Israel-Palestine: It's not as simple as you think

Tshediso Mangope comments on the role the international community should play in aiding a resolution to the conflict

When it comes to Israel, no one wants to hear anything that sounds like support or at the very least sympathy for the Jewish people. The idea of hearing any person who sympathises with innocent women and children who are killed by extremists or the right of existence of the state of Israel is terrifying.

But I argue that this is problematic particularly if we are indeed serious about ending the conflict in the Middle East and brokering peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people. For this reason I decided to visit these two countries so that I can experience the conflict that I have committed almost my whole life to help resolve.

I could not imagine any other way of experiencing this conflict without getting into the shoes of those affected and hearing from both sides how they want the rest of the world to help them resolve their issues. So I visited these two countries and I was shocked by the amount of falsehoods upon which my views on Israel were edificed. At the end of my visit, I was convinced more than ever that more needs to be done to correct these falsehoods and help the people of Israel and Palestine to find a lasting resolution.

From what I gathered during my visit, the violent and often deadly conflicts which characterised the first and second intifada have decreased significantly. Many conflicts have been avoided since the second intifada – except a few infrequent attacks - credit to the leadership on both sides.

It seems that both sides have come to appreciate the necessity of peaceful engagement that will lead to the resolution of this conflict, whatever the issues are. As we speak, many peace-loving Arab and Jewish people are engaged in a process of finding peaceful ways of resolving the conflict.

I must confess that this is a site that I never thought existed, my idea about this conflict was that there is blood everywhere and gunshots are heard every other minute. However, let me hasten to admit that a number of contentious issues remain unresolved.

Which brings me to my central point; that is, the role that the rest of the world must play in order for these two countries to resolve their conflict.

I do not think there is any reasonable person, worth the oxygen they breathe, who can disagree that the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination, but this appreciation is scanty unless it also recognises the right of existence of the state of Israel.

A denial of any of these two realities will achieve nothing more than cause harm to ongoing negotiations and perpetuate further conflict. Both sides have the right to decide what to do with their countries and their future. And so the most daunting challenge that the rest of the world have is to give the two countries maximum space to resolve their issues.

But there has regrettably been a worrying trend, there has been a sustained campaign to demonize the state of Israel without adequately understanding the real issues. This is what continues to undermine the possibility of a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

The other worrying trend is that, despite encouraging efforts to broker peace from both sides, there are extremists who continue to throw rockets into Israel thereby encumbering the possibility of peaceful negotiations.

Furthermore, inside territories like Ramallah, there are extremists who savagely kill innocent Israeli women and children, and in turn they are celebrated as martyrs should they be killed in the line of fire with Israeli army. Again I think celebrating these extremists as martyrs also undermines efforts to resolve the conflict.

So what must be done?

As someone who has been to the two countries and spoken to the affected people, I am convinced that solutions to these problems will not be as easy as some of us have previously suggested. It will take more than sobriety and visionary leadership to resolve these problems, the international community also has a particular role to play.

Firstly, there must be an appreciation on both sides that there are Jewish people living in Palestine and that they too deserve protection. Secondly, extremists who have been killing innocent Israeli civilians particularly women and children ought to abandon their violent attacks and commit to a meaningful, peaceful negotiation.

Lastly, the international community must engage both sides with an open mind without necessarily taking sides. Boycotting one side and completely exonerating the other can only perpetuate the conflict, not resolve it. We must essentially afford these countries an opportunity to engage in peaceful negotiations and ours should be to support them in whatever decisions they take.

The many people that I communicated with had one message and one message only, that the resolution to their conflict rests with them, the rest of us must just support…

Tshediso Mangope is a human rights activist with a particular interest in the resolution of conflict(s) in the Middle East. The tour to Israel was organised by the South African Israel Forum.