So many things look familiar when I return to Palestine and Israel. This delegation has an ambitious agenda and is covering a good deal of territory. Friday we left Jerusalem for Nazareth and after visits in the Jordan Valley and a night in Bil’in we are on a short break in Ramallah before our drive to Bethlehem tonight. The roads are well trafficked. Stores in the town centers are busy. The group of 28 wanders off alone or in pairs for a couple of hours without concern, seeking out falafel, shawarma, fresh citrus, coffee. The pendulum seems to have swung to the time just before the first and the second intifada, frenetic but sober.
The holy sites have been refreshed for various celebrations, the Church of the Annunciation glows with a relatively new facade, hotels have been updated whether in East Jerusalem or Nazareth or Ramallah, streets bear Times Square like jumbotron advertising screens. Posters and graffiti are less common but still present.
The externalities reflect what Jonathan Cooke describes as a long term and largely uncontested Judaization of the nether reaches of the country. Enormous Israeli flags mark the entrances to Nazareth Illit or Moi’din Illit as well as to settlements in the West Bank and Jordan Valley. The wall, more seriously contested, especially where its 708km snaking through Samaria and Judea cut communities off from their cropland to further increase the footprint of illegal settlements, is a scar that has become all too familiar. Check points still operate like cattle pens, channeling movement through electronic sieves all day long, day after day. Jordan Valley kibbutz/settlements are surrounded by chain link fences with barbed wire coils, oases in cages.
The physical evidence of occupation are ever present and serve the slowly acculturated narrative of this 21st Century artifact of colonialism.
What is different is the conversation about where the resistance, the struggle for human rights and human dignity, stands today in terms of the way forward. Voices from three different communities seem to be moving toward a shared consensus, that of West Bank Palestinians and their families in the diaspora, that of Israeli allies working through awareness and advocacy collectives like ICAHD and the Boycott Within in Israel and their cognates abroad such as Jewish Voice for Peace, and Palestinian nationals living as citizens in Israel. There is a sense of a tipping point, a watershed.
The discourse over a Palestinian State has already abandoned the “two state solution” and is settling on a single state in which the struggle is for civil rights, equal access to societal resources including health, education, economic resources, mobility, full electoral participation and full municipal services (water, electricity, roads, garbage and waste disposal). The most blank statement of the position was offered by Sam Bahour in walking us through the analysis of his children and their peers at Bir Zeit University, or MIT, or the London School of Economics, or Hebrew University, Harvard, the Sorbonne, Al Quds: ” you win”. The 60+ years of conflict, occupation, cantonization, has convinced them that Israel has succeeded in acquiring full access and control of the land and peoples of this land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, from Eilat to Nakourra. Conceding that, the full responsibility for the people living under the State of Israel, as citizens or as occupied, will now seek for the full complement of civil and legal rights that come within a legitimate democratic state, without consideration for age, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, national origin or religion.
Given the practices and legal constructs that discriminate against non-Jewish citizens of the current State of Israel, and some argued that similar discrimination’s are leveled against Jewish citizens who are not Orthodox Jews, no one is naive about the hurdles of extending the same rights to a fully annexed West Bank, Gaza and Golan Heights. The thinking seems to be that as long as it may take (and for many this is on the order of decades not years) the moral clarity that has emerged from the last 65 years points to a struggle that is fundamentally about human rights comprehensively applied rather than about land ownership or ethnic identity. This is what is different.
We ended the day in Bethlehem receiving at just the right time in our journey, a refreshment of the call issued by our Palestinian brothers and sisters, and their beloved enemies, to be responsive to the moral, theological, political, economic and social imperatives that must be at the nexus of our faith, hope and love as Christians. Kairos Palestine issued in 2009 a statement from the 13 recognized Christian denominations to their compatriots urging patience, steadfastness and nonviolent resistance. Subsequently the statement was translated from Arabic and became the basis of a global discourse on the place of the indigenous Christian community in the future of Palestine and Israel. It continues to be an excellent resource for discussion groups and personal reflection.
The moment of Kairos, urgency and justice as a measure human accountability, may move at a different pace than our Gregorian calendar or Greenwich clock, but there is still an end time implicit in the counting of days, a time after which something that was still possible no longer is. Rifat Kassis’s growing fear is that the moment of the possibility of peace is passing, not just for the moment but forever.
This is what is different.
Mark C. Johnson
January 13, 2014