The Journey of a Thousand Miles…

When it comes to the generations long struggle between the Israelis and Palestinians, I am no expert.  There is too much water under the bridge, and too many details of a history I was neither there for, nor had the time to study independently in depth.  I am aware of the complaints of the Israelis regarding their security in what they see as their ancestral homeland, and also aware of the complaints of Palestinians regarding their displacement and alleged subsequent mistreatment at the hands of the Israelis.

But as a father of two girls, there is one thing I am an expert in, and that is conflict resolution.  I am reminded somewhat of a situation in which my children were fighting in the back seat of the car, eventually coming to blows.  As I tried to sort out the situation, they just kept hitting each other and screaming about how the Papa Smurf toy was THEIRS.  In between hair-pulls and snatching the toy, both made reasonable semi-coherent points about why they should get the toy.  As I hurtled down the freeway, I said what I think most parents would say in the situation “Calm down, stop hitting each other and give me Papa Smurf!”  By stopping the violence, and removing the offending toy, I was hoping to determine with a clear mind a reasonable solution to the problem–though I knew it would inevitably involve some sort of sharing, and neither girl was likely to be completely satisfied.

The point is that the first step in this process was to stop the violence.  As long as the two girls were hitting each other, the argument would escalate and no agreement would be able to be reached.  While this analogy is unacceptably lighthearted for such a serious situation, and is no doubt imperfect (whither Papa Smurf and whither holy Jerusalem?), some important parallels can indeed be drawn.

The Palestinian argument for the violent Intifada, in plain English, can be boiled down to the basic sentiment “We need to stand up and defend ourselves, or else Israel will obliterate us and our homeland completely.”  The violent component of the Israeli response is summarized as “We need to stand up and defend ourselves against these violent peoples who threaten our security and our ability/right to exist”.  Is it any wonder than, that we have ended up in an ever escalating vicious cycle of bloodshed?

The only way out of this situation is to first, stop the violence.  And to do this, one side will need to have the courage to act first.  As the group claiming to be oppressed, that onus clearly falls to the Palestinians.  To claim oppression is to claim a certain moral high ground, which is the main weapon of the oppressed.  As long as they persist in violent uprising (or defense, based on one’s perspective), they will have ceded this all important moral high ground to those they accuse of oppression.  The only reasonable course of action currently is to insist on a total stop to all violent action (aggressive or defensive) on behalf of the Palestinians.

If, in fact, the Palestinians are right and Israel represents a group of aggressors committed to Palestinian oppression if not total annihilation, this will become abundantly clear as Israeli violence continues or itensifies in the face of Palestinian non-violence.  Such action would then stand glaringly obvious in the international spotlight, exposed for its ugliness.  If, however, Israel is correct in their assertion that their violent actions are merely defensive in nature, the entire impetus for violence directed against the Palestinians will disappear as Palestinians lay down their arms.  Peace can then move forward.

The Palestinians win either scenario.  Either Israel is exposed for the violent imperialist power that they believe it is, world pressure comes to bear, and the Palestinians are treated to world sympathy; or violence stops and peace prevails based necessarily on a two-state solution.  Yes, there will be short term losses, but those losses are already occurring.  And if Israel is truly the peaceful giant it claims to be, it likewise has nothing to fear and everything to gain from this turn of events.

The question comes up, where will the Palestinians find a leader strong enough to convince them that the non-violent resistance of Ghandi and King are potential answers to their problems?  A leader willing to forsake short term gains and demagoguery for long term solutions? A leader willing to admit that justice is less important than peace, the past less important than the future?  Hope continues that such a leader will arise from among them.  However, among the current players, only one possesses the credibility to advance such a solution–Hamas.  Hopefully they realize that in the struggle for peace, the best place to find a helping hand is at the end of their own arm.

Note to the reader: I realize this is an inflammatory topic and struggled with the decision of whether or not to post this at all for that reason.  However, I do believe this post accurately reflects my views, and as such do not fear in publicizing them.  I do fear them being misinterpreted however.  To reiterate, my intention is not to express my (essentially meaningless) support for either side in this existential struggle, but rather to emphasize that regardless of “right” or “wrong”, the initial steps towards peace are the same.  I implore any who choose to comment to keep their comments respectful of those with different viewpoints.

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  1. khozema

     /  October 25, 2011

    Great write up.
    Agree on whatever you have mentioned. But the biggest hurdle I see is not this 2 party involved but the 3rd party who reaps the benefit of this fights (Political Leaders or Outside International Body or Entity). The needed to be clouted first.

  2. Salima Husain

     /  October 26, 2011

    I wish everyone in the world was as logical and even handed as you are,especially Mr. Tony Blair, and the super powers,i.e. US, UK, France, Germany etc. who created the State of Israel and now they feel it is their baby and have to make sure it is defended at all odds. U.S. has attacked muslim countries (Iraq,Afgahnistan,Libya) based on 1, 2 or 3 UN sanctions and has continuously defended the State of Israel over several dozen UN sanctions. This un-even treatment by the super powers is what is the root cause for anger and militancy among Muslim countries.What Israel is enjoying is the syndrome of ” right or wrong she is my baby” of the super Powers. If Super powers were as logical and even handed in their treatment of Israel/Palestine issue as you are, then this problem would have resolved some 40 years ago.

  3. actually, the vast majority of Palestinians, including the PA and the major faction within Hamas, have been trying that since Nov 26, 2006.

    in 2008, Hamas started rocket attacks on Israeli border towns. Some 3,000 rockets were fired, killing 8 people. In response, Israel invaded Gaza,killing over a thousand Palestinians. This is the very definition of collective punishment.

    Also, there is plenty of history of violent response to noviolent tactics.

    What sucks about this topic is that ost people looking at it casually come away from it with a pretty biased view based on whatever information sources they happened to rely on. The truth is really very simple, but not in the simple way you’ve (understandably) been misled to summarize it. Heres the basic facts –

    collective punishment

    it sucks to have to say this but if you comment on this topic without doing any due diligence then you’ve done the cause of truth and justice no favors and actually some harm. Rather than send you on a fools errand of competing hagiographies and propaganda, I’ll refer you to three Jewish commentators who I think do the best job of looking at the conflict through principled and fair eyes.

    The three are:

    Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic:
    Richard Silverstein, Tikkun Olam:
    MJ Rosenberg, Foreign Policy Matters:

    These three do NOT see eye to eye!

    • Aziz, though you are a dear friend, mentor, and overall supremely intelligent and well-read guy, I feel you have missed my point. I do not refute or support your claims of collective punishment, and I am well aware of the various issues and facets of this topic. My underlying point was that none of this matters. Despite these issues, the Palestinians have much to gain and little to lose by laying down arms. How powerful a message would it have been, for instance, if Israel had invaded Gaza in 2008 and killed thousands of people without provocation from Hamas? Israeli violence and apartheid are no excuse for violence. They are the perfect reasons to make the courageous, difficult, and counterintuitive decision to lay down arms. Either the violence and mistreatment will continue, or it will not. If it does, the Palestinians will have the unsullied role as victims, and the international community will be forced to act. If it does not continue, peace and compromise can then move forward.

      You mentioned truth and justice. I am after neither, and do not mean to do them favor. Much of what we consider truth is based on perspective and is inherently relativistic. Justice stems from the idea of truth, and as a concept it is incompatible with compromise. There is too much water under this bridge, and too much distasteful history between the parties, to strive for either truth or justice. We must shift our focus from truth and justice to peace and compromise. All parties must admit that the others’ claims have some merit, stop yearning for days of lore with unrealistic solutions (such as controlling all of Jerusalem, or dismantling settlements completely), and compromise in a way that may truly please neither completely. But to do that, they must first lay down arms. And that responsibility lies first with the Palestinians; despite AND because of the injustices they may have endured.

      • my point is simple – the Palestinians have lain down their arms, and they were rewarded for it with ferocious response.

        The border militants who fired a few rockets at Israel and inflicted negligible casualties are not representative of the Palestinian people as a whole, in either Gaza or the West Bank. Thus, the response (thousands of civilians dead, ongoing uprooting of olive groves, bulldozing of homes, and restrictions of travel between checkpoints in the West Bank) is the literal definition of collective punishment – against an overwhelmingly nonviolent movement.

        The obstacle here is not Palestinian violence. There is none to speak of. It is fashionable to cast a pox upon both houses – this is a falsely comforting evenhandedness that masks a reluctance to get one’s hands dirty with the sometimes, admittedly, dirty business of moral judgement. But in reality, the situation is quite clear, and so is the solution.

        I’ve had my say on this, though, and will leave it at that.

  4. BP

     /  October 26, 2011

    Of course your argument makes sense Aamer.
    I also agree with the first commenter.
    Parties outside of the two involved have much to gain it seems by fueling and prolonging this conflict.
    I think both sides are being manipulated and used by the military-industrial complex, which I believe wreaks the biggest evil in this world.
    And that would be the top 0.1 or less percent that the OWS movement should really be protesting.
    But what do I know. I am just the guy who used to lose to you in Jeopardy all the time.

  5. Arif Husain

     /  October 27, 2011

    You mentioned Gandhi’s name in your write up, reverently he is refered as “ Mahatma Gandhi (A great soul)” by most Indians, Rabindarnath Tagore (the Nobel Laurete) gave him this moniker. Gandhiji’s fight for Indian freedom was not an easy one. Some of the slogans he used were, “ Quit India”, “ Satyagrah (insist on truth)”, “ upvaas till death (fasting till death)” ,” non-cooperation with the ruling party (Brits)”, “Non-violence”, “Savaraj (freedom is my birth right)”. Actually his fight started in South Africa where residing Indians were called “coolies” a very degrading name.
    He was Hindu by religion and the caste system was prevalent in India, yet he stood up for “the Untouchables” (Harijans as he called them), he was Hindu yet he respected Islam as a result of his contact with the Dawoodi bohras in South Africa, these factors cost him his life in the end. His freedom fight eventually cost one million lives and displaced 11 million people. Also, he was against a separate country for Muslims (Pakistan) as his motto was, “Hindu Muslim bhai bhai (Hindu & Muslims are brothers to each other)”.
    But the policy of “divide & rule” still continues among the Euro-centric countries, the fight between Israel and Palestines is not religious (though some ignorant would call that) but is very similar to what India went through before freedom. Violence aggravates and there are many who add the fuel to the fire and have their own hidden agendas. Eventually, a man like Gandhi will be born who will have the vision to settle the dispute in that part of the world. Today to some extent Hindus and Muslims are brothers, India is rising, they may copy the Western model of economy and yet basically they are Indians and have not forgotten the atrocities of the British Raj.

  6. Guess they read my blog!!
    “Islamic Jihad Announces Gaza Ceasefire”

  7. Ali Zakir

     /  November 12, 2011


    Eventhough I have 3 kids I am not good at resolving their conflicts because like all parents I have a favorite child….in fact a overwhelmingly favorite one. Therefore, in your Papa Smurf scenario, my solution to the conflict would be very simple. I initially did not care about the resentment this type of parenting created in my other two kids but as they grow older their objections are growing louder. Fortunately, the only one who cares to listen is my poor wife and in all honesty there is not much she can do about it.

  8. Ezra

     /  November 13, 2011

    This is a really great piece and I always find it refreshing to read well-thought-out, nuanced and logical views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I believe, at this point, that power brokers from both sides realize that the other is here to stay and are ready to make policy based on appeasement and compromise. On the other hand, while one appeals to logic, one disregards extremist views from both sides of the aisle. I believe that it is extremists from both sides who have held the more silent majority hostage during much of my lifetime, and it will be the successful marginalism of these extremists, both Israeli and Palestinian, that will serve to achieve a lasting peace.

  1. War and Peace | Notes From The Heart

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