Bomb them with tractors
This column is dedicated to my father. The idea is his, and I believe it is the only answer.
Peace in the middle east has become, to many, a dream given up on. When I was born in Israel in 1980 there was still hope. My parents and their friends were active members of Shalom Achshav! (Peace Now!), a thriving peace movement. It was a time when the world believed peace was on the horizon. Big acts like Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, and Elton John played in Israeli venues to show their support for the changes that were occurring. But the consensus among people I know living in Israel today is that peace is not going to happen.
Israel, with its coalition government spearheaded by a Religious Right, does not appear on its face to be trying to make peace happen. Israel builds walls, builds housing projects in Jerusalem, occupies the West Bank and Gaza, encourages settlements, and seems with its actions to be saying: Forget peace, this land is ours.
The Palestinians, plagued by the same religious and political internal strife that plagues many Arab countries, and producing religious extremists that will die for the chance to take down their enemy along with them, isn’t putting forth much of a fight for peace either.
This article is NOT about who is right and who is wrong. Personally, I believe both camps have a strong hand in the failure to accomplish peace. And as an Israeli I am the first to admit that Israel is acting as an occupying force, committing atrocities, and is in a position of responsibility that requires taking strong action to make peace happen.
I do feel that it is in the hands of the Israeli government to make peace happen. At the same time, I don’t believe they can do it alone. Israel has remained in a strong position throughout recent history, despite being surrounded by its enemies, in great part because it is backed by its ally America. In addition, the UN is in a position to assist and has its own responsibility to do so. I believe these forces can and should join together to implement peace in Israel/Palestine.
The true question is not who is to blame or who has to solve this, but how can peace in Israel/Palestine succeed? And the answer is: bomb them with tractors.
There is a cultural nuance to middle easterners that may not be easily seen or understood if you are not from within this group. In Palestine, for example, there is a fierce loyalty to family and religion that is strong enough that one would die to defend it. On top of this death-defying loyalty, you have a group of people living in slums, living in poverty, needing food, shelter, medicine, and the basic necessities. These people are hungry for life, and that creates a different kind of drive and determination than can be easily understood by Israel or America, westernized countries that are driven more by consumerist wants than basic human needs.
Let’s pretend, for one moment, that Israeli and Palestinian leaders could come together and agree on a division of land that both countries could live with. If Israel truly wants a lasting peace with its neighbors in Palestine, it has to give them more than just land.
What Palestine needs, as a country coming out of oppression and occupation, is infrastructure. Palestine needs human services programs, hospitals, schools, food, water, and shelter. It needs libraries and programs to educate teachers, nurses, doctors, and qualified professionals to work in and run these services. It needs farms and development of its food-producing systems. When people have enough to eat and drink, when they have education, when they have doctors and access to medication, when their basic human needs are met, then, and only then, can they refocus their attention on matters outside their own basic needs.
Israel (with the assistance, support, and financial backing of the U.S. and the UN) needs to build schools, hospitals, and infrastructure. In doing so it will go from being the oppressor to the provider. And in time Israel will go from being seen as Palestine’s enemy to being seen as its savior.
Hatred is a learned trait, and it is one that can wash away, but that can take generations to do so effectively. If Israel lays the groundwork for a thriving infrastructure in Palestine, today’s Palestinians will likely still hate Israel, as will their children. But their grandchildren will say: Israel built that hospital, Israel built that school.
Israel suffers from the same short-sightedness that America is cursed with today, as is much of the western world. When Israeli leaders look at a peace plan they scoff and say it will never happen, that Palestine will not uphold their end of the bargain, that Palestinians are out for blood. And this might be true in the short-term. But a solid long-term plan can ensure that future generations will see things differently, that future generations of Israelis and Palestinians will see each other as neighbors rather than enemies.
In the long run is this not the goal? Do we care whether Israelis and Palestinians get along together today, or whether a peace can be created that will last for the future?
So that’s it. A simple solution to lasting peace in Israel/Palestine. Israel (with help from the U.S. and UN) builds an infrastructure in Palestine and ensures the country has its basic human needs met and is in a position to maintain the meeting of those needs. This may not solve all conflicts for this generation or the next. But two or three generations from now it will be said that when Israel renounced its oppression, it gave Palestine the tools it needed to become the thriving country that it is today.