PREMINGER: Checkpoints are complicated

Perhaps more than most other conflicts in the world today, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is difficult to fully grasp and understand. Its history is long and convoluted, its nature constantly shifting.

Over the course of my entire life in Israel and the three years I served in the Israeli Defense Forces, I have seen the best and worst of our grim reality. I have seen Jews evicting Jews in the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, and I have heard the morning prayer calls of muezzins in the West Bank. I have felt the pain of Israeli citizens who live under the constant threat of rockets from Gaza, and I have seen the quiet desperation of Palestinians living in the shadow of the separation wall.

If my experience has shown me anything, it is that this conflict resists one-term definitions like apartheid or simplistic nouns like occupation. It cannot be crystallized into acronyms, nor summarized in slogans. It contains a multitude of issues, narratives and perspectives, and it must be considered with nuance and intelligence.

On Wednesday, Students for Justice in Palestine set up a mock security checkpoint on Cross Campus as part of the group’s Right to Education Week. According to its Facebook event, the week’s stated purpose is to “raise awareness of education inequality in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

Though the theatrics of Wednesday’s checkpoint might indeed raise awareness of Palestinians’ suffering, this advocacy tactic does a disservice to the goal of resolving the conflict and bringing peace to the Middle East.

Civil liberties in Israel and the relevant policies in the West Bank and Gaza are a thorny issue, to say the least, and I will be the first to admit that the current situation is far from ideal. However, placing checkpoints at the front of the debate distorts the nature of the conflict and plants false imagery in the minds of those who do not have the time or patience to look further into the much-debated conflict.

Students for Justice in Palestine discusses the right to education, undoubtedly an important cause. But what about the most basic right of all, the right to life? Israel constructed checkpoints not because it sought to oppress another people, but because it wanted to protect its own citizens. Before the start of the First Intifada in the late 1980s, Israelis and Palestinians freely passed in and out of the West Bank and Gaza. My parents fondly remember that blissful period, when they regularly went shopping in the Gaza Strip, personally engaging Palestinian merchants in good relations. Yet the outbreak of the First Intifada and the rising tide of Palestinian violence necessitated closer inspection of people entering Israel.

Though Israel’s security policy may seem irrational and unnecessary at times, it is firmly rooted in a dangerous reality and sadly reinforced by past experience. It is a reality that terrorists dupe 12-year-old boys like Abdullah Quran into transporting explosive devices through checkpoints.

It is a reality that there are terrorists like Wafa al-Biri, the 21-year-old Palestinian woman, who, after being treated at an Israeli hospital for burns covering 45 percent of her body from a cooking accident, was caught in an Israeli checkpoint with 20 pounds of explosives in her underwear, with the expressed aim of bombing the very hospital that had saved her life.

No, checkpoints are not simply a symbol of oppression; they are a necessary security measure, intended to guard the lives of millions of innocent civilians — my family and friends among them.

Yesterday, SJP events coordinator Jacqueline Outka quoted Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses.” But Ulysses — or Odysseus — is known for his craftiness, which at times became his undoing. In his embassy to Achilles, Odysseus omitted certain information, thinking it would convince Achilles and bring success to the mission. However, Achilles’ deceitful ways led his mission to fail. Homer’s ancient epic teaches us the importance of telling the full story, of conveying all the information to achieve success.

Those who educate the public on the issues at hand bear the great responsibility of informing people of the many sides of the conflict, of advocating for peace and justice using light and truth, not theatrics and half-truths.

Both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict share the same goal: a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict. I hope we shall all continue, as Tennyson suggests, “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” in our struggle for peace.

Benjamin Preminger is a junior in Pierson College. Contact him at benjamin.preminger@yale.edu.

Comments

  • Arafat

    Brilliant.

  • Yaman

    You spend the entire piece repeating that the situation is “complicated” but you do nothing to clarify the situation. Not only is your claim of complication intellectually lazy, but it is also not unique. It is one of the common responses by groups like the Anti-Defamation League to these cases.

    Students for Justice in Palestine groups around the country responded to this claim recently in a statement they wrote (http://mondoweiss.net/2010/10/students-for-justice-in-palestine-respond-to-the-adl.html):

    “The ADL shields Israeli policy by invoking the “complexity of the conflict” without ever illuminating it. As students we have a definite responsibility to use the tools of knowledge at our disposal to penetrate that complexity; “to speak truth and to expose lies” and “to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions,” to quote social critic Noam Chomsky. Complexity can never be an excuse for complacency. In that vein, groups like the United Nations Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have affirmed in painstaking detail Israel’s deplorable human rights record and systematic intransigency. By educating ourselves, our campuses and our communities about what the Israeli government inflicts upon the Palestinian people within the occupied territories, inside Israel, and beyond, we can begin to identify the problems that cause this injustice. United States foreign aid to Israel – which numbers in the billions every year – is chief amongst the issues enabling Israel’s continued occupation and racism. As students in America, therefore, our duty is three-fold: to apply our academic rigor to learn the truth, to educate and hold our communities accountable for support given in our name, and to lobby our government to end its diplomatic cover for Israeli injustice.”

  • justinberk

    Benji, this is great man – very strong OpEd. Glad to see you are writing things like this.

  • bnp7

    Thanks JBerk.

    BTW, for anyone interested, my email address is benjamin.preminger@yale.edu, not benji.preminger…

  • lillywoods

    Pardon me but not only is “it’s complicated” an extremely poor reason to defend oppression (because in that vein everything from guantanamo to the iraqi invasion is complicated), but to proceed in noting two isolated incidences of terrorism as justification for the oppression of millions is ANYTHING BUT a complex analysis. It’s a simplistic and lazy one that turns a blind eye to the political motivations of both sides.
    If you want to talk complexity then open your eyes to the 500,000 Israeli settlers living illegally in Palestinian territory, and get to the root of why Israel continues to prioritize their security over not only the security of Palestinians but also over the dire economic hardship that Israelis endure as a result of the financially draining policy of occupation and territorial expansion. If you care about and feel connected to Israel, which I get the sense that you do and I deeply respect that, then you must realize that occupation is unsustainable not only as a foreign policy but has also taken a huge toll on your economy and society. It’s in YOUR best interest to end it.

    • Arafat

      “Pardon me but not only is “it’s complicated” an extremely poor reason to defend oppression…”

      Oppression and Islam are synonymous. Islam’s prophet, Mohammed, showed them the appressive path and his path has been emulated ever since by good Muslims everywhere.

      Israel is doing its level best to deal fairly with a people who would drive them (the Jews) into the sea if they (the Muslims) could have their way.

      If the Muslims were successful in driving the Jews into the sea (because we all know in our heart of hearts that this is what they would do if the could do) the world would be left with one more oppressive Muslim state.

      By the way, how is that Arab Spring going? Freedom and individual rights right around the corner no doubt, i.e., if you consider oppression part and parcel of freedom.

  • River_Tam

    Mad props.