There are many hundreds of NGO’s working in the interest of peace in the Middle East, but how can any of them move towards this end when in fact the psycho-physical-social reality is that there is no equity between Jews and Palestinians. Palestinian citizens of Israel have never had full rights of citizenship as do Jewish Israelis, and while Jewish citizens of Israel publically memorialize the horrific genocide that Jews suffered in WWII, Palestinian citizens do not have the social right to publically express memories of their Nakba (catastrophe) experienced at the creation of the Jewish State. The State of Israel, a majority of its Jewish population, and many Jews worldwide, believe that Israel is still the David in the eye of Goliath, victim to everyone else’s hatred, holding onto a small slice of earth least they be washed back into the oceans.
One of the missing pieces in this dominant State position lies hidden within a deeper history of early Zionism of the late 1800's. To entice European Jews to move to Palestine, the fathers of Zionism published widely throughout Eastern and Western Europe a chief selling motto embellished from the Old Testament, ”here is a land without people for a people without a land...". This statement frames an assumption that there was NO ONE living in Palestine, therefore NO ONE would be displaced if the Jews arrived to take the land. The reality is that many hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced, cunningly, by the Zionist leaders.
Most of the Jews emigrating from Europe to Palestine during and soon after the years of WWII, blinded by the chaos and horror they were fleeing, never knew of the displacement of Palestinians. Jews who could manage to escape Europe fled to Palestine for survival from genocide, and as the world did not want Jews on their shores, nor had any interest in recognizing the rightful existence of the Palestinians, no one objected to the manner in which Jews “settled” in Palestine as colonizers.
My own parents were among those fleeing to Palestine, a flight I never questioned as of absolute necessity. From the stories they told me, I presumed that they too were led to believe that Palestinians were never displaced, and It grieves me deeply that they did not live long enough to untangle their skewed perception. In their story where was the voice of the Palestinian who lost his home, her village, their heritage...uprooted after centuries on the land, displaced and fractured from relatives and loved ones? Ironically, the affect of the Palestinian tragedy was not different from the Jewish one...displacement, fractured and dispersed families, heritages and homes. One crisis mirrors the other. This is the social political context that laid the groundwork for the Israeli/Palestinian bloodshed that has crept through to our collective present.
Israel, as a land settled by Jews for Jews is not different from other settler colonizer nations of the time, whether Britain’s empire from South Africa to India, Jamaica, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or France and Belgium throughout Africa, Holland in Indonesia, etc. In each settlement, rights were taken by an incoming population to satisfy the intentions and needs only of the takers and in violation of those who were already there.
What confuses the case of Jews settling in Palestine to form a Jewish State in 1948, is a very old and complex history mythologized since the Old Testament, that places both Jews and Palestinians as tribal cousins on this same soil thousands of years ago. What happened between then and now, warped by time, history, memory, myth and the spoilage of nations at war, boggles the mind and throws this story of settler colonization into a mirrored rubric of infinite return. As the story spins, Jews were once conquered and evicted from this land themselves. Sound familiar?
Critical questions are desperately needed to uncover the underlying circumstances behind the early Zionists’ creation of the State of Israel. Jews cannot expect Palestinians to have empathy towards Israel when there is no reciprocity of empathy towards them. All parties, including other nation states who have always had a stake in the outcome, must critically examine their respective histories, bias, complicity and fear.
The world watches from a distance as the vicious cycle of mirrored victimization continues to be reflected between Palestinian and Jew. Engagement processes that are creative and allow for fair exchange must be initiated to begin to open the possibility of dialogue and change. Jews need to recognize that their fear of annihilation, institutionalized by State protocols, perpetuates their victimization and frozen adversarial position. Palestinians need to recognize that their victim status and depression of spirit is perpetuated by their continued sublimation of expressing the grief beneath their internalized anger. Before conflict engagement and transformation can be initiated, a middle ground must be developed to build capacity for mutual critical questioning and expression. The Middle East needs a middle.