Last winter break, my family and I traveled to Israel to learn more about our Jewish heritage and to connect with our culture. There, we spoke with a wide variety of Israelis, Jews, Arabs and Palestinians. Through our conversations, I learned an important aspect about the lengthy conflict that is often overlooked–-everyone we talked to valued peaceful resolution for both Israel and Palestine and were accepting of and empathetic towards the other groups.
Since its founding in 1948, Israel has faced endless conflicts that have caused countless deaths and displacements. On Oct. 7, Hamas, the governing body of Gaza and an internationally designated terrorist organization, invaded Israel and launched an estimated 2,200 rockets at Israeli civilians. So far, they have killed over 1,400 civilians, including babies, the elderly and the disabled, and have taken 200-300 hostages. The murders included torture and unspeakable brutality. Israel has responded by dropping about 6,000 bombs on Gaza. According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, which is run by Hamas, at least 7,000 Palestinians have been killed, including over 2,900 minors.
Hamas does not help Palestinians. Pushing the narrative that Hamas and Palestinians are synonymous creates anti-Palestinian sentiment among Israelis. Additionally, Hamas causes countless innocent deaths on both sides. Hamas did not attack Israel because of political reasons; the recent attack was a vicious antisemitic bloodlust with no goal other than the murder of Jews and the destruction of Israel. Hamas intentionally targeted civilian areas with the hope of killing as many Jews as possible.
Hamas also has shown little regard for Palestinian lives. Since they took power in 2007, Hamas has used Palestinian civilians as human shields by placing their rockets and military infrastructure close to heavily populated civilian buildings such as schools and hospitals.
Hamas was only elected one time in 2006. After Hamas took power, they have ruled Gaza without elections. About half of Gaza’s residents are under 18, so Hamas does not accurately represent Gazans’ opinions.
Similarly, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, does not represent the majority of Israelis’ political views. Israel’s government, unlike ours, is a parliamentary democracy. A parliamentary democracy is composed of multiple small parties. In the Israeli government, a majority is needed to win an election. Naturally, small parties merge to create larger coalitions in order to gain a majority.
In the last election, Netanyahu only received 23% of the votes. He is able to maintain power without a majority due to his skilled ability to compromise with small parties that don’t represent the majority of the public and only have power through coalitions. Furthermore, he received the most votes because the large number of parties fragmented the vote. Netanyahu currently faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
There can be no moral comparison between Hamas, a terrorist organization, and Netanyahu’s coalition government. However, one political similarity between the two is their failure to represent the opinions of the majority. It is important to understand that many Israelis and Palestinians don’t agree with critical decisions made by their representatives. Simply thinking that Israelis and Palestinians hate each other is completely inaccurate; this rhetoric perpetuates harmful stereotypes which only leads to worse outcomes.
When I was in Israel, I saw the flawed government systems first-hand. Many Israelis I talked to were extremely critical of the government and disliked Netanyahu along with his policies; furthermore, these people were empathetic to Palestinians. Unfortunately, as the Israel-Palestine conflict lengthens, Israelis are starting to become less sympathetic to Palestinians.
In Hebrew school, I was taught that only Jews lived in Israel. This preconceived misconception was quickly dismantled when I arrived in Israel; I saw Israeli Arabs participating in all aspects of society, including in restaurants, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), business and politics. Arab culture is deeply embedded in Israeli society.
We ate at many Arab-owned restaurants, including one particularly great meal at a hummus restaurant in Jaffa, which was Palestinian-owned. Our tour guide, a former IDF member, was friendly with the owners and while we were eating, they laughed and talked the whole time. While I was eating my delicious meal, I couldn’t help but notice the disparity between Israel in the media, which portrays conflict between Israelis and Arabs, and this first-hand experience at the restaurant.
Everything I had heard about Israeli society was challenged. I was watching a former IDF leader socialize and laugh with Palestinians who he was supposed to hate. The media fails to portray the personal connections with Israelis and Palestinians, and only shows the larger picture, leading to more generalizations and stereotypes.
Sadly, as a result of Hamas’ terrorism and Israel’s response, religious hate crimes against Jews and Muslims have risen tremendously. This rise in hate is particularly tragic to me, as I witnessed how well Israelis and Palestinians work together and coexist peacefully. Hamas’ goal is to disrupt those relationships and cultivate hatred between the Israelis and Palestinians.
We must do our part to not let them succeed. We must support the majority of Israelis and Palestinians who want peace, while not allowing the extremist minorities to disrupt all progress towards peace.