“Israel exists. And Palestinians must have a homeland, too. It doesn’t matter who got there first.”
Colbert L. King, THE WASHINGTON POST
in THE SACRAMENTO BEE, 11/14/23
Political and religious viewpoints aside, the 2023-24 war in Israel/Palestine has—like most wars—no beneficial motives, nor advantageous predictable outcomes, unless one likes deadly chaos. The destruction, along with the kidnapping, injuring, and killing of women, children and other civilians, has shocked us all, as if atrocities are actually avoidable when people go to war. War in this place the size of New Jersey, where fourteen million people live, holds the attention of most of the world’s remaining eight billions. Universally, we condemn the human rights violations being committed by both sides. Yet war goes on, and will continue until it is resolved in one of three ways. The first two options are related—either all the Israelis, or all the Palestinians, leave, or are wiped out. This method of settling land disputes has, as Peter, Paul, and Mary sing in “The Great Mandela,” “been going on for ten-thousand years.”
I have seen rational arguments for each option, though both begin with an irrational premise: they require force to succeed. One side holds that the land belongs to the Palestinians. The Jews left two-thousand years ago, because of Roman aggression, and returned in large numbers after Nazi persecution during WWII. Perhaps Israel’s six-plus million Jews should move to Italy and Germany. At any rate, the Western world could easily absorb them. The same argument can be made for removing the Palestinians—descendants of the Israelites who stayed. Their seven-plus millions could be assimilated into the vast Arab world—which is mostly desert, but so is Israel/Palestine. The Palestinians can adapt. After all, are not Jews entitled to reclaim their ancestral homeland?
For that matter, why not remove both ethnic groups, distribute them among various countries with similar cultures, and replace them with entirely different peoples? Perhaps Pacific Islanders, whose homelands are being submerged as glacial ice melts, could be transplanted there. Finding new homes for displaced Islanders would remove the Armageddon aspect from this Southeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, and let the world concentrate on solving global problems, like rising sea levels.
Of course, none of these “solutions” can be implemented without violating International Law, as well as generally accepted, nominally upheld moral standards. International agreements were made after WWII, respecting the rights of all peoples to remain where they currently live, with their human rights guaranteed. These agreements forbid wartime removal or liquidation of vanquished populations, which had been a routine consequence of warfare, during those ten-thousand years. Some people (not only in Israel/Palestine) would revive this ancient practice, which has only resulted in never-ending war. Overwhelming majorities of world opinion now agree that the dubious benefits of war are highly overpriced. And continued war in Israel/Palestine involves the real possibility of all humanity’s incineration.
The third and most practical solution to this conflict is for both sides to agree to live side-by-side in peace. There are no rational arguments against peace, that come to my mind. Most people in these times of instant global communication can learn to see the similarities we all share with each other, and are willing to make whatever compromises we must in order to live together peacefully. Though humans will savagely resist invasions of their homelands, war is not the first option of most common people. We still fight wars because our rulers rely on war to consolidate and enhance their personal power. Nearly every nation on Earth has its own military-industrial complex—stronger in some countries, less so in others, but highly influential virtually everywhere, with unstated ambitions not of ending, but continuing, wars. This fact is frighteningly obvious in the Gaza dispute of 2023.
Both the Hamas rulers of Gaza and the Likud Zionists ruling Israel are exploiting the predictable confusion of war to tighten control over their subject populations. Both ruling parties were losing credibility in their homelands, because they had problems governing—until the long war restarted. As the fighting goes on, with mounting atrocities, Palestinians and Israelis alike are lining up behind their rulers, which is what people tend to do when their countries go to war. Atrocities committed by “our” side are seen as necessary and justified, while those our enemies commit are seen as proof that enemies are evil subhumans who deserve brutal treatment. And so wars go on until one side is vanquished, which up until recent times could take centuries. Now all sides, along with everyone else, can be exterminated in minutes. Peace requires that all sides agree to live and let live. Even short-term ceasefires can show the desirability of permanent peace. So, why can we not indefinitely extend ceasefires?
Peace is elusive because ruling cliques worldwide know that continued warfare (Big Brother’s “war is peace”) hides the rulers’ failures to actually govern. But now that we know any war can escalate into a worldwide inferno, people, left alone to do what is needed, are willing to give peace a chance. However, to make peace work, people must actively, continually, strive to accept each other—something we can do only in times of peace. In the Gaza war, Palestinian militants and Muslim hardliners emphasize differences to increase hostilities, as do Jewish Zionists, and Christian fundamentalists who sit on the sidelines, anticipating Armageddon and the Rapture. Virtually everyone else, worldwide, would rather see both sides peacefully coexist. Attaining peace requires compromise, which is rendered impossible once hostilities commence.
According to ongoing proposals, the land could be divided between two fully independent nation-states: Israel and Palestine. Israel could pull back to its pre-1967 borders, leaving the West Bank and Gaza to a genuinely independent Palestine. The old city of East Jerusalem could become an international city under U.N. protection. Israel could withdraw its settlements in the West Bank, and bestow full citizenship on everyone living within its borders. Both nation-states could renounce official religions. I repeat these unoriginal, random suggestions, admitting that I live far from the war zone. Of course, it would be up to the two ethnic groups involved, hopefully assisted by other countries, to find workable options. These compromises would not be welcomed by any of the warring parties—indicating the compromises are fair. Compromise, essential to democracy, is never popular, but it alone can bring lasting peace. Some autocrats feel that price is too high, and prefer violent struggles for all-or-nothing.
Autocracy is becoming fairly popular early in this Third Millennium, even with many voters in democratic countries. Dictators claim to have all the answers. They promote ethnic bitterness and foreign hostility instead of getting busy with the boring business of governing. Whenever their subjects begin to question their competence, autocrats turn to entertaining distractions like war. Both sides in the Israel/Palestine conflict are using “others” as scapegoats. Do we allow opposing sets of autocrats to enhance their power with an ongoing war which threatens us all with extinction? Both sides have legitimate grievances, but neither is absolutely righteous. And again, this conflict (like all wars in this world grown tiny with instant communication) has a very real chance of causing a global nuclear war, which will obliterate all human life. The ruling elites in many countries—seemingly a growing number of countries—appear willing to take the chance, rather than surrender power. What about the huge majority comprising the rest of us? Will we speak up?