Friday, March 14, 2008

What do Arabs and Palestinians want from Israel? An open letter to Israeli Officials

What do Arabs and Palestinians want from Israel?

An open letter to whomever it may concern in Israel

The last 2 weeks have been difficult time for anyone who follows the Israeli Palestinian conflict. A comment that BZ made on a previous post of mine showed the extent of her frustration with what is going on, and concluded with an emotional question: “What I don't understand is what Gaza wants from Israel. While I cannot claim to know for certain if the question was rhetorical or literal, intense frustration - something I have a lot of - was evident in her tone, as was her implicit statement that Israel has done its fair share of trying to get things right.

In all territorial or religious conflicts, people who are closely involved with one side do not seem to have a clear idea what the other side wants. More often than not, our side seems always to have more honorable goals and legitimate demands. We have always done enough to solve the problem, have always shown good intentions, and have walked the extra mile. The other side, unfortunately, is always rejecting the good hand extended in peace and friendship. Without some effort, it is difficult to see our side as having done anything wrong, and if we did, we almost always feel that we were forced to do it because the enemy was really, really misbehaving.

For the purpose of this posting, I assumed the question was not rhetorical, and I decided to take the challenge of answering it, expressing my own thoughts. I am not speaking for every Palestinian, Arab or Muslim, but I think many will agree with me on most points.

Of course, I do not know what Hamas wants and, truly, I do not care any more. Judging from Arabic and Western media, their spokesmen frequently come across as angry demagogues. It does not seem from their statements that they factor reality in their calculations. Occasionally, they even come across as delusional (But delusions are not infrequently encountered in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The pro-Israel crowd has more than their fair share of delusions, as I will discuss in a future posting. So stay tuned). Most recently Hamas spokesperson declared victory following the massacre committed against Gaza civilians two weeks ago. Victory, for most of the ‘non-delusional’ people I know, is not defined as getting as many of my own people killed with minimal material harm to the enemy. But, if that is Hamas’ definition of victory, they have really achieved it repeatedly, if I may say. However Hamas is NOT the Palestinians, and not even the whole of Gaza. Even Arabs, many of whom are angry with Israel, rarely say good things about Hamas anyway.

So, taking Hamas out of the equation, I will try to answer the following question: What do many Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims want from Israel? And, in case the Israeli leadership does not know what people like me want from them, I will be addressing my answers to the Israeli Government and Knesset members - an open letter if you wish - so they cannot claim no one told them what Arabs want.

  1. For a starter, unconditionally return Palestinian land that you have occupied for over FORTY years. The whole world knows what and where the green line is. The vast majority of Palestinians and ALL Arab governments have officially declared willingness to normalize relations with Israel if all the land taken was returned (If you are still not clear where the line is, check you own maps on June 4, 1967).
  2. Stop treating Gaza and the West Bank as your own property. All the occupied territories borders are under Israeli control, not only in the West Bank, but also in Gaza: land, air and sea. Your claim of 'disengagement’ from Gaza is bogus when you control who and what gets in and out. You cannot simply impose total siege, and then ask the occupied people to just lie down and wither away. After all, it was the arrogant and deliberate unilateral ‘disengagement’ that put Gazans and Israelis in the situation they are in today. With that unilateral action Sharon, in his wicked wisdom, ensured that there will always be trouble in Gaza; and that Israel will always have an excuse to make a battle field out there at will (for practicing new tactics, for a show of how powerful you are, or to satisfy a domestic public relations and electioneering campaigns). And he sure knew what he was doing.
  3. Stop building new homes and settlements on land that is not yours. Creating 'facts on the ground' - as our president once called it - is not a way to show good intentions to you future neighbors. It is evil. This is STOLEN land. Stop advertising in Europe and US for ‘cheap housing’ built on Arab land. It is cheap, because it is built on stolen land.
  4. As for the 'illegal' outposts: for goodness sake, do not gently try to convince the wingnuts that establish it - under IDF eyes and protection - to leave peacefully. Yank them from there. Treat them the same way you treat Palestinians who try to make a short cut around a check point so they may make it to school or work on time. You do not politely negotiate with them. You round them up, and throw them back where they belong. Don't you? Please extend that kind of courtesy to the land thieves in illegal outposts.
  5. I truly think it is a great idea for your country to acknowledge the historic disaster that its establishment has inflicted on the Palestinian people. Israel may not need to return all the land, but it SHOULD acknowledge that the country was established on someone else's land, causing great harm culturally and individually to millions of Palestinians. The silly claim that it was land without people is absurd and, even after 60 years, is still insulting and humiliating to those who live in exile, in refugee camps, and to those 'ex-Palestinians' who still live in Israel. If there were no people there, where did all those Israeli Arabs come from?
  6. As Israeli leaders, please advise you constituency, especially the Members of Knesset, and your own government appointees to stop making claims referring to the Land of Greater Israel. As you may imagine, it impossible to have 'peace' with a country when the 'purists' in that country’s governments and parliament still claim my land as theirs.
  7. And while we are talking about the land, don’t you think that Israel should declare some borders for itself? No other country in the world has cruised for 60 years without declaring borders. May be you should do that soon, so we know what you consider as occupied territories, and what is next on the list for future expansion if the Jewish population grows enough to ensure Jewish Majority on a larger piece of land.
  8. Stop the humiliation that the Palestinians have to endure on daily basis at your check points to go to work, to school, or to buy bread. End the iron-fisted Israeli subjugation of Palestinians when they try to get a permit to build on their own private land, to travel abroad, to come home from abroad, to get medical care, etc. Get an international force to replace your occupying forces, ironically called the defense forces.
  9. As far as power supply, medicine and food for Gaza: coordinate with Egypt and the international community to provide the portion that Israel is still providing. I know that ongoing talks were underway to do just that, so please expedite it, and set dead lines if you wish so everyone knows where you stand. Cutting power, fuel, and food supplies to cities as punishment is immoral. And remember, as long as you control the borders it is your responsibility to provide for the occupied people.
  10. Remember that the collective punishment you widely practice serves no purpose except for getting oppressed people to feel more humiliated, being treated as sub-humans, undeserving of consideration as individuals. When you get peaceful individuals to feel humiliated, do not blame anybody but yourselves if they take it out on you wherever they can reach you. I am not saying that is right, but your Psych Op people can explain to you the ‘cornered mouse scenario’ better that I can. And as a Muslim, I can tell you honestly, that it is not religion or ideology but humiliation that is the major force behind irrational and even self-destructive violent behavior.
  11. You better also start thinking of symbolic repatriation, even of a small number, of 1948 Palestinian exiles, without disturbing you precious 'demographic dominance'. Such a symbolic gesture of good intentions will serve to show your understanding of the devastation these people suffered and will show your respect for their feelings as humans. This gesture, believe you me, will go a long way making your presence acceptable in the heart of the Arab world.
  12. And you also need to start thinking about reparations due to the millions of refugees and their children. And think about the billions of dollars worth of resources you drained from the occupied lands over 41 years. The lives lost, homes destroyed and memories wiped out of existence are invaluable and can never be replaced, but your sincere attempt to heal the wounds you inflicted on Palestinians will begin the reconciliation process.
  13. For the wise ones amongst you: do you best to get your government officials and elected representatives to stop thinking like the mob; threatening Israeli Arabs with expulsions, demolishing the homes of the families of dead terrorists, stop talking about the 'existential threat' of Arab Israelis demographic growth. Israeli Arabs are either Israelis or not. If they are, then do not talk about them as if they were a dangerous herd of wolves that is multiplying rapidly in your classy neighborhood. If you do not want them as citizens, then I have a suggestion for you: another partition. Give up a fifth of your 'Israel proper' land, hand it to the Israeli Arabs, and close your borders to non Jews. Admit the ethnocentric basis of the country, face the world with that, and live with that admission and its consequences. Stop the double talk about the 'only' democracy in the Middle East with one face, and the threat you face of Israeli Arab population continuing to grow with the other face. Apartheid South Africa was not a nice country, but they were at least honest to their principle no matter how evil it was. Of course, I do not need to remind you what happened to them eventually.
  14. As we are talking about citizenship: why don't you start working on a constitution? A sixty year old democracy should have by now figured out what principles it wants to enshrine in its constitution. It would also help us figure out if Israel is a democracy for all its citizens or a democracy for Jews only. Is Jewish religion or ethnicity the gold standard to hold key government positions? Is the Israeli democracy you brag about similar to other democracies we know that has two key principles: ‘one person one vote’ and ‘the majority should not dominate or oppress the minority’. While this may be an internal Israeli affair, it will help your neighbors figure out what kind of country you are (for strategic risk assessment purposes). It will also help your blind supporters in the west find out what kind of democracy they are really supporting.

Finally, members of the Israeli Government and Knesset: I want to tell you that without borders to tell us what your Israeli Defense Forces are defending, without constitution that tells us who you are and what kind of society you will be, with 40 years of occupying land and exploiting it to you own gains while abusing and demonizing its people on daily basis, and with official statements that many consider warmongering, violent, mobbish, or plain racist, please forgive the rest of us for not trusting you or your intentions.

And in case no one told you before what most Palestinians, Arabs, and many others who seek justice for all including many Israelis and Jews allover the world, there you have it: an itemized wish list. So, please show us some good intentions, supported by some real actions that do not involve supersonic fighter jets or laser-guided bombs.

Yours truly,



  1. Thank you Khalid , it is great manfesto for the Arabs and Isreal to bring lasting peace in the region. I wish if Mr. Abbas has the brain to take this point and stand for it. He would be loved by his people as well by all those who care about Palestinians in Gaza who are keept like rats in cages. The whole world is watching saying nothing. The west cry wolf cry for the jewish mascar in Euorpe and close their eyes from Palestinian daily masscar in Gaza and westbank. God bless you and God bless those who love peace and justice for every human.
    Keep the good work
    Muhammad Abdullah

  2. Reality check is always hard for those involved in ongoing struggles. Your wishlist is a great start and is thought-provocing. And, you may want to invite similar wishlist form Isreal. This in itself will be revealing. It will probably include stop terrorism from Gaza, stop overbreading of the Arabs in Isreal, give up the Harhuma site. But more seriously,
    Fair-minded folks among enemies become the majority only after all other stupid unreasonable choices have been exhusted. "Stable semi-permanent" agreements are reached only when balance of power is achieved, which is not necessirly based on military might. Prior to exhusting the stupidiy, the following wishlist can help: 1. dominance of humanity, fairness, honesty and logic in the minds of Isrealis as well as Arabs, which inlcude perciving the enemy as a humanbeing, and understanding the lessons of history. 2. Both Isreals and Arabs have an enlightened, reasonable and able leaderships 3. Allignment of all the forces of good and fairness around the World.
    Other items can be added to the wishlist if it is ever possible that the above 3 items could be met.

  3. I have to apologize for not thanking you sooner for responding to my question. It's a fantastic post, and truly a good platform.

    I think that one part of my frustration is that what you propose is practically identical to what Ehud Barak offered Yassir Arafat at the 2000 Camp David Summit. (Palestine to contain 94% of the West Bank, and all of Gaza, with some land swapping; Reparations; Limited repatriation; etc) Arafat refused to negotiate; his response was to start the second intifada.

    The other source of my confusion concerns Gaza alone. Was it ever part of the UN-controlled territory of Palestine, even before 1948? My impression had been that Gaza City had been under Egyptian control. I do not understand why Gazans' anger is directed at Israel, and not at Egypt which seems to have abandoned them.

  4. Ah, and I can answer one of my own questions. (At least, if Wikipedia's accuracy can be trusted!)

    Muhammad Ali made Gaza part of Egypt in 1832; but Egypt itself was still under control of the Ottoman Empire.

    During the First World War, Britain and France gained control of much of the Ottoman Empire from Turkey. Britain occupied Gaza in 1917.

    Britain granted Egypt its independence in 1922, but retained control of Gaza under a mandate from the League of Nations.

    In 1948, the UN declared the creation of two states, Israel and Palestine. The territory of Gaza was entirely within borders of the proposed Palestinian state.

    During the fighting of 1948-1949, Egypt occupied Gaza and remained until 1967, when Israel occupied it.

    So Egypt doesn't really have any more claim or responsibility towards Gaza than Israel has.

    Poor Gaza, it seems to be the orphan that everybody claims to want but nobody is willing to take care of.

  5. You are right..the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been painful to everyone, the particpants, the victims and humanitarian observers.

    Also, your point that it is difficult for people to see the justice due the other side: I agree.
    So I would like to open up a dialogue that would allow for a discussion and that could lead to ARabs and Israelis influenceing their leaders to bei on the same side -- the side of peace.

    Even though I did not ask the question "what does Hamas want" : I can guarantee was literal.

    The confusion lies in the fact that Hamas planted his weapons in civilian homes, his bases near civilian homes, schools etc. He did nothing to protect his people...When Israel asked..threatened that if Hamas was not willing to negotiate they would begin a ground war Hamas's answer was: Bring it on. I will make an Isreali cemetary out of Gaza. And that bespeaks the possibility that he and his supporters are delusional. There is however another option: perhaps the plan is to use the Palestinians as fodder for gaining world sympathy. This would help him fullfill his pledge to DISTROY ISREAL.

    Israel was clear: they wanted 2 things to cease firing:

    1. they wanted Palestinians to stop shooting rockets and missles into Isreal.

    2. they wanted an international patrol to protect both sides from breaking the truce.

    These seem like pretty reasonable conditions to me.

    Hamas rejected both conditions.

    Why? if Israel is, as you are claiming, the aggressor than I would assume that Hamas would welcome an international patrol.

    I am most pleased to note: that we both believe that Hamas is not a leader who is working in the best interests of his people.

    However, since the Palestinians ELECTED HAMAS and are not standing for their own lives by staying away from the places that the Israeli forces clearly delineated in their leaflets and advance phone calls as areas to be bombed.......So forwarned..and still harmed.......that would seem to be clear evidence that the Palestinians who elected Hamas still support him. Therefore you cannot take Hamas out of the equation and still deal in reality.


    1. Claiming that all lands were stolen from the Palestinians.

    a. This is not true. From day one at the UN the ARab nations claimed that they would DISTROY ISREAL. As soon as Isreal was declared a state, the many ARab nations attacked Isreal. And it was in these attacks and instigations that caused Isreal to retalliate that they lost the land.

    2. the land belonged to the Palestinians.

    a. there were no Palestinians till after they left Israel. There were Arabs, Jews and perhaps some Christians that lived on the land that was controlled by the Brittish.

    b. Israel did return 80% of Gaza.

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