By Michal Cohen
There is a phenomenon on the left to simplify the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to view it through an American lens. Israel’s very existence is described as “settler colonialism,” a black-and-white choice between supporting an oppressor (Israel) and the oppressed (Palestinians). Historical revisionism is taking place when critics of Israel twist facts to fit a very complex conflict into a box because it seems easier to view it that way. A “racial” framing has replaced a political understanding of the conflict.
During the recent flare-up between Israel and Hamas, there was a barrage of opinion articles in American newspapers with a common theme: Israel is an apartheid state, Israel commits war crimes and the world is ignoring the “holocaust” against Palestinians. It is easy to simplify the conflict when you take a few pieces out of the puzzle. Why do people who say they care about the future of the Palestinian people and peace ignore history and the facts? Why do they paint it as a racial issue? Are they uncomfortable with the idea of Jewish sovereignty in our ancient homeland or is it something more insidious?
Let’s look at a few accusations:
Israel is an apartheid state
To say that Israel practices apartheid is absurd. For the first time since Israel’s rebirth in 1948, Ra’am, an Islamist Arab political party, will serve in Israel’s coalition government. In what world does apartheid mean that Jews and Arabs serving in their nation’s parliament will be leading the country together?
I, an Israeli Jew, shared a hospital room in the heart of Tel Aviv with a young Palestinian girl from Nablus, in the West Bank. We were both hospitalized in the same room, both with our mothers, and received the same care for a week. Is it apartheid when there are Arab judges, doctors, EMS personnel and professors? The situation between Israel and the Palestinians is complicated but it definitely is not apartheid.
Israel tries to limit civilian casualties when targeting missile launch sites and other terrorist activity. The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) drops leaflets, places telephone calls to civilians and goes as far as dropping a small rocket, called roof-knocking, warning civilians that Israel is planning on striking. Before any retaliatory attack, Israel heavily researches the area and precisely neutralizes its target. Every civilian life lost is tragic. Israel avoids killing innocent Palestinians while defending itself, but when left with the option of targeting terrorists or leaving Israeli civilians at risk, some fatalities are terrible, but unavoidable.
The world is ignoring the new “holocaust” against Palestinians
This accusation is antisemitic and false. While two out of three Jews in Europe were murdered during World War II, the Palestinian population has been steadily climbing in Israel and the territories. In 1960, 1.1 million Palestinians lived in the area whereas in 2020 there are 5.1 million. In comparison, in 1933, there were 15.3 million Jews while in 2019 there were 14.7 million. Seventy-six years after the Holocaust, the Jewish community has not recovered.
Comparing any atrocity to the Holocaust is wrong and a slap in the face to survivors, their descendants and the victims. To equate it to a situation where the population is rapidly growing is distasteful. As we see Holocaust denial normalizing around the world, using that trauma against a state that was built by those who survived is shameful.
As an Israeli, I get angry when I see Americans weigh in on the conflict through their lens. My family sought refuge from the Nazis. My cousins are serving in the IDF, and my grandparents were in and out of bomb shelters as Americans 6,000 miles away wrote op-eds delegitimizing and calling for the destruction of the only safe haven for the Jewish people.
There are plenty of ways to try and understand how we got to the recent escalation but framing it as settler colonialism will not solve the problem, or advance peace.
I have a vested interest in achieving durable peace between my country, Israel, and all of our neighbors. To create a more peaceful and secure future for both Israelis and Palestinians, it is time to put the historical revisionism to bed and start looking at the facts.
Michal Cohen is a student at American University and an advocacy intern at AJC’s Washington regional office.