Palestinians and Israelis are back in the media spotlight, reminding the world that innocent civilians are still being humiliated, maimed and killed on a routine basis. The recent spate of brutal stabbings represents another depressingly regular downturn in this dehumanising conflict which the world refuses to tackle with determination or honesty. We all must realise though that, after the tragic loss of life, hope is now the greatest casualty.
There is no need to repeat again that Palestinians have been dispossessed, displaced and delegitimised as a result of Israel's creation and expansion. There is no question that Zionism, which continues to drive that expansion, represents a response to persistent anti-Semitism However, rather than taking sides in what appears at face value as a nationalist discourse, the international community possesses a legal framework which can and should work dispassionately and impartially to address the key issues which have confounded the pursuit of a just peace.
What we are currently witnessing is the result of entrenched raw hostility which has been allowed to deepen chiefly due to a refusal to tackle impunity. Palestinians exist in ever decreasing circles while the Israeli Government acts as if expansion is critical for the state's survival. This is demonstrated by continued announcements of settlement housing tenders and Palestinian house demolition orders in violation of international law. No one in the international community has convinced Palestinians and Israelis that it need be otherwise by taking concrete measures to end illegal acts. With every death Palestinians and Israelis lose hope that a political solution is possible. Violence fills that vacuum.
For genuine conflict transformation and for hope to be restored, it is imperative that we look at the past, acknowledge grievances and search for ways to address them that ensures the future is defined by justice, dignity and security for all. Thus, any peace process must balance the need for committed participation and agreement between populations in conflict with sufficient redress for individuals who have paid a painfully high price for failure. Without a recognition of wrongs done then peace will be seen at best as a process without substance and at worst as a continuation of an unsustainable and corrosive status quo. It is the latter that dominates the landscape now.
If Israelis perceive Palestinians pursuit of justice as only part of an attempt to defeat them, rather than a tool with which to achieve dignity and parity, then it will be hard to imagine an end to this violent conflict. Some in the international community appear to treat the law as the path of choice when all else has failed. For example, the European Union was reluctant to support the Palestinian Authority's membership of the International Criminal Court that would allow for the investigation of war crimes committed by both sides. Christian Aid would argue that it is impossible to achieve a viable solution without applying the law.
Both parties are entitled to security and protection but the reality is that Palestinians exist under a harsh and unrelenting occupation to which they can see no end. Rather than passing legislation to try and deter stone throwers, including recently tightened imprisonment and fines on minors aged 14-18 and their parents, the Israeli Government should focus on how to end that occupation and allow Palestinians to exercise the same self-determination that generations of Israelis have fought for.
However the opposite is being pursued. Contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention there are now more than 500,000 Israeli settlers living in illegal settlements throughout the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Christian Aid partner Al Haq, a Palestinian human rights organisation, documented that, between 28 September and 4 October 2015 alone, there were 29 incidents of settler violence in the West Bank. Settler attacks include lethal physical violence against Palestinian civilians, vandalizing homes, obstructing Palestinians' movement and burning crops. Most of which goes unpunished.
According to UN OCHA, 26 Palestinians, including six children, and four Israelis have been killed, and some 3,600 Palestinians and approximately 40 Israelis have been injured between 1st and 12th October. The reality is that by the time this article appears the numbers will have risen. And they will continue to increase, as they have done for decades. Only last summer more than 1,500 Palestinian civilians in Gaza were killed in Israeli military attacks. At the subsequent donor conference in Cairo, convened to elicit funds for reconstruction in Gaza, political leaders recognised that finance without political engagement is of limited value. Sadly, any engagement that there has been falls a long way short of what is required.
Referring to UK support for Israeli actions in Gaza, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond recently told the Jewish Chronicle that "we will stand behind Israel again when it is defending its right to exist and its right to defend itself against attacks". Would he offer the same solidarity to the Palestinians and provide some reason for hope in their struggle for survival?