Truth requires the Palestinian perspective

This is in response to an article and a letter to the editor in Tuesday’s paper about Israel. Josh Linehan’s report “Identity and the Intifada” was certainly a fascinating and well-written report on the Israeli perspective of the recent Palestinian uprising.

I wonder, however, how his report would have been different if in addition to spending time in Israel learning about the Israeli perspective, he had spent time in the West Bank and Gaza Strip among some of the Palestinians. Such a report could have gone far toward debunking the stereotype that Palestinians are just a bunch of crazed, stone-throwing Arabs whose only aim is to topple Israel.

While it is clear defenders of Israel like to frame the conflict as one of a vulnerable Jewish state fighting for survival and in self-defense against hostile Arabs, this casting of Israel as a perpetual victim is neither an accurate description nor one that takes into account the Palestinian perspective.

What Linehan would have learned, had he ventured into the occupied territories, and what the authors of the letter to the editor (“Israel’s fight for existence,” Jan. 24) don’t seem to understand, is the Intifada is not driven by the desire to destroy Israel, but rather a protest against Israel’s almost 35-year military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

One of the first things Linehan would have realized after enduring a series of military check points, is that the democratic values and human rights, which Israel is constantly claiming separates her from the other regimes of the region, are noticeably absent in these Israeli-controlled areas.

Indeed, after watching Israeli soldiers shoot at stone-throwing children, seeing tanks destroy the houses of refugees, learning of the sick and injured who cannot get to a hospital because of roadblocks or Israeli-imposed curfews on Palestinian towns, or hearing of yet another assassination of a Palestinian by the Israelis, he might conclude the Arab regimes don’t have a monopoly on the “brutal and repressive” label. Such conclusions, however, would be at odds with the writers of Tuesday’s letter to the editor, who view such acts as representative of “Israeli leniency.”

In order to understand the conflict better, one needs to consider the Jewish settlements that dot the landscape of the occupied territories and how they serve as an affront to the very idea of Palestinian statehood. These settlements, often subsidized by the state of Israel, are built on land captured in the 1967 war, the very land on which the Palestinians want to build their state.

While some of the first settlements might have been built with security in mind, the vast majority of the settlements were built to prevent the settled land and surrounding areas from falling under Palestinian sovereignty in any future peace agreement. Although many of the settlements are in full view of Palestinian villages, they have not served to bring Jews and Arabs closer together but, instead, have pushed them further apart.

Much of this can be contributed to the fact the settlers, as Israeli citizens, are granted the full rights and protections of Israeli law, while their Palestinian neighbors are accorded no such rights and protections. Indeed, the settlers did not come to live as neighbors among the Palestinians, as can be seen by the increasing number of settler roads winding through the occupied territories, which are designed to connect the settlements together as well as with major Israeli cities, but which the Palestinians are not permitted to use. This has created a system in which people who are physical neighbors lead very segregated lives.

The greatest tragedy of this conflict is the loss of innocent lives on both sides. We hear often of the attacks by Palestinian terrorists against Israeli civilians – most recently exemplified by a shooting spree in Jerusalem on Tuesday, which has now claimed the lives of two Israelis. While such acts should be strongly condemned, the Palestinian victims of the violence should not be ignored. Since the recent rounds of violence began, at least 816 Palestinians and 248 Israelis have been killed. And though suffering cannot be measured in numbers alone, it is obvious Israelis are not the only ones suffering from the violence.

Suicide bombings and shootings against Israeli civilians by groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad are deplorable. But no less deplorable are the actions taken by the Israeli Defense Force, which has killed hundreds of Palestinians, most just as innocent as the Israeli victims. The fact one act is labeled “terrorism,” while the other is not is purely academic and matters little to the families of those who were killed.

Both Linehan’s report and Tuesday’s letter to the editor make reference to the so-called “peace talks” in 2000 with Palestinian Authority President Yassir Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and former President Bill Clinton. As the story usually goes, Barak made an extremely generous offer to Arafat, but Arafat refused Barak’s offer because he was either not courageous enough to accept it or because he would be satisfied with nothing less than the total destruction of Israel.

However, Barak’s offer can only be seen as generous if one believes the land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip really belongs to Israel and thus Israel was generously “giving” land to the Palestinians. This land, however, which Israel captured in the 1967 war and has occupied militarily ever since, is populated by several million Palestinians.

These areas make up only approximately 22 percent of the Palestinians’ ancestral homeland; the other 78 percent became the State of Israel in 1948. When Arafat recognized Israel’s right to exist under the Oslo Accords in 1993, it was with full expectation a Palestinian state would be created on the remaining 22 percent of the land.

This was not, however, what Barak offered, nor was it the 95 percent that kept circulating through the press. This myth was perpetuated by the fact few people actually saw maps of Barak’s offer, which would clearly show that his offer would never produce a viable state – for in addition to the large chunks of land Israel would have annexed because of the Jewish settlements there, Israel would have retained “temporary control” over another 10 percent of the West Bank and all border crossings in the name of security.

I wonder, however, who should be more concerned about security, the Israelis with a state and one of the strongest militaries in the world, or the Palestinians, with neither an army nor state to protect them.

Rebecca Stempfle is a senior in the College of Liberal Arts. Send comments to [email protected]