I am currently in my final semester as an undergraduate at MIT. The Institute is a great place to learn how to make an impact in any part of the world, and I believe that one of the most important skills that we can take from our four years of study here is the development of a critical perspective and analysis.
Two weeks ago, Rachel Bandler wrote an opinion column entitled “Don’t settle for settlement condition,” (Feb. 25) speaking about the irrelevance of the Israeli settlements’ to the peace process between Israel and Palestine. Bandler states that settlements are not the main obstacle to peace and claims that the question of the settlements is not as crucial as many consider it to be. Her column discusses a very important and delicate topic, but unfortunately with, in my opinion, insufficient sources backing up her arguments.
I hope to address the claims made in that article and to offer some resources that provide a different perspective and further information on the topic.
The majority of Palestinians living in the West Bank are under Israeli authority, rather than that of Palestine. Most Palestinian residents of this region cannot travel between cities within the West Bank without passing Israeli checkpoints. In fact, the West Bank is divided into three regions, only one of which is completely controlled by the Palestinian Authority; effectively, over 50 percent of the West Bank is under direct Israeli control (mainly settlements and restricted areas). The 2010 “West Bank: Access and Closure” map provided by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) clearly depicts this fact.
Moreover, an important fact to keep in mind is that Israel is continuing settlement construction in East Jerusalem — a crucial area in which Israeli settlements are also considered illegal based on international law. In fact, during Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel last year, Israel’s Interior Ministry announced that 1600 new housing units were approved for construction in northeast Jerusalem. President Obama had emphasized on multiple occasions that the construction of settlements beyond the borders established in 1967 would be unacceptable. The White House vehemently condemned the new housing project, and Biden himself spoke against it as “[undermining] the trust that we need right now in order to begin as well as produce profitable negotiation.”
On a similar note, Israel has — as of last month — demolished part of Amin Haj Husseini’s Shepherd Hotel in East Jerusalem. The hotel, a modern monument and a symbol of the Palestinian identity in East Jerusalem, will be replaced with 20 apartments intended for Israelis. Regarding this act, Fox News stated that “Israel says it has the right to build anywhere in the city, including east Jerusalem, which it annexed in 1967 in a move that has not been internationally recognized.” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reacted by affirming that the demolition “undermines peace efforts to achieve the two-state solution.” These actions, and others, tarnish Israel’s claims of willingness to cooperate for a dignifying peace.
Another question that might cause some confusion is that, if the settlements in the West Bank are such a big deal, why did Jordan sign a peace treaty with Israel in the first place? In fact, at the time of signing, Jordan did not represent the Palestinian people. The peace treaty that Jordan signed with Israel in 1994 did not include an agreement regarding refugees, settlements, or the Jerusalem borders; those issues were yet to be resolved with the Palestinian Authority. Hence, the Jordan-Israel peace treaty is completely irrelevant to the current settlement situation, and should not be used as an incentive to overlook the importance of this problem.
Regarding the 1967 Six Day War, the bad relations between Israel and Egypt did not start at that point. Israel had already waged a war against Egypt in 1956 hoping to neutralize a possible future enemy (with the help of France and England, both of which participated in the war for other interests as well).
A person without much familiarity with the 1967 conflict might be surprised by the causes of the war and why the countries surrounding Israel decided to attack her. The underlying cause was not mere hatred or a form of extremism — there were many reasons contributing to war between the Arabs and Israel. As an example, Moshe Dayan, the Israeli commander who gave the order to take over the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967, later told a reporter that Israel deliberately provoked firefights with Syria before the war, The New York Times reported. More reasons on why the Arabs entered the war can be found in Charles D. Smith’s book.
Additionally, pre-1948, terrorist Israeli forces such as Lehi (a militant Zionist group) carried out terrorist attacks against both Arabs and the British. After Israel was declared a state, the Irgun and Lehi militant groups carried out organized massacres (such as the 1948 attack on Deir Yassin that left over 100 residents dead) against civilians, eventually causing many Palestinians to flee the country and become homeless refugees. Describing the events of 1948 as “defensive” war would be a misrepresentation. Charles D. Smith’s book, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents, discusses (and offers resources for) the history of the conflict from the early 20th century up to now, and explains much of the history leading up to the two wars and the history of Israeli terrorist acts before 1948.
I believe it is neither accurate nor progressive to portray Israel as an innocent party — it was not long ago that Israel defied its own allies when they ran their assassination in Dubai, in the process creating fake English passports to carry out the covert operation, breaking promises Israel had previously made to England. An individual who seeks a practical solution to the problem should first consider that Israel has committed many misdeeds towards the Palestinian people, just as much as Palestinians need to realize that Israel is there to stay.
Finally, I believe that it is simplistic to state that the settlements are not an obstacle for peace when, for so many people, they are the embodiment of the occupation. Settlements are deemed illegal by international law. Simply put: settlers live in regions that are not internationally accepted to be theirs; this situation is similar to trespassing, but scaled up to about the size of Massachusetts. It is wrong to call an agreement that overlooks these clear violations a peace agreement. That would be a give-up agreement, not a peace agreement. If the day comes and such an agreement is signed by both parties, the entire world should be ashamed for not standing by the Palestinian people when they needed us most.
The reason that I have interest in this topic is that I am a Palestinian who lives in East Jerusalem. Even though I live in the heart of the conflict, I seek the truth as much as anyone else. I contributed this column to make sure that all members of the MIT community, not just me, are being critical about the articles they read — whether in The Tech or elsewhere — and that they take the time to consider all of the facts before forming a strong opinion. For instance, I recommend reading the book Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, offered in the MIT course 21H.631 (Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict), for any individual who would like an accurate and well-written background of the conflict. I offer my personal experiences, as a Palestinian who has been involved in a number of peace initiatives, as a study case, if they could offer a new perspective to anyone.
In summary, I felt that Bandler’s column might have been misleading to many who do not have a deep historical understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After all, everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but it is crucial to understand all aspects of such a complex topic, to consider all of the sources, and to keep an open mind.
Wissam Jarjoui is a member of Palestine@MIT and the Class of 2011.