BY ADAM BECKMAN:
As observers outside the region, we can recognize that the only long-term solution to this conflict is one that secures a homeland for both Israelis and Palestinians. Our role, then, is to express criticism if either side deviates from this road.
I grew up in a world of pro-Israel everything. For eight years at Jewish day school, I sang along to “Am Yisrael Chai” (Hebrew for “The People of Israel Live”) with my classmates during our daily prayer services. In a class called “Judaic Studies,” I learned about the creation of the State of Israel and God’s will for the Jewish people to live there. In eighth grade, my class traveled to Israel and spent ten days living with peer students at the Leo-Baeak School in Haifa. Two summers later, I returned for five weeks and stood in the room where David Ben-Gurion officially proclaimed the establishment of the Jewish State. When I began leading the Jewish Student Union at my secular high school, our policy was not so different from AIPAC’s: We supported anything Israel did because we believed in the State of Israel’s fundamental right to exist.
During my senior year of high school, I took a course in Middle Eastern History. We studied the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, and I began to see more than one side to the situation as it exists today. I already knew that violent anti-Semitism in France during the late nineteenth century compelled Theodore Herzl to call for the establishment of a Jewish homeland, but I did not know that Palestine (at that time a land controlled by the Ottoman Empire) included 500,000 Arabs by 1882. I knew that the Jewish people saw self-sufficiency in agricultural labor as necessary to the Zionist cause, but I did not know that Arabs viewed the rejection of their labor as, according to one Arab spokesman at the time, “discriminatory and evidence of the Jewish desire to win exclusive control of the land.” I knew that in 1967 modern-day Egypt, Jordan, and Syria launched a vicious surprise attack on Israel, but I did not know that, as a 2007 Economist article stated, the Six Day War also “left 4 million Palestinians desperate for independence but in a confined land choked by Jewish settlements – along with the fences, checkpoints and all the hardships and indignities of military occupation.” The very basic lesson for me was that every facet of the Israeli-Palestinian story is more complicated than was ever admitted to me.
All of this has left me unable to view every decision Israel makes in a purely pro-Israel light. I fully support Israel’s statehood, but I agreed with President Barack Obama when he condemned Israeli settlements during his Cairo speech in 2009. By placing more and more Jewish people in the West Bank, these settlements challenge the possibility of a two-state solution. Thomas Friedman best explains the need for a peaceful two-state solution in his epilogue to From Beirut to Jerusalem: “My friends, if there is one lesson that we can learn from the past hundred years of conflict with the Palestinians, it is this: As long as your neighbor is your enemy, your house will never be a home.” Thus, any Israeli action that actively blocks the path to a peaceful two-state solution is problematic.
But this rule needs to go both ways. That is to say, any Palestinian action that places a barrier in the road to a two-state solution is equally deserving of our criticism.
Last week, Israel found itself needing to justify why it was aggressively bombing Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The New York Times, among other publications, criticized Israel for launching roughly 180 air strikes that sometimes targeted residential apartment blocks and killed civilians. As the eight-day war unfolded, Israel was, by and large, the subject of international outcry.
While Israel’s retaliation was not a move towards peace, a closer look at the details reminds us that it was exactly that: a retaliation. In response to a yearlong, violent campaign of Qassam rockets and Mortar missiles fired from Gaza at Israeli civilians, brought to a head again by Hamas’ escalation though firing over 110 rockets in 3 days in mid-November, Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense in which it assassinated Ahmad Al-Jabari, the leader of Hamas’ military, and endeavored to raid Gaza of as much of its rockets and other weaponry as possible. We may not like that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) sometimes targeted residential areas, but we must also recall that Hamas was responsible for initially launching rockets from the windows of its own kindergarten schools and hospitals, and from buildings amongst playgrounds and mosques. Furthermore, accusingly pointing to the higher number of Palestinian casualties compared to Israeli ones overlooks the fact that while Israel does all it can to minimize civilian casualties, notably including spending tremendous resources on the Iron Dome missile defense system, Hamas deliberately engages in actions that will result in civilian deaths of its own people. To criticize Israel for its actions this past week is to create an arbitrary set of limitations that no other country would be asked to follow. President Obama explained on Sunday, “[T]here is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” Israeli leaders responded to Hamas in the way that any nation – including the Unites States – would have done.
Israelis and Palestinians alike suffered this past week, but a ceasefire agreement reached on Wednesday has fortunately provided a pause to the fighting. What now needs to follow is a diplomatic effort to begin negotiations towards a peaceful solution with more moderate Palestinian leadership such as Fatah in the West Bank and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). As observers outside the region, we can recognize that the only long-term solution to this conflict is one that secures a homeland for both Israelis and Palestinians. Our role, then, is to express criticism if either side deviates from this road.
Adam Beckman ’16 is in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at email@example.com.