I recently returned from a speaking tour in America. I traveled to colleges and high school campuses to talk about real life in Judea and Samaria, the disputed land many call the West Bank. As a “settler” I bring a unique perspective that most college students aren’t afforded the opportunity to hear. Of all the places I spoke, the one I was most nervous about was UC Berkeley. A hotbed of violent protests in the past, I was warned that anti-Semites masking themselves as anti-Zionists (an all too familiar problem on many campuses) were active at UC Berkeley and could turn violent. I was advised to hire private security guards. While I was harassed walking through the campus with chants of “Free Palestine” and an odd “Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,” I never felt in danger.
The students and Bay Area community members who attended my talk were refreshingly curious and open minded. There were detractors in the crowd, but no one was antagonistic. The questions were challenging and asked in a respectful manner. I was surprised to speak to some students who found themselves to the right of my own positions – and I’m the “settler!”
My talk focused on four main points. I stressed that day to day life in Judea and Samaria is much like the rest of the world. Contrary to what the media portrays, life isn’t tense and one doesn’t feel in danger as they go about life. I talked about the difference between an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Arab’s experience. I explained that Palestinian Arabs enjoy all human rights under Israeli control, but that doesn’t mean they are happy. I spoke to the vast emptiness of the West Bank, and while the world draws a picture of a dense and overcrowded land with every inch being fought over, the truth is there is plenty of land for all – Jew and Arab – to build. While there are security checkpoints, there aren’t many, they are far apart, and many have been taken down.
My second point was that Jews have every right to live and control Judea and Samaria. This land is no less Jewish than Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Historically, Jews have lived there for thousands of years, and we’ve never given up our claim to it. The unnatural division of the land – the “green line” was the unholy demon-child of the United Nations in its partition plan, and while the Jews begrudgingly accepted it, two points should be kept in mind. The Jews never abandoned their claim to Judea and Samaria, and the Arabs rejected the UN partition plan. In 1967, when Israel recaptured the land in a defensive war from Jordan (who was occupying it since 1948 with ironically no Arab or global objection), Israel offered to return the land to Jordan but was met with three no’s – no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel and no peace with Israel. I asked the crowd to think about how different the world would be if the Arabs had said yes and made peace with Israel.
In my third point, I explained that Palestinian Arabs enjoy medical care, education, and vote for their own people to lead them (when the Palestinian Authority allows them to vote). They have freedom to travel through the land the United Nations declared theirs in 1947’s partition plan. The security wall that is often complained about and the checkpoints that are often demonized are necessary in an area prone to Palestinian Arab terror attacks, bus bombings, shootings, rock attacks and stabbings. The wait times are comparable to crossing the George Washington Bridge at rush hour and the security checks are similar to an airport TSA check. Reports of abuse are exaggerated and soldiers who cross the line are punished. I explained that I empathize with the inconvenience and unhappiness of my Arab neighbors, but Arab unhappiness doesn’t equal abuse. A woman from New Jersey who waits over an hour and pays $17 to cross into Manhattan on the GWB and a man given a pat down after having to take his shoes and belt off, while emptying his pockets isn’t abused, they are inconvenienced. It is important to distinguish between unhappiness and abuse. I recognize how important dignity is in Arab culture and that Israeli rule greatly offends and diminishes Arab dignity.
Although faced with constant attempts to breach its borders in nefarious attempts to “Kill the Jews,” Israel still grants 100,000 daily work permits to Palestinian Arabs who cross into Israel each day for work. This is in addition to Arabs who work in Jewish settlements where wages are more than double those in Palestinian Arabs’ own autonomous areas. Palestinian Arabs enjoy their own hospitals, medical care and universities. Although this shouldn’t be the standard by which Israel measures itself, it is important to note that Palestinian Arabs living under Israeli control have a much higher standard of living than their Arab neighbors living under Arab control.
Many have an issue with Israel administering the West Bank. As land destined for a Palestinian State, they claim that Israel has no right to control, set policy or settle the land. Israel has controlled the land for 51 years. Characterizing Israel’s control of the land as an occupation is dishonest. Immediately following the Six Day War, although historically their land, Israel offered to return the West Bank in exchange for peace, and they were turned down. Israel has made six major peace offers, with as much as 97% of the West Bank offered to the Palestinians, including East Jerusalem. Not only have the Palestinian Arabs not accepted any of the offers, they’ve never made a counteroffer. Instead, Palestinians have continued demanding “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free!” This chant demands a world without Israel. Over the last 51 years Palestinians have continuously chosen terror and violence over peace.
Today, Palestinian Arabs hear constant messages of incitement to terror. From lessons in school, to sermons in the Mosque to the Palestinian Authority’s payments to terrorists on a sliding scale determined by how many Jews they killed, Palestinians hear constant messages of Jews as the enemy. Israelis are also reluctant to sign a peace deal. Twenty five years after Oslo was supposed to bring peace, Israelis don’t think the Palestinians are genuine in their desire to make peace. There is no trust on either side. Palestinian Arabs are also stuck in a catch-22. It is beneath their dignity to compromise on what they consider their land, but any deal to gain independence will require them to give up claim to the land.
I concluded with examining possible solutions. I bemoaned how ten years ago the world was concerned with the peace process and now it is only looking for a solution. A solution doesn’t try to create peace between Israelis and Arabs, it tries to provide as much as possible of what each side wants. Without peace any solution will simply lead to a path of war and violence. Peace needs to be the foundation of any deal between Arabs and Israelis.
I love my home and my town. I believe that it is a Biblical imperative to live where I do, and yet, I am willing to give them both to Arabs if they offer a genuine peace in return. Genuine peace isn’t something written on paper, it is a state of relations where the overwhelming majority of Palestinian Arabs consider violence against Israel to be unacceptable. In recent polls, over 70% of Palestinian Arabs supported the stabbing attacks against Israelis.
It’s been twenty five years since the Oslo accords. It is clear that a two state solution is not going to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While at one point it might’ve been a strong possibility, current conditions make it untenable. While I don’t know if it will work, I do know that only Israel has proven that it will ensure equal rights to all its citizens. The time has come to consider Israel annexing Judea and Samaria and dismantling the failed Palestinian Authority and terrorist Hamas. Annexation might not be best just for Israel, but for the Palestinian Arabs as well.
I think my talk went well. My goal was to open my audience’s minds to a different story than what they’ve previously heard. I think I was successful in demonstrating that life in Judea and Samaria is largely unremarkable. Israeli Jews have every right to control and live in Judea and Samaria, and Palestinian Arabs are treated fairly by Israel. I ended by inviting the students of UC Berkeley to join one of my If Not Us tours of Judea and Samaria on their upcoming trip to Israel. I hope they’ll join me.