One conflict, two peoples, 60 years

By Othman O'Malley

One month from today marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. By any standard, the fact that journey of the state of Israel, from a country of immigrants determined to scratch a place out for themselves where they could feel safe, is remarkable. But, as is the case with much of history, some people win and some people lose. The creation of the state of Israel came at a price that was ultimately placed in the ledger of the Palestinian people.

Today, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a conflict of massive wars, of clashing civilizations or the grand themes of history. It is not the stuff that arouses the interest of the armchair general. No, my friends, the story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more mundane; it is a story of thousands of small injustices that Palestinians have to endure every day of their existence under perpetual and total military occupation.

Today, the conflict is about building permits that are never given to Palestinians but freely given to Israelis; it is about the unequal distribution of water; it is about acres and half acres. It is about a people who have been failed by corrupt and sinister leaders. It is about a people who may not live as free citizens on their own land.

It is about the student who cannot go to school because he may not pass through the military checkpoint on that day.

It is about the farmer who is given 15 minutes to leave the home he was born in because his land been determined to lie within a “military area.”

It is about harassment at checkpoints; Palestinian women who are called sharmuta (whore) by bored Israeli soldiers trying to make their day a bit more interesting.

It is about people like Ahmad Hamadan, 83, a resident of Jerusalem for his whole life, who was thrown in prison and fined a crippling $58,000 for having the audacity of adding an extra floor to his home without a permit, a permit that Palestinians are rarely granted.

But he was given a way out of his predicament. A representative of an Israeli land purchasing agency serendipitously offered to buy his home so that he would give the proceeds to the Israeli court. Or he could spend his last years in prison, and his family would be homeless. One more Palestinian forced to leave their home, not a bullet was fired, but the result was the same.

It is about a people who may not go to Jerusalem to worship in their holy places. Millions of religious tourists shuttle around the country in air-conditioned buses on special roads built on expropriated Palestinian lands. Yet the Palestinian Christians of Bethlehem who live six miles away from Jerusalem must hope that the border guard is in a good mood if they want to go to the Holy Sepulchre.

It is about a people that has been systematically dehumanized. The violent deaths of civilians are called “collateral damage,” one of the most insidious and wicked combination of words in the English language. When one is “collateral damage,” one’s death becomes an actuarial matter, one becomes a unit, like a sack of potatoes. Military planners calculate how much “collateral damage” is justifiable for the sake of the greater good, for success of the mission. The greater good is defined by the perpetrators of the killing, not by those who have been killed. The term “collateral damage” allows the crime and injustice of the killing of innocents to be buried along with the victims.

The State of Israel should exist.

May the State of Israel exist for sixty more years. But let us not mistake defending the State of Israel with defending Israeli occupation. Let us not conflate the injustice with all Israelis. I cannot begin to list the many Israelis who are advocates for a just conclusion to the conflict. Israelis and Palestinians both want this horrendous conflict to end. Let a free, independent, contiguous and viable Palestine exist alongside a viable and just Israel.

Let this 60th anniversary raise the consciousness of Israelis and Palestinians of the right of the other to exist, to live freely and to live in peace.

Othman is a senior in political science and is certain that Israelis and Palestinians will one day live in peace.