Peace in Palestine

An American nun told me that she was sent to serve in a Catholic welfare effort in Palestine. There, she was appalled and outraged by what she saw in the harshness with which the Israeli government governs the Palestinians living in territories administered, of course against the Palestinians’ wishes, by Israel.

As an American citizen, she was invited to the July 4 reception hosted by the U.S. ambassador to Israel in Tel Aviv. She went, simply because it would give her the opportunity directly to complain to U.S. officials.

At the reception, she found, and boldly confronted, the ambassador. “Please tell me,” she asked, “what level does our aid to Israel have to reach for our government to have the right to demand answers about this real oppression?” The ambassador said, “Sister, you are being punitive,” and he walked away.

Her question made good sense. Since the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948, the United States, through Congresses controlled by Democrats and Republicans alike, with Democratic and Republican presidents alike, every year has sent vast amounts of cash and other assistance to enable Israel in maintaining its security and in bettering its society.

Before hurrying to denounce this history, and its continuance today, the nun admitted that Israel is not at all the only recipient of U.S. aid, although very few other countries consistently have received so much from Washington. She also said that without such support, Israel would not survive, and without it, the United States would be missing a strong and proven ally in the Middle East, the only truly democratic state in the entire region, and Jews worldwide, who for so long have been victims of such terrible persecution, would have no haven.

As they say, however, two wrongs do not make a right. The end does not justify the means. An Israeli politician once said that the world should expect more justice and more humanity from Israel, since such values are so linked with Jewish tradition and belief, and since Jews themselves had suffered so much. So, he said, the long-standing policy of ruling the Palestinian territories militarily occupied by Israel in truth actually betrays what should be Israel’s innate instincts and the tradition it exists to uphold.

Everybody plays for keeps in the Middle East, it seems, and had Israel not been able to defend itself, its enemies would have swept it off the face of the earth long ago, and it would not be pretty.

Other facts are just as clear. The Palestinians have languished for generations. They have endured so much. Among them, hatred for all things Israeli has become the standard. Palestinian history has not been all sweetness and light. Terrorism marked this history long before ISIS and al-Qaida came to be. It will be very hard to change all these feelings, and it will be hard to forget.

The key in reversing all this bitterness is genuine Israeli security — and Palestinians’ experience of justice, dignity and prosperity. Big, big powers work against each other — political, economic and otherwise. As noted, everybody plays for keeps. Still, this is fundamental. To repeat, so many Palestinians suffer every day, with no relief and no hope in sight, and it has been the case for more than a half-century.

No recent American president has failed to notice the plight of the Palestinians, granted.

Still, I wish that some American president sometime would greet Israeli leaders by saying, “Sit down. I have questions to ask. We want Israeli security, but this is totally unacceptable, and we simply will not tolerate it anymore. Period.” We have earned the right to question and to assert our principles. The nun was right.

Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.