dilapidated health sector is a standing testimony to this injustice.

Perhaps, the overcrowded Israeli prisons remain the glaring testimony of Israel’s mishandling of the COVID-19 outbreak. Despite repeated calls by the United Nations and, particularly, the World Health Organization, that states should take immediate measures to help ease the crisis in their prison systems, Israel has done little for Palestinian prisoners. Al Haq reported that Israel “has taken no adequate measures to improve provision of healthcare and hygiene for Palestinian prisoners” in line with the WHO “guidance for preventing COVID-19 outbreak in prisons.” The consequences were dire, as the spread of COVID among Palestinian prisoners continues to claim new victims at a much higher ratio compared with Israeli prisoners.

Israel’s intentional hampering of Palestinian efforts to fight COVID is consistent with a trajectory of racism, where colonized Palestinians are exploited for their land, water and cheap labor, while never factoring as a priority on Israel’s checklist, even during the time of a deadly pandemic. Israel is an Occupying Power that refuses to acknowledge or respect any of its basic obligations as an Occupying Power under international law.

For the complete article, click here.

 

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with Dr Chandra Muzaffar in 2013

with Dr Muzaffar in Kuala Lumper, Malaysia, in 2013

I found this speech by my friend, Dr Chandra Muzaffar, to a Pax Christi gathering in Australia (reprinted in their journal), deeply encouraging. It has been a while since I have heard words of hope regarding Palestine, and there is no one, from my perspective, who speaks with greater authority when it comes to issues of global hegemony than Dr Muzaffar.

Dr Muzaffar points to the rising significance of Russia in the Levant, and the further discrediting of the USA as a credible broker in any peace process as indications of a deep shift in influences in the region. Could this spell a new beginning?

Father Dave

Palestine—A TURNING POINT? 

By Dr Chandra Muzaffar

An address to Pax Christi Victoria, via Zoom 18th October 2020.

Before I attempt to show why Palestine is at a turning-point, let me underscore the significance of the Palestinian issue to the world. Why is the Palestinian issue so important?

IMPORTANCE

It is important because of the human suffering it has caused. Even before the state of Israel was established in May 1948, scores of Palestinians protesting the growing Israeli presence in their land lost their lives in conflicts with Israeli settlers from Europe who had begun to colonise Palestine from the beginning of the 20th century. What facilitated colonisation was the British mandate over Palestine.

Though the British mandate ended in 1948, Palestinian suffering continued. Palestine was now divided with the larger portion of the land occupied by Israel. Israeli occupation intensified in 1967 with its conquest of the West Bank and Gaza. Settler colonialism reinforced by occupation was further consolidated through regular armed assaults upon Gaza and through the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

It was the injustice associated with colonial settlement and occupation which increased Palestinian suffering. Not only were thousands of Palestinians killed, tortured and imprisoned. They were also expelled from their lands and farms and their rights crushed mercilessly. Palestinian dispossession rendered them refugees within and without Palestine. In fact, their dispossession is the major cause of the Palestinian catastrophe.

The catastrophe or Nakba or more accurately, the on-going catastrophe, al-Nakba al-Mustamera, expresses itself in the drive to eliminate the indigenous Palestinian population which is seen as an obstacle to the usurpation of the whole of Palestine for the Israeli project. It is for this reason that the killing and expulsion of Palestinians is viewed as a genocide in various circles.

What reinforces this perception is the gross imbalance in physical power between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel has one of the most formidable armed forces in the world while Palestinian military power is so limited that it is incapable of providing even elementary protection to the Palestinian people. This huge disparity in military power underlines the helplessness of the victim in this conflict.

It is partly because of this utter helplessness and the desire to restore the dignity of the Palestinian people that almost all the wars fought in West Asia and North Africa (WANA) since 1948 has had some link or other to the plight of the Palestinians. The 1956 Suez conflict, the 1967 Israel –Arab war, and the 1973 war between Israel and neighbouring Arab states would be some of the earlier examples. In more recent times, the 2003 Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq; the 2011 NATO led assault on Libya; and the long-drawn attempt by the US and its allies within and without WANA to overthrow the Bashar Assad government in Damascus, emasculate the Hezbollah in Lebanon and isolate the Iranian government are all intertwined to a greater or lesser degree to the Palestinian question.

Finally, Palestine is also important to the relations between and among religious communities in the region. For many Jews, there is a deep religious connotation to the very birth and survival of the Israeli state. For Christians, Bethlehem in Palestine with its profound association to Jesus Christ will always remain special. For Muslims, Jerusalem is their third holiest city and has a spiritual significance that revolves around the mission of the Prophet Muhammad.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

This backdrop to the Palestinian question is crucial in understanding recent developments. It is intimately enmeshed with the recently announced ‘Deal of the Century’. The deal does not address critical concerns such as the right of return of millions of Palestinian refugees; the viability and sovereignty of a Palestinian state as part of the so called two- state solution; the role and status of Jerusalem; Israeli settlers on the West Bank; and the Palestinian/ Arab population within Israel. The deliberate marginalisation of these and other related concerns is an attempt by Israel and the US to erase the crux and the core of the Palestinian Nakba. The Palestinian question is re-cast as an economic concern confined to creating jobs and stimulating economic growth.

As expected, the vast majority of Palestinians and others in WANA have rejected the deal. Elites in certain countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain have embraced it and extended diplomatic recognition to Israel. Other governments who have forged close security ties with Washington DC or are dependent upon Saudi largesse may also follow suit. This may result in a more pronounced elite – mass dichotomy in the region as a whole.

It is a dichotomy that may eventually weaken the Sunni-Shia split — a split which the Saudi elite in particular has in recent times exploited as a way of targeting preponderantly Shia Iran, its regional rival. Indeed, because the Iranian elite is deeply committed to Palestinian rights, especially the right of self determination, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Tehran is emerging as the most consistent and principled champion of the Palestinian cause. Political movements and social groups and individuals in WANA are now more inclined towards the Iranian position on Palestine and on issues related to hegemony and political independence. Shia majority Iraq and Shia majority Bahrain are cases in point. There is also the Shia dominant Hezbollah in Lebanon, arguably the country’s most significant political actor. These forces ensure that there is a powerful counterweight to a Saudi-Israeli nexus in WANA, buttressed by the US.

An elite mass dichotomy and new emerging alignments in WANA have been rendered even more complex with the deepening involvement of other states within and without WANA in the region’s political maelstrom. Since the Arab uprisings of 2011, Turkey is trying to play a bigger role in a region whose history has a profound link to Turkey’s Ottoman Empire. China is also taking a greater interest in WANA partly because of its own dependence upon oil from major producers such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. But the nation that has become really prominent in WANA in the last five years is Russia. AS the USSR in past decades, Russia had enjoyed a close relationship with the government of Hafiz Al-Assad, the father of the current Syrian president.

That relationship has grown since 2015 through Russia’s direct involvement in the Syrian war as a staunch defender of the Bashar Al Assad government. It is a role that has brought Russia closer to Iran and to a lesser degree to the Hezbollah. Since the bond that holds Syria, Iran and Hezbollah together is the defence of Palestine, Russia’s image within a segment of Palestinian society has also risen.

Since Russia also enjoys a warm relationship with Israel, going back to the creation of the state in 1948, will this enable Russia to play a positive role in the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict? Indeed, will Russia’s increasingly critical role in WANA change the region’s political landscape? Or are there vested interests more in the US than in Israel that will prevent this from happening?

These are questions of great import that should be raised because US influence in WANA is waning rapidly. The decline became obvious with the turmoil and turbulence that followed the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq of 2003. The colossal death toll, the massive destruction of infrastructure and the mammoth depletion of financial resources destroyed the US image in the region and elsewhere.

Its debacle in Libya in 2011 further damaged its standing. Its concerted push to oust the Bashar government in Syria was yet another foolish manoeuvre surpassed only by its military support for the Saudi government in its reckless adventure in Yemen.

US decline in WANA has impacted negatively upon its role in Palestine exacerbated no doubt by some of the arrogant and ill-conceived moves made by President Donald Trump.

These moves such as the decision to shift the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem have convinced Palestinians that they cannot expect even a modicum of even handedness from the US Administration. The Jerusalem move, together with the deal of the century, demonstrates that the Palestinian catastrophe has reached a turning-point.

Palestinian interests have been totally abandoned by the US. Even the fig-leaf of hypocrisy has fallen off!. That US hypocrisy has been exposed so blatantly is not the only reason why many feel that the Palestinian catastrophe has reached a turning point. As we have observed, new dichotomies and alignments are emerging in WANA. Actors from outside the region are also beginning to shape the political landscape. All this will certainly impact upon Palestine.

WHAT DO WE DO?

What should we — civil society groups and citizens in general committed to justice and peace in WANA ? Our first task is perhaps to raise awareness among people everywhere about the real issues in the Israel – Palestine conflict. Let us proclaim with courage that the real issues are about the dispossession of the Palestinian people, their suppression and oppression and the Israeli threat to obliterate their catastrophe. Developing this type of mass consciousness is not going to be easy since Israel and Zionism backed by the US and a certain segment of Western public opinion have the media behind them. Nonetheless, we should use all channels of communication available to create an alternative narrative that is more just and genuine.

Translating the vast corpus of materials that exists in the English language and Arabic into languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Malay and Vietnamese would be a major undertaking. These translations should be converted into videos and easy to understand documentaries and widely disseminated.

Cartoons and children’s stories should also be part of this mass public education. Having materials on the Palestinian catastrophe that will reach the grassroots is one thing. But they will not have the desired impact if groups and organisations do not exist which are prepared to carry the message forward, There should be more Palestinian support groups in different parts of the world that will play this role.

Support groups should not only articulate the Palestinian position but should also counter distortions and lies about their struggle through the local media and other platforms. This sort of combat often helps to advance one’s cause. For instance, Christian Zionism which is opposed to the Palestinian struggle has to be confronted through the media. At the same time, there may be groups claiming to champion the Palestinian cause which may be advocates of senseless violence. Genuine Palestinian advocates should not hesitate to expose such groups.

This brings us to the question of the means employed by the champions of the Palestinian cause. There is more and more support today among young Palestinians for peaceful resistance to Israeli and Zionist power and dominance. Such resistance should be nurtured.

Many young Palestinians are also deeply disturbed by the schism that separates Palestinian leaders and their factions — specifically the division between Fatah and Hamas. This is the festering wound that hurts the Palestinian liberation movement. No liberation struggle in modern times has been as split as the Palestinian leadership. If the leadership was united, it would be able to offer more meaningful support to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS has revealed the magnitude of support that Western corporations, agencies and universities extend to Israeli occupation of the West Bank. In a direct sense, it has helped to convince ordinary citizens in the West that they should act on behalf of the Palestinian victim. It is this kind of networking that may hold the key to the future of the Palestinian struggle.

There is another type of networking that is vital not only for the future of Palestine and WANA. It is a relationship that is crucial for the entire human family. This is the relationship between Jews, Christians and Muslims. It is significant that in spite of the negative influence of Christian Zionists and some Muslim bigots, Christians and Muslims who are in the actual struggle for Palestinian liberation have developed strong ties. The strength of these ties reflected in various events and episodes, sometimes rooted in deep personal friendships, has endowed both Christians and Muslims in Palestine with a shared culture of sorts. It is a culture which some Jews also share.

If peace with justice descends upon the land, —– a land which God had touched a number of times through various prophets —- then Palestine may once again light a multi-faith lamp for the entire human family.

Source: paxchristi.org…

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Friends of Sabeel, Australia, join the rest of the world in distaining the US President’s ‘Deal of the Century’ as a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The fact that no Palestinian was involved in the formulation of the proposal, nor was present when it was unveiled, is indicative of the fact that the US and Israeli leaders prepared their deal for domestic consumption. It offers nothing to the Palestinian people – no land, no real sovereignty, and no right of return for refugees. It is, as some commentators have suggested, the Monty Python parody of Israel-Palestine peace initiatives.

Friends of Sabeel, Australia, stands with the Palestinian people in the fundamental demands as outlined in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) program:

  • An end to the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian lands
  • Equal rights for Arabs in Israel
  • The right of return for refugees

No meaningful deal can be made with the Palestinian people that does not address these basic demands.

Father Dave Smith, President of Friends of Sabeel, Australia, said “If Mr Trump wants to make a deal with the Palestinian people, he needs to actually deal with the Palestinian people and their demands. This one-sided parody of a peace initiative does nothing to move us closer to a just settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict”.

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Saturday, July 2nd, 2016: It was again my privilege to be invited to speak at an Al Quds Day event, this time in the grounds of the Kingsgrove Mosque.

I was surprised to receive applause about half-way through my brief address and I wasn’t sure at first what prompted it. It was afterwards that a Palestinian man came up to me and said “you said what we needed to hear. You told us not to forget Palestine. We are afraid that the world is forgetting us”.

Indeed the man’s plea makes sense. When there is so much trouble at home and abroad to absorb our energies, it is easy to forget the ongoing trauma of the Palestinian Occupation. The longer it goes on the more we are tempted to normalise it! In truth, we must never forget Palestine!

Father Dave

The video below covers the first half of my address. Please see the transcript below for the complete version.


Al Quds Day 2016

As most of you would know, I returned not long ago from Syria – my fifth visit there in the last four years. One of the great tragedies of Syria (and there are many tragedies associated with that great land at the moment) is that the violence and injustice being visited upon the Syrian people is so extreme that it can easily absorb all of our time and emotional energy and so distract us from other tragedies in our world that also deserve our prayers and our attention.

It’s not only Syria, of course. When we think of the suffering of the people of Yemen, and also of Iraq and Libya and the suffering of so many of our sisters and brothers around the world, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and have no space in our hearts left for the people of Palestine. After all, there’s only so many people you can pray for at any one time!

I recognise in myself that I have fallen victim to this. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I am president of Friends of Sabeel, Australia – the Australian church’s attempt at Palestinian Liberation Theology. I am supposed to be a recognisable face in the Palestinian struggle for justice and freedom, and yet I find the concerns of the Palestinian people have taken a back seat for me as my energies have been absorbed by other concerns that seem even more pressing!

The truth is that there is no more pressing need in our world than that of justice for the Palestinian people, for in truth, all these global tragedies we grieve are connected. As my friend, Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal (former Bishop of Jerusalem, himself a Palestinian) said “the road to world peace goes through Jerusalem”.

I believe this is true. I don’t mean that if we solve the Palestinian issue that all the other pieces of the puzzle will suddenly, magically fall into place, but I do believe that unless we put an end to the abuse and discrimination and disenfranchisement experienced by the Palestinian people, these other issues we struggle with will never be solved!

This year has been another hard year for the Palestinian people and, as I say, it has been a difficult year for all of us whose hearts yearn for Palestine. The problem has been further exacerbated too lately by initiatives taken within the Islamic world to divide the ummah over their attitude to Israel.

The Saudis have made a number of statements in recent months that seem to endorse the Israeli government and would thus encourage Muslims everywhere to accept the Palestinian Occupation as normal!

I don’t know whether the long term effect of this will be more love for the Israeli government or more hatred for the house of Saud. I suspect the latter. Either way though, I am tempted to say “welcome to the club”. The Christian community has been similarly afflicted for many years by prominent voices urging the faithful around the world to turn a blind eye to the abuse of the Palestinian people!

The other things I say is “thank God or Al Quds Day!”, and I mean that. In spite of the clamour of voices urging us to forget Palestine – voices coming through the media, through our political leaders, and (as I say) even from within the ranks of the faithful, on Al Quds Day we cannot forget Palestine!

The suffering of the Palestinian people is real and it is ongoing, and it cries out to Heaven for redress! God knows that the barriers to justice and freedom seem as intractable now as they ever have been, if not more intractable! Even so, we must do what we can and we must not give up! We must pray, and we must speak out, and we must take action wherever we can to uphold the dignity and humanity of the Palestinian people.

We may fear that our efforts will never amount to much. Even so, I am always encouraged in this regard by the comparison Jesus made between the Kingdom of Heaven and the yeast that’s sprinkled into dough to make bread.

Jesus told them still another parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A woman takes some yeast and mixes it with a bushel of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.” (Matthew 13:33)

The yeast seems insignificant when mixed in with the dough, and it is virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the lump. Even so, we know full well that when the time comes, these small flakes of yeast become the agents of extraordinary transformation! This is our hope too – that even though our collective effort seems small, that God will work through us and through all who remember Palestine today to bring about extraordinary and genuine transformation.

Thank God for Al Quds Day. Thank God for the ongoing strength and resilience of the people of Palestine. Thank God for the privilege of being able to participate in the process of transformation towards justice and peace.

with my friend, Husain Dirani, on Al Quds Day

with my friend, Husain Dirani, on Al Quds Day

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There have been some very encouraging signs in the church of late regarding the Palestinian search for justice. If we can put to one side the epic failure of the US Episcopal church to get behind the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS), it seems that there is nonetheless a shift worldwide in Christian consciousness towards Israel and Palestine!

For one thing, the United Church of Christ displayed great moral courage at the very point where the Episcopalians failed. They voted to get behind the BDS!

Even more encouraging is the initiative being taken by the Pope, taking the lead for millions of Catholics around the world in recognising the state of Palestine and insisting that no one race or religion has exclusive rights to the Holy Land.

Evidently this stance has come at no small cost. Apparently the Sanhedrin is going to put him on trial unless he renounces his apostasy! Yes, you heard right – the Sanhedrin (or at least some self-appointed group calling themselves the Sanhedrin). Surely it would only be self-defeating for any such body to try to do to such a church leader what was done to her founder!

Regardless of what happens to Pope Francis, this new shift of Christian consciousness is greater even than he, and perhaps the most encouraging signs are those coming from within the Holy Land itself! 

Archbishop Attallah Hanna is Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church in Israel/Palestine. As a Palestinian he has had to endure the Israeli Occupation for all his adult life, but now he has to face an additional new threat – that of ISIS, who are threatening all kinds of violence towards Christians as a part of their promised ‘liberation’ of Palestine.

The Archbishop’s response is a courageous one. He refuses to abandon either the land or the Palestinian cause, and he refuses to distance the Christian community from their Muslim sisters and brothers with whom they share their land. Moreover, he refuses to give in to hate, saying “our Christian dictionary does not include the language of vengeance, hatred and rancor”.

Father Dave

Archbishop Attallah Hanna

Archbishop Attallah Hanna

source: abouna.org…

New pamphlet by “Jerusalem ISIS” issued; Archbishop Attallah Hanna reacts

A few days following the issuance of its first pamphlet, the so called “Emirate of Beit Al Maqdis” (Emirate of Jerusalem) issued its second pamphlet on Monday, June 29 in the Beit Hanina area, north of Jerusalem, pledging to expel Christians from the areas mentioned in the first pamphlet, “except those who espouse Islam.”

For its part, a local Palestinian agency noted that “the citizens believe that such statements are produced by the Israeli occupation intelligence. They assert that they do not believe their vallidity, where neither the Palestinian National Authority nor the Palestine Liberation Organization nor even the Palestinian factions did react to these statements on the view that they do not deserve any reaction or be given any attention since they are tendentious and suspicious being designed to bring discord and division.”

The extremist group threatened on Thursday, June 25, to slaughter the Christians living in Jerusalem, if they do not leave the city before Eid Al Fitr (the feast marking the end of the month of Ramadan). The areas that would be “cleared” of Christians were identified as “Beit Hanina and Shu’fat, up to the remaining quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.”

Commenting on the pamphlet, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that “the pamphlet was distributed in areas controlled by Israel.” He alluded, in an exclusive interview with “Al Arabia” channel, to the possibility of having a suspicious relationship between Al-Nusra Front, that is fighting in Syria, and Israel. He said: “When we learn that members of this group are being treated in Israel, how can this situation be comprehended?”

Greek Orthodox Bishop of Sebastia Attallah Hanna said:”To all those who classify themselves as ISIS, we would like to tell them that we will stay in Jerusalem and in Palestine. We will continue to be the genuine children of this Holy Land, Muslims and Christians, and we will not leave our Holy Land under any pressure or blackmail, at any price.” He expected that ”these malignant and suspicious statements, aimed at our Palestinian people and rejected categorically, would not stop.”

He continued, “I ask those who issue such statements to stop the sedition and abandon their evil deeds. Do believe in God and in every human being created by God, whether Muslim or Christian.” He added: “Do repent and restore reason, for what you are undertaking is a heinous crime against your religion in the first place and secondly against your Jerusalem and homeland.” He called on them to realize the fact that “your words will only consolidate our steadfastness and increase our mutual cordiality and brotherhood.”

Bishop Atallah pointed out that “Christians are advocates of peace, love and brotherhood in this land. They, as well as their Muslim brethren, will not give up their values, morals and principles. If this statement, as is the case with other suspicious statements, is designed to erect a separation wall between Muslims and Christians in this land, we tell them that our religions are not walls that separate human beings from their brethren, but they rather set up bridges of love and brotherhood.”

The Orthodox bishop continued, “these racist ideas are doomed to dissipate because they are based on falsehood. We do not wish evil on you, but we plead the Lord to brighten your hearts and minds, so that you may repent and come back to reason.”

He concluded by saying that “our Christian dictionary does not include the language of vengeance, hatred and rancor. Our Teacher (Lord Jesus Christ) urges us to wish sinners repentance and forgiveness.”