Palestine. It's about injustice, not religion

Palestine. It's about injustice, not religion
Comment: For many, Israel's occupation of Palestine, and the resulting conflict, invoke religious sentiment. But it's justice we should be seeking, not religious sovereignty, writes Amal Awad.
5 min read
14 Dec, 2017
Doaa Rajabi (8) finds Israeli forces have demolished her house in East Jerusalem, November 2017[Anadolu]
For many, Israel's occupation of Palestine, and the tentacles of conflict emerging from it, invoke religious sentiment. But it's justice we should be seeking, not religious sovereignty.

There is no point searching for a fair outcome with Palestine. It's impossible, given the very roots of the conflict. But perhaps what has been a more feasible belief, even as it seems increasingly out of reach with each new illegal settlement, is a just one for Palestinians.

For many, that hope was well and truly torpedoed last week when the US President Donald Trump, without genuine authority to do so, recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, decreeing that the US Embassy would find a new home in the embattled and controversial area of the conflict zone in the near future.

It was an unpopular move, prompting even Arab nations who keep the peace with Israel to object.

Israeli talking heads responded with glee, as though it was the first time a world "leader" had offered vocal support for Israel as an embattled and not at all militarily, and in-all-other-ways-advantaged state.

Never mind that the narrative of victimhood and special security concerns holds no weight in such an uneven state of affairs.

Israel hungers for validation, constant in its need to prove that its brutish military occupation is justified, never-ending in its lightweight platitudes that it wants peace with Palestinians, despite bulldozing every effort to make it a reality. 

Yet, it's only in recent years, with the full force of social media, that the battle for hearts and minds has proven challenging.

Now, people living in Gaza can document the horror of being bombed. Now, people can potentially share their experiences on Facebook and Twitter, not beholden to media empires that choose the angle of their tragedy. And more and more, it's clear how many people - of different faiths - claim a stake in the outcome of the conflict.

Religion may be important for many, Palestinians included, but it's not the reason we should be fighting for their human rights 

As the response to Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital has demonstrated, social media acts as a barometer for outrage. The world has responded unfavourably to Trump, who, inexplicably believing himself to be a juror in an enduring conflict, has simply done what other US presidents have failed to: Explicitly throw his support behind Israel as a sovereign nation, its people with more rights to the land than those under occupation.

Palestinians are neither victim nor offender in this fresh and honest narrative; they are irrelevant. 

And what is lost in all of this, is the simple desire for justice for those whose lands have been stolen from them. Amid all the complaints and protests, is a desire to connect to the conflict. But in the desire to address the unfairness of this situation, it's worth considering how we view it. For many - Zionists included - this is a conflict rooted in religious beliefs, in God-given rights to land.

Muslims from around the world declare sentimental links to Palestine because of the location of the al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem. Christians similarly feel a connection to Jerusalem for obvious reasons; as a biblical centre, they, too, feel a sense of ownership over this land that is home to three Abrahamic faiths.

Undoubtedly, religion plays a role in how the conflict is assessed and addressed.

It's an issue of justice, not religious sovereignty

And yet, there is so much danger in clinging to this ideology. It plays a part in how trouble has brewed and is used as a reason for further battle.

So it's not surprising that it's invoked in response to the conflict - but following religious ideology in pursuing justice is not a realistic solution. 

As my journalist friend, Jennine Khalik, noted on Twitter: "Palestine is more than Jerusalem and Jerusalem is more than Qubbat al-Sakhra and Masjid al-Quds." 

Her overall complaint was more colourful, but her point was essentially that the Palestinian issue is hijacked by religious groups, drowned out by religious doctrine and chants at protests.

Concern for Palestinians, and for all of the injustice they are dealt on a daily basis under occupation, is embedded in human rights. It's an issue of justice, not religious sovereignty.

Unfortunately, often when people gather to protest injustice, religious chants can fill a space occupied by people of many creeds and beliefs, swamping what lies at the heart of Palestine's struggle.

But Palestinians, no matter how media and other interested parties might portray it, is not a religious cause; it is one inextricably linked to human rights, justice and legal rights. It is a cause, as Khalik points out, that is "against an ethnoreligious state".

Daily life is a casualty of occupation: The ordinary delights of it; liberty and freedom of movement; a functioning legal system that protects your rights as a citizen.

But the reality is bull-dozed homes, children imprisoned (some tortured), arrested in the dead of night, causing ongoing trauma to families. Encroaching settlements not only swallow Palestinians' land, livelihoods and natural resources, but also the possibility of a two-state solution. And let's not forget that they are illegal, like the wall that snakes its way through villages, separating Palestinians from their own land.

Read more: The importance of normalising Palestine

Israel continues to defy international standards in all areas of human rights, making life miserable for Palestinians in the name of security and protection, and unbearable for those living in villages located close to settlements.

The justice system violations are varied and plentiful. No one holds Israel to account, so what is left for Palestinians to hope for in terms of justice?

Religion may be important for many, Palestinians included, but it's not the reason we should be fighting for their human rights and an end to the brutal occupation.

People are the cause of injustice; in them also, we must find the solution.

Amal Awad is a Sydney-based journalist and author. Her latest book, Beyond Veiled Clichés, explores the lives of Arab women. 

Follow her on Twitter: @amalmawad

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.