Mr. Satlow: Israel and Palestine

By: Oscar Kaeli

There are some words that can’t possibly be uttered without triggering passionate beliefs and actions in those that have even the faintest idea of what those words mean. Two words that are great examples of this are Israel and Palestine, two states that have long been at each other’s throats, each one refusing to let go of the other. The conflict between Israel and Palestine has become one of the defining geopolitical standoffs of the last century, but there is more to this story than just conflict.

Mr. Satlow, a social studies teacher at Central, grew up in Jerusalem. His family had moved to Israel from the US before he was born. He joined the Israeli army when he was 18, which was mandatory for him, and naturally became intertwined with the Israeli occupation of Palestine. He served across the West Bank, and on the border with Gaza, Syria and Lebanon. He was able to see how the conflict between these two states have affected both Israelis and Palestinians. I met with Mr. Satlow to ask him questions about the history of the conflict and what he thinks about the events that have and are unfolding in his home nation.

For those who are maybe a bit unfamiliar with the conflict, can you give a very condensed history of the conflict?

One very interesting part of the conflict is that it is not as old as people think. As an active conflict, it has been taking place since the beginning of the 20th Century. There were always Jews in Palestine, but Jews have had a history of being kicked out of places, they were in a kind of exile from their homeland in Israel, and they were never quite accepted in Europe. There was always violent anti-semitism. In the middle to the end of the 19th Century, this idea of Zionism, forming a nation-state in Israel for the Jewish People, came up. I called the Israeli occupation of Palestine the “original sin,” but the fact is the original sin was, I now realize, the way the Zionist movement treated the Palestinians, which was kind of to ignore them. There was this idea, and people actually said this, called “a land without a people for a people without a land,” as if Palestine was a land without a people, which it definitely was not. Conflict didn’t start until the Zionists showed up and started buying land, legally, from Palestinians. The way they did it was that in the mid-19th Century, there were these reforms in the Ottoman Empire, which Palestine was a part of, and basically it was a modernizing idea, where people could register their land. Palestinian urban land-owning families ended up registering land in the name of the Fellahin, the local Palestinian farmers, so they technically owned it, which meant that they could sell it, and they did. They sold the land en masse to the Zionists, and then these Palestinians had to be evicted. Most cities were filled with Jews. Jews owned a lot of the businesses, and they prefered hiring Jews instead of hiring Palestinians. It’s important to note that at the end of the day, no matter how legal the process of buying land was, for the Palestinians the Jews were colonizing their land. It’s a matter of perspective: to many Palestinians, these were not Jews fleeing persecution, but European colonists. And then in 1947, the Jews and Palestinians fought a war against each other, along with pretty much everyone in the region, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and they (the Israelis) kicked a lot of people out of their homes. Many of these Palestinians left their homes because of a very real fear for their lives, fully expecting to return to them. There was a massacre perpetrated by Jewish militias in a village called Dir Yassin, for example, that served as a warning to other villages, even though the Jewish leadership officially denounced it. Israel systematically denied them the right to return, and still does.There were multiple atrocities committed by Jewish and Palestinian militias, just a cycle of war crime after war crime. When they say ethnic cleansing, as far as the clear definition of what ethnic cleansing was, that’s what happened.. But it’s also important to remember that in ‘47, both sides were trying to do that, it was a matter of trying to claim the land for their people, and they didn’t want the other people to be in it. From what I learned, there was a lack of organization on the Palestinian side, and the Israeli’s had support from all sorts of different places and were more effective at ethnic cleansing. That’s why the entire southern part of the country has very few Palestinian settlements in it. They were refugees, and they found themselves in Gaza. That’s why Gaza is the biggest refugee camp in the world. It’s full of people from the southern part of the country who ended up settling there. There was a UN resolution that said which side gets what. The Zionists originally agreed to it and the Palestinians did not agree to it. Growing up, the narrative was “we agreed to it, and they didn’t, so it’s their fault.” But I heard a Palestinian historian put it like this: If someone comes to your home and takes 13% of it, and then says “but it’s only 13%!” that doesn’t really help because they’re taking part of your house. Later in 1967, Israel was attacked again by the Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians, some Iraqis even, and Israel mounted a pre-emptive strike, and took out basically everyone’s air force, and tripled the country’s size. Israel took over Golan Heights, an eastern part of Syria, the West Bank/Palestine, and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, but Israel returned the Sinai peninsula in a peace treaty. And that’s when the Israeli military occupation of Palestine started.

In the spirit of the UN General Assembly currently taking place (as of time of interview), how has the broader international community treated the situation?

There’s been attempts to broker a peace. The US has always been part of that. For example, when Israel made peace with Egypt, that was Jimmy Carter’s doing. Chances are it would not have happened without him. There’s always been an effort from the international community. But I think people don’t actually care as much anymore. I think they’ve kind of left it as a slogan that they like to use, but not actually do anything about. When it comes to international recognition, it’s also worth mentioning that right now, the Palestinian Authority is basically a failed state. There’s a huge amount of corruption. In the West Bank, which is still run by the Palestinian Authority, there are these brutal crackdowns on protests and anything like that. And then Gaza is run by Hamas. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, and I was actually there for it. And then in 2006, there were elections, and Hamas won. Then a couple years later there was this brutal mini civil war within the Gaza Strip, where they killed a lot of people. Then they took power, and they were kind of like a dog chasing a car that caught up to the car and didn’t know what to do then. They were a military organization, they wanted to fight against Israel. They don’t want to run a city or manage sanitation, education or hospital systems. That’s a problem Israel has now. I’m not saying the blockade of Gaza is in any way justified, but when you let anything into Gaza, the people in charge are Hamas, and they can take the money to build tunnel infrastructure to fire rockets on Israel. That’s what they want to do. They don’t use the money to build hospitals or schools.

Recently, there was an escalation in hostilities, a few months back. What are the catalysts for those increases in hostilities, if any?

There’s always something. There was a politician named Ariel Sharon, who was later the Prime Minister, he was actually the one who pulled Israel out of the Gaza Strip. Right before the Second Intifada (a major Palestinian uprising), he went up to the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa Mosque Complex, and made a political statement by doing that, by enetering as a politician. That was the spark that ignited the Second Intifada in 2000. A lot of times it has to do with religious monuments. This last flare-up happened because the Israeli police in Jerusalem, my hometown, blocked off a square that Palestinians after their prayers would hang out on. They would break the fast, drink coffee, play Backgammon, and just hang out at this square. And the Israelis blocked that off in the month of Ramadan. And that pissed people off. They took to the streets and started clashing with police as far as the Al-Aqsa Mosque Complex. There were Palestinian demonstraters throwing bottles and rocks, and the police reacted by doing things that were ‘taboo’. They burst into the inner Mosque of the Al-Aqsa Complex, and there are videos of them going in there with tear gas and rubber bullets. That prompted a response from Hamas. They started firing missiles from the Gaza Strip into Israel, into Jerusalem, which we didn’t know until then that they could actually reach. At the same time, the reason for the heightened tensions were, ridiculously, TikTok. There was this challenge that young Palestinians were doing where they would find someone who is very visibly Jewish and record themselves assaulting them. That prompted Israeli ultra-nationalists to go to Palestinian neighborhoods and beat people up. And that was actually the scarier part for me. The missiles were terrifying, my nieces and nephews, I could tell, were already getting traumatized from them. But these lynch mobs, Palestinian and Jewish, going into towns and seeking out people of the other ethicity and lynching them, to me, was the really scary part. So there’s always something, always a spark.

Benjamin Netanyahu has been in power for most of this century, and we only recently got a change in power in Israel. Throughout Israel’s history, how have different Prime Ministers approached the situation? Do different administrations treat the situation differently from ones prior?

Differently. There was a conversation I had with my dad recently, where I said “I don’t even know what the difference is between the right and left in Israel except for how they view the conflict.” It’s clear that there’s conservatives and liberals that have certain topics that people will support. But in Israel, not as much. The main difference between the two sides of the political spectrum is how they view the occupation, if they view it as an occupation at all. It makes a huge difference who’s in power, but there has been a shift to the right over the past couple of decades. And that, as far as I can tell, started happening in earnest around 1995. Yitzhak Rabin was the Prime Minister, and around that time he was assassinated. The person who assassinated him was this Jewish ultra-nationalist, and he justified this because Rabin was working with the head of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, to broker a peace. And people didn’t like that. Rabin was assassinated and that peace process died with him. Since then, there’s been a shift to the right. The person in charge now, Naftali Bennet, is probably more ideologically right wing than Netanyahu. There’s this power sharing agreement where he’s gonna be Prime Minister for a couple years and then someone else after him, and the interesting thing about that is that the agreement they came up with is going to deal with the things that haven’t been dealt with. Israel hasn’t passed a budget in a couple years, it’s been really bad. They’re going to deal with the things that they need to, complete reforms, but the one thing they are not going to touch is the Palestinian issue. It’s great for Israel, but once again, the people left out of the conversation are the Palestinians.

The thing that stands out to me is the human impact on the residents of Israel and Palestine. There has been some serious damage done. When you think about these people, do you feel that there is hope for a peaceful resolution between the two states?

Yes. I do think so. It’s kind of hard to hear about what Israelis think and how Israelis act, and know Israelis that treat the occupation as a huge burden. I heard people talk about how the Israelis handled the latest flare-up that we talked about, and at the same time, my friends are getting tear gassed by Israeli police, and then going home to their bomb shelters, which every house in Israel has access to. Their babies are crying, not understanding what’s happening. It’s always more complicated than you think. When they say ‘both sides’, it’s always such an oversimplification to me, because there are so many different factors on each side. Maybe Israelis and Palestinians, as a whole, have an issue. But when you go to the grassroots level and meet with people, that doesn’t exist. Human beings are just human beings. I have a friend that works with the Muslim Jewish Conference. It’s a European organization where they have Jews and Arabs who live abroad come together to meet and speak. And that friend told me that it seems the farther away people are from a situation, geographically, the more extreme their views are. The closer you get to it, you realize people just want to live their lives. They just want life to be better. Some people view how it can get better in different ways. What the solution will be, that I can’t really tell you. The general consensus is a two-state solution, but that would mean some transfer of people, and could result in some people being under a different government. A one-state solution is also something people talk about, a sort of multinational state. It’s complicated. But I do absolutely believe that there is a solution.

Mr. Satlow is only one of millions of people that have been affected by this seemingly never ending conflict. There are still millions of people living in Israel or Palestine that seek a solution to a conflict that has claimed friends, family members, and livelihoods. Sometimes it can seem that there will be no solution, that Israel and Palestine are destined to be in their titanic stalemate for as long as we live. But if there is one thing that the world has learned over the past decades and centuries, it is that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. We must choose whether to stay in that recluse of darkness, or re-enter the light for which we can all shine under.

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