By Ray Hanania
I watched this week as Israelis and Palestinians commemorated Israel’s independence by joining hands to remember all those who have died in a seemingly endless conflict. The ceremony was organized by the joint-Israeli and Palestinian Parents Circle-Family Forum and was simulcast in both Tel Aviv and Ramallah. The live online stream of the ceremony was moving and was watched by some 200,000 people, according to Haaretz.
In acknowledging those who have passed, speaker after speaker eulogized the fight for peace and the fight to defeat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, which has infected more than 3 million people across the globe.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for Middle East peace, addressed a persistent menace: The threat of extremism, which has kept the region divided. “There are radicals on all sides, there are people who want to burn all bridges between Israelis and Palestinians, and who want to see the divide harden,” Mladenov told the gathering. “What you are doing is going against that. What you are doing is really the work of humanity. And that is to turn grief into hope, and to turn hope into a future for all of us.”
However, in a reminder of how hate-driven Israel’s government remains, Communications Minister David Amsalem blasted the Israeli media for giving the peace effort promotional coverage. Imagine criticizing Jews and Arabs on both sides, who have lost family members during the past 72 years, for seeking to end the violence and acknowledge the pain of the “other side.”
Palestinians like senior Fatah official Mohammed Al-Madani, who has sought to bridge the “normalization gap” that prevents Israelis and Palestinians from meeting to advocate for peace and two states, have come under constant attack from Palestinian radicals and pro-Hamas activists.
It is noble and takes much courage, in both Palestinian and Israeli circles, to confront the fanatics who oppose peace and believe that there is only one solution to the conflict — the destruction of the other side. The words of hate exploit growing emotions and frustrations, but events like this week’s commemoration of the victims on both sides continue to fuel hope.
I think Palestinians need to go even further. Just as the Israelis celebrate their Independence Day with large-scale organized events, Palestinians should organize something similar for its “Nakba,” the Arabic word that translates into English as “catastrophe.” Nakba commemorations are often viewed as attacks against Israel, when they are actually about the tragedy that befell Palestinian aspirations in 1948.
Palestinians should choose normalization because that would erode the growing extremism inside Israel, where we have seen fanaticism defeat reason in the decision by Benny Gantz to reject a coalition with the growing Arab representation in the Knesset in order to cut a selfish deal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Together they have formed an anti-peace government with the aim of annexing large areas of the occupied West Bank in a move clearly intended to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state.
Israelis and Palestinians are, like most human beings, often swayed in one political direction or the other by their emotions more than by reason or common sense. That’s why, as a Palestinian, I believe it is so important for my people to find every opportunity to build alliances not only with the people of nations around the world, but with the Israeli people too.
We Palestinians and Israelis can have our differences of opinion. We can have our passions for and against certain policies and issues. We can get emotional and even angry, but we should never let that prevent us from seeing the reasoned path forward — toward peace, justice and fairness.
One of the loudest voices challenging Israel’s annexation plans hasn’t been Palestinian, but rather Israeli: The liberal advocacy and activist group Peace Now. “The public did not choose for Israel to go down this extreme path; most of the public does not want annexation. The security echelon warns of the implications of annexation. Annexation costs will be much higher than the debilitating costs of the COVID-19 crisis,” Peace Now said in a statement released this week.
“Most of all, annexing territories without giving full citizenship rights to the millions of Palestinians who would be left in nominally autonomous enclaves under Israeli rule would spell an end to Israel’s democracy. Whether annexing one settlement or all of the settlements, such a move would constitute the foundation of an apartheid state. Annexation is bad for Israel.”
Annexation is bad for Israel and it is bad for peace. But just as bad is the fight against normalization — the process of maintaining ties between the Palestinians and Israelis who recognize each other’s rights. The right thing for Palestinians to do is to acknowledge not only their own suffering, but also the suffering of Israelis, even if it is they who today have more power and the political upper hand.
The Palestinian cause is a just cause. Palestinians can work with Israelis and we should, in order to reach a resolution.