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The wrong question in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

| Monday, November 3, 2014

Studying abroad is about new experiences and stepping out of one’s comfort zone in order to engage with new people and cultures. With due deference to such goals, here is how I became acquainted with teargas.

It was nothing short of medieval, some sort of ancient ritual in which normally suppressed fury and frustration came pouring out. Armored soldiers took their positions on the ramparts in the early afternoon, with more on the hill behind the wall. Before long, chanting, screaming and the blaring of horns brought these sentries to attention. Soon after, small crowds began to gather opposite the wall, flags waving and fists in the air.

They paraded before the soldiers, defiantly coming up to the foot of the wall. Stopping in an open expanse of scrub and lonely trees, most of the crowd withdrew to safety, leaving behind young adult and middle-aged males. The chanting quickly turned to taunting, insults and bravado. Slings appeared and hands reached for smooth stones. By hand and sling, stones began clattering against the wall. Scattered and aimed too low at first, the projectiles grew in number and accuracy.

Those manning the wall raised large, rectangular shields in response, stones ricocheting and loudly thunking off of them. After a few minutes, one rock found its intended target, striking a soldier on the side of his helmet. The response was the same as it had been week in and week out for years. The struck soldier tossed the first of what would be dozens of teargas grenades thrown that day. It was soon joined by rifle-fired canisters often aimed at the chests of the men before the wall. These were followed by barrages of smaller canisters launched from tubes attached to the side of an armored jeep on the hill behind the wall.

Thick clouds of white, mace-laced teargas blanketed the area, engulfing combatant, journalist and bystander alike. Where some wore masks of one kind or another, others had become immune to the point that they stood unmoving within the swirls of gas.

The skirmish continued for over a half hour until the will of those in front of the wall was exhausted for the day. Slingers and stone-throwers returned to their homes and soldiers to their barracks, to rest until the next week.

If you had not already guessed, the soldiers are Israeli, the protesters Palestinian and the location the West Bank. I watched from the Palestinian side, grappling with teargas and trying to comprehend what I had witnessed.

Every Friday, in the small West Bank village of Bil’in, locals gather to protest the Israeli occupation. The village of about 1,800, of “5 Broken Cameras” fame, has refused to accept the placement of the Israeli security wall, even winning an Israeli Supreme Court case to have it moved several hundred yards before it became permanent.

Opposite Bil’in is one of the largest Israeli settlements, with a population of over 50,000. For every skirmish, a crowd of settlers spectates from a set of bleachers under a tent, cheering every time a stone-thrower is struck by a teargas canister. Relations between the communities are less than amicable.

Let this anecdote serve as a microcosm of Israel and Palestine. Both peoples are not going anywhere, regardless of the suffering and pain they inflict upon one another. It is time to recognize that both populations, Palestinian and Israel, are, absent a new round of brutal ethnic cleansing, permanent residents of the land they currently inhabit. In the words of a Bedouin facing imminent Israeli eviction, “I am like a stone. I will never move.”

Israel has before it several options. It has a population of roughly 8 million, with 6.4 million mostly Jewish Israelis and 1.6 million Arab Israelis. The territories currently militarily occupied or partially occupied by Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, have Arab populations of 1.7 million and 1.8 million respectively (Note: Israel maintains a security buffer encompassing roughly 25 percent of the territory of the Gaza Strip despite the unilateral withdrawal in 2005). An additional Palestinian population of roughly 4 million resides in neighboring countries.

That’s 6.4 million non-Arab, but not necessarily entirely Jewish, Israelis and 7.5 million Palestinians. With the state of Israel unlikely to allow Jews to become a minority in their own homeland, a single state with full civil rights for all is out of the question. One state with Arabs as second-class citizens, as many, particularly Bedouin, currently are in Israel, would be unsustainable if Palestinians were a majority. It would essentially be South African apartheid meets the Levant, unpalatable to the international community and a recipe for disaster in Israel. There must be two viable states if both peoples are to have peace.

Whenever I advocate this two-state solution or share that I studied in Jerusalem, the question is inevitably asked: “So what side are you on, pro-Palestine or pro-Israel?” This question infuriates me beyond description. I have no side, nor should any of us. The goal is to foster the peaceful, prosperous coexistence of two peoples, not a violently divisive dichotomy. If you ask what side someone is on, you’re simply asking the wrong question.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

About Christopher Newton

Chris Newton is a senior formerly of Knott Hall. He is a political science major and international development studies minor.

Contact Christopher
  • Nathan

    Here here!
    Very good points!

    • Arafat

      I think it is “Hear, hear” and the points are vapid.

  • Arafat

    Modern Muslims have religious conflict with: Hindus in Kashmir;
    Christians in Nigeria, Egypt, and Bosnia; atheists in Chechnya; Baha’is in
    Iran; Animists in Darfur; Buddhists in Thailand; each other in Iraq, Pakistan,
    Somalia, and Yemen; Jews in Israel; Why is Islam involved in more sectarian and
    religious conflicts than any other religion today? In fact, why is Islam the
    only religion in conflict with every single one of today’s major world

    But you think belligerent pugnacious Islam has legitimate grievances in this
    constant conflict, and that, for example in Palestine, Islam is just defending
    its own reasonable interests?

    No, not at bottom. At bottom what we have in Islam is a violent,
    expansionist totalitarianism. That’s why Islam is in conflict all over the
    world with every other religion.

  • Arafat

    I think we should help Abbas and his dear friends and allies Hamas create a Palestinian state. Since Hamas is more popular than Abbas let’s call it Hamasistan. It could be based on all the other Islamist states. Women would have zero rights. Gays would be hung. Jews would be verboten. Non-Muslims would be killed unless they convert to Islam or pay a crippling tax that is designed just for them.

    I think this makes a lot of sense and is something college
    punks should march for, shout about, and pretend they care about. The world needs another Islamist state. What will we do without another one?

    In Hamasistan criminals will be punished by being tied to
    the back of jeeps and skinned to death on dirt roads until they die. The lucky criminals will simply be pushed off rooftops, and if they’re really lucky the rooftop will be very high.

    In Hamasistan they will blame all their problems on Israel that way the politicians can line their Swiss Vaults with endless international aid money and not be held accountable.

    In Hamasistan they will shoot rockets into Israel during rush hour and when schools get out.
    That’s the way they do things in Hamasistan. Then they will blame Israel for making them
    do it.

    Yes, this will solve all the problems just ask any leftist, liberal, dreaming moron and he will scream it at you as if there is no doubt about it.