I want to state my position.
I don’t belong to any advocacy organization. My understanding of the conflict is a work in progress.
I write primarily about Gaza, but a “Gazan” is simply a Palestinian who lives in Gaza. It’s important not to fall into the trap of separating the pieces of Palestine.
Israel exists. Its statehood within the Green Line is manifest in countless international agreements and institutions. A majority of states agreed to create Israel, partly in response to the horror of the Holocaust. Then, and through the conflict that has followed, a second travesty has been perpetuated. The Nakba dispossesed Palestinians, and the illegal Occupation continues to oppress them.
I do not believe it had to be this way.
As a Jew, I live within a legacy of loss and insecurity. They are part of me, but they do not give me license to oppress others, and they do not excuse the structural violence of the Occupation. I do not view Israel as a separate, safe haven for Jews, because I do not believe that safety ever lies in separating onesself. We – Jews and others – will only be safe in a tolerant world. I work to create one, rather than separating myself from the world that we have.
Jerusalem is the capital of two states.
Palestine exists. Over 130 countries recognize the State of Palestine, comprised of the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. In Gaza, I came to understand that Palestinians live within a legacy of loss, dehumanization, deprivation and vulnerability. I recognize their legal right to armed resistance, which does not give them a license to attack civilians.
I abhor the violence that targets civilians. Rockets are not harmless when thrown at a city. One-ton bombs are not dropped on civilian neighbourhoods in self-defense. Civilians must not be targets, period.
Individuals on both sides are responsible for their violent choices, but the threats and harms to Gazan and Israeli civilians differ by an order of magnitude. There should be no false equivalence. The casualties, property and infrastructure damage, and the deprivation of inalienable human rights are grossly skewed; as are the available weapons and political choices. I rely on international law to allocate proportionate responsibility – and that law is not reciprocal. It is not an agreement between Israel and the militants. Each is separately and fully accountable, and I want them held to account. One belligerent’s act does not relieve the other of its humanitarian and legal obligations in armed conflict. Those obligations apply at all times.
Other peoples have resolved deep-set conflicts, acknowledged their wrongs and legal accountabilities. This conflict can be resolved, too. There are two claims to overlapping lands, made by two peoples with an equal right to self-determination. Two peoples are going to have to share, because neither one can win militarily, and neither one is going away.
I do not accept that we are unable to live together.
Gaza is illegally occupied, according to the defining criterion of effective control. [See the “About Gaza” tab for documentation.] Israel bears the legal obligations of an Occupying Power. The blockade of Gaza is illegal, immoral, counterproductive and a blight on humanity. Those damned walls have to go.
The blockade is not a midieval siege. Siege was a tool of total war. This blockade is a very modern tool of total conflict management. It will not be made tolerable by tinkering. An extra truckload of bottled water is not a solution. It simply begs the question, by what right does any ethnic majority control, calculate, and withhold water from a captive ethnic minority?
The Occupation is one regime, enacted in several forms within Green Line Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and with respect to the rights of diaspora Palestinians. The Occupation is experienced very differently in each place. Palestinians are challenged to imagine and act toward a single future. This seems to be a moment of intellectual, non-violent, political creativity among Palestinians as they do so.
I think the Occupation regime resembles an atom. Hamas and Fatah / Palestinian Authority are protons and neutrons, locked in rivalry at the nucleus. Israel is an electron, circling them at a fixed distance. The donor states are also electrons, paying the costs, picking winners in the Palestinian leadership, trying hard to look uninvolved while holding the structure in place. Most discussion of the Occupation lets the donor states off too lightly, and glosses over the role of neoliberalism in shaping the regime.
The so-called peace process is fatally, structurally flawed. It places the Occupier and Occupied in a room with the largest financial backer of the Occupation. Neither Israel nor the USA recognizes the state of Palestine.
Proposals like Oslo begin with the set of negotiable political issues, like boundaries or economic arrangements. They hold out Palestinians’ non-negotiable, legal rights as an eventual reward for good behavior. This sequence ensures that each era of discussion and action will stumble, without improving Palestinians’ daily lives. It’s a bad-faith exercise with deservedly little credibility.
Rights precede real estate. Two recognized, co-equal parties could negotiate the real estate with dignity.
The division of real estate is not my business. Neither Palestinians nor Israelis need me to draw their borders. I’m in favor of any map that realizes the rights, security, integrity and aspirations of two peoples.
I believe that kind of solution is most likely to be achieved by internationalizing the process. Bring this to an international body that recognizes two state claimants, and applies international law and precedent to their dispute.
The current leaders of Israel and Palestine appear to prefer the risks of war to the risks of compromise and solution. We – the greater ‘we’, being everyone else – need to change the weighting of those risks. We cannot see the end, but that does not relieve us of our obligation to act.
The first, formative act takes place behind each of our eyes. We have to re-think or – current buzzword – decolonize. Decolonization is about minds, not land. It’s a willingness to recognize our assumptions as assumptions, and be challenged by other interpretations. We may not be convinced by new arguments, or, we may be moved in unexpected directions.
One needn’t believe that the original problem was colonialism, in order to decolonize.
Many Jews – in fact, many Westerners – make this conflict way too self-referrential. They speak among themselves and seek a kind of computational peace, calculating how little Israel could give away. And they’re baffled when ungrateful Palestinians refuse Israel’s offers. Folks like that haven’t even recognized that this is a conflict between two peoples. Nope, those folks are in it alone, leaving heel marks as they dig in for a rearguard action.
Decolonization is a dizzying, liberating willingness to reframe. It’s not about changing sides. It’s about shedding the limitation of sides, and considering other points of reference.
Here’s a simple, formative example from my Mercy Corps team in Gaza. Our motto was “Gaza > Relief”. By that, we meant that Gaza needs more than just food relief, because Gaza is more than what food relief implies.
Too many people understand Gaza as a single object of violent hostility, populated by fighters and their impoverished dependents. Donor states tolerate the wall that contains the fighters (although these same neoliberal states have been ideological wrecking balls elsewhere, believing that walls are a restraint of trade), and relieve the worst poverty by sending food. Those actions respond to two genuine groups of people in Gaza. The fighters and the poverty are certainly real.
However, everyone I worked with in Gaza was absent from that image. The university graduates, professionals, start-ups, business owners, artists; the intelligentsia and the leadership pool were all made to vanish.
When I recognized Gaza as a community of two million mostly-civilian human beings, I decolonized my understanding and my response. Everything changed, although the only change took place inside my head.
Suddenly, the donors’ actions held the status quo in place, and helped to hide Gaza’s rights and capabilities. I realized that solutions would not replicate the existing structures of power, because the structures were the problem. Why were two million people locked in? I could see more solutions, because the whole, actual community of Gaza was capable of managing its resources, restoring its economy, governing and co-existing. So many possibilities had been obscured by my flawed frame of reference.
Unlock the gates of Gaza?
Someone is going to interrupt to protest, “But Israel…”
I’m going to reply that a Gazan person’s rights are not anti-Israel. They are not about Israel. They belong to that person as a human, no less than they belong to me.
Suddenly, the conflict is more than a self-referrential object of Israeli security policy. It has been transformed to a discussion that starts with justice and human potential. That change (which is not anti-Israel) allows one to see and engage with possibilities that were hidden by the old frame of reference.
That’s decolonization: a more promising starting line for all the work that remains to be done.