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Israel-Palestine Conflict: A Faculty Member Responds

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As I was reading Benjamin Laude’s article on the Israel-Palestine conflict, I couldn’t help but note that one of the more important tenets the United States shares in its “one sided support for Israel” is the very same doctrine that allowed a music student to voice strong political opinions in a performing-arts school newspaper: that of the right to free speech. Mr. Laude would be hard pressed to find that freedom, or many others associated with a true democracy, in any country in the Middle East other than Israel.

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Mr. Laude is obviously a thinking, intelligent man, rightly moved by the suffering of people who have become pawns in an unfortunate, indeed tragic, and prolonged conflict. Their suffering is real and extensively documented by the press. However, to lay the blame totally on Israel’s shoulders, or to attempt to comprehend the immense complexity of the conflict by going back only as far as the intifada, is to fall prey to a well-oiled propaganda machine. To do so is to feel the suffering of a woman whose eye is shot by Israeli fire but to ignore the pain of Israeli parents whose 36 young children were deliberately blown up on a school bus by Palestinian fire. To do so is to feel the frustration of people engaging in repeated and relentless suicide bombings of innocent civilians, but to ignore the fact that the war that led to the Israeli occupation was started after a three-week blockade of the Straits of Tiran in 1967, meant to strangle the Israeli economy, and further entrenched in 1973 by a war, totally unprovoked, by three different Arab countries simultaneously on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. To do so is to accuse a progressive, democratic, and miraculously productive society of brutality and fascism, and to ignore the fact that the Arabs strategically build their military headquarters adjacent to schools and hospitals, so that every defensive action by Israel would result in innocent casualties that are then paraded in front of the press.

How can Mr. Laude speak of the ratios of casualties without noting the tiny size of Israel compared to the massive Arab territories that surround it? Imagine the State of New Jersey (almost identical to the size of Israel) surrounded by enemy states 70 times its size, which relentlessly pledge to drive it into the sea. Would he call attempts to defend its citizens “imperialism” or would it be self-defense? How can anyone compare Israel’s actions to Napoleon or other fascist regimes, when Israel’s initial objective was to peacefully exist within its rightful borders? If Mr. Laude wants to cite ratios, he should note that since the first intifada, Israel lost more people to Palestinian terror attacks relative to its population than New York did on 9/11.

It’s easy to be cruising on the Hudson and condemn a nation that has risen over the ashes of six million people and has been under siege ever since the U.N. declared the partition of Palestine in 1947, a resolution defied by all the Arab nations at the time. The Palestinian problem would not have developed if not for the calls of the Arab countries for the Palestinian Arabs to leave their homes in 1948 with the promise that Israel would be destroyed and they could then return. The Arabs who chose to stay and become Israeli citizens are enjoying a higher standard of living, better health care, and infinitely better education than those who heeded the call to escape. Jews lived in the region long before 1948, when it was a British Mandate. In fact, there was never a country called Palestine.

I think Mr. Laude would benefit considerably from going to the Middle East and comparing Israel, a technologically, industrially, culturally, and artistically flourishing oasis, with its neighbors. Israel, with no water sources and no natural resources, under adverse circumstances and having to allocate the majority of its budget to defense, has been able to achieve a high standard of living for its citizens, and has been one of the greatest contributors to world medical and scientific research, not to mention its flourishing orchestras, opera companies, theaters, and universities. Its neighbors, on the other hand, with their immense natural resources and oil, boast an obscene disparity between the rich governments (including one led by Yassir Arafat, who amassed personal millions while impoverishing his people) and the destitute population. Their educational system promotes hatred of Israelis and Jews, using textbooks that are filled with anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish slurs, cartoons, and slogans. Israel, on the other hand, makes its medical resources and humanitarian aid available to Palestinians in need. Unfortunately these stories rarely reach the pages of The New York Times.

There is plenty of blame to go around when discussing the political actions of recent years. The Israeli government has made many mistakes, but one has to realize that the frustration that clouds the Palestinian people’s judgment exists in Israel as well. The constant fear of being surrounded by people who want to destroy you, the dread of getting on public buses, the fact that there are few degrees of separation, if any, between the Israeli citizen and the casualties of war and terror, the refusal of countries like Syria and Iran to acknowledge their right to exist, the growing threat of a nuclear attack—all of these lead to decisions that are then viewed from afar as over-reaction. 

Mr. Laude has every right to call attention to the plight of the Palestinians. It is one of the great tragedies of our time. But I take issue with his quickness to assign blame and state comparisons that are so off the mark. Has he questioned the role of the Arab nations in the treatment of the Palestinians? When the Jews in the Soviet Union were under attack, Israel opened its borders and welcomed and integrated almost a million people, close to a quarter of its population. If the Arab countries truly cared about the Palestinians, they could have welcomed them, instead of fueling the conflict and using them for the generation of sympathetic reactions, the catalyst for Mr. Laude’s article. 

In conclusion, I invite Mr. Laude to consider the following: 

If the Gaza attacks were offensive, why would Israel have relinquished control in the first place? 

The Oslo accords of 1993, which afforded the Palestinians a generous peace settlement, ultimately failed mainly due to the refusal of Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist. 

And finally, when in history were countries, victorious in war, subjected to peace terms imposed by the losing countries that perpetrated the wars unprovoked?

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