Ori Wiener-Blotner | SIPA Class of 2018
The Morningside Post recently published an article by Kylee Marie DiGregorio, Gaza: the world’s largest open-air prison. It explored the experiences of Palestinians in Gaza, and addressed some of the many challenges and hardships that they go through, sometimes, on a day-to-day basis. Many of the stories reflect not only the lives of those who raise their voices, but also the lives of others who remain silent. It would be difficult for anyone who believes in universal human rights and moral values not to feel sick to their stomach. Visiting McGovern Lecturer and former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami gave a lecture this past Tuesday night, arguing that Israel must address the plight of the Palestinian people. A true shadow on the history of the region, many Palestinians suffered and continue to suffer under the political status quo. But while Ben-Ami justifiably critiqued the Israeli government with many compelling comments, he didn’t offer concrete policy suggestions, nor their possible repercussions. I would like to offer suggestions and invite others to do the same.
I would also like to build on DiGregorio’s article. Many, if not most, of the narratives that exist regarding the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis are uni-narratives. It is very common to see articles discussing all the wrongs committed “by the other side,” as each preaches to their respective choirs. Ben-Ami notably said that “Israelis and Palestinians compete for the monopoly of the ethos of victimhood.” These narratives forge identities that are both sources of protection and violence simultaneously. But like DiGregorio’s article, and Ben-Ami’s lecture, the narrative of Palestinian victimhood has dominated the conversation. My article is an attempt to develop the much-needed conversation by bringing people of different opinions together so that there can be an integrated dialogue, addressing the needs and concerns of both sides. That is why I recommend those who read this article to read Kylee’s article as well, and ask Kylee, as well as anyone else who feels the drive, to respond to our articles and move this dialogue forward.
Hamas comes to power
Gaza has been under serious border, maritime, and trade restrictions due to the Israeli government’s fear that Hamas, constitutionally dedicated to Israel’s violent destruction, could accumulate weapons that would be used towards that end. The conflicts in Gaza are not against the Palestinian people, but against Hamas who is currently in power, and other groups who aim to harm Israel and its citizens. And yet, it is the Palestinian people who truly suffer. In 2006, a Hamas cross-border raid kidnapped an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was kept captive for 5 years. As a result, Israel reduced the amount of available offshore fishing areas, which affected the Palestinian people more than it did Hamas. Similarly, weapons caches are reportedly held in civilian areas such as schools and hospitals. If Israeli armed forces attack the arms stockpiles, flower farmer Mohamed Abu Abdelqader, who suffers from cancer, loses his source of life-sustaining treatment. If Israel doesn’t attack the weapons cache, Afik Ohion Zehavi, age 4, will be hit by one of the rockets fired into the city of Sderot.
Three levels of analysis are apparent here: First, governmental policies by Hamas and Israel, as Ben-Ami aptly put, prepare for the next war instead of for peace. Second, the repercussions of violent policies are felt predominantly by the people, on both sides. Third, the international narrative that goes in every international newspaper furthers the victim-hood narrative, rather than a narrative of agency. I would like to address the second two levels here because how we see the conflict, and how Israelis and Palestinians act as agents in their struggles, may have a better chance of success than hoping that “governments figure it out.” Further, it is all of us who choose which narrative to perpetuate, and which avenues to advocate going forward.
Nakba and the beginning of suffering in Gaza
As Kylee correctly said, the Nakba (“Catastrophe”) is commemorated on the same day as the Israeli Independence Day. Given the holiday around the corner, it is hard not to think about the celebratory Thanksgiving, and how it is a day of mourning for Native Americans. Israel can do better. The Israeli government, particularly the Ministry of Education should acknowledge and mourn the loss of lives and homes of many Palestinian people, despite the fact that it was the outcome of a war. In an ideal situation, Israel’s money would be better spent on reparations to those who suffered the Nakba, and on helping their families settle and have more stable lives, as well as those who suffered loss and injury during the various Gaza conflicts. Instead, the government feels compelled to buy more rocket interceptors for the “Iron Dome” defense system. The challenge remains twofold: first, convincing Israeli and Hamas policy makers that stability could lead to an opportunity for reparations, and second, asking Hamas to mourn the Israeli lives that have been lost through the same conflicts. Somehow stopping the armed conflicts between Israel and Hamas would allow infrastructure to thrive rather than risk destruction, and restrictions on the borders and on trade would also loosen as a result. Gaza wasn’t always a prison.
“Hamas” which in Arabic means “zeal” or “courage,” translates to “violence” in Hebrew. That was either on purpose, or incredibly inconvenient. That literally means that when Arab-speakers describe “acts of Hamas,” they are saying something inherently different from Hebrew speakers, and that can have a very powerful impact on the perceptions of anyone involved. But it also points to another issue: divides are exacerbated when the two sides can’t even converse with each other. Israelis and Palestinians currently learn to speak each others’ languages for strategic advantages. But more people need to learn, and more people need to speak each others’ languages. For those of us who aren’t trying to harness languages to “win” the next war, the ability to communicate humanizes the other. The Israeli government should encourage more students to learn Arabic.
“Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020”
“We live inside an ever-tightening noose,” olive tree farmer Abu Mousab told El-Haddad, the journalist, in 2015. “One day it will choke us of our livelihood.” Gazans live in terrible conditions and are fighting against, of all things, a ticking clock. They also have it worse than the average Israeli citizen, whether they are Jewish, Muslim or Christian. Both Hamas and Israeli policymakers justify their decisions through the violent actions of the other in the past, in an intractable Security Dilemma. When both Israel and Hamas perceive that they are justified in their actions and are in the right, it falls to their people to show there is another way. It will take strong advocacy on both sides of the conflict and the international community to show a new perception of the conflict, and in doing so, will redefine involved narratives, moving from victim-hood to agency.