Given the recent events in our nation’s capital, we might be forgiven to find ourselves a bit distracted. But we use this space on the 2nd Thursday to highlight Voices for Justice in Palestine/Israel. Since Joe Biden’s inauguration is next week, let’s spotlight some particularly important voices calling for justice: our own.
If we choose to act, and be persistent, we can play an outsized role in addressing injustice in the lands where Jesus walked. Why us? We have a voice, a stake in what happens, because Christians are part of the land. Our sibling Episcopalians (together with Lutherans) have had a presence there since the late 1840s. Our Orthodox, Catholic and Melkite cousins trace their history back even further, to the time of Jesus and his followers.
We also have a voice, a stake in what happens because as Americans, we have supported, and are complicit in what happens in the land. The United States played an important role in the establishment of the State of Israel. For a variety of historic, religious and geopolitical reasons, we continue to provide more diplomatic, military and financial support to that State than any nation in the world.
There is no question that the Trump years were a disaster for anyone not an ardent Zionist. The relocation of our Embassy to Jerusalem, the endorsement of Israeli claims on the Golan Heights, and the withdrawal of humanitarian aid for UNWRA and USAID were some of the most visible signs of US bias against Palestinians, culminating with Jared Kushner’s “Deal of the Century”.
A little over a month ago, the Third Thursday for Israel/Palestine email carried a letter with the endorsement of 17 American Christian organizations and denominations (including the Episcopal Church) which called on the incoming Biden/Harris Administration to take six concrete steps to change the course of US policy and undertake renewed efforts to achieve a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Those steps included:
“1) Ensure that all parties are respected and included in negotiations towards a just and lasting peace based on international law.
2) Restate the U.S. position that settlements are illegal under international law and take action to ensure that any further Israeli settlement construction and growth results in political consequences.
3) Resume funding to the Palestinian Authority, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and other UN and humanitarian actors working in the West Bank and Gaza.
4) Ensure aid accountability such that no U.S. funding to Israel is used to further the occupation or to support human rights abuses perpetrated against Palestinians.
5) Reiterate the U.S. position that territory controlled by Israel following the 1967 war, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, are occupied territories subject to international law and are not recognized parts of Israel.
6) Make clear that criticism of Israel, including support for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions actions, is constitutionally protected and legitimate speech.”
All of the suggested approaches and actions could be adopted by President-elect Biden and implemented by Executive Order in much the same way as President Trump reversed decades of standing US policy. Whether he will do so, however, remains a question. Not surprisingly, many of Mr. Biden’s cabinet and advisor choices appear to share and reinforce his own Zionist impulses. And Ms. Harris has repeatedly affirmed her own support for Israel and Zionism. So if we hope to be successful we may need to be persistent in our approach. Concurrently, we also need to push our Senators and Representatives in the same direction to build momentum.
To that end I would suggest we add some specific requests. Some of them can probably be made without expending significant political capital. For example:
- Resume humanitarian aid through the UNWRA, USAID and the East Jerusalem Hospital Network; push Israel to include delivery of COVID 19 vaccine, tests, and PPE to the West Bank and Gaza;
- Reopen the PLO Diplomatic Offices in Washington, DC;
- Return the US Embassy to Tel Aviv and reopen the American Consulate in East Jerusalem;
- Replace the US Ambassador with someone reflecting US interests, not the Israeli Religious/Nationalist Right;
- Choose a Secretary of State and advisors unaffiliated with the extremes of the Christian or Jewish Religious Right;
- Reaffirm the long-standing, bipartisan US policy that defines the West Bank settlements as illegal as per UN resolution and international law;
- Reaffirm the long-standing, bipartisan US policy that the status of Jerusalem is subject to bilateral negotiations between the parties;
- Restore the use of the word “occupied” to describe East Jerusalem and the West Bank;
- Reverse the policy of labelling goods originating in West Bank settlements as being from Israel.
Other changes will require more than a reversal to the status quo ante. Some would argue that Trump and company simply unmasked years of pro-Israeli, anti-Palestinian bias, including in the Obama/Biden Administration. Progress will require Mr. Biden to rethink his stated position that there should be “no light” between the positions of Israel and the US. For example, we should press to:
- Invite participation from the UN, EU and other international players in the peace process;
- Oppose both the de jure and de facto annexation of the West Bank, especially the newly proposed construction in Area E1 and Givot Hamatos;
- Reduce travel and trade restrictions on Gaza; and address humanitarian concerns of sufficient clean water, adequate sewage, restored electricity and sufficient housing;
- Pressure Israel to end the policy of Administrative Detention of Palestinians, including minors, without formal charges, access to lawyers or family contact;
- Reestablish working relationships with the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority;
- Support parties and persons on the Israeli Left and the Arab List, while pushing back against those not reflecting peaceful aspirations;
- Support free elections in the West Bank and Gaza, and respect the will of the Palestinian electorate regardless of who is elected;
- End the US policy of ignoring the existence of Israeli nuclear weapons, which shields it from other US laws and consequences;
- Cancel military sales to the Gulf States used as a reward for normalization; determine whether Sudan should be removed from the List of States Sponsoring Terrorism based on evidence; determine whether to acknowledge Moroccan control over the Western Sahara region based on factors other than Israeli interests;
- Reenter the international agreement with Iran that will reduce their nuclear material stockpiles.
In their letter to Mr. Biden, the Faith Forum wrote: “Over the last four years, U.S. policy has moved in directions that have alienated the U.S. from many of its international partners and supported the deepening of Israel’s occupation while undermining long term efforts to realize a just and lasting peace. If the U.S. remains committed to furthering peace with justice in Israel and Palestine, there is a need for an immediate change in policy and approach when the new administration enters office.”
If we hope to reverse the damage wrought during the Trump era and by previous administrations, it’s time to get busy.
Randall Heyn-Lamb is a member of the EPF PIN Steering Committee.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the position of the Steering Committee or the Palestine Israel Network.