Chaos and It's Discontents
For the past few months, I've been learning Hebrew in a small group setting. The class usually starts with one of the students speaking about something interesting that happened the previous week. Yesterday - the last day of the class - only two of us showed up, so it was mostly a dialogue between us, with the teacher correcting us every now and then.
The topic of the conversation was an Israeli-Palestinian encounter shabbaton the other guy recently attended. It was held in Beit Jala, which I guess is a place both sides could reach relatively easily. Apparently, there were participants from all over, including Gaza, Ramallah, and Sderot. The guy is genuinely pro-Israel but also extremely tolerant, with a strong interest in inter-faith and inter-cultural activities. I'm always interested in hearing his impression of these types of events.
The encounter went well, he said. All of the participants managed to express their feelings about what was happening without stirring any conflict. However, he said he was often frustrated during these events because too little is done to challenge the prevailing mindset on both sides - the Palestinians all think Israel is responsible for everything bad in the world (or at least in their world) and too many of the Israelis go along with this passively, and even apologetically, as if Israel alone is responsible for all the check-points and the border closures.
As I listened to his story, I experienced a strange feeling. On the one hand, I wished I were there at the Shabbaton in order to challenge people when they said things I would find simply wrong. For example, one of the participants promoted the idea that Israel should remove the checkpoints because there aren't any more terrorist attacks. I read about attempted suicide bombings every week, and I'm sure the checkpoints make it harder, so I think it's cheap talk for Palestinians to demand we take greater risks for their benefit. The Palestinians may be right to complain about checkpoints, but the complaint should be directed the other way, at the Palestinians responsible for making us feel that we need more security.
But on the other hand, as the conversation continued, I realized the problem was much, much deeper than I was making it out to be. During the Shabbaton, someone raised the point that there was no viable Palestinian peace movement. One of the Palestinians said there was no movement because the pro-peace viewpoint was strongly suppressed and those who attempt to hold peace rallies were threatened and intimidated, and sometimes even beaten.
After hearing all of this, I started to reframe the problem in my head. Maybe much of the problem stems from the fact that there is no protected freedom of expression in the Palestinian territories. Or that there is no real rule of law. If people cannot rally for peace, what chance is there that the idea will gain any traction?
I don't have any solutions. But I've known for quite some time that the conflict won't end until there is a genuine change on the Palestinian side. Israel can do everything on earth for peace, and it won't be enough without substantial change in the Palestinians. That change won't come easily. But part of the answer, I think, has to address the difficulties encountered by those who want to make it.