Question 4 – Is it the Purpose of Justice to Redress Past Wrongs?

The title of today’s question may be a bit of a mouthful, perhaps that reflects my lack of answers on this one.

The lead headline on BBC news today was Mahmoud Abbas presenting Palestine’s bid for statehood to the U.N.

The ongoing Israeli-Palestine conflict is obviously one of the defining long term geo-political issues of this age.  In an attempt to understand today’s U.N. address, I spent some time reading up on the last few decades of the history of Palestine.  If we are to understand today Abbas’ call to recognize a state with pre-1967 borders, we need to understand the Six Day War of 1967.  To understand the events that led to war we need to understand the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and so on.

I can’t claim that I’ve even begun to understand the complexities of the religious, ethnic and political tensions in the area, but I do realize one thing.  Many people feel that they or their ancestors have been wronged, and that justice requires redress for these past wrongs.  In this particular case, the PLO wants the return of territory lost during the Six Day War.

If we accepted as a principal that territory seized by one country from another should be returned, then how universally could we apply this?  And for how long?  Should Karelia be returned to Finland from Russia?  Should Libya be returned to Turkey?  Or possibly to Italy?  Should Quebec be returned to France?  Should Ontario be returned to the Iroquois?  Or maybe to the Algonquin?

Ultimately, when faced with such questions we realise that huge swathes of the Earth have been fought over, won, lost, occupied, colonialised, and traded.  And there are probably few people groups that cannot lay claim to some past injustice.

So should we try to redress these past wrongs?  Or should we abandon all striving for justice?  Or is there another way, perhaps that acknowledges what has happened in the past and at the same time works hopefully towards a better future for all?