THIS year the world commemorates a 100th, a 70th and a 50th anniversary in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The 100th anniversary is that of the Balfour Declaration. In 1916, during World War I, Sharif Hussein bin Ali of Mecca led an uprising against the Ottoman Empire in return for Britain’s promise to recognise the independence of the Arab countries between the Mediterranean and Arabian seas. The following year, without consulting the Palestinians, Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour reneged on the agreement by declaring that Britain would support the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
The 70th anniversary is that of the 1947 UN Resolution 181 calling for Palestine’s partition into Jewish and Arab states. The former was realised in the following year when 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes to make way for the establishment of Israel. The latter is yet to be born.
The 50th anniversary took place on Saturday. On June 10, 1967, Israel, in six days, completed its conquest of Palestine and began its occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
Remarkably, the second half of this occupation, coinciding with a succession of US-brokered “peace processes”, has proved by far the most violent. In 2014 the violence reached its peak when, in response to Hamas rocket fire, Israel killed 1400 Palestinians and destroyed 11,000 homes in the Gaza Strip over a period of seven weeks. Israeli refers to such operations as “mowing the grass” – an acknowledgment of the fact that, so long as the Palestinians continue to live as refugees in their own country, Israel will need to chastise them with displays of disproportionate force. Due to a 10-year blockade, 47 per cent of Gaza’s population suffers from what aid agencies describe as “food insecurity” (they don’t have enough to eat).
However, the closest Israel came to such an offer was in 2008 when, while under investigation for corruption and serving as caretaker prime minister, Ehud Olmert made a semi-serious offer of a viable state that was rejected out of hand by his deputy Tzipi Livni, and Benjamin Netanyahu, who was elected prime minister in the following year.
In 1992, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said that his strategy for peace negotiations was to drag them out to buy time to double the number of Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories. Over the following 25 years Israel’s settler population has grown from 246,400 to 588,000.
Rather than remediating the violence at the root of the conflict, the primary function of the peace process has been to transform the Palestinians into the permanent non-Jewish underclass of a Jewish state.
How, therefore, might we learn from the failure of the peace process to build a genuine peace?
The answer may lie in a rocky, windswept patch of land in the South Hebron Hills that has lain abandoned since 1998 when the Israeli army demolished the Palestinian village of Sarura.
Last month a coalition of Palestinians, Israelis and 130 Jews from North America, Europe and Australia established a Sumud summer camp to rebuild Sarura.
For both communities, the camp represents a conscious effort to break a mutually destructive cycle of colonisation and armed resistance.
Sumud is the Arabic word for “steadfastness”, expressing the patience and quiet determination of a deeply rooted people to hold on to their land. For the Jewish activists the camp is an attempt to use their privileged status to resist and reverse a century of Palestinian displacement.
Though their tents have been destroyed, their equipment vandalised and their generator confiscated, the activists have continued to rebuild Sarura and rehabilitate its wells in the face of attacks by Israeli soldiers.
Their courage should serve as an example to all those working towards a more peaceful world. If failure of the peace process has taught us anything, it is that there can be no peace without justice, no justice without truth.
For the past 100 years the international community has abetted the establishment and expansion of a Jewish state at the expense of its indigenous population through a policy of hypocrisy and wilful self-deception. Only when this policy is supplanted with one that recognises the human rights of all of the holy land’s inhabitants will they be able to share it in peace and security.
George Browning is the former Anglican bishop of Canberra and president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network