There are three major obstacles on the road to conflict resolution and reconciliation, and ultimately to a better future for all parties involved: The desire to win, the need to be vindicated and the quest for retribution. While being rooted in intrinsic human urges and needs, they are irrevocably futile and counter-productive. All three impediments are flagrantly exposed in the mounting tensions around BAKA: Students United for Middle Eastern Justice group's activities on campus and the reactions they invoke. Unfortunately, instead of dialogue and understanding, animosity and misconstruction rule while ineffective means and bad counsel defeat good intentions.
When I saw the invitation of BAKA to their event this weekend, I was both enraged and saddened. The invitation boasted two pictures side by side: One of Palestinian refugees from 1948 and the other of Jews in a concentration camp. My outrage was emotional — as a second-generation survivor, I was appalled by the memory of the Holocaust deliberately exploited in the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. My sadness however, was rational: I knew that once again what seems to be a good objective will backfire due to ignorance, fretfulness and bad judgment. If the goal of the BAKA group was to call attention to the anguish of Gaza and to alleviate the suffering of its people, they certainly chose the worst approach to do that. Comparing the Gaza affliction with the Holocaust is strategically misjudged, historically unfounded and morally wrong. Could the systematic, methodical and meticulous annihilation machine of the Nazis seriously be compared with anything? Is there any Jewish, Israeli or Zionist equivalence to the devilish plan of "Mein Kampf?" Is there any racist, all-encumbering ideology to eradicate Muslims, Arabs or Palestinians? Selective analogies never serve their purposes. Juxtaposing a picture of Palestinian refugees with Holocaust victims is like matching elephants with snails: They both eat grass. Other than that it is a ludicrous association. The urge to increase awareness and raise consideration to a genuine crisis should not be based upon revolting comparisons and alienating depictions. It is self-defeating and harmful to the noblest of causes. If the purpose is relief for Gaza, detestable correlations should not have been the way to do it.
Context is essential to comprehend complex political issues, and it is certainly a necessity in understanding the heartbreaking situation in Gaza. However, simplistic and biased accounts will do a disservice to the advocates of change. The closure on Gaza is presented as sheer Israeli cruelty and preventing vessels from arriving to the impoverished strip is portrayed as vicious and inhumane. But why is Israel so unwavering and so wary about supplies for Gaza? Perhaps because there were numerous attempts to smuggle in weapons and ammunitions there to continue the armed struggle against it. The two most outrageous were the ship Karine A seized in 2002 full of rockets and missiles on board, and in 2009 the Cypriot vessel Monchegorsk was captured carrying a whole tank, artillery and mortar shells as well as materials to be used for producing rockets. Telling the entire story is not only an ethical obligation but also indispensable to expedite relief for the Gaza people. Had it not been for the Israeli apprehension of arms to extremists, the blockade would have been lifted a long time ago, as it has been before. In the same vein, the occupation itself is an abomination and a moral burden to Israelis and most of them would have given it up had they been reassured that violence and terrorism would not torment them anymore. If the purpose is relief for Gaza, contextualization should have been the way to do it.
Here are some facts that must be reckoned with: First, an independent Palestinian state could only be achieved by cooperation of Palestinians and Israelis. Such an undertaking is arduous and sensitive but it is the only guarantee for Palestinian nationhood. Confrontation, defiance and violence were habitually malicious inhibitors on the road to both Palestinian and Israeli escape from their miseries because, and this is the second fact, there is interdependence between these two belligerents. They are entangled in despair and in hope. Hence for Palestinians, independence stems from interdependence. A third fact is that most Israelis and most Palestinians yearn for peace. They are tired of this hopeless and tragic conflict. Their protracted dispute is fed by reciprocal negative images, miscommunication, fear and despair. These factors stimulate suicide bombers to Israeli streets and rocket attacks on the Negev on the one hand, and humiliations at checkpoints and Jewish settlers' harassment on the other. There are extremists on both sides who benefit from the continuation of this strife and they should be marginalized by sanity and the willingness to survive and prosper. Palestinians and Israelis have similar and shared goals: A viable independent Palestinian state and a genuine collaboration to promote peace and stability between them in light of the regional volatility and madness that are brewing all over. These common goals are feasible but they must be preceded by several bold and intertwined decisions — ending the occupation, getting rid of extremists on both sides and the treatment of each other with dignity and respect. If the purpose is relief for Gaza, building trust in order to dissipate fear should have been the way to do it.
If the purpose is to win the conflict, establish vindication and to get even, it is doomed to failure. But if indeed the purpose is to alleviate the anguish of Gaza, as well as the hardships of all Palestinians and Israelis bogged down in this century old folly of rancor, compassion must replace antagonism and practical moderates must take over from delusional and deceiving extremists. I write these lines with all my heart. I write these lines as a professor of political science whose expertise is conflict resolution and dialogue. I write these lines as a teacher whose classes are co-attended by Arabs, Muslims, Jews and Israelis. I write these lines as an Israeli who served in the army and witnessed at close-hand how violence and hatred smell, feel and look. I write these lines as a peace activist who still believes in the possibility — or better yet, the inevitability — of a better future for all in the Middle East.