Did your ancestors live for you or die for you?

Recently a touching video featuring Hollywood actor Dustin Hoffman made the rounds. In it, an emotional Hoffman breaks down as he learns his great-grandmother was placed in a Soviet concentration camp on the show “Finding Your Roots.” “They all survived for me to be here” he says in tears after the new discovery sinks in.

One can’t help but notice the stark contrast in his approach to life with that of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who is notoriously remembered for saying مليون شهيد في سبيل القدس, roughly translating to “A million martyrs for the sake of Jerusalem.” Years later many Palestinians add, “not a million, many more.”

It is this stark difference, epitomized in these two short clips, that leads us to very different paths in life. Trying to stay as neutral as possible, I aim to show that there is a healthy approach and an unhealthy approach and that anyone can choose either the beneficial state of mind, or the destructive one. No side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has ownership over either choice. The tragedy is, as I will show, that Palestinians have a track record of choices that focus on the past instead of the future. This approach hurts them first and foremost and the peace process second.

We have all been blessed with the gift of life. Anyone reading this post, regardless of his or her religion, or lack of one, is blessed. What we do with this gift is up to us. We each set different goals for ourselves, but I think one of the few things all human beings have in common is that we all want to be happy. It might take different things to get us to this state, but we all wish it for ourselves. So while we don’t always know how to find it, the above videos help demonstrate how you cannot find it. You cannot live in the past, and worse than that, you cannot risk your future for the sake of the past. That is a recipe for a miserable life.

I’m not saying forget your past or ignore it; Quite the opposite. I think one should study, remember and cherish his or her history. But not live for it.
Where would American Jewry be today if Hoffman’s ancestors and their generation refused to move past the Holocaust when they arrived at the shores of Ellis Island?  They moved forward and decided to commence their pursuit of happiness that was promised in America. To quote Alan Dershowitz, “The Jews who survived the Holocaust got over it, they don’t walk around with keys to their homes in Poland.”
What about the almost 1 million Sephardic Jews who were forced to flee their homes in the 1950’s and 60’s? They moved on. They rebuilt their lives, choosing to create a future for their children, and not to live as refugees for generations. Amazing things come to you when you stop making excuses for yourself.

Why the Palestinians are sabotaging their future is the hard to say. One reason could be that they are incentivized to do so by the UN and other foreign aid bodies. Another possible reason is that they are being used as pawns by bigger players in the world diplomacy game. Another could be that it’s easier to justify Jewish hatred from this unfortunate state. Whatever the reason is, Palestinians, and anyone else living his life in this matter, would be wise to cease this self-induced suffering.

To illustrate this point further we need only look to the story of the Gaza greenhouses.

In 2005 Israel pulled out of Gaza. After the Israeli parliament reached the disengagement decision, all Jews living within the Gaza strip were ordered to leave their homes. Those who refused were taken out by force. At the time, the Jewish community had many businesses in the strip. Some of the more fruitful ones were in the field of agriculture (Pun intended).

Israel, as a sign of good faith, decided to leave those greenhouse and other facilities to the people of Gaza at no cost to assist their economic growth. It should be noted that unfortunately some of these were dismantled by their owners, but the hundreds of acres of greenhouse left intact turned tens of millions of dollars annually. Not only that, as further sign of good faith, American Jews collected a sum of $13 Million dollars to renovate the facilities and train the Palestinians in this field. What did the Palestinians choose to do after Israel left? They looted the greenhouses for anything of value and burned them to the ground. Why? This act is incomprehensible. This is one example of sacrificing your future and hurting your development for the sake of the past.

Let’s look at this choice from a different angle:

UNHCR is the UN’s refugee agency. UNRWA is also the UN’s refugee agency. That’s right, the UN operates 2 refugee relief agencies. The first cares for refugees all over the world, including Somalia, Armenia, Kosovo, Darfur, Syria and the harshest places on earth, while the second deals with Palestinians alone. Again it begs the question, why? UNRWA also has a much broader definition of “refugee” than UNHCR, including not only refugees themselves but their descendants in perpetuity. Again I ask you – why?

Helps people out of their refugee status Helps people to preserve their refugee status
Status of refugee is not given to all offspring Status of refugee is given to all offspring
Refugee status is dependent on economic condition Refugee status is not dependent on economic condition

While UNHCR helped more than 50 million people out of their refugee status, UNRWA’s number of refugees grew from 711,000 in 1948 to more than 5 million today. American fashion model and socialite Gigi Hadid is legally a refugee. Why choose to live your life as a refugee? Why victimize yourself? Why let your children lay the blame on a faceless Zionist for their poor condition, instead of doing something about it and changing it?

Now let’s skip ahead to modern times and examine yet another step Palestinians are choosing to take in the wrong direction:  the BDS movement. I would be the first to agree that life in the Palestinian territories leaves something to be desired and that any help to innocent civilians should be welcomed, but why in this form of BDS? Instead of deciding to (B)oycott Israel, why not decide to buy Gazan goods? Instead of (D)ivesting from Israel, why not target Investing in the Western Bank? And instead of installing economic (S)anctions on its neighbor, why not promote economic freedom between the two peoples?
Putting aside the fact that BDS is not moral, not legal, not efficient, and not even feasible, the intent itself is misguided. Trust me, the Palestinians are not better off after a Sodastream plant in the West Bank had to shut down under pressure and lay off its 500 Palestinians employees.
Again we see an odd choice aimed at another’s misery rather than focusing on one’s own happiness and success.

This pattern unfortunately is far too common: the UN’s 1947 partition plan called for the end of the British mandate of Palestine and the establishment of 2 states on the territory, a Jewish one and an Arab one.  The Plan was accepted by the Jewish public and by the Jewish Agency despite its perceived limitations. Arab leaders and governments rejected the plan of partition in the resolution and indicated an unwillingness to accept any form of territorial division. They argued that it violated the principles of national self-determination in the UN charter, which granted people the right to decide their own destiny. Immediately after the adoption of the Resolution by the General Assembly, a war broke out and the partition plan was never implemented.

There is also the sad story of Rawabi: Rawabi was to be the first planned city built by and for Palestinians and was hailed as a “flagship of Palestinian enterprise.” The development was a much welcomed collaboration between Muslim and Jewish entrepreneurs, financiers and builders. However, even though the city was completed, it stands mostly empty to this day. Many Palestinians refuse to move-in to this brand new city because of it was built with the use of Israeli materials.

Speaking of building materials, how about all those millions of tons of cement that were transported into the Gaza strip over the last decade, but instead of building a single new structure, Hamas used it to build terror tunnels underneath the Israeli border? The list goes on and on.

This column isn’t an attempt to research or prove who ethnically cleansed whom or who performed genocide on whom. I’m not pretending to have all the answers and declare who’s right and who’s wrong. Who’s a terrorist and who’s a freedom fighter, or who occupied what land first. Enough people think they have those answers. Jews and Palestinians should not have a competition of who has it worst either. That is a competition filled with losers and no winners.

What I am saying, however, is that the winner is the person that moves on. The people that, regardless of what life throws at them, keep going. The man that has his unborn children and grandchildren’s best interests at heart. That woman that does her best to be self-reliant.

Be that person that looks into the future, no matter what side of the political map you’re positioned on. This advice is universal and extends far beyond this conflict. Live for the future. This will yield better results for you personally and for your community. And you will be happier.

The loser will always be the one living in the past, focusing on revenge and the misery of others.

Because as Charlie Chaplin eloquently said in one of the most famous movie scenes ever made, the final scene of The Great Dictator, “We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. Human beings are like that.”

About the Author
Gilad was an officer in the IDF during the Second Lebanon War and a student at Ben Gurion University of the Negev during operation Cast Lead. He is now a real estate developer based in NYC and Berlin.
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