Ed Gaskin

What about the Palestinians, equality and peace?

Embed from Getty Images

Following the brutal October 7 attacks by Hamas and the accompanying chants of “From the river to the sea!” and “Intifada!” some worry that the world will forget Palestinians’ legitimate complaints about discrimination. Since then, discrimination has gotten worse in Israel, settler violence has increased in the West Bank, and life in Gaza has become horrific, with some calling the actions there ethnic cleansing or genocide. Palestinians fear their concerns will be lost amid the discussion about Gaza, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Some Israeli Jews acknowledge the discrimination but argue it’s necessary for national security. This has created a negative feedback loop where discrimination fuels hatred and animosity, which further threatens national security, which leads to more discriminatory policies, and so on.

When I discussed discrimination against Palestinians with American Jews, many seemed uninformed and instead pointed to examples of equality, such as the right to vote. Even this is inaccurate, as Palestinians living in the West Bank can’t vote. Palestinians born in the West Bank or Gaza receive a Palestinian ID but not Israeli citizenship, so they are stateless. Palestinians aren’t required to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, but most Jews are. If it’s a national service, then everyone should serve. While the IDF accepts Palestinians under certain circumstances, it freely admits racist Jews from the settler movement.

Those protesting Israel in support of the Palestinians seem to conflate support for Israel with support for its government and leadership. Israel’s pre-October 7 nationwide protests against the government showed they’re not the same.

Like any democracy, Israel has a range of political parties, from progressive to conservative, with Jews and Palestinians along the spectrum. Israel has strong anti-occupation, peace, social justice and human rights movements, and Israeli Jews in these movements advocate for Palestinian justice at the risk of losing their freedom or lives. Many in Israel’s pro-democracy protest movement saw the wisdom in also supporting the peace movement, as it was hard to square support for democracy with support for the occupation.

At the same time, Israel’s government includes cabinet ministers who are widely recognized as racist and have taken actions against Palestinians and the interests of peace. There are Palestinians who are pacifists and Palestinians who follow the thinking like that of Frantz Fanon, believing the October 7 attacks were morally justified as resistance to colonialism.

Among the anti-Israeli protesters are radicals, antisemites, critical thinkers, and some who are just going along with the crowd. Instead of protesting Israel, pro-Palestinian supporters should support groups in Israel with similar beliefs to their own. Why paint all Jews with the same broad brush, unless they’re simply using the Palestinian cause to cover their antisemitism?

Those opposed to Israel’s right to exist need to realize that’s not what most surveys say Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel want, despite being one of the most marginalized groups in Israel. Admittedly, those I spoke to were part of the growing middle and upper-middle class of Palestinians, so my conclusion could reflect a class bias. While the Palestinians I met in Israel wanted equal treatment, none thought the solution was the destruction of Israel or believed Israel had no right to exist.

A famous Afro-Palestinian from Chad who lives in Jerusalem told me of his history of discriminatory treatment in Israel. However, given the opportunity to live in Switzerland, he said he wouldn’t think of leaving Israel. I also met with Christian and Muslim Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank. Some lived in Arab cities; others lived in mixed cities. They all told of daily instances of discrimination but also expressed support for their country. One Palestinian who has lived in both Israel and the United States described Palestinian Israeli citizens as Israel’s Blacks. As an analogy, many Black Americans didn’t like President Trump or his policies. While they may decry the ongoing discrimination in the United States or how the country was formed by displacing Native Americans, it doesn’t mean Blacks think the U.S. has no right to exist.

The antipathy between some Israelis and Palestinians goes back decades, evidenced by numerous wars, border disputes, riots, and provocations, such as shootings at religious sites. I saw for myself the bullet holes in the mosque at the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. The travel restrictions in areas A, B, and C that apply to Jews visiting the West Bank and Palestinians entering Israel serve as a constant reminder of the mutual mistrust. This tension has led to some holy sites being divided into Jewish and Muslim sides and others being restricted to residents of one religion or another. I found it sad and unfortunate that I, as an American, could see more of these national treasures than the locals. The separate sides look like something from America’s segregationist past, unlike the Bahai Gardens, which everyone could visit.

October 7 has changed people’s thinking about everything related to Israel and its treatment of Palestinians, including the wall separating Israel from the West Bank and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement as a strategy. Before, there was debate as to whether the wall was necessary. After all, there are few walls on the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico or on the borders between European Union countries. That discussion is over. The BDS movement was once seen as a peaceful, nonviolent protest strategy that some considered antisemitic. Now, more people view it as antisemitic and a threat to Israel’s security.

Before October 7, I never saw a Hamas flag in the West Bank. Now it flies openly, not as the flag of terrorists, but as a sign of “successful resistance,” because the October 7 attacks led to prisoners being freed. While shocking, this is completely consistent with the thinking behind the establishment of the Palestinian Authority Martyrs Fund.

Hamas flags in the West Bank can’t bode well for future peace and certainly help legitimize a proposed strategy of hunting down and killing every actual or potential terrorist in the Middle East who is seen as a threat to Israel’s security.

As a Black American, I recognize Black/Palestinian intersectionality and can identify with Palestinians as a minority group fighting for equal rights. But I am also sensitive to the recent rise in antisemitic hate crimes, and I appreciate the history of Jewish support for Blacks, from the founding of the NAACP to the Jews who supported the Black Lives Matter organization despite concerns about its leadership and policies being antisemitic.

As an American, I don’t want to judge Israel or the Palestinians. After all, we have our own shameful history, from the displacement and genocide of Native Americans to slavery, Jim Crow, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and Japanese internment camps.

Israel is a relatively young country. It’s taken the U.S. decades of legislation to make incremental progress in the treatment of Blacks. Equal treatment didn’t suddenly manifest after the end of the Civil War, the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, or the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Despite the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, multiple Supreme Court decisions, and antidiscrimination legislation in housing and employment, we still have significant disparities in almost every aspect of life. Some Palestinians see such incrementalism as no more than a way to make their chains more comfortable when they want to be set free.

The Israel-Palestinian conflict can’t be ignored, avoided, or normalized with strategies such as the Abrahamic accords. My hope rests with the fact that organizations in Israel consisting of Jews, Arabs, and others are still urgently working for peace despite the Hamas massacre and the suffering in Gaza. The mistrust between Jews and Arabs won’t disappear with a two-state solution. It will take years of hard work to reverse what has built up over decades. Fortunately, people are willing to do the work to change hearts and minds and achieve reconciliation — people such as Archbishop Elias Chacour, an advocate of nonviolence, who calls himself a “Palestinian-Arab-Christian-Israeli.”

I believe people of faith and people of goodwill must work together for the common good and peace in the Holy Land.

About the Author
Ed Gaskin attends Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Massachusetts and Roxbury Presbyterian Church in Roxbury, Mass. He has co-taught a course with professor Dean Borman called, “Christianity and the Problem of Racism” to Evangelicals (think Trump followers) for over 25 years. Ed has an M. Div. degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and graduated as a Martin Trust Fellow from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He has published several books on a range of topics and was a co-organizer of the first faith-based initiative on reducing gang violence at the National Press Club in Washington DC. In addition to leading a non-profit in one of the poorest communities in Boston, and serving on several non-profit advisory boards, Ed’s current focus is reducing the incidence of diet-related disease by developing food with little salt, fat or sugar and none of the top eight allergens. He does this as the founder of Sunday Celebrations, a consumer-packaged goods business that makes “Good for You” gourmet food.
Related Topics
Related Posts