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Breeding Despair and a Culture of Separation in Gaza

Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land, 2007:

[W]ho would have imagined that less than two decades later [ed.: after the fall of the Berlin Wall] we would be back to building walls? I have no doubt that the Separation Wall in the Holy Land will one day fall for the same reasons. The only question is how many lives, how many shattered and demolished villages, how much dehumanization and stigmatization will we tolerate?

This Wall is not a sign of justice or peace, it is a material sign of the walls of hatred that are growing stronger everyday. This wall does not provide security, it breeds despair and a culture of separation. And it cannot contain the hatred and resentment that are building every day.

Fast forward to last week to Yuval Diskin, former head of the Israeli Shin Bet security service, in an interview with Der Spiegel (emphasis added):

Diskin: Israel is now an instrument in the hands of Hamas, not the opposite. Hamas doesn’t care if its population suffers under the attacks or not, because the population is suffering anyway. Hamas doesn’t really care about their own casualties either. They want to achieve something that will change the situation in Gaza. This is a really complicated situation for Israel. It would take one to two years to take over the Gaza Strip and get rid of the tunnels, the weapons depots and the ammunition stashes step-by-step. It would take time, but from the military point of view, it is possible. But then we would have 2 million people, most of them refugees, under our control and would be faced with criticism from the international community.


SPIEGEL: The possibility of a third Intifada has been mentioned repeatedly in recent days, triggered by the ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip.

Diskin: Nobody can predict an Intifada because they aren’t something that is planned. But I would warn against believing that the Palestinians are peaceful due to exhaustion from the occupation. They will never accept the status quo of the Israeli occupation. When people lose hope for an improvement of their situation, they radicalize. That is the nature of human beings. The Gaza Strip is the best example of that. All the conditions are there for an explosion. So many times in my life I was at these junctions that I can feel it almost in my fingertips.

Diskin confirms Younan’s words about despair and separation. The status quo of a wall, rigidly enforced by Israel, has not made matters better — only worse — as has the growth of the Jewish settler movement. Again, from Diskin:

SPIEGEL: Mohammed Abu Chidair, the teenager murdered by Israeli right-wing extremists, was recognized as being a victim of terror. Why hasn’t Israel’s security service Shin Bet been as forceful in addressing Israeli terror as it has with Arab terror?

Diskin: We invested lots of capabilities and means in order to take care of this issue, but we didn’t have much success. We don’t have the same tools for fighting Jewish extremism or even terrorists as we have when we are, for example, facing Palestinian extremists. For Palestinians in the occupied territories, military rule is applied whereas civilian law applies to settlers. The biggest problem, though, is bringing these people to trial and putting them in jail. Israeli courts are very strict with Shin Bet when the defendants are Jewish. Something really dramatic has to happen before officials are going to take on Jewish terror.

SPIEGEL: A lawmaker from the pro-settler party Jewish Home wrote that Israel’s enemy is “every single Palestinian.”

Diskin: The hate and this incitement were apparent even before this terrible murder. But then, the fact that it really happened, is unbelievable. It may sound like a paradox, but even in killing there are differences. You can shoot someone and hide his body under rocks, like the murderer of the three Jewish teenagers did. Or you can pour oil into the lungs and light him on fire, alive, as happened to Mohammed Abu Chidair…. I cannot even think of what these guys did. People like Naftali Bennett have created this atmosphere together with other extremist politicians and rabbis. They are acting irresponsibly; they are thinking only about their electorate and not in terms of the long-term effects on Israeli society — on the state as a whole.

What was it Younan warned about in 2007? Oh yes . . . “This Wall is not a sign of justice or peace, it is a material sign of the walls of hatred that are growing stronger everyday.” Again, Diskin confirms Younan’s wisdom.

Since 2007, Younan’s role in the world has grown to include being elected President of the Lutheran World Federation. The LWF is not a governing body, but a federation of Lutheran churches around the world that join together for mutual conversation and coordinated actions (often through their aid agency, Lutheran World Relief). As the LWF president, Younan often is called upon to speak for Lutherans worldwide, and when Pope Francis made his trip to the Middle East, Younan was a part of that. After Francis left, Younan had this to say in an interview conducted by the ELCJHL:

ELCJHL: What were your feelings about Pope Francis’s meeting with the Palestinian Authority and the Mass held in Manger Square?
Bishop Younan: The meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas was very cordial – he explained that he is serious about peace based on justice and that he is still committed to dialogue. I believe that the spirit of the meeting was very positive and I believe the Pope understood the complexity of the situation, especially when speaking with Palestinian families during a lunchtime visit in Bethlehem. For example, there was a child who, because of a dispute about where her parents are from and where they are living, she cannot be reunited with her family. She cannot receive papers from the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government will not issue them because they cannot prove that the center of their lives is in Jerusalem. Reunification permits – necessary for when a spouse from the West Bank marries a Jerusalemite – are notoriously hard to get. I was thankful when I heard that Pope Francis raised this issue with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is important to me that the Pope saw the issues that the Palestinian people are dealing with. I told the Pope that I am a Palestinian Refugee and he was surprised to hear that a Bishop could also be a refugee.

“I told the Pope that I am a Palestinian Refugee and he was surprised to hear that a Bishop could also be a refugee.”

The Mass gave the Palestinian people – both Christians and Muslims – a feeling of hope. To see that the President, the Prime Minister, the Ministers, Heads of Churches, all of these people attending, with locals, with people from Galilee, with people from all over the world – over 10,000 people in Manger Square – raised the moral of the Palestinian people. While the Palestinian people are under occupation, we need a leader to show that the world is listening and hearing us and I believe that Pope Francis showed this to our people. There is a leader who is listening to us and meeting with us. . . .

ELCJHL: There is a now-famous photo of Pope Francis stopping to pray at the Separation Wall near Rachel’s Tomb. It’s all over the media. What are your thoughts on Pope Francis praying at the Wall and the message that it sends?
Bishop Younan: I think that leaders like Pope Francis, when they visit, should not just meet officials, but should see the reality. The reality is that there is a wall that separates Palestinians and Israelis, Palestinians and Palestinians, and Palestinians from their land. Pope Francis, I believe, prayed that this wall would no longer exist and I say this prayer with him! And I hope that all people of good conscience would pray with him that this wall would no longer exist, that this wall of hatred would fall and become a bridge of justice and reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Diskin and Younan are not wild-eyed Palestenian radicals bent on overthrowing Israel, but hard-eyed realists who are willing to name the idols being worshiped and call for serious and principled leadership. Walls will not bring peace. To put the Gaza Strip into a north american context, it’s like penning the population of Nebraska into a space the size of Omaha, and then blockading it from contact with the outside world. Defending walls like this will only increase separation, increase despair, and increase hopelessness.

This is not a prescription for peace; it’s a recipe for disaster.

The solution to the mess in Gaza will not be found by increasing the hopelessness; it will be found by increasing the hope that there is a better alternative to walls and war. As Younan said two weeks ago,

This country and its people have gone through 65 years of violence, retaliations, and counter-retaliations. The ELCJHL believes that the existing political deadlock between Israel and Palestine cannot be resolved militarily. The current hostilities do not serve the long-term interest of any party.


h/t for the photo of the wall of separation to Adam Nieman and used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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