We Don’t Get It

When Jeff Halper, director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, went home after sailing to Gaza, he was immediately imprisoned by the Israeli government for illegally being in Gaza. (You’d think that Gazans would have jurisdiction over who gets to be in their territory – funny, that.) Here’s what he has to say about Israelis’ attitude toward Palestine:

When we finally arrived in Gaza after a day and a half sail, the welcome we received from 40,000 joyous Gazans was overwhelming and moving. People sought me out in particular, eager it seemed to speak Hebrew with an Israeli after years of closure. The message I received by people of all factions during my three days there was the same: How do we (“we” in the sense of all of us living in their country, not just Palestinians or Israelis) get out of this mess? Where are WE going? The discourse was not even political: what is the solution; one-state, two-state, etc etc. It was just common sense and straightforward, based on the assumption that we will all continue living in the same country and this stupid conflict, with its walls and siege and violence, is bad for everybody. Don’t Israelis see that? people would ask me.

(The answer, unfortunately, is “no.” To be honest, we Israeli Jews are the problem. The Palestinian years ago accepted our existence in the country as a people and are willing to accept ANY solution — two states, one state, no state, whatever. It is us who want exclusivity over the “Land of Israel” who cannot conceive of a single country, who cannot accept the national presence of Palestinians (we talk about “Arabs” in our country), and who have eliminated by our settlements even the possibility of the two-state solution in which we take 80% of the land. So it’s sad, truly sad, that our “enemies” want peace and co-existence (and tell me that in HEBREW) and we don’t. Yeah, we Israeli Jews want “peace,” but in the meantime what we have — almost no attacks, a feeling of security, a “disappeared” Palestinian people, a booming economy, tourism and ever-improving international status — seems just fine. If “peace” means giving up settlements, land and control, why do it? What’s wrong with the status quo? If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.)

Now, it’s important to point out that most Israelis are in favor of Palestinian human rights. But notice that the study was framed in terms of Israeli security, not ethics. Also, supporting human rights isn’t the same as supporting autonomy, and it definitely isn’t the same as giving something up yourself.

Of course, we American Jews aren’t particularly enlightened, either. The Forward is currently running an ad that reads, “Jerusalem: Keep it one. Keep it ours.” An American-Israeli friend of mine belongs to the Facebook groups “Give Gaza back to its rightful owner: Israel” and “THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A COUNTRY OF PALESTINE. IT JUST DOESN’T EXIST.”

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4 Responses

  1. I’m not sure the polling data that Halper’s reading, because I’ve seen consistent strong majorities by both Israeli and American Jews in favor of the two-state solution.

    And let’s be clear too — I’m willing to grant that Hamas got elected not primarily as a vote of confidence in terrorist methods. But there has yet to be an indication — particularly from the Palestinian political leadership — that they are in fact ready to accept a permanent two-state solution. The plural of anecdote is not data, Mr. Halper — just as the Palestinian government should have the right to determine who can enter and leave its domain, so it ultimately has the sovereign status as the mouthpiece of the Palestinian people. Until it starts talking the talk, we’re getting ahead of ourselves when we praise the Palestinians for a walking a non-existent walk.

  2. But it’s easy to be in favor of a two-state solution in which the other state has no say in the division of territory. Israel keeps saying it wants two states – but continues to control Gaza’s borders (a “strategy” that most Israelis agree is only fostering terrorism) and build settlements on Palestinian land.

  3. It’s not like Palestinians had no say in the division of territory — there were negotiations at Camp David, Palestinian representatives were at them, offers were made which would have established a sovereign Palestinian state (presumably with control over its borders), and Palestinians rejected them.

    Once Palestine is a sovereign nation, it ought to have control over its borders, and I agree that Israel’s blockade is foolish strategy in the meantime, but you’re putting the sovereignty cart before the horse. The only way that Israel could do what you seemingly want them to do — recognize Palestinian sovereignty prior to a negotiated settlement — would be the unilateral withdrawal option; something which continues to tempt me, but which usually is met with outrage from the pro-Palestinian voices I listen to.

  4. I think we may be talking past each other here. I’m referring more to personal opinions on Palestine, rather than government action (and realize that my use of the term Israel was grossly inaccurate) – for example, the idea that there should be negotiations on territory, but that Israel shouldn’t have to give anything up.

    A good corollary might be many Americans’ responses to Affirmative Action. Yes, of course people of color should have equal opportunity – but not if it’s going to affect my chances of getting a job.

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