I worry about what’s going on between Israel and Palestine.
About me: I’m Jewish. Like the rest of my mom’s family, I’m proud of my heritage and the values that are central to being Jewish; the value of education and doing good deeds (mitzvot) were the core concepts of Judaism that resonated for me, growing up. I had a Bat Mitzvah when I was 13, and led services at my synagogue many times while I was in middle school and high school. I’ve never been to Israel or Palestine.
Disclaimer: I’m no expert in who’s done what to whom. I know the basic outline; Israel was founded in 1948 as a Jewish state, and the local Palestinian population was driven into more restricted areas. Both sides have attacked and fought off attacks countless times. I know the United Nations sees Israel as an occupying nation, and has condemned those of their actions that violate the Geneva Convention. I know Palestinians are treated as second-class citizens. Some of them are under Israel’s control, with no ability to vote. The UN has also – sort of – recognized Palestine as a country.
When I was in college, I took classes on the Israel – Palestine conflict. We looked at issues of resources, especially water rights. We looked at terrorism and imperialism. I had taken classes on the Holocaust in high school that moved me deeply. I read Leon Uris’ Exodus, Michener’s The Source. And through all the classes, and all the history, one thing kept bothering me more and more.
Partly, it bothered me because I couldn’t see a way out of the conflict. Nor could anyone I knew. Not the other students, not our professors, not the leaders on any side of the conflict. It seemed like a completely intractable problem. In a way, it still does. Why else do we keep seeing war after bombing after suicide bombing after war after… was there even a place where any of us could imagine peace in the Middle East?
And it bothered me because of how strongly the situation in Israel and Palestine reminded me of how early Americans had treated the people who were native to this continent, who were here before us. Growing up, I had a decent education in some aspects of Native American culture. I learned from Native teachers, volunteered for a month when I was 16 on a reservation in Wyoming, home to members of both the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes. (They used to be enemies, and they still wound up on the same reservation.)
Every person I know and respect abhors what our forebears did to the native people in this country. We all know the stories – we drove native people from their lands, pushed them onto smaller and smaller reservations, took away their ability to live as they had for centuries by claiming more and more of their land as our own, gave them smallpox blankets. And the native people fought back — some of them, for a while. They used the tactics they were able to use; guerilla warfare, night attacks, any tactic that would work. (Many were the same tactics we Americans did when we fought for our independence. They are the tactics any small group willing to use violence will turn to, especially when they’re outgunned and want to keep fighting for their cause. This is true regardless of how just or unjust that cause is. But that isn’t the point.) Even though Native people fought back for many years, they aren’t fighting now. Reservations are disproportionately poor places. The Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota is the poorest area in the entire United States. Many Native cultures, languages, and ways of being are in danger of disappearing entirely. That kind of loss impoverishes everyone, not just the young Native people who no longer see the value in their heritage, or their own perspectives.
Everyone I know and respect expresses — at the very least — sorrow about how things turned out in this country. Many express shame and regret the aggressive tactics our forebears used to take over a country that didn’t belong to them.
But few of those very people recognize the parallels between the way American was established and the way Israel is establishing itself now.
It’s not a perfect mapping. The Middle East is far more densely settled than North America was, for one thing. The technology gap isn’t quite so dramatic. But the Israeli government claims that Palestine is not a legitimate country, just like we did to Native people. (A country does not have to be organized like ours to exist or serve people.) The Israeli government applies different laws and standards to Israeli citizens than it does to Palestinians. Israel is taking over more and more territory that once belonged to Palestinians, just as the reservations we set aside for Native people have shrunk dramatically over the years. The tactics Israel uses to govern will never lead to peace. The tactics Palestinians use to resist will never lead to peace, either. But at the end of the day, Israel is doing to the Palestinian people what America did to the Native people.
And we’re helping them do it.
There are a lot of points that could be made here. I only want to make one.
I want to live to see peace in the Middle East.
I don’t know how to get to that point, but I know we’re not on a path to peace now. I hate seeing my people, the Jewish people, harm others, and I hate seeing people harm my fellow Jews. I refuse to believe that there is no way to bring peace to the Middle East.
Like most reasonable people, I see violence as the failure of diplomacy. If the state of Israel can only exist in a perpetual state of violence, then the state of Israel has failed. And if that’s true, then Zionism – in this case, at least – is a trap. I don’t particularly like the Zionist idea; I prefer a clear separation between church (or synagogue) and state.
None of us know what to do when our dreams and ideals – like Zionism, or manifest destiny – lead to so much death and suffering. We become complicit. We cause suffering in pursuit of those ideals, and when dreams go south, they take a toll on us as well.
I’m no different. I have no idea what I or anyone could do to forge a livable peace in the Middle East. Maybe a joint, multi-cultural state that incorporate Israelis and Palestinians is possible. Maybe separate-but-sort-of-equal states would be more palatable to those who live there. Or maybe Israel is not a state that can exist in the Middle East without constant violence. Early Zionists suggested that the state of Israel could be established anywhere; it wasn’t a dream that was always tied to the Holy Land. Nearly 60 years after it was created, Israel is still fighting. Israel gets military support from the US to the tune of $3+ billion per year. Why are we supporting a conflict that has no end in sight? How can we call it support, when our aid only serves to draw out the struggle?
I’m worried about what’s going on between Israel and Palestine. I don’t have a solution for it. But I’m willing to consider any options, at this point. I believe in the resilience of my people far more strongly than I believe we need to control any particular piece of territory. This dissent is certainly anti-Zionist. But it is not anti-Semitic. I hold these beliefs because I want to see my people live, and live wisely, without the stains on our conscience that we are earning from our callous, unethical treatment of another people. This dissent shows far more loyalty to my people than blind support does, especially when the Israeli leadership is in clear violation of international treaties.
The Jewish people and the Jewish culture existed without a homeland for thousands of years. It would be supremely ironic if claiming a homeland led to our downfall.
However it happens, I hope we can find a way to end this endless war soon. I’d like to visit the Holy Land before I die, but I will only go there when a government controls the area that does not commit war crimes. I will only go to the Holy Land when the people who control it have learned to treat all the people they govern with respect. I will only go there when going there would not make me complicit in war crimes.
I hope that day comes.