Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs power equity, not discussion

David Alvarez

Editor’s note: This letter to the editor is in response to the “Trying to reach common ground,” article published in the Monday, Sept. 12 issue of the Grand Valley Lanthorn.

Kudos to the Kaufman Interfaith Institute and to the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies for hosting an event on one of the major political issues of our time. It’s good for people of good faith to grapple with solutions to situations that are harmful to peaceful co-existence between human beings, especially when such situations cost lives.

I would argue, however, that the dialogue between Rabbi Donniel Hartman and Imam Abdullah Antepli frames the issues in ways that contribute to a misunderstanding of what’s at stake and therefore to the perpetuation of the problem.

And what’s at stake in this situation is not principally a lack of dialogue between adherents of different faiths, or a lack of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, but the fact that Israel subjects the Palestinians to discrimination on ethnic grounds within Israel proper, to harsh, undemocratic rule in the occupied West Bank, and to military assaults and an ongoing economic siege in Gaza.

What’s also at the core of this unequal conflict is that Israel has never allowed Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and that it continues to colonize the little land that remains in Palestinian hands, a process that began with the conquest and colonization of Palestine in 1947-48 and that continues unabated to this day, as the manifesto of the Movement for Black Lives has pointed out.

As the history of colonialism and anti-colonialism shows, it’s impossible for a genuine dialogue between colonizers and the colonized to take place, for the simple reason that the latter live under oppressive conditions imposed on them by the former. Until this simple fact is recognized and acted upon, any dialogue that avoids the core issues effectively amounts to a distraction, as dissident journalists Gideon Levy and Amira Hass have tirelessly argued in the pages of the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz and as Israeli peace activist Amos Gvirtz explained at Grand Valley State University last year.

As it happens, GVSU and the wider West Michigan community will soon have a chance to hear a perspective akin to those of Levy, Hass and Gvirtz. On Wednesday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m., Healing Children of Conflict and Calvin College’s Middle East Club will host Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian surgeon who twice risked his life by working alongside his Palestinian colleagues to tend to the many civilians harmed by Israel’s 2008-09 and 2014 invasions of the Gaza Strip. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, nearly 75 percent of whose population are refugees from the 1947-1948 war or their descendants.

Gilbert will describe the traumas that Palestinians in Gaza endured on both occasions, such as the deaths of over 500 children in 2014. He will also explain that when unarmed civilians are being attacked by an overwhelmingly powerful adversary, and when their neighborhoods, orchards, schools, kindergartens, mosques, churches and even hospitals are being destroyed by bombs, what they urgently need is not principally a dialogue with their attackers over matters of faith.

What they need is solidarity and an end to discrimination and colonial rule. In the long run, only an end to these blights can ensure the peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis of which Rabbi Hartman says he dreams.