Daniel Vital

100 years of missed peace opportunities. Now what?

Jerusalem, Israel - Ancient marble sign of King George V Avenue in Hebrew, English and Arabic hung by the Ottoman mayor of Jerusalem Ragheb Bey Al Nasashibi.
Jerusalem, Israel - Ancient marble sign of King George V Avenue in Hebrew, English and Arabic hung by the Ottoman mayor of Jerusalem Ragheb Bey Al Nasashibi.

There are almost 100 years of history since the mayor of Jerusalem, Nashashibi (1920-1934), was exiled to Egypt by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the religious leader. Nashashibi saw the growing Jewish population as an opportunity for the local Arab communities to detach themselves from the backwardness of the Ottoman Empire (which collapsed in 1917, and ended formally in 1922) and enter the new world of modern nations as privileged compared to other Middle Eastern states born from Ottoman ruins. The alliance with Hitler by the Grand Mufti Al-Husayini (an uncle of Arafat) was the “winning weapon” of the Grand Mufti, who saw the Jewish Holocaust perpetuated by the Nazis as the ideal solution to the “Jewish problem”, namely a local Jewish Palestinian minority that had been subdued for centuries (dhimmi) and had been growing in number since the mid-1800s.

There has never been a State of Palestine in history, but after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the temporary British Palestine Mandate (1920-48), the local population of the former-Ottoman region had a chance to self-determine their national identities and future. But since then, there has never been a real tolerance to live with the Jews, who have origins in Palestine so ancient that Palestine was called Judea, a Roman province of what was even earlier the kingdom of Israel. Since then, only refusals, missed opportunities, and attacks against Israel. Not that Israel has remained passive, or has never mistaken or been a wrongdoer, but at key moments in the conflict, the Palestinian organizations have always and only refused coexistence alongside those who have an even older connection to that same land.

When I read today that the Palestinian population has been ‘confined’ by the Israelis, that there is an ‘illegal’ occupation, an ‘apartheid’, even a genocide, I wonder with which other nation the Palestinians would still have a glimmer of hope of seeing their own State arise after 100 years of missing opportunities, I say 100 years, of refusals for peace and masochistic political decisions? With the Chinese perhaps? With the Russians? With the Americans?

For those readers not familiar with some of the key-points of the Arab-Israeli conflict (regressed into a Palestinian-Israeli conflict), Palestinians refused (while the Jewish communities accepted) the 181/47 UN resolution who agreed to the birth of two States, Israel and Palestine with Jerusalem as an international city. After they declared war and attacked the newborn State of Israel in ’48 (together with 5 other Arab States), they lost more territories and lived under Jordanian and Egyptian occupation for 20 years. Never have they tried to build their State in those 20 years.

After the ’67 war, Israel offered land back for peace. Jordan astutely refused to have back the West Bank. Egypt, probably even more astutely, agreed to receive back the entire Sinai peninsula conquered by Israel, but did not want Gaza back. What was an Israeli military victory, revealed to be a profound political defeat. On the other hand, it was also a real opportunity for the Palestinian population to free themselves from the yoke of their ‘friendly’ Arab neighbors. A missed opportunity, for everyone. Not to mention the refusal by Arafat at Camp David (with Clinton and Barak) in 2000, who refused to build a Palestinian State when the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza were offered. Or when even a far more favorable offer (link for details) was made by Olmert, in 2008. Again, this is not the history of the conflict in a nutshell, as also Israel has done mistakes and wrongdoings. But it is a brief summary of the key-moments Palestinians had the chance to change the trajectory of their destinies. This is true for all of us. Life is made of moments, some of which may alter positively or negatively our future journey.

Today, after the brutal attack by the Hamas terrorist organization, the fact there are so many in the international community who would still like to give moral lessons to a State, Israel, is alarming and paves a downward spiral, dooming not only the Palestinians, but all of us who would like atrocities and injustices to end, immediately. Giving moral lessons to a State, a People, that has returned lands in exchange for a piece of paper with the word ‘peace’ means not being aware of what the reality is. And when I write lands, I don’t just mean that Israel unilaterally gave Gaza to the Palestinians in 2005, or the entire Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, but also agreed to establish the modern Israel nation on a land that is a fraction of the ancient Israelite ethnic-religious identity (especially this last point is something most people don’t realize). For peace, for the desire for peace, Israel has already sacrificed land. However, it served too little, and especially the unilateral withdraw from Gaza reveals to be a daunting mistake.

After the brutal aggression just suffered, there are too many people who cannot even express a sincere message of support to Israel, to the Jewish communities worldwide, or even to their friends. There are no “Je suis Israel” and far too few social media images with Israel’s flag on people’s photos. In an Era of social media like ours, which every blink of an eye is tracked and triggers an event, this lack of human empathy is frightening when looking at the next weeks, months and years ahead of us.

The Palestinians had almost 100 years to build their own State. It has been a century of missed opportunities. Now it is the time for their organizations to be held accountable, all of them, without the historically false rhetoric that their current tragic situation depends exclusively on the Israeli aggression or occupation. Because it’s not like that. 100 years. If they had dealt with the Chinese, the Russians, or even the Americans themselves, we would have stopped hearing about them a long time ago.

May peace and friendships prevail, despite the pain and challenges, always.

About the Author
Daniel is an Italian-American Jewish filmmaker and writer who immigrated to the US in 2009. His mom, born in Ferrara, Italy, converted from Catholicism to Judaism in the 60s and married an Egyptian Jewish immigrant born to Corfiot and Moroccan parents. As a child, he lived in the US for four years and then moved back to Italy at age nine. In Milan, he grew up in a small Jewish setting that was predominantly Persian and Lebanese but also Italian, North African, Turkish, and Eastern European. With two Jewish grandparents and two Catholic grandparents, Daniel was raised with unconditional love no matter the religious identity. He earned a BA in advertising and worked as a film editor for multiple purposes, from TV Shows to documentaries, music videos, commercials, and corporate films. He evolved as a director while working on video and event productions across Europe as well as filming documentary footage in Tibet. After moving back to the US with his wife in 2009, he went through health challenges and a long immigration process. From the time he arrived in the US, he endured years of unemployment to to VISA restrictions, suffered from heart failure, and battled cancer at the bone marrow while being a stay-at-home dad to his newborn daughter. Such experiences shaped his approach to his artistic self in new ways that today come to life through his work. In 2016, as soon as his health challenges were over, he wrote and directed the short film Thank You Rebbe. In 2017 he received his green card and returned to collaborating and volunteering with film projects. Soon, he was helping nonprofits meet their filmmaking needs, and in 2018 accepted a full-time position as a video director at the Jewish United Fund of Chicago. The first project he wrote and produced was a video raising awareness about antisemitism in the US. In 2020, this video received a Silver Telly Award and a Midwest EMMY nomination. In 2021, his short film Thank You Rebbe won the Best Jewish Film Award at the Cannes World Film Festival - Remember The Future competition. Today he is producing his first feature documentary about US literacy and is earning his MA in Jewish Studies at the Spertus Institute.
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