Views of CCJR Members
- Created: July 25, 2014
- Written by Peter A. Pettit
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The recent escalation of conflict between Israeli and Palestinian forces helps make clear why the rhetoric among liberals and Christians about “the occupation” is woefully inadequate to the challenging call of peacemaking that we espouse. The occupation—which by now needs no subjects, objects, or qualifiers because we all supposedly know what we are talking about—has become the acceptable target that seems to provide a safe platform on which to mount the banner for peace.
If we protest Israel’s occupation of the West Bank as a distinct evil, it seems that we can duck the charge of delegitimizing Israel. We stay on the bright side of the line that gets drawn between criticizing Israeli policies and challenging Jewish sovereignty as a whole. We also get to stand courageously with people who live under daily duress and who have languished without their own sovereignty for far too long. A focus on the occupation gives us simpler options in a complicated conflict. Look at the West Bank and it is not hard to know on whose side compassionate people should stand.
But the violent events of June and July, the outcome of which is still beyond imagining, make it harder to know. Kidnapping and murder of teenage civilians by extremist elements, both Palestinian and Jewish; a barrage of rockets reaching deeper than ever into Israel; drone and missile attacks from Israel on targets precariously if not deliberately situated in dense, civilian neighborhoods—all of these and the clamoring voices that surround, incite, and report them underscore the point that choosing sides over the occupation is both difficult and dangerous, and it does not address enough of the factors that must be resolved if peace is to be achieved.
Choosing sides is difficult because the dynamics that now explain the occupation and prop it up have been so many years in the making ...
Since 1993 negotiations and exchanges between the Palestinians and Israelis have amounted to a deadly dance of mixed signals and defiant posturing by both, together with their various proxies and partners ...
Choosing sides is dangerous because both Jews and Palestinians live with mortal fear. ...
Moreover, when actually envisioning an end to the conflict it is dangerous to focus on only one party as its cause. ...
So why do churches and people of goodwill focus on the wrong thing? ...
A basic mistake accounts for such misguided efforts: ...[...]
Many of the best analysts and participants in the field have reminded us that progress toward peace cannot be achieved until the principal parties all find reason to believe that they will gain more from risking peace than from continuing the status quo. That means the status quo—including the occupation—will not end just because ending it is a good thing. It will end because something better will become a realistic alternative for everyone.
While we work toward that constructive goal, our compassionate response to suffering must continue and our assessment of the causes of suffering must be acute. If in weariness or frustration or anger, however, we mistake our earnest human compassion for effective political analysis, we risk being drawn into the conflict simply as someone’s armament and supply against another. Then our true value as peacemakers is traded for empty gestures and passing good feelings. Both Palestinians and Jews deserve better from us.
Peter A. Pettit teaches at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and is director of the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding.