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From Sderot to Qalandiya: A possible path to peace

To those who want a realistic peaceful solution, a modern, efficient checkpoint represents a step in the right direction
New Qalandiya checkpoint in northern Jerusalem. (Courtesy of COGAT)
New Qalandiya checkpoint in northern Jerusalem. (Courtesy of COGAT)

I’ve just returned from a brief trip to Sderot, touring the city and meeting the people there. Speaking with families who, only days ago, were forced into bunkers with their babies and toddlers, I felt the awful cost of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more potently than I ever have before. The Gaza Strip is less than a mile away from Sderot, and residents have 15 seconds to grab their children and make it to the nearest bomb shelter.

I think all sides must face the reality that this corrosive status quo cannot continue. Hawk or dove, Palestinian or Israeli, right-wing Jew or left-wing Jew — it is imperative that we find solutions to this complex and deep-rooted problem.

Now, it is absolutely true that some parts of the conflict will be much more difficult to resolve than others. Sadly for Sderot, the situation in Gaza may be last on the list. Hoping and acting for peace does not require us to be naive. For now, Gaza is too infested with terrorism and the values of violence to be fertile soil for peace. It is likely that only a complete paradigm shift in the geopolitical tenor of the region will allow for lasting change.

But it is wrong to characterize the entire Israeli-Palestinian problem by its most challenging conflict zones. The fact is that neither the hawkish demand for extreme security, nor the dovish hopes for absolutely free movement are the best solution for the entire region. It is imperative that we look for areas where we can come together and seek improvement in the status quo for all involved.

It is vital that Israel maintain the integrity of its security, keeping its citizens safe from terror. But in many cases, conditions can be changed so that security is maintained in a dignified and “as painless as possible” process for Palestinians.

The security checkpoint in Qalandiya is a powerful example of this. I visited the original checkpoint when I attended Yona Shem-Tov’s Encounter program, which introduces American Jewish leaders to various Palestinians who share a bit about their life and their experiences.

Please believe me when I say that the conditions there were awful. The people who passed through (most of whom were heading to their jobs in Israel) faced hours of waiting in lines every day. There were no bathroom facilities and no water. When I left Qalandiya, all I could think was, “This cannot continue.” We need the checkpoints, yes;  but there is no need for the experience of using them to be so difficult.

Very recently, a new checkpoint was opened in place of the old. The facilities are large, modern, and clean. A process that once took hours now takes minutes, using biometric permits to ensure that security is not compromised. The new Qalandiya Crossing represents a massive improvement for Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Not everyone sees it this way. Some Palestinian activists reject the new facility on the grounds that the checkpoint exists at all. Some Israeli security-hawks object to money spent on changing necessary infrastructure. Others refuse to recognize this as a positive step taken by Prime Minister Netanyahu, preferring to stick to constant criticism of his government.

But if you can’t see and acknowledge the new checkpoint as a positive step, I must wonder if you truly want peace. You don’t have to feel it is sufficient. But ignoring the progress — and not genuinely crediting the prime minister — will only exacerbate the hyper-polarization that makes this conflict so difficult to address.

Extremes on both sides can find reasons to be unhappy, but if there is truly the desire for a peaceful resolution, the new Qalandiya checkpoint calls for bilateral praise. While it is worthwhile to understand both sides’ objections, we all need to find the capacity to celebrate this kind of victory — an unambiguous improvement in circumstances, for all that it exists in a very imperfect reality. We can’t reject this with suspicion or on principle. We can’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. It is precisely this kind of small but effective good that paves the long, difficult road to peace.

Let’s celebrate the improvement of the Qalandiya checkpoint. Let’s express gratitude to the people who made it happen, regardless of our support for their other political decisions. Let’s interrogate our tactics, while also supporting those living under terror. Do these things seem contradictory? Maybe. But they can and must exist together, at least until we can change the failing status quo, and make it so they no longer need to.

About the Author
Rabbi Ari Segal is Head of School at Shalhevet High School, in California.
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