As a Palestinian who grew up in the West Bank, I am ceaselessly amazed at the ever-expanding gap between the reality of Israeli military rule over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the impressions of that reality created by many vibrant imaginations — imaginations too caught up in narrow political and ideological visions to grasp the absurdity of their claims. In Thursday’s op-ed page, Amanda Elbogen (“New view could aid Palestinians”) argued that Palestinian terrorism is the cause of their suffering. On several occasions, the Israeli government has tried to alleviate Palestinian suffering by providing the latter with various forms of humanitarian assistance. However, because Palestinians continue to employ terrorist tactics, the Israeli government is unable to provide the assistance it would have otherwise provided for fear of endangering its soldiers’ lives. Elbogen suggests that the Palestinian terrorism can be explained by the Palestinian leadership’s incompetence and corruption. By implication, Israel has played no role in suffocating the Palestinian economy and wreaking havoc on Palestinian civil society.
No serious and educated person could argue that the Israeli government bears no responsibility for crimes against the Palestinian people. Such a claim is indefensible, and I have no intention of spending too much time on the issue. Entire reports written by Israeli and American human rights organizations such as Btselem, an Israeli human rights organization, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International provide sobering perspectives of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation. These reports describe the daily killings, beatings, torture and rape of Palestinians at the hands of Israeli soldiers, interrogators and settlers, not to mention the historic and systematic destruction of Palestinian land and property.
There are, however, two aspects of Elbogen’s piece that I would like to address here. First, Elbogen assumes that the Israeli government has actively sought a just and comprehensive solution to its conflict with the Palestinians. Second, Elbogen seems to imply that Palestinians have a natural predisposition to terrorism when Palestinian terrorism is a result of Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Elbogen maintains that the Erez Industrial Park by the Gaza Strip was the “Israeli government’s attempt to remedy the suffering of Palestinians” adding that the industrial park’s “sole purpose” was peaceful coexistence with Palestinians. Ignoring that the industrial area was built near Gaza because Palestinians are a cheap source of labor for Israelis, this passage illustrates the common belief that Israel has actively sought peace with the Palestinians. A few facts suggest otherwise. Shortly after the second Intifada erupted, all Arab countries agreed to end their conflict with the Jewish State if Israel dismantled its settlements and let Palestinians establish their own viable state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Put quite simply, the Arab-Israeli conflict would have ended had Israel let Palestinians exercise their internationally recognized right to self-determination. A missed opportunity? Perhaps. But, one wonders if something other than senselessness influenced the Israeli government to its decision.
Indeed, one need only consider Israel’s ongoing settlement project to realize that a just peace with Palestinians is not on its agenda. Thousands of Jewish settlers continue to move into heavily subsidized colonies built on Palestinian land. Would Israel invest so many resources into an infrastructure it will have to dismantle when it finally finds its “Palestinian peace partner?” Probably not. It would seem as if Palestinians are the ones waiting for an Israeli partner that does not seek to control them.
Let’s turn to Elbogen’s second assumption: that Palestinians terrorism is a phenomenon void of any political context.
Violence is too often used as a political tool and unfortunately, many Palestinian leaders have followed Israel’s example by employing illegal tactics that victimize civilians. However, to say that terrorism is simply wrong and illegal does not really help us understand the heart of the problem. Terrorism is wrong and illegal and no decent person will pretend it is other than such.
During the first Intifada (1987-1992), there were no suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. There were several skirmishes between Israeli settlers and Palestinian civilians, but Palestinian groups did not attack Israeli civilians in any organized manner; the first Intifada was a large grass-roots movement clearly directed against the military occupation of Palestine. This fact would suggest that Palestinian terrorism cannot be explained by an ideological or religious hatred of Jews. Islam has not changed over the past decade. But then what did change over the past 10 years?
Over the past 10 years, Israel has left Palestinians with little reason to believe that it intends to let them exercise self-determination in a viable state of their own in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The facts mentioned above speak for themselves; Israel continues to colonize Palestinian land and refuses to settle for any agreement that allows Palestinians adequate freedom from Israeli political and economic control, all in contravention with international law.
One thing Israel has proved over the past 10 years is that it will not play by the rules. In fact, Israel insists that the principles of International Humanitarian Law (the rules regulating state conduct in times of war) do not apply in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and of course, has freely violated them when doing so was expedient to its narrow interests. It has used its massive military and economic powers to dispossess Palestinians of their land, the Geneva Conventions and international law notwithstanding. Now, cynical Palestinian leaders in turn argue that they too will not play by the rules designed to protect civilians in times of war because they have no interest in doing so. And so, they unleash suicide bombers.
All those who hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians should think hard about Israel’s policies and its neglect of basic rules; they do not lend themselves to security, either for Israelis or Palestinians.
Raja Shamas is a junior in Trumbull College.