(Catholic San Francisco editorial –
April 20, 2001)

Seek justice to find peace

The effort ofJ ews in the 20th century to secure a homeland in Palestine is a
story of conflict.

Prior to 1948, the Jewish population, which was rapidly expanding through
waves of immigration, suffered violent attacks by the country’s Arab
population.

Conflicts between 1920 and 1947 led to death and destruction among Jewish and
Arab communities alike.

After a 1947 United Nations vote to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab
areas, theState of Israel was founded in May 1948. Israel immediately came
under attack from Arab neighbors intent on crushing the new entity, but
Israel emerged victorious from the 1948 war, as it did from regional wars in
1956, 1967 and1973.

Since then, peace accords have been achieved between Israel and some
neighboring Arabcountries. But in the face of pressure and violence by
Palestinians seeking to establish an autonomous state,Israel has adopted an
almost singular focus on maintaining peace throughsecurity. Perhaps the
premium placed on security is understandable givenIsrael’s experience and the
pattern of terrorist attacks by radical Palestiniangroups. Yet, this singular
focus on security has led to actions that aredetrimental to long-term peace.
 

Palestinians are subjected to humiliating treatment at Israeli checkpoints;
restrictions ontravel, employment and housing; Israeli government-sponsored
Jewish settlements within Palestinian areas; and theblockading of Palestinian
towns and cities by Israeli soldiers resulting inrestricted access to medical
care, education and economic activity.

Bishop MunibYounan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jerusalem recently
said, “Thesituation continues to deteriorate day by day. The Israeli siege on
thePalestinian territories is tightening. You need only to pass in the
morningnear my house and watch the police and soldiers running after
Palestinianlaborers, who search for their daily bread, and witness the
realities behindthe UN statistics stating that the present unemployment rate
in the Palestinianareas is now around 38% of the working force.”

Bishop Younan added, “We hear a language of war that vacillates between
self-restraint to norestraint at all, but for us Palestinians, in Bethlehem,
Gaza,Ramallah, or Beit Sahour, the use of the language does notchange the
realities of what we are experiencing. We see massive damage beingdone to
buildings, hotels, and banks, and many homes demolished. All thisdestruction
is creating more hatred, more fear, more revenge, more traumas andmore
death.”

Of course,nothing is simple in this part of the world. There are horrible
killings andstrident voices of hatred on both sides of the conflict. Israelis
speak ofreclaiming land given to them by God thousands of years ago.
Palestinians alsoreach far back in history to support their claims. Bringing
the land argumentcurrent, Palestinians note that they are seeking a
Palestinian State that wouldoccupy only about 22 percent of the land they
held in 1947.

On his JubileeYear trip to the Holy Land last year, Pope John Paul II visited
a Palestinianrefugee camp where some people have lived for more than 50years.
He said, “The degrading conditions in which refugeesoften have to live; the
continuation over long periods of situations that arebarely tolerablein
emergencies for a brief time of transit; the fact thatdisplaced persons are
obliged to remain for years in settlement camps; theseare the measure of
theurgent need for a just solution to the underlying causes ofthe
problem.”

The Holy Father added, “I plead with all who are sincerely working for
justice and peace not tolose heart. I appeal to political leaders to
implement agreements alreadyarrived at, and to go forward towards the peace
for which all reasonable menand women yearn, to the justice to which they
have an inalienable right.”     On Monday ofthis week, Jordanian Foreign
Minister Abdul-Ilah Khatib met with Prime MinisterAriel Sharon and Foreign
Minister Shimon Peres ofIsrael to discuss a joint Egyptian-Jordanian plan
aimed atending the current hostilities between Israel and Palestinians.
 

The Jerusalem daily newspaper HA’ARETZ called the plan “an initiative worth
considering.” Itcalls for the lifting of the closure and blockade of
Palestinian cities; thepull-back of Israeli forces, especially heavy weaponry
from the outskirts ofthose cities; the immediate transfer of monies Israel
owes the PalestinianAuthority; and an Israeli declaration that no new
settlements will be built inPalestinian territories and that existing
settlements will not be expanded.

These steps could set the stage for a lessening of violence and a return to
negotiationsbetween Israel and the Palestinian Authority -- negotiationsthat
should be based on achieving peace through the pursuitof justice.

In Bethlehem last year, the Pope noted, “The Holy See has always recognized
that thePalestinian people have the natural right to a homeland, and the
right to livein peace and tranquillity with the other peoples of this area.
In theinternational forum, my predecessors and I have repeatedly proclaimed
thatthere would be no end to the sad conflict in the Holy Land without
stableguarantees for the rights of all the peoples involved, on the basis of
internationallaw and the relevant United Nations resolutions and
declarations.”

In this Easter Season, let our pray for those who seek peace through justice.

Maurice Healy
Editor of SF Catholic