What we fondly call the Holy Land is a very polarized place.
For example, if one speaks with the slightest empathy about the plight of Israelis hit by Hamas rockets, many Palestinians make an immediate accusation that this is collusion and political support for Israeli arrogance and Zionist imperialism.
Conversely, the slightest display of empathy for the plight of Palestinians in Gaza in the aftermath of the recent Israeli incursion is often labeled as tolerant of terrorism and even as anti-Semitic.
As is often observed, both parties see themselves as a little David threatened by the other, Goliath.
The seeds of the Holy Land’s recurring conflicts were planted a long time ago.
After World War I, the League of Nations entrusted the area of Palestine to Great Britain with a mandate to guide its inhabitants to eventual independence.
However, Britain failed to resolve its dual encouragement of conflicting Jewish and Arab national aspirations in Palestine and finally turned the matter over to the United Nations. On 29 November 1947, the U.N. General Assembly voted to terminate the British Mandate by the following year and to partition Palestine.
Because of the unique spiritual and cultural importance of Jerusalem to Christians, Jews and Muslims, the city was to be established as a separate entity under a special international regime. The mission of the regime was to “foster cooperation among all the inhabitants of the city” and to “encourage and support the peaceful development of the mutual relations between the two Palestinian peoples [i.e., Jews and Arabs] throughout the Holy Land.”
The plan for the rest of the Palestine Mandate territory was to create two separate independent Arab and Jewish states, but joined in economic union.
Two diametrically opposing principles underlaid and motivated the U.N. partition resolution: sharing and dividing. Sharing applied only to the city of Jerusalem. Dividing applied to the rest of the land.
The rationale for sharing Jerusalem was that it was too important to each of the three great monotheistic faiths and the two peoples to be divided. However, even though a case could be made for applying a similar rationale to the entire Holy Land, the opposite principle was applied to all but Jerusalem — divide and separate.
Almost the entire history of the past 61 years can be interpreted as the sad story of the destructive implementation and the abysmal failure of the principle of division.
The land is divided into major zones of control — Israel, West Bank, Gaza. Political divisions and social tensions grow within each. Authority is fractious, whether of the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority. The “fence” or “wall” is both a symbol and a reality of division.
Ironically, it is the extremists on both sides that reject division and the two state premise. Militant Palestinian Arabs demand the repossession of all the land. Militant Israeli Jews refuse to surrender it.
The ill-used and neglected principle of sharing is the only one that leads to peace. Arabs and Jews once knew this and knew how to live together. Would that they relearn how to do this before it is too late.
The Holy Land is too important and precious to all to be exclusively for one. It is not so important who controls the land — and whether the state is Jewish, Muslim or Christian — as it is for all its dwellers to respect the dignity and rights of each other.
Msgr. Archimandrite Robert L. Stern