Submission: “What are the True Obstacles to Peace? Making Sense of Recent Escalations in the Arab-Israel Conflict”

This piece was submitted by UCSD student Benjamin Zaghi. Please note that this piece was written in response to an old draft that we have since revised. To read the more accurate and clarified version of the piece, click here.

In a recent op-ed piece titled “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians is Not a Conflict, it’s Colonialism”, Zara Irshad presents a twisted account of recent events between Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization that governs the Gaza Strip, and the state of Israel.

Irshad starts her account at Israeli airstrikes. She omits the true cause of the conflict; the launch of over 4,300 rockets from Gaza into Israel targeting the densely populated cities of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Be’er Sheva. While I too lament the loss of Palestinian lives, it is disingenuous to say Israel “murdered” 213 people. These casualties are the product of Hamas’ use of civilians as human shields. This is where they keep their officials, weapons caches, and rocket launch sites near, or in homes, schools, and hospitals. While Israel does everything in its power to limit damage, and warn civilians of an impending attack by dropping leaflets and sending phone and text messages, Hamas routinely keeps Palestinian civilians in danger. 

Irshad continues her account by comparing Israeli and Palestinian casualties. Many like Irshad say that “this is not an equal battle”, and to those that make that claim, I pose the question … would it be better if Israel didn’t defend itself and more innocent Israelis died? Israel does not partake in “ethnic cleansing”. On the contrary, the Palestinian population has increased every year since 1948, which contradicts the “ethnic cleansing” claim. Moreover, if Israel truly partook in “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians, would Israel have taken precautionary measures to minimize innocent Palestinian casualties?

Irshad continues her account by comparing Zionists to European colonialists and solely blaming Zionists for the displacement of “750,000 people’.” The comparison between Zionists and European colonialists is ridiculous because Jews are indigenous to the land and have had a continual presence in the land for thousands of years. She adds that “Zionist militias demolished Palestinian villages and displaced over 750,000 people,” but fails to mention that in 1947 the United Nations proposed a plan for the establishment of both a Jewish and Arab state that the Jews accepted despite receiving a smaller share of the land. After the Arabs’ rejection of the proposed plan, five Arab armies began a military campaign to defeat the fledgling Jewish state and ethnically cleanse the Jews from the land, which led to the displacement of Arabs.

Irshad continues her account by absurdly referring to Israel’s measures to protect its civilians as “terrorism.” She states that Israel’s airstrikes are “inhumane” and a “form of religious terrorism toward the Muslim people”. However, she fails to acknowledge that Hamas is the aggressor, firing thousands of rockets into the holy city of Jerusalem, a city with religious significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. She also fails to mention that Hamas disrespects religious places of worship within Gaza using mosques to plan terror attacks, hide weapons, and launch rockets. Moreover, Israel’s history shows great religious tolerance for all its people as it fosters a diverse demographic including Jews, Muslims, Christians, Baha’is, and more.

I believe it is important that the UC San Diego community receives an honest assessment of the Arab-Israeli conflict; this means coming to terms with those who perpetuate violence, hatred, and bigotry. Hamas is responsible for both the onslaught of rockets and the oppression of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip; to absolve them of this and shift blame to Israel is dishonest and counterproductive to the goal of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Below is the original article that Zaghi is responding to, please note that the accurate and updated piece can be found here.

News stations and social media platforms have been flooded with horrific footage of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza this past week which have murdered upward of 200 innocent Palestinians and have inflicted even more injuries. The strikes began on May 10 after Israeli militants set off rockets toward Jerusalem, in response to Hamas firing rockets into Israel. The violence escalated throughout the days until a ceasefire was implemented on May 21. 

Although this destruction only made the news recently, the oppression, murder, and abuse of the Palestinian people has been underway for far longer. Israel and Palestine have a long and complicated history that dates back decades, but at its most basic, these acts of terror are rooted in blatant colonialism. 

Up until 2020, there had been roughly 5,600 Palestinian casualties as a result of this violence compared to 250 Israeli deaths. Today, the disparity between these statistics is likely even larger. This is not an equal battle, nor is it a mere conflict. This is an ethnic cleansing, one that the United States has been complicit in for years, and we must advocate for the government to stop funding this barbarity.

The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is often referred to as the Nakba, which is a term used to distinguish the time period between 1947-1949 in which Zionist militias demolished Palestinian villages and displaced over 750,000 people. Sound familiar? Just think back to how European colonists treated the Indigenous people of America. 73 years later and the Palestinians are still met with the same hostility and violence. The Nakba never truly ended; it was merely renamed as a “conflict.”

The harsh reality is that since this strife is not taking place directly in the Western world, it has had very minimal U.S. news coverage until the recent airstrikes. As a result, many people didn’t take the time to educate themselves on the devastation that has been occurring for decades until this past week. But despite the fact that the larger media systems of the United States have, for the most part, remained silent all these years, the government has been complicit in funding the Israeli terrorism of the Palestinian people. 

The United States government has provided $3.8 billion in aid to Israel every year, and just this month President Biden approved a $735 million weapons sale to Israel. The country’s support of Zionism began back after World War I when former President Woodrow Wilson helped to push through the British Balfour Declaration which ultimately supported the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, where thousands were already living and settled. Keeping with tradition, former President Harry Truman used his executive powers to override many anti-Zionist policies. This neglect for the true people of Palestine has left a stain on the United States. Of course, it’s not a secret that this isn’t the first time the country has partook in the ethnic cleansing of native peoples. 

We’ve seen what Israeli weapons are being used for this past week. We’ve seen the demolition of the 12-story al-Jalaa media building. We’ve seen the destruction of Gaza’s sole COVID testing laboratory. And we’ve seen the bombing of hospitals packed to the brim with patients. But what we haven’t seen is the U.S. Government taking concrete action to aid the thousands of Palestinians that have been displaced by this destruction.

This is more than a single fight — the damage that Israeli airstrikes have inflicted upon Gaza will likely lead to infrastructural damage that’ll take years to fully repair. Not to mention the countless innocent lives that were stolen, like Dr. Aymna Abu al-Ouf who was the head of internal medicine at Al-Shifa hospital, and Dr. Mooein Ahmad al-Aloul who was a psychiatric neurologist. Both men were killed along with their families in bombings of their homes, and these tragedies represent only a tiny fraction of the losses Palestinians have suffered.

Is this not enough of a red flag? Or must we delve deeper into the past years of Israeli destruction and massacre of the Palestinians. Every single nation that is on the UN Security Council supported the call for a ceasefire in Israel except for the United States. What does that say about our nation? We were founded on the principles of life, liberty, and property; how have we strayed so far?  

Not only are these attacks inhumane, but they can also be perceived as a form of religious terrorism toward the Muslim people, as they took place during the holy month of Ramadan. Many airstrikes targeted and destroyed mosques, and prevented families from praying

If this were happening in a Western country during a Christian holiday, the media would be eating this up. Palestinian and Muslim communities deserve the right to live peacefully.

So do Jewish communities. One of the most common misconceptions about those standing in solidarity with Palestine is that they are doing so out of hatred for the Jewish people. This couldn’t be further from the truth. 

This is not a religious critique, but a governmental one. The Jewish community is not responsible for the actions of the Israeli government, and support for the Palestinian people does not equate to or foster anti-semitism. The fact that there has been a surge in anti-semetic incidents following the attacks on Gaza is heartbreaking and deeply disappointing. We as a society need to recognize that the issue lies within governmental actions, not an entire religion. Hateful acts of violence are not going to help any cause in the slightest. There are actually many Jewish people that have spoken out against the violence inflicted upon the Palestinian people.

I’ll repeat myself: the Jewish community is not responsible for the actions of the Israeli government.   

Despite the ceasefire that was mediated by Egypt nearly 11 days after the fighting first erupted, Palestine still needs all the humanitarian and reconstruction aid possible. Not to mention that a ceasefire doesn’t always equate to peace, and after last Friday’s ceasefire, Israeli police still injured 20 Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa mosque

Palestine will need to rebuild and recover from the devastation it has faced over the past 11 days, and more so, the past 73 years. This will no doubt take time, but undoubtedly having the power and resources of the United States supporting them instead of working against them will help speed up the process. 

We must push for the Biden Administration to stop providing Israel with the money and resources to continuously devastate Palestine, and we must try to boycott organizations that support this violence. It’s about time for the United States to stand up for the Palestinian people, as it has failed to do for decades.

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