By: Corey Holmes, PhD Researcher, Howard University
I must admit, I was uninformed regarding the magnitude of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I knew of Yasser Arafat and his commitment to peace in the Middle East, earning him a share of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. I also understood that Israel was “holy ground” for God’s people and the place where many citizens go to worship and visit holy sites. After visiting Israel for almost two weeks, it is still a very complex place where some form of all sides hold truth. This post is simply thoughts on my experiences while in Israel meeting with Palestinians, visiting holy sites, and listening to views on this conflict.
The remapping of lines to construct borders is nothing new. During 1884-85, the Berlin Conference in the “Scramble for Africa” divided the African continent among 13 European countries, in the quest for civility and a “Christian way of life”. Imperialism and eventually colonialism was established, and currently Africa is starting to feel the effects of elitism and classism among its diverse populations.
Comparably, the first Prime Minister of Israel, David-Ben Gurion, with the blessing of U.S. President Harry Truman, created the independent sovereign state of Israel in May 1948. A few years prior, the United States was faced with a tough decision due to the potential alliance of the Soviet Union (its starkest enemy at the time), with Arab nations who held most of the world’s oil resources. President Truman wanted the U.S. Department of State to conduct talks with both Jews and Arabs to see if a resolution was possible before intervening. In 1946, President Truman created a special cabinet led by Assistant Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Grady, to oversee the region and conduct negotiations with the British who held economic and political interests in Palestine. The U.S. Department of State recommended the creation of a United Nations trusteeship with limits on Jewish immigration, and the division of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab provinces, not states.
I have many takeaways from my trip to Israel, and I will try to compound them in a succinct way.
First, it is very easy to interweave the people of Israel (those who may like rap music and colorful clothes) with the Israeli state. There are many individuals and groups who support Palestine, whether it be a one or two-state solution.
Secondly, the militarization in the region is significant. Whether it’s the numerous borders that separate Palestinians from friends and family; or the countless soldiers or Jewish citizens with guns locked and loaded in Jerusalem, this is not a space conducive for peace.
Third, I learned that religion is truly the most separatist faction created. I visited some of the most picturesque churches in the world and rarely did I find peace and serenity. I found elitism, non-inclusiveness, and the separation of people. Before you judge, look at the churches in America (there is a stark similarity here). Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said (paraphrasing), that Sunday mornings in church are the most separate times in America, and after traveling throughout Israel, I concur. However, the two church services that I attended were quaint, passionate, inclusive and spiritual (one service was even in Arabic)!
Lastly, people just want peace and the ability to live their lives. For instance, many Palestinians want one sovereign state, while others say the two-state solution is the only peaceful option. Even with borders, guns, separatism, and the increasing number of Jewish settlers on Palestinian land, many Palestinians still have hope, and want to live life like normal young people. For now, they are living their lives to the best of their abilities.
Recently, President Trump made a trip to Israel to chat with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He proclaimed peace would soon be realized in the region as he visited holy Jewish sites and made diplomatic speeches to the press corps. I believe education is the key to changing any society, and would like to see a Young Palestinian Leadership Program instituted by the United States. This would allow young students to be exposed to other cultures, and engage in dialogues outside of their conformed space. Perhaps, they could even produce solutions for peace, along with their young Jewish American counterparts. Sometimes, to find a solution, one must go outside his or her realm.
In 2019, my colleague and I plan to take young minorities from the U.S. to Israel and Palestine to chat with NGOs, Palestinians and Jews, churches in Israel, and global networks. I would like to have young people from Detroit accompany me on this journey. The similarities of Palestinians and many black citizens in Detroit are eerily similar (lack of good public education, re-gentrification, and the lack of public services), but that is a conversation for another day.
So, after the bloodshed due to the complexities of the relationship between Israel and Palestine what is next? How about a nexus of consumerism and capitalism? A recent article in the Washington Post was written about Bashar Masri, a Palestinian developer betting on the “burgeoning Palestinian middle class” with a 1.4-billion-dollar mall in Rawabi, West Bank. There are many reasons to minimize this venture, starting with Israel’s ability to control and shut-off Palestine’s access to natural resources (electricity and water). Again, I want to focus on the parallels of black America and Palestine regarding possible positive outcomes. For all the negative statistics on black America: the highest male population in prison, lack of marketable skills in the job market, too many single black mothers, etc., there is no denying the buying power of this demographic. In 2011, according to the Target Market News Report, black American buying power was approximately 836 billion dollars ranking them 16th ahead of Indonesia and just below South Korea.
Here is the point, if you build it they will come. In our global society, capitalism “trumps” everything. I believe Palestinians with discretionary income will want new iPhones, BMWs, and 80-inch televisions. I tend to think people work harder and study longer to have access to their wants and needs. I believe the biggest upside to Masri’s mall project is hope. While looking at so many dilapidated buildings in Palestine (no fault of the Palestinians), this would give young people hope to dream big. Anything is possible, right?
For images from my trip, click here.