Letters to the Editor

Israeli, Palestinian narratives are both right

It has been interesting to read the spate of letters in the last issue of the Arizona Jewish Post, mostly responding to letters in the previous issue disagreeing with Guy Gelbart’s opinions on the Steadfast Hope series. I always prefer for there to be open airing of issues, and I welcome the discussions that have ensued. However, people need to take care not to denigrate others (as in “unfounded accusations”), or make assumptions (as in the comment about “synchronized letters,” when there was no communication or coordination by the writers). Another assumption is that people who disagree with current Israeli policy hate, or “de-legitimize” Israel, or are anti-Semitic.

There are many areas of disagreement, even on historical material — were the Palestinians forcibly driven from their homes? (in many cases, yes), or did they leave due to the entreaties of their leaders? (in some cases, also yes) or did they leave out of fear? (also, yes). Is Israel a bastion of freedom and liberty? (for many, yes), or is it a repressive police state? (for some, and for the population of the occupied territories, also yes). The Holocaust is frequently used by people on all sides of the conflict, both for and against Israeli policy and Palestinian policy. History is a tricky concept to use in justifying one’s opinions.

I would like to reply more directly to Adam Bukani as to what will provide security for Israel. He is concerned that returning the West Bank will leave Israel in a smaller, weaker position. The question, though, is what in the long run will make for a more secure and peaceful Middle East? Is it Israel endlessly continuing an illegal occupation of another people, requiring more and more force and loss of morality for the soldiers and the society required to maintain it? Or is it defying the settlers and their supporters in the Knesset, and withdrawing from the West Bank, with mutually agreed border swaps, and an outside force, such as NATO, for security? The Arab League has twice endorsed the diplomatic recognition of Israel by its member nations if Israel leaves the West Bank and facilitates the creation of a Palestinian State. Is peace and acceptance by the entire Arab world worth leaving Israel in a somewhat less defensible position? Why is a country with one of the largest and most modern and accomplished militaries in the world still acting as though it is little David standing up to Goliath, when there is no Goliath? In the last two years 192 Palestinians were killed by Israelis, while 17 Israelis in the West Bank and 3 Israelis in Israel were killed by Palestinians (from B’Tzelem). With almost 10 times as many Palestinians killed, who should be afraid of whom? For 44 years Israel has been following the same failed policies in the West Bank, even as it has made peace with Egypt and Jordan. Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza ended up being no improvement, as Israel has blockaded Gaza, a collective punishment allowing only a meager, miserable existence for its inhabitants, while Hamas cruelly fires rockets at civilians in Israel, making life nerve-wracking for Israelis living in the area. War crimes on both sides do not equal morality or peace. By avoiding negotiation, nothing has been solved. There are no military solutions for the conflict, only through real negotiations and a willingness to try a new direction. Have both sides committed atrocities? Yes. Have both sides done and said hateful and immoral things? Yes. Are there large groups on both sides who hate the other and have no interest in peace? Yes. As I said at the series, both sides have their narratives, and both narratives are correct. We need to understand and accept the other’s narrative thoughtfully, without knee-jerk defensiveness, and without lashing out at the other.

As an American and Israeli citizen, who served in Tzahal (the Israel Defense Forces), and lived in Israel for many years, I will continue to speak out on the conflict, just as I did in Israel. I would like people to at least listen and try to understand that my opinions, and the opinions of others who share my views, are just as valid as the current Israeli government/mainstream Jewish community opinions. B’Shalom.

—Paul Afek