Repeating Past Mistakes in Palestine

The United States is, once again, exacerbating the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. Once again we are rushing to support military actions by Israel that will not resolve the animosities that have festered for over 100 years. Once again we are part of the problem and not the solution. How many times do we have to repeat the mistakes of the past before we get a clue?

President Biden has expressed unconditional support for Israel and their military response to the Hamas attack on October 7th. Biden said “In this moment, we must be crystal clear: we stand with Israel.” He also said “Israel is a democracy. Israel is our ally. Israel is a friend, and I think that I make no apologies.” Biden described the Hamas attacks as “pure, unadulterated evil.”

Israel may be a nominal democracy and our “friend” but I would suggest that these statements, and the long standing bi-partisan policies they represent, are not in the best interests of our country or anyone else. Wars do not solve social, ethnic, religious or political problems. Like the war in Ukraine (or Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan) supporting military violence only prolongs the tragedy and makes the real solutions more difficult to achieve. We are repeating past mistakes with our militaristic thinking in Palestine.

The Hamas attack on Israel was not the start of a new conflict. It was only the most recent incident in a long history of violence, revenge attacks, terrorist atrocities and war by Jewish and Palestinian militants and the state of Israel. There have been many acts of terrorism committed by all factions to this conflict.

The Hamas attack was not surprising or “unprovoked.” Over the last 75 years, Israel has committed innumerable acts of terror and provocation. The dispossession of the Palestinians from their land, the denial of their human rights, the incarcerating of them in ghettos, the denial of food, water, medicine, fuel, electricity and employment in these ghettos and the killing of many Palestinian non-combatants of all ages are all acts of provocation.

The root cause of this conflict is the taking of land from the Palestinians to provide a “homeland” for the Jewish people. It began with the Zionist movement in the early 1900s and continues today with expanding Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Today Israel has an apartheid system of control and domination in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel has gone from being a haven for the oppressed to being the oppressors.

Many Israelis, and Jewish people across the world, do not support the apartheid policies of the Israeli government. Many of the current protests calling for a ceasefire, negotiations and justice for Palestinians are being organized and led by Jews and Jewish peace organizations.

Neither do all Palestinians support the terrorist tactics of Hamas. Obviously senseless attacks on innocent civilians, like on October 7th, do not help the legitimate cause of the Palestinian people. Hamas must have known it would result in another wave of death and destruction in Gaza. Clearly they do not care about the Palestinian people anymore than the apartheid government of Israel.

This cycle of violence doesn’t have to to continue. There is a solution. But that solution requires good faith negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. This solution also requires justice. Israel must be willing to recognize the humanity of the Palestinians and the justice of their legitimate grievances.

For this to happen the Untied States must renounce its unqualified support for Israel. We are the only party with the influence and power to bring Israel to their senses and change their behavior. We are Israel’s major supporter and supplier of military aid so we have a responsibility to to be part of the solution rather than the problem.

Rashid Khalidi is a professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University, the author of the book “The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine,” and a recent New York Times op-ed entitled “The U.S. Should Think Twice About Israel’s Plans for Gaza.” He says, “…the president has bonded the United States to Israel at the hip…And in so doing, he has made the United States responsible, in the eyes of the world, for everything.”

President Biden also said, “All of us recognize the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.” But words without actions are meaningless. Where was our concern for the “legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people” prior to this latest incident? Not since President Jimmy Carter has any administration made any significant efforts at negotiating a settlement to this conflict. Never has any U.S. administration demanded that Israel stop dispossessing the Palestinians of their land. Never have we put serious pressure on Israel to make reasonable concessions and negotiate an end to this ongoing conflict.

In a Democracy Now interview, Professor Khalidi explains how support for Israel only increases animosity toward the U.S., endangers Americans, and is not in the best interests of our country. He says, “It is past time for the United States to cease repeating empty words about a two-state solution while providing money, weapons and diplomatic support for systematic, calculated Israeli actions that have made that solution inconceivable…”

Why do our leaders insist on unqualified support for Israel? Like with Ukraine, a rational person would conclude that Israel is of little actual importance to the United States. Being the staunch ally and supporter of Israel does not enhance our national security in any significant way. In fact it drains our treasury (since 1948 Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign, mostly military, aid) and makes our country less safe. The 1973 Arab Oil Embargo and the 9/11 attacks are just two examples of the bad results of our shortsighted policies.

In his 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, President Jimmy Carter wrote, “The United States is squandering international prestige and goodwill and intensifying global anti-American terrorism by unofficially condoning or abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories.”

There is no military solution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine. Only negotiations, facilitated by a neutral mediator (which the U.S. is not) can dismantle the apartheid system, address the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people, ensure the human rights for all the people of Israel and Palestine, and bring a lasting peace. Without this, the cycle of violence will continue.