Simply open your mouth on Israel-Palestine, and faster than you can blink you'll be labeled either a heartless Zionist or a Hamas terrorist. Both extreme labels are equally fruitless.
If we cannot find a middle ground in dialogue, how can we expect Israel and Palestine to find a middle ground during war? After all, peace is what we're after, right? Right.
In full disclosure my analysis is as a human rights lawyer and a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community--a 125-year-old worldwide Muslim organization that arrived in Palestine in 1920. Today, Ahmadi Muslims enjoy generous religious freedom in Israel while facing increasing persecution in Palestine. I present this to emphasize the importance of justice and transparency in dialogue -- even in the face of injustice. Unfortunately, transparency and dialogue are two characteristics perennially missing in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
If the end goal is peace, then we must acknowledge some realities of the Israel-Palestine conflict without polarizing one another. Ignoring facts doesn't resolve differences; it simply ensures differences fester unchecked. If we truly want peace -- and all sides at least profess to want peace -- we must come to the negotiation table accepting 9 facts about the Israel-Palestine conflict.
1. Hamas rockets must stop.
This should be a no brainer but for some it is difficult to accept. "Whataboutery" comes into play. What about the illegal occupation? What about the blockade? What about the lopsided numbers of civilians killed?
All relevant, but none change the fact that two (or multiple) wrongs don't make a right. We must condemn Hamas violence, their rockets, and their indiscriminate firing that puts Israeli civilians at risk. The rockets must unconditionally stop.
2. The conflict is older than Hamas -- a lot older.
The incessant focus on Hamas as the reason for Israel's self-described acts of self-defense is a red herring. This position pretends we are addressing a 27-year conflict -- not a 65-year conflict. Israel's actions against Palestine, specifically Gaza, stem back far before Hamas even existed. Hamas's actions and Israel's repeated claim that Hamas is the root cause of all this fighting proves only one thing -- force cannot create peace, at least not lasting peace. Any conversation that ignores pre-1987 is incomplete, insincere, and will ultimately prove ineffective at the negotiation table. Hamas is a symptom of this conflict, but not the root cause.
3. If Muslims want peace in Palestine, then they must unite in peace worldwide.
His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, leads the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. While championing separation of mosque and state, His Holiness commands the world's largest Muslim following with tens of millions of Muslims in over 204 nations. The Muslim world should follow his example of principled leadership precisely because he implores and acts with justice in all fairs -- even with those persecuting his community. For example, despite Palestine's persecution of Ahmadi Muslims, His Holiness has instructed Ahmadi Muslims worldwide to pray for Gaza provide humanitarian aid to civilians of Gaza.
In speaking to Muslim majority nations His Holiness points out a simple fact -- how can you demand Israel treat Palestine with peace and justice if you cannot even establish it among yourselves? His Holiness explains,
With great regret it must be said that today it is the ill fortune of many Muslim countries that they are no longer united. Members of the public are fighting amongst themselves; citizens are also fighting with governments, whilst governments are inflicting cruelty upon their public. Therefore, not only has unity been lost, but great cruelties and injustices are being perpetrated. If the Muslims were united and followed the path of God then the collective strength of the Muslim nations is so great that this cruelty [against Palestine] could never have taken place.
Before lambasting Israel, Muslim majority nations should lead by example and establish peace with each other.
4. Peace cannot exist without justice.
Justice can only exist with peace, and peace can only exist with principled leadership. On this issue His Holiness has demanded justice on both fronts.
To Muslim leaders His Holiness has admonished,
The Muslim leaders and so-called clerics are not righteous or God fearing and as a result those under their influence are being entirely misguided. The clerics are pushing young people, who know no better, towards evil and cruelty by falsely claiming it will lead them towards God. No one is guiding such youths or the wider Muslim Ummah (community) that such cruelty is neither righteous nor just. What they are doing is not Jihad because murder and bloodshed can only take you away from God.
To Israel and Palestine His Holiness has advised,
Compared to Israel, the Palestinians have no power or strength. Certainly all cruelty is wrong and so if Hamas is perpetrating cruelty, then the Muslim countries should also stop them. However, if you are to compare the relative strengths and cruelties of the two sides, it is as if one side is using a stick, whilst the other side is utilizing a fully equipped army to perpetrate its injustice.
Muslim leaders must take more ownership over their youth, and Israel and Palestine must hold themselves accountable to justice -- otherwise peace is a mere fantasy.
5. Palestine was a haven for Jewish refugees before the creation of Israel.
Some insist on arguing that Palestine is inherently anti-Semetic. This is untrue and Palestine's historical actions prove otherwise. Before Israel's creation, Palestine willingly accepted some 700,000 Jewish refugees escaping World War I and the Holocaust. This is a massive number considering Palestine's Muslim population in 1947 was only around 1.2 million. That said, Palestine did not vote for the creation of Israel. Instead Israel's creation was imposed on Palestine by the United Nations. We often hear the talking point "no country on Earth would tolerate rockets raining down on its civilians." No doubt this is true, but in fairness we must also accept that no country on Earth would tolerate being split in two without the right to self-determination or a say in the matter. If you disagree, imagine if tomorrow the United Nations decided half of your country would go to another nation of people -- while you have no say in the matter. In short, Palestine served as a haven for Jewish refugees before Israel's creation. It is important to draw on this history when trying to find common ground for the future.
6. Since Israel was created by the United Nations, it must live by the United Nations.
The hardline pro-Palestine argument states that since Palestine never approved the creation of Israel, they will not recognize Israel. The pro-Israel side states the opposite -- the United Nations created us by democratic vote so we are here to stay. Israel is right. The reality is we cannot undo history. Israel has the right to exist and is here to stay -- no amount of arguing or fighting will undo that.
That fact established, we cannot stop the UN conversation here.
A nation born by the UN must live by the UN. Since Israel's creation, the United Nations has passed at least 42 Resolutions against Israel for violating international law -- 17 of which were passed before Hamas existed. These include resolutions condemning Israel for illegal practices against civilians in Lebanon, condemning Israel's contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention, calling on Israel to withdraw from all Palestinian territories, calling on Israel to recognize the Palestinian right of return, and calling on Israel to respect Muslim holy places. Post-Hamas, the UN has passed Resolutions against Israel to abide by and accept the Fourth Geneva convention, condemning Israel's invasion of Lebanon, condemning Israel's killing of UN employees of the World Food Program, and condemning Israel settlements established since 1967 as illegal -- all of which have nothing to do with Hamas. This further establishes point two above that Hamas is not the root cause of this conflict.
Unfortunately and remarkably, Israel has asked and the United States has agreed to veto all 42 of these UN Resolutions. Israel cannot have it both ways. It cannot on one hand claim legitimacy by citing the United Nations decision to create Israel, and then ignore UN enforcement to hold Israel accountable to international law. If UN decisions are invalid now, then they were invalid at Israel's creation. Likewise, and reasonably, since UN decisions were valid upon Israel's creation, they must also be valid now and Israel must maintain justice accordingly.
7. Arab blood and Jewish blood are human blood -- and all blood is equal
No justification exists for civilian deaths. The concept of self-preservation or a "zero-sum" game does not work in our global village or by any moral compass. The idea that Arab blood is more valuable than Jewish blood, or that Jewish blood is more valuable than Arab blood, is modern day racism in all its ugliness. A Palestinian child has just as much right as an Israeli child, and vice versa. Any action by either side that ignores this principle is a violation of human rights and derails the peace process. Let us rid ourselves of the cancer of justifying collateral damage and recognize all human life is equal.
8. Both sides have committed potential war crimes and must be held accountable accordingly.
Having elected Hamas, Palestine must be accountable to Hamas's war crimes. Firing rockets indiscriminately is a war crime. Iron Dome and the comparatively fewer civilian Israeli casualties acknowledged, firing rockets at a civilian population is by definition a war crime. Just because "not as many" Israeli civilians have been killed does nothing to mitigate the fact that firing rockets at civilians is a war crime. Likewise, Hamas cannot hoard illegal weapons in UN schools, especially near refugees, and pretend they are not putting innocent Palestinians in harms way. Such crimes do nothing to promote peace and only aggravate an already volatile situation. Hamas must immediately cease such acts.
As mentioned already, Israel must be accountable to the United Nations and international law. Israel's use of white phosphorous is a war crime, their use of human shields is a war crime, Israel's collective punishment of all of Gaza is a war crime, Israel's target killing of children on a beach playing soccer is a war crime, Israel's bombing of hospitals is a war crime. These are documented acts by UN Mission reports, independent journalists, and by admission of Israeli soldiers. Rather than ignoring these unjust acts, Israel must own up to these war crimes and immediately cease such acts.
9. America must play fair, and so must worldwide Muslim leadership.
Since Israel's creation nearly seven decades ago, the world has witnessed the same violence again and again. Several peace treaties and efforts have gone by yet we stand no closer to peace.
It may seem illogical to compare America to the diversity of Muslim leadership, but that's the reality we face. America holds UN veto power, and despite the diversity in the Muslim world, the perception is that of a monolith on the Israel-Palestine crisis.
Over the decades, America's reputation to the rest of the world -- and especially the Muslim world -- is that of a dishonest thug who enforces its will and blindly sides with Israel. This image cannot be reversed very easily -- but it must if we want our ultimate goal of peace. It took decades to create this image. It will take decades to change it but will change if America begins to tread the path of peace with justice and equity. A strong military is most powerful when it exercises restraint, rather than when it uses that might to justify killing civilians.
Likewise, the Muslim world must recognize the right of Israel to exist. Muslims worldwide cannot point to dozens of UN Resolutions against Israel and ignore the singular UN decision to create Israel -- such an act demonstrates similar hypocrisy to Israel's current opposite practice regarding the UN.
The prime focus must be peace.
Peace is only possible by ensuring the sanctity and dignity of all human life -- whether Jewish, Muslim or the minority and often ignored Christian Palestinian population suffering through these atrocities. Ignoring such human values only ensures this vicious cycle continues.
Peace cannot exist without justice. A future peace cannot exist without recognizing factual history. The irony is only two types of people will ignore the above guidance -- "heartless Zionists" and "Hamas terrorists."
Hopefully the majority of us can build a strong enough middle ground to neutralize both extremes and finally get what we all want -- peace.