By Noah Tananbaum, Contributing Writer Weeks ago, two Palestinians entered an Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem and attacked four men, three of whom were rabbis, leaving them dead within moments. The synagogue soon became a bloodbath as the police arrived and a shootout ensued. President Obama condemned the actions, saying, “We have to remind ourselves that the majority of Palestinians and Israelis overwhelmingly want peace.” News reports rarely, if ever, emphasize that Israelis and Palestinians have far more similarities than differences; the media and the political elite in America and throughout the Middle East constantly stress conflict and highlight the notion that there are fundamental differences between the two groups. For vast numbers of both of these groups, this is simply not true. If being a Zionist means that one supports the existence of a Jewish state and homeland, then I am a Zionist. But that does not mean that I in any way condone the actions of the Israeli government when they continually build settlements in areas where they have no jurisdiction. Nor do I excuse the actions of those extremists who seek to dismantle a beacon of democracy and hope for so many Jews.
Ari Shavit, an Israeli columnist, explains that this conflict rests on two fundamental pillars: occupation and intimidation. Generally, liberals overemphasize occupation and underemphasize intimidation while conservatives overemphasize intimidation and underemphasize occupation. If we are to have a nuanced understanding of the conflict, then both of these facets must be taken into account in equal measure. Conservatives are quick to point out that Israel should have a right to defend itself. They often pose the hypothetical, “If Canada attacked us, shouldn’t we have the right to retaliate?” The right to defend oneself is certainly valid, but it is important to understand the implications of retaliation by force and to be aware that those attacking Israel do not represent the vast majority of the Palestinian population. Most of these people are nonviolent. For hundreds (if not thousands) of years, these Palestinian families lived in the land of Israel (then Palestine) quite peacefully. Then, in 1948, many of these families were displaced in the Israeli War of Independence and dispersed throughout the Middle East. The Palestinians deserve to be restored to their rightful home.
Conversely, liberals consistently deride actions that Israel takes, regarding the threats made to its national security and the safety of its people. Israel should be held to a high standard; it is, after all, the only truly democratic country in the region. However, it is naive to expect Israel to refrain from defending itself when at risk. In Israel’s defense, it has implemented the Iron Dome defense system that shoots rockets out of the sky, harming no one in the process. This past summer, Israel called the homes of the Gazans in advance of the rocket attacks, warning them to evacuate as quickly as possible. While it is small comfort to the Gazans who lose their homes, there are still very few, if any, countries that would even bother to give a warning. Walter Reich explains that the criticism Israel receives often leaves it feeling trapped in a conundrum. On the one hand, if they do not take action against the extremists who seek to undermine Israel and everything it stands for, they face certain physical destruction. On the other hand, if they continue to retaliate and be ridiculed, they face moral destruction. Reich argues that this is a lose-lose situation.
Some people conflate Zionism with anti-Palestinian sentiments. While I cannot speak for all Zionists, I can say with complete confidence that the Zionists I know reject that claim. History tells us that the Jews were banished from the land that is present-day Israel in 70 AD by the Romans and until 1948, the Jewish people were in the Diaspora-the land outside Israel, the land of banishment. The Holocaust was the catalyst for reminding the world of the long and violent history of making Jews into scapegoats for often convenient and spurious reasons. Again, this does not justify the displacement of the Palestinian people in 1948 or again in 1967 during the Six Day War. I do not believe that Israel should be laying claim to the territories of West Bank and Gaza; this is what happens when Israel is ruled by a war hawk who has little regard for others. This is why a two-state solution is crucial. This plan would incorporate an independent Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel. It would include returning to the borders before the Six Day War of 1967, in which Israel would forfeit the territories of the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights, among others. Perhaps most importantly, Jerusalem would be divided up between the two peoples and there would be joint access to the holy sites. If we are to be fair and equitable to these two groups of people, the two-state solution is the only logical resolution to this quarrel.
The idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a primordial clash of civilizations that has been raging for time immemorial is simply not true. The conflict’s roots stem from the late nineteenth/early twentieth century from such events as the Dreyfus Affair in France, the pogroms of Eastern Europe, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and Europe’s subsequent colonization of the Middle East. Until then, this issue was a dormant one. In order to solve this crisis, it is imperative to bring together moderate people from both sides of this issue. There are many more of them than we are led to believe and they, just like us, want a swift and comprehensive solution. There will always be extreme people who contribute to the terrible events we hear about in the news but there are also incredibly good, decent people doing important work every day. These are the people we need to illuminate and support, regardless of how the media views the situation. Only when the moderate voices drown out those of the extremists will there be any kind of substantial change that will form a path to peace.