On Tuesday, Wissam Jarjoui wrote a response to my opinion piece “Don’t settle for settlement condition,” in which he argued that settlements were a major obstacle to peace. I hope to address a number of his claims and to further clarify why Israeli construction in the West Bank should not be made into an arbitrary gauge for peace.
First, it is important to recognize that Israel wants the Palestinians, both in the West Bank and Gaza, to prosper and flourish. It is to everyone’s benefit and the surest way to peaceful co-existence. In the 1970s, the West Bank and Gaza emerged as the fourth-fastest growing economy in the world, ahead of both Hong Kong and Singapore. It was only in 2000, when the brutal intifada began and Israeli innocents were senselessly murdered, that the economic gains were reversed. Today, thankfully, the West Bank is experiencing improved economic success and a new city is being built. Gaza is beginning to export crops again. Hopefully, cooperation can continue and both Israelis and Palestinians will thrive.
Jarjoui attributes a number of grievances to Israel. However, he does not thoroughly examine the historical context in which the supposed grievances arose. The narrative given does not account for pragmatic and redeeming considerations on Israel’s part.
For example, one criticism of Israel is the limits it imposes on Palestinian mobility in the West Bank. It was not mentioned that Israel constructed the security barrier — the vast majority of which is chain link fence — in order to prevent suicide bombings. Israel did not wake up one day and decide to build a fence; it has a right to defend the lives of its civilians, and Israelis have the right to ride a bus or eat in a cafe without fear of being blown up. The security fence and checkpoints have successfully reduced suicide bombings by catching the attackers before they can enter Israel. Unfortunately, many have tried to enter via ambulances or as women pretending to be pregnant.
Israel was also criticized for demolishing Amin Haj Husseini’s hotel in East Jerusalem, which Jarjoui describes as “a symbol of the Palestinian identity.” There was no mention that Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem during World War II, was a defender of Nazi ideology and a conspirator with Hitler and Eichmann. At Eichmann’s trial in Nuremberg, testimony was given that “the Mufti was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry and had been a collaborator and adviser of Eichmann and Himmler in the execution of this plan.”
Additionally — and unfortunately — the Palestinian and Hamas leadership are preoccupied with fighting amongst themselves for power and Western money. Israel is used as an excuse and a target. Palestinian leaders haven’t prepared their people for peace, as the Palestine Papers released by Al Jazeera proved. On the contrary, the indoctrination of children to hatred and martyrdom is rampant in Hamas television content, newspapers, and textbooks. Israel has been wiped off the map in Hamas media, and martyrs are glorified. Just today, the Al-Amari youth center in the West Bank was sponsoring a football tournament in the name of Wafa Idris, the first female Palestinian suicide bomber. Is a society that teaches its children to honor suicide bombings ready for peace? Surely settlement-building, which employs Palestinian construction workers, is simply a diversion.
Likewise, if building in the West Bank really was the primary impediment to peace, then the Palestinians would have come to the bargaining table before the ninth month of the Israeli building freeze, which was only 10 months long. To establish a long-lasting and meaningful peace, the Palestinians should not have squandered 90 percent of the freeze. This again illustrates that the main obstacle to peace with the Palestinians is not the number of houses built in Ariel last month, which is a relatively minor issue in the grand scheme of things.
Using popular rhetoric and slogans, such as Israeli settlements being the “embodiment of the occupation,” does not add substance to a conversation that should be an accurate and factual discussion. Both sides of the conflict have suffered, Israelis and Palestinians alike; that is undeniable. However, it is unfair to accuse Israel blindly of injustices without considering historical circumstances and taking Israeli security concerns into account. Truth and falsehood are intricately woven together, and it is each individual’s responsibility to evaluate claims and to seek the truth, which, superficially, is not always apparent.