A relatively new friend asked what I was struggling to write for days. I was reluctant to answer given the volatility of the Israel-Hamas conflict, but she pressed a bit. I figured what the hell and told her. We proceeded to share our views. She talked about the Jewish perspective as she saw it and I shared what I learned from my research. At times, I felt the conversation teetering on the edge of a heated argument, but we never fell into that abyss.
I was quite uplifted that a gentile and a Jew who barely knew each other were able to do this at such a divisive time. We had somewhat opposing views, yet through respect, tolerance, and open minds, we both came away with more insight on the subject. Why can’t the warring parties and their supporters find the wisdom, strength, and courage to do the same?
I asked her if she thought partitioning part of Germany for a Jewish state after World War II would have been a more just solution rather than taking land from the Arabs who had nothing to do with the Holocaust. Her answer was simple, yet it redirected my thinking. She said Europe would be the last place they’d want to settle after centuries of European persecution and the Holocaust.
At that moment I understood that the current conflict in the Middle East started with a terrorized diaspora fleeing Europe to a place people often go when things are bleak — they go home. I’m not suggesting that Zionism’s 2,000-year-old claim to the land is valid. If it was then the entire world map would have to be redrawn, but the land is certainly a historically spiritual place for both Arabs and Jews. Over time an interesting paradox emerged, with one persecuted people feeling the need to persecute another group in order to survive.
The Palestinians had their land occupied by the British after World War I. Three decades later, after World War II, the United Nations divided the land in two, one portion retained by the Palestinians, the other for the new state of Israel founded in 1948. A short war with the Arabs ensued with a decisive Israeli victory that precipitated the fleeing and expulsion of nearly a million Palestinians from their land. One diaspora creating another.
I suspect the motives of the West to endorse the creation of Israel were due, in part, to guilt about looking the other way for nine years while Jews were exterminated. Major U.S. corporations continued to trade with Nazi Germany during this period until Pearl Harbor. IBM’s German subsidiary, for instance, supplied the Nazis with Hollerith tabulating machines, a precursor to the modern computer, which facilitated the transport of Jews to concentration camps and the distribution of slave labor.
How would we as Americans feel if a far greater power occupied our land and then gave a portion of it to another group of people? We’d be enraged and hell-bent on removing the occupiers. So given all this, we can find ample reasons to empathize with both sides, and that’s what we all need to do.
The inescapable reality, however, is that Israel has built a formidable economic and military powerhouse in just 75 years, albeit with massive U.S. support not shared with the Palestinians. The Israelis are not going away.
You could say the Jews fleeing Europe essentially got what they wanted, except, that is, for peace. And the road to peace is not through genocide. It’s not through the hugely disproportionate assault on innocent civilians and herding them into concentrated areas. Even if Hamas is crushed, another group will rise in its place. If Israel occupies Gaza, they will move elsewhere. Military might cannot annihilate a cause and it cannot suppress ideas.
We may be past the viability of Jews and Palestinians living peacefully together as one nation, but I fervently believe a two-state solution will work; it must work, but that can’t happen without the West jettisoning its anti-Arab biases and embracing and supporting both nations equally.
Both parties need to come to the peace table with hope and a genuine willingness to listen to each other free of distrust, hatred, and anger. That means no preconditions by either party or the West except the cessation of both the fighting and the building of new settlements.
The U.S.’s wish that the Palestinian Authority govern Gaza is not the way to start peace negotiations. Let’s not forget Hamas was democratically elected, the Palestinian Authority was not. Regardless of the West’s label of Hamas as terrorists, it has proven to be an effective and popular steward managing to keep Gaza functioning amid the oppressive 16-year blockade, while the Palestinian Authority has proven to be corrupt, weak, and unable to stop the unrelenting construction of settlements on Palestinian land in East Jerusalem. Israel and the U.S. cannot champion democracy and then feel they have the right to veto the results and install a weak leader. They cannot say come to the peace table, but we’ll pick your representatives.
Much of what ails us in the world today or has ailed us in the past, is a result of Western governments, principally Great Britain and the United States, arbitrarily dividing foreign lands that they have colonized or occupied with no consideration of national sovereignty or respect for the demographics of the populations affected by it. Examples of such partitioning are India and Pakistan, North and South Korea, North and South Vietnam, and, of course, Palestine; all creating bad chemistry among the inhabitants, all hotbeds that have generated astronomical revenues for the West, which often supplies weapons to both sides.
Another impediment to peace is the frequent misconception that Hamas is inflexible and determined to exterminate the Jews as expressed 35 years ago in its charter of 1988. Rarely is it mentioned that Hamas has long since softened its political rhetoric and revised its charter in 2017, which is far less incendiary and shows just the kind of flexibility to start a healthy dialogue. Article 20 states that “without compromising its rejection of the Zionist entity and without relinquishing any Palestinian rights, Hamas considers the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state . . . along the lines of the 4th of June 1967 . . . to be a formula of national consensus.”
Certainly the status quo in Israel hasn’t worked for 75 years. Advancements in weapons technology offer the illusion of safety, but the reality is that technology moves forward on both sides of the fence. Weapons, both chemical and conventional, get smaller, more lethal, and easier to conceal. The only thing that changes as a consequence is the increasing number of innocent citizens who die on both sides.
Jeff Gewert is a frequent contributor to newspapers including USA Today, The New York Times, and those of Hearst Media. A retired video writer, producer, and director, he lives in Montauk.