Opinion: Slippery shared values between Israel, the U.S.


Published: 02-08-2023 6:00 AM

John Buttrick volunteered with the World Council of Churches as an ecumenical accompanier in Palestine and Israel in 2010.  He writes from his Vermont Rocker in his Concord home: Minds Crossing. He can be reached at johndbuttrick@gmail.com.

I have just received a note from Jewish Voice for Peace: “Dear John, Last night, the Israeli army killed at least nine Palestinians in an attack on the Jenin refugee camp, including an elderly woman and two teenagers. During the attack, Israeli forces raided a hospital and fired tear gas, forcing families to flee a pediatric ward. Israeli forces have now killed at least 27 Palestinians already this year. 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since 2004, and this year is already on track to be twice as deadly.” (Stefanie Fox, Executive Director, JVP)

And then I read in the New York Times that Palestinian officials report Israeli settlers have carried out 144 attacks against Palestinians and their properties. And, after a Palestinian gunman killed seven people outside a synagogue in a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, the Israeli police said they arrested relatives and neighbors of the gunman, emptied his family home and sealed it off. Israel regularly demolishes family homes of accused attackers. The United Nations interprets these actions as unacceptable “collective punishment,” without any element of the justice expected in a democracy.

Coinciding with these events was the visit to Israel of U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. In a speech, standing next to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Blinken said, “Throughout the relationship between our countries, what we come back to time and again is that it is rooted both in shared interests and in shared values. That includes our support for core democratic principles and institutions, including respect for human rights, the equal administration of justice for all, the equal rights of minority groups, the rule of law, free press, a robust civil society – and the vibrancy of Israel’s civil society has been on full display of late.”

However, what I “come back to” is a “full display” of the pain, suffering, injustice, and frustration I experienced and observed during my three-month stay in a farming village in Palestine.

I was serving with the World Council of Churches, Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). I experienced and observed Israeli government checkpoints where passing through was at the whim of the soldiers — today, “pass,” tomorrow, “no pass.” I witnessed 3 a.m. home invasions by Israeli military and arrests of teenagers. An Israeli military blockade to the entrances of a village where we were visiting friends. Israeli soldiers camped on the roof of a Palestinian home while we were inside listening to and empathizing with to the fears of the family. 

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Fully armed Israeli soldiers walking through the public bus I was riding, selecting people to take away, and walking through school buses intimidating children. There were roads only for Israelis’ use, Palestinians even prevented from crossing them. Israelis have the rule of law, courts, and citizenship. Palestinians are subject to Israeli military administration of military law. Secretary Blinken acknowledged none of this in his oblivious praise for Israel’s democracy, equal justice, and human rights.

I ponder, what are the shared interests and values between the Israel government and the United States government? Do they include efforts to uphold a weak democracy and secure the privileges of the powerful by using military might and deception, disconnect from the reality, efforts to blame the victims who have lost their homes and their livelihood? Does the United States accept complicity by letting portions of its massive military aid to Israel to be used in the abuse of power by the Israeli military against the Palestinians?

The United States may indeed practice some abuse of power on the domestic front, but the values of freedom, justice, and human dignity for all people are values used to temper and improve government’s use of power. These values are proclaimed as the road to just peace for our nation. Our government should also expect its military aid to Israel to be used only for military defense. The United States must insist that none of its military aid to Israel be used to oppress the Palestinians.

My hope is that the reports in our media about the tragic shootings and deaths in Palestine and Israel may break open the obliviousness we Americans have about the United States’ bond with Israel against the Palestinians. Two of the most powerful nations are clumsily seeking security together by sacrificing democratic ideals to military might and economic dominance. Real security comes with shared resources, not by limiting access to them.

With security comes justice, not oppression and collective punishment. With equal opportunity, not with favor toward some. Bearing responsibility for honest relationships, not settling for “friends no matter what.” With love of neighbor, not revenge, and with dignity for all. If these values could be attempted by the Israeli government toward the Palestinians, then our country would indeed have values to share.