As a Palestinian Christian pastor and longtime peace activist, I have a confession to make: I’m guilty of despair.
For many years, Jewish, Palestinian and international peacemaker groups and individuals, myself included, have worked hard to influence US leadership by working with grassroots America or directly with members of Congress. We worked particularly hard with and through mainline Christian denominations and groups committed to peace and non-violent resistance like Mennonites and Quakers to bring balance to the political landscape. Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, along with Jewish activists, crisscrossed the US advocating for a balanced US policy. We hoped ultimately all this advocacy would result in a fair US policy towards the Palestinians.
Then came Donald Trump.
The decision by President Trump to call Jerusalem the capital of Israel dashed many of our hopes. Has US involvement in peacemaking in Israel/Palestine drawn its last breath? Shall US-based peacemakers conclude that it is a waste of time and energy to try to influence US politicians to side with peace? After Trump’s pronouncements, who can convince Palestinians or the world that the US deserves even a place at the peace table?
Palestinian hopes for their country as recognized by 138 nations and the Vatican, as well as their hopes for a shared Jerusalem with the eastern sector as its capital, have also been dashed by the president of the US, the so called leader of the free world.
Along with so many others, I’m working hard to see a silver lining around this dark cloud. Shall we admit defeat and abandon our previous strategies and aspirations?
For my part, I must admit the “two state solution” is dead and buried. Many have said this before, and I feel I must now publicly repent for hanging on to it for so long, and move toward something new.
What remains? As we examine the ruins caused by Trump’s declaration, we must not conclude that all is lost. Among the rubble, I see solid blocks of hope that Trump cannot destroy:
1. International solidarity at the UN: Recent votes at the Security Council and General Assembly demonstrate that most nations and most people around the world continue to reject Trump’s announcements; the people of the world have sided with Palestinian human rights.
2. The BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) Movement: This movement is expanding rapidly and now, with Trump’s ill-informed pronouncements it will have fresh momentum. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars that the Israeli government has invested in quenching the movement, all signs indicate that the movement is fast growing in the US and globally.
3. Palestinian resilience: The world is inspired by the Palestinian population of the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip—as well as inside Israel and in refugee camps in the Arab world. Despite decades of setbacks, oppression and occupation they continue to resist, mostly nonviolently.
4. Jewish support: The year 2017 witnessed a significant rise in the number of American Jews who joined organizations such as Jewish Voices for Peace and J-Street. These Jewish organizations are constantly lobbying Congress on behalf of Palestinian rights and the end of occupation and are in the vanguard of resistance to the human rights abuses that Palestinians suffer daily.
5. Christian Interdenominational Support: 2017 also witnessed a rise of awareness, solidarity and advocacy for Palestinian rights among mainline denominations and some Evangelical groups.
6. American Muslims for Palestine: In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Muslim voices in the US became fearful and muted. But with the rise of Trump to the Presidency and his ban against mainly Muslim countries from entering the US, more and more US Muslims are coming out to join the efforts of Jewish and Christian voices that call for an end to oppression in Palestine.
7. African-American support: The Black Lives Matter movement in the US has helped many African-American leaders to see similarities in their struggle for human rights and dignity and that of the Palestinian struggle to end the occupation. We have joined together to increase awareness of our common struggle for justice and equal rights.
I consider these seven blocks as signs of hope. Yet, I confess I have few answers as to whether any of our efforts can move the US back to the peace track. Moreover, I have no clue as to which country, group or leader can steer Israelis and Palestinians to arrive at equal rights for all the citizens of our beloved homeland.
This is the time for us to assess the damage, to look at the situation with broken hearts, much like a family that lost its home in a fire. We stare at the damage, assess the loss, shed tears, see what can be salvaged, look at each other through watery eyes … and then, and only then, find that stubborn determination to rebuild, and collectively refuse to let the fire have the last word.
So, while admitting my own sadness and discouragement, I now also encourage all of us to be brave and recognize that there is an enormous hill of obstacles ahead of us. I rededicate myself to the effort to reach justice for all, and encourage my colleagues in the cause to use the gains we’ve made to build afresh and to start again. And again. Who knows what harvest our renewed courage, creativity and determination may yield?
Charter Member of PCAJ (Palestinian Christian Advocates for Justice)
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