An Open Letter to Ayelet Waldman, Dave Eggers, Michael Chabon & Geraldine Brooks

Your participation in Breaking the Silence’s tour of the Palestinian West Bank reminds me of the prison visitors movement in the U.S. People who worried that prison inmates were being mistreated visited individual prisoners in an effort to curb excessive and illegal treatment by prison authorities. That movement also advocated sentencing reform to reduce sentences and provide alternative sentencing options. Their rationale was both religious based, but they also believed racial prejudice and poverty were contributing causes of criminal behavior. Some went so far as to excuse law breaking.

Your involvement in a project to publish essays about what you found in the West Bank parallels the activities of prison visitors. In this case the prison you visited is called the West Bank. You see how bad it is for some people and you want to tell the world. There’s no doubt the people living in the West Bank are victims, but they are not victims of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory––since there never was a country called Palestinian or any other Arab nation in that region. They are victims of decisions made by their leaders and in many cases by their own choices.

I would assert that the history of the former British Mandate from 1917 to the present reveals that the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians are largely responsible for the situation they are in today. They committed the crime, but most don’t want to accept the responsibility for their role or pay the price.

The crime the Arab residents of Palestine committed in the past was to side with those who would not accept the decision of the United Nations in 1947 to grant the right to establish a Jewish state to Jewish residents of the former British Mandate. Most of the Arabs living in that territory went along with the five Arab states that attempted to destroy the new nation. Later, they went along with Yasser Arafat and his successors hoping that his plan to empty the entire region of Jews would succeed. Now they blame Israel for that plan’s failure. In essence they are blaming the prison guards and ignoring their own history of active hatred and indiscriminate violence. They are scapegoating others for their bad choices. As convicts say, if you can’t do the time, don’t commit the crime.

Prison reformers traditionally have a hard time dealing with crime victims. Victims are not sympathetic when they hear complaints about inadequate representation or lousy prison conditions. Victims hear reformers say someone other than the offender is responsible for that person’s being locked up. They hear reformers say racism and poverty are to blame, not their decision to commit the crime.

Prison reformers also have a hard time talking to prison guards. They fail to recognize that it is hypocritical to advocate for policies that recognize the dignity of the convict without advocating for the people who guard them. Prisons need guards, and unjustly they are the first to be blamed if something goes wrong.

That same understanding is owed to the men and women of the Israeli police and military. They would rather not be stationed at checkpoints or patrol dangerous areas, but they are needed as long as the Palestinians continue to commit random acts of violence against Jews and fail to negotiate a peace with boundaries that assure Israel’s survival.

The problem with blaming crime on racism and poverty is that not all victims of prejudice or people born into strained circumstances commit crimes. In fact, the majority who face those obstacles overcome their circumstances and are law abiding.

The problem with blaming Israel for the circumstances of those living in the West Bank is that not all Arabs fled Israel in 1948 or since. Approximately 1.7 million Arabs live in Israel today with full citizenship rights. They get free education and medical care but, unlike Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs don’t have to serve in the army. Do Israeli Arabs have legitimate complaints? They do, but they live in a society where they can elect representatives to the Israel’s legislature, where grievances can be voiced, and where change is possible. Is that true, dear writers, for residents of the West Bank?

When you write your essays about your experiences, I hope you don’t fall for the scapegoating narrative––the one that blames someone else for the situation the Arab Palestinians have created for themselves. I also hope you write about the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and how it incentivizes violence by paying families of those who commit random acts of violence. I hope you interview the families of moderates who were killed because they opposed the PLO/Fatah. I hope you’ll interview Israeli Arabs who prefer to remain in Israel rather than move to the West Bank. I hope you don’t fall into the trap of loving the convict to the detriment of his victim or the people who have to guard him. I hope you’ll be clear-sighted about why things are not good for the residents of the West Bank and who is to blame.

What is needed to end the Arab-Israeli conflict?

The Albany Times Union published this column under the title “Destroying Israel not the answer” on Tuesday, July 17, 2015. Unfortunately, non-subscribers cannot access it online which is why I’m posting it under my original title.

For decades, the most talked about plan to resolve the conflict between Jews and Arabs has been to divide them into separate enclaves–-a two-state solution. Israel has repeatedly agreed to try that approach: they accepted the United Nations’ partition formula of 1947 as well as terms offered in 1993 at Oslo and at Camp David in 2000. On each of these as well as other occasions the Arabs walked away.

Since the Arab world seemingly has no interest in any “solution” whereby Israel continues to exist, why does this concept continue to be pushed–-in particular by U.S. presidents?

To understand why the two-state solution portends more harm than good requires a quick history of the territories called the West Bank by the Arabs and Samaria and Judea by the Israelis.

On May 15, 1948, when David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the birth of the state of Israel, there were 650,000 Jews living throughout Palestine, including in Samaria and Judea. On that day five Arab states attacked with a goal of crushing the new state, but Israel was ready and the attacks were repulsed.

Before the fighting stopped, thousands of Jews were driven from their homes and more than 1,300 civilians and soldiers were killed. Pressured to accept armistice boundaries, Samaria and Judea (the West Bank) fell into Jordan’s hands. Then, in June1967, as Arab armies amassed on its border, Israel struck preemptively and drove the Jordanian army out of Samaria, Judea, and sections of Jerusalem that had been held by Jordan since 1949. At that moment in time, when Israel could have incorporated Judea and Samaria into sovereign Israel, it was pressured into accepting terms that made those territories neither fish nor fowl, a result which has cost thousands of deaths and wasted billions.

Creating a Palestinian state on the West Bank of the Jordan River would result in 650,000 Jews being displaced en masse because although Arabs can live in Israel as full-fledged citizens, Jews live in Arab countries at their peril.

The 1994 agreement that ceded government functions for the West Bank Arab population to Yasser Arafat made matters worse. Arafat used this base from to carry out terrorist attacks while claiming Israel occupied their homeland. Nothing could be less true.

The Palestinian Authority suppresses dissent and launched a campaign of terror in 2000 that resulted in hundreds killed; it pretends to be more moderate than its rival Hamas, but rewards terrorists with money and names streets after “martyrs.”

The only viable solution is for Israel to incorporate Judea and Samaria into Israel. Much of the international community will object, and some Palestinians will revolt, but Israel can stand up to those problems.

The most critical factor determining whether this solution can succeed is support from the United States. Some critics argue that Israel has failed at the bargaining table to show that it appreciates the support it has received from the U.S. over the years.

That U.S. has aided Israel in many ways over the years is very true, but Israel has acted in our interest as well. Israel’s defeat of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt in 1967 was a defeat for the Soviet Union, which had sought to add the Arab League states to its sphere of influence. Taking out Iraq and Syria’s nascent nuclear reactors prevented both rogue nations from joining the nuclear club.

Today, Russia once again has ambitions in the region while ISIS and the disintegration of Iraq and Syria bode ill. Israel stands as a beacon of stability in a region where state lines have become meaningless and governments can change overnight. Israel is also a model of development and democracy, showing the Arab street how they could live if they give up jihad.

There is a path to peace in the Middle East, but it is not dividing Israel in half. Palestinian nationalism needs an outlet that doesn’t involve the destruction of Israel, but that’s not Israel’s problem to solve. American policy makers can address that problem down the road. Defeating ISIS, eliminating the threat of a nuclear Iran, and assuring a secure future for Israel could set the stage for that issue to be addressed.