The Arab-Israeli conflict may be the most pressing international issue of our time, but it also remains very “hush-hush” in American political discourse. Accountability is not one of America’s strong suits, neither apparently, the ability to stay out of issues in the Middle East.
As a colonial territory of Great Britain, a significant portion of Palestine was offered to be a haven for Jews who had suffered centuries of anti-Semitism and persecution in Europe. Following the Nazi-led Holocaust, the United Nations established a Partition Plan in 1947 to split Palestine equally into a Jewish State and an Arab State. But the founding of Israel and events that occurred afterward resulted in a military occupation that has brought misery to the Arabs who initially occupied the territory.
Contrary to most people’s understanding of the conflict, religious differences are not the cause of the strife. In fact, the term “Arab” can describe Christians, Muslims, Druze, or Jews. Palestinian Arabs solely describe the people who initially occupied and claimed the territory of now Israel (then, Palestine). Rather, than being a conflict about religion, this is a conflict about territory and who holds the right to call the Holy Lands their nation-state. Granted, however, religious differences have certainly added fuel to the flame to further divide and differentiate Israelis and Palestinians.
At the end of WWII in 1948, both groups claimed the territory. This disagreement initiated a war lasting from 1948-1949 that resulted in the land being divided into three parts: Israel, West Bank, and Gaza Strip. The war established Jewish Israel as the dominant power, and spread the Jewish State over 78% of the territory. To avoid the violence of war, three-quarters of Palestinians fled their homeland. When they attempted to returned to their homes, they were denied entrance into Israel. Now, most Palestinians live permanently in refugee camps and slums. While providing a home for one group of refugees, another group of refugees was created with the formation of Israel.
Palestinians who remained within Israel during the war experience severe persecution. While Palestinians have citizenship and a right to vote, they remain second-class citizens. Since Israel defines itself as a Jewish State, those who do not identify as such (20% of the population) are subject to institutional discrimination by the Israeli government. Israel has discriminated against non-Jews by denying rights to land and housing but privileging the Jewish residents.
At the end of the war in 1949, approximately 40% of Arab lands, as entitled to Palestinians by the UN Partition, were confiscated by the Jewish State and used for development projects that primarily benefit the Jewish population. The Israeli government also occupies the Palestinian Gaza Strip and West Bank that they conquered in the war. Palestinians within Gaza and West Bank are still subjected to a military government that restricts their movement and rights (to work, to speech, to assembly, etc.). Israel has built Jewish-only cities throughout the occupied territories, and subordinates the Arab population by allocating meager resources for education, healthcare, public works, municipals, and economic development to the Arab sector. While living on the same land, Israelis and Palestinians are subject to two completely unequal systems of law.
Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza began a mass uprising against Israeli occupation. While beginning primarily as a civil disobedience concentrated struggle, it has turned into a militant one. Human rights violations, economic decline, and lack of international recognition or support accelerated the growth of Palestinian aggression. While it is difficult to determine the actual death tolls because of biases, it is fair to say when Israelis and Palestinians fight, Palestinians are far more likely to die than Israelis due to their lesser quality weapons and military.
Palestinians do not have such a “benevolent” benefactor as the Israelis do with the United States. The U.S. has accepted Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and they have supported Israel’s human rights violations against Palestinians. Two decades of U.S. backed peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians has only made tensions worse in the Middle East and has covered up the land grab occurring in Gaza and West Bank. The U.S. has been encouraging Israel’s destructive and self-destructive power by funding the Israeli military. Today, Israel is the biggest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in the world with over $3 billion in funding each year.
International opinion is nearly unanimous that peace can only occur with the creation of two states in the territory—a sovereign Palestinian State and a sovereign Israeli State. However, there has been no visible movement to put this plan into motion.
This scheme puts a bad taste in my mouth as an advocate for social justice. As history has shown, dividing a state very rarely results in permanent peace. For example, the initial UN Partition of Palestine in 1947, the divide of India and Pakistan, the separation between North Korea and South Korea, etc. Dividing Israel will not solve the violence; rather, it will exacerbate tensions by solidifying the notion of who is in and who is out, and who is foe and who is friend. The establishment of an Us vs. Them binary has historically promoted violence through slavery, racial segregation, colonialism, etc. The international community cannot allow more violence to occur when it has been the root of the problem in the past.
Instead, imagine if the U.S. gave its $3 billion in foreign aid to fund NGOs in Israel-Palestine that encourage peace. Organizations like Ta‘ayush and Anarchists Against the Wall create grassroots movements for non-violent solidarity among Israelis and Palestinians. Grassroots movements have been prime tools to instigate revolutionary change. For example, the U.S. Civil Rights movement, the South African Anti-Apartheid movement, the Indian Independence movement, etc. All of these movements resulted in radical reformation of the unjust system that was initially in place. Granted, communal tensions and inequalities are still prevalent in the U.S., South Africa, India, etc., but the potential to imagine what a radical, just society looks like exists in each of these countries.
Thus, the U.S. should discontinue funding violence in the Middle East and instead provide aid for the NGOs building solidarity and peace through non-violent action in Israel-Palestine. Not only would this mean the U.S. could likely spend less on foreign aid to the territory, but we would also be indirectly recognizing the agency of the Israeli-Palestinian people to overcome conflict without U.S. intervention. While acting as a middleman or babysitter, the U.S. has been an obstacle for peace settlements because of its obvious support for Israel. It’s time to reevaluate our position before another century of bloodshed.