I’ve been teaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for over 20 years, always using current events to help explain it. But for the last three weeks, I’ve been relieved that it’s summer break, the semester over. I can reflect on the cycle of violence that began with the heinous kidnapping of three innocent Jewish boys without also having to help my college students make sense of it all.
I can barely comprehend it myself.
But what if the events of the last three weeks had happened while classes were still in session? I suppose I could’ve organized break-out groups to discuss an opinion-editorial, like Gideon Levy’s “Israel Does Not Want Peace,” published in Haaretz on July 4, and now trending on social media and listservs. I would’ve asked my students to reflect on 10 of Levy’s statements.
Here is what they might’ve come up with:
1. “Israel has never wanted peace”. Doesn’t make sense. Israel’s governments have long sought a just peace, based on the principle of two states for two peoples.
2. “Israelis want peace [but] not anything based on universal values”. Huh? We analyzed Israel’s Declaration of Independence and the PLO’s 1988 Declaration of Palestinian Independence—comparing both to Hamas’ Charter. The Israeli and PLO documents draw on the widely-cherished values of democracy, self-determination, and religious freedom. The Hamas document is a parochial and anti-Semitic screed.
3. “The Israeli longing for peace…died about a decade ago”. Doesn’t sound right. The Geneva Peace Accord of 2003, a citizens-based agreement that had the blessing of the respective Israeli and Palestinian governments, looks pretty righteous to us—especially because it recognizes Israel “as the homeland of the Jewish people” and Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people.
4. “The builders of settlements want to consolidate the occupation [and] do not want peace”. A tricky one. We read many articles (even a few authored by you, Prof. Elman!) that see the settlers as peace spoilers. But we also came to understand that for many Israelis and Jews worldwide, the West Bank is Judea and Samaria—the biblical heartland of the Jewish people. We learned how Jews were denied access to their holy sites, so 1967 marks a moment of Jewish restorative justice.
5. “If Israel had wanted to achieve peace…it would have stopped the construction in the settlements”. Maybe. We read about Israel’s high court ruling to dismantle housing built on private Palestinian land, like Givat HaUlpana. We also now know that the term ‘settlement’ is a catch-all phrase. The large blocs that hug the Green Line will probably revert to Israel in any final deal (like Gush Etzion, where the three Israeli boys were kidnapped). They are different than the ‘hilltop’ outposts that even Israel deems illegal, or the homes of some 2000 Jews smack in the middle of Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods, that exacerbate conflict in the holy city. Levy is being disingenuous. For years, even as construction continues in Jerusalem and the settlement blocs, Israel hasn’t authorized building in West Bank areas east of the separation fence.
6. “Israel’s intentions…are that this land is destined for Jews alone”. That one is so ludicrous, we aren’t even going to dignify it with a response.
7. “…the name of the game is the dehumanization of the Palestinians”. Partly wrong. We saw videos of the diet of hate served up in both the Hamas and PA media, incitement that feeds an ugly groundswell of public support for kidnappings and terrorism. But we also learned about a 2013 US State Department-funded study which found that neither the PA nor the Israeli state curriculum includes dehumanizing features. The haredi curriculum—outside of Israel’s Department of Education’s supervision—has too much anti-Arab and anti-Muslim messaging though, an incitement that nurtures the ‘price tag’ hoodlums, and now the vicious murder of an innocent Palestinian child.
8. “In the past decade, the two peoples have been separated from each other”. True. Prof. Elman described her experiences as a student in Jerusalem during the 1980s, a time when Israelis and Palestinians ate, shopped, and partied in each other’s communities. But we’ve come to realize that however inconvenient the fence is, greatly disrupting Palestinian lives and livelihoods, the reality is: first there was the bomber, then there was the separation wall.
9. “…most Israelis want disengagement and separation, but without paying the price”. Wow, that’s an overstatement. Tell the 8000 people of Gush Katif, who were expelled from the communities that they’d lived in for decades, that their sacrifices for peace were cost-free. Since Israel evacuated every last settler and soldier from Gaza in 2005, it’s become a launching pad for tens of thousands of rockets and mortars, now threatening 3.5 million Israelis. Pretty pricey.
10. “The only way the besieged Gaza Strip can remind people of its existence is by firing rockets”. Flat out untrue. The deplorable reason that Hamas chooses terrorism is to goad Israel into harsh counter-measures. Hamas takes advantage of Israel’s commitment to protecting its citizens. Then it can champion itself as the true defender of the Palestinian cause.