How do we end this destructive cycle and achieve a just and durable peace?
According to the United Nations, after 29 days of “surgical” and “precision” bombardment from land, sea and air, as many as 1814 people in Gaza have been killed, over 85 percent of which are civilians, including 408 children. On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers and 3 civilians have been killed.iThese figures, along with the sophistication of Israeli firepower, cast serious doubt on the lawfulness of Israeli actions in pursuit of self-defense.
It is obvious that the two sides in the conflict are not militarily equal and that the unarmed Palestinian civilian population has suffered the most. According to a joint declaration of international experts from around the world, including Richard Falk, “Gaza’s civilian population has been victimized in the name of a falsely construed right to self-defense, in the midst of an escalation of violence provoked in the face of the entire international community. The so-called Operation Protective Edge erupted during an ongoing armed conflict, in the context of a prolonged belligerent occupation that commenced in 1967.”ii
The UN Fact-Finding Mission considered Israel’s ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in 2008-2009 directed against the people of Gaza, and the same can be said about the current military offensive. “Everyone in Gaza is traumatized and living in a state of constant terror. This result is intentional, as Israel is again relying on the ‘Dahiya doctrine,’iii which deliberately has recourse to disproportionate force to inflict suffering on the civilian population in order to achieve political...rather than military goals.”iv
Falk and other signatories of the joint declaration believe that most of Israel’s heavy shelling is aimed at terrorizing the civilian population in Gaza. Customary international law considers any deliberate action that terrorizes people as illegal.
While a review of such facts is important, we must never lose sight of the bigger picture. We need to remember that we have been in this situation many times before. In ‘Operation Cast Lead,’ as many as 1391 Palestinians in Gaza were killed (55 percent civilians), including 318 children. It is important to be reminded of the words of UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon who recently observed that unless we tackle the root causes of the conflict, we shall continue to see this level of carnage again and again and again.
Many people might debate what the root causes of the conflict are, but we at Sabeel think that the following encapsulates the essence of the main causes:
A significant proportion of the population residing between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea do not have self-determination;v
The majority of those who do not have self-determination are subject to military law, and have been so for 47 years;vi
The 50 per cent who do have self-determination, either directly or indirectly, control 100 per cent of the land;vii
We at Sabeel, out of our faith principles, oppose all violence, including the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza. However, when we look at the above summary that no serious political analyst can dispute, we ask: Is it any wonder that there is continuous conflict in our region?
However, the question remains: How do we end this destructive cycle and achieve a just and durable peace?
We think the answer is clear, and we think most people know it. After 47 years of military oppression, Israel’s occupation of Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank must end in accordance with internationally accepted legal principles. In addition, a just solution to the Palestinian refugees must be found. As with Russia in Ukraine, if Israeli leaders refuse to meet their international legal obligations, they must be persuaded to do so, starting with targeted sanctions against the leadership of Israel. The Palestinian people are not asking for any special treatment; but they will not accept to be treated as second-class individuals in their own land or on the international stage. Only a resolution that accords with international law can bring peace with justice to this troubled Holy Land.
Both the Psalmist in the Old Testamentviii and Peter in the New Testament have said, “ For 'those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it...the face of the Lord is against those who do evil’” (Peter 3:10-12).
The Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, Jerusalem August 7, 2014