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Talking to our Children about Israel

by Alan Edelman | Published on August 1, 2009 in Kansas City Jewish Chronicle

Alan Edelman is the Associate Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Kansas City, and partic­i­pated in Encounter in July 2009.  This article was orig­i­nally published in the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle in August, 2009.

These are inter­esting times to be Jewish and a Zionist in the United States.  We over­whelm­ingly voted for Barak Obama as pres­i­dent and continue to support him.  However, some members of the Jewish commu­nity have been crit­ical of his policy toward Israel, partic­u­larly as it relates to settle­ment activity in the West Bank and his desire to move the peace process forward.  This has created some angst but it also provides an oppor­tu­nity to under­stand the complex­i­ties of the situ­a­tion.  Whenever Israel is in the news, our chil­dren, partic­u­larly those in high school and on the college campus, are often forced to respond to crit­i­cism from teachers or fellow students.  Therefore, it is impor­tant to talk to your chil­dren about the situ­a­tion and provide them with facts that they can use to speak artic­u­lately about the very compli­cated Middle East.

The focus of the current discus­sion, and the essence of the conflict, is who owns what land.  In November of 1947 the United Nations voted to parti­tion the area known as Palestine into Jewish and Arab nations.  This plan gave the Jews 56% of the area and 44% to the Arabs for what could have been Palestine had they accepted the plan.  However, the surrounding Arab coun­tries rejected this and attacked the new Jewish state imme­di­ately after Israel declared its inde­pen­dence on May 14, 1948.  The result of the War of Independence was that Israel ended up with 78% of the area.  In addi­tion, hundreds of thou­sands of Palestinian Arabs who left their homes in what is now Israel became refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.  In the early 1960’s these refugee polit­i­cally orga­nized them­selves around the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which in the early years waged an armed struggle against Israel.

In 1967, the surrounding Arab nations tried again to destroy Israel, but a preemp­tive strike by the Israeli Defense Forces responded to the aggres­sion in six short days.  Israel captured the addi­tional terri­to­ries of the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip.  But this meant that they were now in control of nearly one million Palestinians, many of whom sought Israel’s destruc­tion.  In the after­math of the Six Day War (and the 1973 Yom Kippur War) the United Nations passed reso­lu­tions 242 and 338, which called for the estab­lish­ment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East based on Israel’s with­drawal from the terri­to­ries occu­pied in 1967 and the Arabs acknowl­edging the sover­eignty, terri­to­rial integrity and polit­ical inde­pen­dence of Israel and their right to live in peace.

During the past forty-two years two major patterns of behavior have prevented the achieve­ment of peace.  Israel has sought part­ners for peace among the Palestinians but the response has been rejec­tion and violence.  At the same time, Israel has continued settle­ment activity in the West Bank.  In addi­tion, Israel has built roads and estab­lished check points which make it diffi­cult for Palestinians to live a normal life.  Many of these roads and check­points were in response to the suicide bomb­ings in Israel during the two Intifadas that killed hundreds of Israeli citizens.

During the past few years, a moderate element within the Palestinian commu­nity in the West Bank has emerged and seems to be seeking a just settle­ment to the conflict.  They are taking respon­si­bility for secu­rity and, in fact, are being trained by the United States armed forces.  They are requesting that Israel dismantle settle­ments that even Israel considers illegal.   Israel has recently announced that they have begun training the forces that will remove any settler from these “outposts” who refuse to leave.  The Palestinians are also asking that Israel remove some of the check points that do not protect Israel, but do severely limit Palestinians from trav­el­ling within the West Bank.  They have also requested that Israel allow Palestinians to begin building the infra­struc­ture neces­sary to estab­lish their state: agri­cul­ture, sani­ta­tion, water, energy, health, tourism.

The Obama admin­is­tra­tion is putting pres­sure on Israel to loosen its control over the West Bank. After over forty years of tensions and killing on both sides, this is not an easy task to accom­plish.  Israel must have guar­an­tees that forces within the Palestinian people who still seek Israel’s destruc­tion be margin­al­ized and controlled. There are many posi­tive signs of peace including exchanges of doctors, acad­e­mics, govern­ment offi­cials, artists and students of all ages.  The majority of Israelis and Palestinians on the West Bank support a two-state solu­tion.  The United States has a key role to play and we must educate ourselves about the issues so we and our chil­dren can explain the issues to those who may be crit­ical of Israel’s actions.

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