50 years of occupation

“Two Peoples, two States.” Burg (ex Knesset spokesperson): “There can be no future until Israel uses an iron fist against the Palestinians.”

“There can be no future until Israel uses an iron fist against the Palestinians: desperate, humiliated and submitted”, said Avraham Burg, member of Labour, former speaker of the Israeli parliament – Knesset – in the years 1999-2004, ex-president ad interim of the State of Israel. The formula “Two peoples, two States”, could have worked 20 years ago, but today it would appear hardly feasible in the light of the fragmentation of the Palestinian territory caused by Israeli settlements.”

“If we lived at the tome of the Bible, with the Biblical law of an eye for an eye, we would all be blind. My feeling is that we live today a sort of biblical time where the main objective of one camp is to punish the other camp.” In 2002, in one of his interviews, Avraham Burg quoted philosopher Martin Booberg to describe the situation in the Middle East, notably the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the time, Burg, a member of the Labour Party, was the speaker of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, (1999-2004), the first in Israel after it gained independence in 1948. In the period July 12 – August 1st 2000 Burg also served as President at interim of the State of Israel. Today he is no longer engaged in the political domain, a commitment replaced by his activity as writer. In his books “God is Back” (2006), “Defeating Hitler. For a new universalism and Jewish humanism” (2007), “The Holocaust Is Over: We Must Rise From its Ashes” (2008), “Here Come the Days” (2015), Burg addresses the themes of the Shoah, which, he argues, has made Israel indifferent to the suffering of others; the failure of the Zionist ideology, along with the mentality of an encircled ghetto – whose legacy ought to be left behind. The Israeli military occupation, ongoing for the past 50 years, is a concrete token of his provocative contentions.

There can be no future until Israel continues using an iron fist against the Palestinians: a submitted, humiliated and desperate people. Namely, that feeling of living “a sort of biblical time where the main objective of one camp is to punish the other camp”, has gained further topical relevance. He reiterated this line of argument during a meeting with the Holy Land Coordination of bishops, held in the ecumenical centre of Tantur (Bethlehem). SIR interviewed him at the end of the meeting.

The year 2017 marks 50 years of Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian Territories. In addition to the numerous victims, what is the legacy passed down to the Middle East and to the international community by this unsolved conflict?

It passed down a deep divide. Two colliding peoples – each having their own reasons and stands. In the eyes of an Israeli the conflict is a miracle, while in the eyes of a Palestinian it’s a catastrophe, a disaster. A miracle opposed to a disaster, this is the narrative of the conflict. Occupiers versus occupied, strength versus weakness, masters versus slaves. Unfortunately, since 1967 the situation on the ground has only grown worse.

The international community insists on proposing the formula “Two Peoples, Two States”, as a solution to the conflict. Do you agree?

The problems aren’t the formulas but the motivations and the capacities deployed to reach the target. In recent years, the motivations of many Countries of the so-called international community have ceased to exist. The chaos in the Middle East, the wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and in Yemen, have marginalized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As for the capacities,

The US was powerful, but it wasted time with Obama, Europe is weak and it does nothing.

Hence you no longer consider it a feasible solution?

It’s a beautiful formula, but it’s rhetoric. It could have worked 20 years ago, although even then it was hard to implement. It would be impossible today. The situation on the ground has radically changed. The Palestinian territories are increasingly fragmented by the expansion of Israeli settlements, while the Palestinian Authority is divided and corrupt.

The more time goes by, the more the option of single, discriminating and oppressive regime gains ground.

Will Trump’s US Presidency rekindle the negotiating process? What do you expect from the American tycoon?

I expect him to address the Middle Eastern conflict on Twitter (he laughs, ed.’s note). In fact, his administration will be irrelevant just as Obama’s.

During the past few days, the Bishops of the United States, South Africa, and Canada, members of the Holy Land Coordination of bishops, have visited Gaza, Hebron and Bethlehem as a gesture of solidarity and closeness to the local Christian population and to learn more about the military occupation. How can the Churches contribute to the resolution of the conflict?

First of all they can raise the voice of ethical principles and stir the consciences of the faithful.

I don’t expect the Churches to formulate political solutions, I expect them to raise the awareness and the consciousness of the faithful vis a vis the gravity of the crisis. Only in this way will the peoples exert pressure on their respective governments

so that the latter may be seriously committed in finding a solution to the conflict. The voice of the conscience is important and crucial. A new optimism can flourish even in the darkest times.

In a Middle East scarred by tensions and wars we must not forget the persecutions against the Christian minority. Since Israel is described as the only democracy in the Middle East, could it also become a sort of safe heaven for the Christian population?

If should be said that Israel is a good democracy, although not a perfect one, considered within the Green Line (the border separating Palestine from Israel, drawn by the United Nations in 1947, ed.’s note). Beyond that Line, it’s not democratic, as it occupies Territories. This said, Israel is unquestionably a “safe heaven” for Christians. Here they enjoy tolerance, freedom of religion and worship, enshrined in the current legal framework. What is happening in Mosul, Aleppo, Istanbul, could never happen here.