Conflicts between nations—or any other groups of fallible humans—are rarely black and white. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is no exception. Israeli society has produced some ugly extremists, while the Palestinians can count among their ranks many heroes of humanity. Yet just because there are good and bad people on both sides of a conflict doesn’t mean that each side is equally to blame. There can be no peace without justice. And as any judge in any court of law would attest, there can be no justice without first placing blame.
As a general rule, most Israelis have viewed their conflict with the Palestinians as one between two peoples with valid claims to the same piece of land. They have thus repeatedly offered to end the conflict by sharing this land with the Palestinians. Yes, many Israelis reject such compromise. And yes, these hard-liners have occasionally won some battles. But Israel’s moderates have won almost every war.
The Palestinians, on the other hand, have consistently insisted that there is only one valid claim to the land: their own. They have repeatedly refused Israeli offers to share the land. Yes, there are certainly Palestinian moderates. And yes, on occasion these moderates have proclaimed their willingness to pursue peace. But they have never risked the wrath of their extremists by actually signing on the dotted line. Thus far, Palestinian rejectionists have won every war.
This pattern of Jewish/Israeli peace offers met by Arab/Palestinian rejection began before there even was a State of Israel, and it has continued down to the present day. Palestinian rejectionism birthed this conflict. And Palestinian rejectionism has been the powerful engine driving this conflict forward ever since.
It’s possible to pinpoint five critical junctures in the history of the conflict that illustrate this point. On five occasions, the Jews/ Israelis officially offered to split the land with the Arabs/Palestinians—first in 1937, then 1947, then 1967, then 2000, and most recently in 2008.
And on each of these five occasions the Arabs/Palestinians rejected the offer. More than any other factor, these “five no’s” explain why this conflict—and Palestinian statelessness—persists to this very day. Almost every time the Arabs rejected these compromises, innocent people—both Jews and Arabs—paid the price with their homes, their limbs, and their lives. We rarely see the Jewish victims of Palestinian rejectionism. The large majority of them were murdered before the birth of the State of Israel. The eight hundred thousand Jews forced from their homes in Arab countries between 1947 and 1967 have long ago been resettled. And Israel tends not to parade her mangled survivors of war and terror before television cameras.
In stark contrast, we are constantly bombarded with stories about the Palestinian victims of Palestinian rejectionism. Over time, such headlines trump history. Most casual observers see Israeli troops patrol- ling Palestinian towns and they chastise Israel for “occupying” them. They see Israel’s security fence cutting through the countryside and they condemn Israel for building it. They see Palestinian civilians suffering from war and they blame Israel for harming them.
The reporting about Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians is not only missing context; it’s often missing one of its two protagonists. The Palestinians are increasingly portrayed as a uniquely passive people. Their history of aggression, terror, and rejectionism is downplayed or simply ignored. As a result, Israel’s defensive measures—and Israel’s very presence in the West Bank—appear in stark relief as inexplicable persecutions. With its opponent written out of the scene, all we see is an angry Israel shadowboxing with itself.
But the Palestinians are real people. They do act in the world. And their actions have sparked and perpetuated a conflict that need never have been. Once we return the Palestinians to history in all of their complexity, we realize that Israelis are not the villains their detractors would have us believe. Israel has behaved reasonably, even admirably, under the most difficult of circumstances.
Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel summed it up best. When asked about Palestinian suffering, he acknowledged it. He agreed that the Palestinians have every right to be angry. But, he added, they shouldn’t be angry at Israel. The Palestinians should be angry at their grandparents, who turned down the offer of a Palestinian state back in 1947. And—to update Wiesel’s formula—they should also be angry at their parents, who have continued to reject similar Israeli offers down to the present day.
This article was adapted from David Brog’s new book Reclaiming Israel's History: Roots, Rights, and the Struggle for Peace, in bookstores now.
Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Publication date: April 3, 2017