The ongoing conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan has diverted public attention from the bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A few recent developments are of particular interest.
The high court in Israel and the International Court of Justice in the Hague gave their verdicts about the wall Israel is erecting to keep the Palestinians out. The Israeli court, while accepting the right of the Israeli government to build a wall to keep the suicide bombers out, told the government to reroute parts of the wall where it has caused extreme hardship to Palestinians. The government has agreed to comply with the court's decision.
The International Court of Justice ruled that Israel's wall, according to international law, was illegal. The court has no power to make its decision stick and, as expected, Israel has ignored the decision. The United Nations Security Council could follow through but the ever-present threat of an American veto has always shielded Israel from international reprimands.
Israel considers it necessary to build the wall to keep the potential suicide bombers out. Already some areas around Jerusalem are returning to life after devastation caused by suicide bombers. But the Palestinians view the wall as yet another way to grab more Palestinian land and to disrupt their lives. The wall is being built not inside Israel but follows a circuitous route across Palestinian lands.
There is a measure of truth both in what Israel says and in what Palestinians fear. But one thing is clear. No fence or wall, no matter how tall or wide, can replace a genuine peace in the Middle East.
Ariel Sharon's decision earlier this year to pull out of Gaza has put him at odds with his hard-line supporters. They accuse him of going back on his long-standing promise to hold on to the occupied land. To Mr. Sharon's traditional supporters who come from the extreme right of the Israeli political spectrum, the only solution is to annex the entire occupied land. What would they do with the indigenous Palestinian population? Some of them, and that includes some ministers in Mr. Sharon's cabinet, are not hesitant or shy to suggest forced repatriation of Palestinians to Arab countries.
In doing so the militant settlers would not only realize their own dream of a Greater Israel but also help American evangelists come closer to the second coming of Christ. According to this three-act celestial play, the land of Palestine has to be restored to the Jews before the second coming. After that the world would have to convert to Christianity, and those who refuse would be eliminated in the battle of Armageddon.
We are now seeing the first act being played out where either by force or coercion Palestinian land is being grabbed by the ever-expanding Jewish settlements. Whether the curtain could rise for the other two acts is anybody's guess. The evangelists may believe in these prophesies with all their heart, but how could Jews subscribe to a play where they face annihilation before the final curtain?
The recent vote by the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to a "phased selectively divestment" from some corporations doing business with Israel is a welcome stand. The Presbyterians and the Jewish organizations had worked rather closely over the past 60 years in the area of civil rights. The Presbyterians were perhaps the first church to acknowledge that Jews had an ongoing covenant with God. So the recent divestment decision must have come after much soul searching. Instead of calling this an anti-Semitic act, as some Jewish organizations are saying, this should be looked at in the greater interest of peace in the Middle East. After all, divestment worked rather well in forcing the white South African government to come to terms with the inherent rights of its black population.
There is a parallel. Like the white settlers in South Africa, the settlers on the West Bank and Gaza have no inherent rights on the Palestinian land.
We are at the present distracted by Iraq and Afghanistan. But we should realize that unless the core issue of Palestinian rights is addressed the region will remain in turmoil. The road to Jerusalem does not go through Baghdad. It is the other way around.