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The second step

Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 24.12.2014:

24/12/2014

Bethlehem

Toine van Teeffelen

A flash of that feeling to have real peace on earth, healing and connecting, is surely present today in Bethlehem. The image of Palestine is present in its streets. Following the Patriarch of Jerusalem many scouts enter the town, coming from all over the Holy Land, from all the various churches and Christian denominations, with also some Moslem groups. Tamer is there too, with a big drum.

Mary visited the qiyaame, the Holy Sepulchre often called the Resurrection Church. Like some others, she is now considered by Israel to be a diminished security risk and has a permit of no less than three months to visit the unborn capital of her country. Jara visited Jerusalem too. On her way she noticed that Bethlehem was full of Palestinian police. According to her, they shot in the air near Rachel’s Tomb where a demonstration took place.

For Palestinian Christians Christmas means a brief break from reality. You need it, but at the price of underlying disquiet.

In the same way, I feel that the European discussion about the recognition of Palestine is creating a sense of optimism that covers disquiet.

In the case of Palestine, there has always been a gnawing gap between the rhetoric of the international community, including the EU, and the Israeli actions on the ground. Since the declaration of Venice in 1980 the EU developed legally enshrined phrases, one after the other, to express its unyielding commitment to the realization of a Palestinian state. Terminologies included “full” right to self-determination, “inalienable” right, a “sovereign” state and a “contiguous” state. And of course much “peace” and “peace negotiations.”

The words feel like symbolic management. When you repeat them frequently you yourself start to believe that they have an effect on the ground. That has not been the case. The more Palestine internationally is recognized, the more it seems to disappear on ground level.

This disappearance especially involves fragmentation. In Bethlehem you need Israeli permits to visit Jerusalem; the areas around the settlements are inaccessible; the Jordan Valley is for a large part not accessible. There is a categorization of Palestinians that in its turn leads to political and social fragmentation. Every ‘category’ of Palestinians has received a more or less permanent separate status from Israel: Palestinians in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, Palestinians with an Israeli passport; Gaza and West Bank Palestinians; Palestinians at the wrong side of the Wall but still within the West Bank – all have their own difficulties, ID cards and permits.

You now see that gradually area C in the West Bank (60%, under full israeli control) obtains a status aparte. Perhaps this land will be annexed to Israel, or almost annexed – legal tricks plenty available. Palestinians there pull out to the cities, which increasingly come to constitute islands of autonomy within the West Bank.

There is of course the visible, depressing fragmentatiojn of the land with all its obstacles and checkpoints. And there is the Palestinian political fragmentation that can be covered only with difficulty. However, the presence of different political configurations in West Bank and Gaza is not illogical when no natural contact between those areas is possible.

Ben Gurion, the first Israeli prime minister, once said: “It does not matter what the goyim [non-Jews] say, but what the Jews do.” That saying has been implemented by the Israeli government in its own, systematic fashion, without much rhetoric and symbolism, at least not towards an international audience. The colonization policy continues. International statements go in one direction, the facts on the ground in another, gradually but surely.

The recognition of Palestine is therefore not the real test of political commitment, though it helps as a first step. Of course, people here happily listen to joyful music and an inspiring call for peace, as happens during Christmas. But most important is the second step. When you recognize a state that threatens to disappear under occupation, you have to deal with the circumstances that prevent its coming into being. Otherwise this recognition floats in the air, and even works counterproductive as you think you do something, and actually you do not do anything.

Hopes, dreams and inspiring words are needed, also politically. They should however direct and clarify the view on reality.

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