Israel, Palestine Must Move Toward Future of Collaboration

Jonathan Jue-Wong, Contributing Writer

I did not grow up with an innate love or loyalty to the state of Israel. My first memory of “Israel” as a nation stemmed from a political cartoon I found when I was perhaps six or seven years old. In the cartoon, two military pilots are seated in F-16 fighters — one is American, the other Israeli, as indicated by each nation’s flag on the jet fuselage. I may not remember the political context or current event to which the cartoon referred, but the implications were clear. As an American, my first memory of Israel the nation-state was a militaristic one, a country associated with fighter jets and military aggression. It would be years until my knowledge broadened to include a general awareness of the acrimonious and violent conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in their discord-filled land.

As I grew older, I began to gain a better understanding of the conflict in which Israel has long been enmeshed. As personal summer reading before I started middle school, I read President Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. As the title indicates, President Carter is pro-Palestine. It was

deeply influential on my political views, and from then until relatively recently, I was solidly and exclusively pro-Palestine. It was infuriating when, during a middle school unit on Middle Eastern history, my teacher pushed discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict in a decidedly Zionist direction, profoundly influencing the campus dialogue on the conflict. The experience only served to strengthen my convictions in the opposite direction.

It was not until 2013 that my views and opinions concerning the conflict began to evolve and shift. In January, I traveled to the region for the first time on a Winter Term project study tour. Being in Israel and the West Bank and interacting with Israelis and Palestinians really challenged my previous onesided take on the conflict. Inspired and re-committed to working for peace, over the summer I interned with Churches for Middle East Peace, a national coalition of 25 church denominations and organizations dedicated to supporting Israeli-Palestinian peace through a two-state solution. Throughout the year, I read more, diversified my research and strove to gain a more comprehensive understanding of an incredibly complicated

and partisan conflict. And in September, I attended the J Street National Conference and Advocacy Day for the first time. In many ways, 2013 was a formative and influential year for me, with regard to my increasing awareness and knowledge of the conflict’s history and ugly realities.

There were numerous takeaways and realizations from all the experiences I’ve described. But from the many lessons I’ve learned, I believe more firmly than ever that conscientious Americans must engage in the conflict and demand peace. The United States of America has long been a heavyweight player in the Middle East, especially with regard to Israel. While supporting diplomatic efforts between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators for decades, the U.S. has contributed massive financial and military support to the Israeli government to support U.S. security and political interests in the region. While this has been the status quo for decades, true peace and security in Israel and Palestine will only occur after a fair and just diplomatic agreement, one that firmly establishes a truly sovereign Palestinian state.

Oberlin College prides itself on a long and storied tradition of

committing itself to justice, equality and the promotion of human rights. While in the 19th century this pertained primarily to domestic affairs, throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century, Obies have made it clear that they believe that people globally deserve the same justice, equality and dignity that Americans have long fought for. From Vietnam to South African apartheid, transnational migration to the Iraq War, Oberlin student activists have engaged in fighting injustice and oppression on a global scale. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, now at a crucial moment with delicate and difficult negotiations currently underway, demands our engagement and advocacy.

J Street U Oberlin is committed to this engagement and advocacy on campus, and welcomes a diversity of opinions and backgrounds— my own background and approach to the conflict are proof of that. This Saturday, on March 15 at 4 p.m., it is continuing its J Street U Coffee Series with a discussion in Mudd 202 concerning the future of Palestinian refugees, a crucial issue at the heart of final-status negotiations. It is an important event that anyone, regardless of background or experience, can and should attend.

Today, 14 years after I first saw that political cartoon and associated Israel with military action, I am pro-Palestine and pro-Israel. But far, far above either, I am propeace. And for a just, practical and sustainable peace to come about, both Israel and Palestine will need to be fully and collaboratively engaged as partners, with the full support of the United States, given our enormous influence and role in the region. Entrenching ourselves on either side, as I once did, is not conducive to peace or ending the conflict. But if we support both parties and strongly encourage U.S. leadership to compel both sides into making the tough decisions and choices absolutely necessary for a comprehensive peace agreement, we will see peace between Israel and Palestine in our lifetime.