We're Settlers. This Is How You, the Palestinians, Can End the Occupation

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Mourners stand beside the fresh grave of Eitam and Na'ama Henkin after their funeral at a cemetery in Jerusalem October 2, 2015Credit: Reuters/Baz Ratner

We Israelis need help. 

On one hand, our return to the Land of Israel in modern times is exactly that - a return. We Israelis have chosen to make our lives here in the Holy Land in fulfillment both of God’s promise to Abraham and of 2000 years of Jewish yearning, and in response to the vicious anti-Semitism we suffered through much of that exile. The Talmud tells us that the Land of Israel is “purchased” through suffering; the past 100 years should make clear that that is a price we are prepared to pay for renewing our connection to our national and historic homeland. 

At the same time, the current security reality here runs counter to so many of our deeply ingrained Jewish values and intuitions. To be sure, the principle of self-defense is also a Jewish value, mentioned in the Talmud and enshrined in Jewish law. But it cannot be denied that our defensive measures necessarily violate the rights of Palestinians. Middle-of-the-night home entries, road blocks, checkpoints and other measures may indeed be necessary evils, but we must never lose sight of the fact that they are just that - evils. Necessary or not, they violate a deep part of our own humanity, for Israeli Jews, Palestinians, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and tourists alike.

Perhaps worst of all is the fact that so many Israelis don’t even know about this reality at all. We rightly demand security on our roads, in shops and on our streets, but we are blind to the methods used to achieve that security (or, more correctly, to the methods that have failed to provide security over the past five months). In many ways, we feel trapped between the proverbial rock-and-a-hard place: We don't see any other way to protect ourselves, but the modern demands of security do violence to the prophets of Israel who brought the concepts of righteousness and justice to human discourse. But why does it seem that so few of us are bothered by this dissonance?  Have we forgotten their vision and simply reconciled ourselves to the use of aggressive measures against Palestinian civilians, the majority of whom have committed no crime?

Ironically, we need the Palestinians to rescue us from this mess. Only with their help can we get out of this quagmire and return to our true selves.

We need the Palestinians to allow us to get to know them. For far too many Israelis, the words “Palestinian" and "terrorist" are interchangeable, and “relations" with Palestinians have been limited to construction sites and menial labor. They are little more than blood-thirsty bus-bombers, barely alive as real human characters in the story of our joint Holy Land. Palestinians must show us their human face. They must allow themselves to engage in dialogue and human reconciliation in order that we break out of stereotypes and ignorant misconceptions.

We also need the Palestinians to get to know us. 

We understand, many Palestinians think they are resisting the occupation by refusing to normalize relations with us.  We get it. It may be your just right to assert your human freedom and dignity in such a fashion, but it hasn’t gotten us - and especially you - anywhere. But the truth is that the anti-normalization movement which forbids any type of face to face contact between Israelis and Palestinians - and all the more so the rounds of violence that have occurred with alarming frequency in recent years - are actually entrenching the occupation. Instead of encouraging contact that that would allow each side to humanize the other, efforts to build barriers between our two peoples encourage us all to remain stuck in an “us” and “them” zero-sum game. 

We can debate whether or not Israelis “occupy” Judea and Samaria, but there can be no argument that Israel occupies the lives of West Bank Palestinians. But we can assure you that murdering people like our neighbor Rabbi Yaakov Don and like Rabbi Eitam Henkin and his wife, Na’ama  - the son and daughter law of Rabbi Shlezinger’s mentors and colleagues Rabbi Yehudah Henkin and Rabbanit Chana Henkin - will never result in Palestinian independence. The way to undermine the occupation is to show us your humanity, to demonstrate to the vast majority of Israelis who dream of peace that the vast majority of Palestinians dream of the same thing. That is a message that Israeli society simply won’t be able to resist.

Andrew Friedman is a resident of Efrat and senior correspondent for The Jerusalem Report magazine. 

Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger is a resident of Alon Shvut and Executive Director of the Jewish Studies Initiative of North Texas. 

Both are members of Shorashim/Judur/Roots – A Local Palestinian Israeli Initiative for Understanding, Nonviolence and Transformation.