On Thursday, November 29, 2012, the United Nations officially recognized the Palestinian Authority as a sovereign state and granted its petition for observer status within the international decision-making body. Sixty-five years before the United Nations had approved a two-state solution for the region, UN Resolution 181, that officially ended the British occupation of the territory and sanctioned the possibility of two states. It says:
“The resolution recommends that the United Kingdom (as mandatory power for Palestine) evacuate; armed forces should withdraw no later than August 1, 1948; independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem administered by the United Nations should come into existence; the City of Jerusalem should preserve the interests of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths.”
While the Palestinian Arab population disagreed with that solution, when British forces left on August 1, 1948, Israel declared statehood. The United States recognized its statehood the same day. Russia was soon to follow suit.
In many ways, this is the historical context of the current struggles in the region. Yet, Fareed Zakaria in a recent article in Time magazine entitled, “Where the Past is not Prologue,” paints the reader a picture of an interconnected web of politics and fragile nations in the Middle East. Zakaria suggests that Israel, the end of Saddam’s regime in Iraq and the influence of the United States in recent history has actually stabilized the region from what it was in the 1980s. In addition, he points out how often Israel and the Palestinian Authority actually cooperate with each other. When it comes to the true source of regional instability presently, he argues that Syria, Iran, Turkey’s inability to influence diplomacy, Egypt’s unstable economic and political situation as well as the regional boundaries drawn in colonial times are causing far more uncertainty than the ongoing feud between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Is the situation improving? Maybe. But lasting peace in the region requires more. It requires the overthrow of patriarchy! Specifically, the following concepts relating to the land itself are detrimental to any lasting peace: religious and secular concepts of ownership, domination, chosenness, control, security and divine intervention.
In religious writings and historical fact, the land of Palestine is given sacred significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims. The crusades were holy wars attempting to conquer Jerusalem and return the land to its ‘rightful’ owners, the Christians. Popes assured crusaders of forgiveness of sins and entrance into heaven. The books of Joshua and Kings detail the Israelite war-filled expansion into Palestine and the decimation of whole peoples as part of G-d giving Israel its reward for covenantal faithfulness: the Promised Land. These are just two examples of how patriarchal religious tradition offers some people holy inspiration for possession of and destruction of the land and its peoples in bloody, violent and mercenary ways. Ecofeminist Rosemary Radford Ruether describes Israel and its concept of the land in her book Gaia and G-d: An Ecofeminist Theology for Earth Healing:
Israel’s election places upon it a mandate to be a holy people. Through this holiness, or greater proximity to G-d’s holiness, they also are situated in a central relation to G-d’s work of creation and redemption. It was on their behalf that G-d created the world. Election and the mandate to holiness provide Israel with a land claim. The land of Canaan has been designated by God as their promised land. They have a superior right to this land because they alone can make it holy, while the polluted people who live there deserve, precisely because of their unholiness, to be driven out of this land (118).
If the land is G-d-given to the ‘correct’ faithful, no wonder it is so valued and people, like Hamas and Israel. are willing to go to such extreme measures to keep control of it.
Land is also given sacred significance in secular forms of patriarchy. Land-ownership has often granted rights in political systems, stability in livelihood and economic investment for future generations. Building houses in the West Bank is just one example of patriarchal notions of ownership, stability and future investment in the Palestine region. In addition, owning land has traditionally been about domination, control and reaping of that land with the forced labor of slaves or indigenous peoples for its agricultural or material resources. Claiming new lands have often been violent and decimating for native peoples. Land is not inherently valued in patriarchy but is often seen as a tool for other motives and opportunities.
Ecofeminism calls this patriarchal understanding of land, its ownership and profitability into question. It argues that rather than see ourselves as separate, above nature and free to dominate it, we need to begin to see ourselves as part of nature and the land around us. The land needs to be valued as an indelible part of human life that requires a certain balance and ecosystem to maintain. Ynestra King writes in “Prospects for a Contemporary Peace Movement: An Ecofeminist Perspective,” the following about peace and ecofeminism; “For ecofeminists, ‘peace’ is understood as connected to a new definition of national and planetary security-societies free of violence, with nature-friendly technologies, and place and culture-respectful sustainable economies.” In other words, no human or group of humans have rights over the land, sole use of the land nor should they destroy it. Likewise, the economic, political and other societal institutions we have in place need to be respectful of the land and sustainable industries and practices.
Currently, the crisis in the Middle East and the destruction of the rainforest in Africa and South America show what little respect we have for the land. Just as colonialism, the slave trade and the current war on women show what little respect we have for people. The Middle East conflict epitomizes some of the worst secular and religious conceptions of land within patriarchy.
Is a two state solution the answer?
Honestly, these are the wrong questions! As ecofeminism points out, peace requires a different kind of concept of land, stability and society.
The correct question is: when are we going to uproot patriarchy and its destructive concept of the land and recognize our bond to nature, including the land itself? Then peace will be full and lasting.
Ivy A. Helman, Ph. D.: A feminist scholar currently on the faculty at Boston College teaching in its Perspectives Program and an Adjunct Lecturer at Merrimack College. Her most recent publications include: “Queer Systems: The Benefits of a More Systematic Approach to Queer Theology,” in CrossCurrents (March 2011) and Women and the Vatican: An Exploration of Official Documents(2012).