Monday, November 19, 2012

The Grey: Israel and Palestine

Oh, hello there. It's been quite a while. Yes, I still exist. The last few weeks of campaign warfare repulsed me from all thing political and/or opinionated, rendering me unable (or unwilling) to hunker down and write anything of substance. I couldn't even stomach Facebook, which was rife with partisan slander and self-righteous bigotry. Obama won. Romney lost. The world is not ending. Obama is not the anti-Christ. America, if it truly is the land of the free, home of the brave and God-blessed, will not be run to the ground by a single person. So go ahead, relax. See Breaking Dawn Part 2. Eat a Twinkie while you still can. Support 'Merica.

What has compelled me to pick up the proverbial pen and start blogging again is the recent conflict escalation between Israel and Palestine. My mother called me the other day regarding recent Facebook posts I had made in support of Palestine. "Didn't Hamas (the Palestinian government) launch the first rocket?" she asked, wondering why I would support the alleged conflict aggressor. Yes, the first attack was, this time, committed by Palestine. If we attain all of our information regarding this event from major news media sources, we would be led to believe that this attack was an isolated and unwarranted event, fueled by illogical hatred. We would see Palestine as a warmongering people hellbent on destruction and chaos. We would see a rogue state provoking our Ally. In this light, it is understandable how many Americans unhesitatingly side with Israel against a seemingly radical, terrorist Palestine. As with most conflicts, without the proper historical context (which is rarely found in the news)we are left with a very narrow view of complex situations. Making judgment calls on right and wrong or good and evil is very dangerous without a comprehensive understanding of events.

If we were to do a little research into the historical context of Israel and Palestine, chances are our understanding of the conflict wouldn't be so starkly black and white. When it comes to this decades-long (or millenia-long) conflict, there is a whole lot of grey.

This isn't to say that I have all the answers, or that I have a complete understanding of what is going on in Israel and Palestine. However, I hope that subjecting my life to 5 years of conflict studies gives me a little cred. If nothing else, it's given me a (perhaps false) sense of confidence to talk about these things. And so here I go...

In the early 1900s, Palestine was inhabited by Arab Muslims. At the time, there was a negligible Jewish population, most of whom had fled Russian pogroms against the Jews in Eastern Europe. For the most part, Arab Palestinians and Jewish settlers got along, although the influx of Jews stirred a Palestinian nationalist movement as well as anti-semetic sentiments. As Jewish persecution mounted in Europe in the 1920s and 30s, an increasing amount of Jews illegally migrated to Palestine, although they were still a small minority. Many Jews escaped the Holocaust by being smuggled into the Palestinian territory. At the time, Palestine was an autonomous region under the British Mandate. Israel did not exist as a geopolitical state, although there was a collective aspiration among many Jews that a Jewish homeland would one day be created. Zionists debated where Israel should be located. Some suggested Argentina, while others thought Ethiopia would be an ideal spot. But the most coveted location for the Jewish homeland was the Arab-inhabited Palestine.

After WWII and the deplorable Jewish Holocaust, the push to find a homeland for displaced Jews was brought to the United Nations. With the dissolution of the British Mandate, in 1947 Palestine was 'up for grabs', as the inanity of post-colonialism goes. The United Nations cut out a little part of Palestine and gave it to the Jews, declaring it the new Israel. But there was a problem. What to do with all the Arabs who had been living there for centuries?

As more displaced European Jews began arriving in Palestine (or Israel, as it was now called), many Palestinians were forced from their land and homes. A Civil War erupted between Arab nationalists and Zionist militant factions. Many lives were lost, and tens of thousands of Arab Palestinian fled their homeland for neighboring Arab nations. An Arab-Israeli war ensued, fought between those defending their homeland and others fighting for their newly-gifted land. Over the years and subsequent wars, the Arab-inhabited Palestine has diminished into a few pockets of land and a couple of permanent refugee camps.

This is a map of the hyperbolic relationship between Palestinian and Israeli land.

The land given to the Jews by the UN for the creation of Israel in 1948 consisted of a very small portion of Palestine. Israel's acquisition of Palestinian territory since 1967 is officially contrary to international law. Palestinians have been quite literally forced from their homes, and made to flee to other Arab countries, or to live in the underdeveloped and overpopulated Gaza strip, which was initially a refugee camp. Meanwhile, Israel continues to acquire more Palestinian land.

While I do not condone aggression or violence, having this historical context of Israel and Palestine makes the recent Palestinian attack on Israel a bit more understandable. With no true infrastructure or natural resources, Palestinians living in the Gaza strip have no means to pursue economic development. Many people in Gaza hold University degrees, but have no professional jobs available to them.

Imagine having been unlawfully evicted from your homeland and forced to live in a refugee camp. Over the years, do you not think you would become desperate, watching others profit off of the land that once belonged to you, your parents and your grandparents? Do you not think you would be persuaded to pick up arms and try to take back what you believe is rightfully yours?

This isn't to say that Palestine isn't partially to blame for the intractable conflict in the region. Launching rockets into a city isn't going to solve anything, but only escalate an already corrosive situation. I have heard people blame Palestine for not wanting to engage in Peace Talks. But tell me, what motivation would Palestine have for talking with Israel? Palestine is obviously in no position of power, with no organized military, weapons or resources. They have no bargaining chips. To talk "peace" would mean, to them, giving up the land which was unlawfully acquired through war and illegal evictions. "Peace" as we see it in the West, which is the cessation of violence, would mean to concede to the fact that Palestine is no more.

In Hawaii, I worked in a coffee shop for 5 years. Over the years, I came to know Gebron, a Palestinian man who sold decorative sea shells by the side of the street. Gerbon had a degree in architecture from university in Palestine. One day I started to tell him about my studies in Peace and Conflict, and how we had been learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Being young and presumptuous, I started to tell him about my ideas for peace in the area. His teary-eyed response to my inexperienced rambling was one of the more humbling experiences of my life.

"My dear friend. What is peace if there is no justice? And what is justice without our land? There can be no peace without justice, and without our land, we have nothing."