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“An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”
Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter From Birmingham Jail”
Every year in February, Americans celebrate the eradication of unjust laws that had imprisoned African-Americans behind a wall of segregation for more than 90 years and the centuries of effort that brought them out of slavery — stateless, penniless, oppressed — to a state of equality and justice with their fellow citizens. Yet even now, fifty years after this remarkable transformation of our society, the reality laid bare by Katrina demonstrates that equality remains elusive and racism alive. This truth about America burst from the television screen as Katrina lashed New Orleans. Had the TV crews not presented this scene to Americans, the truth of America’s poverty stricken hordes would have remained hidden behind the glitz of Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street. “Oppressed people,” Martin Luther King reminded us, “cannot remain oppressed forever.” But they can be forgotten, nameless, and voiceless, the detritus of our touted democracy. So while we celebrate this most recent accomplishment in creating a real democracy in America, almost 300 years after its proclamation to the world, we might ask why we allow our touted mid-east allay, the only bastion of American-type democracy in the mid-east, Israel, to create an apartheid state that incorporates the imprisonment of a people behind illegal walls condemned as such by the International Court of Justice, illegal theft of land contrary to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and actions that break the United Nations’ Convention against Genocide?
The three hundred years of slavery and segregation endured by African-Americans resulted in a legacy of humiliation, torture, powerlessness, and fear inflicted by whites that erupted from time to time in retaliation and vengeance, rebellion and terrorism, suicide and hate. The Civil-Rights Movement of the mid-20th Century grew out of this legacy led by Martin Luther King, who in April of 1963, wrote a letter to his fellow clergymen detailing the injustice of American society and the right of the oppressed to confront it. Listen to King’s argument:
1. “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
2. “An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law … An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”
3. “A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that … had no part in enacting or devising the law.”
Apply these arguments to the conditions existing in Israel as it occupies and oppresses the Palestinian people. These past five years, Sharon left a legacy of humiliation, torture, powerlessness, and fear on the population living under the boots of Israel’s IOF. He mocked their faith by marching into the al Aqsa Mosque with 1000 troops in September of 2000; he stole their land and placed squatters in illegal cities and settlements throughout the West Bank and Gaza; he subjugated Palestinians to incessant harassment by establishing over 200 military checkpoints on their land preventing freedom of movement and incredible humiliation of the people; he issued prison lock downs that he euphemistically called curfews, literally incarcerating the people in their homes for weeks on end, preventing them from making a living, and subjecting them to imprisonment or death should they break the curfew; he closed roads at will, created state of the art roads for the illegal inhabitants of the Israeli outposts he created on stolen land, and placed roadblocks on roads left for Palestinians; he demolished homes at will and without warning forcing thousands into the streets, killing many in the process; he absconded with 93% of the land for ownership by Jews only; he instituted extra-judicial executions resulting in hundreds of assassinations of Palestinians denying them in the process due rights under democratic and international law; he imprisoned and his government continues to imprison without charge over 8000 men and women, a practice that mocks the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights; he constructed a hideous wall that incarcerates an entire people in the greatest open air prison ever devised by a racist mentality that now stands as his everlasting grave stone inscribed to his memory with defiant epithets by those who must endure his hatred and vengeance; he allowed the creation of laws that prevent freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom to own and build on land handed down over decades to children, freedom to establish and freely conduct higher education in occupied terrortory; and he accepted as members of his government, racist fanatics who have declared their right to harm and kill Palestinians and a right to drive them from their land.
Is it any wonder that the Palestinians voted Hamas into office overwhelmingly as the expression of their will to show that “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever”? Sharon ridiculed the Palestinians by “making irrelevant” their elected officials, by bulldozing down their state offices, by assassinating their leaders at will. He built an Israeli state with borders unilaterally declared taking whatever land he wished to take. He attempted to divide the Palestinians by creating divisions between the PLO and Hamas. But the Palestinians have defied him and his mercenary army that is paid to occupy and subdue the indigenous people of Palestine by democratically electing the one group that demands that the people of Palestine be accorded respect, personal and political rights, and justice.
While Israeli Defense Minister Sha’ul Mofaz weepingly pleaded before the UN and begged his counterpart in Russia, Sergei Ivanov, to denounce the Palestinian results or place demands on Hamas to renounce its stated goals, the Russian response confronts the reality that the west has created, “at the end of the day, the whole world will talk with Hamas.” (Aruz Sheva-Israel National News, 2/12/06). That statement recognizes what America and Israel do not wish to face: the Palestinian people have taken the boldest initiative to date against their nemesis by peacefully, without violence or terrorism, electing a government that will demand that the legitimate rights of the Palestinians be granted, that the illegal occupation be ended as recognized in numerous UN Resolutions, that the land stolen by Israel from the Palestinian people be returned, and that the International Law of Right of Return be granted to the Palestinian people living in refugee camps and foreign lands.
Abandon for the moment the Israeli flood of news articles and reports attempting to document the militant and terrorist nature of Hamas, and listen to what Hamas officials have stated is the aim of that organization as it undertakes legal responsibility for the Palestinian people. Khalid Mish’al, head of the political bureau of Hamas, commented in a report published in The Guardian (UK, 1/31/06), “Hamas has been elected mainly because of its immovable faith in the inevitability of victory … while we are keen on having friendly relations with all nations we shall not seek friendship at the expense of our legitimate rights … We shall never recognize the right of any power to rob us of our land and deny us our national rights.” Recall now Martin Luther King’s statement, “A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that … had no part in enacting or devising the law.” All Palestinians live under laws enacted by the Israeli government and imposed on them without the consent of the Palestinians. With the exception of the United States and a few of its coerced allies, the community of nations represented by the UN have made it clear that Israel illegally occupies Palestinian land, that it denies human rights by preventing right of return, that it imposes illegal restrictions on housing, that it demolishes homes and arrests Palestinians in a collective manner contrary to international law, and that it has undertaken a continued and incessant process of economic ethnic cleansing that is systematically destroying the people of Palestine.(See UNSCO report 2/9/06). “Israel’s separation wall and its network of checkpoints across the occupied West Bank have led to a ‘de-development’ of the Palestinian economy.”
Let us understand that the inhumane conditions inflicted on the Palestinians by the Israelis is, as Martin Luther King so eloquently stated, “ … out of harmony with the moral law … not rooted in eternal law and natural law.” All that the Israelis have imposed on the Palestinians is contrary to human dignity and respect; it is a justification of injustice masked by laws emanating from an illegal source and contrary to any humane standard. In Martin Luther King’s words, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”
Listen once again to the words coming from Hamas: “A new roadmap is needed to lead us away from the path of checkpoints and walls and onto the path of freedom and justice. … we desire dialogue. The terms of the dialogue should be premised on justice, natural respect and integrity of the parties. … We will extend good-faith efforts to remove the bitterness that Israel’s occupation has succeeded in creating. … We appeal to the American peoples’ sense of fairness to judge this conflict in light of the great thoughts, principles and ideals you hold dear in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the democracy you have built.” (Mousa Abu Marzook, deputy political bureau chief, Hamas). This is the voice of a new government in a land that represents for the Muslim world all that is anathema to justice as imposed by the west, most especially that imposed by the United States and its ally Israel. Should we not listen and learn? Here is the voice of an oppressed people who “cannot remain oppressed forever.”
For the US and Israel to thrust fear abroad by blasting statements drawn from Hamas’ founding documents that were penned almost 30 years ago, aided and abetted by Israel in its founding, statements made then by a small minority of Palestinians, that declare that Israel must not exist, is to speak the words of the hypocrite, since both Israel and the US have government documents that declare their right to preemptively destroy states they declare to be contrary to their best interests. Israel’s National Religious Party and its affiliates in the Knesset have declared platforms that deny Palestinians the right of a homeland and they have constituted the base of support that has given license to Sharon to eradicate Palestinian rights these past five years.
The United States’ invasion of Iraq and its stated objective and current preparation to invade Iran make ridiculous its assertion that Hamas is a danger to the world. The real danger lies in Israel’s military might, its possession of nuclear weapons, its willingness to occupy land it does not own, and its brutal oppression of a small population. Hamas’ only weapon is justice made evident before the world, a difficult weapon to launch since it does not have freedom of movement, of speech, or of contact with the world except through the will of the Israeli military that can close down Palestine by locking the gates of the wall it has imprisoned them behind. Such is the justice imposed by the “only democracy in the mid-east,” by those who govern through ancient myths and superstition.
Mrs. Coretta Scott King shared her husband’s desire to spread the movement for non-violent social change to a global stage and arranged for more than 400 religious leaders and ordinary people — Jewish Israeli and Palestinian — to meet in Bethlehem last year to celebrate non-violence in a land dominated by oppression.(news.ucc.org/index, 2/3/06).
Perhaps in this month dedicated to the equality of all humankind, we can raise the hopes of a people denied that equality and accord them the rights and respect due all who would live by a moral code based on the civilized thought expressed by Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”