Editors: How can American Catholics work for peace in Israel?

When Senator Bernie Sanders, during his New York debate with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, criticized Israel for its brutal waging of the war in Gaza in 2014, he called our attention to a moral issue politicians lately tend to avoid: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

To punish Hamas for its rocket attacks, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, consisting of aerial bombings and a ground invasion. The Israeli Defense Forces were responsible for 2,131 deaths, among them 1,400 civilians, including many children. Seventy-two Israelis, including five civilians, died. The air strikes were so devastating—damaging schools and hospitals, private homes and public buildings—a U.N. report warned that by 2020 Gaza would be “uninhabitable.”

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A young American Jew, Jacob Bacharach, wrote in the Israeli daily paper Haaretz (4/16) that Israel was becoming “not the mystical homeland we appeal to in prayer, but a real, compromised place, a country whose frankly disastrous politics and shameful treatment of the Palestinians has made it increasingly unsupportable.” The rising tide of self-examination in recent years has transformed arguments over a two-state solution into a debate over the “two Israels”—between those sensitive to Palestinian rights and those so terrified by the “intifada of the knives” that they deny those rights in the name of security.

Since October, Palestinians have killed about 30 Israelis, while Israelis have shot dead 120 Palestinians who were making, or were suspected of making, attacks. Human rights groups have complained that some of the assailants did not pose an imminent threat. In March two young Palestinian men stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint in Hebron; one was killed in the attack, the other lay wounded until another soldier came by, saw the wounded man was still alive and executed him.

Israel’s defense minister has declared that this soldier’s action “completely contradicts I.D.F. values and its battle ethics.” The soldier has been charged with manslaughter. While some in the I.D.F. seem committed to protecting the army’s integrity, a notable segment of the Israeli public has celebrated the indicted soldier as a hero. Meanwhile, the corpses of Palestinian attackers killed by Israeli forces are not returned to their families but put in a freezer for months while families plead with courts for their return.

The rockets of Hamas and the knives young Palestinians used in indiscriminate attacks are instruments of immoral madness; but it is a madness rooted in a loss of hope. Uri Ariel, the conservative minister of agriculture, must have sensed this when he described Palestinian laborers waiting in line at the checkpoints for hours as a disgrace and called for giving the Palestinians a seaport with access to gas and water.

A recent U.S. State Department report on human rights practices in Israel and the occupied territories presents an exhaustive analysis of degrading conditions in prisons, restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, and troubling treatment of refugees, children and laborers. The report counts 6,826 Palestinians in jail, including 264 minors. According to the State Department, they receive harsher treatment than the general population, including increased administrative detention, restricted family visits, no temporary furloughs and more solitary confinement. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used intolerant rhetoric against Arab citizens to win re-election. When Arabs tried to build homes, regional planning committees with no Arab members frustrated their attempts. Military courts convict a much higher percentage of Palestinians than civilian courts.

Catholics should care about this issue, since the Holy See and Palestine have committed themselves to a two-state solution. How can American Catholics work for fair treatment of Arab citizens and for peace in Israel? We should encourage our political and religious leaders to raise their voices. President Obama recently sent Vice President Joseph Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry to attend a gala sponsored by J Street, the pro-peace American Jewish lobby. The president is considering a presentation to the United Nations to lay a foundation for his successor. It should re-emphasize the importance of minimum standards for the protection of the human rights of Palestinians and of freedom of expression for dissenters among the Israeli public. It should also call for a review of the Israeli military field manual, lest any ambiguity become a license to kill.

Meanwhile 16 of Israel’s current and former security chiefs posted a full-page ad in The New York Times (3/29) endorsing the two-state solution. The alternative is a future in which Jews will be a minority in Israel; it is estimated that in 15 years they will make up 44 percent of the population. We pray that before it is too late, the United States will demonstrate its friendship by speaking honestly and encouraging Israel to be true to its better self.

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Tom Fields
1 year 8 months ago
Imagine your city subjected to indiscriminate bombing. Imagine charity money used to dig miles of killer highway tunnels into your community. Imagine young killers sent to stab, mame, kill, destroy women, children, holy men. Imagine an enemy that hides in schools, mosques, and hospitals. Now---think about moderating your response????
Robert Lewis
1 year 8 months ago
Actually, the "two-state solution" is now utterly unfeasible, and the only "solution" to this maniacal, genocidal (on both sides) conflict is a pluralist, democratic and non-sectarian Israel-Palestine, with equal rights, including a modified "right of return" for all citizens. The reason that the "two-state solution" is unfeasible is that no Israeli government, whether of the Left or the Right, is going to countenance the uprooting of the settlements, which, in themselves, make a unified, geographically contiguous Palestine a hopelessly unmanageable and economically unfeasible project. In the course of the last decade, I have had many conversations with recently de-mobilized young Israeli soldiers who vacation in hill stations across northern India. They are almost unanimously dispirited young men and women with very clouded consciences regarding what they've been forced to do by Israeli politicians, and they are very clear about the harassment, the evictions and the brutal "irregularities" such as THIS ONE, which they have been ordered or coerced into perpetrating: https://www.facebook.com/TheSindhTimes/videos/1725832707639385/ When I have discussed with them the hopeless qualities of Palestinian leadership, and its failures actually to pursue the only potentially successful campaign of liberation from oppression of the Palestinian people, which is non-violent disobedience and law-breaking ("ahimsa," as practised by Gandhi and Dr. King), they have been utterly candid in stating that popular sentiment, now, in Israel would support "shooting the non-violent resisters" down in the streets, and I think that the video I've linked to above is an illustration of this. Are you defenders of Israel here absolutely unaware that, for a large segment of the Israeli public, the soldiers who do this kind of thing, or the settlers who torment Palestinian kids on the way to school, are actually treated as heroes, whether or not the Israeli justice system administers tepid punishments? Nevertheless, I've told the young Israeli soldiers that they, themselves, need to resist orders and desert, if need be, or, at least, to blow the whistle on the "Eretz Israel" fanatics who lead them and who serve with them--that, in fact, it will only be a massive campaign of Palestinian and Israeli civil disobedience which will attract the attention of, at least, the Europeans, and, possibly, the more enlightened of the Jewish diaspora, and tear the mask off Zionist racism and fascism. Of course, some will have to die--both Gandhi and Dr. King knew this, and accepted it--but it is possibly the only thing that will preempt the greater war that is building to its inevitable conclusion of preliminary proxy-war, followed by global cataclysm. I live in the Middle East now, and I can tell you that this is no exaggeration; there are two prime reasons always mentioned by Arabs, in conversations with Americans, as reason for their hatred of our country: #1) the support given by American governments to the kleptocrat "crony capitalist" who govern their countries against the interests of the masses; and #2) the "unbalanced" favoritism of America for Jews over Muslims, and, in particular, over Palestinians, their "brothers and sisters in faith" (which is a big thing to Muslims).
1 year 8 months ago
The Editors seem to miss the key points here. Israel did not launch Operation Protective Edge "to punish Hamas for its rocket attacks," they did it to stop the incessant rocket attacks on civilian targets in Israel. What would you have the Israelis do? Sit by docilely while Palestinians in Gaza drop rockets on them almost daily? What we we do if any neighboring country was doing that to us? Schools, homes, private houses and public buildings in Gaza were destroyed. As were many lives. But that was the result of Hamas operating quite deliberately out of civilian areas and civilian structures. Why do the America editors choose to ignore these very crucial facts? As for the loss of hope Palestinians feel, perhaps we need to hold their own leadership accountable. Why were two solid peace offers for a two-state solution by previous more liberal Israeli governments turned down by the Palestinian Authority in December 2000 and September 2008? I agree that Israel has become a compromised place. But do you ever stop to think that that may be in part due to the unprecedented hostility and aggression it has faced since the day of its birth? I also agree with you wholeheartedly that a two-state solution and an end to the occupation is the only solution. But why do you turn a blind eye to Palestinian complicity in the failure to reach that goal? Blaming Israel and Israel alone is dishonest, morally unsupportable and ultimately unhelpful. I expect more from a Jesuit publication. Rev. James Loughran, SA Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute New York
Eugene Fitzpatrick
1 year 8 months ago
Although Catholics must by now be sensitized to the level of degradation that some priests are capable of bringing to Catholicism thanks to the extensiveness of the pedophile catastrophe, it still smarts when a priest debases the Church with open advocacy of immorality. Such is seen here with Loughran unabashedly defending Israel's ongoing inhumanity and barbarism toward the Palestinian people. He doesn't even do so with plausible conviction or polemic verve and originality but rather parrots the same perennial and rotten with age Zionist shibboliths that he was regurgitating when defending the murderous holocaust that Israel visited on Gaza in 2014. How is an intellectually honest individual to process this utter contradiction ------ a priest openly defending evil? What is one to conjecture about Loughran's Graymoor community up on the Hudson, with its Francis of Assisi lineage, or about the Jesuit community in Loyola Baltimore, with its Ignatian lineage, where one of its priests, also a columnist for America magazine, callously defended Israel's 2014 rape of Palestine. Francis and Ignatius must be appalled. To Loughran and to the Jesuit priest Conley of Baltimore I direct the oft-quoted question that lawyer Joseph Welch asked of Senator Joe McCarthy at the infamous 1954 Army-McCarthy Senate hearings: "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"
Robert Lewis
1 year 8 months ago
And this is, indeed, what "morality and responsibility sound like"--until the force of an indecent majority opinion forces it to retract: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/05/israeli-military-chief-yair-golan-nazi-germany-comparison
Richard Murray
1 year 8 months ago
The statement of Rev. James Loughran, below, is full of errors that need to be addressed. The neocon (and fascist) Likud Party controls israel today. They do not want peace. Look up the racist sayings of Avigdor Lieberman and many others who are connected with Likud. For them, the “peace process” is a grand joke, although a very useful one—under the cover of the “peace process,” israel is able to confiscate more and more Palestinian land. The “peace offers” you mention would have officially carved the West Bank into Bantustans like those in South Africa. Reverend Loughran, to redirect your question at yourself, how would you like to live in the U.S. if israel took over large portions of it and demanded that you be content and quietly live in segregated, denigrated zones where the non-Jews lived? Because that is exactly what the zionists have done to the Palestinians. The great Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said that Apartheid in israel is worse than it ever was in South Africa. Wowsa! Regarding the latest israeli genocide in Gaza: Gaza is the largest open-air prison in the history of the cosmos. The tunnels that they operated (many went to Egypt) were used for sheep importing, medical emergencies and treatments, family visits, weddings, and such things. The tunnels are necessary because of the blockades imposed upon Gaza by israel and Egypt (Mubarak and al-Sisi are both zionist, and American, puppets). There are some tunnels that went into israel. During israel’s 2014 Genocide of Gaza, the soldiers of Gaza could have used these tunnels to attack the civilian population of israel. But they did not. Instead, they only attacked the army of israel, which was murdering entire families and swaths of humanity in Gaza. The rockets you mention are firecrackers with legs. They rarely do any damage or hurt anyone. They are fired in terrible frustration at the fact that the human beings of Gaza are living in horrific conditions while the world ignores them and the U.S. gives israel more weapons, aid, and money than we give anyone else in the world. israeli hasbara (propaganda) has used these rockets effectively in the Western media, which has hurt the Palestinian cause. The Palestinians are a good and beautiful people who have suffered heinously under israel. However, it is also for the sake of Israel that I hope that the people there come to their senses. The Likud Party has led them astray. It is time for BDS, America, and the international community to work for Justice for Palestine, which will be the best hope also for Israel.
Robert Lewis
1 year 8 months ago
The Palestinians may be "a good and beautiful people," but they have had abominable leaders who have not known how to pursue a strategy that would win for them peace and prosperity within a secular, democratic and pluralist society. This COULD have been done, had they abandoned the hopeless (and very much Israel and America-favoured) "two-state solution," which is no solution at all, because the West Bank is ALREADY--and irrevocably--a Bantustan. Netanyahu does not WANT Gaza's terrorism or the demands for a "separate state" to go away, because he is able to use these threats to panic and rule his brainwashed, terrorized people; he even calls his occasional murderous forays into Gaza "mowing the lawn"--with the very clear implication that it must be repeated callously so he can continue to rule Israel.
GERRY DRUMMOND
1 year 8 months ago
Masterfully and comprehensively, your "The Two Israels" editorial draws on the latest hard data and expert advice to convince the United States to "demonstrate its friendship by speaking honestly and encouraging Israel to be true to its better self." At the same time, I'd encourage our own president and congress(Democrats and Republicans) to be true to their better selves. And add to that mixture, Hamas and the current Palestinian State to be true to their better selves. Wait a minute! I get it. It's more in Israel's self-interest and future existence to move as quickly as possible into working out its own internal differences by hammering out a two-state solution with Palestine . . . with the US as the best honest broker before simple demographics and over-kill/retaliation decides the history of the mid-east, if not our own climate-challenged planet. I can't say that the realities presenting themselves make me very hopeful. Prayer and fasting may be the only way out here. And public evidence that the US is talking honestly and frankly with all parties. Your quote from the young American Jew, Jacob Bacharach, is the kind of frankness and honesty needed. Repressive as the Israeli Likud government has been to the rights of Palestinians, Israel is the only genuine democracy in the mid-east. Let history show that the US--in collaboration with the leaders of the three great monotheistic religions planted in Jerusalem--led the honest broker negotiations to beat swords into plowshares right here and laid the groundwork for later developing a secular state(s) with "no establishment of religion"--but respect for basic religious rights--throughout the mid-east.

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