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May 14, 2021

The Palestinian-Israeli “Conflict”: What we Must Know—& Why it’s More Complex than we Think.

*Author’s Note: I’m not an expert on politics or Middle Eastern or Jewish affairs, and I don’t intend to write this article as a history or an academic piece. My intention is to simply shed some light on this complex, multi-faceted 73-year-old issue. I acknowledge that I hold my own biases being half Middle Eastern; but, I don’t believe that our biases should prevent us from having these heavy discussions. This article reflects my own opinions about the topic, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.

In the Middle East, I grew up never to discuss three topics that were considered taboo: sex, religion, and politics.

But today, I’m unpacking two of these heavy topics to try to shed some light on one of the longest, most complicated, and brutal battles in the history of human conflict.

First, let’s start with some historical facts.

Palestine is a small region within the Mediterranean, which is home to the Arabic-speaking Palestinian community. Over decades and centuries, it was marred by political conflicts—with the most recent one being the Palestinian-Israeli conflict of the 20th century. It is one of the holiest cities in the world due to its historic religious sites to holders of the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish faith.

The city of Jerusalem alone holds the holiest sites according to these three Abrahamic religions: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where it is said that Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected, the Wailing Wall where thousands of Jews flock daily to pray, and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

To the secular Western audience, this might sound like a whole bunch of bullsh*t, right? After all, religion is just a hoax.

However, it would be foolish to assume that this holds true to the rest of the world that is still predominantly nonsecular. In those practicing communities, religion still remains the dominating ideology that brings people together. This is one of the reasons that makes this case nonbinary and much more complex than we think.

If history taught us one thing, for example, from the rise of Nazi-Germany, it’s to never underestimate the power of people under a shared ideology. Add religion to the equation and you have a ferocious battle that’s been ongoing for the past 73 years.

In a recent article on Elephant Journal written by my colleague Robert, he asked us not to jump into judgment toward Israel for launching rockets at the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in retaliation to the Hamas, one of the resistance groups in Palestine, attack. I can’t entirely say I agree with his point for the reasons I’ll mention later—but let’s just say I see what he’s getting at.

He also argued that we always see the pictures of Palestinian homes destroyed, civilians and children injured or killed, and not to be led into conclusion by emotionalism.

But I think that’s exactly part of the problem. We have become so accustomed to seeing those images for so long that we’re numb to the problem. Quite the contrary, I believe we need emotionalism along with critical thinking to see every woman, every child, and every home as more than just a number in the morning news. We need to see them as human beings with unique stories and rich life experiences to tell, just as we are.

This raises a second concern. Is a conflict still a conflict when one side has clear dominance, power, and the capacity to crush its opponent?

In this video by the Daily Show host Trevor Noah, he raises a significant question that makes us ponder, “If you’re in a fight, where the other person cannot beat you, how hard should you retaliate when they try to hurt you?”

Israel has one of the most sophisticated defense systems, with the United States as its biggest allies, and receives billions of US taxpayers’ money as security assistance every year.

Some might argue that the Israel Defense Force is just doing its job, as it’s been trained to do so. But is it really? Let’s take a closer look.

To most Arabs, Israel is a false state that was created by power when the British, who seized control over Palestine following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, had given major parts of Palestine to the Jews following World War II, and supported the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.

The other side to this reality is, Palestinian Jews inhabited the land of Palestine long before the establishment of the modern state of Israel, and both Jews and Muslims shared the land, somewhat peacefully, while being subjected to different colonies across history. This is why both sides claim historical ownership over the land—both probably have a valid point.

Let’s assume for a moment that Israel, like any other country in the world, has the right to defend itself. But while Israel has the leading power player in the world, the United States, by its side, who is standing in solidarity with the Palestinians? And I’m not talking about Hamas or Fatah or any other resistance group, but about the Palestinian civilians—particularly vulnerable women, older people, and children?

The other truth is, for decades and most recently over the past few weeks, the Israeli government under the settler organization has been encouraging mass immigration for Jewish settlers into Israel while expanding over Palestinian lands. I am not referring to the lands that the British or the UN has declared as part of the Jewish State in 1947, but about areas that belong to the Palestinians.

Even if we agree that Jews have historical ownership over Palestine; however, history shows that it was never their land alone, which is exactly what the Israeli government has been doing for years by putting pressure on the Palestinians by evicting them from their own homes.

But why isn’t this being covered in Western news, being challenged by the United States government or by the international community with serious consequences; however, when it comes to Israel’s right to defend itself, we see a massive encouragement from the Western media?

In the most recent outbreak events in the Sheikh Jarrah Neighborhood, the Palestinian-owned land in East Jerusalem, which, according to international law, belongs to the Palestinian territories, eight Palestinian families face forced and illegal eviction by the settlers organization. If implemented, this would violate Israel’s obligations under international law.

The families tried to reason with the Israeli court, showing legal ownership of their homes including any signed contracts; however, the rule was already made. This started a huge upheaval across all other major cities, which was fueled by the live footage that was being shared by young social movement activists, such as Mohammed El-Kurd and Muna El-Kurd, to educate the Western media about the injustices and illegal evictions.

Under social pressure and while the world was watching, the best resolution the Israeli court offered was to delay the eviction of the Palestinian families. If this illegal eviction were to be implemented, this would put 970 people, including 424 children, at risk of displacement, with no compensation from the Israeli government whatsoever.

Imagine for a second, if an indigenous person came to your home, which your family has owned for generations and generations, backed up by your own government, and claimed historic ownership over your land, how would that make you feel? Would you still have the capacity to be mindful, have a reasonable discussion—which is exactly what the Palestinian families did when they tried to reason with the Israeli court.

Before you jump into conclusion or judgment, please understand that none of us, myself included, have lived under a perpetual oppressive system that makes power, rights, privilege, and ownership exclusive to a single party.

If anything, the Jewish community, in particular, should be aware of the excruciating pain and disaster such a system brings, given their long battle with anti-Semitism.

Sometimes, when you’re under oppression by a dominating power, with no real allies by your side, the only way out is to continue fighting—even if the fight isn’t fair.

I am not pro-aggression, nor am I suggesting that the way to move forward is through violence. But like many others, I don’t have any tangible solution either.

I do, however, believe that there’s a clear imbalance of power between the Israelis and the Palestinians. While one has the international community and the United States by its side, the other one has nothing but social media and the hope that by retaliating, resisting, and sharing, the world would eventually have slight sympathy toward them.

In a recent agreement, Donald Trump and Jared Kushner facilitated a peace treaty between Israel and two Arab states: the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. But I don’t think anyone knows what these agreements entailed for the Palestinians.

To make real peace strides, Israel must be held accountable for its violations of many international laws against the Palestinians, in the same way, Nazi-Germany was held accountable. Not only was this never negotiated, but further illegal possessions over Palestinian lands, despite the UN’s warning that this might lead to a war outbreak, continue to take place.

Given the United States’ long favoritism toward Israel as its greatest ally in the Middle East, I don’t believe it is the greatest mediator to make peace agreements. We can’t make agreements when our biases are skewed toward one side.

When it comes to Western media, I don’t believe that the news is being justly reported. For decades and fueled by multiple terrorist groups, Muslim extremists, and the post 9/11 attacks, Western opinion toward the Arab and Muslim community has radically declined.

It is no wonder, then, that when an attack on Palestinian civilians occurs—one where we see an Israeli armed soldier stomping his feet over an unarmed Palestinian civilian for protesting the illegal eviction of his family— it’s easy to question what the protestor did and hard to empathize with him.

But when we watched the video of police brutality against George Floyd, in a similar scene, we did not blink once before siding with Floyd. History that is rich with stories of white supremacy and racism was enough to help us understand the context of the story and to separate the oppressor from the victim.

What does it take for the Western audience to gain the same empathy toward Palestinian civilians when a similar act of injustice is committed by the Israeli army, court, and government?

Many Western progressive thinkers would jump to support the people of color, indigenous rights, the LGBTQ community, and other subgroups that have long faced violence for decades. I am sad to see that the attitude isn’t the same when it comes to understanding the Palestinians’ side of the story.

If we’re true supporters of human rights, we cannot cherry-pick which human rights to support.

Let’s agree for a moment that Israel started its airstrike as a retaliation toward Hamas. But what about the illegal and continuous forced possession of Palestinian lands? What about its disregard for international law? What about their storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque and injuring over 500 civilians during the last 10 days of the holy month of fasting?

If the tables turned and the Palestinians operated the same attacks toward the Israelis during Shabbat or Hanukkah or any other day that is considered holy in the Jewish faith, wouldn’t they be enraged too?

In my brief knowledge of Jewish history, I came to develop great empathy for the pain the Jewish community had to endure during major anti-Semitic movements across their history. Is the Jewish community being unreasonable about their desire to return to a safe place after the Holocaust? Absolutely not. But are they being fair in their claims of Palestine alone? I don’t think so.

Questioning a far-right Israeli state and speaking about its many violations isn’t anti-Semitic. We are not questioning the Jewish community’s right to exist; we are questioning Israel’s illegal actions in supporting its own existence, no matter the cost.

The book I am currently reading about understanding compassion by a group of neuroscientists explains, “Genocidal violence very frequently begins with extremely difficult living conditions in a society…difficult life conditions activate basic needs that all human beings possess.”

It continues, “Under difficult life conditions, the tendency is to satisfy basic psychological needs in ways that lead groups of people to turn against other groups.” “Almost invariably, people turn to ideologies that offer an image of a better future. Ideologies that help fulfill basic needs.”

This complements the modern theories on generational trauma and complex trauma, which I believe Israel and the world are grappling with due to a long history of degradation that turned into ideologies of arrogance, ignorance, and dogma.

But here’s the danger of dogma in the own beautiful words of Jacob Bronowski, a great humanitarian scientist and an Auschwitz survivor:

“We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.”

I don’t hold any resolutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But I hope this conversation can be a starting point.

Despite our differences, anger, and fears, I still have faith that the Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims and Jews, can find some common ground. But this can never be achieved by an imbalance of power and privilege, bypassing our wounds, and dusting things off under fake peace agreements, tainted with innocent blood. It can only start by acknowledging our shared suffering and taking accountability for our own atrocities. As Albert Einstein said, Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” 

More than any time in history, we have the awareness, the tools, and the opportunities to have these hard, heavy discussions. But what we cannot afford to do is being bystanders, twisting truths, and covering things in favor of political correctness, or in fear of offending someone we know.

As Elif Shafak eloquently said in her TED talk video, Politics of Fiction:

“In the face of death and destruction, our mundane differences evaporated, and we all became one—even for a few hours.”


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