A Different Occupying Force

A Different Occupying Force


Leonard Zwelling


In this compelling article from The New York Times on May 19, Hisham Awartani, one of the three Palestinian students wounded in a shooting in Vermont last November, writes about what it means to be a Palestinian. It is remarkable that he makes points that are identical to the ones made to me in 1971 when a Palestinian research doctor who was working in the same lab in which I spent my third year of medical school educated me on what a Palestinian even was.

It is here, at this juxtaposition of American welcoming vs. violence and Israeli dehumanization, that the crux of the Israeli-Palestinian issue exists.

Here’s a critical difference from history relevant to Gaza.

When the United States defeated Germany and Japan in World War II, we rebuilt the countries—countries with histories of self-governance, and eventually we left. The United States had no interest in occupying either Germany or Japan, even as we did to both countries what Israel is doing in Gaza now. We defeated our enemies, and had a plan for after.

Israel is in the process of trying to defeat Hamas. To date, no one has heard a plan for after. It has gotten so bad that members of the Israeli war cabinet are threatening to leave unless Mr. Netanyahu has a plan for after.

But that’s all about Gaza.

Mr. Awartani’s essay is far more relevant to the West Bank than it is to Gaza.

The world views that area conquered by Israel in 1967 and now occupied by over 500,000 Jewish settlers as what it is, occupied land.

Many in Israel, including members of the Knesset and Mr. Netanyahu’s government view this land as Judea and Samaria, part of ancient Israel, and now Israeli territory. Yet if there is going to be a Palestinian state, it will be carved out of the West Bank.

This cannot go on.

The settlers are getting more violent as my last post noted and the right-wing Israelis are becoming more insistent that the West Bank is Israel and should be annexed as East Jerusalem already has been.

Home 1.5

In the latest episodes of the fantastic podcast Unpacking Israeli History (link above), host Noam Wiessman carefully outlines the history of the Six Day War of 1967. In essence, that six-day period may be as important to understanding what is happening now in the Middle East as any period since the end of WW I. In essence, once again the story of all Jewish holidays is repeated. They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.

The surrounding Arab armies threatened to end the Jewish state in 1967. Israel prevailed, and in that victory, the West Bank, once part of Jordan, became contested and the Palestinian people began to become visible to the rest of the world. For the most part, Palestinians became known for their terrorism soon thereafter, but the real issue is the one facing the United States after World War II. What do you do when you win?

We rebuilt. The Israelis did not. Oh, Israel grew Israel into the mightiest land in the region, but the Palestinians were left behind as an afterthought as Israel prospered. And the leaders of the Palestinian people resorted to violence and even when the Arabs were offered what the Israelis thought they wanted after Oslo, Yasser Arafat rejected his own state in 2000 and instead launched the second Intifada.

In other words, at this point, there are no heroes on either side.

It is time for both sides to recognize that the other is human. Once again, Israel is confronted with determining whether it will annex its 1967 conquest or carve a Palestinian state out of some of it.

The latest demonstrations in America make this even harder as the sides are more polarized than ever.

But those who advocate for a one-state solution must understand that such a state would include almost as many Arabs as Jews. It will no longer be the Jewish state unless it is willing to continue to treat Arabs as second-class citizens.

Mr. Awartani makes a compelling case for the humanity of the Palestinians if one needs to be made. These people whose ancestors shared the land in the Mandate of Palestine with Jews for centuries are not going away just because Israel won a war 60 years ago.

We rebuilt Japan after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We rebuilt Germany, too. It’s time for the whole world, especially the Sunni Arab world, to rebuild Gaza and the West Bank and create a place for the Palestinian Arabs. In doing so, the world would create a peaceful place for the Jews for the first time in 2000 years.

It’s a reasonable compromise and as Mr. Awartani might say, a humane one.

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