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To break the cycle of violence in Israel and Palestine, end the occupation

<h6>Cityscape of the old city of Jerusalem in Israel by Berthold Werner / <a href="https://www.goodfreephotos.com/israel/jerusalem/cityscape-of-the-old-city-of-jerusalem-in-israel.jpg.php" target="_self">CC0</a></h6>
Cityscape of the old city of Jerusalem in Israel by Berthold Werner / CC0

The following is a guest contribution and reflects the authorsviews alone. For information on how to submit an article to the Opinion Section, click here.

In the wake of the recent ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, we welcome this halt to hostilities. We mourn the 253 Palestinians and 12 Israelis killed with profound sadness for each life lost, and we acknowledge the fear and pain of many members of our community who have friends and family in Palestine and Israel.

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However, we implore our community to reject the status quo of the perpetual Israeli occupation and displacement of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jersusalem, as well as the blockade of Gaza, that led to the recent hostilities and (1) forcefully denounce all violence against civilians; (2) condemn the Israeli forces’ disregard for Palestinian civilian lives, infrastructure, and property in Gaza that has resulted in disproportionate casualties from Israeli air strikes; (3) recognize the disproportionate power that Israel holds over Palestinians through the occupation and blockade; and (4) embrace the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to self-determination, safety, and dignity.

We condemn Hamas’s indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilian targets, consistent with its longstanding commitment to terrorism. Hamas has consistently disseminated antisemitic — and at times genocidal — hate speech on mass media, echoing the Nazi-like rhetoric in its founding charter. That being said, and considering the sheer power imbalance between Hamas and the Israeli military, it is important to acknowledge that Hamas does not represent an existential threat to the state of Israel since Israel’s military technology and capabilities vastly surpass those of Hamas. This fact, though it in no way downplays the lives lost to Hamas rocket fire, gives Israel the space to take action to make positive progress towards ending future cycles of violence, which is what we are choosing to focus on.

On a similar note, preventing the next outbreak of violence requires understanding certain fundamentals of unsustainable Israeli state behavior toward Palestinians. Human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and B’tselem, have documented how the Israeli government has worked to create and maintain pervasive inequality between Israeli Jews and Palestinians. Currently, a right-wing Israeli settler organization is working to evict several Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem, a legal process under review by the Israeli Supreme Court. 

Human rights organizations have concluded that the Israeli government often assists in, and, in other cases, initiates these and similar efforts to displace Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank. Palestinian protestors have been met with excessive force and repression by Israeli police, which is part of a documented pattern of human rights violations against Palestinian civilians such as the arbitrary detention of Palestinian civilians, including children, in the West Bank. The Israeli blockade of Gaza since 2007 has devastated the Gazan economy, with severe consequences for the human rights, livelihoods, and dignity of Palestinians who live there, which have only served to strengthen Hamas’s position.

Ending these injustices is not only required to protect Palestinians’ fundamental rights, but strategically necessary for Israel’s security, as many members of Israel’s security establishment have recognized. Hamas’s terrorism thrives on its false claim that it is the only effective form of resistance to the Israeli government’s oppression of Palestinians. The only way to durably undermine its support is for Israel to show there is a viable alternative for Palestinians to achieve their national aspirations and human rights in a viable state alongside Israel, something that few Palestinians believe is possible as a direct result of Israel’s occupation and settlement expansion.

The time has long since come for the United States to recognize it can stand for Israeli security while ensuring the protection of Palestinian rights and pursuing an end to the occupation. We urge members of the Princeton community to encourage your political representatives to adopt policies in line with these values.

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Such policies include publicly pressuring Israel to halt the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and ease and ultimately end the blockade of Gaza; encouraging the Biden administration to stop blocking legitimate, balanced critiques of Israeli actions at the United Nations Security Council and other relevant international bodies; and enacting clear restrictions preventing US aid from being used to violate Palestinians’ rights or impede a two-state solution (e.g. Rep. Betty McCollum’s (D-Min.) “Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act”).

We also encourage you to financially support the work of Israeli-Palestinian grassroots organizations committed to building a shared society, equality, and social justice for Arab-Palestinians and Jews, like Standing Together (focused on many progressive causes, including ending the occupation), Combatants for Peace (a movement of ex-combatant Israelis and Palestinians working toward an end to the occupation and peace through non-violence), and the Parents Circle – Families Forum (a joint Israeli-Palestinian organization of hundreds of families who have lost an immediate family member to the conflict, working toward reconciliation and peace).

We wish to emphasize our deeply held belief in the inherent dignity and worth of all Israelis and Palestinians, and their human and civil rights to safety and freedom that flow from this. On similar principles, we reject the antisemitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Palestinian racism that often suffuse discourse and political action related to the conflict, and we are deeply disturbed by recent reports of assaults on Jewish passerby, vandalism of synagogues and mosques, and harassment of Jewish students here on campus.

We further recognize the equal collective rights of Israeli Jews and Palestinians to self-determination as two peoples with an inviolable connection to the land. We urge our peers and colleagues to better understand the conflict by learning about the histories of displacement and persecution embedded in the collective memories of Palestinians and Israeli Jews, some of which are ongoing: the violent dispossession of many hundreds of thousands of Palestinians at the hands of Israeli forces in the 1948 war in which the State of Israel was established, known in Arabic as the Nakba (the Catastrophe); the violent dispossession of millions of Jews from Europe due to the Holocaust and from the Middle East/North Africa due to antisemitic persecution, many of whom found refuge in Israel; and the plight of the millions of Palestinians who are refugees and are barred by Israel from returning to Israel or the Palestinian Territories. A two-state solution remains the most viable path to realize the rights of Israelis and Palestinians, and despite the very real challenges this model faces, we urge all those who care about both peoples to reject the growing cynicism around what remains the most acceptable outcome to both Israelis and Palestinians.

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Ultimately, a world where all Israelis and Palestinians can live and prosper with peace and dignity is possible, and getting there requires us all to engage deeply with both the history of the region and the people inhabiting it, as well as its current reality. The status quo of occupation, blockade, and repression endangers this future, and without real movement towards a political solution that centers human rights, self-determination, and equal dignity for all those in this region, we will find ourselves confronting similar tragedies with the same sense of horror and futility.

Signed,

Members of J Street in the Princeton community

J Street is a pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace organization that organizes for American policies that support a negotiated resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that meets the legitimate needs and national aspirations of both peoples. Our Princeton chapter can be reached at jstu@princeton.edu.

Dylan Shapiro ’23, J Street U Princeton Chair

Ahmed Farah ’22

Chiara Nappi, Professor Emerita of Physics

Stanley Katz, Professor of Public and International Affairs

Craig Levine, MPA ’91

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