The horror of events in Israel and Palestine recently should leave us all saddened and perplexed. However, just standing on the sidelines and shaking our heads is not an appropriate response. Muslims, Arabs, Jews, Christians and all right-minded Americans need to stand up (let’s start here in Lexington) and say that the only solution is a two-state solution where Israel can enjoy peace and the Palestinians can experience self-determination and justice.
The situation reminds me of a saying attributed to Gandhi that an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. Israelis use a biased legal system to take land away from the Palestinians; the Palestinians then throw stones and riot; Israelis react by using rubber bullets and tear gas to clear worshippers (and rock throwers) from the third most sacred spot in the Muslim world, in the most sacred month of the Muslim calendar; then from Gaza comes wave upon wave of rockets killing a few people including children; then Israel sends fighter jets to bomb Gaza killing tens of Palestinians including women and children. This cycle needs to stop. The solution is simple but bedevilingly difficult: Israel needs to end the occupation of Palestinian land and simultaneously Palestinians and Arabs need to make peace with Israel.
In the beginning of this conflict, the Arabs were the obstacle to peace because they refused to recognize Israel, but the Arabs changed their position in the 1990s and indicated their willingness to make peace. Even Hamas has taken the position that they are willing to honor a cessation of hostilities in return for a Palestinian state. (A step in the right direction.) Now the main impediment is the Israeli right-wing government that has no intention of seeing an independent Palestinian state. The ruling Likud party and their allies have clearly stated for decades that Judea and Samaria—areas that include the West Bank and Jerusalem—are part of Israel and cannot not be a basis for a Palestinian state. To implement this goal, they build settlements on the West Bank, step by step taking over the West Bank. They use the ruse of Israeli law to take away property from Palestinians in Jerusalem to reduce and eventually eliminate the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem.
The oppressive occupation and subjugation of Palestinians is morally wrong and must end.
Too many well-meaning Jews resist this conclusion and frame any criticism of Israel’s right-wing government as anti-Semitic. A well-intended Jewish friend of mine (I still consider him a friend) once told me that he sympathizes with the Palestinians, but feels that the Palestinians are not emotionally and civilizationally developed to have their own state. I have heard many similar rationalizations. Don’t they realize that this is same type of thought that justified the continued oppression of African Americans? This type of talk is racist.
Israel has their knee on the neck of Palestinians—and they have had their knee on their neck for decades. Yes, rioting and firing rockets are not justified and I condemn it. But having lived through the riots of angry Black people in the 1960s, I know the wrong and senselessness of it, while realizing the righteous anger that fueled it.
I want to see Jews, Muslims, Christians and like-minded people in America to say to Israelis and Palestinians, stop. Stop the land grabs, stop the rockets. And let’s call for our own government to be truly even-handed in working for peace for Israel and justice for the Palestinians. If there is significant pressure from the American public and the American government, I believe a solution can be realized.
Ihsan Bagby is an Associate Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Kentucky.