Two vastly different nationalities, full of culture and traditions, both at odds with one another. These neighbors, the Israelis and Palestinians, have a long history going back more than two thousand years. This history has rarely ever been peaceful, and both sides have offended, hurt, attacked, and abused the other at one point or another. So when someone mentions the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a complicated issue, it truly is one. Such a conflict that has lasted for that long, begins to blur the lines we see in most political international issues. Commonly described as a conflict with no good or evil sides explicitly apparent, the conflict has only grown in intensity within the past few decades. Full of gray areas, it is a easily misunderstood conflict. In an interview with the CEO of UF Hillel, Rabbi Adam Grossman describes the issue in more detail. UF Hillel is one of the leading organizations at the University of Florida for supporting Jews and advocacy for the Israelis in the conflict. In his words, “UF Hillel’s role is to be a space of education awareness and advocacy, to highlight the complexities as well as create a much more informed audience.”
When asked, Rabbi Grossman explained the conflict as a “A complicated situation.” Complicated is certainly an excellent word choice to describe the conflict. “You have two religious factions that makes claims to the same land. And religion is a very emotional factor.” This religious aspect is extremely important to understanding the conflict, as both cultures are influenced by thousands of years of religious traditions. One aspect of religion playing a role in the conflict is the fight of Jerusalem, which is a holy city for both people. It contains both the Dome of the Rock for the Arabs and the Wailing Wall for the Jews.
Although the two sides have had an extremely long history, the most recent rise in heated conflict for the two people began in 1947 when the British decided to start dividing the Middle East in their own way. They formed the countries of Lebanon and Jordan, along with some others and set boundaries for them. However, the British didn’t fully understand the culture and its ties to the land, so they didn’t take into consideration where they placed the lands in regards to the people’s culture. In the 1900s, nationalism started to appear in the Middle Eastern world, especially in Israelis. Israel formed a nation state, while the Arabs formed Islamic nation states. Rabbi Grossman has an extensive history on the subject, “Israel was promised by Britain in the Balfour Declaration that there would be a state for the Jews. The British also created deals that basically said the same area would be given to the Arab world. So, it’s complex.”
After World War II, with all of its atrocities for the Jewish people, they yearned for a Jewish state. So, the United Nations came up with a two state solution. The Arab state, and the Jewish state.
“In 1947, Britain was less in control and the Arabs said they’re not touching this two state solution. The Jews said absolutely, we’ll take this deal.”
Attacks and violence truly starting rising in 1948, after the British left the Middle East, and Israel declared itself a country. The Arabs responded by attacked Israel.
“From that point on, you have a constant struggle of war.”
This came to be known as the Arab-Israeli war, or the War of Liberation as the Israelis would call it. Since then, both sides have found more and more reasons to fight one another. In 1967, Israel launched a preemptive strike on Arab Palestinians, winning the war in just six days, which is now known as the Six Day War. This led to a huge uproar between the two sides, as Israel had now captured and built settlements in much of the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip, and had obtained Jerusalem.
“There were some that left their homes, and there were some that, as war happens, Israel took over the homes. So it’s not clear cut anymore, and so you have a refugee problem.”
With these settlements came more reasons for arguing between the two sides. Jews began settling in Palestinian land in the West Bank, even though it wasn’t controlled by their government. Israeli settlements began to creep into Palestinian owned lands.
“Ultra-religious, orthodox Jews are building settlements in places that are typically predominately Arab, which becomes problematic.”
With attacks from one side and a refugee crisis from another, both sides have insisted that the other is being intolerable. The Israelis have complained about terrorist attacks from Palestinians, while Palestinians have complained about Israelis subjugating them and building on their land where they don’t belong.
There have been some forms of peace despite this though, mostly with other Arab countries such as Egypt and Lebanon.
“There were certain peace treaties that were made. Egypt and Israel made a massive peace treaty. Nobody would have ever thought in 1979, that Israel and an Arab country could come together in peace.”
However, Israeli and Palestinian relations have come close to peace before with the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, which was, “an extraordinary opportunity to create peace.”
When it comes to recent events regarding the situation in Israel, I turned to Matthew Pesek, a religion graduate from the University of Florida who went on a two month trip where he stayed in Israel and talked to many officials and citizens. He spent a month on both sides of the West Bank, and spent time in Hebron and Ramallah, both major cities. He also spent several days in Jerusalem and other cities on the Israeli side of the West Bank. When asked about what he encountered there, and if there was any obvious signs of tension between the two sides, he responded with, “I didn’t really get to experience the traditional tension between Jews and the locals too much, but I was in the West Bank one time, we were out later at night with some of my friends I met over there, and I got accused of being a Jewish spy.”
“It’s just a war of propaganda.”
The two sides are both indoctrinating their people with beliefs about the other group of people, and trying to get others to see their side of the story as well, instead of seeing the big picture. “It’s not as obvious as the government handing out pamphlets,” he went on to say, “and it’s not so much as the government being anti-Israel. Everyone wants peace, they’re just normal people trying to live their lives. Most people over there wouldn’t say they’re anti-Jewish.” Pesek gave a prime example of this when he told of a story while in Hebron.
“When I went to Hebron, I paid a guy 50 or 60 bucks to show me around for a few hours. They showed me the trash the Jewish people threw down at them, and bullet holes and some sad story, that if I didn’t have so much background information, I’d probably think it was terrible, but knowing this, [that] there were thousands of Jews here that got kicked out and killed…I know there is a museum in Hebron on the Jewish settlement side that I went to that showed all the pictures of this stuff. There’s this entire other side of the story that you don’t know about…He’s making it seem like this happens all the time, but no it doesn’t. I know it doesn’t happen, this rarely happens, if at all.”
From the viewpoint of one not involved in the issue, it seems as though much of the violence between the two peoples is a misunderstanding on how and what the other is feeling and going through. Pesek would argue that, “a lot of it has to do with the education system, just not being exposed to the other side of the story, for both sides as well. Different countries have their own versions of history.”
But even with the understanding of the other person’s side of the story, would that be enough to grant some peace eventually? Even with an understanding, there’s more barriers to overcome. “You still have that huge divide of culture, so how do you fix that?” Pesek argued. However, it certainly is a start in his opinion.
“When you understand the opposing side, that’s where solutions come from.”
One huge problem the Palestinians recently have had with the Israelis is the Israelis building a wall to separate the two people, and the wall doesn’t always follow the territory lines that were established back in 1967. The wall has been a subject of contention from both sides, and according to Matthew Pesek, it is unfortunately, “a necessary evil.”
“Neither sides wants to have to put the wall up. But they’ll say ‘since we’ve built this barrier…we’re much safer because of it.'”
This was one of the governments decisions for Israel that led to increased tension, but Pesek would continue to speak out about the government on the Palestinians side as well.
“It’s really the culture and I mean, I want to blame a lot of it on the government just when I see really poor living conditions all around Ramallah, and then I go see the tomb of Yasser Arafat which is like two million dollars, with guards dressed to the nines.”
Part of the solution, Pesek believes though, is the understanding of both sides, and a rise of awareness of the issue for both people, founded on facts rather than emotional stories. In order to do this though, it will take a lot of counter intuitive work for both sides, as it will mean they have to question what they’ve been taught their whole lives.
“It takes a lot of courage to be able to question whether your beliefs are wrong.”
When it comes to peace today, and if there will ever be long lasting peace, Rabbi Grossman says he’s more prone to fall under the optimistic crowd, while Pesek seems to be a bit more pessimistic on the issue.
“If you were to ask in 1948 if Israel would ever have peace with Egypt or Jordan, you would have said ‘When pigs fly.’ So I think that the reality of peace between Egypt and Jordan is indicative that peace can happen.”
Ultimately, Rabbi Grossman thinks that peace might come about, “When both sides realize that the dignity of humanity is real.”
Pesek said that perhaps eventually there might be peace, but, “I don’t really see it, I want to be hopeful, but. Practically speaking, it’s just so difficult to see that happening besides a radical shift in the mindsets of both parties. The change would have to be with the people…”
From a security and safety perspective, Pesek believes that, “you can’t negotiate with someone who doesn’t think a country should exist.”
Ultimately, it comes down to being a complex issue, with no end in near side. This is simply the surface of some of the problems at hand in Israel. In the final words of Matthew Pesek, “It’s just a huge, deep rooted problem, that boils down to cultural issues on both sides.” However, we can be sure to do our best in spreading awareness and advocacy to others in order to help the conflict by letting people know what’s happening there. Hopefully, we can eventually lead both sides into knowledge and compassion, and eventually, peace.