Barriers to discussion

In response to the wall assembled yesterday by members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and VISTA, the leadership of J Street U Williams feels that it is necessary to promote more inclusive and honest dialogue. The wall is intended to represent barriers, both physical and imperceptible, that serve to exclude or oppress various groups of people. This sentiment is admirable, and while we commend SJP and VISTA for their efforts to raise awareness for oppressed groups, such a wall is an incomplete and unproductive means of representing the myriad and nuanced issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Sadly, this conflict – which concerns a piece of land that holds tremendous historical, religious and nationalistic significance for Jews and Arabs alike – has continued, often violently, for decades without a peaceful resolution. Unfortunately, the separation barrier is but one of many points of contention between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The Israeli government under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon started constructing the wall in the early 2000s, faced with the difficult choice between erecting a wall that would inhibit the freedom and movement of Palestinians and remaining vulnerable to Palestinian terrorism. Suicide bombings had become commonplace, particularly in Jerusalem. At the height of terrorist violence in 2002, 289 Israeli civilians and foreign visitors were murdered; in 2006, after the segment of the separation barrier surrounding Jerusalem was completed, this number fell to 23 and has remained low since. Undoubtedly, the separation barrier has been effective in its intended capacity: preventing the deaths of innocent civilians.

It should be understood, however, that the Israeli government never intended the separation barrier to be a permanent fixture. Its purpose is not to separate Israelis and Palestinians in a discriminatory manner or to strip innocent Palestinians of their human dignity and civil rights. That it has, in reality, done so is a harmful side effect of Israel’s decision to protect the lives of its own (as any nation strives to do when faced with the threat of terrorism). The separation barrier is thus, in this sense, a necessary evil that a two-state solution will ameliorate. For these reasons, J Street U Williams supports a negotiated and peaceful resolution to the conflict that would obviate the need for the separation barrier and establish instead an internationally recognized border separating Israel and the future state of Palestine.

The only viable way to achieve peace is through such a two-state solution. Both peoples deserve the human rights, freedom from violence and self-determination that independent sovereign states provide. Leaders on both sides are adamant that coexistence within a one-state framework is not an option. As Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said only last week, “We call on the Israeli government to seize the current opportunity to conclude a just and comprehensive peace in the region, based on the two-states vision.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shares this sentiment: “In my vision of peace, in this small land of ours, two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect, each with its own flag and national anthem.” Advocacy for a one-state “solution” flies in the face of the demands of the leaders on both sides.

Peace will only be achieved when both sides recognize the right of the other to exist as separate national entities and accept mutually agreed-upon borders. These borders would be based on the pre-1967 lines, with land swaps to accommodate Palestinian land lost to Israeli settlements. Because the new border would deviate from the route followed by the separation barrier (which does not adhere to the pre-1967 lines), Israeli security would no longer come at the unacceptable cost of infringed Palestinian rights.

Ultimately, the continuation of the conflict has caused untold suffering on both sides. We feel for the Palestinian families whose lives have been upended by the hardships imposed by the separation barrier, who have had to endure humiliation and great inconvenience.  But we also feel for Israeli families who lost loved ones in Jerusalem coffee shops, blown to pieces by suicide bombers, before the separation barrier was constructed. Although the separation barrier undoubtedly produces many problems, to reduce this emotionally and politically charged conflict simply to the barrier’s existence is to evade the more complex and difficult conversations that advocating for peace necessitates. J Street U Williams therefore calls upon those who care about informed and honest dialogue regarding this conflict, and who believe in the right of self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians, to stop attacking a single symptom of the conflict and focus instead on advocating for a comprehensive solution that secures just and sustainable futures for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Miranda Cooper ’17 is from Pittsburgh, Penn. She lives in Bryant. Carl Szanton ’15 is a history and political science double major from Portland, Maine. He lives in Bryant.