Josef Avesar

WALLED OFF-Accepting the abnormal as normal

Every time I visit family in Israel, my unscientific observations on the enormous difference between Israelis and Palestinians are validated. Not only do the two peoples deviate on the roots and causes of the conflict between them, they are at a total variance in their observation of current affairs. Take, for example, one of the biggest successes in the recent Israeli elections, Yair  Lapids, who listed on his Yesh Atid party’s website the issues he sees as “…the most pressing in Israel today.” They included “reforming the government, social justice and ending corruption.” The word “Palestinian” was not even mentioned. I was not surprised. I have noticed this absence each time I speak with most Israelis. The impression I get is that for the average Israeli, once the wall was built, the Palestinian issue disappeared. Out of sight, out of mind. Only a tiny minority of Israelis have visited the wall or been through one of its checkpoints. They feel safe and secure behind this humongous concrete structure, which they call a “fence.” They do not seem to be bothered by its snaking hundreds of kilometers vertically in their tiny country. To them, the fence was the cure-all that resolved the conflict. Some even express a fondness toward the wall, in the way people might refer to a rich uncle who rescued their family. They are perplexed by any comparison of their fence to the Berlin Wall, and they refuse any meaningful discussion about their future relationship with the Palestinians, since, in their minds, the wall has resolved that problem. Speaking with Israelis about Palestinians is like speaking with a mechanic about a car: It’s not about a relationship, it’s about performance. To them, the fence represents the extent of their relationship with the Palestinians.

Ignoring their neighbors, Israelis seem to be enjoying the good life, while Palestinians are steaming with rage. They are humiliated by their confinement into a small territory and by being boxed in by Israel. To them, the wall represents everything they hate about Israel, which they view as harsh and uncompromising. For Israelis, the wall symbolizes the end of conflict; for Palestinians it’s a monument to their struggle against Israel. Israelis are scarcely affected by the wall; Palestinians encounter it as a looming presence. Most Palestinians have family or friends who must pass through checkpoints every day. They share stories about their daily humiliation and compare their anger at the wall and what it represents. The Israeli sees the wall as a security measure; the Palestinian sees it as a constant intrusion. Israelis view it as permanent; Palestinians view it as temporary. While the Israelis see it as a game-changer in terms of their security, the Palestinians view it as a recruiting tool to motivate future struggles against Israel. Some of the Palestinians I meet speak of a potential relationship with Israelis—after the wall is gone. They see the future in terms of Israelis and Palestinians living together in a single, secular state. To the average Jewish Israeli, this type of relationship is out of the question.

But there is one thing neither Israelis nor Palestinians ever discuss: how appalling and absurd their condition is. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians I meet seem to accept this bizarre living arrangement as a matter of course. Each blames the other for their mutual situation; they do not seem to feel that the state of affairs in which they exist is out of the ordinary. In fact, I get the feeling that they both view the abnormal relationship with each other as normal. What comes to mind is the metaphor of the frog in the pot that becomes accustomed to the ever-warming water until it finally boils. Another example: Imagine yourself returning to visit your parents after 20 years, only to discover that their house is now separated by a wall that’s been erected right down in the middle. Both your parents are wearing helmets and walking around in military fatigues, guarding their share of the house from the possible intrusion by the other. They maneuver their movements to reach the kitchen and bathroom while trying to prevent the other from doing the same. Imagine further that you attempt to discuss their abnormal situation with them, but they remain oblivious to your observations.

Unfortunately, the Israelis and the Palestinians never raise the basic issue of normalcy. They don’t see that the geographic area they inhabit—one that’s so significant to world peace—is so anemic in vision and imagination. The world, too, appears to accept their hatred and negativity as their predetermined destiny. The idea that the Israelis and Palestinians could live in peace seems inconceivable, as if using imagination to come up with alternative solutions is out of the question. In no other human endeavor do we have a second thought about the probability of devising something better, from a faster bicycle to new ice cream flavors. We use technology, communication and human understanding to improve all aspects of our lives. However, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we are stuck with a formula that has failed time and again: the two-state solution.

Perhaps it was possible to accept the wisdom of Solomon as a starting point when it was not clear how dividing the baby in half would work. Certainly, sawing Israel and Palestine in two looked like a reasonable option to those who suggested it at the time. But trying and failing again and again with ever-worse results is foolish to say the least. And offering the two-state solution as the only solution is outright primitive.

Maybe it’s time to hire some inventive young engineers from Google or Facebook or perhaps some creative university students to imagine another way around the conflict? Certainly the people who run the governments in the U.S., Israel, Palestine, Russia, France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia (you get the point) are incapable of coming up with anything new. And what is it that those Middle East experts in the world’s “think tanks” are thinking? Maybe they’re asking themselves “What’s the best way to go on for another 60 years insisting on this solution and inhibiting any others?”

About the Author
Josef Avesar is founder of the Israeli Palestinian Confederation, which advocates for a mutual third government for Israelis and Palestinians. An American-Israeli of Iraqi background, he practices law in the U.S., but travels frequently to Israel and Palestine.