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Ed McCarthy of Vienna served as New England representative for Churches for Middle East Peace.
A dozen years ago, I visited the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. I saw a Palestinian woman and her children living in a tent, after they had been evicted from their home nearby. An armed guard was on the property to ensure that neither the woman nor any other Palestinian could return. I witnessed the anger of Palestinians over that eviction and others, and the triumphalist aggressiveness of Jewish settlers who had taken up residence in a seized house across the street.
These many years later, Sheik Jarrah’s situation is all too familiar. Settlers are again pursuing evictions of families who have lived there for more than 50 years. There is however one key difference: Palestinians see Sheik Jarrah as symbolic of how, under cover of Israeli law, they have been, more broadly, dispossessed. As a result, they have rallied in support of the neighborhood’s besieged families. In turn, heavyhanded Israeli Police tactics have led to increased violence, including Hamas’ self-serving intervention and Israeli retaliation.
The settlers are partially financed by a corporation registered in President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware. That is one reminder of our country’s complicity in an exercise in theft and injustice, designed to take from Palestinians as much land as possible, both in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, where Palestinians live under a rigorous Israeli occupation, and Israel fails to meet its obligations as an occupying power, including provision of vaccines against COVID-19.
As in the past prior to former President Donald Trump’s extremist backing of the Israelis, our government reacts with pious cant. Thus, the president and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken say that all should show restraint, rockets from Gaza — but not Israeli airstrikes — must stop, and the U.S. supports “Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself.” There is no evidence that the secretary thinks that Palestinians have a comparable right when brutalized by Israeli security forces, as many have been on innumerable occasions.
Not all that is occurring in Israel and Palestine is well understood here, in part due to inconsistent American media coverage. It took reading Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper to remind me that while settlers can pursue Palestinian evictions through the Israeli courts, Palestinians don’t have legal means to go after extensive properties in West Jerusalem seized by Israel in 1948. The Israeli legal system, like much else, is rigged against Palestinians.
Should we accept at face value Israel’s claims to self-defense when the violence springs from its indulgence of settler aggression, as in Sheik Jarrah? Or when heavily armed Israeli Police decide they must aggressively gain control over traditional Ramadan gatherings at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate? In other words, is the Israeli right to self-defense valid when they provoke the conflict? At last report, Israeli airstrikes have destroyed two civilian-occupied tower blocks, and 43 Palestinian civilians, including children are dead, surely with more to come.
Israel is dominant in the struggle with the Palestinians. If matters have not improved over many years, and in fact have deteriorated, particularly with regard to hope for a two-state solution, Israel bears a good deal of responsibility. And our government does as well.
Trump took uncritical support for Israel to absurd extremes. The traditional kind of support is no less disgraceful. At the least, it is time to condition aid to Israel, one of our largest aid recipients, on that government’s demonstrated pursuit of genuine peace and justice in relation to the Palestinians.
None of this is to say that Palestinians are without fault. Hamas can be counted on to make a bad situation worse. Its sclerotic rival, Fatah, pursues doing well in the absence of doing much good. None of this is to say that there are not good and courageous Jewish and Palestinian individuals, organizations and publications both here and in Israel and Palestine who know truth and justice, and are dedicated to pursuing both. Unfortunately, as is too often the case in our world, they are not in power.