A two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the ultimate goal, Israeli journalist Ari Shavit said.
Shavit, a senior correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, spoke Monday afternoon about geopolitical tensions between Israel and Palestine. Drawing from the content of his 2013 bestselling book, “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel,” Shavit traced the development of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the origins of Zionism to this summer’s violence. According to Shavit, the fundamental tension in the region comes from decades-long intransigence between the Jews and Palestinians.
“The flaw in the [Zionist] movement is the original settlers didn’t see other people in the way,” Shavit said. “There was no Palestinian Republic we conquered. They didn’t see us as a people with a historic link to the land, either. The tragedy was set in motion right at the beginning. This mutual blindness is the heart of the tragedy.”
Shavit characterized the inability of Israelis and Palestinians to recognize each other’s claims to the land as “blindness.” He cited the Palestinian city of Lydda, where 50,000 to 70,000 people were expelled in 1948 to make room for the new Israeli state, as a microcosm of the broader conflict.
Lydda, according to Shavit, is the “black box” of Israel’s history.
“We have a moral obligation to deal with this,” he said. “We can’t tell the story of the land without telling this story.”
Still, he warned against taking the story of Lydda out of context. Neither the Palestinians nor the Jews should use their tragic histories in a way that is immoral or even dangerous, he said.
Shavit also emphasized the differences between 1948 and 2014, pointing out that Israel emerged from a time defined by a war.
“What Britain did to Dresden was worse than Lydda,” Shavit said, referring to the large-scale aerial bombing campaign Great Britain orchestrated against the German city. “What America did at Hiroshima was a thousand times worse. Don’t single [Lydda] out as a sign of a nation’s illegitimacy. It doesn’t make us angels, but it doesn’t make us demons.”
Early Zionism, Shavit added, was directly influenced by early 20th century European anti-Semitism. These early Zionists fled Europe decades before the Holocaust because they anticipated the need for “a radical solution to a radical threat,” Shavit said. Shavit’s great-grandfather, a British Jew who first visited Palestine in 1897 before moving there with his family, was one of these early immigrants.
Shavit emphasized the need for a two-state solution, but cautioned against linking the end of West Bank occupation to a stable peace. He said that even returning to the 1967 borders, under which Palestinians had sovereignty over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, might still not resolve Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
“First, we need to try to end, or limit, occupation because it’s killing us,” Shavit said. “Second, try a new concept of peace — one that’s much more humble and modest.”
Shavit was quick to add that his friends call his analysis of the situation pessimistic but his temperament optimistic. Though he acknowledged the difficulty of present challenges, particularly in light of the violent summer clashes between Israel and Gaza, Shavit said he is staying positive. Israel possesses an “astonishing vitality” that will serve it well in the future, he said.
Students interviewed were impressed with Shavit’s nuanced approach to a convoluted issue.
“My take away from the talk was that it’s definitely okay to be moderate and critical of both sides,” Marc Bielas ’18 said.
Ethan Kyzivat ’15 said it was nice to hear Shavit’s story about his great-grandfather, adding that Shavit’s remarks offered a non-academic perspective to the conflict in the Middle East.
“[Shavit] helped me understand that peace doesn’t have to look like a green hills, blue sky image,” Kyzivat said. “That was new to me.”
Shavit’s visit comes two months after the resignation of a Yale chaplain over controversial claims about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a letter to the New York Times, and three weeks after swastikas were drawn on Old Campus.
Shavit is currently on a year-long national tour sponsored by Hillel International.
“I invited [Shavit] because I think he’s a thoughtful person who is knowledgeable on complex issues,” Davenport Master Richard Schottenfeld said. “He’s not afraid to tell what he sees as the truth, and I hope that what he says will create a more respectful dialogue about a volatile situation.”