Sunday, February 20, 2011

“International law or the ‘law of the jungle’?”

Businessman Sam BahourI recently met Sam Bahour for the first time. He is a Palestinian-American (born in Youngstown, Ohio) businessman, who moved to Ramallah after the Oslo accords, and who through business ventures has worked to help build a Palestinian infrastructure. He is knowledgeable and articulate, and brings a “secular” perspective to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (his label).  (See his blog,

He commented on a wide range of issues (he is knowledgeable and has first-hand experience), but I’d like to highlight one main point that he made when we met with him. He mentioned the fact that often people go away from Israel and the Occupied Territories confused, not knowing what to think about anything, not knowing how to make sense of the many perspectives they are exposed to.

He asked, is the situation in Palestine complicated or simple? He suggested that there is a simple lens through which to view the situation, the choice between international law and the “law of the jungle.” If you look at the situation through this lens, and consider the 4th Geneva Convention, you have to see the situation as a military occupation, and then evaluate the occupation by the standards of the Geneva Conventions. If you do, you will see that the Israeli government is violating international at several points, e.g., building settlements in occupied territory, moving inhabitants, etc. (note: there are Israeli Human Rights groups that make this same point, have this same perspective).  If you do not accept the framework of International Law, you are left with the “law of the jungle”; and that will go badly for everyone involved, both Palestinians and Israelis.

When asked about a solution to the conflict, he said that first of all, Palestinians need a legally applied occupation, i.e., that Israel would be held to the standards of international law, in their occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Then, he recommended the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which has been endorsed by all Arab states and Islamic states, but which Israel to this point has refused to consider (see,,, and other sites).

The question he left us with, as Americans (though our group had several non-Americans as well) was how do we have a Bill of Rights that we respect for ourselves but not for others?

And the question I found myself asking, being on this trip with a group of Christian leaders, is do we as Christian leaders recognize and support international law and human rights, or do we let other factors (American politics, theological perspectives on Biblical prophecy and theology) take priority?

Can one be a “peacemaker,” without standing for law and rights for all people?

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