What measures can the Palestinians take to get Israel’s boot off their necks? Armed struggle is out. All Palestinians we (a delegation from Churches for Middle East Peace) spoke to on a recent fact-finding trip to the region recognized that violence was a dead end: the Palestinians have no military options. A center-right (Kadima) Israeli Knesset member who saw us all but licked his lips at the prospect of a third intifada: Israel is prepared for that, has better intelligence, plus the elaborate separation wall infrastructure. Israel knows who the Palestinian intellectual and civil leaders are and where they live. My interpretation of his comments is that a third intifada would give Israel cover to carry out a Katyn forest of its very own-- when Stalin killed the Polish officers to render Poland leaderless.
But what to do then, as the situation worsens? There is the Ramallah bubble, where Palestinian Authority bureaucrats are comfortable and have the prospect of getting rich. Everywhere else there is a gradual tightening of the screws, the salami tactics of slow motion ethnic cleansing. House demolitions, changing the status of residency permits. At Augusta Victoria Hospital, the Lutheran institution on the Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus, we learned of Israeli measures to make it difficult for the hospital to treat cancer patients from the West Bank and Gaza. First, the patients weren’t allowed to come themselves, the hospital had to pick up them up in a bus. Then the hospital had to hire a driver with a special Israeli license. Fine. Then the Israelis didn’t renew his license.
Augusta Victoria has many international friends , and Israel retreated after their complaints. Now the latest wrinkle is that Israeli troops stop the bus at checkpoints, make the cancer patients disembark and walk around while Israeli soldiers rummage through their belongings. The waits can be (and are intended to be) long and painful. If and when that mechanism is lifted, Israel will find something else. The hospital will have had to devote a good deal of staff time and energy trying to rally international support against a petty apartheid measure, energy which could have been employed serving its community. Multiply this instance by a hundred, by a thousand -- bureaucratic measures across the scope of Palestinian life, all purposefully focused on driving educated Palestinians out of their homeland.
Now the talk is of declaring of a state: the Palestinian Authority’s latest measure to advance the goal of Palestinian self-determination. Several Latin American countries have already recognized “the state” of Palestine. One can see the appeal: negotiations are going nowhere, but most of the world supports Palestinian statehood. If the state were recognized, woudn’t that be demonstrable progress? We didn’t find many Palestinians who thought so. The sharpest retort came from Dr. Tawfiq Nasser, the chief administrator of Augusta Victoria. It would change nothing, he said, only lower the curtain on the possibility of meaningful change. The Israelis would say “Mabrouk” (congratulations), you have your state now. Negotiations would cease, checkpoints would remain. Israelis would control Palestinian access to Jerusalem, and to all the major cities on the West Bank, exactly as they do now. Israel would control the Jordan Valley and all the ways into and out of “Palestine”. But “Palestine” could have a flag. Israel could say with some logic that the situation isn’t “an occupation” – illegal under international law-- but a “border dispute.”
We found little hope on this trip, but plenty of wisdom. I keep coming back to the words of Mitri Raheb, the Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem who runs projects of education and vocational training for young Palestinians. Five years ago, Mitri had told a similar group that the window for a two state solution was closing fast. Now the two state solution scarcely came up. Mitri said “We are not in a sprint, but a marathon. And what we need is the ability to breathe.” He is now trying to tap the resources of the Palestinian diaspora. One project is to persuade five thousand Palestinian Christians, educated professionals, back from their countries of refuge to help build the community here. There, are by his calculation, 260,000 Christians living abroad, so –two percent. One can see this kind of measure would make a huge long term difference.
Needless to say, we didn’t hear many Palestinians speak ill of BDS—currently the world focus of efforts to educate people about what’s going on in Israel/Palestine, and how, peacefully, to change it.