As a Quaker, I was raised to believe that every life is sacred, regardless of gender, national origin, race, or creed. I was taught to believe we should look for that of the divine in everyone. As a teacher and scholar of the Middle East and of international peace and conflict resolution, I endeavor to honor this practice by listening for the T/truth and bearing witness to the experiences of Israelis and Palestinians of all walks of life.
I recently returned from a two week delegation to Israel/Palestine that included visits with nonviolent activists within Israel and the Palestinian Territories, as well as with more mainstream Israeli Jews and a Jewish settler in Hebron. Many of the places where we visited with Palestinians, unfortunately, are now under siege by the Israeli military in an operation ironically entitled “Brother’s Keeper”. The naming of this operation reflects a theme that was emphasized repeatedly by the Jewish Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers we met with: that the Israeli government values the lives of Jews above all other forms of life; just today Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that the killing of Palestinian youths engaged in nonviolent protest was “necessary” for “self defense” although video recording demonstrates otherwise. Although I hope the three Israeli youths are returned safely to their families, does the search for them require shutting down, shelling, and raiding all of the major cities in the West Bank? The mothers of the Palestinians who have been killed, injured and imprisoned (in the hundreds) as a result of this operation feel the loss of their children just as deeply as the Israeli mothers.
The tragedy of the Israeli government’s policies of segregation and separation between Israeli Jews and Palestinians is that it is easy for many within Israel to lose sight of the humanity of Palestinians, and most have little sense of the context of Palestinian daily life. The three missing teens, for example, are described as ordinary civilians in the media, rather than as settlers living in settlements deemed illegal under international law, impediments to a two-state solution and Palestinian independence and emblematic of the dual system of law, access, and privilege in the West Bank/Palestinian Territories/Judea and Samaria.
The daily reports I hear from friends on the ground tell of the hardship faced by Palestinians as they seek to continue their daily lives. One long-term Ramallah friend had Israeli soldiers sleep under his family’s grapevine the other night; others have had their homes raided or shelled without cause. The Israeli peace group Gush Shalom noted that Israeli papers have barely reported, let alone named, the Palestinians who have been killed in this operation, yet papers around the world have reported on the names and ages of the three Israeli teens missing.
Some suggest that Netanyahu is seeking to destroy the Palestinian unity government; yet most policy makers concur that the technocratic government is not an obstacle to peace, and that a unified Palestinian government is necessary for any real peace negotiations to occur; without including the Gaza Strip (and Hamas in some form), any peace agreement Israel and the Palestinian Authority might reach is virtually meaningless to Israel’s long-term security.
There are non-violent, diplomatic, and less disruptive search and rescue procedures that Israel can use to find the three missing teens; the entire West Bank should not need to be placed under siege by Israel’s highly sophisticated, technologically advanced military. Israel engaged in back channels to negotiate with Hamas over the release of Gilad Shalit (who was released in exchange for 1000 Palestinian prisoners’ lives).
A just, lasting, and secure peace cannot be reached until all parties are seen as creatures “made in the image of G-d”.