By Amber Webb
[Jerusalem] The latest round of violence between Israel and Gaza has sparked a number of debates rationalizing the tragedies now occurring. Among supporters of Israel, Palestine, Hamas, IDF, and others, rants of age-old rhetoric continue to spew forth and the polarity is alarming.
In over 60 years of existence for the state of Israel and decades of occupation for Palestinians, the world has toiled in placing blame rather than producing a sustainable resolution. Instead of working to understand the roots of conflict, we remain caught up in acts of violence, which are building blocks but not the foundation to why this cycle continues. Discussions devolve into arguments where we speak rather than listen, and isolate moments of aggression as the focal point of a deep and protracted conflict. In many ways, we have lost the forest in the trees.
Decades of needless death have produced nothing. The fragile stability achieved through peace treaties and shuttle diplomacy has been punctuated by intifadas, rocket attacks, and further violence. Consequently, the focus becomes the defense of nationalism rather than cooperation and progress. Each side retreats to uncompromising views, which maintains a static state of tension. In short, we have failed each other. Yet, one lesson has been learned: pointing fingers in an intractable debate never produces results.
To move beyond finger-pointing and partisan advocacy, new strategies can be adopted. Creating dialogue to expose underlying elements, which contribute to the conflict’s cyclical nature, is far more efficient than placing blame. One such element is continually exposed to me in my time among both Israelis and Palestinians: varied definitions of peace.
When asking an Israeli what peace means, typical responses include the absence of violence and the ability to live without threats to personal safety. Among Palestinians, peace has meant the right to be recognized and to live with human dignity on sovereign land. Both are valid concerns.
In the current conflict, Israel has intercepted missiles that could have killed thousands of innocent civilians. Not only has Israel come under attack from Hamas in the south, but also fielded missiles from Hezbollah in the north. Israel walks a fine line in the Middle East of tenuous relations between many countries that would be happy to see the state eliminated. Has their response to the current conflict been an overreaction at the cost of over 1000 Palestinian lives? Absolutely. The mishandling of Gaza is nothing more than tragic and shameful. However, recognizing and validating the reasons for Israel’s insecurities opens the space to understand them as mutually vulnerable, and, possibly, creates a deeper understanding and will to cooperate.
Alternatively, Palestinians have spent decades living in an occupied territory. Being removed from the homes they have inhabited for multiple generations and forced to live in refugee camps with little sunlight, life, or opportunity has worn Palestinians into modes of survival that have often meant utilizing violence to make a statement. Years of oppression are no justification for such behavior. Yet, the most recent rocket attacks were easily predictable according to the adage: an animal in a cage will only grow violent. For Palestinians to agree to coexist with Israelis, their definition of peace must be met. Palestinians need to be afforded the same right to exist with independence and sovereignty as Israelis have achieved. Only then can Israelis hope to live without constant threat to their safety and existence.
Given this revelation, it is no surprise that Hamas continues to reject ceasefire agreements and unequivocally demands a lifting of the blockade that has paralyzed Gaza since 2007. Although a ceasefire would save scores of lives, it would only achieve one definition of peace, and not the Palestinian. So how do we achieve both?
Recognizing that each side is fighting a different battle is the first step in coming to resolution. Subsequently, accommodations like lifting the blockade and demilitarization must be made.
The ongoing peace process has failed numerous times over, but its slow progress is no reason to abandon the dialog between Israelis and Palestinians. The demands of each side can be met through peaceful mediation, so long as we stop our obsession with violence and condemn the atrocious acts spurred by both parties. Continuing to fight over which side has experienced the most injustice is leading us nowhere. In the meantime, civilian casualties continue to pile up. We can try to debunk myths and talk the asymmetry of struggle for another 60+ years, or we can lay down our weapons, Facebook posts, and nationalist rhetoric to begin to have fruitful discussions. Instead of contributing to the extreme ends of the debate, we can move to a middle ground.
Even with the current state of tragic affairs, potential for peace is not lost. Through improved dialogue, rather than inflammatory comments and one-sided media posts, Israeli and Palestinian definitions of peace can be met. Yet, until we open our minds to consuming new knowledge, we will continue to perpetuate the conflict. Enough.
Amber Webb is a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, USA, currently working on visual story-telling projects in the West Bank. Her research interests are in education in conflict and education for the development of peace and human rights.
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