By Jill Richardson
Most of the news stories I see about Israel and Palestine focus on recent events.
For example, in the latest violence, 213 Palestinians in Gaza are dead (including 61 children) plus another 16 in the West Bank — compared to about 10 Israelis (including two children). President Biden has “expressed support for a cease-fire” but so far peace talks have stalled.
However, one needs to look at the bigger picture to contextualize the immediate details.
The story I heard at my synagogue growing up is that Israel is the Jews’ historic homeland. Following a diaspora and a few millennia of persecution, Jews pursued an impossible dream of reclaiming their homeland — and they successfully did so in 1948.
The high points of my religious education included a lot of persecution (Jews were killed during the Crusades, the Black Death, the Inquisition, Russian pogroms, and the Holocaust) and the Jewish side of the story of Israel’s founding. In this telling, Jews are the heroic underdogs who finally have a land of their own where they are free from persecution.
That history of persecution is painful and true. But we talked less about the persecution the Israeli state itself has carried out.
The traditional Zionist version of the story skates over the fact that when large numbers of Jews began immigrating to Israel in the 20th century, Palestinians already lived there. We never discussed Palestinians’ rights in Sunday school. Instead, our lessons gave the general impressions that Palestinians were all terrorists who did not deserve rights.
That falsehood broke down in five minutes the first time I met a Palestinian on a family trip to Israel at age 18. He was just some guy, trying to live his life, and the Israeli state made it difficult to impossible.
Since then, far more evidence has accumulated to undercut the story I learned as a child. In academia, I’ve met both Israelis and Palestinians who are critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians — and virtually none who are supportive.
A search for academic literature using the terms “Palestine” and “settler colonialism” yields 167 results. Search instead for “Palestine” and “apartheid” and you get 93 results. The articles have titles like “Ethnic cleansing and the formation of settler colonial geographies.”
But these aren’t just academic conceits. Leading human rights groups now give dire warnings about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Amnesty International warns that the latest violence may constitute war crimes, while Human Rights Watch says Israel’s occupation amounts to an apartheid system.
Israel routinely bulldozes Palestinians’ homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while blockaded Gaza has been called “the world’s largest open-air prison, where the prison guard is Israel.” In that light, Palestinian anger becomes more understandable.
While that doesn’t justify Hamas firing its crude rockets indiscriminately into Israeli cities, it’s dishonest to portray the events of the past few weeks as a “war” with two equal sides. One side is a modern, advanced military, heavily supported by the U.S. The other is a stateless and occupied population.
One last piece of context concerns Israel’s right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. His party just failed to secure a governing majority and he’s facing corruption charges. Many believe Netanyahu is escalating violence with Palestinians in order to save his own hide politically.
That’s despicable. For many people with a Jewish upbringing, the key lesson we learn is to stand with the vulnerable and persecuted. In Israel-Palestine today, that means supporting Palestinians’ rights to peace, justice, and self-determination.
Jill Richardson is the author of “Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.” She is a columnist for OtherWords.org.
Merrill S Shapiro says
Jill Richardson is so genuinely unauthentic that, in her own words, she “received her doctorate of ministry from Gordon Conwell Seminary in 2020 with a focus on intergenerational faith learning. She also holds a Master of Divinity from Bethel Seminary in St. Paul.” Both are Evangelical schools devoted to not accepting Jews as they are but rather turning them into Christians. One example of her efforts to villify Jews is her claim that Israel has “blockaded” Gaza when Gaza has a perfectly fine border with Egypt. And, by the way, Israel cannot occupy Gaza. There hasn’t been a Jew or Israeli in Gaza since “the unilateral dismantling in 2005 of the 21 Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and the evacuation of the settlers and Israeli army from inside the Gaza Strip,” a major gesture of peace by the Israelis who are waiting for some reciprocity from the Gazans.
Bill C says
“a perfectly fine border”? ” … a report by UNCTAD [United Nations Conference on Trade and Development] prepared for the UN General Assembly and released on 25 November 2020, said that Gaza’s economy was on the verge of collapse and that it was essential to lift the blockade. Due to the Israeli and Egyptian border closures and the Israeli sea and air blockade, the population is not free to leave or enter the Gaza Strip, nor allowed to freely import or export goods.”
Ray W. says
By using the phrase “perfectly fine”, is Merrill S Shapiro suggesting that the Egyptian border with Gaza is as freely crossed by Gazan Palestinians on a daily basis as the Canadian border is crossed by Americans? Recent news reports about Egypt “opening” one of its border crossings to allow severely injured Gazans passage into Egypt for medical treatment suggest otherwise. Over the years, I have intermittently read articles about Egypt arbitrarily closing its border crossings to Gazan Palestinians, sometimes for lengthy periods. Egyptian forces periodically destroy tunnels that would bypass Egyptian border crossings, which also suggests that Egypt rather tightly controls its border with Gaza. Would such conditions constitute a “perfectly fine” border?
As for the claim that Israel cannot occupy Gaza, his appears to be a very narrow definition of the term. So long as there is no peace treaty, Israel civilian authorities cannot occupy Gaza, but the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) can as, by definition, a foreign military force can occupy a territory without the foreign government having to impose civilian legal control over the territory. As I understand the legal framework, the IDF considers Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem as territories occupied by the IDF since 1967, with the IDF effectuating border controls throughout, as well as internal travel restrictions, all under IDF-administered military law, not Israeli civilian law.
I don’t disagree with Merrill S Shapiro’s explanation that Israel unilaterally engaged in a “major concession” by dismantling 21 settlements in 2005 and or that it has fruitlessly awaited reciprocity from Gazans ever since, but calling the removal of settlements from an occupied territory a concession after the provocation of building them there in the first place seems a bit out of touch in the context of how the IDF uses military law to gain possession of land in the occupied territories for settlement in the first place.
While I do not claim to understand all ramifications of IDF military law, the settlement issue may properly be described as a third rail to the peace process. To deny land to settlers touches a raw nerve among ultraconservative Israelis. To take land for settlement touches a raw nerve among Palestinians. As I understand this raw nerve, in the Ottoman Land Code of 1858, an Ottoman Sultan declared large tracts of Palestine as “miri” lands, owned by the Sultan. Palestinian families could farm the land so long as the family paid taxes and did not leave the land fallow for an extended period of time. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, some Palestinian families began registering the land as their own with British-controlled local authorities. After all, the Sultan was no more and Turkey had no authority in Palestine. The problem is that many Palestinian families lived on the land for hundreds of years without encountering a legal dispute, inheritance, purchase or sale, so the family may not ever have had the need to register its claim to the land in the post-Ottoman era. As I understand it, most Palestinian farmers consider land as family owned, not individually owned, so not even a death in the family would cause a need for legal action to keep the land within the family, as no individual family member inherited the land. Soon after IDF occupation began in 1967, the IDF announced its recognition of the Ottoman Land Code of 1958 and began using it to evict Palestinian families, as the families had not paid taxes (rent?) in decades. If a Palestinian family cannot provide documented proof of ownership dating from the post-Ottoman era to IDF satisfaction, it risks forced eviction from its centuries-long practice of farming its homestead, and the now-unoccupied land reverts to IDF control and possible settlement. A new and different form of eminent domain. Arbitrarily invoke a Sultan’s declaration from another era, demand documentation of ownership issued by a no-longer existent legal authority, allege failure to pay rent and, presto, free land without a 12-person jury trial. No appeal.
Jill Richardson says
I am sorry but you definitely have the wrong Jill Richardson. It’s a common name. I don’t have any doctorate at all, let alone one in ministry. I am working on a doctorate in sociology. If you see any news of Jill Richardsons running marathons, I guarantee that won’t be me either.
I agree there is two sides to this story and one side in this story is being treated worse then the other sides stray animals!!!!