In order to make the Palestinian story something that readers can relate to, I have devised an imaginative exercise that places people in the role of the Palestinians. I have placed Native Americans in the role of the Israelis only because both peoples have experienced a holocaust and centuries of discrimination. The actions that I attribute to the Native Americans are used only to make my analogy work and are purely imaginary. In reality, Native Americans have shared the experience of the Palestinians.
The events described below mirror the experience of the Palestinians:
Imagine yourself living in your state 100 years from now. You and your ancestors have lived in your state for centuries. But you awoke this morning to find out that the U.S. government has decided to partition your state into two parts in order to give Native Americans a homeland of their own. After years of determined work, Native Americans have finally convinced the government that their experience of genocide and centuries of discrimination have made it imperative that they have a homeland of their own. Your state will be divided in half. The eastern side of the state will become the Tribal Nations State while the western side will be known as the state territory.
Soon after the partition, fighting breaks out between your state’s residents and the Native Americans who have poured into the new Tribal Nations State from all over America. The Native Americans win this war and hundreds of thousands of your state’s residents living in the Tribal Nations State are forced to flee and end up living in crowded refugee camps in the western territory. Their homes and property are given to Native Americans. The fact that the rest of the states have adopted strict immigration rules that require new residents to have substantial assets means that these people, their children and their grandchildren, will spend their lives in these squalid refugee camps that become breeding grounds for extremism. Those who remain in the Tribal Nations State are forced to live as second class citizens because they are not Native Americans.
Twenty years go by and the Tribal Nations State becomes a prosperous and powerful state with the help of billions of dollars of US government military and economic support. But life in the state territory is another matter. Poverty and hopelessness become a way of life. Anger and resentment among the people grows. Finally, after repeated threats from the territorial residents that they will drive the Native Americans from their land, the Tribal Nations State launches an invasion of the state territory and quickly achieves a decisive military victory.
For the next forty years, the people in the territory are forced to live under a military occupation. Their rights are suspended and they are subject to military law. Military checkpoints are set up around every city and town in the territory and people are prohibited from leaving their hometowns without a military pass. Those suspected of plotting against the Tribal Nations State are put into prison without a trial. Their homes and the homes of their relatives are often demolished by the Tribal Nations Defense Force as a warning to the rest of the population.
During the occupation, the Tribal Nations State begins establishing Native American settlements in the occupied territory. Land is seized from people in the territory and over 200 settlements containing over 225,000 Native Americans are constructed in the state territory. These settlements are virtual military fortresses and are linked together with the Tribal Nations State by roads that can only be used by Native Americans.
Anger and frustration continue to mount in the territory. With no access to sophisticated military weapons, some young men in the territory begin strapping dynamite to their bodies and blowing themselves up in order to drive out the Native Americans. Preachers in some churches tell them that they will go to heaven as Christian martyrs.
Faced with the threat of these suicide bombers, the Tribal Nations Defense Forces begin raiding cities and towns in the territory and putting more young men into prison.
They also begin building a wall around the territory that will effectively turn the entire territory into a vast open air prison. The situation for those living in the occupied territory is becoming increasingly desperate.
What I have just described as happening in an imaginary future has actually happened in Palestine. Ask yourself how you would react under these conditions. What would you do if most of your land was confiscated and you were forced to live like a prisoner in what remained? Now let’s return to the present and ask ourselves what must be done to achieve a just peace between Israel and Palestine. President Bush finally put his finger on it when he declared on his recent visit to the Holy Land that Israel must end its occupation of Palestine. If you can relate to what I have described above, you understand why this must be the critical first step toward peace. There is a fundamental truth that cannot be ignored if peace is to be achieved. Security for Israel means justice for the Palestinian people. As long as the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territory continues, there can be no peace in this troubled land.
Joe Parko is a retired college professor living in Cumberland County, TN. He has served as an advisor to the American Friends Service Committee’s Middle East Peace Education Program and was the Quaker delegate on a peace mission to Israel and Palestine in March, 2005.