Guest author: Oliver Fink, University of Basel
For the first time, I’m really upset about one of the conflict events that I study, and – by Israeli-Palestinian standards – it’s a relatively minor one. “Only” the destruction of a house and a restaurant. Something like this happened a thousand times already and no one got even hurt. I’ve spoken with people before, after their house got destroyed and worse things happened recently however, I was never touched like this. Interestingly, a friend working for an NGO which deals with house destructions frequently on a “professional” level, feels exactly the same! And we both don’t even know the family involved…
Still, I do know the place. I’ve been there frequently and while living in the area for a short period, I used to go running in the beautiful Wadi below or admire the panorama sunset from my favorite chair of our temporary accommodation on a hill nearby. While hiking with the kids in the Wadi below the restaurant one recent evening, we could enjoy music and atmosphere from a distance during an Open-Air Festival. It is one of the very few, maybe the only remaining recreational areas around Bethlehem where Palestinians can enjoy beautiful nature and the Battir olive terraces some kilometers further are even UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What’s even more frustrating is that the whole process is completely legal with an Israeli Supreme Court decision, after years of legal battle around missing building permits and enough doubt cast on the ownership of the Palestinian family to rule in favor of the Israeli NGO. Less than a week later, settlers seized the land installing mobile homes and a generator, surrounded by a fence and protected by the Israeli army. This means that Palestinian friends can’t access their own land anymore (with the risk of losing ownership due to inactivity – even if this inactivity is forced upon them).
Maybe what disturbs me can be described best in the words of Management Professor and artist Nancy Adler as the destruction of a “sense of beauty in a fractured world”. When working with a humanitarian NGO in a conflict zone in Africa some years ago, we simply called it “lifestyle of survival” – constantly being involved in issues of life and death, displacement and violence leaving hardly any room for enjoyment or leisure. While we appreciated the luxury of being flown out every three months to a neighboring more peaceful country where we could enjoy Africa at its best, our local staff stayed behind. The impact of the occupation might lead to a similar lifestyle – and while it was bearable for a humanitarian assignment, the impact during a whole lifetime of intractable conflict might be a different story.
Somehow, the story reminds me of a parable described in the bible, where a prophet wants to chastise a wealthy king who killed a loyal officer and took his wife. As he can’t confront him directly, he tells a story about a rich guy stealing and killing the only sheep of a poor guy as a meal for guests to safe his own animals. Packing it into a legal case appealing to the king’s sense of justice, he manages the king to speak his own verdict.
I’m no prophet and I hope and pray that experienced injustice doesn’t backfire eventually. The God of the Bible seems to take injustice against the powerless pretty serious. And as we are studying the impact of events like the one described in our project, as researcher I can see from my own data the powerful and sometimes destructive forces at play…
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