Palestine & Israel

By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota

“He said: ‘Here is a she-camel: she has a right of watering, and ye have a right of watering, (severally) on a day appointed.'”
(Qur’an 26:155)

brown concrete buildings
Photo by BECCA SIEGEL on

I enjoy the Qu’ran passage above, because it helps us know what to look for when we’re examining oppression.

There are many dangerous forms of oppression that come from physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional forms of abuse. At times, when we’re trying to resolve a conflict, we look only at who is committing the violence in the last five cases that stirred our interest.

As we know, numbers and statistics can be used to lie, and an underinformed mass or crowd can be used as a tool to excite and rationalize all sorts of violence and oppression against the violent other.

I have argued in the past that peace is defined by the presence of healthy boundaries. What do I mean by healthy boundaries? Healthy boundaries allow people a path to the watering place: to live, to grow, to build, to dream, and to nurture.

Do these boundaries exist in Gaza or in the Occupied Territories? Let us stop asking who is committing the violence and ask a more fundamental question: Do Palestinians have a right and a path to the watering place?

Below is a past article, edited slightly. The obstacles mentioned have not only continued but the numbers of settlements and means to inhibit the growth of Palestinians has increased, including the threatening Palestinians with a ‘Shoah’ or Holocaust if they resist apartheid.

I share this piece to answer one question that I began this piece with – which is do Palestinians have a path to the watering place?

Do Palestinians have a path to the watering place?

It was the 1990s when the phrase “The Middle East Peace Process” began to gain currency. Although the phrase seemed to take in the whole of the “Middle East,” it was focused on Palestinians and Israelis. And there was little thought given to what “peace” would mean, beyond an absence of violence.

Indeed, most people assume that peace is the absence of violence. No rocks were thrown or bombs dropped is, therefore, a state of peace.

The “Middle East Peace Process” took off when former US President Bill Clinton read an eloquently prepared speech, Yitzhak Rabin and a “changed” Yasser Arafat shook hands, and the cameras rolled. It has been nearly 24 years since the Oslo Peace Accords were signed, in September 1993. Yet it’s hard to call the near quarter-century that followed a state of “peace.” What went wrong?

In reality, peace is not only about stopping the violence. We can have very dangerous forms of oppression that show up as spiritual, mental, and emotional abuse—not only as violence. And it takes a skilled and enlightened healer to hear the voice of the oppressed over the racket made by a dominating abuser.

Peace is defined not by an absence of violence, but by the presence of healthy boundaries that allow everyone a path to life and growth.  When these healthy boundaries do not exist, the foolish focus only on the acts of violence, while the wise demand boundaries are established or returned so that everyone can find what they need to survive, grow, and thrive.

Instead of establishing healthy boundaries, the Oslo Peace Accords left the essential situation unchanged, with boundaries only going in one direction. And instead of a healthy Palestinian state emerging, we find Israel gradually continuing its expansionist policies, using the peace process to buy time and to punish Palestinians for resisting its policies.

What is the root of the conflict?
Some people suggest the Israel-Palestine conflict is over religion, some say the conflict is over land. But I see the problem as stemming from institutionalized racism.  Rabbi Elmer Berger is founding executive director of the Florida-based American Council for Judaism, which does not believe that Jews are God’s only chosen people. Instead, the ACJ recognizes all of God’s people.

Berger said, in an interview with Grace Halsell, that the founders of Israel, who subscribed to a belief system called Zionism, “did not draft a constitution for their new Jewish-Zionist state. Rather, they passed ‘Basic Laws’ that protect and elevate those of one religion and denigrate those of other faiths.”

The first Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion said, according to historian Shabtai Teveth: “We do not seek an agreement with the [Palestinian] Arabs in order to secure the peace. Of course, we regard peace as an essential thing.  It is impossible to build up the country in a state of permanent warfare. But peace for us is a means, and not an end. The end is the fulfillment of Zionism in its maximum scope. Only for this reason do we need peace, and do we need an agreement.”

This is not a real peace, but only a momentary cessation of violence.

And indeed, the exclusionary, apartheid laws that Berger mentions did not end with the signing of the Oslo accords. It is still the case that any Jewish person in the world can come and attain citizenship in Israel, while millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants are denied the right of return to their homeland.

Jewish settlers receive lighter punishments for harming and killing Palestinians; they have separate communities; separate roads; separate ID documents; different housing rights; different privileges.

The false promises of the Oslo ‘peace’
One of the things the Oslo Peace Accords was meant to end was military checkpoints. But almost twenty-four years later, checkpoints are still everywhere, and Palestinians don’t have the right to control their movements from neighborhood to neighborhood. B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, has many documented cases of Palestinians beaten at checkpoints and denied entry, even when in desperate need of medical care.

Did the confiscation of the land, end as promised? Unfortunately, in the first two years after the accords were signed, Israelis confiscated twice as much Palestinian land as it turned over to direct rule. Yet more land was confiscated with the building of the apartheid wall, which—more than separating Israelis from Palestinians—separates Palestinians from Palestinians and Palestinians from their own land.

One of the biggest problems is that, throughout the decades of the “Middle East Peace Process,” Israel has not defined its borders.

In 1997, just four years after the accords, the Israeli government forcibly uprooted and evicted the 60 families from the Jahalin Bedouins, bulldozed their homes, and moved them to a dump site.

A decade later, in December of 2007, a community of nearly 300 Palestinian shepherds were forced off their land in Khirbet Qassa village by the Israeli military. This land is being used for new settlements in the Negev.

The construction of Jewish-only settlements and Jewish-only bypass roads continues. According to B’Tselem, just in 2006-2007, in the West Bank alone, 165 houses were demolished leaving 724 people homeless, and between 2004-2007 in east Jerusalem alone 300 houses were demolished, leaving 939 Palestinians homeless. This was not a parallel process, also seeing the destruction of Israeli Jewish homes, but only a process of expelling the Christian and Muslim Palestinian communities.

Meanwhile, Palestinians in Jerusalem have been defined as “foreign immigrants” or “permanent residents,” not as native citizens. In this way, the Israeli government can take away the citizenship of Palestinians who live abroad for a number of years. I have many relatives who have had their IDs confiscated, and many who have had their U.S. passports stamped in such a way that denies them entry into Jerusalem on a permanent basis.

Human Rights Watch says Israel’s revocation of residency of nearly 15,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem ‘illustrates a two-tiered system’.  Stripping of Palestinians residency and citizenship is a war crime and a form of ethnic cleansing.

Palestinians are broken up into many different districts, all with their different rules, regulations, laws, checkpoints, and possibilities: Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, and those living inside Israel.

Some Israeli political leaders have gone so far as to suggest that Palestinian citizens of Israel—who have the most rights among the groups—should eventually be pushed out of their homes to live in a future Palestinian state. In November 2007, Israel’s foreign minister and lead negotiator, Tzipi Livni, said before the Annapolis, Maryland peace talks that such a state would “be the national answer to the Palestinians.”

A handshake is not peace
On April 18, 1996, less than three years after the famous handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, Israel bombed a U.N. shelter in Qana, Lebanon, killing over 100 civilians. The Israeli government denied that it knew about the civilians. It labeled a U.N. report, which found conclusive evidence that Israel had intentionally killed the civilians in the UN shelter, as “anti-Jewish.”

These attacks continued in 2002, with 52 Palestinian deaths in Jenin; in 2006, with the bombardment of Lebanon that killed more than 1,000 and destroyed the country’s main airport and many bridges; as well as with attacks on Gaza in 2008, 2012, and 2014. Imprisonment of Arabs without trial and control of the Palestinian food supply, electricity, and power also continue.

The Oslo negotiations didn’t bring to an end either violence or resistance.

It was the same for the November 2007 talks in Annapolis, Maryland, which were centered on Israel’s right to exist, as a Jewish state, with secure borders. But in peace, all parties must have their boundaries and feel secure that they won’t be violated by others.

Every negotiation has resulted in a set of conditions the Palestinians must fulfill, but which don’t keep Israel within healthy boundaries. And this worsens when Palestinians wrongly take the law into their own hands.

The solution remaining on the table is to follow the path taken in South Africa: first and foremost, to destroy the institutionalized racist laws and regulations upon which the country has been built. Second, dismantle the apartheid infrastructure, and recognize Arabs as a people with rights to their land, life, liberty, and dignity. Create a land where Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others are treated with the same human dignity before the law.  Where each has their own boundaries and respects those of others.

The only way to achieve that going forward is by the same means the Blacks took in South Africa, which is BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions).

What about anti-Semitism?
Anti-Semitism is real as we recently witnessed in the event at Charlottesville.  The fear is real and valid and it is wrong to discount it or trivialize it.  In a recent live FaceBook event by Jewish Voices for Peace, Judith Butler answered that question and explained how attempts to label Palestinian human rights activism (such as #BDS ) as antisemitic is done to “de-legitimize” activism.

Watch the video and listen.

What about Terrorism?
Yes: Acts of terrorism, notably attacks on civilians, are wrong and should be condemned.

However, we cannot fight terrorism by turning a blind eye to the occupier as they oppress and violate both human and international law. And we cannot fight terrorism by justifying cruel collective measures against the weak for the fact that some wrongly resort to violence to fight back against the oppression of the occupier.

Terrorism not only destroys lives and creates anarchy, but also benefits those who seek power for power’s sake. Those who support terrorism do not have empathy for the other. If you listen to them, they recycle negative voices to validate and recruit a movement that will, in essence, put them in power. Those recruited are just an exploited means toward an end.

On the other hand, many people who condemn terrorism do so in a disingenuous manner. This is evident in their resistance and indifference to voices and faces across the international community who seek to fight oppression and injustice through education, awareness, and non-violent means.

One cannot truly condemn terrorism while also aiding policies and governments that torture, rob, and exploit those who are weak and overpowered, caught between corrupt leaders and occupiers making deals that leave the weak without protection, shelter, resources for survival and coping mechanisms.

Join the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement
But there are people who condemn both terrorism and occupation, wars and apartheid. Such people condemn terrorism for ethical reasons as they believe that ALL lives are sacrosanct and not just the lives of the empowered or those living in democratic societies. Yet, they further believe humans are innately good and, if given a chance to understand and become aware, they will rise up over time and stand for truth and justice. Terrorism is not only wrong and unethical but also lacks faith — faith in God and faith in fellow human beings — to understand and support those who are weak and oppressed.

One group issues self-righteous condemnations of terrorism that do nothing other than say we are morally good and they are morally evil. The other paves the way to help those trampled on fight for their rights ethically and within the bounds of the law, preventing the spill of anarchy and further violence.

One such legal, nonviolent means is the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, successfully used against the ruling regime in apartheid South Africa. The international community is now using this campaign to fight Israeli apartheid and end the illegal military occupation of Palestinian land.

Currently, there are attempts before US Congress to criminalize BDS and within Israel to blacklist organizations that support BDS.  Yet, BDS is a form of free speech and a human right. With BDS, we use our collective voice and power to pressure the enablers of apartheid and colonization to discontinue their abuse of power.

Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US.  She is a public speaker and writer and lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.

If you like this piece, share it on social media.  I invite you to comment on this essay on the social media sites.  I welcome your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a commentary, podcast or photo story for your local media outlets to raise awareness.

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