13 May 2021

Rarely asked questions

According to the Jerusalem Post, the chief of staff of the Israeli military said at a cabinet meeting today that "he opposes using soldiers to restore order in Israeli cities, noting that the military is a 'people's army' and not suitable for civilian unrest...."

Question I wish the journalists would ask: "Why are soldiers suitable for 'civilian unrest' in the occupied territories?" I suspect that in some fundamental way, Palestinians are not seen as civilians, but as enemies.

Follow-up question: Do soldiers control unrest, or do they cause unrest? I remember one of the incidents of children throwing stones at an Israeli checkpoint in Hebron, resulting in a virtual street battle including stun grenades and tear gas. The next time I was at that checkpoint, I talked to a nearby shop-owner about the incident. If there were no checkpoint and no soldiers separating the children from their schools, he pointed out, there would be no unrest to control. The soldiers themselves create the conditions that they then point to as their reason for being there.

However we feel about the occupation and its origins, international law is clear about the obligations of the occupiers for the well-being of the people in their care. Israeli policy has a beautiful work-around -- in the places they have not annexed outright, they have granted that responsibility to local authorities. But those authorities are under the total control of the occupying power, which claims the right to send in heavily-armed troops whenever they wish. Some of those troops behave very well (as I saw), while others don't bother to hide their utter disdain for the people at whom they aim their guns.

Similarly, in the last few days we have seen Hamas shooting hundreds of missiles aimed with little or no precision from Gaza into Israeli towns. President Biden repeats the tired line, "Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory." Again, when Israel claims absolute ultimate power over Gaza, why is the possession of illegal weapons capable of indiscriminate murder not a police matter? Why is Israeli care for civilians under their control completely hands-off when convenient, and then, when suddenly there is "unrest," their only apparent option is to use bombs, guided missiles, and artillery?

Israel claims that Hamas armed forces nest themselves among civilians, so that collateral casualties from Israeli actions, however regrettable, are the fault of those forces. Criminals among civilians? -- sad but not at all unexpected!! That is why in a normal city you have street-level, day-in-day-out policing, so the authorities know what is going on in the neighborhoods. When an innocent family lives one building away from a bomb factory, that should make Israeli law enforcement wonder whether there are not better ways to control this dangerous criminal behavior than pouring high explosives into the neighborhood! Once again, why are journalists not asking about the appropriateness of treating some human beings (Israelis) with all the protections of a real justice system, while seeing only military solutions for Palestinians? Yes, there is a fiction that Gaza is not Israel, which disclaims any responsibility for Gaza's normal well-being, but functionally it is utterly at Israel's mercy. "Mercy," of course, has nothing to do with actual policy.

Early in the current cycle of violence, the BBC's Razia Iqbal interviewed a Palestinian activist and an Israeli spokesperson, in one of the more evenhanded journalistic treatments of the situation. The Israeli official, Mark Regev, claimed that Israel was enforcing the law and controlling the unrest around al-Aqsa Mosque with scrupulous regard for everyone's religious rights.

When Iqbal pressed him about the precipitating conflict -- the looming prospect of evictions from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem -- he responded that in cases like this, "where you have two different groups that claim the right to a property, the Israeli government is not directly involved in this case in any way whatsoever." Sounds reasonable enough if we didn't already know that, for decades, almost every Israeli leader has advanced the explicit policy of ridding "greater" Israel of its Palestinian population. Mainstream journalists rarely seem able to ask, bluntly, if this isn't in fact the actual policy goal, although Iqbal came close. Such a policy would be the only thing that explains all of these jarring realities -- police for the Israelis and the military for Palestinians; treating the Gaza and West Bank territories as self-governing when convenient and as giant prison camps when deemed necessary; and treating Israeli and Palestinian property claims using two different legal systems -- in favor, of course, of the Israelis.

It's not impossible to describe the conditions for a better future. As Rashid Khalidi says in today's Washington Post, "A sustainable solution, whether based on two states or one, must enshrine absolute equality of rights for both peoples, including collective, national and political rights, as well as religious, property and civil rights." This may be incompatible with a vision of Israel as a country in which only Jewish people are first-class citizens, but it is VERY compatible with an Israel that is faithful to its own ancient biblical standards of justice.

(Jeremiah 22:3Psalm 82Proverbs 16:122 Samuel 8:15.)

I wish a journalist would ask these politicians -- all the politicians on all sides who seem to hold life and death in their hands -- the following questions:

  • Do you believe in equal justice for everyone in your care?
  • And who exactly is in your care and not in your care?
  • When conflicts arise, will you judge with impartial justice? When you are wrong, what recourse do we have?
  • How do people behave when they have no recourse? Can you honestly blame them?

(Related posts: Who wants to "teach lessons"? Who wants to learn?; Praying without ceasing in Hebron; Hell, holiness, and Jerusalem; "How was I supposed to think about a world...?";  Christian jihad; The rhetoric of righteousness.)

Misha Roshchin
A Quaker memorial meeting for Mikhail Roshchin will be held at 19.00 Moscow time (noon Eastern time in the USA) on Saturday, May 22. All who knew Mikhail and would like to honor his memory are invited. The meeting will be held online, on Zoom. Please send me your e-mail address to receive the Zoom link. (johan@canyoubelieve.me) The meeting for worship will be conducted in Russian with translation for English speakers if needed.

On May 20 and 22, the Quaker Religious Education Collaborative is holding Conversation Circles on "Learnings that Light the Way." More information on the QREC site.

Beacon Hill Friends House has places in their residential community available this spring, summer, and fall. More information on this page. Also see their virtual events page for their schedule of programs and events.

Russian historian Mikhail Meltyukhov on the proposed ban on "equating" the goals of the USSR and Nazi Germany.

Back to today's theme. How hard could it be to condemn the killing of Palestinian children?

Philip Weiss on the increasing polarization around Israel's national idea in view of today's brutal reality.

The late Troels Jensen, Danish blues guitarist, and the Small Town Blues Band: "It Hurts Me Too."

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