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 firstname.lastname@example.org.