Let’s start with the obvious.
We are caught up again the violent dance of death between Israel and Palestine. On both sides there are fanatics and politicians who revel in aggressive talk and belligerency. As usual the ordinary person is held hostage by superior forces whether they agree with them or not. And as usual human suffering ensues. Uninformed world opinion takes simplistic sides, as if this were a tragedy that can be blamed entirely on one party or the other.
Shall we play the blame game? The original Jewish sin, some claim, was not the fact of Jews returning to the Holy Land. That had never ceased, though it waned when circumstances made it impractical. No, it was the Zionist desire for a Jewish state. Something granted to others without question. The original Arab sins were those who fought the Jewish presence, incited the Hebron massacre, and refused Abdullah’s vision to share or accept the UN partition.
The second sin was a war the Arab states declared on Israel in 1948 that the Jews dared to win. That was the Arab tragedy, the Nakba. But unlike with any other such conflict, the UN perpetuated it by accepting an armistice but not insisting on a peace treaty and defined borders.
Since then repeated defeats have always resulted in Arab depression, helplessness and the delusion that they might win next time. But there was no imposition of peace or decision on borders because the nations of the world had agendas of their own that let them off the hook.
The rise of bloodcurdling, throat-slitting Jihadi fanatics right across the Arab world has led to genuine fear that concessions would only open the doors to an ISIS or al-Qaeda 15 kilometers from Ben Gurion Airport. This fear has led to Israeli isolationism, the Masada complex, and a sense that no matter what they did they would never be able to rely on anyone else for their security. What we are seeing around the Middle East now only reinforces this survival instinct. But fear is a limiting pathology.
After the 1967 war, the Arabs on the West Bank welcomed the Israelis for freeing them from Hashemite sovereignty. But then the Israelis squandered that goodwill and subjected the West Bank to Israeli occupation. Does it matter that after 1967 the Arab world refused to negotiate? Which side was to blame? Only one, or both? But if no negotiations have resolved this issue over the past seventy years, what crazy logic lays all the blame at one door? If the most popular voice is one that calls for Israel’s total destruction, why should Israel not take such threats seriously and put its own safety first?
Does it matter that Israel decided to settle the West Bank? Does it make sense for Israel to insist on demilitarization? Yes, it does. But this doesn’t mean it cannot take steps to rethink the occupation. The stalemate is one of ongoing lukewarm war. One side feeling weak and unloved wants to use violence as a tool of change. The other uses violence as a tool of continuity.
There are insecurities on both sides; the fear of rockets if Hamas gains power in the West Bank (tunnels under the Knesset?); the awareness of the older Israeli generation that experienced homelessness and insecurity never to be without a safety net; the Palestinian desire to be in charge of its own destiny, and the desire of the refugees not go on being dependent on charity and used as pawns. There seems to me no way this is going to be resolved. The antagonism of the Muslim world, the Left, and the anti-Semites only strengthen a resolve not to take risks by making concessions.
This is not an Imperialist one, where interlopers come in, impose themselves, and then retreat. There is no going back to Poland, Ukraine, Ethiopia, or Iraq. Israel is a Jewish homeland in which there are non-Jewish inhabitants with rights and protections.
Genuine peace will require a Palestinian state to incorporate Jews as much as Israel does Arabs, Palestinian or other. And refugees will have to be compensated. But Palestinian refugees will no more come back to a Jewish state than Jewish refugees would want to go back to a Muslim state. Everyone knows this but still there is no agreement.
Any solution is is far, far away. I doubt it will be in my lifetime. So what do we do?
A wise Israeli government would find ways to make life more tolerable for Palestinians in Israel and on the West Bank. Greater freedom and investment (free from Fatah corruption) would strengthen moderate opinion. It will take generations until the bitter anti-Semitism of the Arab world will be modulated. But a start must be made.
So after all this negative introduction, I want to sing the praises of efforts and attempts to make life better now, in the present, without waiting for the politicians to find a solution.
The trouble with the media is that bad news is news, and good news is boring. Pushing old ladies off buses gets more coverage than helping old ladies on to buses.
We read a lot about nationalist extremists, street mobs, hashtag psychotics. But in Israel there is a great deal of bridge building–of Jews, Christians, and Muslims who try their best to reach out to try to heal.
Israel has a very powerful secular, left-wing population, many of whom go to extremes to counteract the Right or to fight for civil rights and justice. But just as many use interpersonal channels to try to achieve good. I know of large numbers of academics, clerics, professionals, and ordinary human beings across the spectrum who feel the pain and want to try to heal it. They know this is too important to be left up to politicians. There are examples too on the Palestinian side. I only wish there were more.
I am not going to take up time singing the praises or the limitations of each one of these randomly picked examples (there are many and possibly worthier), and I welcome suggestions that I will disseminate later. If you really care about the situation and want to try to do something about it, check these sites out and see which ones might appeal to you:
And here’s a book (on Kindle too) by an Israeli Arab friend of mine, Dr. Maher Dabbah: A Promising Middle East
You won’t all agree with some of my suggestions but it’s up to you to do due diligence. Even if you just pick one, you can say you are doing something, however small, to try to make a bad situation better.
There are good caring people on both sides, and in the end that’s going to be the better way of ensuring long-term peace, if not in our lifetime then at least for our children. Let us not leave it up to the extremists.