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Jews and Arabs

By Mario Giardiello

8/6/2002

The Jewish-Arab conflict can be seen as an inability on both sides to empathize with the otherís plight. Too often we cannot see past the most recent killings by either side. Each side sees their own killings as revenge for the past deeds of their enemy, spiraling downward to a hopelessness that is further crippling any hope of a cease-fire.

The Israelis begin every argument about this conflict from either one of two beginnings; 1946 when the U.N. gave the land now considered their "homeland," or the very beginning of time, when the land was given to them by God.

This is a problem for obvious reasons to those of us who are unbiased in the situation. First of all, the rational person finds it ridiculous that foreign policy of any kind can begin with the argument of "God willed it so." If there is no way to prove that God sees Jews as the "chosen ones" then we must begin to use more logical means to find common ground. Pointing to the Bible and saying, "see, it says it right there, Jews are the chosen ones," doesnít count as proof. Secondly, starting the argument from 1946 doesnít take into account the helplessness the Palestinians felt during that time.

Contrary to what many fanatics say, there was a Palestinian state at the time and they were not nomadic or unsettled. There seems to be a feeling that pervades among Israeli Jews that the land belongs to them because the rest of the world gave it to them. Just because this is so (and many would argue that it was given to them only by the Western world who wanted to get rid of the Jews in their own countries), doesnít mean we can forget the rights of the Arabs who considered it their home for hundreds of years.

There is much criticism that Palestinians target innocent civilians. It is hard for the American conscience to understand living with war. Although our country has been actively participating in war since the beginning of our inception as a country, we have been privy to a near total absolution from war on our own grounds. So it is hard for us to understand what the Palestinians are experiencing. After visiting the area in 2000, I realized that they do not view the Jewish settlers as innocent. Many have come to the settlements in the name of taking over the land once belonging to Palestinians. Seen in this light, one can begin to see the actions of settlers as instigating this horrible conflict. To be fair, many settlers were encouraged by economic initiative Ė the government awarded large grants to those willing to settle with the promise that they and their families would be safe, further aggravating the tenuous relationships between neighbors.

There are many that believe I am pro-Palestinian because of my comments on news shows and my articles, but it isnít necessarily so. I have always rooted for the underdog, and in this case, the Palestinians are so far under that the mainstream media refers to them more as terrorists than as a people or nation. I would never consider their means of fighting for their rights as just or right. I do, however, see their acts as the last desperate ones from a people who have lost all hope. This is not condoning their acts of violence, especially on innocent civilians, but they are a nation under attack and in war there are all types of casualties. Can you ever imagine the U.S. being blamed for innocent German civilians dying in World War II?

Because we never see the Palestinian side, we too easily forget that they are a people under siege. Palestinians are imprisoned physically and emotionally. There are fences and border patrols to makes sure they cannot move about freely. They are not allowed to vote for any of their own people to have a say in what is considered by American politicians as a democratic government. Palestinians have not been able to go to work for months, further crippling their economy. Children are not allowed to attend school, and innocent children and civilians are targeted in the continuing violence. There is no difference between what occurred in South Africa, and what is now occurring in Israel. This is not genocide, as some suggest, but blatantly a form of apartheid. This is not to say that the conflict is to be blamed solely on Israel.

Sometimes I wonder if the Palestinian fighters will ever be able to be part of a functioning government- all they seem to know is war. Can there be a time that anyone can conceive of the Palestinian people accepting the Jews as their neighbors in peace? Even the Palestinians canít see it, so we must start looking into other long-term solutions.

This is not awarding their violence, or giving in to their demands. The Palestinians canít even agree on their demands, much less have a government that is respected by the world to be just and honest. In the continuing drama in the Middle East, we must not get caught up in taking sides as much as looking for solutions. Setting a time-table for a Palestinian Nation is an idea that is central to reaching a solution, and one that is considered regularly by European leaders. There can be no peace without treating all the people in the region with respect and dignity. Some say they do not deserve it, but I believe we need to allow them the necessary tools to begin the process of humanizing their spirits.




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