Israel-Palestine must emerge out of the darkness
Sorrow again has fallen over that slender waist of tears named Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Since the collapse of the most recent, U.S.-sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, a new cycle of violence has been steadily re-emerging. The murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach, and Gil-ad Shaar is indeed a tragedy, as are all moments when lives are taken through force, at the hands of another. The three youths disappeared on June 12 while heading home from a religious seminary in the occupied West Bank. Their bodies were found this week and now calls fill the air for revenge. On Tuesday, right-wing protesters in Israel chanted "death to Arabs" in Jerusalem.
And now the cycle continues as the Times Of Israel reports that a 16-year-old Palestinian has been found murdered in Jerusalem, his body charred. According to the Times Of Israel, "Israeli police have become increasingly convinced that 16-year-old Jerusalem resident Mohammed Abu Khdeir was murdered Wednesday morning as revenge for the killing of three kidnapped Israeli teens, officials said Wednesday evening."
So vicious has the nationalist fever in Israel become that a Facebook campaign has been launched showcasing Israelis calling for the murder of Arabs and calling for vengeance.
The Times of Israel also reports that Israeli officials are livid at John Kerry for condemning the murder of the Palestinian teen.
The response by the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu has been the same as his predecessors: More violence, this time in the form of vast raids in the West Bank of Palestinian neighborhoods and new airstrikes on Gaza, the enclave ruled by the militant group Hamas which Israel blames for the kidnappings eventhough the group denies involvement. According the group's leader Khaled Mashaal, "Hamas had no involvement or knowledge of the kidnappings" according to the Times Of Israel.
What is missing from coverage in the Israeli and U.S. media, is the fact that the unfortunate violence cutting across ethnic lines is the direct result of the continued Israeli occupation and settlement of the West Bank. Since 1967 Israel has occupied and slowly colonized the territory which according to international law, should be the area of land designated as the homeland for the Palestinian population. Israel already has its own, sovereign territory.
As the respected journalist Robert Fisk notes in his excellent book on the Middle East, "The Great War For Civilization," Israel's conflict with the Palestinians is the last, classic colonial war. The murdered teens belonged to one of the hundreds if not thousands of illegal settlements by Israeli colonists in the West Bank territory. This is not an excuse for murder, but the kind of violence we are seeing is no different from what the French experienced in Algeria or the British in Palestine itself (the original founders of Israel belonged to guerrilla units that regularly carried out armed attacks on British forces).
A month before the kidnappings, the Israeli army was already under scrutiny for having killed two unarmed Palestinian teenagers with live ammunition during a protest in the West Bank, an act caught on video and condemned by Defense For Children International.
It is not difficult to assume that the subsequent kidnapping of the three Israelis was itself most likely a revenge attack for the previous killings. And now with another Palestinian murdered, the cycle will reach a horrific crescendo.
What is to be done? This is a conflict that ignites heated passions, especially on our campus where we have a sizable Jewish and Arab population. These deaths are the new, tragic ghosts of a failed peace process and a colonial agenda.
Peace might have been slightly achieved already had Israel simply exited the West Bank. We must stop falling into the typical trap of blaming "both sides" when the imbalance is so enormous. You have a mostly poor, conquered population seething under the boot of the mightiest power in the Middle East. Israel is unmatched regionally in terms of military strength and armaments (while Netanyahu has made a career out of railing against the phantom Iranian bomb, Israel already has over 300 nuclear weapons). It is obvious Israel seeks to expand its territory like some modern-day Prussia. Netanyahu even gave a speech on Tuesday where he basically outlined Israel's perceived border as extending all the way to Jordan, which means the annexation of the West Bank.
Some will argue that Israel exited Gaza and received Hamas rockets in return. But this is again a distortion of history. Israel did exit Gaza, because it wants the resource-rich West Bank, and it still retained full, militarized control of Gaza's sea borders, land borders and airspace. When in 2006 the locals elected Hamas, Israel immediately imposed a Cuba-style blockade on the territory. Then came 2008's Operation Cast Lead, a terrifying attack by Israel that shocked the world.
On the Palestinian side the ultra-corrupt Palestinian Authority has done little for its people. It has simply established a virtual police state in the West Bank, enriched a local oligarchy and even repressed protests against Israeli attacks on Gaza.
Of course the actions of a political state must be separated from the thoughts of individuals. As Max Blumenthal records in his book, "Goliath: Life & Loathing In Greater Israel," while Israeli society is going through an intensely nationalist phase where the rulers are sweeping the population into a virtual blood and land cult, there are many voices in Israel who realize something is wrong and peace will not come until the occupation ends.
Instead of listening to Benjamin Netanyahu, or the crazed Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (who is calling for the reoccupation of Gaza by the IDF), Israelis and Americans (our tax dollars fund Israel's military) should open their ears to minds like Israeli filmmaker Udi Aloni, Uri Avnery, and journalist Gideon Levy. These are rational, sober voices calling for both an end to the occupation and unity among Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. When both peoples cast off the yoke of nationalism and corruption, new dawns will be possible.
Instead of a time for revenge, this should be a time for reflection. It is time for the Israeli people to see through the pain and demand an end to the occupation. This won't automatically fix everything overnight, but it could be the start. The dreams of ambitious blowhards for more land and power are not worth the spilled blood of the innocent, whether Jew or Arab. We know this as Americans because of our experience in occupying Iraq, a venture which brought nothing but the rise of terrifying new monsters as seen with the recent rise of the Islamic State and its hordes marching across the Levant.
The time has come to make hard, but important choices. As Udi Aloni writes in his book, "What Does A Jew Want? On Binationalism And Other Spectres":
"When will the two brothers walk together fearless out of the dark cave of Machpelah to the sunny light of Israel-Palestine, to life?"