On Monday, one day prior to the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding, the Trump administration fulfilled its promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. This move was followed by Palestinian protests in the West Bank and Gaza, with Israeli soldiers killing over 50 Palestinians, including children, and wounding over 1,000 others. Since then, debates have been raging among pundits, policymakers and everyday citizens about the struggle over Israel and Palestine. Unfortunately, many of these conversations are animated by the same stale and problematic talking points. Here are seven of the most damaging:
1. These people have been fighting forever.
This is one of the most often repeated and inaccurate comments on the conflict. The truth is that Arabs and Jews have not been fighting forever. Rather, it can be dated to the end of the 19th century or, more acutely, the beginning of the post-World War I British Mandatory period. In addition to being historically inaccurate, such a claim frames the issue as something unsolvable and intractable, in addition to reinforcing longstanding ideas of Arabs as barbaric and inherently violent.
“Palestinians want peace. But justice is always a precondition of peace.”
2. This is a religious conflict.
This, too, is inaccurate. Palestinians are not a religious monolith. While majority Muslim, the Palestinian community has always included Muslims, Christians and Jews. Also, prior to Zionist settlement at the end of the Ottoman Empire, religious diversity was a feature of historic Palestine. Even after Jewish immigration began, Zionist settlers were mainly secular, as were the indigenous Palestinians.
But this isn’t just a question of historical accuracy. By framing the conflict as religious, we are encouraged to see it as an internecine squabble between two equally earnest parties who are in possession of competing religious texts or scriptural interpretations. Simply put, this is not about religion. It’s about land theft, expulsion and ethnic cleansing by foreign settlers to indigenous land.
3. It’s very complicated.
In a certain way, the issue is indeed complicated. After more than a century of conflict, there is definitely a lot of nuance surrounding various truth claims, policies and solutions. Too often, however, the claim that “it’s complicated” functions as an excuse to sidestep a very simple reality: this is about the 70-year struggle of a people who have been expelled, murdered, robbed, imprisoned and occupied. While there’s certainly a need to engage the finer points of the conflict, we can never lose sight of this basic and very uncomplicated point.
4. Palestinians keep turning down fair deals.
This argument wrongly presumes that any deal that includes the sharing of stolen land with the victims of said theft could be fair. But even in relative and pragmatic terms, this is not true. Think back to the wildly disproportionate U.N. partition agreement of 1947 that allotted 55 percent of the land to the Jewish population even though there only comprised 33 percent of the population and owned 7 percent of the land. Or look to the 2008 negotiations between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that did not allow for a contiguous Palestinian territory nor a real resolution to the struggle over Jerusalem. Palestinians have never been offered a deal that allows for a truly independent, fertile, sufficient and secure state.
5. Palestinians don’t want peace.
This argument plays on Orientalist narratives of Arabs as innately violent, irrational, pre-modern and undeserving of Western democracy or diplomacy. The argument also castigates Palestinians for resisting their brutal occupation and repression. Occupied people have a legal and moral right to defend themselves. To ask them not to resist is to ask them to die quietly. Palestinians want peace. But justice is always a precondition of peace.
6. Israel has a right to exist!
This claim is a product of U.S. and Israeli hasbara, a term for propaganda. First, this argument is only rhetorically deployed in relation to Israel, as opposed to Palestine or virtually any other nation-states. After all, no one routinely demands that Israel and its advocates declare Palestine’s “right to exist” as an abstract idea, physical space or independent nation. More importantly, however, the claim obscures a more fundamental truth: no country has a right to exist, only people do. By naturalizing the idea that nation-states have a “right to exist,” we undermine our ability to offer a moral critique of Israel’s (or any settler-colony’s) origin story.
“No country has a right to exist, only people do.”
If a country has a natural right to exist, there is less room to challenge the means by which that country obtains land, interacts with indigenous populations or engages in international and domestic law. After all, it had a right to exist, right? The “right to exist” argument also reifies the nation-state, erasing its relatively new emergence as a political imaginary construct. In other words, the idea of nations and nationalism is relatively new. (This is why the whole “there was never a country called Palestine” argument is both ahistorical and dishonest). The argument also limits our ability to imagine the world on different terms and different political formations, including the reconstitution of historic Palestine (or contemporary Israel) as a single democracy for ALL citizens, regardless of race, class, gender or religion.
7. You’re anti-Semitic!
Anti-Semitism is a very real phenomenon around the globe. And we must be vigilant about addressing and destroying anti-Semitism wherever it emerges. Too often, however, this claim is leveled against anyone who critiques or protests the practices of the Israeli nation-state.
Under these conditions, allegations of anti-Semitism become nothing more than a reflexive retort, intended to shut down the conversation. More importantly, this is a key part of Zionist strategy: equating Judaism with Zionism and the Israeli state itself. Under this logic, to critique Israel is to critique Judaism. Such arguments also ignore the fact that the Jewish tradition is one that covets justice and fairness, and its principles are in fundamental opposition with the Israeli government’s actions.
Hopefully, we can move beyond these arguments and engage in deeper and more nuanced conversations about creating peace, justice and freedom in the region.
Marc Lamont Hill is the Steve Charles Professor of Media, Cities, and Solutions at Temple University, a CNN political commentator and former host of HuffPost Live.
CORRECTION: In a previous version of this op-ed, the author stated that the beginning of the conflict could be dated to the end of the 20th century. However, he intended to write this period was around the end of the 19th century.