Many of us have known that the “two-state solution” has been dead and gone for a long, long time. We knew it was nothing but a cynical attempt to stall for time, allowing the Israeli government to expand settlements and build entirely new ones on occupied Palestinian lands.
Driving through the West Bank in and around East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, except for Israeli warning signs, it is hard to know where Israel stops and where Palestine actually begins, or whether it even exists anymore. Prime Minister Netanyahu does not even pretend a two-state solution is going to happen, and President Donald Trump really doesn’t know what any of it means anyway.
But let’s not be deceived; no American President or Congress in at least two decades has actually believed in a two-state solution. They have known what Israel has been doing all along, and they too paid lip service to the concept of two states in order to cynically buy time until facts on the ground (settlements) and over half a million Israeli settlers in the West Bank would finally preclude a Palestinian state.
In February 2017, I planted olive trees in the hills of Palestine for the second time (the first time being February 2014) with the Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI) of the YMCA of Beit Sahour and YWCA of Jerusalem. As I stood at the hilltops in the West Bank surrounding Bethlehem and Jerusalem that have not yet been appropriated by settlements, I was shocked at what I saw. What was most disconcerting for me on this most recent trip was how much the settlements have expanded in only two years. In October 2015 I was there for JAI’s Olive Harvest (as I will be again in October 2018) and I remember being in the same area in both 2001 and 2006 when many of the hillsides, now covered with upscale Israeli housing, were wide open and natural grazing fields and hills.
That’s no longer true; Zionism has changed all that. “Everybody has to move, run and grab as many [Palestinian] hilltops as they can to enlarge the [Jewish] settlements because everything we take now will stay ours... Everything we don't grab will go to them.” said Ariel Sharon
in 1998 on Israeli radio when he was foreign minister. Sharon, the architect of establishing indisputable facts on the ground, smiles from his grave because his twisted prophecy has come true.
The so-called two-state solution, along with the later plan of Jerusalem and East Jerusalem standing as shared capitals for the Israelis and Palestinians began as a bad idea for the sake of accommodating the colonization of Palestine by European Zionists. Rather than eliminate antisemitism in Europe, the still antisemitic West wanting and needing to solve its so-called “Jewish problem”, bought into the plan, and decided to partition the land upon which Palestinians and their ancestors had lived for centuries.
I have stood (more than once) in the remains of both Iqrit and Kafr Bir’m, two evacuated ancient Palestinian villages in northern Israel, and have spoken to the third and fourth generation young adults who try to keep their grandparents' dream of “return” alive by holding 24/7 vigils in the abandoned villages. The Israeli government now prevents that from happening in Kafr Bir’im, but Palestinian citizens of Israel continue the faithful vigil in Iqrit, although it gets tougher as the Israeli military routinely tears up the road that leads up the hill to the Palestinian Roman Catholic Church where they still worship, baptize babies, perform marriages and bury their dead.
Putting the United States embassy in Jerusalem is a faithless and dangerous decision. For a people now jammed into the pressure cooker of open air prisons created by walls, fences, restricted highways and “no man’s” (and woman’s) lands, this move is one of the most demoralizing insults in a long historical line of insults to a long-suffering indigenous people who resist and persist year-in, year-out. Even in times during the First and Second Intifadas, when a relatively small percentage of extremists resisted their persecution violently, the vast majority of Palestinians resisted by merely existing on their ancestral lands and living day to day with sumud
, the Arabic concept of steadfastness.
But let’s not kid ourselves: Pack people in tighter and tighter, restrict and deprive them more and more, and now take away Jerusalem, the center of their lives for centuries, and expect them to stay unfazed is a fantasy. It took far less than that for American colonists to go to war with the British Crown.
But to be truthful, even with all the repression, I still go to Bethlehem and Hebron and Ramallah and the towns and villages in-between and encounter a people of fortitude and steadfast hope. Without them, I’m pretty sure I would not have such hope under those conditions, and so I am inspired in their presence. I am not just inspired, I am taught how to be more faithful in my life by observing their faithfulness, in each other and in God. That I draw my hope from them is part of this surreal story.
Because my Palestinian brothers and sisters have taught me so much, I can only say that now it is my turn to provide hope and say all is not lost. It is my turn to shout from the rooftops that what the President of the United States is doing is wrong and immoral. I also recognize that for those who have given up hope for a Palestinian state and are now looking for a one state solution with equal rights and access for all, there might be a feeling that this is a step in the desired direction.
My fear is that this is just another step in a cynical process controlled by the Zionist Israeli government and establishment as they seek to wipe out all memory of what Palestine is and who Palestinians are. Palestine and Palestinians are not going anywhere and Israel has to come to terms with living together with them. In this land “between the river and the sea”, there are about 6 million Jews and 6 million non-Jews, all under the control of a Zionist government. How will they treat the non-Jews amongst them? That is the question they need to grapple with now.
As Palestinian human rights lawyer Jonathan Kuttab has said, the Zionists have won. What now? What kind of country do they want? One with equal rights for all the inhabitants or one that privileges Jews?
Now is the time for us to remind our Palestinian brothers and sisters that we stand with them in this time of uncertainty and peril. For Christmas 2017, I ask you to re-commit to join IPMN in our ongoing work to secure a just peace in the land where Christ was born.
Grace and Peace,
lower photo: Rev. Dr. Jeff DeYoe planting olive trees on JAI Keep Hope Alive trip in the West Bank, with Israeli settlements in the background.