Bernard Sabella, a retired sociology professor at Bethlehem University, the only Catholic university in the Holy Land, gave a lecture Thursday on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He currently serves as executive secretary of the Palestinian Refugee Services Department of the Middle East Council of Churches. In 2006 he was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council on the quota reserved for Christians in Jerusalem.
Two speakers – Aune Carlson and Jeffrey Abood – spoke alongside Sabella. Carlson is the senior director of operations for Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of Christian churches. Abood chairs the Catholic Advisory Council for the same organization and was knighted by the Vatican in 2010.
Peter McKenna | The observer
The conference was co-sponsored by the Ansari Institute, the Churches for Peace in the Middle East, the Bethlehem University Foundation, the Liu Institute for Asian Studies, the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, and the Catholic Peacebuilding Network.
Sabella said Palestinians are disappointed by the international community’s inaction in the face of Israeli violence.
“Palestinians have witnessed the horrendous and horrific killing of hundreds and hundreds of civilians and the destruction of entire neighborhoods, combined with disregard for international humanitarian law,” Sabella said.
He said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persists due to unequal power and lack of accountability.
“When Israelis and Palestinians are left alone, there is a power imbalance of Israel – from the Palestinian perspective – doing what it wants without any willingness to take responsibility for any of its actions,” Sabella said.
He acknowledged divisions within Israeli society and politics, but argued that Israel’s lack of political wisdom contributed to weakness in relations with the Palestinian Authority.
Sabella noted that Israeli policies that weakened the Palestinian Authority inflamed the conflict.
“The Palestinian Authority has been weakened time and time again by Israeli policy, especially in the occupied settlements of the West Bank,” he said.
Israel’s failure to find or reach “any peaceful solution with the Palestinian Authority” further exacerbated tensions, Sabella added.
“The Palestinian Authority was supported by the United States, Europe and Israel for security reasons in order to coordinate with each other,” Sabella said. “But there was, I would say, no strong incentive to manage the conflict with Israel and to gain certain political advantages through a negotiated peace process.”
Sabella argued that US and European politicians have been largely uninterested in managing the conflict.
“They have been lukewarm in carrying out any kind of peace mediation. And now, all of a sudden, we find ourselves in a moment of tragic and terrible conflict, when this peaceful solution should have come years ago,” she said.
Sabella said that in the future it will be very difficult to heal the wounds of the Palestinians.
“We need to coordinate a plan for the [restructure] of Gaza – to heal the economic, physical and psychological damage that has occurred in this conflict to overcome it,” he said. “We can’t just say we can continue as we were before. We must avoid a government imposition on the Palestinians, especially in the West Bank.”