Over recent days, the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel has once again dominated international news. The deaths of over 100 people in the Gaza strip, a significant number of whom were women and children, and the firing of 1,000 rockets into Israel has prompted massive international campaigns from both sides. “Am Yisrael Chai” is the chant from the ardent pro-Israel activists. “Free, Free Palestine” is the unwavering response. Facebook, Twitter, the media; they have been littered with excuse upon excuse. The same old accusation that has been each side’s justification for 64 years of war remains the same: “You started it”. Well, after watching pro and anti-Israel protestors squaring up to each other in Leeds this week, I feel I need to throw my penny’s worth into the debate.
I am a Jew, a Zionist and an undergraduate at Leeds Uni. Before arriving in Leeds I spent a year in Israel, living in Jerusalem, volunteering in Arab-Jewish schools and learning about the history of the holy land. That year changed my life, and I hope it will add weight to the views I’m about to share.
I am sick and tired of war. I am sick and tired of ‘pro-Israel’ or ‘pro-Palestinian’ activists being more adversaries to their opposites than defenders of their actions. But the reason for this state of affairs is obvious. The continuation of this conflict, the continued assault on Gaza, the continued rocket and terror attacks on Israel, the continuation of the Occupation, the continued refusal to recognise Israel: they are indefensible. They have no future. Their raison d’etre is war and after 64 years of hate, the appetite for it is no longer alive; or at least, it shouldn’t be.
In 1948, after 60 years of campaigns and 2,000 years of longing, the Jewish people were once again given the chance to be free in their own country. Assimilation, something which had cost the lives of millions even before the holocaust, was no longer a requirement. And yet, the creation of that state has done only two things for the Jewish people since its establishment: divided international opinion and put 6million Jews once again in the line of fire. Why? The creation of the state of Israel, the fulfilment of the Jewish dream, came at the expense of the creation of Palestine and the dreams of Palestinians. It didn’t have to, it could have been avoided, both could and indeed should have been created side by side, but they weren’t. The Israeli will argue that the Palestinians turned down their chance, lost a war they started and should deal with the consequences. The Palestinian would argue that they had their land stolen, that any acceptance of that would justify a catastrophe for their people, the ‘Naqba’, and so it begins. The endless circle of ‘you hit me first’, and now here we are, 64 years on, and the conflict remains.
As a Zionist, I see, as I believe we all should, Palestinian Nationalism as an equal. Both want the same thing: a state in which their own people can be free, free from fear, and free to live and let live. Therein lies the biggest tragedy; rarely have two people, so similar in experience and aspiration, so steeped in a shared history and a shared ambition, been so determined to continue fighting. The tragedy is that both people are right in their vision; there is no right in the content of this conflict; there is every right for both people to achieve their dream.
Benjamin Netanyahu stood in front of the UN General Assembly two years ago and said that Israel should not withdraw from the West Bank because it did not work in Gaza. “Plan B”, he said, “is not plan A repeated”. So why then, Bibi, after failed attempts to destroy the military capabilities of Hezbollah in 2006 and Hamas in 2009, are we re-enacting failed plans time and time again? There is nothing Zionist about that; indeed, there is nothing intelligent about that either. And there is nothing to be proud of when the leader of Hamas stands in Cairo this afternoon and says that Hamas will not end the war first since, “Israel started it”.
The time has come when we should stop lying to ourselves and each other. Israel is not perfect, the occupation is brutal, the war-hungriness and empty words of its current government is astonishing and the war on Gaza will fail; you cannot bomb an ideology out of a people. Palestine is not perfect; the anti-Semitism of Hamas and even the PA charter is grotesque, rockets are senseless and self-defeating, terrorism has scarred Israelis for life and the refusal to accept Jewish statehood is no less harmful, and indeed only serves to justify, Israeli discrimination.
It’s high time that we put our futures before our past. Both are shared and both depend on each other. It’s high time that the curse on both our houses is lifted, and for that to happen, someone needs to be the bigger person, stand up and be counted, put their people before their war, and extend the hand of peace. Not rhetorically, not passively, not because some-one else wants it, but because it is the right thing to do. Let that be the next Operation we embark on in Gaza. And from one Zionist to every Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli activist out there, let me say, stop fighting for yourselves and start fighting for justice for everyone; for peace not war; for Israel and Palestine as equals and for the end of the most tragic conflict this world has seen for generations.