Over the past two weeks, a healthy debate emerged in the Harbus regarding one of the most sensitive and emotionally charged topics within the realm of international affairs: the Israeli-Palestine conflict. I was tempted to expound over pages and pages to address what I personally perceive as some of the myths that have been articulated thus far. But that would be missing the point. We need to stop taking refuge behind historical claims, and to address a more fundamental question: How should the parties move forward to resolve this conflict?
Robert Malley, former Special Assistant to President Clinton on Arab-Israeli Affairs, offered a possible answer to this question in the New York Times: “Any end to violence will depend on taking steps to end the conditions that helped produce it: the pervasive and persistent military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.” I personally agree. Seemingly, so does Ami Ayalon, the former head of the Israeli internal security service, the Shin Beth.
In an interview with Le Monde last December, Mr. Ayalon expressed his views candidly: “In Israel, no one is in touch with reality. This is a consequence of a misperception of the peace process: ‘We have been generous and they refused’ is ridiculous, and everything that follows from this misperception is skewed. …Reoccupying the Palestinian Authority lands, and killing Arafat, what would that change? Those who want victory want an unending war. … I favor unconditional withdrawal from the Territories – preferably in the context of an agreement, but not necessarily: what needs to be done, urgently, is to withdraw from the Territories.”
According to an Associated Press report last January by Laurie Copans, 50 Israeli officers and soldiers signed a statement indicating that they would refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories, provoking a strong internal debate within Israel. Their statement reads: “We, combat officers and soldiers who have served the State of Israel for long weeks every year… and were issued commands and directives that had nothing to do with the security of our country, and that had the sole purpose of perpetuating our control over the Palestinian people. We, whose eyes have seen the bloody toll this Occupation exacts from both sides; …We, who know that the Territories are not Israel, and that all settlements are bound to be evacuated in the end; We hereby declare that we shall not continue to fight this War of the Settlements; We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people.”
Over the past month, their number has grown to around 300. It is worthy to note that previous campaigns by dissenting soldiers helped pressure Israel to withdraw from the Sinai, which it had annexed from Egypt in 1967 (together with the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and Syria’s Golan Heights), and from Lebanon, which it invaded in 1982. Two weeks ago, an estimated 15,000 Israelis, participated in a demonstration in Tel Aviv under the slogan “Get Out of the Territories, Get Back to Ourselves.”
However, these courageous voices still seem to represent a minority within Israel. The current national coalition government, led by Sharon, is largely dominated by hardliners, including extreme right parties such as Israel Beiteinu and the ultra-orthodox Shas. In response to a recent proposal by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah which offered Israel full diplomatic relations by the 22 member states of the Arab League in return for a withdrawal from the territories it occupied since 1967 and the establishment of a Palestinian state, Israeli Cabinet Secretary Gideon Saar said: “It’s clear that we won’t agree to this.” Other officials, however, including Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, have welcomed the Saudi Proposal as a step in the right direction. A recent poll by the Israeli newspaper Maariv is more disturbing: rather than supporting an ending of the occupation, more than one-third of the Israel public approves of the “transfer” or deportation of the Palestinian people to other countries as a possible solution to the problem.
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.” Until a majority of its citizens accept as self-evident the truth that Israel’s 35-year-old armed occupation of Palestinian territories is morally unjustified, illegal, and fundamentally destructive, we are doomed to the future which Gideon Levy, a columnist for Israel’s daily newspaper Ha’aretz, describes as follows: “These are terrible times. But worse is yet to come. …All the injustices and evil perpetrated against the Palestinians will eventually blow up in our faces. A people that is abused this way for years will explode one day in a terrible fury, even worse than what we see now.”
The late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat (1978 Nobel Peace prize laureate, assassinated in 1981 by Muslim extremists), and the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin (1994 Nobel Peace prize laureate, assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish extremist), had a dream for a Middle East at peace. Such a vision requires a leap of faith. To quote Sadat: “My contemplation of life and human nature … taught me that he who cannot change the very fabric of his thought will never be able to change reality and will never, therefore, make any progress.”
I pray that during our lifetime we will witness a genuinely independent, economically viable Palestine along the 1967 border and with East Jerusalem as its capital, side by side with a secure, prosperous Israel at peace with itself and all of its neighbors. I pray that we will see the day when the Middle East, with its multi-faceted history and cultural wealth, will rise up to the challenges and realize its tremendous potential. I hope you can join me in this prayer.