PALESTINE/ISRAEL – THE BASICS/101
In 1948, after World War II, the State of Israel was created within historic Palestine, a land that was home to Christians, Muslims, and Jews. In 1947-48, at least 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes. Many of their descendants, now numbering at least 5 million, are still living in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, and Gaza. A 1949 Armistice set borders for the West Bank (the Green Line), which was put under Jordanian administration and Gaza, to be administered by Egypt. When Israel conquered the West Bank in 1967, an additional one million Palestinians were displaced.
Occupation and Checkpoints
According to The Hague Convention of 1907, “Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.” For almost 50 years, the Israeli military has controlled all borders of the Palestinian Territories and controls movement within the West Bank as well. In April 2015, there were 96 fixed checkpoints. In addition there were an average of more than 300 “flying” checkpoints and more than 350 other road blockages.
Soon after the 1967 war, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel began settling its citizens on Land it occupied in the West Bank. There are now more than 600,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, living in more than 150 settlements. In addition about 100 “outposts” have been erected without official Israeli authorization. In total, about 43% of the West Bank is allocated to settlements. In 2014, 126 member nations of the U.N. signed a statement that reaffirmed that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.
Israel has built a system of roads in the West Bank for settlers to comfortably travel between the settlements and Israel. These roads are not accessible to Palestinians, and the barriers around the roads prevent Palestinians from crossing the roads. They must drive, often for many miles, around these roads to get to neighboring towns and villages.
Israel is building a separation wall, which now encloses many of these settlements and the roads, making even more land inaccessible to Palestinians. The wall is being built, not on the Green Line border between Israel and the West Bank, but within the West Bank, on Palestinian agricultural land, through Palestinian villages and neighborhoods, sometimes even separating Palestinian homes from their backyards or olive groves. Palestinian land has been confiscated and thousands of Palestinians’ olive trees and fruit trees have been bulldozed to build the wall.
Israel’s confiscation of land, water, and other natural resources for the benefit of settlements and residents of Israel violates the Hague Regulations of 1907, which prohibit an occupying power from expropriating the resources of occupied territory for its own benefit. Palestinian wells and cisterns have been destroyed; Palestinians must buy water from Mekorot, Israel’s water company. Palestinians have intermittent water supply, often shut off for hours or days, while nearby settlements have lush landscaping, fountains and swimming pools.
Israel maintains two separate legal systems in the West Bank. Israelis are under Israeli civil law; Palestinians are under Israeli military courts, without the rights and protections we are accustomed to. At the end of April, 694 Palestinians (including 13 children) were being held in Israeli prisons under “administrative detention” —held without charges and without trial, for six-month periods, renewable indefinitely.
Christians in the Holy Land—Recent History
In 1947, Christians made up 75% of the population of Bethlehem. Today, because of the difficulty and uncertainty of everyday life, restrictions on their movement and the stranglehold of Israel’s occupation on the Palestinian economy, Christians make up less than 20% of Bethlehem’s population.
U.S. Companies Benefit from the Occupation
Some examples of U.S. companies profiting from the occupation: Caterpillar has provided specialized bulldozers, including unmanned bulldozers, which are used to demolish Palestinian civilian homes and property; HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have provided IT services and systems so that the State of Israel can collect finger print and facial recognition data on every Palestinian over the age of 16, to track and control their movements; Motorola Solutions has provided invisible radar fences, surveillance, and communication equipment used in the occupied territories.
How does U.S. Foreign Aid support Israel’s military occupation?
Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. From 1976-2004, Israel was the largest annual recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, now having been supplanted by Iraq. Since 1985, the United States has provided nearly $3 billion in grants annually to Israel. Read the Congressional Research Service Report.
Israel is the largest recipient of US Foreign Military Financing (FMF)
For FY2016, President Barack Obama’s funding request for Israel would account for about 53% of FMF worldwide. Annual FMF grants represent 20% of Israel’s defense budget. Israel is allowed to use FMF to purchase weapons produced in Israel. No other country receives this benefit.
Is it anti-Semitic to oppose Israel’s occupation and human rights violations?
No! In their 2009 Kairos call to Christians around the world, Palestinian Christians say, “We condemn all forms of racism, whether religious or ethnic, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.” Criticizing Israel is not criticism of Jews. Not all Jews support Israel. Some Orthodox Jews oppose a Jewish State on religious grounds. Many Jews, in Israel and in the US, oppose Israel’s military occupation of Palestine. Organizations like B’tselem, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Rabbis for Human Rights and Jewish Voice for Peace are working to end the occupation and make a just peace.
What do our sisters and brothers in the Palestinian Christian community need from us?
The Atlanta Summit of Churches in the USA and the Holy Land, a gathering of major Christian denominations in the US and the Holy Land in April, 2016, declared:
The continuing occupation of Palestinian lands beyond the 1967 borders and measures and laws that continue to constrain and control the Palestinian population, in contravention of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, must end. These actions prevent economic and social development, and constrain the exercise of political rights
The continuing expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands increasingly dims the hopes and realistic prospects for a two-state solution and is a major threat to peace.
Churches and church-related organizations need to work together proactively to protect the existing and future presence of Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land. The current absence of a just political solution affects their presence and causes many of these Palestinian “living stones” (Luke 19:40) to seek dignified life in freedom outside the troubled Holy Land. A just and peaceful solution is imperative and will contribute to protecting the presence and active participation and involvement of the Palestinian “living stones” in the Holy Land and into a peaceful future.