Both on Facebook and here, I have been in an undeclared war against people who take a short view of the current Israel-Gaza clash. These people include FB friends, much of the political class in this country, most mainstream media, and … my family. According to these people, Israel’s actions are justified because Hamas started it when three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and then Hamas started lobbing bombs into Israel. Never mind that there is no evidence that Hamas actually was responsible for the kidnapping and murder of those teenagers and the Israeli government knows that. Never mind that, even with that lack of evidence, Israel used the kidnapping and murder as a pretext to go after Hamas again, arresting hundreds of Hamas members who were recently released in an agreed-upon prisoner exchange. And never mind that Israel has … well read what is below. It’s from a reader of Andrew Sullivan’s blog and it encapsulates what I would like to say better than I could. I have been trying to come up with how and what I really want to say about this whole thing. I don’t need to. The quote Anybody who thinks that Israel’s actions are completely justified in this current clash has absolutely no clue of the history of the occupied territories over the past 47 years or what Israel has done to make it almost impossible for the Palestinians to have any belief in a country of their own, to live a life of their own, to realize the most basic and fundamental of human rights.
“A moderate-minded Palestinian who watches Israel expand its settlements on lands that most of the world believes should fall within the borders of a future Palestinian state might legitimately come to doubt Israel’s intentions.” (Goldblog, theatlantic.com)
This is really the whole Israeli-Palestinian problem in a nutshell. For 47 of my 56 years, Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza. (Yes, Israel “withdrew” from Gaza some time ago, but it is still very much Israel’s captive.) In modern times, there is no single other example of a nation that supposedly shares “western” values sustaining such a long occupation of another people. Yes, Israel has a right to defend itself. Yes, Israel has every right to question whether it has a partner to make peace. Of course I don’t trust Hamas. Of course the rockets merit a vigorous no nonsense response. But one question sticks in my mind about the position of Israel: If Israel really wanted peace, why does it keep building those darn settlements?
Every answer I’ve ever heard – the irrelevant “there never really was a Palestinian state on this land”, the hopeless “even if Israel did that what makes you think they’d suddenly change their stripes?”, or the more limited “construction is for the most part only expansion of existing settlements anyway”, whatever – all of them only go so far as to try to justify why Israel should be permitted to continue to build. It doesn’t explain why it is a good idea for Israel to continue to build.
Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. And in that sense, there is no justification I have ever heard for the settlements that one can reconcile with trying to make the two state solution a reality, or indeed even with leaving it open as a possibility. Just the opposite. Until there is an answer to that question, in my mind, Israel cannot and will not be guilt free. Maybe if those of us who love Israel but think it has lost its way focused on that one simple question until it is answered, we might get somewhere.