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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Smith: The eternal fight

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Thank God, there is a ceasefire. It’s tenuous at best, but at least it has come to pass.
At first glance, the latest in the deja vu cycle of Israeli and Palestinian violence appears to have started with Hamas — which the United States considers to be a terrorist organization — firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel. And it is not quite accurate to say that the battle began with the recent eviction of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, though that was the immediate precipitator. This conflict is thousands of years in the making, existing long before the 400-year grip that the Ottoman Empire had on the Middle East. (Importantly, there have been long stretches in history in which Jews and Muslims have had peaceful relations.)

Obviously, all countries have the right to defend themselves against attack from enemies — foreign or domestic. Israel is a tiny nation that is surrounded by hostile actors. To be clear, I support the United States’ historic position of being Israel’s ally and protector. However, the military battles between Israel and the Palestinians are utterly asymmetric, with Israel having near complete superiority. Further, it is Israel’s treatment of Palestinians during “peaceful” times that leads to such conflagrations.

The seemingly never-ending conflict is among the world’s oldest and most contentious. For many, there aren’t “two sides” to this story — and little or no room for compromise. Jewish people, even ones who are not expressly Zionist, often react vehemently to the suggestion that Israel is at fault. On the other hand, many

Palestinians cannot fathom how their side could be seen as the primary aggressor. They see themselves as merely trying to defend against a nation that is, in effect, infinitely more powerful. And around we go.

I don’t know what it’s like to be Jewish or Palestinian. I didn’t grow up hearing stories of how my people were almost wiped off the face of the Earth, having to carry around the mental trauma that must attach to that knowledge. I also didn’t grow up having to survive soldiers who repeatedly, forcefully evicted me and my family from our home. As a devout Christian, I believe that God gave Israel to the Jewish people as an everlasting possession. As a person of color — and a person of conscience — I am deeply troubled by the ways in which Israel has treated the Palestinians during the past 73 years.

“Apartheid” is the word Human Rights Watch has applied to the status of Palestinians in Israel. So has B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization. Further, Peter Beinart, author of “Teshuvah: A Jewish Case for Palestinian Refugee Return,” has been very vocal in supporting Palestinian rights. This is despite the fact that Beinart says that he “was raised in a very Zionist home.” He has noted that Israel has long expelled Palestinians from their homes — and their homeland — since the nation’s founding. (That first purge was of roughly 700,000 Palestinians; another major one followed the 1967 Six-Day War.)

As I have written previously, “… if we remove empathy from our heads and our hearts we will be much less likely to view others as our brothers and our sisters.”

Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem are not citizens of Israel — which is often hailed as a rare democracy in the Middle East. Mentally and emotionally switch the conditions of Palestinians with that of Israelis, and it will be clear that this is not about ethnicity, religion or nationality; it is about humanity.

I understand that this is a very sensitive topic. Yet, no person — or government — is above reproach. I criticize my own government when I think it is warranted. I also criticize governments of Black-majority countries, whether in this hemisphere or in Africa. Thus, Israel’s government is fair game. Being opposed to certain policies and practices of the Israeli government is not inherently anti-Israel, and it’s a far cry from being anti-Semitic. I am pro-life. I am pro-human. I am pro-human rights. This conflict demands a two-state solution. That is the political issue. But for that solution to become reality, the Israeli government must recognize that Palestinians were also created in God’s image — and that means that they must be treated as God’s children.

Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com

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