Guest Column: For youth of Gaza, tackle root causes of Israel conflict
While in Cairo last summer, I met a young Palestinian in his early 20s who had just arrived from Gaza. As we sat and talked, he looked up to the sky with amazement as passenger planes flew over the city. Not only had this young man never left Gaza or flown before, he had never even seen passenger planes. In Gaza, he says he only sees F16s, Apache helicopters and drones.
I met quite a few young men from Gaza last summer. A sense of palpable despair lingered among them when they discussed the harsh realities of life there. None of them have any desire to return. They all said there is no future for them in Gaza.
As a result of nearly two decades of periodic closure, six years of a crippling blockade and the immense damage inflicted in 2008-2009 during Israel’s operation Cast Lead, Gaza’s economy and infrastructure are in shambles. Under such circumstances, it’s not hard to understand why the young men from Gaza I met last summer are looking for a way out. Who would want to live in such miserable conditions?
With Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel once again bombarded Gaza with its military might. Three Israelis were killed from Palestinian rocket fire after the operation began. Meanwhile more than 100 Palestinian civilians were killed, and more than 900 injured during the assault. This of course happened with the full backing and support of the Obama Administration, and the full complicity of the US media, which generally impairs any genuine understanding of the root causes of the violence that emerges from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Predictably, we heard refrains of Israel’s right to self-defense, and that the Palestinians were entirely to blame for the Israeli onslaught in Gaza. Unrelenting calls for Palestinians to surrender their resistance inevitably ensued, as though peace would miraculously prevail should Palestinians lay down their arms.
While all loss of civilian life, whether Palestinian or Israeli is regrettable, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not a balanced conflict. It is a disproportionate struggle between an occupying power and a stateless, occupied people. But the context of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and its policy of dispossession of the Palestinian people, is almost always missing now from media coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Israel has militarily occupied Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights since 1967. Prior to that, in 1947 and 1948 more than 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homeland to make way for the emergence of Israel. Many of the Palestinians in Gaza today are descended from the 1948 refugees. Since 1948, Israel has been involved in a decades long project of dispossession of the Palestinian people. And the young men I met from Gaza this summer are living, breathing examples of Israel’s policy of dispossession in action.
Although a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was declared last week, how long will it take for more violence to erupt? The cease-fire will not lift the blockade, nor will it end the Israeli occupation, both of which are wrong-headed and counterproductive policies that serve to undermine Israel’s long-term security interests. The damage being done from the blockade and Israeli military assaults are a real threat, and one that Israelis should consider seriously.
The economic impact, lack of opportunities and the psychological damage being done to Palestinians has the potential to shape a generation of angry, unemployed, uneducated and traumatized youth that could be easily persuaded to resume suicide attacks on Israel. In fact last week a bomb blast rocked a bus in Tel-Aviv.
Is a return to this kind of violence the future that Israel wants? Because that’s exactly what the Israeli government is in the process of producing with the misery it’s creating with its latest assault and its blockade of Gaza.
It’s time to deal with the root causes of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and acknowledge that ending the Israeli occupation and honoring Palestinian self-determination and human rights are the best antidotes to Israel’s security dilemma.
Israel can’t be an occupying military power that denies human rights to an entire people and make peace simultaneously. It’s time to view the Israeli occupation as the source of Palestinian violent resistance, and treat it as such. Ending Israeli military aggression and the blockade of Gaza are only the first steps to ending the Israeli occupation. It is the only responsible way to begin working toward a future that will ensure the security of both Palestinians and Israelis – a future that would allow those young Palestinians from Gaza to find hope and opportunities for their futures at home.
—Britain Eakin is a graduate student studying journalism and Middle Eastern and North African studies. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .