Monday, November 19, 2012

Operation Pillar of Cloud and the need for a fresh perspective

Anyone who's been watching the news lately knows that, once again, violence is ramping up in Israel-Palestine. Once again, innocent Palestinians and Israelis are being killed. And once again, ideologues of all stripes are burying their heels in the sand, convinced that their side is completely in the right, stubbornly insistent on "staying the course" no matter what the cost.

Especially here in the West, it's pretty common to hear that "this has been going on for centuries," that "Arabs and Jews just hate each other," that these two sides are just going to keep fighting no matter what. But I have a problem with the narrative that this is merely two "equal" sides battling each other. If that were truly the case, for example, Israel shouldn't act so surprised when Hamas fights back. Israel's stated aim in this recent attack on Gaza, as well as previous ones like Cast Lead and the ongoing siege in general, is to inhibit rocket fire from the Strip. The number of rockets fired in recent days has exploded, so either Israel is failing miserably in its stated goal, or it is trying to accomplish something else entirely.

It is true that Hamas has disgusting anti-Semitic language in their charter. But too often I see people equating all Gazans with that language in ways that are untrue and counter-productive. One of my good friends, for example, is a Palestinian Catholic from the West Bank. He has relatives in Gaza, also Catholics, who voted for Hamas. This was obviously not a vote of fundamentalist Islamist furor. Much like the Republican party here in the U.S. is often more extreme than your everyday conservative Joe, the average Gazan is not out to slaughter all Jews. These relatives of my friend, for example, voted for Hamas because they were building schools and health clinics when the moderate party was doing absolutely nothing to ease hardships for average Palestinians. It was a vote of desperation, not fundamentalism. Israel needs to understand that it cannot pen these people in and restrict their futures forever. Not only is it morally reprehensible, it has only made Israeli citizens less safe. It is not exactly difficult to predict that trapping people in an increasingly dire situation with fading hopes for improvement only breeds more violence. I hope and pray for peace, and that is why my heart breaks to see this dead-end spiral of violence continue.

It is true that there are some who have deep-seated anti-Semitic feelings that inspire them to wish violence against the Jewish people. But there are also those who believe Judaism gives them the right to persecute and kill Palestinians, burn their olive trees, build walls and steal land. This is an ongoing problem that is one of the greatest roadblocks to achieving peace, and all the talk about a two-state solution has done nothing to stop it. The result is that Gaza is basically still ruled by Israel (despite the historic "disengagement"), and the West Bank is no longer viable as a state; the largest settlement blocks now split it into pieces, with settler-only roads essentially turning the West Bank into a labyrinth of checkpoints and areas entirely off-limits to Palestinians. You cannot create a state out of a piece of land that has almost no geographic continuity and that, with the settlements taken out (as Israel consistently refuses to consider shutting down all but the smallest of these settlements -- which is why peace talks are still at a standstill) amounts to less than 20% of historic Palestine.

The inevitable end result of all this is annexation. The two-state solution is pretty much dead. All that really remains to be seen is how the government will treat the current residents of the occupied territory once this finally becomes the reality. It could be continued apartheid, or it could be equal democratic representation. Zionist lingo demonizes the latter as equivalent to the destruction of Israel, as the current demographic reality shows that there simply are not enough Jewish people in Israel to ensure a majority without significant demographic engineering. But it doesn't take a genius to recognize that "demographic engineering" eventually amounts to ethnic cleansing. This is not exactly democratic behavior. And countries that have grappled with past ethno-religious conflicts have been able to find ways to ensure each group has the ability to be represented fairly in government, have their own institutions, develop their own schools and preserve their own culture in the context of bi-nationality. It seems a pipe dream now for Israel-Palestine, but it is possible.

It's a popular talking point that "Palestinians want to wipe Israel off the map." But likewise, there are elements of Israeli society that deeply desire to wipe the rest of Palestine off the map. In fact, many such elements already claim boldly that Palestinians never existed at all. "A land without a people for a people without a land" was not a statement made by people who genuinely had no clue that hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Arabs alongside a sizable minority of Jews, were indeed living there; it was a statement made by people who genuinely just did not believe that most of these individuals counted as people. Palestinians allegedly teach their children blindly to hate Israelis (even though reputable studies of Palestinian textbooks have concluded that such allegations are not true). Yet many Israelis also teach their children that Palestinians' lives are unimportant, that they have no right to exist in Israel as equal citizens. In either case, I'm not sure what makes one more palatable than the other. Right-wing elements in Israeli society glorify militarism in ways I find equally disturbing to those of hardcore Palestinian nationalists like Hamas. I can't support either one.

Meanwhile, the majority of Palestinians are simply trying to live their daily lives in spite of having most all aspects of those lives controlled by a country whose core identity willfully excludes them. And likewise, most Israelis also simply want to be left alone and wonder why the violence continues. The current situation allows the worst elements of both sides to dictate life for the majority. Ultimately, neither side benefits. It is a dead end that desperately calls for a new approach.

No one is saying Jews don't have a right to live in the Holy Land. But I don't see how it's fair for one group to live there at the expense of the other. At the time of Israel's creation, Palestinians owned 92% of the land yet were only offered to keep less than half of it. Hindsight is 20/20, and many Palestinian leaders now admit that they wish this had been accepted. A common argument that Israel was formed through land purchase is a little disingenuous; with the blessing of the U.N., many parcels of land were indeed sold, but only because of legislation formed by the fledgling state of Israel that allowed land purchase if the current owners were deemed "absentee" -- and many of these owners were absent because they had fled the violence in a hurry only to be forcibly prohibited from returning. That's not exactly the same thing as an honest sale. Does that make it OK for anyone to hurl rockets at civilians? Absolutely not. But it does call for acknowledgment that many people still living today have a legitimate grievance against the Israeli government that should not just keep getting swept under the rug.

So if you see Palestinians expressing a desire to abandon the "peace process," do understand that it is not because they don't want peace. It is because every applauded "resolution" and "step forward" has ultimately only offered cover while facts on the ground made their situation worse. They no longer have any faith in the international community, because the international community has repeatedly violated their trust. The PA, for example, merely runs the occupation on behalf of Israel while its top politicians pad their pockets, safe in cozy Ramallah. Hamas claims to offer an alternative, and this is why they have been politically successful -- not because all Palestinians just hate Jews that much. I say this not to speak on their behalf, but simply to tell their concerns as I have heard them expressed to me: Palestinians want to be able to get to school, to move around, to get jobs, to be safe, to have access to places important to them, to travel, to escape from political no-man's land, to have a passport again, to be represented in their country and not marginalized. When these issues are addressed, extremist elements like Hamas will not have the fodder to incite people as they now do. They will not have scores of youth who are facing fewer opportunities and increasingly dire futures willing to do just about anything to resist their situation. Perhaps a belief in compromise is tantamount to "negotiating with terrorists." But I have a hard time seeing how anyone who genuinely wants innocent people on both sides of the green line to have peace can instead keep advocating for strategies that have only exacerbated the situation.

There is plenty of room in the Holy Land for all its citizens. I hope one day we can see this happen. One person, one vote. No permits, no demolitions, no Area C, no Jewish-only roads. Settlements and refugee camps can both just become towns, part of the fabric of the land, instead of hotbeds of controversy. Resources should be distributed fairly, so that no one has to have their water turned off so settlements can have swimming pools. Refugees who still hold keys and deeds to existing properties in Israel should have the ability to return, or at least to receive some kind of restitution. Jews from other Middle Eastern countries who were forced to emigrate to Israel in past decades should likewise be able to return if they desire (a few have already done so in Tunisia, actually). Palestinians whose former homes have since been destroyed should still have the option to move to Israel, buy property, and become productive members of society. They should not be excluded because they are not Jewish. And Israelis or Jews or anyone who wants to live in Nablus or Bethlehem or see the seashore in Gaza should have the option to do so fairly and without excluding or causing hardship on their neighbors. That is a true democracy.

I realize this may sound ridiculously idealistic. But I just can't accept a situation that offers no hope of any sort of equitable solution. Previous ethnic and/or religious conflicts like Ireland, S. Africa, Brussels, etc., were also once thought to be intractable, yet history teaches us that reconciliation is possible. Bombing the shit out of Gaza, on top of the continuing occupation, only makes Israel less safe -- not to mention the high civilian casualties make it simply an unacceptable policy. I view every life lost, whether Palestinian or Israeli, as a tragedy. This is why I think it's time to be honest that Israel-Palestine desperately needs a new approach.

2 comments:

  1. Palestinians are facing a lot of troubles and they are homeless because of the uncertain situation of the country and they are innocent

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  2. i wish i really can do for them they are really in trouble and we are hopeless cannot even count how much even they are facing problems

    ReplyDelete