Ian Joseph

Forget About the Past, What About the Future?

For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are sure to miss the future. – John F Kennedy, 1963

The past cannot be changed.  The future is yet in your power. – Unknown

I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. – Thomas Jefferson

Forget the past – Nelson Mandela

You can’t undo the past… but you can certainly not repeat it. – Bruce Willis

We are now passing 100 days of the 2023/4 Israel-Hamas Gaza War. While the current extremist right wing Israeli government led by Netanyahu seems to be doing all it can to avoid any discussion of the day after, nonetheless we should acknowledge what the best outcome of this war could be. Namely a peaceful resolution of the Israel Palestine conflict. There are many obstacles to achieving peace. In my opinion the most obstinate and currently immovable obstacle to achieving peace is the differing claims and remembrances associated with the past. No doubt October 7 and the resulting war with the Gazan deaths will be added to the lists of grievances associated with the past.

From the outset, it should be clear that war crimes, rape, murder of civilians, taking of hostages and other wrongs should not be forgotten. The perpetrators of war crimes should be hunted down and made to pay for their crimes.

For the last 100 years both sides have been consumed with injustices done to them, obtaining  revenge, using force to deter the other, and trying to prove that right is on their side. The following is an attempt to look beyond the action or inaction of any party, but rather to look at how moving beyond the past can produce a better future.

In any discussion of Israel – Palestine, the debaters, and one hopes that they are civil, always resort to whataboutism. Cherry picked accusations of which side is right and which side is wrong. Justifications to show which side has a superior claim and which side is not a legitimate claimant. Which side started and which side was justified in responding kinetically. Which side values human life more and which side is only concerned with terror and killing. Which sides’ history as victims justifies their present actions, and which side is more of a victim.

There are, however, some claims as to the past that both sides either need to agree on, forget, or one or the other side needs to forgo before a peaceful solution can be agreed upon between the Israelis and the Palestinians. In no particular order, here are some of those “truths” or claims that need to be forgotten, changed or just consigned to the dustbin of history:

For the Palestinians:

  • Israel is illegitimate and should never have been established at the expense of the Palestinians. – Israel is an established fact. Israelis are there to stay and must be accepted as a legitimate presence in the Middle East.
  • The only thing Israelis understand is force. – See the equivalent Israeli “truth”. Israel has been remarkably resilient for +75 years in absorbing Palestinian violence. Force will not bring a favorable permanent solution for the Palestinians.
  • The crusaders were forced out after 200 years, we just need to wait and the Jews will leave. – Time is not on the Palestinians side, conditions and possibilities only deteriorate over time.
  • The Jews want to expel or kill us, the only response is violence and terror. See force above.
  • Jews are foreign colonizers, not indigenous to the Middle East. – Jews have an age old connection to the region expressed through their religion and culture for thousands of years. The world recognizes the Jewish connection to the region and so too should the Palestinians. 
  • The Palestinians should not be forced to pay the price for the Holocaust in which millions of Jews died.
  • Jews have no right of return.
  • Israelis prefer land to peace.
  • The collapse of the Oslo peace process was due to Israeli settlement expansion which never stopped.
  • If we just use a bit more force they will succumb to our will. See force above.
  • We’re not like them. 

For the Israelis:

  • There is no such thing as a Palestinian. – The Palestinians self define as a national identity. Israelis cannot define their identity for them.
  • The only thing Palestinians understand is force. – See the equivalent Palestinian “truth”. Israel has tried using ever increasing violent kinetic means to “convince” the Palestinians that they cannot win. It has not worked for +75 years. The Palestinians have been remarkably resilient for +75 years in absorbing Israeli violence. Force will not bring a favorable permanent solution for the Israelis.
  • The Holocaust showed that Jews constantly face an existential threat, the Palestinians want to expel or kill the Jews. Jews can only live in this region by force of arms. See force above.
  • There is no peace because there is no partner as Palestinians are not interested in creating a state, but would rather kill Israelis.
  • The Palestinians never existed, the Arabs who came to live in Palestine were recent immigrants attracted by economic opportunities. – Palestinians have had a millennia long connection to the region. Their connection is no less valid than the Jewish one.
  • In 1948/9 Palestinians left voluntarily. – Regardless of how many left voluntarily or were expelled, the fact is that the state of Israel never allowed the refugees to return after hostilities ceased, as was the refugees right. Palestinians have a right of return that is no less valid than the Jewish right of return.
  • The collapse of the Oslo peace process was due to Palestinian violence.
  • If we just use a bit more force they will succumb to our will. See force above.
  • We’re not like them.

Unless both sides can reconcile, hear, understand, empathize with, and accept the others’ narrative, there will never be peace and both sides will continue to suffer grievous losses. Constantly pointing at the past, attempting to delegitimize the other, attempting to prove that one’s case is more just than the other, is non productive and simply leads to more polarization, animosity, lack of empathy and inability to make peace with the other. If one lacks empathy for the others’ struggle and suffering then one should not be surprised when the other, and the world, lack empathy for one’s own struggle and suffering.

There is, as yet, no indication that this government, or any potential future government is intent on changing the paradigm so as to create a lasting peace in this decades old conflict. One should not expect any different outcomes if the government of Israel continues to use the same failed tools and tactics of the past.

“One of the curses of history is that we cannot go back and change the course leading to disasters, no matter how much we might wish to. The past has its own terrible inevitability.

But it is never too late to change the future.” – Heather Cox Richardson

About the Author
Born and educated in South Africa, a graduate of Jewish day school and Habonm Dror, Ian Joseph served in the IDF as an officer in combat units, and currently resides in North Carolina and Cyprus. Ian holds an MBA from Shulich School of Business in Toronto, is certified as a Master Instructor by the American Sailing Association and is currently retired from IBM. Among other pursuits Ian edits a weekly newsletter of Israeli news items, teaches sailing around the world and certifies sailing instructors.
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