A Prophetic Vision for Justice

A Prophetic Vision for Justice

to President Joe Biden by the Reverend Dr Canon Naim Stifan Ateek

and Released by Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA)

 

(En Espanol / In Spanish)

I stand in utter shock and dismay as I look upon the crushed, broken, and burnt children of Gaza and southern Israel and as I observe the horrifying death toll, comprised primarily of women and children, climb ever higher as a result of a vengeful and relentless bombing campaign undertaken against the tiny parcel of land known as the Gaza Strip. Home to over two million Palestinians, half of them children, most residents of Gaza are refugees or the descendants of refugees, longing to breathe free as all human beings do. The appalling atrocities we are witnessing will never bring an end to this 75-year-plus conflict.  Instead, they will lead inevitably to an increase in violence and loss of innocent life.

Mr. President, context matters. Hamas started the present war. But Hamas did not start the occupation and the subjugation of the Palestinian people. Nor was it they who desecrated the sanctity of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, a major provocation undertaken by extremist Israeli settlers.  The failure of the Israeli government to stop these extremists did not start with Hamas. The miserable, debilitating life of those in Gaza since 2007 is the result of Israel’s merciless blockade, not Hamas. Although I stand morally and ethically opposed to the violent ideology and actions of Hamas, as an Anglican/Episcopal priest, I am dedicated to the truth. As such, context matters.

What is needed now is not the killing of more innocent people. What we need is compassion and mercy for the other, built upon a foundation of justice as defined in international law.

President Biden, you have declared the outcome of this latest and most violent conflict must result in the implementation of the Two-State Solution. Let that be your mantra! People are seeking leadership that will help transform this largely empty slogan into concrete steps towards the realization of a peaceful solution. Without such practical steps, your words will be nothing more than an exercise in hypocrisy.

In the name of ending the suffering of the thousands of innocent men, women, and children in the Israel-Gaza war, I offer a Vision rooted in the spirit of United Nations Security Council resolution 242, from 1967, based on the formula of land for peace for the two peoples that must live together on the land. The United States, successive Israeli governments, and the Palestinian Authority have each publicly supported this formula for many years, and now it is time to put it into action. 

What does this vision entail?  How is it to be implemented?

Mr. President, let us imagine together the future and let us take bold steps and concrete actions that will actually transform our words into a just peace for all. 

Therefore:   

The day after a permanent ceasefire is declared, the US needs to introduce a resolution in the UN Security Council recognizing Palestine as a member state within the 1967 borders.  After 56 years, and in light of the current war, the Israeli occupation must be brought to a conclusive end. Then, the UN can assume temporary responsibility for the Gaza Strip. 

Led by the United Kingdom, the USA, and Israel, these countries and others must pay for the rebuilding of the Gaza Strip. Ever since the Balfour Declaration was proclaimed by Britain in 1917, these countries have caused immense pain and suffering for our Palestinian people. Justice requires that they be found liable and held accountable. 

The Palestinians bear no responsibility for the horrors of the Holocaust. But the Palestinian people must now be prepared to live in peace with their Israeli Jewish neighbors.  Both peoples may help one another heal from the wounds of the Holocaust, the pain and suffering of the Nakba, and the horrors of the current catastrophe. 

In order to help facilitate the rebuilding of Gaza, I humbly suggest that the UN invite the governments and people of South Africa and Ireland, who carry no colonial baggage in the region and would be acceptable to the Palestinians, to temporarily take charge of peacekeeping and peacemaking responsibilities. They would oversee, manage, and coordinate with the UN and the Palestinians the rebuilding of Gaza, with the goal being a free, globally recognized territory possessing a seaport and airport open to the world. Meanwhile, they would guarantee that no security threat to Israel arises. 

 After a period of no more than six months from the end of the war, the United Nations must take over administrative responsibilities for the West Bank. Under a temporary UN mandate, the Israel Defense Forces must withdraw entirely from the occupied territories while the Palestinian Authority steps aside. 

During this period of UN administered stability, elections must be prepared for Palestinians and Israelis to choose their next leaders. Both must preserve the dignity of one person, one vote under democratic rule and guarantee civil rights and protections for all minority communities. Palestinians and Israelis must demonstrate, through the election of responsible leadership, that they are committed to a peaceful, nonviolent resolution of the conflict. Israelis can be confident that this process will result in long-term security while Palestinians will enjoy the freedom to build their new democratic sovereign state. Support from the international community should be conditioned upon each elected government’s acceptance of a peaceful two-state solution. This applies both to Israelis and the Palestinian people.

Negotiations must then proceed unceasingly, with Israeli and Palestinian leadership supported by the United Nations, USA, Britain, the EU, and the Arab League, until all borders of a sovereign Palestinian state have been established and ensure the sovereignty and security of both peoples in Israel and Palestine. 

The following confidence building measures must be undertaken before negotiations conclude, in order to ensure the establishment of a viable Palestinian state:

1- Urgently, an elevated highway and rail system needs to be built between Gaza and the West Bank, under the control of the UN, so that the Palestinian people can enjoy unimpeded freedom to travel back and forth freely and directly. All this must be financed by Israel, the US, Britain, and their friends;

2 - Israel must start building appropriate infrastructure within the green line to accommodate the return of settlers now living on occupied Palestinian land of the West Bank. (Some provision can be made for those Israeli Jews who want to stay and become Palestinian citizens living under Palestinian rule);

3 - The right of return of refugees must be resolved within UN guidelines and in accordance with international law.  Palestinian refugees in Lebanon must be given the priority to return to Palestine, replacing the Israeli settlers in the West Bank;

4 - Jerusalem must become a city shared by both Palestine and Israel and governed equitably by a special UN commission that includes Palestinians, Israelis, and representatives of the UN and the international community;

5 - All holy places must be protected and their integrity secured, especially the Aqsa Mosque for Muslims, the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulchre) for Christians, and the Western Wall for Jews;

6 - After a set number of years and a period of economic prosperity, peace education, and healing, Palestine and Israel can decide, if they wish, to join together as a single state, the one-state solution, or as a confederation/federation of states whereby Jerusalem would become the federal capital of the states. 

Mr. President, we ask you to lead us as one who embraces those who have visions of justice and peace. Let the engineers, the architects, the lawyers, the social workers, the psychologists, the politicians, the Imams, the Rabbis, and the Christian Clergy start imagining, working, and praying for the fulfillment of this vision. Failure to take such concrete steps transforms the language of “two states” into little more than a hypocritical alibi for the continuation of a status quo long proven unsustainable. 

I believe that the One loving, compassionate, and merciful God of the three Abrahamic faiths would be praised, worshiped, and honored by such a vision of peace that can move us all into the work of reconciliation and forgiveness.

Mr. President, this vision includes my heartfelt belief that you, as a fellow Christian, is capable of empathizing as much with my beleaguered Palestinian people as you have done so publicly for the Jewish people these many decades.

It was our beloved Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the International Patron of Sabeel,  who said, “We are prisoners of Hope.” And so, it is with much hope and anticipation that you will join me in seeing this vision become a reality, one that requires bold actions and a passion for justice, and only justice!

Christmastide 2023

Assis Naim Ateek is a Palestinian Episcopal priest who has lived through decades of dispossession of the Palestinians from their ancestral land. His recent memoir chronicles his life as a young boy exiled from his hometown at the age of 11 to his seminal work on a theology of liberation for his people.

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