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Pall of silence as ‘peace’ breaks down in the Middle East

02 March 2023

William Bell wonders why the Palestinian cause is not more widely supported


A Palestinian woman walks through the rubble of her home which was demolished by Israeli forces in the Jabal Mukaber neighborhood of East Jerusalem, on Tuesday

A Palestinian woman walks through the rubble of her home which was demolished by Israeli forces in the Jabal Mukaber neighborhood of East Jerusalem, o...

AFTER the horrors of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, the nearby Israeli and Palestinian conflict is back in the news.

On Wednesday of last week [22 February], ten more Palestinians were killed in an Israeli raid in Nablus, while over a hundred were injured. That brought the total to 61 Palestinians, including civilians, who have been killed in 2023, the Palestinian health ministry said. Ten Israelis and a Ukrainian tourist were killed in Palestinian attacks in the same period, according to Israel’s foreign ministry.

Since then, a further two Israelis and one Palestinian have been killed, and the situation in the West Bank is now looking like it is out of control. All these killings, whether Palestinian or Israeli, must be unequivocally condemned, as is any rhetoric that praises them.

This increasing level of violence has raised fears of a third intifada. Recent attacks, including those in Jerusalem and Jenin covered by the Church Times last month, come after 2022, which saw the deadliest bloodshed in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory (IOPT) for almost 20 years.

And what did governments around the world do? What they always do: merely appeal for calm and restraint. Which explains why these most recent deaths are, sadly, predictable.

WE ARE familiar with new Israeli government ministers from the fringes of the far-Right inciting hatred. But what should give any in the international community who are serious about peace pause for thought is the moment, on 28 December, when the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, effectively took a just solution off the table when he posted on Twitter: “The Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel. The government will promote and develop settlement in all parts of the Land of Israel — in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan, Judea, and Samaria.”

This prospect demands an urgent response from international leaders, including the UK Prime Minister who pledged recently at a dinner for Conservative Friends of Israel to “oppose any actions which stand to harm the peace process and the two-state solution”. Instead, he accused the Palestinian referral of Israel’s prolonged occupation to the International Court of Justice as “divisive”. In other words, it is a legal opinion which is considered the obstacle, not the continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements.

Similarly, the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, on his recent visit to the region restated a US vision for a two-state solution. He also recognised the need for Palestinians and Israelis to enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, opportunity, justice, and dignity.

He voiced concern about “moves towards annexation of the West Bank, disruption to the historic status quo on Jerusalem’s holy sites, demolitions and evictions and incitement and acquiescence to violence”. But he offered no consequences for any who committed such actions.

It is sad indictment of the international community that the physical obstacles to peace, the policies of a military occupation and the impunity with which Israel behaves in the occupied territory — all of which contribute to deepening Palestinian poverty — go effectively unchallenged.

At the same time, Palestinian political leadership has not provided a unified voice that can effectively represent all Palestinians. Despite the clear obstacles that they face, Palestinians leaders have failed to inspire and build hope and confidence in a viable future for ordinary Palestinians.

Christian Aid is clear that violence against innocent civilians is a heinous crime, which should face the full force of the law. As all crimes should. Since September 2000, at least 2365 children have been killed across the IOPT. This January, Israel destroyed 131 Palestinian structures, including homes or farm buildings, across the West Bank, as reported by UN OCHA. This represents a 134 per cent increase compared to January 2022.

THE number of Israeli settlers living in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem has increased from around 250,000 in 1993 to approximately 660,000 today. There is no accountability or justice, and thus, unsurprisingly, no peace.

The heads of Churches in Jerusalem have once again reminded us that violence “will surely continue and even escalate unless a robust intervention is resolutely undertaken by community and political leaders on all sides”.

It is time that friends of both Palestine and Israel heeded that call. After all, as Barack Obama and others have long argued, it is in Israel’s own long-term security interests to forge a peaceful settlement. As long as people support exclusive claims to the land, they will be effectively denying the legal and human rights of the other side, and ensuring that violence continues at the expense of justice, peace, and hope.

Throughout the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians live separate and unequal lives compared to their Israeli neighbours. In Gaza, often forgotten by the international community and most media, a generation of Palestinians is growing up having never been allowed out of what is effectively a prison, even to other Palestinian lands. The limitations upon them have helped ensure that 80 per cent of the population rely on aid.

More than half of Gaza’s young people are unemployed. As things are, they can expect to live out their lives under conditions of poverty and despair. Millions of Palestinian refugees across the region face even harsher conditions, living in overcrowded camps without permission to work, and vulnerable to the geopolitical instability that torments the Middle East.

If Palestinians are told that they being “divisive” for appealing to those international institutions created to protect us all, then what message are they being given? It sadly appears clear to many in the region, especially Palestinians, that the two-state solution that the UK and US claim to support is currently no more than wishful thinking. Palestinians are not treated, or even regarded, as a sovereign people by the international community, and their rights are routinely denied without any consequences for those violating them.

If we value all life as equal, we need to start behaving as if we do.

William Bell is Christian Aid’s head of Middle East. His report “Where is Palestine? A story of loss, inequality and failure” can be found here.

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