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25 May 2011

You Shall Not Oppress A Resident Alien

Exodus 23:9 You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. 

The current discussion series of monologues between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have re-centered the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for the American people. (And have stirred me up as well.) There are three pernicious issues that perpetually plague negotiations discussions about the formation of a Palestinian state. There are others but these seem to be the most thorny:
1) potential borders,
2) settlement of Palestinian refugees
3) who gets Jerusalem.
Each of these is its own morass. That morass is made even more difficult to navigate by selective memory and the construction of alternate, novel and/or incomplete histories. In response to some of what I have heard, some of which gives me hope, some of which discourages me, some of which disappoints me, some of which makes me really angry, I am reflecting on these three questions:

Where will the Palestinian state be and how large will it be?
Right now the Palestinians are in two disconnected pieces of real estate, the Gaza Strip on the western side of Israel and the West Bank on the eastern side, (albeit west of Jordan). A Palestinian state will have to be contiguous. I believe that the Palestinians will have to relinquish the Gaza Strip. Connecting the two is unfeasible, costing Israel nearly a third of its land. The Palestinian State will be based around the West Bank territories where the majority of Palestinian peoples live. The boundaries that mark that territory were established and accepted by the international community in 1967 after the Six Day War in which Israel took and then relinquished the Sinai Peninsula. However since then, Israelis have with the support and sanction of their government, moved into the West Bank building settlements that now house some 650,000 Israelis. Some of those settlements will be incorporated into Israel and some into Palestine, in any arrangement reducing the size of Palestine, which will have had to previously surrender the Gaza Strip in theory. Israelis are still building those settlements in what many see as an all out land grab, seizing the most fertile land and olive groves to preempt their inclusion in a future Palestinian state. Israel has to prevent the establishment of any more settlements or the expansion of those that exist and, has to prepare to relinquish the great bullet of them. 

What will happen to the Palestinian refugees?
When Israel was founded in 1947 on the heels of World War 2 after the Holocaust, it was primarily settled by European Jews. There were Jews in the land whose ancestors had not been dispersed to Babylon, Persian, Egypt or Europe. But the modern state of Israel was built by immigrants. And they did not immigrant to an empty land. They immigrated to a land that was inhabited by Arabs, Jews, Druze and Christians. As the state of Israel took shape Arab inhabitants were dislocated, in spite of having ancestral land claims for centuries and modern titles to their homes, lands and businesses under the British Mandate. Those displaced persons became refugees; some of them were taken in by Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, others stayed in the region, called Palestinians using the British terminology (based in part on the Hebrew word for Philistine - don't ask!). Israel says it will not permit the return of the decedents of these people because they will outnumber the Jews - without regard for the legitimacy of their land claims and property titles. I think that Israel has to let some of those families who held clear titles to their land return. Israel will find itself adopting the policies of fascism and apartheid if it tries to guarantee a perpetual racial, cultural or religious supremacy.

What will happen to Jerusalem? 
Will Jerusalem remain the undivided capital of Israel? It was not always so. Sometimes the four quarters: Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian have been governed independently.  Israel claims that it has preserved access to the holy places of all three faiths, but access to the Dome and other mosques is severely limited from time to time. Will the Palestinians get Jerusalem, the home of the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall of the Temple built by Solomon (renovated by Herod)? That is less likely. Giving the Palestinians the Muslim (and Christian?) Quarter is complicated by the proximity of the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall to each other. And made even more complicated by the archaeological digs and tunnels underneath, when not prohibited entirely. Some have talked of making Jerusalem and independent city-state like Vatican City, but there is no single organizing body that can manage it. There are many Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican churches, religious orders and communities in Jerusalem, some in the same building, like the Holy Sepulcher, and their fights - literally fist fights - are legendary. I actually favor a divided Jerusalem, if such a thing were possible.

Matthew 23:37 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 

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