As my sister and my mother ran from rockets to bomb shelters in Israel this past week, I was surprised that none of my friends here in the UK asked me how they were. Or how I was. Did they simply not care? My friend explained that many people just didn't understand what was going on or why, and she suggested I write a blog post to try to explain a little about the Israel-Palestine conflict. She said that people were confused, outraged and misinformed, and that as half Israeli-half British Londoner, I might have a unique perspective. And so I began.
At first I spoke of both sides' claims over the land of Palestine. Of how Palestine was actually historically a geographical area (formerly called Judea), which has never been a country with its own with a currency, language, or government. How for thousands of years Jews, Arabs and Christians have all lived (and died) here, always under the rule of other empires/peoples including the Maccabees, the Assyrians, the Byzantines, the Romans (who renamed it 'Palestine'), the Ottomans and the British.
I pointed out that three quarters of the land of Palestine was given to the Arab population and called Jordan in 1917. That the proposal for the remaining quarter to be divided into two states (one Jewish, one Arab) by the British, and then the UN was rejected time after time. I spoke of bloody wars waged, of who was to blame, which lands were won and lost, who created refugees, of who broke peace talk after peace talk.
I went on. Noting how Hamas is an internationally recognised terrorist organisation which has sent over 13,000 thousand rockets onto Israel (a far stronger military country) since 2001, with little thought of how Israel's response might damage its own people. How the Palestinian people are not Hamas, and in fact it is they who are their greatest victims. How Hamas embed their missile launchers/training grounds and weapons stores amongst the very citizens it is supposed to protect, turning them into human shields, encouraging them to stay home even in the face of Israeli warning to evacuate targeted buildings. That the only reason there aren't far more Israeli fatalities is not for lack of intent from Hamas, but for Israel's investment in defences and bomb shelters (which Hamas does not chose to provide for its own people, despite its own vast private wealth).
I posted videos of the Palestinian ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council admitting that Hamas' rockets taretting Israeli citizens were "crimes of humanity", of Palestinian president Abbas asking Hamas what they hope to gain from rocketing Israel, of Hamas stating they "love death the way Jews love life", of Israeli armies calling off strikes when civilians were spotted, of Egyptian media blasting Hamas, of UN reps stating that Israel goes to further lengths to avoid military casualties and to provide humanitarian aid to the victims then any army ever the world. I even spoke of my own cousin, who alongside many other Israelis drives daily to the border with Palestine to pick up the sick and drive them to Israeli hospitals for treatment. That talk of an Israeli "apartheid" is madness when 20% of the Israeli population is Arab.
I also talked of the Palestinian's oppression, of their poverty, the heavy sanctions Israel imposes on them, and their genuine feeling that they need a resistance, whether violent or otherwise. I spoke of their hopelessness, their feeling of being trapped, forgotten and helpless, whilst being brutalised from every direction, by their own government and by Israelis. And how Palestinians crave a lifting of the Israeli siege, but that Israelis maintain sanctions for fear of increased imports of the very weapons used in the terror attacks against them. And on... and on...
But then... I saw a message from a Gazan student named Eslam on a Facebook page I belong to called "Palestine Loves Israel". Eslam asked us why Israelis want her dead. She said she has never met an Israeli, or seen one, she had only seen photos of them pointing guns, or seen the destruction they wreak upon her life. She asked us if Israelis are even human. If they think. If they feel. It broke my heart.
For whilst we all sit here trying to justify who is right/who is wrong/who has claim to the land/who was here first/who is provoking who, innocent people are dying. For every fact I have given you above to justify Israel's actions there no doubt is a counter fact a Palestinian could give. For every video posted, a counter-video. Meanwhile homes are being destroyed. Lies are being told and spread, and lives and dreams are lost. Eslam is not Hamas. She is just a young woman, hoping to live, in peace. And with every drop of blood spilled, with every building blown to smithereens, people from both sides feel greater injustice, deeper hate from and towards each other and the chasm grows wider.
I wrote back to Eslam, so did many others. We all sent her our love, our wishes for her safety. My sister told her that in Israel people see the same images, but of Palestinian people wishing them dead, that Israelis too are afraid for their lives. That people on both sides MUST both see the truth that we are all just humans and break the cycle of hate, joining instead together in our demands with our leaders for peace. That there are good and bad people, haters and lovers on both sides.
Eslam wrote back to my sister in tears. She saw that yes, Israelis are human too! That they are shown the same images as she is. That no one hates her for simply being a Palestinian. That there are people out there who really care for her and her safety. And most of all that there is a chance for peace. She was overwhelmed by all of our love for her. And I decided that this article would instead be dedicated to her. To her strength, and that of all those on BOTH "sides of the fence" who question what they are told, acknowledge that we are all in fact the same, and reach out to each other with hope for peace for ALL.
Eslam has opened my eyes, she says we have opened her eyes too.
Israelis and Palestinians both have the right to exist. We must all accept that. The past is gone, the people, the present is now. Israelis (especially those in the Southern communities) have the right to live without fear of constant rocket attacks. The Palestinians have the right to live in security and socio-economic prosperity in their own state without fear of Israeli strikes.
And so I've realised a few things:
1. We MUST stop arguing the moral high ground and pointing fingers. Everyone has a claim to this land. Everyone feels attacked, and afraid. Trying to decipher who is justified/right/entitled is an impossible and fruitless task.
2. You can be Pro-Israeli, and Pro-Palestinian, but anti-Hamas. As a Israeli-Arab woman told me herself, the Palestinians suffer as much if not more under Hamas than anyone else. Hamas must be dismantled. They are a terror organisation intent on death and destruction (even in their own words) who wreak violence upon Israelis, but also invite it thousand-fold upon their own people and (by their own admission) use them as human shields, encouraging them to stay put in houses despite Israeli warnings and to face death and "matrydom" whilst they live a life of luxury and hide in their own private bomb shelters.
3. Israel are NOT the people to dismantle Hamas. Their violent attempts to do so will serve only to drive more Palestinians to support Hamas, and gain them international sympathy and finance.
4. The only way to oust Hamas and the other violent militant factions is to win the HEARTS and MINDS of the Palestinian people, and to give them hope for a real future.
5. Israel should instead shower the Palestinian people with love and respect. Fire missiles filled with flowers and notes of Israeli's hopes for peace and love at the Palestinian people. Perhaps, after a few months of this, the Palestinian people might truly believe Israeli's are not monsters out to murder them, that Israelis WANT them to have peace and prosperity, and they will see Hamas for what they are and drive them out themselves.
6. You will think that I'm naïve, and that my last suggestion is ludicrous, but is it really any more ludicrous that the endless cycle of violence and lives lost?
Neither Israel nor Hamas will ever get what they want long term by shooting at each other. Let's hope they both realise that before too many more people die.
In the meantime let's keep communicating. The more Palestinians and Israelis actually talk to each other (without the middle men of media or governments) the better we will understand that we are all the same. That we all want, and deserve peace. And look! The tide is indeed turning. A recent poll in Palestine showed that the majority want Hamas out, and for their moderate leader Abbas to resume control and talk peace with Israel. Let's keep working to turn each other's hearts and minds. Join up on Facebook with "Israel loves Palestine' or with "Palestine loves Israel" and speak to each other, share stories of good will of hope. Only then can the people beat the powers that be and earn themselves and each other the peace they all deserve.