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As ‘Annexation’ Looms, Let’s Expand Our Compassion to Include Palestinians

Since we are able to accept the suffering of others when we dehumanize them, we must start with the simple recognition that Palestinians are fully human.

A demonstrator holds up a sign during an anti-annexation protest in Tel Aviv on June 6th, 2020

A demonstrator holds up a sign during an anti-annexation protest in Tel Aviv on June 6th, 2020. (Photo: Twitter)

For decades, Israel has used talk of peace as a cover for expansion of an unjust system. We are now poised on a dangerous cliff that should offend everyone who believes themselves to be committed to human rights, international law, or creative conflict resolution. 

I am Jewish and was raised being told of land taken during a war when the whole world was against us and still somehow we prevailed. Yes, international law made clear that no nation can occupy land they took in war. But, we were defending ourselves and we certainly would not hold the land long. 

The story I was told was one of an oppressed people eeking out a fragile living in a harsh land. Not surprisingly those people were “my people.” I wasn’t told of the suffering of the Palestinian people. When I learned of this deep affront to the basic values Jews are taught are at the heart of our faith, I was somehow more able to accept this contradiction because it came with a story that land would be traded for peace and the occupation would soon end. 

That was decades ago. Sadly, cruel and illegal actions taken again and again have reshaped “facts on the ground” and made the call for a two-state solution more of a cover for oppressive policies than a realistic path towards justice and peace.

Now Trump, Netanyahu, and Jared Kushner are forming an unholy alliance of callous disregard for the suffering of others. When we are appropriately focused on COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter protests sweeping our nation and the globe, a great evil will likely be advanced. They put out a swiss cheese map that is not — nor can it ever be — a real nation. It appears likely that some form of annexation may move forward over the next several weeks or months. 

To make the so-called “international community” respond less harshly, they will likely not take all the land in one fell swoop. Maybe they will take smaller steps or call it something other than annexation, but have no doubt they are continuing a long and destructive pattern —  one that flies in the face of international law and makes a joke of mediation and conflict resolution. 

For years I made my living as a conflict resolution practitioner and believe deeply in the power of those tools. Even people with minimal exposure to mediation understand both parties must be at the table for the process to have any credibility. What Jared dreamt up or built from pieces fed to him by those without the vision to imagine a world of peace with justice is not a peace plan at all. Don’t let them fool you. They have put forth a series of unworkable proposals that have neither been considered nor approved by both sides to the conflict. Instead, they talk out of both sides of their mouths, declaring a love for peace while harshly ignoring the basic human rights of the Palestinian people. The “deal of the century” is no deal at all. Turns out it is a dangerous and deceitful farce that negates the power and potential of actual negotiation. 

Many progressive, moderate and conservative American Jews are now expressing deep, and hopefully, heartfelt sympathy for the Black Lives Matter movement. This is a major step and one I celebrate with all my heart. Similarly, the vast majority of my community — other than a handful of religious fanatics who are on the wrong side of history — celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling on LGBTQ rights. The court said simply you can’t be married legally on a Sunday and then be fired on Monday if the boss finds out who you love. Most Jews understand this as a step forward on the path to the much needed and long-delayed Tikkun Olam — our moral obligation to heal and repair the world.

Wanting to meet people wherever they are and seeking to embrace radically honest conversation even when it scares us, I must ask, what will it take to extend our compassion to the Palestinian people? Maybe we could start with the simple recognition that they are fully human. Radical I know, but true nonetheless. We seem to be able to accept the suffering of others when we are able to dehumanize them. When we can not see them to be as loving and fully alive as ourselves or our families, we can turn away when we see them suffer needlessly. 

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If the repulsive and important video of George Floyd being murdered by a uniformed police officer bothers you, you are alive. You are human, you are decent and able to feel for the suffering of others. And now I ask, can you extend your compassion to those young people in Palestine with the knee of occupation on their necks? I know this is not easy and that there is much to do at home to help create a just society, but neither of those facts can be used as a reason to avoid our ongoing moral obligation to speak up about the suffering of the Palestinian people. 

My hope is that those willing to begin to grapple with this complex and difficult series of interrelated issues will read the recent article by Daoud Kuttab, the celebrated journalist and creator of Sesame Street Palestine. He challenges us to come to terms with some harsh realities of occupation and lovingly urges us to look at the pattern of lies — and to question our own beliefs. I found reading his words to be both challenging and worthwhile. Even while asking us to examine the painful truth of our own complicity in the occupation, he warmly welcomes us into the conversation, noting kindly and correctly that “Palestinians have made mistakes too.” I urge you to bravely ponder what he says at this critical moment. 

I feel moved to share a short story that shook me to the core. Recently, I was on yet another Zoom call, this time with a group of old friends knowledgeable of the reality in Palestine. It is a mixed group with substantial involvement from different relevant communities. Before beginning an open discussion, two Palestinian experts were asked to speak. One, an attorney, noted several different scenarios of how annexation or something like might play out. His remarks have informed this piece. Another longtime nonviolent Palestinian leader said, “I’m not too worried about annexation.” 

Many of us on the call seemed shocked, but then as he explained, we became more sad than surprised. He spoke movingly of the brutal reality of day-to-day life for so many Palestinians. He noted with particular concern the trauma inflicted on young people who have known no reality other than occupation. He wasn’t telling us annexation isn’t a big deal. He was reminding us it has been underway in one form or another for decades. 

There are however two major differences annexation will, in fact, bring. First, it will be very hard to change course after this illegal and immoral executive action is taken. Reversal would require a supermajority vote of Israeli Knesset members, which is not likely. 

Possibly even more significant to the day-to-day reality for Palestinians is how the change could impact settlement construction. As noted above, with every new settlement we were told that Israel remained ready to trade land for peace. But, facts on the ground made that less and less likely. At least under current law, new settlements — in land that all understand to be occupied by force and thus not legally held by Israel — have to receive special permission from both Israel’s defense and prime ministers. If annexation moves forward, settlement expansion will become a local issue and thus it will be much easier to proceed without a time-consuming approval process.  

I struggle to remain hopeful in the face of so many terrible things happening in the world these days. The interrelated crises coming at us will not be easy to solve, but if we can expand our compassion to all those experiencing unnecessary suffering, we will find a path forward that embraces our deepest values. Our Palestinian brothers and sisters are calling out to be heard and need our support. Let us push past the boundaries of our comfort zones and look directly at the harsh reality of occupation and annexation. May that difficult process bring us closer to real and lasting peace.

This story was produced by Fellowship of Reconciliation.

David Hart

David Hart

David Hart is the co-director of Nonviolence International. He was the chief executive officer of the Association for Conflict Resolution and Director of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Mediation Program at the Key Bridge Foundation. David has served as executive director of local, state and national nonprofit organizations, including Veterans for Peace. He can be reached at: info@nonviolenceinternational.net

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