As a Jew I want to see a Palestinian state. I just don’t know how to guarantee that this state will not be Hamas controlled and focused not on its own success but the destruction of Israel. Gaza has been a terrible example of what may happen in all of Palestine. And at the same time I think the Israelis are so in the wrong for allowing more settlements. Having said this, if those people are fanatics who want to be in Palestine I think the Palestinians should keep them and tax them. The GDP of the 300K Israeli settlers may be as high as that of the millions of Palestinians. Why chase them away?
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.
As Israel fights in Gaza and I, as a Jew, question the morals and effectiveness of this military campaign, as I objected that of the invasion of Lebanon in 2006, I still hear the old appeasement song. I hear it again, again, and again from my Jewish friends. Hitler, Hitler Hitler. Hezbollah is Hitler, Hamas is Hitler, Iran is Hitler, the Palestinians are Hitler, the Arabs are Hitler. They are all Hitler. They are all for the systematic extermination of the Jewish people. And when voices are heard in Europe, USA and other regions; when commentators disapprove of the methods used by the Israeli government when dealing with Hezbollah and Hamas, my Jewish colleagues are quick to dismiss those as opinions of antisemites. In their mind people who disagree with the foreign policy of Israel are simply waiting for the enemies of the Jewish people to complete the work they left undone by the Nazis. For them the Palestinians are not a people with valid claims to a country but instead a neo Nazi group that was created to make sure that Hitler´s final solution gets finally….implemented.
Now let´s compare the situation of the Jews to that of the African Americans for a moment. African Americans deserve to be mentioned in the Jewish debate because they were, as recently as 1960 in USA discriminated against in the most virulent forms. The country that now has an African American President did not allow African Americans to sit in an empty bus seat because it was reserved for whites. And in the previous century African Americans were sold as cattle and enslaved for life, frequently raped and killed without charges. As such the history of African Americans is comparable in horror to that of Jewish history.
Yet somehow, the vast majority of African Americans do not believe that slavery or mass prejudice could ever happen to them again. But unfortunately, many Jews still believe that another dictator intent on wiping the Jewish people out of the planet could arise at any moment in the world. Some believe that this could even happen in the United States. Indeed it is clear that Obama´s Muslim ancestry was an issue for Jews in America as some saw that Hussein middle name as a clear sign that it maybe him who endangers Jewish life as we know it. As unlikely as it sounds I have Jewish friends who still argue that Jews are safer in Israel than in USA or worse that Jews in USA are safer in USA thanks to the existence of Israel, something that if true, it´s probably true the other way around. Most Jews still argue that the State of Israel exists to provide a safe heaven to the Jews of the Diaspora, an argument whose validity has long expired. Now, surrounded by hundreds of millions of enemies, I believe that without the Jews of the Diaspora, and especially without the Jews in the United States the State of Israel would be in worse trouble. As military technology improves and becomes available for all it is hard to see how 5 million Jews can defend themselves against so many rich and well armed enemies. The chances that Jews are picked up country after country by Neo Nazis and exterminated as it happened during WWII is as probable as the chance that the same happens to Gays, Blacks, native Americans or any other minority that used to be discriminated against. Instead, the chances that Islamic Terrorists or Islamic states end up defeating or greatly damaging Israel with the use of advanced weapons over the next 20 years are significant. And it is my opinion that invasions such as that of Lebanon or Gaza increase the possibility of this tragic event happening. If there is ever another holocaust again in my view it will sadly happen in Israel.
The reason why I firmly believe in the right of Israel to exist but oppose the recent policies of the Israeli government including the invasion of Lebanon and of Gaza is that I believe that both invasions are unethical and tactically wrong. They are unethical because in both cases Israel is attacking, killing and greatly damaging the infrastructure of other countries or quasi countries (Lebanon and Gaza) in retaliation for dangers that are minimal. Casualty ratios of 900 to 13 can hardly be called a war regardless of the fact that human life should be impervious to mathematics. In Spain where I live we take higher number of casualties from Islamic and Basque terrorists. I am not happy to live in Madrid 10 minutes from an airport that was partly blown up a year ago with 2 casualties. But I do not want my government to send helicopters to Bilbao to shoot missiles at the Basque terrorists who are guilty of that crime. Such action would only make it more likely for ETA to recruit members and grow. Where 5 are killed, 50 others would arise. Moreover, in asymmetrical warfare of the kind that Israel fights, the danger to Israel is not that it is defeated by the regular armies of its neighbors, the danger is that its neighbors evolve to have better and better terrorist weapons and that next time Israel is hit with 4000 missiles these actually hit their targets. I am concerned that Israel is precipitating the evolution of Hamas into a more sophisticated enemy. And it is only a matter of time for terrorist technology to get better. Terrorism is defeated by making it harder for terrorists to recruit and evolve, not by attacking terrorists hidden among the general population with regular armies and killing hundreds of children whose siblings will grow up with the single minded purpose of destroying you. Terrorism is defeated as we do in Spain by patiently making the case for terrorists weaker, not by military force.
Furthermore I see another risk and that is that as Israel escalates in violence the Muslim world unifies against it. Yes I do know that Fatah hates Hamas and that the Muslim world is divided in all sorts of battles. I do know that in the last 20 years over a million Muslims have died killed by Muslims and less than 10,000 killed by Jews in all sorts of Muslim-Muslim conflicts such as the Iran Iraq war or the constant Sunni and Shia conflicts. But there are many Muslim leaders out there who are waiting for a unifying theme to get to rule whole Muslim world. Osama Bin Laden tries, Ahmadinejad tries, and unfortunately the theme of exterminating Israel grows more popular every year. Indeed Ahmadinejad seems to have better than Osama Bin Laden because he picked Israel and not USA as his stated enemy and now Al Qaeda seems to also be shifting in that direction.
So before invading a country, destroying its infrastructure, because they kidnap some soldiers as in the case of Lebanon, or because they throw potentially lethal rockets after a truce as in the case of Gaza, I think that Israel should think about how easier it makes the life of Islamic terrorist recruiters when it retaliates with tremendous force. Terrorists feed on anger and invasions, air bombardments, massive killings are certainly valid reasons for the attacked population to be angry about. Jews should learn from African Americans and realize that it is possible to be discriminated in the past, to be hated in the past, to be enslaved in the past, to be abused in the past and somehow…not be hated in the future. That if you lose a few soldiers is bad, but creating the conditions to lose your whole country is worse. Jews seem to talk about history as if it is destiny when instead I believe it is the destiny of the current generation of Jews to change history forever and make peace. Jews should learn to distinguish from the people who hate them because of territorial claims and the rest of the world who temporarily hates them because of the way they react against people who have territorial claims. These claims, while not valid in the case of the Lebanese, are pretty valid in the case of the Syrians and the Palestinians and as Jews we must acknowledge this and move back towards Oslo. Jews should learn that the reason why most people in secular Europe dislike us Jews is for the aggressive policies of the State of Israel. Jews should not confuse disagreement with Israel´s foreign policy with the virulent racism that characterized societies of 70 years ago. This type of racist thinking is historically over. It´s over against African Americans and its over against Jews. Indeed it´s so over that in the current anti Israel demonstrations in Europe the right wing parties, traditionally known as Neo Nazis were not present. Moreover I am convinced that if tomorrow Israel and Palestine learn to live in peace most people around the world will forget about both countries. They will be as relevant to the world as Croatia and Serbia are today. An irrelevance that is surprisingly great as a country tries to rebuild its future in a peaceful manner.
The present dislike for Jews around the world is not because of rampant global antisemitism but because most non Jews and non Muslims believe that Israel is reacting too strongly and too unfairly to the aggression it receives. Of course Israel has the right to defend itself. But while at the beginning of its history the world saw Israel as a country trying to survive, now the world sees Israel as a country using excessive force against the right of another country to exist. The best hope for Israel is that Palestine has a strong leader, that Israel can deal with in matters of security. Even as enemies Israel and USA are better off when the enemy is a state and not a terrorist entity. Until such leader arises Israel will not be safe but Israel must know that this leader will be somebody that is hard to deal with. History has many former terrorists who became respected leaders including some of the founders of the State of Israel. A strong leader who focuses on peace maybe difficult to deal with, but it will not be hard as fighting the Hamas Hydra that Israel is currently confronting.
Shimon Peres started the session by saying that even though President Clinton had worked hard at bringing solutions to the Middle East conflict, unfortunately “we were more successful at bringing problems.” Another phrase of his was, quoting Ghandi, “When a cat is chasing a mouse there´s no sense if the mouse declares a ceasefire.” This he said to Nasser to ask the Palestinian Authority to stop Hamas, the cat in this picture. “Time has come to privatize peace” he also added in the sense that civil society has to play a huge role demanding peace.
I just came back from a tour of Israel and soon to be Palestine. During this tour I met with a significant number of top Palestinian and Israeli political leaders. I met with Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, political leaders from Likud, Labor, Shaz, Mafdal, Shinui and others. I also met with the Minister of the Economy of Palestine, leaders from Fatah and Hamas, as well as other young political leaders and activists in Palestine.