Where there’s a will, there’s a way

by Toine Van Teeffelen, Arab Educational Institute

A few weeks ago, my colleagues at work and partners came together in a restaurant in the countryside to the west of Bethlehem. The Qassieh family owns a land there of the size of a soccer field, about half an hectare. They exploit a well-known restaurant, the Makhrour restaurant, called after a broader valley to the west of Beit Jala. It is area C – the over 60% of the West Bank lands under complete Israeli control.

It is a bit far located, and so Mary and I had never visited the restaurant. However, the Arab Educational Institute created an opportunity at the occasion of the departure of the German volunteer Fabian, sent out by Pax Christi Stuttgart and Aachen, who was with us for a year. The food during the early evening tasted good and the environment was pleasant, with plenty of green trees and bushes around us, away from the noisiness and the many cars of Bethlehem.

The memories were good, too. Makhrour is an area where Mary and I, family and guests from abroad are used to hike, from Beit Jala to the west of Bethlehem to the beautifully located village of Battir – a few years ago made into a world heritage site partly to prevent the erection of the Wall. It is graced by Roman-time terraces and archeological sites, with spectacular views over agricultural fields and valleys, and an old railroad and small station. Many years ago the Makhrour was an area where the inhabitants of Bethlehem and Beit Jala used to sleep under the trees in the summer and afterwards during harvest time; sometimes even for weeks, as my Arabic teacher used to recall not without nostalgia.

At the end of the dinner we felt rested and promised ourselves to come back, with or without hike.

The Qassieh family is one of those who display sumud or steadfastness by staying on their land. As so many others – the Nasser family of the Tent of Nations immediately comes to mind – they have been absorbed by Kafkaesque Israeli High Court proceedings which last for many years, if not decades. However, they hung on, even though several dwellings on the land have previously been demolished. Many lands in area C are not formally registered though well-known to belong to certain Palestinian family owners. Add to this that almost no Palestinian gets a building permit in area C from the occupier – the Israeli army/Civil Administration.

The Jewish National Fund suddenly came two years ago with proofs of land ownership nobody knew about. Supposedly the family land was sold almost 50 years ago. In a statement about the case, the Israeli organization Peace Now speaks about the Jewish National Fund as the “Fund for the expulsion of Palestinians.” The Israeli High Court did not allow for any further appeal by the family. On Sunday the main house was demolished, live on Facebook for Bethlehemites and anybody else to see.

Don’t forget the context. These years house demolitions have been happening in the West Bank and East-Jerusalem at an exponential pace. A few weeks ago, at least 70 apartments or houses were demolished in the village Sur Bahir to the east of Bethlehem. They were not located in area C, but in area A and B, under Palestinian civil control, and built with permits. The excuse for demolition there was that the houses happened to be in an area of 250 meters on both sides of the illegal Wall which the army has designated as ‘security’ area.

Where there is a will there is a way, especially when all power is in your hands.





Jerusalem keeps making headlines: Is it a city of peace?

by Rev. Paul Lansu

It is not apparent to everybody visiting the city of Jerusalem in the Holy Land. But next to the geographically, religious and historic reality of the city there is the spiritual dimension of Jerusalem as the Eternal and Holy City of Faith.

In the Gospel readings, Jesus wishes his followers a good trip to Jerusalem.[i] Jesus himself is also on his way, with Jerusalem as the final destination. For us, people from here and now, Jerusalem can be a travel destination. We do not even have to take the plane for that. It is a destination in the spiritual sense: Jerusalem is the city of ultimate and total peace, the city of security finding in God.

The city of stone Jerusalem as it is today is still far from that peace. It is now more a city of dissatisfaction and division. However, that reality also speaks for itself: peace is and remains a difficult task, both in the city of people and in one’s own heart. Jesus very much wishes us to find that peace. It must be our first word and our first task when we come to people: wishing for peace.

That peace must already be evident from the way we go. As a “lamb among the wolves,” Jesus calls this. You go on the road to people happens in all defencelessness. You do not have a thick wallet in your pocket to unpack with it, you do not wear trendy fashion clothing, and you have nothing with which you can force or enforce. You only have yourself, the only message being the vulnerable message of God’s love for people.

Jerusalem, this is where you can experience the confidence of God. That place cannot always be found. That destination is not included in a travel guide. It lies in yourself; it is in places where you meet people who radiate peace and where you can give peace yourself. However, a spiritual approach to the city of peace is not unconnected to reality of today.

Come and see

It might be extremely revealing if you as a believer could visit the city of Jerusalem “in persona”. Smell and feel the city. You need sufficient time to empathize with the extreme and many aspects of the city, both religious and cultural.

The Old City as a whole is particularly rich and hides a huge wealth of history and religious tradition. However, Jerusalem is also marked by a violent past. To date, there is deep division. The future is uncertain.

Three monotheistic religions together form a tripartite in terms of holy places and presence: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Two peoples are claiming Jerusalem as their capital city: Israel and Palestine.

Intertwining of holy places

Israel regards Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital. According to Jewish belief, there is the rock where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, as well as the holy of holies of the temple of Salome (First Temple)[ii]. The Western or Wailing Wall[iii] symbolizes the Jewish presence.

Jerusalem has the same religious significance for the Palestinians as it does for the entire Islamic world. The city is considered the third most sacred place in Islam, because the prophet Mohammed would have ascended from that same rock to heaven. At that place is now the “farthest mosque”, the Al-Aqsa.[iv]

From a military, strategic and geographical point of view, Jerusalem is not very important – there is no industry, no river, and no airport – but the cultural and religious importance of the city is immense. Ideology here transcends the location. Concerning authority over and access to Jerusalem, it will be difficult to compromise.

In 2017, President Trump stated that the USA recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.[v] Congress had been in favour of this since 1995 and had made funds available to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama had repeatedly signed for a six-month postponement of the placement. The official move took place in May 2018.

For the Palestinians, this is a provocation and blocks a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the capital for both nations. Despite the further Judaization of the city of Jerusalem, East Jerusalem should also become the capital of the Palestinians as recognised in international law.

In response to the USA move to Jerusalem, 128 countries voted in emergency session of UNGA on 21 December 2017,[vi] to null any decision or action that could alter character, status or demographic composition of Jerusalem. Call on states to refrain from establishing their diplomatic missions from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The role of the UN in the peace process should not be compromised.

Keeping the Status Quo of Jerusalem

Free access to the holy sites for all three religions is essential. The history of insisting on the free access goes back to the Caliph Omar Bin Al Khattab who visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 637 AD with Patriarch Sophronios and declined to pray at the Church when the noon call to prayer was heard. This symbolic and practical measure by the Caliph ensured for generations to come the right of Christians to their own holy places unhindered.

In 1852 Ottoman Sultan Abdul Majid issued the Status Quo decree[vii] that sought to regulate freedom of access, possession and worship in the Holy Sepulcher and six other Christian sites. Later in history, the holy places remained under the existing religious custodianship arrangements.

The UNGA Resolutions 181 of 1947 and 194 of 1948 recommended respectively for Jerusalem to be placed under international trusteeship and the internationalisation and demilitarisation of the city in order to presence free access and protection of Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Also after the June 1967 war and the beginning of the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza, the freedom of access to the different religious sites have been ensured. The international community repeatedly stated not to accept any unilateral initiative designed to change the status quo of Jerusalem. Today, it is stated that Jerusalem is a final status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations.

Judaism and Islam have both the same sacred sites

Some religious Jews argue that they should have the right to pray at Al Haram Al Sharif, the Temple Mount.[viii] They are right in principle. In an open society and climate of political and religious tolerance, Jews should visit holy sites of Muslims and vice versa. Muslims should be allowed to visit the Western Wall or the Rachel’s Tomb,[ix] both sacred to Jews and Muslims. In addition, the Abrahamic Mosque in Hebron is divided as well.

The policy should be no exclusivity over the holy sites. They should be open and reachable for all believers. All monotheistic believers of the three religions should guarantee the multi-cultural and multi-religious mosaic character of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem and Bethlehem are one identity

Since 2002, the Israeli government has built a separation wall and introduced a permit system.[x] These measures have virtually divided Bethlehem from its twin city Jerusalem. Historically and for pilgrimage and tourists purposes, the twin cities have never before been separated. Bethlehem sits practically at the southern border of Jerusalem.

The United Nations when it proposed a Corpus Separatum[xi] idea, Bethlehem and its surroundings, were also included together with Jerusalem. Jerusalem and Bethlehem cannot be separated from each other; their historic, religious and geographic complementarity must be considered in any future political settlement.

In conclusion

  1. The international community should develop the political will to unequivocally oppose unilateral plans to change the status of Jerusalem; to continue to respect Security Council Resolutions 478 and 2334 (stop annexation and further building of settlements in East-Jerusalem); as well as to take measures to ensure an end to the occupation, and its ongoing violations of international law and human rights such as house demolitions in especially East-Jerusalem.
  2. The international community needs to persist in monitoring infractions on the right to free access to holy places by Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike. Maintaining the Status Quo, in spite of talk that circumstances and conditions have changed, should be the basis in regulating relationships to sacred holy places. This is important especially when there are holy sites sacred to more than one religion.
  3. Lastly, the need for a political solution remains paramount. Jerusalem remains a universal city and the international community should do whatever in its means to ensure this character of the city and to ensure access to the relevant holy sites for the different religious communities. Jerusalem will never be one, open city until the reality of two Jerusalems (East and West) is recognised and accepted by both sides. Sustainable peace in Palestine and Israel can only be achieved if Jerusalem remains the current home of Israelis and Palestinians alike and the future capital for their two nations. Jerusalem should be the city of the blessing of all peoples.

“Come and see” is the Biblical call to come to Jerusalem and the Holy Land in order to visit the holy places but at the same time to get in touch with local people. A pilgrimage becomes a quest for spirituality through encounters with other people, and a quest in search of God’s truth. It is recommended for pilgrims to seek people-to-people encounters, a path that leads to mutuality, solidarity and the real discovery of human community. By doing so, pilgrims and all people of good will can support and bless all Palestinian and Israeli peace builders.


Faith in Action – 800 years of Francis and the Sultan[xii]

Francis of Assisi is commemorated on October 4, 2019. This day is dedicated to Francis’ meeting with the Sultan of Egypt, 800 years ago; a particularly inspiring peace initiative in the time of the Crusades to break through the enemy thinking. Francis and the Sultan is a story of inspiring meeting and peace building. However, if we want to make such moments of reconciliation possible 800 years later, then it will also be necessary to invest more in peace.

On Friday, October 4, 2019, around 2 p.m., simultaneously with Muslims’ afternoon prayers, worldwide church bells will sound as an invitation to pray in solidarity with each other for peace, dialogue and get-together.


[i] See Luke 10, 1-20

Do elections offer hope for change? Peace remains absent in Israel and Palestine

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi Internationa

Elections in Israel took place on 9 April 2019. Elections are a key element in any democracy. Citizens have the final say. Do elections bring hope for change? Is there a new beginning or is it just the same as before or worse? The voters opted for the status quo and for the continuation of a right-wing policy. They choose to continue the conflict instead of making peace with their Abrahamic cousins. 

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not able to form within a limited given time a new government and it is decided to have new elections in September 2019. Israel is a much-divided society. Palestinian citizens of Israel (22%) failed to bring out the vote.

Minority rights in Israel

A fifth of Israel’s citizens are being delegitimized in the past and that is one reason why so few Arabic citizens went to vote. The reality is that an overwhelming majority of Palestinian citizens of Israel are law-abiding ones who contribute to the building of the state. They work in all parts of the country, pay their taxes, follow the laws, contribute to the economy, teach in the universities and care for all Israelis in the hospitals and clinics. They are part of the Israeli society so why is there that discrimination? We only can support the Arabic citizens to go voting in September.

Religion and nation

Israel continues to move to the right. The majority is silent. Israeli society is becoming more and more religious and conservative and less and less tolerant. The aspiration of being a society based on equality no longer exists in reality.

Since the adoption of the Jewish nation-state basic law of 19 July 2018[1], division and exclusion has more deepened. Israel should be the nation-state of the Israeli people, with full political, civil and individual rights for all its citizens. A non-Jew cannot become a member of a Jewish nation-state without changing their religion. Being Jewish is not only being a member of a nation – it is also being a member of a religion. This is a fundamental problem. Religion and state should be two different identities and be separated in functioning. Belonging to a nation should be inclusive. Freedom of religion and belief is a human right. All citizens should be equal!

Peace is not an issue!

Peace is not only missing in reality, it has disappeared from the political agenda, both on the national and international level. The result of the elections will not bring a new dynamic certainly not in the direction of a constructive peace process with the Palestinians. On both sides of the conflict, there is a firm assertion that there is no partner for peace on the other side.

The acceptance of the non-existence of a partner allows the current and future leaders to escape from dealing concretely with the primary existential issue facing Israel – the question of its borders, and the human makeup of the people living under the control of Israel and their basic political and human rights.

The main drive of Israeli politicians has to do with the prevention of war and terrorist attacks and to keep Israel safe. Security of the Israeli population comes first. The Israel government has the right and the duty to protect its people. Defending your population is a moral duty. However, defence does not mean expanding your territory through the further development of new settlements and the continuing occupation of the Palestinian territories. Safety for your/one people is only possible if there is also safety for the other neighbouring people.

The current leadership in Israel and the one in Palestine will not bridge the gaps between them on the fundamental core issues that must be agreed upon. The main question is the acceptance of the two nations as a reality. The acceptance of each other’s existence is the start of a peace process towards a situation that offers sufficient guarantees for both peoples.

There have not been any genuine Israeli-Palestinian political negotiations during the entire previous two terms of the past Israeli governments. It is almost a generation that has seen the reality not changing, just opposite, more settlements, more injustice and inequality and continued occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Division on all sides

There is a growing gap between the Arabic population and the Jewish majority in Israel. At the same time, racism is on the rise, part because of hate speech and preaching of fear. We see a much more divided society, lacking social solidarity and with a declining vision of a shared society. Arabic citizens of Israel have been delegitimized and categorised as second citizens. The Arab people of Israel should be counted as full citizens.

Jerusalem is also more divided than ever and becoming more conflictual with ongoing government plans to remove Palestinians from their homes.

The continued division between Fatah and Hamas remain a serious impact on the lack of a consistent approach of the Palestinian leadership and its people as a whole in the direction of a peace process and a final two state solution. Elections should be held in Palestine as well and new leadership should be able to start a process of contacts and networking with Israeli politicians in order to unblocking the immovable situation.

If you’re not with us, you’re against us

Each time you criticise the policies of the Israeli government you are categorised as a “leftist” and in some cases blamed for “anti-Semitism” or “Arab lover”. If you talk about peace, you are a leftist! Such a way of responding to not having to take criticism seriously was embraced by other (Western) governments and in May last by the national parliament in Germany, the Bundestag, in stating that support for the BDS campaign[2] is an expression of anti-Semitism.[3] Any citizen has the right to be critical of Israeli policies. There are alternatives!

March of Return

The situation in the Gaza Strip is constantly tense. The weekly nonviolent action “March of Return” continues to be held already more than one year. Many Palestinians believe that nonviolence is the path to follow towards the end of occupation and possible self-determination.

The nonviolent protests launched by Gaza civil society activists, and quickly taken over by Hamas (which resulted in violence also because of retaliation by the Israeli army), are meant to be a constant reminder that Palestinians are not going anywhere, and that the situation in which they live is very unacceptable. Israel and Egypt have enforced a siege and closure on Gaza since 2005. Cycles of violence between Hamas and Israel continue with ups and downs until today.

When Israel withdraw from Gaza in 2005, Israel demolished all of the settlements, not leaving anything, not one stone, that could have been used, for example, to resettle Palestinian refugees or to offer housing for Palestinians still living in camps.

Can young Palestinians live in hope?

Some 35.000 young Palestinians left Gaza in 2018.[4] The young Palestinian generation are the most non-political generation of Palestinians since the beginning of the Palestinian national movement. This is probably a result of lost hopes and emigration, failed peace processes and unfulfilled promises. There is indeed little belief that peace is on the horizon.  Young people have no chance to build up their own society (politically) and a lot of anger, hatred and a loss of hope have replaced that.

Deal of the century?

The USA administration will soon present their so-called “deal of the century”. So far, it seems the talk of a new deal seems empty rhetoric in the present situation.

No doubt, that expectation for the deal is very much in favour of Israel. There might be some positive elements in the plan for the Palestinians. At the same time, they cannot accept further Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank along with their continued statement that east Jerusalem is Palestinian while west Jerusalem is Israel.

The Palestinians are expected to reject that deal.[5] Any deal that leaves Al-Aqsa (meaning all of Arab east Jerusalem) in the hands of Israel will be rejected by the entire Arab and Muslim world. The Palestinians will confirm their ultimate wish for independence and sovereignty.

Jerusalem is not for sale!

A step in the “deal of the century” is an economic workshop-taking place later in June in Bahrain.[6] Palestinians believe that their national agenda will be bribed out. Aspirations will be further delegitimised. “Jerusalem is not for sale”! Palestinians will never leave Judea and Samaria for a pocket with money. You cannot buy out Palestinians from their homeland. Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonised.

Who has given the USA a mandate to present a deal? It can be assumed that the international community will also reject the suggested deal if it is not be based on the two-states solution and allows Israel to annex parts of the West Bank, but offers no political solution for Jerusalem. It should be the responsibility of the United Nations to accompany a peace process. The international community should protect the Palestinian people from punishment through financial and political isolation.

Call for human dignity and common good

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land made a statement[7] in May 2019 saying that peace, mutual equality, and respect must be the foundation of progress in Israeli-Palestinian relations, despite continued setbacks. Continuing difficulties in Palestine and Israel have caused many people to question, “whether international diplomacy and the peace process were ever actually based on justice and good will,” “Many in Palestine and in Israel feel that since the launch of the peace process, their lives have become more and more unbearable.” “Many have left; many more consider leaving and some are resorting to violence. Some die quietly and others are losing faith and hope.”


It is time for the Palestinians to go on the offensive with a strategy of peace that focusses on their own right of self-determination. Endless occupation is not the option. The hope is that the two peoples can live in each own land, side-by-side. The two-state solution should be made again relevant.

Any resolution must be based on the common good of all who live in the Holy Land without distinction. All people in the region have to learn to live together as equals and human dignity in the Holy Land.



Violence, imposed solutions cannot bring about peace

by Patriarch Michel Sabbah

Ed. Note: Patriarch Sabbah, Latin Patriarchate Emeritus of Jerusalem, was President of Pax Christi International from 1999 through 2007.

There is a war on Gaza, as it has been once, twice and more. Gaza and its people are in a state of permanent war. It has been under constant siege for 13 years, which is war imposed upon them every day.

Today, the month of Ramadan has started for fasting, prayer, repentance and good deeds. Instead, we see death exploding in and around Gaza. Israel itself complains of the war. Yesterday, Sunday May 5, the Israeli defense minister tweeted and cried out to the world to notice and see Israelis waking up for the second day in a row of rockets coming from Gaza and falling in Israel.

War is painful, after two days, in Israel. It is as painful and more painful in Gaza after 13 years of siege. War is an absolute evil both for the Israelis and for the Palestinians. O minister, the key to peace and the end of war is not in the hands of a world that we summon but simply in your hand and in the hands of Israel.

The issue is not only that of Gaza but the issue of all the Palestinian people. The issue is the injustice imposed on the Palestinian people since generations. Israel refuses to see Palestinians as human beings with same rights and equal to all human beings. Israel has tried the methods of war and violence repeatedly to solve the issue. So far, it has not succeeded and now, on the near horizon, there is talk about a solution wrapped in darkness and non-recognition of Palestinian rights. It will not bring a just solution. It will be another failure.

The solution is simple if Israel restores discernment, namely if it wants to recognize that the Palestinian people have the same rights as the Israeli people do, all being equal in humanity. It is in Israel’s hands, Israel is the stronger, to realize this equality. Avoiding this equality until now was useless. Israel itself today suffers from war launched on Gaza…

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Peace, Peace Spirituality

Ancient time, ordinary time, disrupted time

by Toine Van Teeffelen
Arab Educational Institute

During a quiet morning a few weeks ago, I waited for a mass by Armenian priests in the Nativity Grotto to end. Together with guests I sat for an hour on the entrance stairs. We experienced the timelessness of Christmas through the slow, rhythmic singing of the priests.

Yesterday, at the occasion of Mary’s birthday, Mary and I visited a mass in the small chapel of the Bridgettines Sisters near Nativity Square. It is beautifully located in the maze of old small streets that is part of overlooked Bethlehem. The silence and sounds of bells and the inaudible footsteps of the sisters too remind of the ancient rhythm of the town.

Afterwards we rushed back into the ordinary sense of time. We have all kinds of sign posts that punctuate the normal days. Does the kaek man come in time so we can buy his bread with sesam before Mary leaves to Bethlehem University? Yes, there we hear his distant cry in the morning silence. Or we hear the shouts of school children going to school and know how late it is, or sense the quick steps of students going to their exams at university, studying from books they sometimes read while walking.

Yet there is always an unwelcome third rhythm: that of occupation. It interferes with the other rhythms. Full of uncertainty and threat, it puts people on their nerves. Last week, after a number of attacks against settlers and oppressive actions by the Israeli army, I noticed through Facebook that people in Bethlehem and Ramallah opened their doors for stranded travellers. They offer accommodation to those who do not dare to go out in the evening on the highways because their cars may be stoned by settlers. This happened for instance on the Wadi Nar road, the circling road to the east of Jerusalem which connects Bethlehem and Ramallah. According to an Israeli human rights organization there were last week within 24 hours after an attack against settlers “dozens if not hundreds” stone throwing attacks against Palestinian cars.

Travelling requires daily planning which is here always under threat of being disrupted by unplanned events. Such event can be a sudden mobile checkpoint but also (in my case) the shock of what you see while traveling normally. Along the Ramallah-Nablous road there are quite a number of posters put up by settlers in which the eyes of Mahmoud Abbas, the PNA’s president, are in the center of concentric circles. It is a call for assassination.

Sometimes there is positive traveling news, or whatever we for the moment regard as positive. Lately Mary got a permit to go and fly through Tel Aviv airport. Happy to get a permit to travel in your own country. And this time the permit did not come the day before or after traveling, so she is able to plan her trip well.

The rhythm of politics also interferes with the ancient rhythms of religion. This is not just about traveling or entrance problems when visiting mosques and churches, but about something as simple as sending a Christmas card. I tell people abroad that Christmas cards sent to Bethlehem arrive standard in February. Security.

But post can also take longer. In October it happened that 10 ton of post packages arrived in Jericho. They were held up for no less than 6 years at the Allenby Bridge after being classified as suspicious. Because of some kind of new arrangement between the occupational authorities and the Palestinian Communication Ministry the packages were now released. A favor.

I actually do believe that some Israeli army officials think it is not a humiliation but a confidence building measure — so all pervasive is the delusion of arbitrary power that keeps the occupation in place. Within days the packages were brought by the Palestinian post service to their real destination. Imagine, to receive a Christmas present after 6 years. What kind of time rhythm is that?


A wall without a future: Israelis and Palestinians live in two different worlds

By Fr. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

The border wall between Israel and the West Bank is among the most forbidding and hostile in the world. Viewed from up close, whichever side you find yourself on, it rears up from the ground, overwhelming and dominating you. It is dispiriting, intimidating, oppressive, and otherworldly. On each side of the wall lives a different people. It is a monument to one of the world’s most intractable disputes.

I have been following the Israeli – Palestinian conflict since 1981. The conflict became increasingly complicated and, above all, unworthy. However, I could never believe that from 2002 on (during the Second Intifada) a wall would be built by Israel between the two communities. Since then I have been able to follow the construction of the wall, which has recently been completed and built on Palestinian territory. The divisions between Israel and Palestine are well established. You have to cross checkpoints in order to get in the other community, if you are allowed to do so. I regret that some visitors of the Holy Land look at the wall as “conflict tourists.”

Gaza and nonviolence resistance

The situation in Gaza can explode any minute. The Gazans are left behind and have to deal with their own suffering. The circumstances can have repercussions outside of the Gaza Strip. Gaza is not only a humanitarian problem (the water is unclean; more than 60 % of the youth is unemployed; only three hours electricity a day). It is politically a hot potato. No solution has been found between Hamas and Fatah to transfer all authority over Gaza back to Ramallah.

Israel built a security barrier on the border with Gaza, begun in 1994; it is nearly 40 miles long. In addition, a 152-mile-long fence along the Egyptian-Israeli border was completed in 2013 and has halted illegal immigration from a variety of African countries (Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia). In 2016, Israel announced a plan to build an underground wall, more than a hundred feet deep, to prevent armed groups from emerging from tunnels to attack Israeli border towns. In Israel, the protection of the citizens comes first.

The Israeli blockade against the Strip is cruel, inhumane and a violation of civilizational standards. When can Palestinians return to their human dignity and their right to self-determination? The political problem is that Hamas controls everything in Gaza, dominating all aspects of life. They established a network of social welfare and educational systems around the local mosques that endeared the movement’s leaders to the people. There seems no political space for alternatives. Since 2008, I have visited Gaza several times. Complicated to get in! You need a permit from the Israeli authorities to enter Gaza. The small territory is isolated from the rest of the world by fences and barriers. It is an open prison! The small Christian community, numbering perhaps fewer than three thousand people, feels under pressure, and many are trying to leave.

Gaza is home to almost two million Palestinians, the majority of whom are long-term refugees (a further 3.25 million Palestinians live in the West Bank). Hamas has run Gaza since the elections in 2007. Hamas is a radical ideological movement that is deeply anti-Israel. Israel, the USA and the EU among others designate the group as a terrorist organisation. The question is: do you talk with Hamas or not? Some say “yes” you have to maintain contacts, talk, and others certainly say “no”: you never talk to a terrorist association.

On 30 March 2018, a “March of Return” started as a Gazan civil society initiative expressing people’s desire to live with dignity and with hope of a better future. The plan was to hold every Friday a peace march until the 15th of May, Nakba Day. The weekly demonstrations along the Israeli-Gaza border have increased their intensity in numbers, locations and frequency. Despite the nonviolent character of the March, IDF snipers have killed more than 240 (young) Palestinians. Critics said the Israeli forces sometimes opened fire even when two crucial conditions of international law for using lethal force were absent: the targeted individual posed a danger and the threat was immediate. The Gazans asked for the end of the Israeli-Egyptian siege on Gaza. It is about putting an end to the totally unacceptable cage that Gaza has become over the past 10 years.

West Bank

Palestine has de facto two separate entities. The distance between them is not the issue. If all sides could agree, the 25 miles of intervening Israeli territory could be overcome with a highway bridge or tunnel. However, the two regions remain separated not just by geography, but also by politics and ideology. Fatah officially accepts the concept of “two states for two peoples”. They expect the same policy from the other partner Israel. Hamas rejects, at least formally, any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea. All parties in the conflict should recognize each other’s existence.

Behind the great security barrier live 2.5 million Palestinians. Life in West Bank is hard, but easier than in Gaza. The health care is of a low standard and that is why thousands are treated in Israeli hospitals. Work permits are hard to obtain. Palestine is hardly an open society. The Palestinian leadership is in a deep crisis. The political leadership and the political apparatus urgently need renewal, rejuvenation and transparency. Palestine will remain a house divided.

Political process

There is no real political peace process between Israel and Palestine. It has been tried several times already: Oslo in 1993; Camp David in 2000; Taba in 2001; the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002; the Roadmap for peace in 2003; Annapolis in 2007-2008; and the efforts of former US Secretary of State John Kerry in 2014-2015. All attempts have failed because of a lack of political will. The involvement of the international community is essential and that is lacking as well. It needs more vigour and teeth to bring pressure.

Israel has no real desire to unify the Palestinian people and to negotiate a peace treaty with them that would cost Israel the need to withdraw from territory in the West Bank and allow Palestinians in Gaza to enjoy a normal life of freedom and a chance of hope for a better future.

Political life in Israel

It is expected that in 2019 new national elections will take place in Israel. Israeli governments are always formed by coalitions. All Israelis want their country to be strong, stable, democratic, safe and at peace with its neighbours. The sense of unity is high among the Israelis (especially when war comes) although major differences occur on the relations between the state and the role of religion as well as on the position of the Israeli Arab citizens (a fifth of the population). Israel keeps conquering land from the Palestinians illegally. The issue of the settlements divides Israeli public opinion; the wisdom, legality and morality of their existence are always fiercely debated. Gaps between different groups in Israel are widening and poverty is growing. Differences within society also affect the political sphere. Most in the secular category see themselves as Israeli first and Jewish second. Most Orthodox sees themselves as Jewish first and then Israeli. Religious political parties are almost components in coalition governments. Religious parties tend to dominate matters of education and religion. In recent years, the political and democratic space for NGOs, journalists and writers has shrunk.


Walls are containing the violence. Walls should be temporary. That temporality is long gone. For that to happen an agreement will be needed not only between the two sides, but also within them. New leaders should be chosen who would invest in building bridges, not walls. Books, not weapons. Morality, not corruption. To ever renew negotiations between Israel and Palestine, it is necessary to believe that there are partners for peace on the other side.

Many believe that the only viable way of finding a way out is the Two-State Solution fulfilling the aspirations for peaceful coexistence among Israelis and Palestinians. This option must be repeated on a regular basis what the Holy See for instance is doing.