When they say there can be no peace between Israelis and Palestinians they are mistaken. There is “peace” already or at least there is no war. During the last 2 years relatively few people died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (268 since January 2009 to be exact – out of which 45 were Palestinians killed/executed by Palestinians), and I say “relatively” because this is in great contrast with Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur and many other areas of the world where tens of thousands have died. As a comparison, in USA alone 41,000 people die every year in car accidents.  Indeed it is more likely to die in a car accident in USA than at war if you are a Palestinian or an Israeli.

During my visit to Israel I was surprised to see how many Palestinians actually live in Israel, this is something that is not well known outside of Israel. Arabs constitute about 20% of Israel’s total population. At the Tel Aviv beaches for example, the blend is magic. You see Israelis surfing next to Arab women who go into the water fully dressed. And some actually swim fully dressed. I had never seen anything like that. Israelis and Arabs, side by side, sharing their free time at the beach.  I hope this is part of what the peaceful future of Israelis and Palestinians will be like.

If you compare other armed conflicts with the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you will see that while this is the one with the most media attention globally it is surprisingly the least deadly. I took the time to make a comparative chart based on the estimated number of casualties (including civilians) that can be found on Wikipedia. In most cases the spread between high and low estimates is very large, but the figures give a good general idea of the order of magnitude of each conflict. Of course it would be a mistake to focus only on the number of casualties when comparing different armed conflicts, there are many other factors to be considered, such as the number of indirect deaths, the number of displaced people, the amount of psychological damage caused, the long-term effects on the affected regions, just to name a few. And it is true that the Palestinians suffer many humiliations in their daily life like for example when they try to travel from Gaza to the West Bank or even around the West Bank. But casualties is still a clear measure of war.

I hope this post is not understood as an attempt to minimize the important of the conflict. I sincerely hope that something like the Oslo Accords gets implemented in the near future so the Palestinians can have their own country. While the situation now is not a war, it is not a solution either. But it is important to put things in perspective and realize that Palestinians in Israel and in the Palestinian territories do not live in what we would normally call a war.

Here’s the chart I made:

And here are a couple of pictures I took at the beach during my visit that illustrate what I saw in terms of Palestinians and Israelis enjoying the sea side by side.

To end this post, I leave you with this video I shot during a helicopter ride around Israel. What became very apparent in the helicopter ride is that the paradox of the Palestinians is that they are either in Israel or near Israel and that Israel is so developed compared to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, namely other countries in which Palestinians live, that it is not surprising that the Palestinians would want Israel as it is now. It is hard to say to what point do they want to go to the land of their ancestors and to what point they much prefer the greatly improved land of Israel of today. Indeed it is possible that if the Israelis had done with their country what the Palestinians did with Gaza and instead the Palestinians had reached the level of development in Gaza that Israel has now, that few Palestinians would be wanting to move to Israel or ask that a Gaza looking Israel be returned to them. Before many Israelis wanted the West Bank and Gaza, now few do. So Israelis have mostly given up the hope of a greater Israel. Only the Israeli fanatic settlers still want a Greater Israel. What people never say in this conflict is that this is not a conflict about the Biblical Israel or the Palestine of the 1920s. This is a conflict about what Israel is today and what Palestine is today. And the contrast is drastic. And it is hard to argue what the Palestinians argue that if they got Israel that it would be what today we know as Israel in terms of prosperity and economic development. I have a hard time imagining Israel being the country outside of USA with most Nasdaq traded companies or Nobel Prizes if it was Palestine. This is what happens when people’s past is so different from people’s present.

Lastly I would like to say that while I blame Israelis for not wanting to negotiate with the Palestinians now and I dislike the current position of the government of Israel vis a vis negotiations I think the Palestinians had a great opportunity in Gaza and by electing Hamas after settlers were forced out by force from there they escalated the conflict and made it hard for Israelis to feel comfortable about removing settlers by force from the West bank.

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Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

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