Israel, Palestine, Jews, Muslims, and World Peace

No book or essay, much less a blog post, could possibly make sense of this topic. But I write because it’s how I try to discipline my thinking.

I often want to write about Israel and Palestine, Jews and Muslims, and World Peace. Something in the news catches my eye; I see a thoughtful long read somewhere and want to think through my reaction to it. Or a conversation stirs the middle east part of my brain. When I try to put words to paper, however, I just can’t pull my thoughts together in a coherent way.

None of the brilliant brain-imaging techniques can quite capture the Israel/Palestine part of my brain. I think of it like that drawer that most of us have where we stash things that have no other place. It’s chaos, yet we manage to find useful things in it. My Israel/Palestine drawer gets crammed with news, half-formed thoughts, first lines of essays, but not finished work.

I grew up in Wyoming in the aftermath of WW II. I lived in a neighborhood with many Jewish families. I was aware that Christmas festivities at school were a bit awkward for my Jewish classmates; I wondered why they didn’t believe in Jesus (until I, myself, didn’t believe in Jesus); I found it hard to look them in the eye when we finally learned about the Holocaust in high school. But I read and reported on Mein Kampf for a senior book report. I wanted to try to understand why the world couldn’t accept Jews when my Jewish friends seemed normal, likable, even kind. What was this thing called anti-semitism?

The state of Israel was a fact of life by the time I started walking to Kindergarten. I never questioned it until a fifth grade teacher shared his opinion that he expected WW III to be ignited by events in Israel and Palestine. That thought was unsettling for several reasons. First was the fact that he simply expected WW III. Second was the thought that it would be sparked by events in the safe haven for Jews, though I didn’t yet fully appreciate yet why they needed a safe haven. Third was the notion that other interests were simmering in the middle east. I think this was the moment I created that stash drawer in my brain for news and information related to Israel and Palestine.

The Cold War dominated my school years with the annual “duck and cover” exercises (intended to protect us from nuclear annihilation). One day, my early middle east thoughts had to compete with Sputnik. Construction of missile silos brought many thousands of new people to my town, shook up our schools with several thousand new students, but seemed somehow comforting as though we Americans were on top of this challenge.

During my high school and college years, my mind was inundated with many new topics to think, wonder, and worry about. The civil rights movement was high on the Top 40 of news topics until the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of JFK, and soon the looming Vietnam War. The backdrop for all of this was “the 60s,” hippies, the drug scene, and rapidly evolving rock ’n roll. 

Israel and Palestine topped the news charts in the spring of 1967 with the Six Day War. This threatened to divert the world’s attention to the need for a solution that addressed the concerns of both Israelis and Palestinians, but the war was over almost before it started. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was a fait accompli and the world soon focused on southeast Asia. 

I don’t think it ever occurred to me to be anything other than pro-Israel, but I did begin to read more about Zionism, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the status of Jews in Arabia and Persia, British and French control of the middle east between the wars, and the Balfour Declaration. I also learned more about the history of Jews in Europe, their expulsion from Spain, the ever-present threat of pogroms, and their gradual integration into the emerging nation states. 

It’s time to confess that Judaism as a religion has always been puzzling to me. The belief that Jews are God’s Chosen People is simply not a thought I comprehend. Why would God turn his back on the majority of people he supposedly created; why couldn’t people join the chosen?

Today, some communities allow conversion to Judaism, but many do not; Orthodox Jewish practices are incomprehensible to an outsider, while reform communities seem more normal to us. Non-religious Jews are as diverse as non-religious people in general. Despite my puzzlement regarding Jews and their religion, anti-semitism is even more puzzling. 

I grew up in a racist family, so I know what it sounds like to say, “they’re all (pick your insult).” My dad once took our house off the market rather than sell it to an Italian family. Why? “They’re so loud. I just could not allow them into the neighborhood.” I wasn’t allowed to listen to black musicians, watch black people on TV, or have any black friends. But Jewish kids came to my birthday parties. It never made any sense to me. 

If diversity within communities is the norm, what’s the basis for racism and anti-semitism?. Whatever the Rothschilds have been up to, many other Jews have been simply leading their lives, working, studying, trying to feed their kids and keep a roof over their heads. Non-religious Jews are blended into society so much that we’re often surprised to learn of their Jewish heritage. Why do people create pecking orders? Why, why, why.

Israel did not settle immediately into the role of occupier following the Six Day War. It muddled through the first 20 years, made mistakes, held robust debates internally, received criticism from every direction due to its continued occupation of territories designated for Palestine in 1948. Conflict erupted many times. Between 1967 and 1989, the UN Security Council adopted 131 resolutions regarding Israel, mostly censoring its actions in the territories.

In 1989, Palestinians threw rocks at Israelis, the beginning of the First Intifada. In 1994 Hamas suicide bombers brought chaos to marketplaces. Israel responded; Palestinians responded; and round and round it went. Peace talks came and went. Israeli settlers expanded their presence in the West Bank. Conflict continued. Hospitals continued to serve anyone who came for help. Eventually a wall was built to separate Israelis and Palestinians.

Now, hopes for a peaceful two state solution fade. More and more, it seems as though Israel will control the whole of Israel and Palestine and conflict will continue. For some years, I thought that the creation of Israel had just been a big mistake. Surely, after the Holocaust, Europeans could have repented and taken in the refugees. But Jews are not safe in Europe, again; anti-semitism erupts throughout the diaspora. I see why Jews fight for Israel.

And I wonder what might have happened if Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors had accepted the creation of two states, Israel and Palestine, in 1948. (You do know they didn’t, don’t you?)

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