Palestinian theologian Naim Ateek was asked recently if there was any hope for a nonviolent solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Ateek, who is profiled in this issue, responded with a long list of reasons why years of nonviolent efforts by many in the region have been extremely difficult to organize and have met with limited success. And yet, Ateek concluded, nonviolence is "our only hope."
We have seen what violence has done in the Middle East. We have seen the pictures of the horrible aftermath of suicide bombings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We have seen marketplaces filled with the dead and injured, seen the buses ripped apart by explosions set off by those whose weapons are carnage and terror. We have seen entire neighborhoods turned to rubble by an occupying army bent on consolidating control. We have seen the slow-boiling misery in Palestinian refugee camps, farms and homes bulldozed regardless of who was caught beneath the blade, and whole families killed by "targeted" attacks by Israeli jets. We have seen the results of violence.
But most North Americans really haven’t understood what happens on the ground. The U.S. media paint a picture of the region that implies a rough equivalency between the Palestinians and Israel: Violence on one side is met with violence on the other; a bomb explodes here or there; little context is given.
For example, three human rights organizations studied the Middle East coverage of The Oregonian, the largest daily newspaper in the Pacific Northwest, between May and October 2004. During that period, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, Palestinian children were being killed at a rate 15 times that of Israeli children. (More than 3,500 Palestinians have been killed, and almost 29,000 injured, since September 2000, while more than 1,000 Israelis have been killed, and more than 7,200 injured, in the same period.) The Oregonian reported 100 percent of the Israeli children’s deaths in the study period, but only 28 percent of the Palestinian children’s deaths. Its headlines reported 88 percent of Israeli children’s deaths, according to the study, but only 2 percent of Palestinian children’s deaths.
Such slanted coverage creates an inaccurate and misleading picture of the situation. The proper response is horror and outrage at the death of any child, any person - and especially at the deliberate targeting of civilians - and a serious commitment to break the decades-long deadlock and take genuine steps toward peace in the region. But what does nonviolence have to offer?
Nonviolent strategies, as Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak explains in this issue, will seek safety for both Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli activist Jeff Halper argues that those who (rightly) condemn violence on the part of the Palestinians should support nonviolent means to oppose the occupation - including divestment. Others, including Rabbi Arthur Waskow, think that divestment is the wrong strategy, and that other nonviolent actions would be more fruitful.
Several U.S. denominations, led by the Presbyterian Church (USA), are exploring the tactic of divestment - removing their pension funds or other monies - from American companies involved in the occupation of Palestinian lands. Some Jewish groups in this country have decried such explorations as one-sided. Last year, for example, Rabbi Eric Yoffie of the Union for Reform Judaism and Rabbi Paul Menitoff of the Central Conference of American Rabbis wrote to Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of PC(USA)’s General Assembly: "Surely you know that over 1,000 Israelis have died and thousands more have been injured in acts of Palestinian terrorism since the fall of 2000.... Where is the PC(USA) overture on holding the Palestinian Authority officials who facilitate terrorism accountable for the misuse of Palestinian funds?"
No question, pressure needs to be applied against those who contribute to terror, or fail to oppose it, in the region and elsewhere. The United States, for its part, provides billions of dollars each year to support the Israeli government - and thus its occupation of Palestine. As a result many Christians and others of good will in this country feel a special urgency to bring moral suasion to bear, in whatever nonviolent ways they can, to encourage a just peace in the region, for all parties and all peoples. This is one of those situations where only justice for all is justice at all - and where nonviolence provides what may be the only hope.
Jim Rice is editor of Sojourners.