It never ceases to amaze me how Israelis and Palestinians perceive the same developments in such opposite ways. It is clear they will never agree on the narrative of 1948. It is equally clear that the two sides cannot even agree on the narrative of Camp David II of July 2000 and on what brought about the end of the peace process and ignited the second intifada.
Israeli perceptions of the current crises are that in both Gaza and the northern border, Israel completely withdrew to the international line and that the international community recognized the Israeli withdrawal in both cases. As such, Israel expected quiet on those borders from the other side. Instead, on both fronts Israel was attacked, without provocation and for no good cause.
Israel has repeatedly said that it has no conflict with Lebanon and that there are no reasons why the state of war between the two countries should continue. Israel expected that with the full withdrawal from Gaza the southern front would be calm and the main attention of the Palestinian struggle would be transferred to the West Bank.
PALESTINIANS, OF course, have a completely different view of this reality. With regard to Gaza, they say that the occupation of Gaza has continued because Israel remains in control of the airspace, the coastal waters and all of the passages.
Israel prevents Palestinians from building the seaport of Gaza and from opening the international airport that would enable free movement from Gaza to the rest of the world. Moreover, Palestinians say that as long as the occupation of the West Bank continues, all of Palestine is under occupation because even according to Oslo, Gaza and the West Bank are a single territorial unit.
Furthermore, Palestinians say that the main reasons for their continued aggression, which they call resistance, are the continued Israeli targeted killings against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and the fact that there are more than 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
With regard to Lebanon, Palestinians share the Hizbullah claim that the Shaba farms are Lebanese territory from which Israel must withdraw, and cite the fact that there are some 300 Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails.
PALESTINIANS view Kassam attacks from Gaza and the Katyusha attacks from Lebanon as completely legitimate. Moreover, most Palestinians fully back the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and using them to bargain for the release of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners.
Palestinians say that attacking soldiers and military bases is not terrorism – it is a legitimate form of resistance recognized by international law and the UN Charter, as long as the occupation continues. Palestinians say that Israeli targeted killings, which often result in the non-intentional killing of non-combatants, including children is state terrorism.
Most Palestinians and Lebanese put demands on Israel to adhere to international law and conventions but do not see the same laws and conventions applicable to themselves. The Geneva Conventions demand that prisoners of war, as the Palestinians describe Israeli soldiers who have been kidnapped, must be visited by international observers, such as the international Red Cross, must be treated properly and cared for, and must have the right to communicate with the families. These laws are not observed by Palestinians, or by Lebanese captors of Israeli soldiers.
Prisoner exchanges are common practice in warfare. Usually these exchanges are made in some kind of balanced fashion – prisoner for prisoner. In the Israeli-Arab conflict, prisoner exchanges have usually been in the order of several hundred Arab prisoners for each Israeli prisoner – dead or alive.
Hamas has demanded the release of all women and minor prisoners from Israeli jails, numbering over 400, in exchange for information on the welfare of Gilad Schalit. Most Palestinians see this as perfectly legitimate.
I BELIEVE that, in the end, the only way to bring Schalit, Elad Regev and Ohad Goldwasser home alive to their families will be some kind of negotiations that will include the release of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners.
The Israeli government has said that it is time to change the rules of the game. The government has declared that there will be no negotiations with the terrorists. If this is the case, the government is going to have to explain to all the mothers and fathers who send their children to the front that if they are captured by the enemy they are as good as dead.
Justice Minister Haim Ramon began to explain the new policy, saying that it would be very costly to the families of the soldiers kidnapped now, but that it would save many more lives in the future.
The kidnappings and attacks by Hamas and Hizbullah were the casus belli of the current conflict. The government`s stated goal to bring the soldiers back home to their families has somewhat faded behind more direct tactical military goals. As the fighting continues, the lives of the kidnapped soldiers seem less dominant in the government`s statements.
I wonder how many people have to be killed to save the lives of a few? In the name of `deterrence` how many Israelis, Palestinians and Lebanese is it legitimate to kill? How can any government look directly into the eyes of its citizens and say: All these deaths had to happen – we had no other choice?
I am amazed at the intolerable ease with which our leaders play with our lives. My heart cries for the families of the kidnapped soldiers, and for all the innocent people on all sides of the conflict who will die without cause and without purpose.
Perception is definitely shaped by geography – and from where I sit, I see how cheap our blood is, and how much more cheap the blood of our enemies. How sad.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.