Last week, my friend Firas Suqi wrote about his struggles as a Palestinian-American and his people’s ongoing search for identity. Firas took several shots at Israel and Israeli history. As an Israeli, a Zionist and an advocate for an independent Palestinian state, I disagree with the message of his article. If Israelis and Palestinians wish to continue living in constant conflict, then continuously pointing out each other’s shortcomings will do just fine. If, however, we want peace, then let us transcend the petty finger-pointing and silly comparisons.
In order to begin a truly meaningful peace process, we must first establish a context. In his article, Firas mentioned the events of May 1948, known to Palestinians as al-Nakba (the catastrophe). Common Palestinian narratives claim that 750,000 Palestinians were forced to leave Israel during the war that followed Israel’s independence, but this is an irresponsible distortion of the facts.
Evidence shows that Palestinians left their homes in accordance with their leaders’ instructions. Arab nationalists were so sure they would destroy the newborn Jewish state that they told Palestinians to leave and return after the Arab armies triumphed. Many of those who did not leave initially fled when it became apparent that the Arabs would not win the war. Yes, there were isolated instances of Israelis forcibly evicting Palestinians from their homes, most notably in the Ramleh-Lod region. These instances are regrettable, but scholarly research shows that they were exceptions, not the norm. In fact, while simultaneously celebrating its existence and fighting for its life, the state of Israel emphasized — in its declaration of independence, no less — that Palestinians were encouraged to stay and participate in Israeli society as full citizens.
Perpetuating the myth that Israel forcibly expelled 750,000 Palestinians amounts to intentional malfeasance and a sabotage of today’s peace process. But the telling of this story should not begin in May 1948. Today’s Palestinian refugee problem would not exist had the Arabs accepted the UN’s partition plan in 1947. In 2011, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas admitted this, calling it “an Arab mistake as a whole.”
Israel is not perfect. On this diverse campus, we must remember that none of our countries are perfect. Building a case for your people’s cause by tearing down another one will not bring lasting peace. If anything, this incendiary practice only pushes the prospect of peace farther into the distance.
I respect President Abbas for acknowledging his people’s past mistakes, and I readily acknowledge Israel’s many missteps. Only by leaving mistakes in the past and focusing on today’s reality can Israelis and Palestinians reach peace. I sympathize with Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans who must stand in long lines and wait for hours at border crossings and checkpoints, but I also understand the reasons behind these inconveniences. Israel’s first obligation is to the security of its citizens, and experience has taught Israelis that terrorism poses a very real threat.
I speak for almost every Israeli when I say that we do not want more violence. More importantly, we do not want good people, like Firas, to be subject to the frustration and discomfort of life under occupation. But in order to move past this conflict, we must make peace, and as former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said, “You don’t make peace with friends. You make it with very unsavory enemies.” It’s time for Israelis, Palestinians and their supporters around the world to heed this wisdom. Only then will we all be ready to forge a path to peace.
Ron Schrag ’13