Summer Suds: Discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum

Two Nations, One HomeLuisa Hill

For years, I had been putting off the mammoth undertaking of exploring the Israel-Palestinian conflict, not because I had no interest in it, but rather because I knew that in order to do this notoriously complicated conflict justice, several long hours, if not days, have to be devoted to research. It was not until my last year of high school that I sat myself down and began looking into it, because I was going to debate the issue at a Model United Nations conference in St Petersburg. Rather ironically, I was to be the ambassador of Iran, which forced me to begin my investigations with a considerable amount of anti-Israeli bias. Fortunately, since then, and largely thanks to my work with Outside the Bubble, I have more opportunities to broaden my knowledge. Tamar and I agree that reading more about the history of the conflict does not help to simplify it. It is a frustrating tale of provocation and retaliation, expansion and terrorism, religion and democracy, shifting enemies, elusive aims and a great deal of violence. Yet at the same time, I understand why it is so easy to pick a side. Judging by my Facebook newsfeed, it seems to me that the majority of my friends support the Palestinians, even going so far as to defend Hamas. Perhaps it is because this generation is further removed from the holocaust and hence finds it easier to challenge the legitimacy of Israel’s existence, coupled with our tendency to empathise with the underdog. I too admit that I find it difficult to speak in support of the Israeli government, especially given their actions since 1967, essentially destroying a blooming Palestinian economy and consciously funding Islamist activity in the region.

So what now?

My dreams for a solution to this conflict are idealistic, yet I hope that many join me in the belief that the only long-term answer to this question is a one-state-solution. Considering the long history of hostility between Jews and Arabs in the area, it would take generations of integration, education and a very modern form of democracy (irreconcilable with the Islamism and fundamental Judaism rampant in the region) for this to succeed, as well as the forfeiture of Zionist promises. However, the current aggression and increasingly right-wing Israeli government leave little room for such optimism. It seems that the most we can rationally hope for, if there is enough pressure from the US, is a return to 1948 borders, and, most importantly, a reinvigoration of the Palestinian economy and a declaration of sovereignty. For it is economic stability that will bring about social calm and the relative peace and prosperity witnessed before 1967, as well as rescind the legitimacy given to Hamas by a desperate Palestinian people. We can only hope that it is not too late.

"The final Isralestine flag" designed by Isralestine on WordPress (http://isralestine.wordpress.com/)
“The final Isralestine flag” designed by Isralestine on WordPress (http://isralestine.wordpress.com/)

Palestinian Freedom – Yussre ElBardicy

Israel’s Operation Protective Edge surpassed 2006’s 22 daylong Cast Lead offensive, which left 1,417 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead. The casualty rate in Gaza, before the current truce, stood at around 1,948, per United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). Though there’s blame to be shared on both sides, the past several decades and especially the past few weeks have proven that Palestinians suffer more deeply and in greater numbers. While I cannot, as a human being, justify Hamas’s targeting of civilians, Hamas is not the root of the problem in this conflict – it is the result. With over 1.8 million people living on a 139 square mile strip of land besieged by a constant air, land, and sea blockade, the people of Gaza are living in what many human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, call the world’s largest open-air prison. It’s easy for me to say “the Palestinians should resist in less violent ways,” while I sit here with a full stomach in my own home, with relatively no fear for my safety. But in truth, few of us can really say we understand what the Palestinians go through on a day-to-day basis.

I fast for Ramadan, but I have never fasted out of pure need, hungry because an occupying force has dictated my caloric intake. I have never been denied entry or exit from either of the two countries in which I hold citizenship. I have never been publicly humiliated at checkpoint after checkpoint simply because I was born in the wrong place at the wrong time. And unlike most people in Gaza, I have never witnessed a massacre firsthand. As Israel bombs homes, schools, shelters, and hospitals in the name of fighting terrorism, Palestinians are losing family members, neighbors, and once again, their homes. The common perception is that the current flare of violence was provoked by Hamas. It was not. Israel has yet to provide any evidence that the murder of the three teenage settlers was on the orders of Hamas’s leadership. Instead the Israeli government whipped the West into a frenzy, and arrested dozens of Palestinians without warrant, completely usurping any measure of sovereignty or dignity the Palestinians had. Hamas, which had been observing an 18-month ceasefire, then started firing rockets into Israel.

Almost immediately, Israel used this as a pretext for another round of collective punishment — killing civilians in droves and making their land inhospitable, justifying this by pointing at Hamas’s largely ineffective rockets that are its only way of protesting Israel’s illegal blockade. With Israel and Egypt controlling their borders, Gazans have nowhere to go, and even those who have followed Israel’s orders to evacuate to UN shelters have been bombed. Nobody is safe in Gaza. Children playing on a beach, children celebrating Eid on a playground, pregnant women, handicapped patients, passengers in an ambulance, injured people in a hospital, internally displaced civilians in a UN shelter, and journalists. All victims of Israel’s “right to self-defense.” As the IDF counts the number of rockets that are fired by Hamas and mostly intercepted by the US-funded Iron Dome, Palestinians count their dead. Even during a brief ceasefire, we watched the Palestinian death toll climb as relatives returned to where their homes once stood, pulling their murdered loved ones from beneath the rubble. We all want the bloodshed to stop. But an unjust peace, one that returns to the status quo, where Israel continues to expand its illegal settlements and impose a suffocating blockade on Gaza, is not peace at all. It is merely the lull before a storm, as the conflicts will get bloodier, the massacres more horrifying, and the population more radical, unless Palestine is allowed to become a truly sovereign state.

Mahmoud Abbas speaking at the United Nations after Palestine was recognized as an observer nation
Mahmoud Abbas speaking at the United Nations after Palestine was recognized as an observer nation (via Wikimedia Commons)

We the People  – Tamar Ziff

It is nearly impossible to make any absolute statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Forget abstract morality; even the basic facts – who fired first, what was fired, who died, how and when – are constantly contested, and, even when grudgingly accepted, always countered. “Yes, but…” is the mantra of all commentators.

“Almost 2,000 Palestinians dead,” – “Yes, but Hamas fires from densely populated civilian centers,” – “Yes, but the IDF isn’t killing just Hamas – over half of the casualties are civilians, and humanitarian international law proscribes the killing of noncombatants” – “Yes, but when weapons are stored in or fired from civilian centers those centers become legitimate military targets, and anyway, as with all guerilla army situations, the line between civilian and soldier is a fine one” – “Yes, but the women and children!” – “Yes, but self defense! Israel’s women and children!” – “Yes, but Iron Dome! Palestinians are more vulnerable!” – “Yes, but that is mostly due to Hamas’ neglect of its citizens and reluctance to build shelters and defense mechanisms,” – “Yes, but the blockade! Poverty, desperation, rubble! Gaza is all rubble, rubble, toil and trouble,” – “Yes, but with no blockade Hamas will make more weapons and become more powerful!” – “Yes, but with the blockade more Palestinians in Gaza will not disapprove of Hamas and see it as fighting for their freedom and safety. The international media will see it as a resistance group, rather than a cruel terrorist dictatorship. It will still become more powerful,” – “Yes, but we need to keep fighting it! It wants to annihilate Israel!” – “Yes, but can you blame it? It’s violent and extreme, horribly cruel, but the basic anti-Israel sentiment – though awfully manifested through Hamas – permeates through much of Palestinian society for a reason. It hasn’t exactly been rainbows and smiles galore,” – “Yes, but first Hamas must recognize Israel’s right to exist and lay down its weapons. Isn’t peace contingent on demilitarization?” – “Yes, but who’s to say that if Hamas gives in Israel will really change? Bombing is definitely not a solution to anything, but it’s a way to draw attention to a status quo that just can’t continue. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire,”

“Yes, but it’s a small piece of land, run by a militant terrorist group and home to other fringe Islamist groups aching to overthrow Hamas and impose even more tyrannical rule. Hamas does not care about the Palestinians – did not and does not, never will, unless it will achieve some religio-political objectives. More dead Palestinians – especially if it can somehow be blamed on Israel, which it usually can be – means better PR for Hamas, means more donations, means a nicer mansion for Meshal, cable TV for the tunnels in which Hamas aims to take Israeli hostages, and maybe a few more choice Iranian missiles,”

“Yes, but what is Israel? A legitimate democracy on paper, yet one whose Parliament receives very little oversight as to the laws it passes, whose government is run by a coalition of militantly right-wing and fanatically Jewish parties, and which dismisses the rule of law – not to mention the many UN Declarations and Conventions which it has signed – at will. Circumscription of the right to free speech and protest, the tacit approval for discriminatory, violently anti-Arab or Arab-sympathizing groups. Decade-long violation of international law as relating to territories conquered in war time.”

“Yes, but we have a moral standard! We do not aim for civilians! We do not tell our people to die for some Jihad! You cannot compare the Netanyahu administration to Hamas,” 

“Yes, but if so, Israel should start acting like it – ‘being the better country’ does not mean being the stronger one, or the one that can better immediately protect its people. It should not only be that. It should be, being the country that realizes, long-term, how detrimental the perpetual cycle of war is on both the Palestinians and its own citizens, how much legitimacy – which Israel direly needs – is sacrificed every time Israel flexes its military muscles, regardless of justification.”

“Yes, but when bombs fall, what are we supposed to do? Sit there and take it, like punishment? Punishment for what? Existing? No country should or would react like that, when under threat,”

“Yes,  but what about the Palestinian people? Are they not constantly being punished for existing? Are their lives not constantly under threat, either by missiles, or by Hamas, or by the lack of access to resources?”

“Yes, but that is not Israel’s fault! Not completely – Egypt is complicit, Hamas is damnably abusive, as is the weak-willed Fatah and the lackluster Palestinian Authority,”

“Yes, but though it may not all be Israel’s fault, it is definitely Israel’s problem. And it’s getting worse. No ‘buts’ about it.”

This is the reality. Blame can be traded for ever, and has been, for decades upon decades. Fault, no fault, right, wrong – the bottom line is that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is Israel’s problem – it endangers security, undermines legitimacy, and generally strengthens enemies and opponents of Israel. The Palestinian people are the only ones who can ensure Israel’s security in the near future. They should be treated as such. Though this is easier said than done, it is nonetheless important that it is said.

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Street art in Jerusalem advocating reconciliation – via Tamar Ziff 2014
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