New West Bank violence needs a sensible solution

By Othman O'Malley

The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis has added more people to its bloody roster. Over the weekend two Israeli soldiers and 60 Palestinians, 25 of them civilians, were killed. This latest series of Israeli strikes were prompted by the incessant barrage of rockets into Israeli territory by Hamas (the Islamist party internationally recognized as a terrorist organization). Since 2000, 13 Israelis have been killed as a result of these attacks. Yet again we see massive funerals taking place on the streets of Gaza, where marchers thrust their fists into the air and promise to avenge the dead. Once more we see the Israelis rev up their remarkably effective public relations machine and broadcast the usual message, that their country has a right to defend itself from the activities of terrorists.

I have long been a strong supporter of the Palestinian quest for a sovereign and viable state. The military occupation of the West Bank should have ended 20 years ago but alas, here we are. Adding to the problems of the Palestinians is the fact that for years, their representatives have been inept thugs. The corruption and political repression under Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party is legendary. When finally given a chance to vote, the Palestinian people voted for the only other political party and got Hamas, another group of inept thugs only with more piety.

Israel has not been a great help either. With its military and economic strength, and the diplomatic backing of Washington, it has brushed the Palestinian question aside for decades. In the interim, more settlements were built on Palestinian land, pushing Palestinians into smaller and tighter enclaves and mass arrests.

It is now clear to many Israelis that they cannot continue an indefinite occupation of the West Bank. The first reason is demographic. If one was to add the total populations of Israel and the West Bank, there are equal numbers of Israeli Jews and Arabs. Excising the West Bank from Israel would mean that the proportion of Israeli Jews to Arabs would be about 80 percent to 20 percent. This is a number that Israelis can live with.

But allow me to digress for a moment and discuss demographics a bit more. In 2003, former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu noted that the real demographic problem is not in the West Bank but, “…with the Israeli Arabs who will remain Israeli citizens.” The Israeli Arab population is set to increase, whittling away at the Israeli Jewish majority year by year. Israeli Jews are losing what has been dubbed the “war of the wombs” (certainly a feminist treatise rests within those quotes). At current trends, Jewish immigration does not make up for the population gains that Arab Israelis are achieving.

Let us return to the West Bank and our second reason for Israeli disengagement. Indefinitely occupying a land against the will of the inhabitants is a nasty business. Innocent civilians get killed and Israeli soldiers get shot. The average Israeli, like most people, would rather spend his or her summer at the beach than dodging bullets in Hebron. The moral and psychological cost of an occupation is staggering.

Yehuda Shaul has emerged as just one of the many Israeli voices that are speaking out against the status quo. Mr. Shaul is an Orthodox Jew, a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and co-founder of a veterans group called Breaking the Silence.

He leads tours of Hebron, a city in the West Bank where Palestinians have had a particularly hard time of it under military occupation. He remarks that at times, when soldiers would conduct house-to-house searches of Palestinian homes the family would be locked into one room as soldiers took naps. “This (the occupation of Hebron) is not Jewish,” he says. “I’m an Israeli, I’m a Jew and I care what my society looks like, about what are the values that are at the heart of my country.”

Let Mr. Shaul stand as an example to the Arab world of the many Israelis and Jews around the world who have been opposed to the treatment of the Palestinians for decades. There are many reasons to admire Israel but they are overshadowed by this never-ending conflict. Withdrawing from the West Bank is a first step to ending it.

Othman is a senior in political science and thinks that the demographic “war of the wombs” should be renamed to “war of the men who learn about birth control.”