Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Israel-Palestine: Can there be peace without understanding?

Side-by-side op-eds and side-by-side letters in the Richmond Times Dispatch make it clear how far apart Israelis and Palestinians are. The June 4 op-ed pieces by Anna Avital, on behalf of Israel, and Nidal Mahayni, on behalf of Palestine, showed two people talking past each other with two separate views of history. The two June 18 letters, with Barry Gabay writing for Israel, and Riad Mahayni, writing for Palestine, again show angry people yelling at each other, again with disagreeing views of history. I wonder how people can come to agreement on sharing the lands between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordon River valley if they cannot even agree on history.

Ms. Avital and Mr. Gabay see a tiny Israel threatened with extinction from the day of its birth by a sea of hostile Arab and Islamic neighbors. They see an Arab world constantly unwilling to allow the formation of a Palestinian state because it would require it to acknowledge that Israel exists. They see the 1948 and 1967 wars as David against Goliath battles in which Israel barely escaped with its life.

The Mahaynis, on the other hand, see a peaceful Palestinian society that was systematically destroyed by a Zionist invasion supported by European colonial powers. They see the Palestinian people as defenseless victims who are constantly being attacked by Israel, the bully on the block. They see the 1948 and 1967 wars as step 1 and step 2 in the destruction of Palestine.

Neither side sees itself as the aggressor. Each side sees itself as the victim. Obviously there is no trust. Ms. Avital and Mr. Gabay, seeing Israeli withdrawal from Gaza resulting in a further consolidation of power by Hamas and rocket attacks against Israel, do not see peace coming until “the other side” demonstrates that it is willing to live in peace with Israel. The Mahaynis, seeing continued Israeli occupation as the cause of the conflict, do not see peace coming until the “other side” withdraws from the lands it acquired in the 1967 war.

For peace to have a chance, each side must recognize their differing views of history. Each side must accept that the other has legitimate claims to the land they live on. Each side must concede that it cannot have the entire pie. Each side must also acknowledge that it has done great injustice to the other over the past century. Finally each side must seek a just solution to the dispute. Without justice, their can be no peace.

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