Dear Christian Century,
In his attack (in your May 14 issue) on the Zionism Unsettled study guide, Christopher M. Leighton advocates a more fair and balanced approach to the Israel-Palestine question. Your own editorial as well buys into the idea that both sides are equally responsible for the current situation. “Recognizing the legitimacy of both narratives” and pleading for both sides to “weep together” sounds all gracious and even-handed and everything, but it belies the actual facts on the ground in the lives of real people. Your refusal to acknowledge gross inequalities of wealth and power makes your opinion on this matter little more than a rationalization for an intolerable status quo.
Having just returned from the area, I have witnessed a dominant, sophisticated, Modern military State systematically oppressing an indigenous population. The Palestinians are subject to daily indignities and inconveniences, often flaring into one-sided violence by heavily armed soldiers. Land is routinely stolen, homes are bulldozed over legal technicalities, people – including many children – are arrested and held indefinitely without charge, a precious resource like water is hoarded and even wasted by a privileged few while rationed out to the majority of the population, and the heart of a city like Hebron is placed under perpetual lock-down to protect a handful of settlers who appear to be immune from any kind of legal responsibility for their own bad behavior. And so on.
Equating some strident rhetoric and sporadic violence of feeble and largely ineffective resistance with a massive military assault and occupation is ridiculous. One can observe the absurd one-sidedness of the situation by simply looking at who ends up with the land and who ends up dying. You also neglect to mention that the Palestinians have largely recognized the futility of armed resistance and embraced non-violence.
Rev. Leighton is remarkably breezy in dismissing Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their stolen property, comparing their claim to that of Native Americans. (His analogy might make more sense if Cherokees were the majority of the population in Tennessee.) And yet somehow Zionists have a right to claim as their homeland territory that has belonged to other people for two millennia? Hello?
We Americans have been subject to an onslaught of one-sided propaganda about this issue for several generations. The Zionism Unsettled document is a welcome antidote. Where were the calls for balance and fairness from Rev. Leighton and his friends for the past six decades?
Finally, using the horrors of the Shoah (“disaster”in Hebrew) as a rationalization for oppressing a people who had nothing to do with centuries of European anti-semitism is irrational. It’s not like the Zionists are retributively oppressing Germans here. No one is asking the Israelis to “get over” Auschwitz; some are simply questioning whether that experience gives them the right to inflict a Nakbah (“disaster” in Arabic) on another people.
The real issue in Israel-Palestine has to do with human rights and democracy. One people with wealth, power, and privilege should not be permitted to invade, conquer, and systematically oppress another people. It’s as simple as that. (Even Abraham did not appropriate the land for Sarah’s tomb; he insisted on fairly purchasing it. (Genesis 23)) When Zionism Unsettled rejects a “Jewish State,” it does not mean driving the Israelis into the sea or denying them self-governance, as Rev. Leighton implies. It simply means not privileging one class, race, or religion, and reducing all others to second- or third-class status. In the 21st Century, no country should get to do that.
Like it or not, these two peoples are going to have to learn to live side-by-side in the same territory. With their extensive illegal settlements (connected by a network of private highways and protected by a ubiquitous, serpentine wall), the Israelis have all but foreclosed on the two-State-solution. Some kind of federal/constitutional arrangement where the rights of all, especially minorities, are protected is probably the only answer.
Both sides need to renounce violence and agree on a legal framework based on human rights for all. But that’s not going to happen unless we get over our delusion that one side doesn’t have a lot more on-going, daily, systemic, and often subtle violence to renounce.