Editor's note: This commentary appeared in the Sojourners newsletter, SojoMail. Subscribe now to get this weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox.
The images of civilian deaths and escalating violence in Israel and Palestine have been heartbreaking. At least 230 Palestinians and 12 Israelis have been killed, according to reports. While we welcome the reports of a cease-fire in military operations in the Gaza Strip, we must also work to build political will to interrogate the root causes of the crisis.
As Mae Elise Cannon and Joyce Ajlouny write in their recent Sojourners commentary, the precipitating events of the most recent crisis included: the attempted forced removal of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem to make way for Israeli settlers, protests in response to these efforts and the heavy-handed reaction by Israeli police, Israeli disruption of worship at the Al-Aqsa Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan, and violent escalation by Israeli forces and Hamas.
That violence gave power to the extremes — including Hamas as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and its right-wing allies. While we condemn the Hamas missile attacks on Israeli civilians and support Israel's safety, we also condemn the Israeli government’s actions that sparked the latest conflagration and disproportionate response, recognizing that the loss of life and experience of suffering, as always, are severely asymmetrical.
Behind the latest crisis is the ongoing, 54-year Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem — judged illegal by nearly all the international community except the United States — and the virtual imprisonment of Gaza. Both of us have traveled to what many Christians call the Holy Land; we have seen the jarring reality of Israel's occupation with our own eyes. Even a decade ago, we could see how a boom of illegal Israeli settlement construction was making a two-state solution more dire, if not impossible.
Through the nearly $4 billion in mostly military aid that the U.S. provides to Israel each year, the U.S. has been a direct enabler of the Israeli government, and we thus wield significant leverage to secure peace. President Joe Biden must continue to apply the strongest possible political pressure to ensure a permanent cease-fire.
We join Churches for Middle East Peace in calling on the Biden administration to:
- Publicly declare that Israeli settlements are illegal and that the U.S. opposes all settlement activity, including in occupied East Jerusalem.
- Intervene directly with the Israeli government to ensure the immediate cancellation of all pending eviction orders in East Jerusalem.
- Support Rep. Betty McCollum’s (D-Minn.) legislation, HR 2590, which calls for greater transparency on how U.S. security assistance to Israel is used, specifically seeking to ensure U.S. taxpayer funds are not used to abuse Palestinian children, annex Palestinian land, or demolish Palestinian homes.
We must be crystal clear that there can be no sustainable peace in the Middle East without a commitment to justice and consistent, clear support for Palestinian human rights. The cease-fire is essential, but it will not solve the underlying issues that have ignited this latest eruption of deadly violence and war.
We also see hope: in the youthful voices and acts of protest, in grassroots bridge-building efforts between Israeli and Palestinian parents who have lost children to senseless violence, and in courageous voices from all sides who reject the morally callous political leadership of their societies. Rockets and bombs have relegated these voices to the margins. But those rockets and bombs will only fuel more hatred, more divisions, more polarization, and more violence. The fundamental injustice of the occupation and its daily humiliations must end, and those Israeli and Palestinian voices yearning for a different future must become the center of our attention.
Christians should be listening to many voices and perspectives. We’re grateful for the voices of those involved in international peacemaking such as Cannon and Ajlouny, who dig into the history behind the Israeli occupation in their piece. We’re also grateful for Palestinian Christian pastor Munther Isaac, who clarifies why the language we use to describe the situation on the ground matters and offers a plea to fellow Christians around the world. These voices shed a needed light on what we as Christians can do to respond.