Sunday, August 21, 2005

From Gaza to peace? Israel, the Palestinians, and the acceptance of responsibility

Everything by Elie Wiesel is worth reading -- especially his novels Night, Dawn, and The Forgotten -- and his latest piece in the Times, on "the dispossessed" in Gaza, is no exception.

Honestly, I'm not sure how sympathetic I am to the settlers (or, rather, the former settlers). Given the extremism of their attachment to occupied, spoil-of-war land that has only been theirs for 38 years (although, admittedly, the issue of historical ownership in that part of the world is a rather complex one), I find that I don't have much in the way of sympathy at all.

But Wiesel is right to point out that "[s]uccessive governments, from the left and the right, encouraged them to settle there. In the eyes of their families, they were pioneers, whose idealism was to be celebrated." Indeed, despite a few extreme examples of "offensive and undignified" behaviour -- and, let's face it, our media tend to focus on those examples at the expense of a more objective assessment of the evacuation -- "the majority have responded in a dignified way: with tears". And, really, could we have expected anything else from people who have been forced to leave their homes, however violently the land was acquired 38 years ago? Would we all be so good as to respond just with tears?

This line in Wiesel's piece struck me: "I know only that in my opinion, what is missing from the chapter now closing is a collective gesture that ought to be made, but that hasn't been made, by the Palestinians." Is he not right? Much of the focus is on Israel, and more specifically on the Israeli settlers and the Israeli government that is behind the evacuation. But what of the Palestinians themselves? As Israel pushes ahead with the evacuation of occupied land, essentially ripping its own people from their homes, rightly or wrongly, are the Palestinians themselves doing enough for the sake of peace?

Israel has made its mistakes, to be sure, and I'm certainly not unqualifiedly pro-Israel myself, but it does seem to me that most of the blame for the Israeli-Palestinian problem has been unduly heaped on Israel (especially by a post-national Europe that seems uncomfortable with Israel's unapologetic assertion of nationhood), with the Palestinians turned largely into victims of unjust Israeli aggression and oppression. There's more than enough blame to go around, however, and the Palestinians -- and especially their leadership and more extremist elements -- deserve their fair share, too.

Wiesel is right: "Gaza... is but one chapter in a book that must ultimately be about peace." But both sides need to take responsibility and to work hard for peace. Unfortunately, it seems that one side is doing much more than the other.

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