Banishing Justice from the Holy Land

“If Donald Trump is re-elected President this November, then 2020 will become a defining year for Israel/Palestine. The ever-shrinking space for justice will take another mighty contraction as the consequences of Trump’s ‘Vision for Peace’ start to play out. Amos trustee Robert Cohen writes.

Orwellian
The long delayed and much anticipated plan for the future of Israel/Palestine, or to give its full name, ‘Vision for Peace, Prosperity and a Brighter Future’, finally saw the TV lights of a White House launch party on the 28th January this year.

The 180-page document turned out to be the perfect way to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the death of George Orwell, which had taken place a few days earlier. I’m thinking of the Orwell who wrote that “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”.

Orwell, it turned out, had provided us with an accurate summary of what the Twittersphere soon dubbed Trump’s #peacesham. Once upon a time, we spoke of violations of international law, disregard for United Nation’s Security Resolutions and on-going human rights abuses. But that was yesterday. Now, in the new political language of ‘Vision for Peace’, we are to speak only of “today’s realities” and the requirement to take a “pragmatic” and “realistic” approach.

The 180-page document turned out to be the perfect way to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the death of George Orwell, which had taken place a few days earlier.

“Pragmatic” is of course a euphemism for might is right (or at least might is not wrong). And so nowhere in ‘Vision for Peace’ will you find the words “Occupation” or “Settlements”. Instead it talks about “the portions of the West Bank with large Jewish populations”. But nowhere does it bother to mention how those Jewish populations got there or what’s happened to the Palestinians since they arrived.

Here, Palestinian history isn’t just ignored, it disappears altogether. In explaining the failures of past attempts to bring peace to the land, ‘Vision for Peace’ puts the blame on: “Palestinian divisions”, “Palestinian terrorism”, “failures of Palestinian leadership” and “poor Palestinian governance”.

While these are certainly a part of what’s gone on, I could not find a single past or current failing attributed to the Israelis. No judgement has to be passed on Israel because no offence has been committed. The slate is wiped clean. The word most often used in the document is “security”, except it’s always Israeli security and never Palestinian security that’s talked about.

I’m thinking of the Orwell who wrote that “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”. Orwell, it turned out, had provided us with an accurate summary of what the Twittersphere soon dubbed Trump’s #peacesham.”

The Israeli NGO B’Tselem has been tracking Israeli and Palestinian casualties since September 2000. Up to the summer of 2014, for every 15 people killed 13 have been Palestinian. If you start counting from 2005 the figures are even more lopsided. In ‘Vision for Peace’ it looks like some lives matter, and some do not.

The security narrative is not the only lopsided telling of the story. Trump’s plan states that both Israel and the Palestinians will have to make “territorial compromises”. This is true. But reading through the document I struggled to see what Israel has to give up that it actually wants. Unless you think most Israelis could not bear to give up the possibility of sovereignty over Ramallah and Nablus.

A Palestinian women and her young children walking passed the illegal Separation Wall in Bethlehem in the West Bank.

A Brighter Future? There’s another word you won’t find in ‘Vision for Peace’ — and that’s Justice. A Palestinian women and her young children walk passed the illegal Separation Wall in Bethlehem. 

Meanwhile, the Palestinians lose 30% of the West Bank, including the agriculturally verdant Jordan Valley. Jerusalem would remain the united capital of the State of Israel. In return the Palestinians are given parcels of land bordering the Negev desert, described as future “industrial and residential zones” and three Palestinian majority towns currently in Israel would be moved into the new Palestinian State.

It’s a strange understanding of “territorial compromise”. Trump’s plan is presented as a “two state” solution to give the appearance of continuity with the previous quarter century of global diplomatic language. However, the proposed Palestinian State is one that does not control its own borders and relies on bridges and tunnels to create contiguous land.

This is a novel definition of the word State. Isn’t “capitulation” a more accurate description of what’s really on offer to the Palestinians?

Lesson in ethics
At this point we should set aside Orwell as our tutor in political language and replace him with Martin Luther King Jnr. for a lesson in ethics. That’s because there’s another word you won’t find in ‘Vision for Peace’ — and that’s Justice. In all of its political and economic proposals on how to bring peace to the Holy Land, the word justice is never used.

Dr. King, whose annual memorial day in America had just passed, once observed “There can be no justice without peace and there can be no peace without justice”. We should hardly be surprised though that President Trump does not care to take lessons in ethics from Dr. King. But of course the Holy Land is one place where justice can never be absent. In the Torah the word justice appears 48 times, most often in the book of Deuteronomy as Moses prepares the Israelites to enter the Promised Land.

A favourite line of scripture for Martin Luther King appears later in the Hebrew bible, in the book of the Amos, with his prophetic vision of what good must look like: “let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream”. In Trump’s ‘Vision’, justice is banished and the “mighty stream” turns to desert.

Dr. King, whose annual memorial day in America had just passed, once observed “There can be no justice without peace and there can be no peace without justice”. We should hardly be surprised though that President Trump does not care to take lessons in ethics from Dr. King.

The good news is that this #peacesham will never be enacted. The Palestinians have rightly rejected it out of hand. Except there is a problem. The Palestinian rejection, perhaps built into the whole Washington/Jerusalem strategy in the first place, will allow Israel to annex land allocated to it within the plan because Trump will argue that the Palestinians have forfeited the right to object.

Closer to home, I fear the UK government, now fixated on securing post-Brexit trade deals, will put up little opposition to such a unilateral move. Assuming that Trump wins in November and some kind of centre-right-wing coalition government continues to control the Israeli Knesset, we should expect to see moves towards annexation in the near future. And justice for the Palestinians, and all who call the Holy Land home, will be further away than ever.




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