Monday, May 24, 2021

One Quiet Night

Imagine 24 hours of perfect peace and quiet in Israel and Palestine.

By that, I mean a full day with no new provocations, hostilities, or attacks. No rockets, no sniper bullets, no bombings, no stone throwing. No settlement construction, no police raids, no land seizures, no evictions. No riots, no clashes. Everyone can go to their holy sites, their farms, or their workplaces without molestation. The school lesson plans have no incitement, the sermons are about tolerance and co-existence, the radio broadcasts are exclusively on anodyne and boring topics. All interactions between military agents and civilians are civil and courteous. For one full, blissful day and night, everything is peaceful.

It is cliché to say that both Israelis and Palestinians have valid claims of justice that are not, in the status quo, being met by one another. But in our envisioned quiet night, I think one could fairly say that all the tangible valid Israeli claims would be met. Everything that they could justly ask for, they would have -- at least for that day. Maybe not express recognition "as a Jewish state" -- but I'm inclined to think that, in a world where there is complete peace and quiet and no provocations or attacks on Israel of any sort, it doesn't really matter what one's neighbors call you (as Abbas put it, Israel can call itself whatever it wants -- what business is it of mine?). Now, it is of course true that justice occurring for one day does not guarantee its occurrence in perpetuity -- maybe the next day the rockets come back. But at least for that 24 hour period, Israelis would be living in a state of affairs that is, as far as their interests are concerned, just.

Is the same true for Palestinians? The answer is no. Even in our day and night of quiet, Palestinians would still be an unjust situation. They'd still be under occupation. They'd still have no democratic rights in the state that is sovereign over their lives. Those injustices persist even if nobody is actively doing anything new. They are not like the injustices of rocket fire or suicide bombings or even hateful sermons -- they do not require discrete acts of renewed provocations. They simply are. And so while certainly, this day would be better than many other days, it would not represent justice for Palestinians, even within the narrow confines of just those 24 hours.

Why does this matter? Well, for one, it illuminates that while peace is a necessary component of justice, it is not a sufficient one. Simply getting to "peace" -- our one quiet night -- would not in fact necessarily lead to justice for the Palestinian people. If the status quo freezes in place, and from here on out nobody did anything more to make anything worse, what would be frozen would be an unjust state of affairs. This is why so many of those rallying in Israel right now for "peace" are doing so expressly by saying we cannot return to "normal". "Normal" -- insofar as it refers to the status quo, but with quiet -- is not justice. We need a new normal.

There is a related point as well, that's perhaps more uncomfortable. The logic of the above says that in those moments of peace between Israel and Palestine, for however long they last, Israel will have what it wants and deserves, but Palestine will still lack what it wants and deserves. But if Israel has what it wants -- if, from its vantage, the status quo is perfectly fine -- will it be willing to step out and give Palestine what it deserves? For many years, the dogma of the pro-Israel community was "yes, of course." This is the dogma of "we just need a partner." This is the dogma of "as soon as the Arabs put down their weapons, there will be peace."

I don't think we can be so sure. The past few years should give any reasonable observer pause before asserting that will be the case with confidence. Indeed, if your thought to the above hypothetical quiet night was to minimize it because "well, they can always renew their attacks tomorrow", one shows the infirmity of the belief. There will always be the possibility that hostilities renew -- there is no peace deal that can guarantee that away. And so to the extent one forestalls justice until it can be guaranteed that there will never be conflict anytime in the future, one is essentially supporting the indefinite delay of justice.