In response to the recent escalation of violence in Israel-Palestine, three groups hosted a “Day of Coexistence” at Wonderful Wednesday on Oct. 14. While the idea of coexistence appears to be an admirable concept at first glance, when abstracted from history and the present-day conditions in Israel-Palestine, it can mask the ways in which the structure of the State of Israel currently makes equal coexistence impossible.
While one might expect that a “Day of Coexistence” would attempt to bring together students from all sides of the issue, the three groups sponsoring the “Day of Coexistence” — Emory-Israel Public Affairs Committee (EIPAC), Emory Students for Israel (ESI) and Emory Hillel — are all explicitly pro-Israel. For Hillel this is one aspect of their organization. For ESI and EIPAC it is their primary purpose. They did not include Emory Students for Justice in Palestine (ESJP) or — to the best of my knowledge — any other group that is not specifically pro-Israel in the planning of the event.
The execution of the event suggested that its organizers were concerned with supporting the idea of coexistence in the abstract and were less concerned about the nature of that coexistence or how we might be able to move toward it. During Wonderful Wednesday, I asked one of the people at EIPAC’s table what they understood coexistence to mean. They replied that it basically meant peace and an end to the violence, but they didn’t want to go into specifics since people would disagree and didn’t think it was their job to look at the details. They repeated this line, almost verbatim, when I tried to have a conversation about what coexistence would look like and about the specific forms of violence that we both agreed need to end.
Excluding voices critical of Israel from the event planning and refusing to discuss the “details” that have caused the recent violence eliminates the possibility of moving forward. We cannot improve the situation without acknowledging the situation and looking at it critically.
So let me provide some of these “details.”
Since the beginning of October, there has been an escalation in violence between Palestinians and Israelis. So far, eight Israelis, 44 Palestinians and one Eritrean asylum seeker have been killed. Eighty three Israelis and more than 2,000 Palestinians have been injured. All these deaths and injuries are tragic, and the greater loss of Palestinian life does not diminish the value of Israeli life.
In order to understand this violence and work to end it, I believe it is essential that we address the historical and present-day context of Israel-Palestine. This is complicated, but I will highlight some points that I think are central to understanding the situation.
When the State of Israel was founded in 1948 (on what had until then been Palestinian land), it expelled more than 750,000 Palestinians who had been living there.While the United Nations recognized the right of these Palestinians to return to their land in 1948, Israel has not, however, and has generally barred them from the country, so their descendants and them (whose total number is now estimated to be between 4.6 million and 7.6 million) are excluded from the State of Israel. Do these Palestinians have a right to “coexist” with Israelis?
In contrast, since 1950, Jews from anywhere in the world are automatically considered eligible for citizenship, even if they cannot show that they or their family have any historical ties to the land of Israel-Palestine. Both of these processes were necessary to artificially create a Jewish demographic majority on Palestinian land so that Israel could be a “Jewish state,” one of the defining features proclaimed in its Declaration of Independence and its basic law.
More recently, many Israeli politicians who embrace the idea of Israel as a “Jewish State” have discussed Palestinians and Israeli Arabs as a “demographic problem,” because as these populations grow, they “threaten” this Jewish demographic majority. In 2003, Benjamin Netanyahu, now prime minister of Israel, stated, “If there is a demographic problem, and there is, it is with the Israeli Arabs who will remain Israeli citizens,” arguing that Israeli Arab population growth could threaten the Jewish nature of Israel. This is clearly racist. What does coexistence mean in a political context where Palestinians are only permitted to exist in Israel so long as they do not grow large enough to challenge the demographic majority of Jews? When Arab lives are viewed as a potential problem?
In addition, Israel has maintained a military occupation of the West Bank since 1967 and has appropriated large portions of its land and its resources for Israelis. The West Bank is recognized by the UN as Palestinian land, yet Israel maintains and expands illegal settlements (that is, Israeli-only cities) in the West Bank with a 2011 population of approximately 500,000 (including East Jerusalem). Forty three percent of the West Bank is reserved for these settlements and their expansion and is off-limits to Palestinians. While settlers often commit violence against Palestinians (in 2011 they killed five Palestinians and injured more than 1,000), over 90 percent of Israeli police investigations into reports of this violence are closed without indictment. Israeli settlers and the Israeli government have seized Palestinian water resources and allocated them unevenly to Israelis, resulting in Israelis receiving on average 300 liters per capita per day (l/c/d) while Palestinians have access to only 70 l/c/d. For reference, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 100 l/c/d. The State of Israel has also refused to grant building permits to Palestinians seeking to build water collection structures and has demolished such structures if Palestinians built them anyway. Simultaneously, Israel has ignored settlers who not only build without permits, but also build on Palestinian privately owned land.
The claim that Israel can be a Jewish state, the insistence on a Jewish majority, the framing of Arab and Palestinian lives as a problem, the theft of Palestinian water and land and Israel’s refusal to hold Israelis and Palestinians to the same legal standards constitute a system of ethnic supremacy. Each stems from a belief that Jewish lives are more valuable than Palestinian lives or that Jews have a greater right to safety and to the land of Israel-Palestine than Palestinians.
I am fully supportive of a path forward involving coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians, as equals, that ensures all people’s human rights are respected, but I am strongly opposed to any path that involves Jewish lives being treated as more valuable than Palestinian lives. And the difference — it’s in the details.
Anaïs Hussung is a College junior from Jefferson City, Tennessee.