Israel versus Palestine: how much longer?

7 January 2009

Israel versus Palestine: how much longer?

Exactly ten years ago I was in Israel. The country has dominated the news throughout my life and I felt a strong urge to go there. I wanted to talk to people myself: not the powerful, but rather with critical voices from both sides, and with journalists. For a long time I had considered relations there in a somewhat schematic way, but on my return I wrote this: "Good and bad have become almost unusable concepts there. The conflict has been going on now for so long and the mutual hatred has, as a result of the tit-for-tat violence, gone so deep that a solution seems very far away."

By Jan Marijnissen

That was in January 1998. Now, after many thousands more deaths in the region, the situation remains without prospect of resolution. Millions of Palestinians live in pitiable conditions and often with no likelihood of improvement. And that has consequences. In the book Waar Historie Huis Houdt ('History's Home') I wrote, a few years ago, that "Neglect must be prevented and, where it occurs, we must combat it. Frustration, a generation long, leads to a heart of stone. Frustration, two generations long, leads to a heart of Semtex. We must banish injustice. Hope, and positive expectations for the future, are for everybody, for every people, essential."

I still hold to what I thought then, as I walked through Jerusalem and Hebron, that this is a huge misunderstanding. All of these ordinary men and women, Jew or Muslim, Palestinian or Israeli, all of them want the same thing: the best for their families, the best for their friends. How can it come to pass that politicians are unable to give them what they have a right to?

Once upon a time people went with high ideals to the new state which they called Israel. The new country would be modern and socially progressive. But the original ideals have been, fifty-five years on, watered down to the point where they can hardly be found with a microscope. The geopolitical interests of the great powers, above all those of the US, have chased them away from the country and the region. The Middle East became a focal point of the Cold War, of strategic importance because it formed the gateway to the world's biggest oil fields.

The day after Christmas the bombardment of Gaza began, and a few days later the military invasion on the ground followed. In the meantime dozens of rockets descended on the small settlements around Gaza. I have noticed that everyone who has an opinion about this conflict invariably sees a different starting point, so that they can point to the enemy and say:"They started it!" This gets us nowhere. The international community can no longer stand idly by; it must force a solution which does justice to the just desires of all who are involved.

Many people, including supporters of Israel, agree about one thing: that only a withdrawal by Israel from the territories occupied in 1967 and the formation of an independent and viable Palestinian state can bring an end to this longstanding conflict closer.

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