For the Children: How the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Must End

“ Robert, I ask you, what did we rise against Israel[the Arabs] for, if not to put an end to the murder of children?”

“To put an end to Jews[Palestine]!” the king growled.”

Before this summer, I was unabashadly pro-Israel. It was not a hard stance to have. When the government of one side states in its charter that it wants to commit genocide and the government of the other is democratic and upholds western values that I hold dear, the choice is quite clear. Yet as I spend more time in Israel, and hear from the many different ethnic and religious minorities that inhabit its land and the occupied territories, I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter who has the moral high ground. Being right doesn’t stop people from hating you. And as long as there is hate, there will never be peace.

I am not the first person to have realized this. In fact, during the MISTI seminar that took place this past weekend, I heard from many groups here in Israel that are fighting for reconciliation and peace. MISTI-MEET brings around 150 Israeli and Palestinian high-school students together for a three summers to learn computer science. MOONA does a similar thing in the north of the country but between Arabs and Jews that are all citizens of Israel. The speakers that reached my heart, however, were two women from the Parents Circle — a society that connects Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones to the conflict.

Iris, an Israeli, had a son called Nimrod. Like most Israelis, Nimrod did three years in the IDF before going to university and then working for Microsoft. Iris never worried about her son in the army. A child of the six-day war, her faith in Israel and the IDF was unshakeable. Even when her son was called up from the reserves to serve in a tank brigade in the Second Lebanon War she was not afraid. A few weeks later, mere days before the end of the war, her son was dead. Iris’ world was shattered. She wanted to die. She hardly ate or slept. Most of her days were spent on the couch, in front of the TV, trying not to think about her son. There had to be an alternative to this eternal war. When the film The Heart of Jenin, a documentary about a Palestinian who donated his dead son’s organs to an Israeli hospital instead of seeking revenge, appeared on the TV, Iris knew she had found that alternative. When she called the filmmakers to ask how she could connect with the Palestinians in the film, they put her in touch with the Parent’s Circle. That was ten years ago.

Aisha, a Palestinian, grew up in Nablus as the oldest of nine children. She was like a second mother to them, especially the two oldest, who were only a few years younger than her. They followed her everywhere, almost like personal bodyguards. Sick and tired of humiliating Israeli checkpoints, her oldest brother decided to join protests that would become the second intifada. On the way, he passed by a group of Palestinian boys who were throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers. He was shot and killed. A few months later, Aisha’s second oldest brother jumped off of the roof of a five-story building. He did not know how to live without his oldest brother. Distraught, Aisha looked for someone to talk to about her grief. Her friend suggested the Parents Circle. Initially she refused: why would she want to talk to the people who killed her brothers? Then she was curious: what were the enemy people actually like. She decided to go to the meeting just to see what they were like. It has been over ten years and Aisha has attended hundreds if not thousands of meetings and made many Israeli friends.

Spreading their stories has not been easy for the two women. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians particularly want to hear about the humanity of the other side. Even in America, the discourse surrounding the conflict is rotten. If you support Palestine you support terrorists and if you support Israel you’re racist and imperialist. Nevertheless, Parents Circle has managed to talk at many Israeli highschools and Palestinian community centers. Even if only one percent of people listen, that’s thousands of hearts and minds that are changing. And those thousands will go home to their families and plant the seeds of reconciliation there too.

Of course none of this directly leads to a concrete peace agreement. There is still so much obsession with land and retribution for past wrongs. People love to bring up the fact that Israel “stole” land from the Palestinians. Even if this were true, this does not change the fact that there are people there now who have nothing to do with the crimes of their parents. In the same vein, the settlements and the checkpoints and the military occupation of Palestine for wars and intifadas that most Palestinians did not fight only serves to create more suicide bombers. As long as who controls the land matters more than the lives of mothers, daughters, fathers, brothers, sisters and sons, there will never be peace.

The power to choose, of course, lies in the hands of Israeli and Palestinian voters. But that does not mean that there are not things we can do as Americans. MEET and other organizations like it are always looking for talented individuals. You, as a neutral third party, with computer science knowledge that high school students want, are a strong draw to help students overcome their initial prejudices. Both Iris and Aisha emphasized that the biggest thing holding back the Parents Circle from reaching more people is money.

It is also not as though these problems are unique to Israel. The discourse between Palestinian and Israeli clubs on campus is rancid (see the Palestinian Awarness Week Wall from MIT this year). There needs to be dialogue. If we cannot talk about the issue civilly, how we expect the people who are fighting and dying on the ground to do so?

In fact, the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts points to a larger issue with contemporary American society: we do not want to listen, much less engage with viewpointst that are not our own. What else could explain the election of Donald Trump? Unless we want more of him, or similarly distasteful leftist populists like Jeremy Corbyn, we need to listen to each other. Most people who support the border wall are not racists. Most illegal immigrants are not criminals. There is a solution to most every crisis that does not involve detention camps or giving up national sovereignty. Make peace, not war. Make hummus, not hand grenades.