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The Siege of Gaza: A Palestinian Liberation Theology Perspective

By       Message Mike Rivage-Seul     Permalink
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In 2006 I caused a stir in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, by publishing a talk I had delivered at a Unitarian Universalist (U.U.) meeting there about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. (I had just returned from three weeks visiting the region.)

My appearance at the U.U. was on behalf of San Miguel's Center for Global Justice(CGJ) where I was working at the time. My article appeared in the local English-speaking newspaper, Atencion. I submitted it at the request of the CGJ director.

The thesis of my article was clear and unambiguous. "The real terrorists in Israel, I said, "are the Jewish Zionists who run the country." I didn't consider my basically historical argument particularly original or shocking. Chomsky and others had been making it for years.

Following the article's publication all hell broke loose. Someone even phoned the provost at Berea College where I had taught for 36 years reporting me for my inflammatory essay, asking whether I really taught there and if my credentials were genuine.

Now to my surprise, the CGJ has invited me back for a reprise. The organization is running a conference in San Miguel on "Moving beyond Capitalism." In that context, I'm honored to appear on a panel with Rabbi Michael Lerner to present the Palestinian side of the current conflict.

In my presentation, I'll say that the ongoing slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza only confirms my original thesis. So let me repeat it here: the real terrorists in Israel are the Jewish Zionists. I'll go even further and argue that in the present phase of the conflict between Jews and Palestinians, the Jews have little or no right to claim they are acting in self-defense. They are clearly the aggressors guilty of extreme war crimes.

This time I base that argument on helpful analytic distinctions concerning "violence" commonly made be liberation theologians in general and by Palestinian liberation theologians in particular. I interviewed the latter back in 2006 at the Sabeel Ecumenical Center for Liberation Theology in Jerusalem.

Like liberation theologians everywhere, those at the Sabeel Center attempt to analyze their context (and the Judeo-Christian tradition) from the viewpoint of those without public power or voice. Of course, in Palestine that viewpoint belongs to the Palestinians not the Jews.

According to Sabeel analysts, there are really four types of violence at work in the Zionist-Palestinian conflict. Three of them are employed by Israel's leadership against the Palestinians. None of the three is justified. In fact, according to liberation theologians, only one level of violence can ever be excused -- in very limited circumstances. And that violence happens to be the very type our media uniformly designates as "terroristic" -- ironically, the crime of Palestinians defending themselves against criminal Jewish aggression.

Let me explain by reviewing each level of violence identified in liberation theology, connecting each to the conflict under discussion here:

1. Institutionalized Violence: This refers to the destructive social, political and economic "structures" that shape human activity. For instance, the maintenance of a global economic system that unnecessarily kills 35,000 children each day is a form of institutionalized violence. It kills children, the sick and elderly as predictably as if each victim were shot in the head with a .45.

In Palestine, the wall snaking through the region is a violent structure. So is the Israeli Army (IDF). Meanwhile Palestinians have no army. So laws preventing Palestinians from arming themselves also represent violent structures depriving them of their right to self-defense. Even legal arrangements which have prevented Palestinian authorities from paying 40,000 workers (because of alleged connections with Hamas) represent structural violence. In Palestine the primary victims of structural violence by far are Palestinians, not Jews.

Structural violence kills Palestinian children every day.

2. The Violence of Self-Defense: Institutionalized violence inevitably gives rise to a response. In the case of Palestine, blowback first took the form of non-violent protests. In 1947 general strikes and demonstrations by Palestinians were so effective that they led the United Nations to suspend its "Partition Plan," which had awarded 55% of Palestine to Jews, even though they represented only 30% of the area's population. But when Jewish settlers responded with heavy-handed military measures, violent resistance on the part of Palestinians became more frequent. It eventually culminated in the Six Day War in 1967 and in the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Recently retired, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 36 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program.Mike blogs (more...)
 

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