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Commentary: Ethnic cleansing is occuring in Palestine

As an ecumenical accompanier with the World Council of Churches, I was one of 14 from seven countries who served as a peace presence in Israel/Palestine for three months in 2003 —the beginning of the Iraq War. Part of our obligation was to tell the stories after our return.

During my presentations I always include, “I am pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro peace and justice but against abuse of human rights and violation of international law.”

The world is not pleased with the United States and Israel. If you have read the 9/11 report, it states that Osama bin Laden, Al Qaida and Mohammed, the mastermind behind 9/11, all their anger at the U.S. is because of our support of Israel.

Yes, Israel should have its own state as was acknowledged in 1948. But the Palestinians were not responsible for the Holocaust. Since 1948 the Palestinians have been abused and oppressed by the Israeli government — destroying 530 villages and displacing about 750,000 Palestinians at that time.

By 1950 the United Nations established United Nations Relief Works Agency to build refugee camps, clinics and schools for the Palestinians. The neighboring countries of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan also served as a refuge. At present approximately 4,500,000 Palestinians still live in refugee camps.

In l967, it was established that the Palestinians should have as their state: the West Bank and Gaza. They have lived under occupation since that time —lived with illegal arrests, collective punishment, demolition of houses, confiscation of land including water wells, use of people as human shields, checkpoints, curfews, closure of villages for extended periods, roadblocks and delays of ambulances at checkpoints that have resulted in loss of many lives. Israel also continues to build settlements in the West Bank in violation of the International Court of Justice and the Geneva Convention.

The U.S. and United Nations have told Israel to stop building the settlements but with no enforcement.

Israel claims Jerusalem as the capital for the Jews. It remains the capital for three religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism but with limited access for the Christians and Muslims.

Suicide bombings are unacceptable — or loss of Israeli or Palestinians lives.

But the unrest is fundamentally an expression of a nation’s rebellion against the occupation.

It is important to be aware that there are many Jewish people and organizations — both in Israel and the United States — defending and advocating for the Palestinians: Rabbis for Human Rights; B’Tselem, with an outstanding record for accurate reporting of abuses including torture under interrogation; Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (Director Jeff Halper is originally from Hibbing, Minnesota); Women in Black, a group of Jewish women who peacefully demonstrate in French Square for one hour each Friday afternoon.

Many Jewish women also spend an afternoon a week at checkpoints as they advocate with the Israeli soldiers to assist the Palestinians trying to pass through. The U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation is headquartered in Washington, D.C. The director is Josh Ruebner, also Jewish.

The U.S. is not doing Israel (or us) a favor by supporting the violation of international law. Not only are we condoning the abuse but our tax dollars are paying for it — between $3 billion and $4 billion each year along with additional funds for military supplies.

The recent attacks in Gaza are a good example of disproportionate aggression. It has caused almost 2,000 Palestinian deaths including more than 400 children while the Israeli have lost 67. In 2008-09, Israeli invasions killed 1,400 Palestinians while Israeli had 13 casualties including four from friendly fire.

Yes, it would be appropriate for Hamas to acknowledge the state of Israel. Fatah, who represents the Palestinians in the West Bank, does so. All of the Palestinians in Gaza do not agree with Hamas but are subjected to the indiscriminate killings and destruction by Israel.

After the 2008-09 Israeli invasion of Gaza, Goldstone, a Jewish judge from South Africa was commissioned to write an investigative report. He claimed extreme disproportionate aggression from the Israeli Defense Forces. This report was accepted by the United Nations but rejected by Israel and our U.S. Congress.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly and blatantly claims that there is no right of return for the Palestinians. When an ethnic group is forced out with no right of return, it is called ethnic cleansing. It has been happening to the Palestinians since 1948.

An initiative called Boycott, Divestment and Sanction or BDS against Israel is growing in our country and internationally. It worked to stop apartheid in South Africa, so it is hopeful to put an end to apartheid for the Palestinians.

For the people who claim Israel is the land of the Jews for the Jews, Rabbi Arik Ascherman shares, “To these people I say that according to the Bible, the promise is eternal. But the land is conditional and the way my government is treating the Palestinians at this time, we don’t deserve the land.”

The most profound comment shared by a Jewish woman from Jerusalem was, “We must move beyond the Holocaust. The abuse and oppression of the Occupation is stripping the joy out of Judaism.”