What would you do if from the front building a couple of guys were shooting against your house, where your family (wife or husband, children, siblings, parents, grandparents, nieces and nephews, etc.) lives?
For those who think it is key to live in peace, respecting life and the other’s decision, this question confront us with a very strong ethical dilemma. If I don’t do anything, not only do I die, but I let my children die. If I do answer, I would go against my principles -which I consider universal-, since, as Ghandi said,”Mankind has to get out of violence only through nonviolence”. What do I do then, protect my family or be true to my ideals?
Let’s imagine that Robert, whose house is being attacked from across the street, decides to take the peaceful path chooses not to answer. Following Gandhi’s example, he begins a hunger strike and sits down to meditate. The next day, however, his house was completely destroyed. In this brave act, Robert lose his life, and lets his wife, children, brothers, siblings and all his family die. What would we say about this man’s decision, would we praise him for choosing the non-violence path, or would we be angry at him for not having defended his family?
Now, let’s imagine John’s house is under attack. In contrast with Robert, John chooses to defend his family. He set up a defense system to prevent the shots from entering the house, and starts answering to these attacks to try to stop them. Would we condemn John’s response who, unlike Robert, decided to protect his family?
It is a terrible dilemma which honestly -though I consider myself a pacifist- I don’t feel capable of judging those who face it. Robert’s response would give it a quick end. The neighbour kills his family, keeps his house and end of the story. John’s response is much bloodier. By defending himself and his family, a horrible exchange begins. Deaths from both sides, the development of new armament, everything is terrible.**** ****
Dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis
After this imaginary situation, let’s move on to a very possible dialogue between an Israeli (Ioshua) who feels his apartment is under attack and a Palestinian (Mohammed) who feels his apartment has been occupied.
Ioshua: If we don’t defend ourselves we would let our family die. This is not new to us. There is a historical hatred against us (Pogrom, Holocaust, and even today), and if we don’t defend ourselves our family will disappear.
**Mohammed: **The building where you live is not yours, it’s ours. You stole it from us through war. On top of that, you disguise as defense the constant attack to our civilians. the magnitude of your attacks are inhumane. You are not defending yourselves, you are attacking us.
**Ioshua: **The building is not yours but ours, it is establish by the holy scriptures and by history. The United Nations gave us this territory in 1947 and there we declared our Independence. After the 1967 war, in which we were endangered, our lands enlarged. We were willing to return part of it so that you could establish as a nation but each time we tried- -like in 2000- you took advantage to continue your attacks. We feel you want to make us disappear rather than establishing as a nation.
**Mohammed: **What you say is not true. In 1948 the United nations part of this territory to each of us so we could establish as two States, and in 1967 you advanced over our territory killing millions of Arabs. The building you live on is not yours, but ours. That’s what the holy scriptures say. Nobody wants to make you disappear, we just want a bit of territory to establish ourselves as a nation.
This conversation can go on and on. Ioshua saying the land belongs to him, and that they have to defend themselves to prevent his family from disappearing; Mohammed answering that nobody want to make them disappear, hat they use that argument to attack and that they just want a piece of territory to establish their nation.
Three Key Questions
Even though the conflict in the Middle East is hyper complex -and usually leads to endless arguments-, there are three key questions I would like to address separately. 1) Who owns the land?, 2) Can Israel and Palestine coexist?, 3) Is Israel attacking or defending itself?
- Who owns the land?
This is a question which is impossible to answer. There are two ways to address it, from a theological perspective and from a historical perspective. When we use religious arguments, we reach violent extremes with no possibility of dialogue. Here is a very good video with the millions of lives lost fighting for the promised land (Nina Paley is its author). Historical arguments do not seem to contribute much either. The truth is that right properties of former land never existed, and though Israel can argue that its territory was given by the United Nations, if we go back in history no one would resist the proof of murder or steal in the origin of times (a good example is the Latin American case where the conflict with the natives continue, despite its military weakness takes away from them space in the public opinion).
- Can Israel and Palestine coexist?
It is hard. Even the people who want peace from both sides agree that in the existing circumstances there is no way Israel and Palestine can share the land. So, even though the uthopical solution could be “One State, Two Nations” (the holy land issue would be solved), there is an agreement that an intermediate solution could be “Two States, Two Nations”. For that, Israel would have to give part of the West Bank, whose occupation is really conflictive (by the way, these lands were from Jordan, who say the conflict coming, stepped aside and wisely said, “I give you my lands, you figure it out”).
- Is Israel attacking or defending?
Another question with endless debates. The Palestinian opinion, and most of the international public opinion, is that Israel is playing the victim and taking advantage to attack. The evidence is the characteristic of these attacks, which are disproportionate and without distinction between civilians and military. On the other side, every Israeli is convinced that if Israel doesn’t defend itself, they will disappear from the map. The brutal statements of the Palestinian leaders and Hamas founding charter. In addition, if on the Palestinian side there are civilian victims, it is because of their cruel military strategy: in Palestine the military bases are built under schools, hospitals and mosques. So, when Israel has to defend itself, it necessarily attacks the civilian population.
Here what I believe is a key issue in the discussion arises: add Hamas as part of the conflict. You can discuss if Hamas does or doesn’t represent Palestine, but in any case I consider it is a mistake not to include Hamas –a terrorist group– as one of the protagonists of this conflict. With this I mean that the Palestinian position has a serious problem of double personality, since one thing is the Palestinian people that wants to establish themselves as a nation, and another thing is the terrorist group Hamas, who wants to destroy the Jews. If the conflict between these three parties is not understood, the conflict as a whole can’t be understood.
Solving the Conflict: From the Theory to the Practice
The “Two State” solution, which seems quite viable and suitable for all, becomes unreachable as soon as extremists from both sides start talking, unable to empathize with the other side and understand the problem in a broader sense. The Israeli extremists don’t want to give up lands, since they consider them their own and they mistrust what could happen if the Palestinians settle as close. The Palestinian extremists want the destruction of the Jews, and they take advantage and attack every time Israel gives a bit of territory as part of peace negotiations.
To prevent the extremists from imposing strong and determined leaderships are needed to impose a pacific solution. Twenty years ago there was a great approach to the pacific solution between Palestinians and Jews (recognized by the Nobel Prize in 1994), which unfortunately ended with the assassination of the Israeli leader -Isaac Rabin- in the hands of the Israeli extremists.
Anyway, although each side has to solve their internal issues, the most relevant conflict is inside Palestine, and it is called Hamas. The existence of a terrorist group is a extremely strong impediment in any peace process. Therefore, to reach a peaceful solution it is necessary to solve the Palestinian terrorist issue. Or is it possible to reach a peace agreement when one of the parties has the explicit objective to destroy the other?