‘What would you tell a friend?’ Bare facts on Israel/Palestine

I wrote this the day after the IDF (read: Israeli army) demolished a building in Gaza that housed several news agencies, including the Associated Press. It’s currently running in our local alternative paper, the Shepherd Express, but I’m posting it here, too. Click here if you want to read the magazine version. It came about when I did that “what advice would you give a friend who came to you with this problem” thought exercise as I tried to work through the pain I was feeling over what was happening in Gaza and Israel.

The whole Israel/Palestine situation makes me mostly want to crawl under a bed and stay there, but a couple of weeks ago, I stuck my head out and posted on my social media feed to express horror and rage at Israel’s decision to level the Downtown Gaza City building where the AP and other news agencies were headquartered. 

“There’s no word but unconscionable to describe squashing news outlets,” I wrote. “And I say that as a person who dearly wants to see an Israel and a Palestine where everyone has the opportunity to live a full and fulfilling life.”

Then I sat back and wondered when the poop would start flying. 

Vicky and Trudy pointed out that Hamas – whose charter doesn’t exactly scream “We’re realists, let’s talk” –  fired rockets at Israel. Marcia weighed in to say that as a resident of Kiryat Gat, a border town in Southern Israel, she had “a front row seat” to that rocket fire.

Trudy and my cousin Joan noted that Israel, unlike other entities that bomb buildings with people in them, gives notice in order to reduce civilian deaths. I’ll concede that it’s better than no notice. But better is not good enough. In this case, in that building – which may or may not have housed Hamas operations – were apartments with families. Families who ate breakfast around a common table, slept in adjoining bedrooms, and perused photo albums that lived on bookshelves. 

To everyone’s credit, the discussion to this moment has not devolved into a verbal version of rocket fire. I’m sure that merry-go-round is spinning on a lot of other playgrounds, and for good reasons. The Israel/Palestine situation is so radioactive, even in the absence of open conflict, that it’s nearly impossible to raise the discussion without serious misunderstandings tagging along for the ride. 

So, what happens when you strain the mess, removing everything but the barest of facts?

Fact 1: There is one plot of land.

Fact 2: Two different groups, the Blues and the Greens, claim ownership.

Complicating Facts:

Fact 1: Rulers of both groups are very fond of the personal power they get from being in charge and don’t want to lose it. 

Fact 2: Money intended to improve the lives of civilians has been used to enrich the rulers and retain power.

Fact 3: Rulers of other countries with a stake in keeping the conflict going for their own interests continually do what they can to keep the conflict going.

Historically Complicating Facts:

HCF 1. The land has gone back and forth between different groups for millennia; ruled at different times by one of the groups and at other times by groups with no contemporary interest in repossessing it. 

HCF 2. The modern history of the land involves a colonial power that made conflicting promises to both of the parties directly involved in the current conflict. 

HCF 3. A world war ends with the revelation of atrocities committed against people in one group, the Blues, by rulers with no ties to the other. 

HCF 4. The war creates a large population of Blue refugees who, if allowed to return to the region from where they were displaced, would destabilize that region, which is comprised of and ruled by people with no ties to the land in question. 

HCF 5. They are part of a confederation of other countries, which holds a vote and awards the land to the Blue group. 

HCF 6. Blues who have peacefully lived in the region for millennia, have, in the years leading up to the world war, been joined by Blues from other countries who have bought enough land from absentee landlords to become a presence there as part of a movement to establish a Blue state.

HCF 7. In the immediate aftermath of the vote, war ensues. The Blue group successfully expels the Greens, thousands of whom have also lived in the region for millennia. 

HCF 8. In retaliation, Blues living in neighboring countries governed by Green-like people are expelled. The Blue country takes them in. 

HCF 9. Some Green people move to Green-like countries, but some don’t want to and most aren’t allowed. These Greens become refugees. 

Post-Historical Facts:

PHF 1. The Blue group educates its children about the miraculous return of its land, explaining that everyone there before left willingly. The Green group educates its children about the atrocities committed by the Blue group in cooperation with the rest of the world.

PHF 2. Ongoing death, destruction, oppression and misery.

So, what now? I’m a librarian and former reporter who still commits the occasional Act of Journalism, not a diplomat or miracle worker. My main experience with conflict resolution is 34 years of refereeing sibling fights between three children and breaking up the occasional dog fight – between real dogs. 

But a few years ago, after starting to understand that I hadn’t been given the whole story of the Israel/Palestine conflict and, perhaps inspired by a combination of having read Michael Chabon’s “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union” and all that colonial carving up of land back in the British Mandate period, I had an idea. It also came from listening to news reports of all those other countries (mostly the one where I live) trying to broker peace agreements that came to nothing. It also came from watching one of my offspring go through the matching process for medical residency.

Give Israeli and Palestinian leaders a map of the United States with five non-contiguous states marked off. Have them number the states they’d choose in rank order. One state is for Jews who want their own state. One is for Palestinians. Current residents of those states are offered the option to stay in the new country or be compensated for their property at a level that allows them to relocate to a different state. 

It makes no sense? It will never work? 

Well, remember, I’m a librarian, not a miracle worker. I look forward to hearing your better idea. 

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