Friday, July 15, 2011

United Church minister's bias

Here's a film review from the United Church Observer. The reviewer's profound ignorance and casual bias illustrate what's wrong with even the well-intentioned "critics of Israel" (as they like to be called) ...

The Hilltops
Directed by Igal Hecht
Chutzpa Productions
Reviewed by the reverend Jim Carey

The Hilltops appears to make the case for Israeli settlers to occupy every hilltop possible in the West Bank, presenting the settlers as misunderstood, persecuted and maligned by those who view these settlements as one of the key obstacles on the road to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Scenes of various hilltop outposts and the well-meaning people who occupy them are placed in contrast with statements made by U.S. President Barack Obama in June 2010. It is “undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland,” he said. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. . . . It is time for these settlements to stop.”

In the documentary, one woman seemingly replies to Obama, saying, “We will never stop!” This appears to typify the zealous nature of the settlers.

The settlers are portrayed as hippies and back-to-the-earth types who deeply love the land and who seek to live out an interpretation of the Bible that holds that the Holy Land belongs exclusively to Jewish people. This portrayal is contrary to the witness of United Church of Canada partners in Palestine, who report the settlers are militant, law-breaking and often armed.

In the latter half of the documentary, there is an attempt at conversation with neighbouring Arabs about the settlements. But the conversation goes nowhere, as each party believes it has the rightful claim to the land.

The value in this documentary is that it offers a clear window into the mindset and the militancy of the settlers. While appearing to defend the settlers, it offers some explanation as to why the settlements endanger the peace process, render the division of the West Bank highly problematic, and lead some United Church partners to compare the settlements to apartheid.

Rev. Jim Cairney is a minister in Mississauga, Ont. He recently travelled to Israel and the Occupied Territories

A review of the review:

I confess I still find it shocking to see a minister using the word "apartheid" against Israel. I’m more used to hearing such name-calling from bigots on the far left and the far right.

But putting aside this slur, Cairney's review illustrates the sort of generalizations that obscure the nature of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Cairney speaks of settlements and settlers as if they're all the same. Many (most?) settlers aren't ideological at all; they're suburbanites who have moved into the new neighbourhoods built around Jerusalem.

Nor is it true to suggest that the ideologically motivated settlers are all of a kind. Doubtless, some are violent bastards; others are peaceable and often have good relations with local Palestinians.

In March, following the terrorist massacre of the Fogel family (the mother, father and 3 children aged 11, 3 and 3 months), there was a news story about local Palestinians seeking medical help at a settlement for a mother going through a perilous childbirth. See here.

What struck me about the story was not only joy of a tragedy averted as the Israeli medics saved the Palestinian mother and her new born baby, but also that when faced with a medical emergency, the Palestinian taxi driver took his passenger straight to an Israeli settlement.

Cairney also seems to be misrepresenting Obama. Of course, Obama called for a cessation of further building within existing Israeli settlements. (Israelis haven't built new settlements for more than 10 years.) But Obama has also recognized that the large settlements will never be dismantled; it's simply unthinkable that any country would (or could) move hundreds of thousands of citizens.

This is why no one who's really interested in peace calls for the removal of all Israeli settlements.

On the other hand, all mainstream Israeli political parties treat the small, isolated settlements as bargaining chips to be given up in negotiations with the Palestinians. Unfortunately, this strategy hasn't worked, as the Palestinian side hasn't been willing to accept peace.

Way back when, Arafat turned down a peace proposal (two in a row, in fact) and launched the terrorist war known as the Intifada instead. Arafat's successor has been no more willing to sign a peace deal. Three years ago, the Israelis offered the Palestinians Gaza, east Jerusalem and the West Bank, with land swaps to fully compensate for the settlements to be kept by Israel, giving the Palestinians the equivalent of 100% of the territory.

President Abbas turned the offer down. Because the settlements and the occupation of the West Bank aren't the issues.

The underlying problem is that the Palestinians claim that Israel is an illegitimate state; that the Palestinians alone have rights to all of "historic Palestine" (including Israel), and they will not allow legitimacy to the Jewish state.

This isn't like the wild Israeli settlers sitting on a few hilltops in the West Bank claiming exclusive sovereignty over the land; within Israeli society, such views are marginal. No, the belief that Israel is illegitimate is the view of the Palestinian leadership and of the majority of the Palestinian people.

I’m an optimist, though: I expect we’ll have peace between the Palestinians and Israelis within 20 or 30 years. It will begin when the Palestinians recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, just as Israelis have long recognized the Palestinian right to a state of their own.

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