An Open Letter to The Government and People of Israel

It is now about fifty four years since a bus I was on was ambushed by a Jewish group on the way from our village to Haifa, Palestine. Six passengers were injured, including the driver and the person next to me. All of us were innocent people on our way to work. Confusion ensued, the injured were transported to a hospital, and the rest of us resumed our daily commute the next day until the Arab-Jewish-British conflict became so intense that commuting was no longer possible.  I mention all this to assure you that I fully understand the agony and bitterness that could result from attacks on innocent civilians, Arabs and Jews alike.  I also want to assure you that a large part of my efforts ever since has been directed to promote peace between the Arabs and Israelis.  In the process I have discovered that it is more constructive to look more to the future than to the past, to peace and cooperation more than to partisanship and adversity, and always to tranquility and security for both people.  I regret to say that your policies have rarely come to grips with the feelings and suffering of the Palestinian people and as such these policies have rarely generated confidence or promoted the cause of cooperation and peace with your neighbors.  I am not defending the Palestinian policies or actions, but this message is addressed to you, and not to the Palestinians. I am convinced that the Palestinians have accepted the idea of peaceful coexistence with you, but your policies and actions have not given them a chance to reflect their change in attitude. The closest to an acceptable peaceful solution has come from Ehud Barak, but even that proposal was presented in an atmosphere of closure, settlement expansion, and brute force against the Palestinians.  It is now evident that the policies of occupation, force, closure, assassination, demolition of homes, uprooting of orchards and olive groves, and scraping of Arab land have all failed to advance peace and security.  On the contrary, these policies have created bitterness, hatred, hardening of positions, and utter despair among the Palestinians, in addition to the loss of life and property on both sides. If so, is it not worthwhile to explore other ways to achieve the peace objective?  Let me illustrate. 

1. Continuing to occupy Arab land is most vexing and provocative, especially when there are way to end the occupation quickly.  Pierre Mendes France promptly ended the occupation of Indo China; Charles De Gaulle quickly ended the occupation of Algeria; Menachem Begin ended the occupation of Sinai; Yitzhak Rabin started a process of ending the occupation of Palestine,  and Ehud Barak put an end to the occupation of Lebanon except for the disputed Shebaa Farms, with encouraging results. Why not continue the process of withdrawing from the remaining occupied areas of Palestine, even if unilaterally, in order to reduce costs, as a gesture of good will, and to expedite the inevitable?  Strong armies are hard to drive out, but strong armies can afford to withdraw unilaterally and by doing so they help to bring peace closer to realization.

2. Violence breeds violence.  Israeli forces are presumably under orders not to initiate violence but to react to it when threatened.  Who acts and who reacts is not always easy to determine, especially under conditions of suspicion, distrust, and insecurity.  Unfortunately the actions and reactions by the Israeli forces have rarely been purely defensive or encouraging to the promotion of peace.  In fact they have led to the opposite, even though there are ways to counteract violence and still serve the cause of peace. For example:

a.  Shorts come from a certain building and even though rarely anyone is hurt, the Israeli forces proceed to demolish that building, regardless whether the owner or occupant of that building is responsible for the shots or not. If that building is suspected as a fortress and a source of danger and needs to be demolished, why not compensate the owners to allow them to build a replacement that is not threatening, but also to show that your action is only for security purposes and not as blind punishment of possibly innocent owners?

b. Snipers and ambushers may use olive groves and orchards as hiding places and sources of danger and threat.  If so and you find it necessary to eliminate these sources of danger and threat, why not compensate the owners, who most probably are helpless and innocent?  By doing so you allow them to replant seedlings that would not shelter the snipers in the near future, you allow them to continue to earn an income, and you build good will among those who have little to do with ambushing and sniping.

c. Young people throw stones and the Israeli army reacts with bullets.  In my idealism I feel like saying “why not respond to the stones with candy and flowers”, but I know that such will not be the case. However, if you can not stay out of their way, on their own land, tear gas can be very effective to disperse them with little permanent harm to anyone.  Such action would reduce casualties, reduce the agonies and bitterness, and prevent the martyring of misled and misused children and youth. Eventually the stone throwers would discover that their behavior fails to provoke violence and will not make heroes of them.

d. Israeli forces have tended to target individuals and eliminate them by using undercover assassins, helicopter gunships, missiles, and most recently jet fighters, evidently with little consideration for who else might be in the targeted locations. If indeed the targeted individuals are known to be terrorists, directly or indirectly, why not arrest them, bring them to justice, and judge them?  To indict, judge, and execute blindly by military forces can hardly fit the image of a democratic country seeking to live in peace and security with its neighbors.  In fact such behavior puts the state of Israel and its armed forces on the same level with the “terrorists” who attack civilians blindly on either side of the conflict.

e. A bomb explodes and hurts Israelis.  The armed forces proceed, in addition to other forms of punishment, to impose closure and siege around Palestinian towns and villages, presumably to guarantee security. However, closure has tended to generate the opposite effects. Closures have prevented Palestinians from working in Israel, have reduce economic trade between the Israel and Palestine, and created poverty, unemployment, and idle time among the unemployed.  Many of the unemployed youth end up throwing stones, joining radical groups, and losing hope that peace will one day become a reality.  Would it not be more productive to allow labor mobility and trade activity to continue, with the usual security checks, and thus maintain good will and reduce the despair that often leads to frustration and violence?

3. You have accepted UN Resolution 242, which calls for withdrawal from the occupied territories in exchange for peace.  Yet you have continued to appropriated Arab land and build settlements on it.  Though you have promised not to build new settlements and only to expand existing ones to accommodate natural population growth, the Jewish settlement population and housing capacities have exploded far beyond any measure of natural population growth.   Freezing construction in the settlements cannot hurt Israel, but it would enhance the peace prospects, particularly that a large unused housing capacity already prevails in the settlements.

4. Finally, Palestinian children deserve protection just as much as do Israeli children.  Innocent Palestinians deserve protection as much as do innocent Israelis. Punishing innocent people can only hurt the cause of peace, damage the image of the state, and leave behind feelings of hatred, bitterness, and despair. Is it not time to try other approaches?  Ending the occupation is one such way, even if unilaterally.  Sparing the innocent, including their homes, orchards, and olive groves, is another.

Arresting the suspected terrorists, rather than assassinating them without certainly or fair judgment is a third. Refraining from the imposition of futile closures and allowing the continuation of economic activity is a fourth. Taking these steps may be painful for it guarantees little, but it cannot lead to worse than the existing conditions. Yet, imagine the benefits if these steps prove successful and how peace, security, and tranquility for both Israelis and Palestinians may again be a potential reality.  Every day that passes without peace and security is a day lost by both people.  The sooner you revise the sterile and futile policies of the past, the sooner you will revive hope that peace and security will some day prevail.

The author is a Professor of Economics, University of California, Davis, CA.