It’s time we move past empty statements on Israel, selecting “pro” and “anti” camps as if the Middle East was a board game, not a real place with people, desperate for real change.
This week at the Liberal Democrat conference, a motion was adopted which signalled a new direction on the party’s approach Israel Palestine. The motion called for increased trade with both nations, supported an international peace fund, and perhaps most crucially – called for the UK government to distinguish between settlements and Israel proper, and as such to ban on UK trade with the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.
Layla Moran, the only member of Parliament of Palestinian heritage, has eloquently spoken of the need for change, challenging the perception that one must choose a side in this protracted conflict.
To be a supporter of Israel does not translate into absolute and unwavering support of Israeli government policy – certainly not policies which damage peace. By the same token, supporting Palestine doesn’t mean showing uncritical support for every action of the Palestinian leadership. The Lib Dem motion demonstrates that it is possible to both support UK-Israel relations and oppose occupation.
The Liberal Democrat motion received support from an array of Israeli progressives including Members of Knesset – notably, Mossi Raz MK – a member of the Israeli government, and Ayman Odeh MK, a member of the opposition.
So much of the “pro-Israel” camp has become accustomed to defending the actions of Netanyahu’s governments, of explaining away occupation and settlement expansion – they’ve forgotten what life is like for the average Israeli beyond the realm of conflict. Supporters of Israel will often support or excuse settlement expansion, whilst apparently forgetting that the average Israeli isn’t living in settlements.
In the past few weeks there have been multiple headlines about residential buildings in central Israel collapsing. Much of central Israel is literally crumbling, while money is being poured into settlements. Settlements are often advertised as affordable high-quality housing. Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, the standard of living is increasingly atrocious – to the extent that young people are being driven out. The same Tel Aviv that so many people like to celebrate as Israel’s capital of culture and liberalism doesn’t benefit from any affordable housing projects, often funded from abroad. Even if you can afford to rent in Tel Aviv, you’re often settling for rats, sewage and crime. Where’s our affordable luxury housing?
A luxury afforded to settlements in the West Bank, it seems. Many of those that justify settlement expansion also like to talk about just how dangerous Palestinian people are. Palestinians being labelled dangerous excuses occupation – multiple check points and restrictions on freedom of movement are explained by this.
So which is it? Can Palestinian people be both dangerous and worthy neighbours for settlers?
Too often, these fervent “pro-Israel” debates have very little to do with the welfare of Israelis, or a desire for peace. A better Israel is an Israel that isn’t ruling by occupation, an Israel which doesn’t prioritise settlements over people in Tel Aviv or Beer Sheva. It’s time to accept that the dream of a two- state solution will only come to fruition if we are able to utter the name of the second state – Palestine – and with that recognise the suffering of Palestinians.
Most crucially, it’s time to accept that criticism of Israel’s settlements and policy of occupation is not anti-Israel. Listening to Palestinian grievances, does not mean you are choosing one over the other. It’s time to rethink what being a supporter of Israel means. There are very few states which we talk of in terms of “pro” and “anti”. Speaking in these terms is polarising, divisive and it’s holding us back.
Progress requires critical thinking, because change doesn’t happen in echo chambers. Criticism of governments is a pillar of democracy. People like Layla Moran prove that you can consistently criticise Israeli government policies, not from a place of hatred, but a desire for peace. As an Israeli, I applaud everything she stands for, and I applaud the Liberal Democrats for calling for real change.