My Turn: U.S. must push Israel on justice for Palestinians

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on Sunday, July 31. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 8/3/2016 12:20:06 AM

On July 27, during the Democratic National Convention and a week after the Republican National Convention, it was reported that 20 single- and multi-family Palestinian homes were demolished in East Jerusalem by Israeli authorities.

One Palestinian, Noor, reported that he found a demolition notice tacked to his door less than 24 hours before the destruction of his home. He had no opportunity to dispute the order, show his papers of ownership or remove the family possessions. His home was one of the 20 single- and multi-family homes destroyed that night.

There have been 76 demolitions thus far this year in the Jerusalem municipality. In 2015 there were 74 and in 2014, there were 52 demolitions.

Also on July 27, it was reported that a 52-year-old woman, Miriam, living in the Gaza Strip was refused a visa for the third time to enter Israel for medical treatment in the hospital where she had previously been treated for cancer with chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.

She now experiences bone pain and seeks follow-up examinations in the same hospital using equipment that is not available in Gaza.

This equipment is forbidden by the Israeli government to be imported into the Gaza Strip. (Noor and Miriam are not their real names).

These incidents of injustice are important to lift up because such injustices are not recognized in either the Republican or the Democratic platforms concerning the relationship of the United States to Israel.

Both platforms commit to an unexamined, uncritical relationship between the United States and Israeli political, economic and military policies.

Israel/Palestine may not be a primary concern for the electorate choosing a new president and congressional delegation. However, in the sections on Israeli relationships with the United States, both convention platforms are blind to the conditions of injustice toward Palestinians, such as the two incidents above.

This should trouble the conscience of any citizen who values equal rights and justice for all people living in a democracy.

The Republican platform reads: “(Israel is) the only country in the Middle East where freedom of speech and freedom of religion are found. Therefore, support of Israel is an expression of Americanism, and it is the responsibility of our government to advance policies that reflect Americans’ strong desire for a relationship with no daylight between America and Israel.”

Furthermore, the platform seeks to discredit and limit the freedom to nonviolently act contrary to the party’s advocacy of an uncritical relationship with Israel.

It reads: “We reject the false notion that Israel is an occupier and specifically recognize that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) is anti-Semitic in nature and seeks to destroy Israel. Therefore, we call for effective legislation to thwart actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories, in a discriminatory manner.”

The Democratic platform is briefer, focusing primarily on actions perceived to “delegitimize Israel.”

It reads: “A strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States because we share overarching strategic interests and the common values of democracy, equality, tolerance and pluralism. That is why we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself, including by retaining its qualitative military edge, and oppose any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.”

How do common values between the U.S. and Israel and the commitment to democracy work in Israel, where the Palestinians lack freedom of movement to medical facilities, schools and the workplace or where Palestinians have limited access to Palestinian water, experience home demolitions and taking of farmland?

And what does it mean for the diverse United States to bind itself to a state with such injustices? Do we in the United States want to support Israel’s oppression of ethnic and religious groups of Arabs, Christians and Muslims? Do we want to support the perception that all Arabs, Christians and Muslims are dishonest and terrorists? Do we want to support, uncritically, a country that seeks to create conditions that will force these people to leave their homeland? Is not this support inconsistent with our American efforts to learn and grow from the mistakes we’ve made in our relationships with Native Americans, African Americans and others?

Another issue of concern in the platforms is the opposition to United Nations approach to humanitarian law, resolutions concerning the Palestinian occupation and its administration, and recognition of a Palestinian state. Blanket opposition without deliberation, understanding and seeking a variety of solutions may delegitimize the effectiveness of this international organization.

Perhaps, for United States citizens, the most distressing concept in the platforms is the opposition to nonviolent boycott and divestment actions.

The Republican platform also advocates the adoption of legislation to thwart BDS activity. Attempts to restrict boycott and divestment activity is a violation of First Amendment rights to use economic measures to bring change.

Boycott and divestment are tools to motivate serious negotiations to end the economic, political and military injustices against the Palestinian people. They are appropriate nonviolent actions following nearly 50 years of failed negotiations between unequal powers. They are in the tradition of boycotts that have been used to influence change in South Africa, segregation in the United States and farm workers’ rights.

Finally, labeling boycott and divestment as anti-Semitic or delegitimizing of Israel is spurious and dangerous to people seeking nonviolent change for justice. It is also inaccurate to suggest that critique of the conduct of the Israeli government is in any way a comment on the Jewish faith.

When talking to candidates for the U.S. Senate, House and the presidency this election season, it is important to question their understanding of our relationship with Israel expressed in these two platforms.

What is their understanding of the party platform on Israel in relationship to the injustices being perpetrated on the Palestinians in the Palestinian occupied territory of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip?

This is the time to seek their support for justice and peace in Palestine/Israel. It is time to encourage candidates to pledge the use of economic, political and military leverage to move the Israeli government toward actions of justice for all the people.

It is time to use the billions of dollars in United States military aid to Israel as leverage for a more just administration of the occupied Palestinian territory and to advance credible negotiations toward a just peace for Israel and Palestine. Palestinians, such as Miriam and Noor, are counting on us to help them get their freedom back.

(John Buttrick of Concord is a retired member of the clergy of the United Church of Christ. He is currently the chairman of the United Church of Christ Palestine/Israel Network and can be reached at

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