Protecting Israel Means Demanding Justice for Palestinians

by Mark Dunlea

I was someone who was raised to defend the right of Israel to exist, as a minimalist penance for the world’s failure to halt the Holocaust. As a draftable teenager, I was prepared to go to jail for refusing to fight the immoral war in Vietnam, since I would not apply for conscientious objector status as I believed that WWII was a moral war, naively thinking it was about saving Jews and others from the Holocaust.

Yet by the time I ran for Congress in 1982, I had come to realize that Palestinians were also victims. Palestinians were not the ones who committed genocide against the Jews and did not deserve to have their land stolen from them and turned into refugees. I was vilified for not supporting Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in order to kill Arafat and destroy the PLO. (Both Israel and the US later elevated the rise of Hamas to weaken the more secular and socialist PLO.)

Forty years later, the oppression of Palestinians has only gotten worse, with many describing their situation as an open-air prison or even a concentration camp. But calling to end the genocide against Palestinians is not a call for another genocide against Jews. All people in Israel and Palestine need to be protected, and their right to raise their families and enjoy a decent life in peace ensured. And the rise in America of hate crimes towards both Jews and Palestinians / Arabs / Muslims needs to be condemned.

The pain and fear that many Jews and others rightfully feel for the murder of so many civilians and innocent people on October 7 is understandable. Their pain is highlighted by most American politicians and the mainstream media. Those leaders however have consistently rejected the pain that many Palestinians have felt for the last 75 years, instead helping to fund their oppression. And the killings of Palestinians, even in recent years, far exceed that of Israelis.

A major problem with the widespread use of violence and military force – anywhere in the world – is that it elevates the power and voices of the most extreme elements of society. The leaders of Israel and Palestine have failed to provide a way to peace, instead inflaming hatred and prejudice. The American government has contributed to the perpetuation of the conflict by giving blind support to whatever the Israeli government does, even when their behavior becomes crimes against humanity.

I will note that the average Palestinian has often been ill-served by their leaders and that other Arab countries routinely have treated them as pawns for their own political and power purposes, both internally and in their relations with Israel and the US. Nor have Israel’s government done a good job. Both sides would benefit from a leader like Nelson Mandela, who understood that building a future for his country required embracing all its members.

I have little hope that the present conflict will be resolved in a manner that provides justice to the Palestinians or peace to either Israel or Gaza. I realize that the theft of land from Palestinians is not going to be reversed. A lasting peace will require sacrifices among Israelis to provide at least some level of reparations to Palestinians. It is hard to see how a two-state solution can be achieved at this point, given the realities of land and water, yet many Israelis especially the government remain opposed to the concept of equal rights to Palestinians needed for a one-state solution, making that also unlikely.

As I write this, Israel and Hamas have ended their temporary pause for a limited exchange of hostages by both sides. Israeli’s effort to demolish most of Gaza will neither bring peace nor eliminate Hamas, instead it will create even more combatants to continue the fight. We must bring an end to this ever-escalating cycle of violence. We must embrace both Palestinians and Israelis and help them navigate the difficult passage to a just and peaceful future.