When Israel was created in 1948, the home of Naim Ateek was bulldozed and his family forced to resettle. Nevertheless, they built a life elsewhere, never expecting a handout or rescue.

for all

Palestinian self-determination fight
is far more complex than Hawaiians'

By Mary Adamski

Some people in Hawaii believe they own the idea of sovereignty. But theirs is typical of the struggles that concept has spawned throughout history and across the globe. An ethnic group's need to be a real, special, defined tribe of people gets entwined and tangled with the desire to possess territory.

Hawaiian activists might have benefited had they turned out to hear how incredibly complex the sovereignty issue can be, as Palestinian Christian clergyman Naim Ateek talked about his homeland here in several appearances this month. The complexity of the politics and theology that color all decisions and land claims in the region where the three major religions of the world began is more than any sound bite, including this one, can possibly explore.

Island activists could have contemplated a map that showed the sites of hundreds of villages from which Palestinian families, including Ateek's, were ejected when the state of Israel was created in 1948. Their homes were bulldozed so no one would try to creep back into places that Jews were to populate, based on their claim that the land was theirs millennia ago. Another map documented changes in the ownership of homes and farms in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that went forcibly from Palestinian to Israeli possession in the 1967 war. Those land masses smaller than Hawaii are the key to current Palestinian sovereignty demands. And they are just the end of a timeline during which uncounted tribes of people have claimed possession and lost it to the tide of time.

Ateek is an Anglican priest and founder of a peace institute, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. He told of the efforts it took just to get leaders from the legion of Christian sects, each possessive of his slice of the "Holy Land," to meet and eventually to take a stand together. Hundreds of them held a nonviolent demonstration Dec. 31 at Bethlehem.

Those Christians seek a Palestinian state. They support it even though they will be the minority there, outnumbered 10 to 1 by Muslims. They even dream that such a state could exist in peace with its bordering neighbor Israel.

The word "entitlement" never came up in Ateek's talks. But it came to mind when he described the day his family members were forced from home and allowed to keep only what they could carry. After Ateek's extended family was forced to "resettle," they didn't wait around for decades for rescue. They worked, made homes elsewhere, contributed to their society. They still hope for justice in the form of a homeland -- if not an actual homestead.

Hawaii's sovereignty issue is so simplistic in comparison that it must astound a Middle Easterner. The first known tribe to find the remote islands we inhabit today enjoyed it in solitude for centuries. New tribes arrived piecemeal, not as a conquering force. There was no wholesale evacuation of people from their homes and taro patches, but the new tribe did bring a concept that inevitably shook the foundation of land holding: no more kuleanas granted by the chief in power, but a property system in which even a peasant could have his own plot.

What might astound the Middle East mind -- beyond the absence of violence -- is the idea that the dominant people of a past era consider they have an entitlement into eternity for the land -- not grandfather's own little plot but acres that past royalty held and never shared with them.

Could Israeli or Palestinian even imagine the leader of the powerful "conquering" tribe apologizing, as President Clinton did, 100 years later? Or believe that the government in possession of the land expects to hand it over in an orderly fashion as soon as the descendants' old tribe decides who will accept the deed?

What Palestinian -- or Israeli -- would believe that?

Mary Adamski is a Star-Bulletin reporter
who specializes in writing about religion.

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