The Common Good

Three Ds for Israel & Palestine

Several of my rabbi friends have explained to me that there are three Ds that we should keep in mind when we criticize the policies of the State of Israel as we work for justice and peace for Israelis and Palestinians. I think these three Ds can be helpful and can also be applied to the way that many people – including Christians and Jews – talk about Palestinians and the future Palestinian State.

The first D is Demonization. I have been told that demonization of the State of Israel occurs when it is called “a pariah nation,” compared to the Nazis, or accused of committing genocide. I agree that these references cheapen their meaning in their original context and are not helpful in pinpointing the exact policies that the State of Israel engages in that are harmful – like using tax revenue to subsidize housing for Israeli Jews in more than 120 settlements on land the Palestinians lay claim to for their future state.

The first D also applies to the ways U.S. citizens, Christians, and Jews demonize Palestinians. And just like it is never acceptable regarding Jews, Judaism, and the State of Israel, it is never acceptable regarding Palestinians, Palestinian Christians, Palestinian Muslims, Islam, and the future State of Palestine. This is most obvious in the widespread use of “terrorist” with no admission that violent extremists are a minority and that most Palestinians are hardworking people who want the best for their families and a healthy society to live in. An example of this demonization is Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie Bruno. Ayman Abu Aita, a Palestinian Christian who works for peace, was identified in the movie with the caption “Terrorist group leader.” Cohen lied to the Palestinian Christian and then for comedy purposes named him a terrorist. Abu Aita sued Cohen for defamation and they recently settled out of court.

The second D is Double Standards – Why do people seem to ignore far more egregious behaviors from other nations who abuse Christians in the Middle East and throughout the world and instead focus so much attention on the State of Israel? Although this is a valid concern to be taken seriously, we must recognize that the high standard is set by the State of Israel itself since it claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East, to have the same moral values as ‘the West’, requests and receives billions of dollars in aid from the United States each year, and expects moral and political support from U.S. citizens. The “Holy Land” is not like other lands (even if for no other reason than the histories of three major religions say so), and it is common for some Jews and Christians to invoke the Bible for support of the modern State of Israel. This higher standard is thus bolstered with unique claims of biblical significance, and it rightly invites criticism of state policies – like unequal use of the water from the West Bank that is transferred to Israeli citizens while Palestinians have to store water in tanks on their roofs. We should criticize and seek to correct the policies of the USA and other nations throughout the world, but Israel’s self-proclaimed high standards invite criticism.

The second D also applies to double standards applied to Palestinians. Why are Palestinians not granted equal civil rights in Israel as Israeli Jews?  Why can’t American-Palestinian citizens like Bishara Awad, president of Bethlehem Bible College, travel with their U.S. passports in Israel? Bishara, as a U.S. citizen, can travel throughout the world with his U.S. passport, but in Israel he is subject to his Palestinian citizenship. And Palestinians are expected to be nonviolent, publicly commit to nonviolence, and maintain no military whatsoever – while the State of Israel has one of the most powerful military forces in the world. I once heard an influential leader falsely malign a Palestinian Christian for having possibly supported the use of violence as a strategy. I asked this leader if he himself supported the use of violence for the defense of his state, and of course he agreed that he did. He also immediately realized that he was holding the Palestinians to a double standard – we can use violence to attain and defend our state, but you must not use it to attain yours. I am committed to consistent nonviolence and am opposed to the use of any violence whatsoever to attain a Palestinian state, and I think that the Palestinian Authority’s commitment to nonviolence is laudable. But rhetorical moves that suggest some Palestinians may use violence, when the person saying it generally supports their own people’s use of violence, betrays a tragic double standard.

The third D is Delegitimization. Delegitimization of the State of Israel includes denying Jews’ historic connection to the land and Jerusalem, and questioning the right of the Jewish people to self-actualization. I think these two claims can be applied to the way Palestinian aspirations are delegitimized as well. Palestinians have an ancient connection to the land, have cultivated it and lived in it for centuries, and they have as much right to self-actualization as do Jews. Delegitimizing rhetoric includes the claim that there really are no Palestinian people, that they didn’t take care of the land, and that they didn’t really exist until 1969 or 1963 or 1948 or 1931 or some date that seems to be less legitimate than Jewish identity. Those claims are not only false, they are attempts to delegitimize Palestinian aspirations. Palestinians are even sometimes described as not educated enough to rule themselves or vote, similar to the way “negroes” were described a few decades ago in the U.S. 

These three Ds apply to both Israelis and Palestinians and we should not employ any of them but instead call them out when we see them in operation, and by so doing I think we can better support the folks in the Holy Land.

Paul Alexander is Professor of Social Ethics and Public Policy at Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University and co-president-elect of Evangelicals for Social Action, you can follow him on Twitter @PaulNAlexander. This article first appeared in the July/August 2012 edition of PRISM magazine.

Peace image, pashabo / Shutterstock.com

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