Monday, August 07, 2006

A rebuttal: In defense of Israel's strategy

Neta Levanon '08 is a Wilson School major who is spending the summer in Israel studying Islam and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She writes from Tel Aviv, in response to an earlier post by Zaina Awad '09.

The goal of my original blog entry was to examine the constant criticism of Israel and its actions. Israel is often heralded as the main obstacle to the peace process in the Middle East. However, looking at the historical progress of the peace process, the roadblock to peace has consistently been the violence that has been an integral part of interethnic relations in the region since before Israel’s conception.

In her response to my last blog, Zaina Awad elects to focus exclusively on Israel’s role in this violence. She mentions Deir Yassin, a massacre of over 200 Arab civilians on April 9, 1948. This incident is indeed a dark stain on Israel’s past, one that is taught in Israeli schools as an example of a tragedy and an event not to be repeated. Zaina fails to mention similar and frequent atrocities perpetrated by the Arab population in the area, like an incident in the very first year of the mandate period, when Arabs protesting British immigration policy set fire to an immigration hostel in Jaffa, a hostel filled with Jewish immigrants. Those who tried to escape being burned alive were shot. Or in another example, in 1929, during Arab riots throughout the mandate, Arabs massacred more than 60 Jews in Hebron and wounded more than 50; among their victims were women, many of whom were first raped, and children. None of these events were mentioned or criticized by Zaina as equally condemnable as the examples of Israeli violence that she cites, a fact that leads me to believe that these events are either not taught or not condemned in Palestinian schools.

Zaina takes the argument one step further, claiming that this violence on the part of Jewish organizations pre-1948 was the cause of the current refugee problem, and claiming that Israel was established on the “ruins of more than 500 Palestinian villages.” In reality, the flight of the Arab population began long before the events at Deir Yassin. Rumors, and I emphasize the word “rumors,” were circulated by Arab propagandists, detailing supposed Jewish atrocities in an attempt to cause widespread panic in the local Arab population. The goal of this propaganda was to encourage them to fight against the Jews, or vacate their homes so that the surrounding Arab nations could engage the Jews in a war, sweep them into the sea, and claim the entire mandate as Muslim territory. Zaina fails to mention this crucial bit of information, specifically the fact that neighboring Arab governments held a summit in which they urged the Arabs in the mandate to reject the two-state solution offered by the UN Partition Resolution of 1948, which would have established a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Thus while some Arabs certainly fled as a result of Jewish violence, the majority left their homes as a result of Arab propaganda, hoping to come back to a space “clean” of Jews.

Another important aspect of the establishment of the state of Israel that Zaina omits is the fact that, from the very onset of Jewish immigration to the region, prior even to 1900, the Jews acquired the land legally by purchasing it from Arab landowners. The majority of the Arab population in the mandate was peasants, who lived on land that they did not own. Thus, the land that was taken away from them was, in reality, sold to the Jews by their fellow Arabs. However, Zaina neglects this aspect of history, preferring to blame Israel for the fact that Palestinians still do not have their own state. This is the central point that Zaina fails to address in her entire piece: why is it that, if the Palestinian people truly (and merely) desire peace and coexistence with Israel in their own homeland, they still have not accomplished their goal?

Zaina attributes this failure to the “Israeli occupation” of territories acquired in the 1967 Six Day War. However, I would first like to point out that Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, belonged to Egypt and Jordan, respectively, during the years of the mandate period, yet still the Arab population rejected the two-state solution in 1948, almost 20 years before these so-called “occupied territories” were captured by Israel in a defensive war. What was the cause of their aversion to peace at that time?

Also noteworthy is that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the main leadership of the Palestinian people until the election of Hamas earlier this year, was established in 1964, a full three years before the “occupation” of these territories. Yet instead of committing themselves to a peaceful solution, the PLO aided the surrounding Arab nations in their attempt to, once again, defeat the Jewish state and claim all of Israel for themselves. This clearly indicates that the “occupied territories” are not the primary focus in the Palestinian struggle for a homeland.

In a final condemnation, Zaina discusses recent events, including current Israeli “atrocities” in both Lebanon and Gaza. Attempting to demonstrate Israeli aggression, she mentions Israeli attacks on Gaza, prior to the kidnapping of a soldier from Israeli sovereign territory. First of all, there is no proof whatsoever that Israel bombed the beach in Gaza that Zaina references, especially since Israel denied responsibility for the attack in contrast to its policy of taking responsibility for other attacks in Gaza that have killed civilians.

Zaina also neglects to mention the unceasing barrage of Gaza-launched Qassam rockets that provoked the attacks for which Israel did take responsibility. Instead, she discusses Qana as a site of an Israeli massacre. She fails to mention that this is a village from which Hezbollah fired rockets into Israeli territory (clearly documented in now broadcasted videos), deliberately targeting civilians as they have done from both this and other civilian locations. While the deaths of civilians in Qana is sincerely regrettable, and as such has been repeatedly apologized for by the Israeli government, Israel must choose to either not strike places like Qana and allow Hezbollah to continue its fatal barrages from these locations, or to hit the sources of fire and defend its own people.

Hezbollah is an organization purportedly speaking for the Palestinian people and struggling for the establishment of a Palestinian homeland. How is it, then, that Zaina does not at least equally criticize the actions of Hezbollah? If Zaina truly believes that violence is the main obstacle to peace, then why does she not censure groups like Hamas or the PLO itself, groups that have historically supported terrorism and violent struggle in the form of jihad as the primary tactic to achieve a homeland? These groups use civilians as human shields, forcing Israel to make the same choice as it had to make in Qana, and subsequently accusing Israel of “massacre” every time Israel retaliates. What about the suicide bombers who have claimed hundreds of innocent lives? Where is Zaina’s condemnation of their indiscriminate violence?

Zaina claims that if Israel truly wanted peace, it would not continue to “build settlements on illegally occupied Palestinian land” or “impose an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people,” citing these actions as evidence of Israel’s lack of compassion. But if Israel is not truly committed to the peace process and the two-state solution, why would it initiate a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza? Why would it increase its own security risk by evacuating an area from which many suicide bombers penetrate its borders? Why, despite increased violence from Gaza post-disengagement, would it continue to discuss the evacuation of the majority of the West Bank as the next step in its peace initiative? It wouldn’t.

If Israel did not truly desire peace, it would not take these strides in the direction of a two-state solution. It is the actions of the Palestinians, rather than those of Israel, that show a lack of desire for peace. In the aftermath of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the Qassam attacks from the area increased in intensity and frequency. Rather than taking the opportunity to establish the basic foundations of a state, such as reliable infrastructure and steady energy sources, the Palestinian leadership instead chose to focus on its opposition to Israel. Why does Zaina not cite this as an obstacle towards peace? Why are these actions and this violence not equally condemnable, if not more so, since the attacks from Gaza target only civilians living in southern Israel?

In analyzing regional violence, one cannot compare Israelis shooting non-lethal rubber bullets into a crowd of Palestinians demonstrating outside a military checkpoint (a major security risk, considering the fact that crowds can hide and have very easily hidden suicide bombers or individuals with other lethal weapons) to the purposefully lethal activity of the Palestinians, who explode bombs filled with nails in crowded restaurants full of civilians in order to inflict the maximum amount of damage possible. Would Zaina prefer that Israel demonstrate the kind of compassion that Palestinians show towards Israelis and adopt the tactics of their Palestinian counterparts? Numerous Palestinian suicide bombers have blown themselves up in crowds of young people in dance clubs, teenagers who present no threat to them, as the Palestinian protestors do to the soldiers in the military outposts.

I am not saying that Israel is blameless. I cannot deny, and I do not choose to, that the government of Israel has made some decisions that have resulted in tragedies for the Palestinian population. However, this in no way negates my claim that Israel is empirically compassionate, and by far the most compassionate nation in the region. Following every tragedy, Israel does not take pride in the damage done, but rather attempts to address the issue in front of the international community and build on the lessons learned in order to improve in the future. Individuals, not only among the Israeli population, but even in its government, constantly call upon the nation to morally better itself in its behavior towards Palestinians. There are several Jewish Israeli groups clamoring publicly for the creation of a Palestinian homeland and for the improvement of Palestinian rights. Where is the reciprocal clamor amongst Palestinians for groups such as Hamas or Hezbollah to recognize Israel’s right to exist? Or, even more basic, where are Palestinian groups publicly condemning suicide bombings as a resistance tactic? They are jarringly, painfully absent.

Such bi-directional analysis is missing, both from the rhetoric of Palestinian leadership and from Zaina’s response. It could be that this, far more than the supposed Israeli lack of compassion, is the reason that Palestinians have thus far failed to acquire their own state.


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