Since the first baby boomers were born, the population of Planet Earth has more than doubled, the Cold War has come and gone, and technology has turned everyone’s life upside down. But one thing, in one little corner of the world, has changed hardly at all: the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. BoomerCafé co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs covered that region for decades as a correspondent for two television networks, and writes in this Boomer Opinion piece that change — at least change for the better — still isn’t on the horizon.
So much anger in Israel and Gaza. So many deaths. But it all wasn’t born of present-day grievances. And it all wasn’t caused by the new embassy in Jerusalem. It goes much, much deeper. And much, much further back.
Back to the creation of Israel.
I once asked maybe 30 Israelis in Jerusalem, “Are you bitter toward the Palestinians and if you are, why?” The answer almost universally was yes, and the reason, although voiced in a variety of ways, almost universally was the same: “Because when Israel was created in 1948, the Palestinians fled rather than live beside us.”
Then I traveled the surprisingly short distance from Jerusalem down to Ramallah, the capital of the Palestinian West Bank — it’s not 15 miles — and asked about 30 Palestinians the same thing in reverse: “Are you bitter toward the Israelis and if so, why?” Here too, the answer almost universally was yes, but the reason was the polar opposite of what I had heard up the hill in Jerusalem: “Because when Israel was created in 1948, the Jews pushed us from our homes.”
I spent enough time covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the years that I say with confidence, there is some truth to both versions of events, now 70 years in the past. But here’s what’s most telling about these “man-on-the-street” interviews that I was doing as part of a report for ABC News’s Nightline: I made a point of asking my question only to people who looked too young to even have been born in 1948 (and I confirmed the age of each). What this means is, these young citizens, Israelis and Palestinians alike, didn’t acquire their animus firsthand. They inherited it; they were repeating what they had been told by their parents, which is what the parents had been told by their grandparents. Now we are four generations into the conflict and you can bet, the rancor is even more rigid than before.
How do you get past that?
This is why the past six weeks of clashes between Palestinians in Gaza and the Israeli military is just a bump in the road. It leaves Gaza’s population depleted by the deaths of several dozen Palestinians— whether non-violent demonstrators or hell-bent terrorists, they are dead— and now, after rioters torched the one working border crossing used to move food and fuel from Israel into Gaza, they are deprived of even that. Yet in the midst of front-page developments between the U.S. and North Korea, between the U.S. and Iran, between the U.S. and China, the low-grade war in Gaza is only a back-page story.
And when you look at it in that context, most everything else that buttresses the bitterness there has also been just a bump in the road: the two Intifadas, the failed peace talks, the bullets and bombs and rockets and knives and Molotov cocktails and now, the official opening of the U.S. embassy in the contested city of Jerusalem. Putting aside who’s right and who’s wrong about the status of this holy capital, the American move pushes the two sides even farther apart, not closer together.
Not only that, it diminishes even more the domination the United States once enjoyed as the “go-to” nation, long trying to bring peace to a region that, in modern times, has never really known it. The Palestinians won’t even talk to us any more, not officially anyway. Instead, they’re making eyes at Moscow. As if the whole region isn’t already insecure and unstable enough, just think how much worse it will be (at least from an American point of view, not to mention Israeli) if its future is shaped more by Russia than by the U.S.
How do you get over that?
Last month, a man named Fadi Abu Shammalah wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times, the title of which was, “Why I March in Gaza.” Shammalah is the executive director of the General Union of Cultural Centers in Gaza. I have been there, and it is not where you find your typical trouble-makers.
As I read his piece, having seen the hardship in Gaza with my own eyes, I felt some sympathy. Shammalah told how he explained to his seven-year-old son Ali, the oldest of his three children, why he was putting himself in harm’s way by taking part in the border protests. He told his son he felt the need to demonstrate against “the unbearable living conditions facing residents of the Gaza Strip: four hours of electricity a day, the indignity of having our economy and borders under siege, the fear of having our homes shelled.”
Of course he didn’t mention that his Palestinian community brought at least some of their privations upon themselves. Nor that when he talks about his “nonviolent struggle for our homeland,” history does not indisputably record his “homeland” as a fact.
But what he did mention, as another motivation for his role in the demonstrations, is the crux of the problem: “We have the right to return to our homes. I long to sleep under the olive trees of Bayt Daras, my native village.” It is the crux of the problem because Fadi Abu Shammalah, the father of three young children, was not around himself in 1948 when the modern stage of this conflict began. He has never seen those olive trees under which he longs to sleep. Like the Israelis and the Palestinians I interviewed in Jerusalem and Ramallah, he is repeating what his parents said, and what their parents said before that.
He is right when he writes that life in Gaza is “on the brink of humanitarian collapse,” that people’s lives there “are reduced to a daily struggle for food, water, medicine and electricity.” But that’s an issue for 2018; the disputes about who gets to live where were settled by the spoils of war, if not resolved, in 1948.
Shammalah won’t accept that. Sadly, his little son Ali probably won’t either.
How do you get beyond that?
Greg’s book about the wacky ways of a foreign correspondent, Life in the Wrong Lane, is available now as an audiobook — which Greg narrates himself — and can be preordered to download right here.