By Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach
The year 2014 brought many challenges for advocates working for a just and sustainable peace in Palestine and Israel.
Settlement expansion and detentions: Throughout the year Israel continued its expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In April, just after the breakdown of negotiations led by Secretary of State John Kerry, Israel moved forward with plans to forcibly transfer Palestinian Bedouin communities from their homes in the E-1 area near Jerusalem—an area where the U.S. has long insisted Israel must not build. MCC helped organize a letter to Secretary Kerry to draw attention to these concerns.
Israel’s actions in the E-1 area, along with the annexation in August of nearly 1,000 acres near Bethlehem and the announcement in September of plans to build another 2,600 housing units in East Jerusalem all send a clear signal that Israel intends to continue expanding its control of the occupied Palestinian areas.
Individual acts of violence between Palestinians and Israelis have also escalated, with Israel responding by increasing detentions of Palestinians. Nearly 500 Palestinians are now in “administrative detention” without cause or trial. Another 6,600 Palestinians are held in Israeli prisons.
Destruction in Gaza: Extreme violence broke out in Gaza over the summer between the Israeli military and Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups. More than 2,100 Palestinians died, 70 percent of them civilians, according to the United Nations. MCC joined a letter sent by U.S. faith-based organizations to President Obama expressing dismay over the violence and urging Israel to cease their military actions immediately.
During the conflict, news reports indicated that the U.S. had suspended the transfer of Hellfire missiles to Israel. Later news reports said that the “bureaucratic” issue had been resolved and that missile transfers had resumed.
Advocacy efforts now are focused on lifting Israel’s blockade of Gaza, as well as the dire need for reconstruction materials to get into Gaza.
U.S. legislation: As the year ended, the U.S. Congress passed the “U.S.- Israel Strategic Partnership Act,” a bill that gives additional surplus military equipment to Israel. The bill had been held up over the admission of Israel into the visa waiver program—a reciprocal program in which the two countries agree to allow one another’s citizens to enter without a visa. Because Israel regularly denies admission to U.S. citizens of Palestinian descent, the compromise language stated that Israel will be admitted to the visa waiver program when it satisfies the program’s requirements.
Get involved: Our office continues to send out monthly alerts on Palestine and Israel, usually every “Third Thursday” to our Middle East action alert list. If you do not receive these already, please sign up at washington. mcc.org. For ongoing updates from the region, check out the MCC Palestine blog.
Finally, another great way to get involved is to join the Mennonite Palestine Israel Network (MennoPIN). The network, launched in 2013, is a grassroots effort within Mennonite Church USA, working for peace with justice in Palestine and Israel. Learn more and sign up to receive regular updates here.