by Finn Hüetlin
Originally I’m from Germany. I’m 20 years old and currently in my gap year before I’ll start with university in October.
As almost every German, I grew up with a guilty consciousness for what we’ve done to the world, especially to the Jews.
That’s why equality, free speech and justice were among the most important values I grew up with and was taught.
The conflict of Israel and Palestine has always been difficult for me and my friends when approaching it. On the one hand, nobody wanted to question the fact that the Jewish people deserve their own state. On the other hand, the rising injustice and unequal treatment that the Palestinian people are facing was unacceptable to us.
As Germans, we agreed it’s probably better to stay neutral in this conflict though.
Before I came to Israel, I wasn’t too familiar with the conflict.
The Western media portrays the conflict, whenever it tries to shed light on it, as a conflict in which the most important thing is that the Israelis defend themselves.
Often generalizing the destiny of the Palestinians, the media gives the impression that the miserable living conditions in Palestine are a result of shooting missiles towards Israel and showing full support for the Hamas – as Israel wasn’t left a different way to handle the conflict.
The View from Tel Aviv
So I was very interested to see the situation with my own eyes.
I arrived in Tel Aviv to volunteer in a Party Hostel in order to get an impression of the way people live and think.
From what I’ve experienced there, I think that many Israelis are very ignorant people when it comes to anything except for their own state, their religion or their cultural heritage.
Some Israelis don’t really seem to care about their religion too much, but still live in a bubble.
They have super markets filled up with food, running water, feel safe, can travel the world and are happy they live in such a nice place on earth.
Others though think they’re the Chosen People by God and that they’re very special which automatically gives them special rights.
Since I was in Tel Aviv during Purim, the Israeli carnival, I also experienced that.
What I noticed was that almost every single holiday the Israelis have is because of someone tried to erase them from earth but they couldn’t be defeated.
They seem to be very proud of this fact which is totally fine with me. Nevertheless I noticed and heard from them that this is the historical background that bounds them together and contributes to their feeling of being special in some way.
Coming to East Jerusalem
After my stay in Tel Aviv, I volunteered at the Palestine-Israeli-Journal in East-Jerusalem in order to develop a more differentiated opinion.
In that time, I attended discussions of many formats.
I discussed with the Palestinian and Israeli Co-Editors of Journal, some students from Germany and two American interns who was responsible for the situation, the role of the U.S. and the EU and what’s happening in the eroding Arabic world.
Another discussion was with the two editors and the rest of the Journal’s Board-members on the political situation in the Middle East, but especially in Israel and Palestine. The Board consists of half Palestinians and half Israelis. Women were actually more present.
I also went to a launch of a book about the situation in Gaza which was also very interesting.
The Importance of International Law
What I think is the most important lesson in perceiving the conflict is that one has become aware that one’s own judgment is heavily influenced by the terminology that is being used to describe the conflict. Basically it’s not a conflict but, according to International Law, an occupation. There have been many UN-initiatives supporting this fact.
If you mix this up, it’s also very likely you mix up another important thing (as I also did before): the right for the Jewish people to have their own state according to International Law.
This is because the actual Israeli territory exists in the borders of 1967 – again, according to International Law.
Since then the Israelis have claimed more land to be theirs, occupied it and settled there. That happened especially in the many wars the Israelis fought in their hinterlands.
As a Western person one tends to understand that because Israel is the only Jewish, democratic and also functioning country in the Middle East.
One gets the impression that Israel was surrounded by “enemies”. Looking back, I certainly recognized this thinking pattern within myself. I don’t know why Western people think like that. Probably because of what happened to the Jewish people in the Nazi period is still omnipresent in people’s minds. The media definitely also plays a role in portraying that picture.
If you acknowledge the need of the Jewish people for their own secure state, it’s really easy to mix things up again.
This is not though because it’s such a complicated situation but more because through history one wants the Jews to live safely. So, one often ignores the policies that are put into action in order to ensure the Israeli security.
The right for the Jewish people to have their own state is according to International Law. That counts also for the Palestinian people as well though. Therefore every policy that is related to the occupation of the land outside of the borders of 1967 is illegal.
A good example is the city of Hebron. The Israelis occupied some streets in that city so around 300 people could settle there, in a city with over 200,000 Palestinian residents. These 300 people are protected by 2000 soldiers. Those soldiers by the way, also a weird policy, change every two weeks so that they can’t develop some sort of relation to the Palestinians.
The Gaza Example
The example of Gaza is the symbol for the conflict in the West.
We focus more on the humanitarian crises and the Hamas though and not on the roots of the situation. Again, it’s not too complicated to understand: the main reason for the drama in Gaza is the Israeli occupation of the Palestine land after 1967.
The Israelis basically divided up the Palestinian land into three parts – Gaza, East-Jerusalem and the West Bank (which is located at the Eastern border of Israel).
The Israelis eventually isolated Gaza which led to the rise of Hamas.
Since Hamas is internationally defined as a terrorist-group the Israelis could convince the International community that Gaza has to stay isolated.
The election of 2006 is also a very important event in the history of Gaza.
This is because when Hamas won, the Israeli and the International community didn’t acknowledge the outcome.
Since this election, Israel, but also Egypt, totally shut down the borders so almost every young Gazan has never seen the outside world.
Furthermore the International community sanctioned Gaza economically, politically and also culturally. That’s only Gaza though.
There’s a lot more movement in the situation in the West bank.
What drives me a little crazy ever since I’m in Israel is the fact that I now recognize how poorly the conflict is covered by our media. Instead of stories from real crisis in the world like this one, we get to read tons of articles about sport, fashion, society discussions and other nonsense.
The Situation in the West Bank
So, what’s happening in the West Bank is pretty bad.
First of all Israel occupies all areas with natural springs it can get. After dividing up the Palestinian land into three enclaves Israel now builds roads, military checkpoints, 8m-walls and other infrastructural projects in the West Bank.
Currently the plan is to occupy 60 percent of the remaining West Bank.
When Israel occupies areas it aims to make the people who lived there before to leave. In East-Jerusalem for instance Israel declared the Palestinian people to be tourists from Jordan after the occupation so that they couldn’t get citizenship.
The same procedure is likely to happen in the West Bank too.
Opinions might differ to what extend it is inhuman to make people leave their homes, but the International Law speaks a clear language: it’s illegal to occupy territories, and it is illegal to chase the original population away. And it’s even more illegal to have one’s own people settle on the occupied territories.
There’s a lot more to cover if one wants to fully understand the situation like for example the two class justice system, that in Israeli prisons torture is still being used, the confiscation of Palestinian land and property and so on.
Impressions from the PIJ Editorial Board Meeting
Describing the way Israelis, especially the soldiers at the border, treat Palestinians, I often overheard the term “moral bankruptcy” in the Editorial Board-meeting – being used by Palestinian as well as Israeli Board-members.
I think that kind of hits it pretty well: the Israelis have been occupying Palestinian land for more than 50 years now, have ignored and undermined every peace deal and are now aiming to annex even more land.
The thinking behind this behavior is most probably that the Israelis want to extend a peace deal for such a long time so that they then have enough time to occupy the West Bank.
In German there’s a term for this called “unumkehrbare Fakten schaffen” which kind of means “creating irreversible facts”.
Because the Palestinian Co-editor in one discussion said that the Palestinians won’t accept that Israel occupies 60 percent of the West Bank, I asked him what kind of ways they have to take action against this. He said they practically wouldn’t have any – except for raising attention and awareness for their situation hoping that the International community then faces Israel with serious pressure.
The International Community should recognize both the Palestinian & the Israeli Right to a State
To find a solution to the problem it requires that the International community should recognize the Palestinian right for their own state as strong as the Israeli’s right to have their own state.
What happened so far for 50 years is that Israel just occupies land and through a lot of lobbying behind the political stages, especially in the U.S., Israel gets the international community to only criticize this policy without ever sanctioning it though.
In 2009 for example Obama gave a very good speech in Cairo in which he confirmed the right for Palestinians to have their own state and called on the international community to concentrate its energy and resources to find a two-state-solution.
AIPAC, the most powerful Jewish lobby organization in the U.S., then put so much pressure on Obama, his administration, other politicians and also on the media, that Obama backed away from what he had suggested before.
He left the EU confused, created a chaotic situation and enabled the Israelis to settle on more land. Under Obama, Netanyahu, I was told, was a bit more cautious.
With Trump in office though, Netanyahu and his administration feel safe and free to do whatever they want. Compared from 2016 (Obama-era) to 2017 (Trump-era) the (illegal) settling on Palestinian land has tripled.
Even though it’s the worst under Trump, the U.S. has never been a neutral mediator between the two communities. As one American intern pointed out very well, the U.S. has been providing Israel with military aid for tens of years now.
Ziad AbuZayyad, the Palestinian Co-editor of the Journal, was part of the delegation on behalf of the Palestinians in the peace negotiations under Clinton.
He criticized that the rather civil delegation of the Palestinians was facing an Israeli delegation only consisting of generals. The generals, he said, were used to giving orders and to hierarchical structures. And that was also the way they treated the Palestinians.
About sensitive topics they didn’t want to speak at all, blocked and only said that this was their position and that the Palestinians would have to accept certain things.
The U.S. only commented on this way of negotiating that they were neutral and were only providing the format and were only contributing by trying to find a consensus.
So the U.S. approach has always failed so far because they basically consider the Israeli right for their own state as more important than the right of the Palestinians to have their own state as well.
The EU has mainly also failed because it trusted and joined the U.S. approaches to find a solution. As a result there has never been put real pressure on the Israelis in form of serious sanctions against annexing territories.
In my opinion the West is showing two faces with this policy since it for instance put heavy sanctions in place against Russia for annexing the Crimea.
It’s always gotten worse, is what the Palestinians say. But with Trump in office they seem to be really scared.
The Power of the Israeli Lobby in the U.S.
The Israeli lobby in the United States is under Trump probably more powerful than ever before. This was for example shown in the U.S. officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The anticipated peace plan by the Trump administration is very pessimistically awaited by the Palestinians.
Even though there hasn’t been official documents released yet, from what people involved have leaked, it’s going to be a very bad deal for the Palestinians.
From what is said, the focus will be on Gaza. It either gets its own independence with its own government which would basically kill the chance for a Palestinian state, or –even worse- Gaza will be transferred to Egypt so that human and governmental structures can be restored again.
The situation in the West Bank is mostly not touched by the Trump peace plan which is an indicator that the Israeli lobby in the U.S. probably has a heavy influence on the peace plan.
The EU for its part said that it would wait with initiatives until the Trump peace plan gets released. It’s going to be very interesting how the EU will react to that plan and if this will further pull the EU away from the Trump Administration.
Since Trump's plan is most probably going to be more beneficial for the Israelis, the EU might have to decide on its own approach. Otherwise it would join Israel and the U.S. in their “moral bankruptcy”, totally ignoring the International Law.
And the situation in the West Bank could heat up conflict very much and very fast.
Sadly, war and violent escalations are always a possibility in the Middle East. With the further occupation of the West Bank Israel could seriously provoke another war with the Palestinians.
Another aspect of the ongoing ignoring of the International law by the International community is that the Palestinian land just disappears.
If this happens in the West Bank and the international community keeps ignoring this development, the West Bank will end up like Gaza – cut off from the outside world, with no water and full of stateless refugees.
This could only take some years so the international community has to act now and put pressure on Israel now.
Otherwise there’s most likely going to be another war.
The Two-State Solution, the Only Solution for a Sustainable Peace
As a German, for me the most important lesson from modern history in terms of creating and maintaining peace is that everyone needs to be treated equally and be guaranteed the same right based on International Law.
It should not be accepted that one race claims territories for itself in order to create living space for its people.
The International Law represented by the UN-Charter is probably the most important achievement of humanity in learning from the mistakes from World War II.
Respecting and applying it is the foundation for every peace process in the world.
This is why I’m convinced that the Two State Solution with East-Jerusalem being the capital of a united Palestine is the only solution for sustainable peace.
It could be all so easy – if one would regard and acknowledge the International Law.