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Scott Dickman: Writer’s assessment of Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one-sided, divisive

  • Palestinian mourners chant angry slogans as they carry the body of Muhammed Abu Halima, 22, who was shot and killed by Israeli troops on Friday during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel. AP



For the Monitor
Wednesday, July 11, 2018

I write in response to Bradley Libenson’s column, “Skewed history vilifies Israel” (Monitor Forum, July 5). I am troubled by Libenson’s arguments as they are a mischaracterization of history and perpetuate divisive stereotypes that make reconciliation less possible.

Firstly, Libenson wrongly conflates legitimate political differences with Israeli policy and anti-Semitism. It is not anti-Semitism that fuels resistance to right-wing policies or support for BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), but moral outrage over human rights violations by the Israeli right.

Secondly, Libenson oversimplifies extraordinarily nuanced historical miscalculations on both sides. Consider the naiveite of Theodore Herzl’s (the founder of Zionism) vision of how Zionism was to succeed. His novel Altneuland (“The Old New Land”) anticipated local Arabs would embrace waves of Zionist immigrants for the science and progress their superior culture would introduce. Unfortunately, this sentiment is no different than the colonial ideology (and racism) that accompanied European engagement with Africa, India, etc., and the American treatment of Native American populations. In each case, a mythology was created to justify colonization while portraying the native population as “savages” or, worse, simply non-existent. (The Israeli right-wing canon refers to pre-1948 Palestine as “a land with no people.”)

From Herzl’s flawed vision of an indigenous population embracing waves of Jewish immigrants, it is a predictable leap to Libenson’s statement that the Palestinian rejection of partition into Arab and Jewish states was “curious.” This one word, flippantly and dismissively introduced as he describes the Palestinian response (rejection) to the Partition Plan, goes to the heart of my rebuttal. He apparently believes an indigenous population resisting foreign (British) colonial rule and significant foreign immigration (Jewish) lacks historical or moral validity.

The Peel Commission’s 1937 summary report says otherwise: “An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country. There is no common ground between them. Their national aspirations are incompatible. The Arabs desire to revive the traditions of the Arab golden age. The Jews desire to show what they can achieve when restored to the land in which the Jewish nation was born. Neither of the two national ideals permits of combination in the service of a single State.”

Like the Palestinians, Israel too has missed opportunities for peace. The overwhelming Israeli victory in 1967 left Israel in a position to virtually dictate its own terms. Nevertheless, Israel rejected several peace proposals because concessions were required by both sides, and the notion of concessions was anathema to Israel when it considered itself militarily invincible. Further, a “Regional Peace Initiative” was proposed by Saudi Arabia and adopted by the Arab League in 2002. The proposal offered to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and establish normal relations between Israel and the Arab world, including the “Organization of Islamic Cooperation” comprising dozens of Muslim countries and the influential nations Pakistan and Indonesia. In each instance, Israel refused to negotiate, claiming there was no partner for peace.

Overall, I was saddened most of all by Libenson’s assignation of all the blame to the Palestinians or other Arab states. This is as unhelpful as it is dangerous. Singling out one side when there is blame enough on all sides, and implicitly repeating morally offensive and demeaning myths – particularly that of “a land with no (Palestinian) people” – renders it all the more difficult for individuals to fully understand the rage at the heart of Palestinian resistance. Doing so exacerbates the divisiveness and diminishes the possibility for reconciliation.

If we have learned anything regarding the tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is that the fates and histories of the Israeli and Palestinian populations have been and will remain inextricably intertwined. One needn’t look further than how each population refers to the events on May 14, 1948. On that day, Israel declared its independence while Palestinians refer to that same fateful day as the “Nakba” or catastrophe. These parallel but antithetical experiences perfectly illustrate the profoundly diverse, complex and contextual nature of human experience.

Perpetuating one-sided narratives is a fool’s errand. If there is any hope of resolving this (or any) conflict, we must find the courage to empathically listen to each side’s narratives to humanize the “other” and prepare the seedbed for peace. If we can resist the facile stereotypes and challenge the institutional biases that attach a higher priority to self-preservation than the attainment of social justice, reconciliation can emerge – and we might actually create the humane landscape we wish to inhabit and leave to our children.

(Scott Dickman lives in Concord.)