The day after I flew out of Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Hamas fired more than 2,000 missiles into Israel from the Gaza strip. Israel responded unmercifully.
Hundreds are dead, thousands wounded. These numbers are expected to rise as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows that Gaza will “pay a price it has never known.”
I am against war—all manifestations of war. I am against violence—all forms of institutionalized violence.
We misread the current situation if we believe this display of violence only started on Saturday. It has been simmering for the past 75 years.
Saturday’s launching of rockets is not the start of violence, but its continuation. This leads us to ask: What is the root of this continuing violence?
As I traveled throughout the Holy Land this past week, I kept wondering: How holy can the land really be if it is stolen? Can the Promised Land offered to Eurocentric crusaders—based on the dispossession of the indigenous population—be what God actually promised?
As I traveled through the West Bank, it became apparent that those who define the land as a sacred, divine gift are perceived by the original inhabitants as a settler, colonizing force bent on erasing their presence and identity. Should we be surprised when those whose identity and presence are being eradicated fight back?
Why do we celebrate when Eurocentric people fight for freedom and liberty from tyranny, but condemn it when those from the global south attempt to also fight for their self-determination? My attempt to understand the context of this current manifestation of violence will be told in a tale of two cities—specifically, the villages of Ein Hod and Iqrit, two towns I visited this past week.
Ein Hod is a picturesque artist community on a hilltop among olive trees not far from the city of Haifa. As I strolled through its charming streets, I noted the creativity of public art.
The village, occupied by liberal artists, produces beauty for all to enjoy. I came across a restaurant close to the center of town whose appetizing fragrances seduced the passers-by to sample the culinary delights found within its walls.
If one were to scratch the scenic surface of Ein Hod, one would discover an inconvenient truth, specifically how the town was founded. For centuries, Ein Hawd (original name spelled differently) was a Palestinian village. Propaganda states the town was abandoned.
The fact is that in July 1948, some 700 occupants of this town were forced out at gunpoint. Once empty, what did the state do? How did they “legalize” thievery?
Prior to the war in 1948, which established the State of Israel, about 800-900,000 Arabs lived in Palestine. By the time the state was formed, only 160,000 remained.
Even before the State was established, the Committee for Abandoned Property was created, tasked with transferring Arab property deemed “abandoned” to Israeli hands. By 1950, this process was legalized, as retroactive laws were put in place confiscating “abandoned” property (real and personal) since 1947.
Why did Palestinians leave their homes? By 1949, some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled due to Zionist terrorist acts, which included murder.
Expulsion from some 100 villages by military forces (as was the case with Ein Hawd) cleared the way for new Zionist residents. Facing threats of death, many took refuge in other neighboring countries while others moved to refugee camps in another part of Palestine (i.e. Gaza). Anyone forced out of their homes at gunpoint was legally defined as “absentee.”
Those who went to another country that had been declared an enemy state by Israel were not allowed to return. Those who stayed in another village within Palestine were also prohibited, via travel restrictions, from returning to their homes.
This prevented them from claiming their homes, and they were legally defined as absentees who abandoned property.
Ein Hawd, now renamed Ein Hod, was originally settled by Tunisian and Algerian Jews. But in 1953, it became an artist colony, home to Israeli painters, sculptors and musicians boasting 22 galleries and 14 workshops. By the way, that restaurant mentioned earlier, close to the center of town and serving alcohol? It was the original mosque of the village.
What better way to desecrate a holy site than to secularize the space. Serving alcohol in the space of a former mosque is as sacrilegious as butchering pigs in a former synagogue. It seems as if holy spaces for Muslims have no place in the Holy Land.
The second town I visited was Iqrit, a Palestinian town of some 600 Greek Christians. In October 1948, a few months after Israel was established, the military occupied this town of some 300 houses.
The forces were welcomed by the townsfolk. Within a week, the military commander ordered the inhabitants to leave for two weeks due to security concerns.
By July 1951, the villagers were still waiting to return. They took their case to the newly established Supreme Court, which ruled they must be allowed to return to their homes.
In response, the military—on Christmas Eve that year—demolished all the homes, leaving only a 16th-century Melkite Greek Catholic Church. The surrounding land was later confiscated by the State.
Scraping Iqrit from the face of the earth is not an isolated example. In 1948, some 450 Palestinian villages were wiped off the map.
Tens of thousands of those who didn’t flee as refugees now live in cramped spaces in refugee camps. I visited one in which, in a caged enclosure in its small square, they hung the keys to the homes that are no more.
Again, I am against all wars, but I wonder if the current conflict is simply the continuation of a settler colonial venture that builds walls to protect occupied lands. The consequence is the creation of open-air prisons masquerading as cities.
I am left wondering how I would respond or how you would respond. Self-defense? Flee? Fight for one’s freedom?
Considering this history of land theft—based on religious sentiments that some deity gave you someone else’s land—complicates understanding this current manifestation of violence. We can hope for peace, but can there ever truly be peace absent of justice?
Peace in Palestine? Peace in Ukraine? Peace among the U.S. disenfranchised groups? Is returning violence for violence the response of the hopeless who hope deaf settler colonialists might hear?
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.