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Daoud Kuttab Headshot

Selective Memory Is a Problem when dealing with the Israeli- Palestinian Conflict

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A well repeated Arab saying dealing with conflicts states: al bad'azlam, the initiator [of a conflict] is the wrong one. So if you are trying to figure out who is wrong in the current round of violence around Gaza all you have to do is figure out who started it. But the moment you begin this search you will find yourself in a more complicated bind namely figuring out what is your starting point, time wise.

One thing is evident in this region, people have very erratic memories. Israeli protagonists these days talk repeatedly in a very short term frame of mind when it comes to Gaza. However when it comes to settlement activities in the West Bank, they talk about a divine promise to Jews thousands of years ago.

Chronology might be the most important keys to understanding the Middle East. Every act can be seen as a reaction to something that happened before it. Who is right often depends on where you start. Take for example the current Israeli bombardment on Gaza. Israelis insist that the bombing of Gaza is a reaction to the Qassam attacks coming out of Gaza to Israeli towns.

Hamas says that their rockets are a direct result to the siege on Gaza placed following the Islamic movement won elections early in 2006. Israel says it withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Palestinians say that by controlling land borders, sea and air, the Israelis have not ended their occupation of Gaza, Furthermore they say that all Palestinian territories are occupied and Israel must end the 1967 occupation and remove Jewish settlements built on the West Bank. Israel says that Jews have a God given right to settle anywhere in what they consider is their Biblical land inherited by God to Abraham exclusively for Jewish use.

Looking back a few decades is revealing from another point of view. Israelis regularly declare that their occupation of Arab territories was legitimate because the areas where conquered in self defense and as a direct result of an Arab initiated attack on them back in June 1967. But when you press Israelis that the 1967 war which the Israelis themselves call the six day war started and ended in the month of June, they point back one month earlier. Israelis and their defenders repeatedly say that the Israeli preemptive war was taken because of Egypt's blockade on their red sea port of Eilat. According to Israel the demand of President Nasser for the withdrawal of UN troops in the Sinai and the sea blockade were nothing short of a declaration of war thus justifying the Israeli occupation of Arab territory.

The fact that a siege is considered a declaration of war is completely forgotten when the case being discussed is the Gaza strip. It is as if the Israelis think that the rest of the world has a short memory or that the Palestinians of Gaza are somehow children of a lesser God and that they are not allowed to consider the Israeli siege on them a declaration of war justifying their military response.

It is clear that in order to distinguish right from wrong both sides need to agree on a starting point. Many today believe that the natural starting point for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the late 40s which witnessed the UN partition plan and which was initially the legal basis for the creation of Israel. If the partition of mandatory Palestine is an accepted starting point, then a logical conclusion to the conflict would require that an end to both direct and indirect occupation of the Palestinian half of the partition plan is in order. Irrespective of time and chronology, trading land for peace continues to be the most logical and appropriate way to address the conflict which has bridged the 20th and 21st centuries.

Daoud Kuttab is an award winning Palestinian journalist and a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. His email is